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Aladar
August 26th, 2011, 06:17 PM
This fic took much planning before I could start, folks, I really hope you like it. This is the tale of the Sixth Grail War, a war that was supposed to never happen after the original Grail's destruction in the Fifth War. Alas, Fate has different plans and a whole world away from the former battlefield, someone instigates another War. The major mage city of the west, Hartcroft, is thrown in chaos as the various factions try to minimize the damage and keep up the masquerade, the Association from Europe tries to use the War to spread their influence to the west, the Church interferes with the hidden agenda to retrieve the new Grail for themselves if it really is a Biblical one, Waver Velvet arrives in Hartcroft to investigate why there is a War when the Grail should be gone and seven new Masters fight for their dreams in an all-out battle that may not even have a winner...

Without further ado, we begin!

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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Fate shall wait no more, oh mere mortal,
The time is nigh to make a choice.
Will he doomed to drown in endless sorrow
Forsake all future and retrace the flow
Or maybe he of darkness spawned
Will choose the light and be reborn?
Perhaps the one created to destroy
Shall tip the scales and recreate
an angel from the devil’s ploy?
Choose wisely, mortal,
Hope and pray,
By Fate’s decree
This War is underway.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Epilogue to a Beginning:
Feeling Heaven’s Sorrow


Five more minutes to midnight…

But how many have passed since the end of this world?

Was it yesterday that the flames of the Sun were snuffed out like a mere candle left at the mercy of the autumn wind? Did a month pass since this blackest night descended? Or maybe it has been a year already, a year since all the stars in the night sky went out one by one?

A part of me doesn’t want to know. That tiny, hidden part, embodying the crying boy from wars long gone, just keeps on struggling, refusing to acknowledge this world. Because, frankly, doesn’t acknowledging it mean admitting how much at fault I am for all this? Who would’ve thought, the route to Hell really was paved with good intentions.

Although I never imagined a Hell so lifeless, that even the flames have a color no more. Or maybe it’s just me? Tc, there I go again, asking and asking and asking… just hoping for someone to answer. And since, yet again, no reply comes from the cold semi-corporeal mist that surrounds me, I answer myself.

One color remains. The deepest crimson, like a blossoming rose, still lingers in this wretched world. And each night it announces mankind’s fall again and again, with a blood-red full moon that refuses to be swept away. And casting down its majestic light, it colors the silent ocean. Or maybe that much blood has been spilled already?

Four more minutes to midnight…

Coldly announces the pocket watch clutched in my shivering hand as the wind chooses that exact moment to remind my sorry self of its existence. But even its unholy chill seems somewhat hollow now… or maybe it’s me that’s just an empty doll lingering behind after that untimely end. And yet I know I’m still alive. The pain is long gone but I can still feel it- the crimson, the last color left in this world, slowly trickling down between the half-frozen fingers clutching my side.

And the ashes keep on falling, just like snow. Or is it the snow itself that’s so gray?

Three more minutes to midnight…

Who would’ve thought that this time the Grail would be the real deal? Or, rather, who would’ve thought that the Heavens themselves would deny for it to be sullied by a mere human being?

Denied any company, I yet again am forced to answer my own questions. Or rather, the crying boy who still dreams of wars long gone does it instead of me.

It was never the Grail that was at fault… perhaps. But we, who claimed the titles of Masters, should have known better than to think that the Heavens would answer to someone like us. Murderers, betrayers, usurpers, liars all!

It was our rage that ignited the flames of this Hell.

It was our greed that called forth this blackest night.

It was our gluttony that poisoned the air itself.

It was our lust that turned us against each other.

It was our sloth that made us trample our beliefs.

It was our envy that spilled first blood.

It was our pride that led to the fall.

Looking back, truly we embodied all the evils in this world. Then how come no one noticed, how come none of us stopped and tried to think it through for a minute? Was it Fate’s decree that the end should be like this?

Two more minutes to midnight…

The scarlet caress of the moon gently washes over the old watch. The ornate chain attached to it looks like a tiny snake just waiting to slither away through the gray snow if only given the chance. But I keep on holding tightly and my muddled brain can’t help but ask himself again why did I even keep it.

I’m no magician. Dear God, how much I wish I was but… reality is reality. Even if only a fantasy is capable of overcoming another fantasy, none of mine is strong enough to overcome this fantasy called reality. Indeed, the hastily engraved words on the watch’s lid- ‘The Fifth’- they mean nothing to me.

I am thankful to whoever it was that took his time to put those fateful words there, but it’s too late already. Not when I need to go back almost two months- unless the golden watch is lying, it is the eve of the 24th. And in this lonely December evening, I can’t help but wonder, will I live long enough to wait for Christmas?

One last minute to midnight…

It seems it’s going to be a lonely Christmas this year. And yet, as the fleeting scarlet drains me from my last colors, I swear I can see him if I just squint a bit. Unwavering, he just braves the harshness of this dead world like it’s nothing and keeps on struggling onwards. Does he really expect me to follow? Hah, not in my current condition. But when has he listened when I’ve told him to stop and wait for me anyway?

Funny thing, though. No matter how far he goes he still seems so… close. Must be that damned height of his. Man like a mountain, he was. Next to him it’s as if I haven’t grown a bit during all those years.

Ten…

What did we promise each other back then? A King and a follower and a journey to the ends of the world itself.

Nine…

I guess it’s too late now. Is there even such a place anymore? No ocean was left untainted.

Eight…

This servant has failed his King. A pity, and here I thought this was going to be my greatest victory.

Seven…

But, I wonder, what would he do in my place? It’s not like there is-

Six…

-A way. Another route has to be taken.

Five…

Whether it’s going to be the right one chosen from all the possibilities outstretching from those crossroads of infinity-

Four…

-Whether those second chances are going to make any difference at all-

Three…

-It doesn’t matter. It never has. But that promise is one I never intend to break.

Two…

So, as long as there is another route to be taken, as long as there is the slightest glimmer of hope… all I have to do to alter Fate is retrace it. Retrace my steps, my mistakes, their deaths. Indeed, there’s only one way I can fight Fate now.

Retrace.

One…

“Hey, World… if it isn’t such a bother and if you are still alive somewhere out there… I would like to make a contract.”

ItsaRandomUsername
August 26th, 2011, 06:23 PM
Oh snap! New project from Aladar!

Following this, might get interesting~

Alulim
August 26th, 2011, 06:31 PM
Al is interested, indeed.

Bloble
August 26th, 2011, 06:46 PM
Count me interested.

I just hope that this won't end up as depressing as A Stolen Heart, but I know I'm just deluding myself here. You'll probably make us all want to curl up in our beds and cry by the end of this, and cry at how much the world sucks.

And it'll be awesome.

TheSpy
August 26th, 2011, 06:47 PM
Looks interesting, but... I like to use caution with Fate/Stay fics, and that "Heaven's Sorrow" does not make me feel better.

I3uster
August 26th, 2011, 06:48 PM
6th Grail War fics are always awesome when executed well.

ItsaRandomUsername
August 26th, 2011, 07:32 PM
6th Grail War fics are always awesome when executed well.

Seconded.

Case in point, Fate/Phantoms, which is also a bit of a crossover with Phantom of Inferno.

Sherrinford
August 26th, 2011, 08:51 PM
OH FUCK YOU ALADAR, THIS PROLOGUE IS FUCKING PERFECT.

10/10.

Seriously, what a way to come out of writer's block!


I just hope that this won't end up as depressing as A Stolen Heart, but I know I'm just deluding myself here.

Noooo... sorrow and desolation on Christmas eve, no way this fanfic will be sad, no.



It seems that the Seven Sins are a recurring theme in your fanfics... there's a particular reason?

Aladar
August 26th, 2011, 09:22 PM
Glad you like the epilogue/prologue, guys, I'll probably post the first chapter soon enough. And don't worry, it won't be that depressing. Nah, this is a more up-beat fic. Bittersweet maybe, yes, but... nah.

And the Seven Sins theme just kinda... seems a good one to me. But Wonderland shout-outs and chess references will be more prominent themes in the fic.

Also, try guessing which Servants I'm going to use. Not that I'll tell you if you're right but still... for bragging rights when the identity is revealed? Try it out, yo.

And I think it's somewhat original to start a fic with a Peggy Sue. Did I do good? Also, the Peggy isn't a main character and he'll have to face all the repercussions of even the slightest change, erasing his knowledge of the future soon enough. After all, trying to change things changes the future and your ability to guess the outcome, right?

Mike1984
August 26th, 2011, 09:24 PM
Will any of the canon characters show up here?

Spinach
August 26th, 2011, 09:25 PM
I eagerly await the next installment, Al.


Also, try guessing which Servants I'm going to use. Not that I'll tell you if you're right but still... for bragging rights when the identity is revealed? Try it out, yo.

But of course. That's the best part of any fic with original Servants.

Aladar
August 27th, 2011, 03:51 AM
Will any of the canon characters show up here?

Well, Waver is in the fic, but more as a background character who wants to investigate the appearance of the new Grail and prevent disasters like those from the previous Wars. I try not to go down the route where nearly all major players of the 5th are present in the 6th. Especially considering that it takes place in America and not even in Asia.

Sherrinford
August 27th, 2011, 06:27 AM
Glad you like the epilogue/prologue, guys, I'll probably post the first chapter soon enough. And don't worry, it won't be that depressing. Nah, this is a more up-beat fic. Bittersweet maybe, yes, but... nah.

... depressing is good...


And the Seven Sins theme just kinda... seems a good one to me. But Wonderland shout-outs and chess references will be more prominent themes in the fic.

... a bit of mind screw in this?


Also, try guessing which Servants I'm going to use. Not that I'll tell you if you're right but still... for bragging rights when the identity is revealed? Try it out, yo.

Oh god, here we go again...


Also, the Peggy isn't a main character and he'll have to face all the repercussions of even the slightest change, erasing his knowledge of the future soon enough.

this, I like it.

I3uster
August 27th, 2011, 08:17 AM
I just now realized that this was your proposed one with the Alice in Wonderland themes. Aww yeah.

Aladar
August 27th, 2011, 08:19 AM
Chapter I:

The Calm Before the Storm

Why?

Why are they reaching towards her?

What could she, someone so tiny and weak, do to help them? They, of all people, should know how weak she was. Don’t they remember how she cried because of the tiniest of scrapes, how she cried when others took her toys, how she cried every single time they had to leave her under the care of someone else?

Then why, why are their blistered hands crawling closer and closer, as if trying to drag her into the raging inferno as well?

And how come she can’t cry now, even as she watches the flesh being burned off their very bones? How come she doesn’t even shout for help even as their hellish screams, akin to a whole choir of banshees, are on the verge of making her puncture her own eardrums?

“Stop…”

Her voice, not even loud enough to be called a whisper, just fades into the scorching air. And as their eyes burn into their very sockets they keep on trying, unwavering, unswayable, unwilling to give up even as the fires of hell devour them. They outstretch their melting hands and claw towards her but their pleas for help fall on deaf ears as she just keeps on staring at the carnival of wreathing flesh before her, enthralled by the never-ending dance of the flames.

Flames colored into the deepest crimson, like a blossoming rose.

“Stop…”

Once again she tries to chase them away. But alas, they cannot. As trapped as she is in her own mind, they writhe and scream and beg for someone to help… but aside from her, there is none alive to answer. Only the crackling of the great fire remains- and as if having a voice of its own, its hisses and roars echo through the inferno as one victim after another falls prey to the flaming beast.

“I don’t… want to die.”

The age-old instincts inside of her finally come back to life. Like a cornered animal, she takes a small step back. And another. And another. Until she is running as fast as she can and her screams, her innate desires to live soar up towards the Heavens. And, as if answering her prayers, the skies open up and one after another merciful raindrops descend from the graying skies above.

But their shrieks remain…

The rain turns into embers, the raging inferno snapping at her heels finally catches up and as the fire devours her whole, their hands finally reach her and drag her into the loving embrace of death…


*** A painfully average-looking white ceiling was the only thing there to greet the girl when she opened her eyes. The covers had been kicked off in her flailing long ago and even in the confines of her own heated room, the teenager barely suppressed a shudder. Her pale fingers, with movements akin to those of a drunken spider, began their routine quest until they finally got hold of the pair of glasses left at her nightstand. The girl forced the fleeting nightmare into the back of her mind and with a wide and positively unlady-like yawn, stood up from her sweat-drenched bed.

The cloud-laden sky visible through the window promised heavy rain sometimes soon. Even though it was impossible to hear from the inside, the girl could easily guess that the wind, another sign of the reigning autumn, was howling viciously outside as well. The tree branches swayed around, as if chasing away particularly annoying hordes of flies, and dead leaves in every signature color of autumn’s pallet fell off them after even the tiniest of motions. Most people would have classified the weather on that particular morning on the last day of October as ‘one tiny step away from totally awful’ but, as everybody who knew the girl would testify, Ayaka Millsbury loved nothing more than this kind of weather.

To Ayaka the heavy clouds looming from above meant ‘salvation’- but there was not a soul in this world that actually knew why her only sincere smiles appeared when the rain poured heavily outside.

After changing out of her bedclothes into something warmer and more comfortable, Ayaka groggily grabbed the nearest brush and proceeded to tame the raging beast that was her morning hair. By the time she was done with her morning routine that peculiar autumn chill that somehow always manages to wiggle into the house despite all the tightly shut doors and windows had managed to jolt her awake.

There was no one to greet her for breakfast. Her parents had headed out to finish setting up their new house in Miami the day before, leaving the teenage girl all alone until the Christmas holidays. Of course, this situation was miraculously convenient to Ayaka, a convenience she had earned by convincing her parents to go on ahead and leave the house all to herself. And while to many this would sound as the beginning of the plot of a movie focusing on a teenage party so wild that it made the national news, alas, the bespectacled girl’s goals were far different.

Through unverified rumors, private chats, hints and urban legends posted on forums and image boards a scant few had access to, Ayaka had learned of a certain… competition between mages that struck her interest like no piece of magi trivia ever before. Of course, she had reservations on even calling herself an amateur. Ever since finding out about her miraculous gift she had poured the majority of her free time in learning more of magic and sorcery. The beginning had been the most difficult part- information turned out to be the most important component and reliable info was almost impossible to find. But through tries and error and, however unbelievable it may sound, the help of the World Wide Web, the struggling mage had managed to gain enough knowledge to be able to actually do something with the power she possessed.

Of course, she had no way of knowing if the couple of bounded fields she had placed around her house actually worked but, no matter how disgusting, that ritual with the rabbit blood had worked and even the few times she had tried turning one material into another the results had seemed good enough. Ayaka’s current most prized possession was a worn-out gritty grimoire she had managed to track to a dingy old neighbourhood antique shop. But the haul she was aiming for today was much, much bigger…

Or at least that was what a certain someone had promised.

‘Subject: A special little something…
From: ShadowJuliet
You seem to be a lot interested in this whole ‘War’ thing. If you really are serious about it I suggest you pay a visit to Mr. Miyu’s Emporium of Wondrous Mysteries in Chinatown. Browse the wares- if you are the real deal you should notice the special little something that you need to pick up. Bring it to me and I’ll clue you in to all the details you need to know. I’ll be waiting at 18:30 at the central fountain in Persephone’s Grove Park every day until Halloween.

~~**~Lotsa kisses and love~**~~
ShadowJuliet <3’
Ayaka couldn’t help but ask herself again whether she was doing the right thing as she gulped down the hot coffee and re-read the e-mail she had received barely a week ago. To weird and childishly cool usernames she had gotten used long ago on her Internet mage escapades. But somewhere deep inside, the whole magic thing seemed… unnatural to her. Not to mention how weird the message itself was. Even not taking into consideration that there was a 99% percent chance of the sender being a troll or a serial rapist hiding under the username of Juliet, what kind of legitimate mage… shop would have a name straight out of a B-rated Saturday night flick?

Still, ever since opening her eyes to whatever limited part of the world of mages she could perceive, Ayaka had quickly found out that despite being the one part of New York rivaling Manhattan in urbanization, Hartcroft seemed to hide much more when it came to magecraft than puny names and a larger-than-average share of urban legends. Of course, those ridiculous claims of New York’s sixth burrow being artificially made by geomancer mages in alliance with other mage families fleeting from some kind of ‘Association’ in Europe during the 16th century were far-fetched at best.

However, this wasn’t the matter with the shop with the funky name. Her research had proven it actually existed and after spending the last week blindly searching for other traces of ShadowJuliet over the secret mage places of the Internet, Ayaka had finally decided to give it a shot on the last day of the deadline.

If only he would be on time just this once…

“HEY AYAAAA!”

Barely twenty minutes late, he announced his arrival loud enough to wake up the dead. Ayaka closed the laptop with a sigh and after picking up her handbag, she headed towards the door before some of her neighbours started shooting at her less-than-quiet guest.

“You do know we have a bell, right?” she deadpanned instead of a normal greeting but the word might have just passed through her friend’s ears. The gray-eyed teenager just beamed her a smile that could shame the Sun and dragged the helpless girl along before she could even react properly.

“You ready? Sure you are, you always are and this is gonna be seven different levels of awesome!” he declared to everyone within earshot- thankfully not too many people this early in the morning- and kept on running his mouth like always. “I’ve dreamed my whole life of visiting one of those shady shops that sell magic stuff! Maybe it’s not even gonna be there next time we visit!”

“I doubt it,” said Ayaka in a vain attempt to rein in the sanity of her accomplice. “As far as I know the shop has been there for a long time. But be more serious about it… please?” asked the black-haired girl quietly and bit her lower lip. Alas, subtlety and common sense were not Jed’s strong points.

“Relax! There’s nothing to worry about when you are with me. I almost beat an albino moose at wrestling once,” proudly declared the boy with the dubious sanity and puffed his chest up.

Lunacy-grade talk aside, that in and of itself was an impressive feat. That autumn morning was particularly chilly and while Ayaka had armed herself with tights under her skirt and a jacket over her warm sweater, Jed had chosen to brave the elements with nothing but a plain yellow T-shirt and those green jeans of his that were covered full in stickers, emblems and patches. Only the ever-present lemon-colored beanie atop his unruly dark-blond hair hinted at him acknowledging the season. But then again, that particular hat was what had gathered all the shocked stares during the summer.

All in all, the only reason that Ayaka had asked him to help was because Jed was the only male… being she could turn to as a friend in a situation like this. The brown-eyed girl was well aware she was no social butterfly, by her own choice mostly, so how exactly Jed had decided to spend some of his ever-fleeting attention talking to the gloomy girl at school was a mystery for the ages. Maybe it was the fact that he claimed to be a mage as well. Or however he classified those claims to be able to jump dimensions Jed claimed to possess. While having some knowledge in magecraft that had been of quite some use to her, Ayaka had never actually seen him back up his claims. And, frankly, she found it hard to believe that while trying to determine how far he can slide, Jed had met a naked, glowing blue man. Who was a superhero to boot.

Indeed, at the end of the day Jed seemed like one of those guys you would put in a story only for the comic relief…


*** With its numerous facades colored in crimson and gold, ever-present decorations that made one think celebrating the New Year was just around the corner and dozens upon dozens of shops of various shapes and sizes, Hartcroft’s Chinatown had certainly earned the moniker of Huangjin Zhen- the Golden City. From the ten-story pagoda in the center, decorated by statues of the Four Heavenly Beasts, to the other ‘ordinary’ decorations of dragons and tigers atop the rooftops, the little piece of the East entrenched in this side of the world made one wonder if he had stepped in a different country altogether. But Ayaka was too busy thinking about her little mission to admire the sights she had already seen so many times. The Chinatown neighbored Hillsdale and a visit from the suburbs to some nice restaurant here was practically a tradition for her family.

Now, a shop like this one, she had never ever visited before.

Ayaka could barely stop herself from squealing like a rabid fangirl at her favorite boy band’s concert when she set foot in the dusty old shop. From the inside it seemed like any other seemingly ‘extraordinary’ antique shop that hadn’t been cleaned in the last half a century or so. And the fact that ‘in Chinatown’ was officially part of its name according to the sign at the front spoke wonders of its owner’s comprehension of the English language. But inside… inside were rammed, cluttered, spread and scattered dozens upon dozens upon dozens of books, pendants, scriptures, ritual knifes and God only knows what kinds of other contraptions that the girl just knew contained secrets of magecraft she could only dream to possesses. For the first time since getting hold of that dingy old grimoire that seemed so insignificant now did Ayaka feel an object to resonate that special energy she had inside her when she touched it.

‘Awesome’ and ‘clusterfuck’ were the two words on Ayaka’s mind that best described the place in her opinion but, somewhat conscious of her appearance of a demure gloom, she chose to restrain her emotions. Unlike Jed, who charged into the shop like a rampaging rhinoceros and his shouts probably woke whatever part of Chinatown was still sleeping. And ruined that tiny little hope which she kept inside of her- of silently smuggling out the whole shop while the owner was still unawares. Alas, luck didn’t seem to be on her side that day.

“Welcome, beauty young lady!” announced an old voice with a pronunciation so mangled that Shakespeare probably turned in his grave. “What can old Mr. Miyu offer you? Love magic you not need! A charm of very luck maybe, hm?” asked the white-haired man, who in his short stature, traditional clothing and fu-manchu mustache was so close to the stereotype of a wise old Chinese guy that he frightened Ayaka. That, or the fact that the old coot had somehow sneaked up on her without her even noticing.

“Uhm, no, thanks,” declined the girl with a nervous smile. Propping her chin up with one hand and pushing back her glasses with the other, the black-haired girl pretended to look around as if in search of something in particular. “I’m just looking for a rare book,” she flat-out lied in complete deadpan, mentally asking herself what the ones so sure of her Miss Goody-Two-Shoes façade would think of her now. “A collection of lycanthropy-related studies of the late medieval scholar… Lupus Volkski. Perhaps you have one in stock?”

Taking the bait faster than expected, the Chinese grandpa headed for the back room in a speed that would make men more than half his age green with envy. Finally free to look around, Ayaka let out the breath she had been holding and dove straight into one of the many aisles surrounded by mountains of magi-related paraphernalia . The shop certainly seemed bigger when one was actually inside it- for a moment the black-haired girl was afraid of getting lost and started to doubt that the fact so many real magecraft objects were gathered in one place was only because their owner was a mage, too…

“Whoa, there! Look out where you are going, love.”

The thick English accent and the fact that she had just bumped into someone and had almost fallen jolted Ayaka back into the present. Someone was apparently still holding her, not more than half a meter away from the dusty floor, but since this certain someone was currently grabbing her breast as well and showing no signs of letting go, gratitude quickly turned into anger.

“Hey, would you-“

“Sorry, there, sorry!” cut her off the foreigner and Ayaka found herself put right back into a standing position before she could even properly raise her voice. The boy, no, the young man currently standing in front of her was smiling much like a rascal caught doing some mischief. The half-nervous smile was accompanied by scratching the back of his head and overall giving off an aura of helplessness.

Which was gone with frightening speed in the next moment when the stranger opened his eyes. The one not hidden under the fringe of his peculiar dark-blue hair was a deep blue that felt so… enthralling. Like a calm, all-engulfing ocean, the majestic sapphire orbs made Ayaka almost literally swoon. Her knees were on the verge of buckling and her heart had apparently decided to try tripling its beats. The features of the stranger seemed to sharpen, and even the air around him almost sparkled as strands of his just perfect hair billowed in the nonexistened breeze…

And then the fluttering of her heart was cut short as some instinct deep inside of her sent a jolt through her magic circuits and suddenly the stranger seemed normal again, his weird attire of almost aristocratic white shirt with manchetes and black leather pants excluded.

“Is that so?” mumbled almost incoherently the foreigner and after a disinterested shrug of his shoulders, adjusted the long light-blue scarf around his neck and headed out towards the exit, seemingly ready to brave the cold outside.

“HEY, AYAAA! LOOK WHAT I’VE FOUND!” came a thunderous shout from somewhere in the jungle of hidden treasures. The teen’s voice was soon followed by the signature sound of a mountain of wares falling down.

True to his nature, Jed had demanded the girl’s attention before she could even comprehend what had happened. After she regained her composure, Ayaka let out her umpteenth sigh for the day and obliged to follow her friend into the deeper parts of the shop.

“Maybe it’s this one,” gleefully suggested Jed and pointed towards an old yet shiny pocket watch stranded on one of the many littered shelves. It seemed like any other old watch someone’s grandfather would keep as a remainder of the’ good old times’. It looked somewhat… innocent even, with its delicate chain dangling from the shelf and reflecting the stray sun-beams that had somehow managed to enter this deep into the shop.

With piqued curiosity Ayaka ran a pale finger over the hourglass engraved onto the golden lid…

“Maybe it’s this one,” gleefully suggested Jed and pointed towards an old yet shiny pocket watch stranded on one of the many littered shelves.

Her knees suddenly buckled and, once again, the girl was saved from a close encounter with the dirty floor only by someone grabbing her falling body at the last second. Jed’s questions fell on deaf ears as Ayaka heaved and fought for a precious gulp of air, feeling as if her insides had been scooped out and thrown away. The familiar sensation of electricity running through a magical grid was substituted by what the teenager guessed was the feeling of being electrocuted. The watch had certainly done something when she had touched it… and yet something inside of her told Ayaka that this wasn’t the thing she was looking for.

“No, see I’m… fine, alright?” she protested as Jed pulled her up. “You go search that way, I’ll check on the right. I want to find it quickly, okay?”

With a nod of acknowledgement Jed had quickly skipped off to the part of the shop assigned to him, leaving his friend to straighten her skirt, readjust her jacket and dive into the search again. A dreadful sense of desperation started to seep inside her mind after a while. The amateur ‘mission’, while certainly far from uneventful, had been pointless so far and Ayaka was beginning to be sure that she had been sent on a wild goose chase by some troll…

And then it caught her eye.

She would have missed it if not for the faint reflection of the glass case. Below it, among the variety of other assortment of magical artifacts, lay a seemingly aged but yet untouched brownish card. Ayaka’s awestruck face was reflected clearly, but the black-haired girl’s deep brown eyes were locked into the picture of the armored knight with the majestic decoration of red feathers on his helm, sword held proudly in his hands. Finally, the case was fogged as the girl let out the breath she didn’t know she had been holding. And as crimson blood trickled from her arm out of a wound that hadn’t been there minutes ago, Ayaka’s faint whisper cut apart the silence.

“This is the one… Saber.”

And the blood just kept on trickling down atop the glass, the stray sun-beams only enhancing its color even further- the deepest crimson, like a blossoming rose…


*** The young man pushed back the veil of sweaty raven-black hair which obscured the world from his eyes and, in turn, obscured his eyes from the unsuspecting world. But at the moment there was no one around, none that matter at least, and his work required precision, so he thought a bit of leeway could be forgiven. On the ground of the abandoned basement, a filthy rat-ridden hole with water dripping from the leaking pipes above- a setup one usually saw in cheap horror movies, was scribbled an intricate combination of interweaving circles and runes.

An outsider would have surely considered said geometrical and literary amalgamation satanic in origin. The distinct deep red color of the… ink used for its making surely wasn’t meant to put anyone at ease either. Nor was the squirming, tightly roped body tossed in the nearest corner. And even under the dim light coming from the single bare light bulb hanging from the cracked ceiling, one could easily tell that the color of the ink matched perfectly with the pool of blood surrounding the captured man.

The kneeling one, easily recognized as Asian by his distinct facial features, flipped open the worn-out notebook in his left hand and muttered something to himself as he double-checked that the summoning circle in front of him matched the one in his prisoner’s notes. Apparently satisfied with the result, the young man nodded to himself and stood up groggily. The sound of creaking bones could have been easily heard in the dirty basement as he stretched casually, his body stiff and tired after having to draw something so complex while kneeling on the ground for an hour and with only a single light bulb and a flashlight for illumination.

Still, the hardest part was yet to come. The captor approached the captive with a brisk step, the signature sound of pages being rapidly flipped over filling the air. And when it finally stopped and the young man showed the page he had flipped at to his unfortunate companion, a blood-chilling muffled shriek filled the cold underground air. The tied man struggled against his bindings in vain, ropes digging deeply into his flesh and shredding his skin. And yet he didn’t give up and kept on flaying helplessly around. The horror inside his tear-filled eyes showed clearly how well he realized the fate that awaited him.

The Japanese man just let out an annoyed sigh as he prepared the needle, even letting his captive to try and crawl to the stairs before he jammed the sedative into his carotid artery. The struggling died out in seconds and soon the tied man was lying motionlessly on the filthy floor, his face even returning to an almost normal expression compared to the look of sheer horror from before. The young man dragged his sleeping prey to right below the light bulb and, setting down the notebook next to his first ‘patient’, jammed another needle in the veins running down his own arm. He was sure he could handle the pain and he had no desire to save his captive from any suffering. But this was going to be a rather delicate endeavor, not to mention he was somewhat winging it, so the man concluded that a clear brain and no distractions were a must.

Looking back, he was rather fortunate to have met that man at all. His captive had been of the adventures sort, even though he apparently fancied himself an archaeologist. The man had been more than ready to divulge information on the Grail War when Shinosuke had suggested they exchanged information. Of course, compared to the Japanese youth’s measly understandings of the mystic ritual, the older man had acquired literally a small tome full of information. And when, drunk enough he had probably thought of Shinosuke as his foreign nephew or something similar, the archaeologist had blurted out he had a literal entry ticket into the War, his fate had been sealed. The youth hated to be forced to resort to trickery and it had truly been a relief when he was free to just render the man unconscious and drag him to his hideout. The place was pathetic and the stench made bile rise up in Shinosuke’s throat and that was precisely why he had chosen the place- no one in their right mind would come down there willingly. Never before had Shinosuke been so glad to have studied English at school than while he had read through the notebook of the adventurous archaeologist. Not only information on past Wars but even the full details of the summoning ritual and nature of the Command Spells had been fully detailed in it. What’s more, the older man seemed to had spent the last several months adapting some kind of an already existing system to split the seals between two people. One to lend prana to the Servant and one to have actual control over him. It was more than convenient for Shinosuke, given that unlike the archaeologist he was no mage at all. The prana inside his body would have surely been insufficient to keep his would-be Servant in this world, so using a proverbial ‘battery’ seemed to be the best course of action.

Still, the process of the seal transfer was bastardized, even though it was meant precisely for on-the-spot Spell relocation. And according to the notebook, after numerous experiments on test subjects- from rodents to homeless bums- an operation like that would leave the ‘battery’ brain-dead. Which was actually quite convenient for Shinosuke, since that meant he was going to be the only one actually able to use any Command Spells. The whole thing was something like poetic justice, at least according to him. That man had meant to perform the operation on some unsuspecting victim, so it was rather apt for him to turn out the one sacrificed in the end. Karma and all that.

The youth’s hands worked deftly with the scalpel, carefully cutting out the area on his captive’s wrist where the Spells were positioned. Slicing all the way to the bone, he carefully removed the chunk of flesh and separated the three Commands- one was left on his victim’s body and the two others were meant for him. Shinosuke left the squishy piece of meat in the portable cooler prepared next to him and proceeded to carve away the flesh of his own arm. According to his source the original ritual was more spiritual than physical- and since neither the real nerves nor the ‘magic circuits’ would connect properly after such a botched operation, the recipient’s arm was expected to wither away whole after a month or so as the necrosis spread. That was why the young man had chosen his left, non-dominant arm to bear the seals. Under the effect of the morphine overload he didn’t feel a thing as he casually observed how blood slowly trickled down from the open wound on his hand and the lump of meat that was actually part of him dangled idly from it. Not long after, it fell on the dirty stone floor with a squishy splash. Shinosuke paid no mind to it for it was already useless to him. He didn’t look fazed by the gaping hole on his left arm either- it wasn’t the first time he saw his bones. Still, blood loss was his biggest enemy now and time was of enormous importance. Shinosuke fit the foreign piece of meat somewhat hastily in its designated place and proceeded to sew it in place.

The raven-haired man dug into his satchel, formerly the archaeologist’s, and took out a tiny bottle filled with sloshing black liquid. Shinosuke removed the cap with his teeth and proceeded to spill its contents all over his newly-acquired two Command Spells. The black liquid looked like mud but it had none of the familiar cool sensation the youth was used to associate it with. Instead, it burned like red-hot lava, dripping under his skin and melting his flesh, foreign one interweaving with his own. Even after all the morphine, the pain was akin to someone slowly ripping his hand off whilst pouring salt on it all the while. The dilapidated walls of the basement started spinning around him and Shinosuke found himself forced to bite down on his tongue to keep himself conscious. As the black substance sank into his arm and the Command Spells were integrated into his body, the patch of flesh around them quickly turned gray and sickly, skin blistering and flesh starting to rot. Still, the whole thing was running rather smoothly so far. Shinosuke wiped the blood trickling down his chin and proceed with the next step of his plan. There was still the chance of the archaeologist, as a magus, to be able to retain his consciousness after some time. Given that there wasn’t probably going to be any time for the raven-haired man to babysit his captive, he decided that a preemptive strike was going to be needed.

The age-old blade glistened gracefully even under the dim light of the bare bulb. The signature ‘snikt’ of a drawn blade echoed off the dilapidated walls of the basement as Shinosuke swiftly took out the inherited katana from its scabbard. The exotic sword felt as light as a feather in his hand- or rather it felt like a part of his hand, a far more familiar and welcomed extension of his body than the patch of foreign flesh fused with his left arm. After making sure that the tourniquets were in place, Shinosuke swiftly chopped off the man’s limbs to their base with rapid, lightning-fast strikes. Only the mangled hand bearing the last Command Spell was left intact- the one thing binding Shinosuke and his would-be Servant to the now barely-human battery. He closed off the three flesh wounds with clay- he had no idea if cauterizing them with fire wouldn’t damage his new ‘partner’ enough to kill him.

The living corpse was then dragged off to the far-off corner of the filthy basement. There was positioned another specially-prepared ritual circle, almost as elaborate as the one in the center. That one was meant to keep Shinosuke’s new ‘partner’ alive for as long as it was needed. A dim yellowish glow emanated from the edges of the circle when the young man poured some of his own blood onto it, the spells recognizing the bond between the two and activating its life-sustaining effects.

And now it was time for the grand performance of the show.

The distant feeling of opening presents on Christmas morning filled Shinosuke as he took out a worn-out brownish card from his victim’s satchel. As his eyes glazed over the picture of the frothing wolf-like beast depicted on it, his lips morphed into a smirk. How oddly fitting which class he was going to get. Perhaps Fate really did have some semblance of humor after all. With some of his blood smeared over the card, Shinosuke put it into the center of the summoning circle and took a step back.

“ Ye first, O silver, O iron
O stone of the foundation, O Archduke of the Contract
Hear me in the name of our great teacher, the Archmagus Schweinorg”

His cold and emotionless voice filled the still air. Bright red light spread from the center of the circle, first from his own blood on the card, then all throughout the exotic runes and figures. Shinosuke suddenly felt a bit queasy, a sensation he was sure had nothing to do with his amateur attempts at playing surgeon. The pain in his left hand was back with a vengeance.


“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!
Set. “

He was forced to stop when the sensation of his insides getting siphoned out washed all over him and threatened to knock him unconscious. Thankfully, the pressure that reminded him of getting electrocuted or getting the nerves inside his body burning out one by one settled down when a faint blue glow from the far-off corner started resonating with the beats of his own Command Spells. The prana-bond seemed to be working without problem.

“Let thy body rest under my dominion, let my fate rest in thy blade.
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 protect the balance-!”

By then the crimson glow had gotten blinding, illuminating every corner of the dilapidated basement. Even the air itself seemed uneasy and Shinosuke’s neck-length hair billowed as if blown by a storm-like wind. Only a little bit was left- the special part required in the case someone had to summon that Servant.

“Yet, thou serves with thine eyes clouded in chaos.
Thou, bound in the cage of madness
I am he who command those chains.”

A literal whirlwind seemed to explode from the center of the circle and the young man was forced to take several steps back because of the torrential wind. A small star seemed to erupt inside the old basement and Shinosuke was momentarily blinded, the world getting washed away in blinding white.

And then came a roar that would have turned the blood of even the greatest knight into stone right inside his veins. Whether it was a man-like beast or a beast-like man that stood before him, Shinosuke couldn’t tell. He could only watch with revulsion the hideous giant. His right hand was oversized, as big as a tree-trunk in fact, disfigured and ended up with uneven clawed fingers. Maybe it was because of its weight and not actual animal instincts that the Servant was hunched over forward, the ridges of his spine clearly visible on his muscled back, sticking out almost like under-skin spikes. A tattered loincloth was the only thing that covered part of the beast and so one could easily see just how repulsive his body was. The waist was disappropriately thin, almost making it unbelievable how the Servant hadn’t snapped in two so far. But his upper torso was more broad-shouldered than the most muscular man on Earth. The cheeks on his elongated face were sunken and shallow and patches of his long and dirty, probably once blond, hair looked ready to fall off at any given moment. Only the Servant’s wild blue eyes, colored the icy tint of death itself, were filled with life and anger, darting around the room in search of his first prey in this world.

They finally settled on Shinosuke when the young man lifted up his left hand for the Servant to see the Command Spells. The two seals vaguely reminded him of something like a leathery wing and a snake- or dragon-like head next to it. Perhaps his ‘partner’ had the other wing? Probably.

As expected, the beast didn’t seem fazed by the seals on his Master’s arm in the least. Letting out yet another blood-chilling roar, he lunged forward in a mad fit of rage and pulled back his oversized right arm. Shinosuke pulled back his vision-obscuring fringe, his eyes meeting with those of his Servant.

The roar died in the beast’s throat in the matter of a single second.

Like rooted to the ground, the Servant stopped in his track, hand still pulled back in preparation to turn Shinosuke into a bloody stain on the floor. And then the floor shook as the beast took a step forward. And another. And another. His hoarse animalistic gurgles filled the air and the Servant struggled onwards, only to meet more and more resistance as he neared his Master.

Shinosuke, on the other hand, was flabbergasted. He expected a legendary hero to have enough resistance to shrug off the initial effect, he was ready to accept the miracle that the thing before him was still of flesh and blood- but he had trouble accepting the fact that his Servant was still pushing forward, slowly but surely, dead-set on ripping him apart.

A wicked smile appeared on the raven-haired man’s lips as he walked closely to his Servant. He tried to swing with his raised arm when Shinosuke walked into range but the traitorous arm refused to move, seemingly frozen in its place. Making sure to keep constant eye contact, the young man took a hold of a greasy patch of hair and pulled down the head of the beast so they could be face to face. The breath of his Servant, filled with the stench of death and rotten meat almost rendered Shinosuke unconscious. But still, he had some things to say if they were to work together.

“Listen, Berserker,” said the young man and gazed inside the blue eyes of his Servant, eyes clouded with madness like no other. “I don’t know who you are, nor do I care. All I can promise you is this: I will drown this city in blood if I have to, until I find the strongest opponent, the one strong enough for me to be satisfied. I promise to let this world be your playground, to let you slaughter to your heart’s content, if you become my Servant and make me qualified as a Master to enter this War. And if in the end we are the last ones left standing, if all else fall before us, then I promise you this, too. One of us shall be the dead of the other. Until then, we cooperate. Understood?”

Seemingly without a care in this world, Shinosuke let go off his Servant’s hair and averted his eyes away. Several seconds later, an animalistic roar and the sound of something crashing into the ground followed.

Berserker, eyes locked with the hidden ones of his Master, was kneeling.

I3uster
August 27th, 2011, 09:12 AM
Proceed.

ItsaRandomUsername
August 27th, 2011, 10:22 AM
Gonna take a stab in the dark here and say it's either Fafnir or Grendel.

Anywho, carry on.

Mike1984
August 27th, 2011, 10:45 AM
Well, Waver is in the fic, but more as a background character who wants to investigate the appearance of the new Grail and prevent disasters like those from the previous Wars. I try not to go down the route where nearly all major players of the 5th are present in the 6th. Especially considering that it takes place in America and not even in Asia.

So, no Sakura, then?

I3uster
August 27th, 2011, 10:47 AM
Did you read the Master summary he gave in the fanfic ideas thread? I don't think there is much of a place for Sakura in there. Or other canon characters.

Sherrinford
August 27th, 2011, 10:51 AM
Good, very very good.

The first part of the chapter was almost perfect. I really like your character of Ayaka. The e-mail sounds really suspicious, I hope it's not just some way to step the plot into motion... I hope this ShadowJuliet has reasons to know that she's a (amateur) magus.

The second part... well, you are the complete opposite of me lol. You writing style is similar to Lovecraft, you use a lot of exposition. It's just that in some parts it really looks like a wall of text and, for someone like me who doesn't speak english as first language, it may become difficult to focus on the the reading.

But anyway, that's not much of a problem. In fact, I really like this fanfic even though it's just two chapters long by now (I probably expect more chapters for this than for Saligia ;) ).


Gonna take a stab in the dark here and say it's either Fafnir or Grendel.

Hey, never thought about them for possible servants! Both of them are human (somehow), so they counts!

Mike1984
August 27th, 2011, 11:10 AM
Did you read the Master summary he gave in the fanfic ideas thread? I don't think there is much of a place for Sakura in there. Or other canon characters.

I probably did, but I probably only skim-read it and then forgot about it....

Sherrinford
August 27th, 2011, 11:20 AM
@Mike: to be honest, it was posted some time ago.

Aladar
August 27th, 2011, 04:33 PM
Well, there's no Sakura in the fic but I do hope you can read this one without being sour of any Sakura treatment and tell me your unbiased opinion about it.

Also, why jump to conclusions with Berserker. I may have genderbent a female hero for all you know.

Sherrinford
August 27th, 2011, 04:38 PM
Also, why jump to conclusions with Berserker. I may have genderbent a female hero for all you know.

I simply can't tell how wrong it would be.

lol.

Aladar
August 27th, 2011, 04:50 PM
Or I may just be trolling you and trying to steer you off course.

Muahahaha!

Mike1984
August 27th, 2011, 05:03 PM
Well, there's no Sakura in the fic but I do hope you can read this one without being sour of any Sakura treatment and tell me your unbiased opinion about it.

Honestly, my interest in sixth war fics which don't involve canon characters and has no significant connection to them is pretty much nil, so I doubt I will read it. Not that I'm complaining about the lack of Sakura or anything, I just don't have any interest in such fics.

I3uster
August 27th, 2011, 05:25 PM
Read the Master proposal he wrote and reconsider. Really. It sounds very good.

RR121
August 27th, 2011, 05:55 PM
Link us? There's no way I'm searching through the how many hundred pages there are for that post :P

I3uster
August 27th, 2011, 06:00 PM
Spoilers: http://forums.nrvnqsr.com/showthread.php/101-Type-Moon-Fanfic-Ideas?p=250450#post250450

RR121
August 27th, 2011, 06:04 PM
Oh? So there's not a single main character at all?

*frowns*

Not sure I'll like this, but I'll give it a shot. I almost always get annoyed by 'cast-swap' fanfics.

Aladar
August 28th, 2011, 03:57 AM
Honestly, my interest in sixth war fics which don't involve canon characters and has no significant connection to them is pretty much nil, so I doubt I will read it. Not that I'm complaining about the lack of Sakura or anything, I just don't have any interest in such fics.

Fair enough.

I hope the others like it, tho. I'm probably gonna follow Five_X's example soon and make my own wiseup thread. But not only Servants, but info on the Masters, the setting, the city, the city's factions and other pointless trivia will be included.

Aladar
August 28th, 2011, 01:01 PM
And now the fanfic has this awesome banner, courtesy to Blazaking EX on BMGf.

U like?

I3uster
August 28th, 2011, 01:15 PM
Yesh!

Sherrinford
August 28th, 2011, 01:32 PM
HOLY SHIT Aladar, I saw your new sig in the CP thread and I thought "Mighty fuck! Look at what happens while I'm eating dinner!"


... and yes, I like it.

Aladar
August 29th, 2011, 08:40 PM
Chapter 2:
Haunting Pasts



The sky seemed set ablaze as the setting sun slowly hid behind the tips of the century-old trees in Hartcroft’s central park. Whatever warmth there was during the day was swiftly getting swept away by the howling wind. It somehow managed to penetrate even the warmest of clothes, giving you a taste of the vicious winter that was to come. But even though night was just about to descend, in the quick and sudden away it engulfed the world during the autumn and winter months, many people still strolled up and down the alleys. Young couples walking hand in hand, cuddling with each other to keep themselves warm, families with their kids out on a late stroll or just the rare lonely traveler- everybody refused to go before it was absolutely necessary, too stubborn to waste any of the precious time they could spend here before the freezing winter took hold of the city.

And the leaves just kept on falling like a rain of gold, bronze and rubies, hiding the ground under a widespread blanked that looked to be made entirely of autumn-colored patches sewn together. Gone were the birds that had claimed these very trees as their kingdom during the spring and summer and now only the occasional late squirrel darted from one branch to another in search of leftover chestnuts. And even though there were so many people around, it was a lonely picture. It was a masterpiece, that was certain, but the hidden bleakness behind the warm colors was merely a façade. Every year around this time, the world was slowly dying in its endless cycle of reincarnation. It was a slow and probably painful death and Ayaka felt disgusted when she caught herself admiring the dreadful masterpiece of nature along with everybody else. The girl hated bearing witness to such soundless agony. Death should be quick and sudden and painless. Better yet, one must never even realize it has happened. At least that was the opinion of the bespectacled girl.

A faint sigh escaped her lips as she cast her black eyes up. The heavy clouds had lied to her, tricking her with their false promise for rain while they just lazily made their way through the sky while doing nothing. To top it off, they had been waiting for almost an hour now, her back was getting stiff from sitting on the cold wooden bench for so long and Jed had talked her ears off with his usual delusional tales.

“…And after I got back, I was too scared to even look at a short-haired girl in the eye or drink any orange juice for six months straight!”

Ayaka stubbornly refused to comment, partially because of the sheer ridiculousness of the situation and partially because she was scared of hurting her only friend’s feelings. Jed usually just started another story or got lost thinking about something equally crazy so the situation was probably going to get solved by itself pretty soon. Having nothing else to do, the bespectacled girl straightened the hem of her plaid skirt for the umpteenth time and sneaked a look at her handbag, safely tucked between the two of them in case her mysterious contact tried to steal it. She considered her peculiar purchase a bargain. The strange shop’s owner had been somehow both reluctant and willing to sell it and after a small session of haggling, Ayaka had managed to officially get hold of the card for a fairly reasonable price. Of course, if she was lucky, that very card was going to turn out to be priceless.

Tired after the hour-long battle with boredom, her wandering gaze settled on another teenage couple sitting next to the fountain. Only those two were a couple in the literal sense and their positions somewhat mirrored those of the marble statues behind them. The grim Hades lying in the Goddess of Spring’s lap, his chosen one feeding him grapes with her tender fingers. Only the modern live-version depiction of the statue included an overly-cheerful jeans-wearing Hades and a less than serious, constantly giggling Persephone prone to playing with her boyfriend’s hair.

The sound of creaking bones brought her back to reality. Jed seemed on the verge of falling asleep from boredom and apparently trying to manually rearrange his bone structure by stretching was his way of dealing with the problem. What’s more, his silverfish eyes seemed to be looking in the direction of the happy couple as well. The blonde teen’s wide yawn, more akin to a snake detaching its lower jaw than anything else, enlightened Ayaka to a horrible dilemma.

What if Jed expected her to propose something similar? Was that why he was constantly following her around like a lost puppy while no one else wanted to even speak to the creepy quiet girl in school? True, Jed had never shown any sign of a crush before, nor had he shown any attraction to the opposite sex. Or his own. Indeed, Jed was a riddle covered in a mystery wrapped inside an enigma and to think he’d have such… ordinary human interests was nigh unthinkable. And Ayaka just didn’t like her friend in that way.

Jed was just that… Jed. Fun, caring, goofy and always there when she needed him- and many times she didn’t and actually wanted some peace and quiet. But the bespectacled girl had never thought of him as someone male she could date. He was a like whole other species entirely to her. A very strange kind of friend species. But if she told him that and he got offended… Jed’s attention had never been one to be kept by a single thing for so long. If his only reason to be with her was that and Ayaka shot him down, there was a very good chance of Jed leaving her life for good.

Forever.

Ayaka frankly didn’t know why she even cared. After all, she had decided long ago that she was better off on her own- none could get hurt because of her that way. From a certain point of view, that was maybe the chance for the teenage girl to set her friend free. And yet she didn’t want to. No matter how much she wanted to deny it, humans were social creatures by origin. It was their nature, after all. Even if all they did was get hurt when they neared each other, they would still do it again and again because for a human… for a human solitude equals death.

The girl’s lithe fingers crumpled her skirt, not even aware they were clutching it tightly. Ayaka hoped Jed hadn’t heard her audible gulp and hid her eyes behind the veil of her black shoulder-length hair to make sure her expression didn’t reveal her intentions. She just couldn’t let Jed go. He was her sole outlet and if deceiving him for a bit and feeding the boy delusions about a possible future together meant keeping him around, she would do it. She would lie and shoulder this evil because if she ended up alone again, like that time surrounded by the raging fire, she would never survive. Her faked affectionate voice was barely a whisper when she spoke.

“Hey, Jed… uhm, would you like to-“

“Why, for heaven’s sake, why?!” cut her off Jed and waved his hands at the directions of the couple, angry for reasons unknown. Ayaka blinked in confusion. “Who in their right mind would put that statue there instead of, say, a four-hundred feet tall purple platypus bear with pink horns and silver wings? Preposterous, I tell you. People nowadays have no sense of taste.”

So he had just been watching the… statue? A sense of relief washed over Ayaka and yet there was some strange tinge of… regret mixed into it as well. Thankfully, it seemed that her grandiose self-centered friend had never even noticed her speaking up. And so the two were back to their silent watch, twilight turning quickly into impregnable darkness. The park finally emptied out. The only illumination was coming from the lamppost lining up along the numerous alleys. And while the brave electrical wardens provided a seemingly safe area of brightness around them, the patches of darkness in-between somehow only got scarier. To Ayaka’s overreacting imagination it seemed that all kinds of nightmarish creatures were hiding inside the pockets of darkness, lying in wait for the lampposts to flicker out so they could lunge at their harmless prey.

The eerie combination of the chilling wind and the never-ending sound of falling water coming from the fountain wasn’t helping her nerves much either. She tried to reason with herself that she was getting scared of things she didn’t even pay attention to during the day but her mind refused to listen. Maybe there really was something or someone watching them from afar. Or maybe the bespectacled girl’s instincts really were just on the level of a normal human and she was getting scared of being relatively alone in the park in the middle of the night. Like any sensible girl her age would react. Ayaka unconsciously moved closer to Jed.

“You wanna go home yet?” asked the blonde boy, his eyes kept close as he tried to catch some shuteye while sitting on the uncomfortable wooden bench.

“No,” was Ayaka’s simple reply. She couldn’t go yet. Not until she learned what she had come here for in the first place. “You can go if you want, tho,” added the girl with an even voice, even though she wanted anything but being left alone out there.

A loud boyish laugh was the answer she got.

“You kiddin’, Aya? I promised you I’ll wait with you ‘till the end, right? So it doesn’t matter if it’s sunny or cold or day or night. If you say we wait, we wait. I might have to knit us a tent of dead leaves or something soon, tho, it’s getting pretty chilly.”

The bespectacled girl easily noticed how real Jed’s exaggerated shudder actually was. Honestly, who in their right mind would go out in such a weather wearing just a plain old T-shirt? Without saying a word, Ayaka removed her jacket and handed it to her friend without even looking. Even though the whole thing went completely against the established rules of etiquette, the ‘gentleman’ immediately grabbed the warm piece of clothing and just thanked the girl with a hearty laugh. Soon the steady, almost comical sound of exaggerated snoring filled the freezing air. Finally daring to glance to her side, Ayaka saw that Jed had draped her jacket like a blanket over himself and was currently fast asleep. And he somehow managed to look and act ridiculous even while being unconscious.

Barely a minute later her phone started ringing, scaring the life out of its owner as its otherwise cheerful melody chased away the silence suddenly enough to make Ayaka jump up slightly. She quickly answered the call without even looking at the caller’s ID, too concerned about not waking Jed to care.

“Listen, dearest, when doing serious business like ours it’s considered polite to do it alone.”

The unknown female voice on the other end of the line chased away whatever doubts she had had of someone watching them from the darkness. The bespectacled girl frantically looked around but the veil of the night was too impenetrable for her to notice even a silhouette.

“Are you talking about Jed? He’s just a friend, he’s not-“

“Regardless,” cut her off the woman. “It was hurtful you know, being forced to wait so much just because of your selfishness. And here I was actually honoring our deal…”

Even though she didn’t know how the caller looked, the tone made Ayaka picture an almost perfect fake pout. This Juliet surely was a strange one but at least she wasn’t a creepy middle-aged man. Or at least it seemed so for now.

“Wait, I…” the girl paused, unsure what to say in such situation. “I didn’t mean to be… disrespectful.”

“Oh, drop the formalities, kitten, we are business partners, aren’t we?”

“Uhm… yes. We are,” finally agreed the black-haired girl, deciding that playing along with the other woman was the best course of action for now.

“Okay then. See, we are getting along fine from the get-go! Now go down the alley to your left. I’ll be waiting at the sixth lamppost.”

The call had been canceled before Ayaka could even realize what the other person had said. Once again doubts clouded her mind and the darkness around the girl seemed ready to suffocate her at any given moment. But she had made her choice even before coming here. It was her first and possibly last chance and even though she was grasping at straws, she knew of no other way. Ayaka glanced one last time at Jed, sleeping as soundly as ever, before taking her handbag and heading out.

The imaginary beasts hidden under the veil of the night leered at the girl as she slowly made her way down the empty alley, counting the lampposts as she walked. After what seemed like eternity, she finally reached the sixth. But there was no one there. Ayaka Millsbury was the sole person standing under the flickering light of the lamppost.

The girl’s blood stopped in her veins when she felt the cold blade run across the skin on her neck.

“I wonder, little bunny, are you really that stupid or are you just too idealistic for your own good?”

The woman’s voice hadn’t changed in the least, remaining somewhat cheerful even as she held the sharpened blade to Ayaka’s neck. The girl felt a hand seemingly embracing her from behind, both to keep her still and to search through the contents of her handbag. The assailant found what she had been looking for soon enough. Brain running solely on instincts, the girl’s hand grasped the wrist of the other woman. It wasn’t a tight grip, nor was it some kind of sudden movement. Ayaka had just taken hold of it, the little girl inside her hoping to save her precious treasure that way. Her assailant didn’t seem fazed by her actions in the least. Instead, the other woman just embraced her fully from behind. Ayaka even felt a pair of breasts pressing against her back through her sweater.

“I don’t think that’s the wisest move, Aya,” sing-sang the older woman and tried to wrestle her hand free from the girl’s grip.

Not even saying a word, the bespectacled teen just kept on clutching the hand which had stolen her little treasure. Even if she had to hang from the other woman’s hand like a ragdoll or get her throat slit, she wasn’t going to let go. She just couldn’t.

“Don’t take it,” Ayaka muttered almost inaudibly.

“And why, precisely, shouldn’t I? Do you even know why do you need it?”

“I just… know,” replied the girl simply. The knife moved down from her throat to the hand holding her assailant one’s captive. But instead of the feeling of the blade biting deep into her flesh, the knife only pulled up her sleeve a bit with its tip and pressed itself to her pale skin. And even though the blade was as cold as ice, all Ayaka felt was pain like fire shooting out from the wound that had opened on her arm earlier that day.

“Still bleeding ruby tears from the wounds, huh?” rhetorically asked the woman and lifted the blade to the girl’s eyelevel. The tiny crimson droplets fell down from the tip of the blade like clockwork. Ayaka could almost swear she could hear them as they hit the cold pavement, one after another with each strike of the imaginary clock’s hand. “You don’t even know it, darling, and still you crave it strongly enough to be chosen. Somewhat ironic, isn’t it? Why don’t we speak eye to eye for a bit?”

Ayaka found herself getting yanked around and coming face to face with her assailant. The woman was a head taller than her, seemingly in her early twenties. Her whole image contrasted with the fact that she was currently pressing the tip of her switch blade to Ayaka’s pale neck. Even under the fur-rimmed jacket it was noticeable that the woman had quite the curvaceous figure. Her blond ponytail billowed slightly due to the night wind and the smile on her face was the kind of smile someone like her should have when gossiping with her fellow models.

That was the image of the ones that got attacked, not the ones attacking. And Ayaka’s brain had trouble processing the ridiculousness of the situation.

“I did promise you I’d tell you about the War if you find the card, didn’t I?”

Ayaka could only nod ever so slightly, weary of the blade pressed against her neck.

“The concept is quite simple, you know. Seven mages enter the contest by controlling exceptionally strong familiars. Whoever’s the last one standing, gets the Grail. And the Grail, dearest-“

The woman’s voice turned into a whisper as she leaned closer and buried her face in the girl’s black hair, whispering into her ear.

“-is the power to turn you greatest, wildest wish come true.”

Pulling back, the blonde flashed Ayaka yet another innocent smile, knife still pressed to the younger girl‘s neck.

“But it’s a dangerous contest after all. Kill or be killed… but you already know it, don’t you? Instinctively. And whatever part of you was responsible for your self-preservation… it’s dead now, darling. You’re neither idealistic nor stupid. I can see it in those cold emotionless eyes of yours… you aren’t scared of dying. Tell me, can you be called human if one of the things that marks you as human the most is taken away from you? You’re soulless, Aya. A monster. What kind of a wish can a monster like you have?”

The minutes passed in silence until the girl finally dared to answer.

“You are right to think I’m a monster… but I’m a monster precisely because I want to live so much.”

The total lack of emotion in those words could’ve made the skin of anyone who managed to hear them crawl.

“But I can’t stand this way of living anymore. And I need the power of magic, I need a miracle. And I would do anything-“

“Would you?” cut her off the blonde and once again leaned closer, close enough for Ayaka to see her reflection in the other woman’s deep blue eyes. “Would you really do anything?”

The moments passed in silence, the younger girl the epitome of a marble statue frozen in time and the older one just idly twirling the hair of her younger counterpart around her finger.

When Ayaka finally spoke, her voice was once again devoid of even a tinge of emotion.

“I would.”

The blonde’s lips curled into a smile that almost split her face in half. The knife was suddenly gone from Ayaka’s throat and she felt the other woman intertwine her fingers with the girl’s own. The bespectacled girl lost her balance when she was hastily yanked forward.

“Okay then. Kill me.”

The façade finally cracking down, Ayaka’s eyes widened when she realized what the blonde had said. The knife, having been forced into Ayaka’s hand, was now pressed against the slender throat of the older woman. Her hands were now gripping Ayaka’s tightly, making sure she could only move her hand forward.

“You said you would do anything for that miracle, didn’t you? Then do it! Prove you are willing to kill for this miracle of yours, darling, because if you aren’t, you are better off slitting your own throat here and now compared to entering the War unprepared.”

The black-haired girl’s hand started to tremble as she tried to break free, all her efforts in vain. She had to kill? But precisely because she was a murderer she wanted to change things! She needed this miracle to erase her own sins once and for all… but was it worth it to add even more deaths to her account along the way? What if she just wished for them to be alive and well in the end? It didn’t matter who she killed if she won and, besides, it wasn’t like there wasn’t enough blood on her hands already…

The eyes of the two women met, locking into each other as both refused to look away. Even though her hand was shaking hard enough for the other woman’s hands to tremble along with it, the tip of the knife pushed harder against the blonde’s throat, a thin stream of crimson now trickling down her slender neck.

Just one more push and it was going to be all over.

Just a little bit more and she could take back the card.

Just one little movement of her hand and the blonde’s whole life was going to be erased in the matter of seconds.

It was the shriek of a broken person that echoed in the stillness of the night. Ayaka fell to her knees like a marionette with its string severed, her hand still forced to clutch the blade as the blonde kept on holding her arm tightly. Hot tears ran down the girl’s cheeks as she finally broke down after so many years and her voice lost its usual emotionless, turning into broken sobs instead.

“Don’t make me do it, please, just don’t make me kill anyone again! I don’t want to become a murderer again, don’t want to, don’t want to, I DON’T WANT TO!”

“The choice is yours then,” was the blonde’s answer, her voice still as calm as ever. Ayaka looked up in surprise with bloodshot eyes when she felt the knife getting taken from her and she felt the tight grip on her hand finally loosen. “Enter this War and win without taking anyone’s life or just forget about it and spend your whole life asking yourself ‘what if’.”

The worn-out card was now extended to Ayaka, the picture of the knight in shining armor clearly visible under the light stemming from above. A blank check was in the blonde’s other hand.

“You can fill in any sum you wish,” clarified the blonde and winked at the kneeling girl. “But if you choose the money, the easy life filled with parties, drinking and trips round the world, you lose your chance at the War. Pick the card, you get a shot at the War and you’ll be able to witness it in all its gruesome glory but you just might be able to win yourself that miracle you want so much.”

Ayaka could only stare at the two slips of paper offered to her in astonishment. The blonde didn’t seem surprised by her reaction. Once again, an impish smirk played on her lips.

“Think carefully, Aya, your whole future depends on this one choice, here and now. Your choice will decide whether you are going to spend the rest of your living days in regret and drowning in ignorance to your potential or you’re going to open your eyes to the bigger picture, to the world you rightfully belong to but remains hidden behind the scenes. Just make the right choice, little bunny, and I promise-“

The blonde leaned down to the girl with the bloodshot eyes, once again whispering tenderly into her ear.

“-I’ll show you just how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

With a trembling hand, without even daring to look up, Ayaka pulled out the Saber card from between the blonde’s fingers.

“Good girl,” congratulated the blonde with a bright smile and helped the younger woman get back on her wobbling feet. Ayaka found herself with a phone and a memory stick pushed into her hands.

“Now, of course, every contact comes with a certain price. Tonight you’re going to perform the ritual explained here. Tomorrow, you will go to St. Patroclus’s Cathedral and search for Father Luciano. Tell him you are a participant in the War and he is going to explain everything to you, it’s his job. Aside from the summoning ritual, I’m not going to give you any information on the War because you are probably going to end up letting slip that you know those things with your reactions. You are going to visit him as much as you could and keep an eye on him. You’ll also take notice of all the details about the other Masters you meet. If you don’t want to kill, then don’t. Information on someone alive is worth more either way. All in all, handle this however you want and you get to keep the miracle if you win it. All I want is information, okay? You can do that, right?”

Ayaka just nodded weakly, still clutching tightly the Saber card in her hands as if afraid it would melt into the darkness. The blonde just shook her head and, with a smirk plastered on her face, silently walked away…

“Oh, and one last thing-“

The bespectacled teen’s heart sunk when she found the hated blade once again pushed into her hand.

“-Keep the souvenir. You might need it.”


***
He hated autumn. Hated it with a passion comparable to that of the might of a thousand exploding suns.

It was not a hatred without reason. Autumn just reminded him of himself so much that it made him sick on the inside. It was like a constant reminder of how desperate his situation really was and what the inevitable result was going to be. Everything- from the wilting flowers to the visage of the dead scrunched-up leaves littering the ground- was like some twisted visual representation of his inevitable fate. The trees fought bravely for every leaf and even the lifeless flowers tried to retain their beauty until their final moments- but winter… winter always came. And he knew well enough that if his winter ever came, there was never going to be a new spring for him.

A life stuck in a never-ending autumn, dying even while still being alive. That was the life of the one named Glen Grimaldi.

And for every day of this half a life, Glen had lost one tiny bit of himself after another. The pain of his own body devouring itself from the inside out, the foreign flesh and blood dripping like acid inside his own veins- it had been too much to bear for all these years. And so, after so many sleepless nights of biting through his own veins in hope of stopping the pain, he had chosen to deaden his own feelings. And while Glen could no longer feel the breeze of the morning wind, the pain was pushed back in the background of his screaming mind.

He was a Grimaldi after all- he had to endure.

It was a more than a decade already. A decade since he had been given the greatest honor of them all- to be the next head of the family, to be the Crest-bearer, to be the one true scion of those who bore the name Grimaldi. His was indeed the greatest honor of all, an honor for which any other member of his family would have gladly given his own heart. And give his heart Glen did- and embraced the Crest as his new one, embraced the lifeless flesh and blackened blood, embraced the darkest prana that bore the history of a whole millennia as his new heart.

He was a Grimaldi after all- no sacrifice was too great for the family.

The first few months after receiving the Crest were a blur of endless torture to him. All he remembered were the screams, the never-ending screams that he could hear coming out of his own throat. And the sense of the foreign flesh spreading through him, muscles and tissue dying and reviving again and again as his body tried to fight off the corruption. There was no blood in his veins- only fire, both red and black, his own and not at the same time. But Glen, even when insanity had nested deeply itself into his brain- his only way to cope with the eternal pain- had fought. Endlessly.

He was a Grimaldi after all- it would have been dishonorable to give up.

But, in the end, it hadn’t been his own strength that had saved his life. The one he had once called his brother, the one that had been supposed to bear all that pain, had finally come back. A knight in shining armor, rushing in to help the helpless victim. But Glen knew his brother well enough to recognize the guilt in his eyes, even through the misty veil of pain and madness. And, true to himself, the elder one had disappeared soon after. The rescue had been done and a new life had been bargained for Glen. A parody of a life which both Grimaldis recognized well enough.

The sole thing keeping Glen alive was the one thing that was killing him- a black heart both his own and not. The heart that embodied the whole millennia of his family’s bloody history. And so there had been no hatred in his voice when Glen had bid his brother goodbye. The younger one was a lost cause, living nothing but a borrowed live. His brother had done his duty to regain the honor lost and had left him to his own devices. Glen understood his decision to leave him again afterwards. Or, at least, he fooled himself that he did.

He was a Grimaldi after all- and a Grimaldi always took the rational decision.

So in the name of his one single goal, he rationalized each and every loss. Prana was the one thing that sped up his Crest’s corruption- so he gave up his magecraft. The pain had forced him into madness- so he had killed off his senses to keep his sanity. He had found himself forced to brave the whole cruel world and the curse inside his veins alone- and so he had discarded the human inside him.

Glen’s existence truly was a sorry one- but he would have killed anyone to retain it even for just a bit more.

Still, no life was worth living without a bit of fun. And being stuck on the verge of death for the majority of his life, Glen had learned to appreciate the smallest of pleasures that the Fate which seemed to hate him so much was willing to give him. As mushy as it sounded, Glen loved looking over the city at night. It was somewhat like a hobby of his, spending the sleepless nights just observing the city that never slept- the city of a thousand tales- instead of bothering himself with the nightmares that still haunted him. Maybe it was just because he had been born and raised in a rather rural area but the skyline of Hartcroft had always seemed so… majestic to him. In Glen’s opinion there was no better masterpiece.

An enormous, seemingly never-ending city veiled by the darkness and yet illuminating the night with its dazzling lights, mirroring the stars in the skies above. And Glen was part of his mental masterpiece as well- perching on the terrace’s edge with one leg dangly idly just like now, a lone figure stuck between the moon and New York City.

“You do realize that if you fall all my hard work will be in vain, right?” suddenly asked an all-too-familiar female voice that yanked Glen back to reality. “Seriously, Glenny, you are so selfish!”

“The hypocrisy in that statement is so much that I won’t even bother to comment,” replied the teen with an even voice and threw a condemning look at the newcomer with his tired eyes, colored an eerie green hue.

The blonde was certainly stunning that night. Not that she usually wasn’t- but the tight-fitting black dress with the high slit really brought out her finer… assets. The lacey stockings were quite the addition as well, gathering many a man’s looks if the leers thrown at the blonde by the ‘gentlemen’ who were still inside the ballroom were any indication. Apparently she was supposed to be a vampire, judging by the amount of make-up she had put on to get the pale look and by the dark mascara smeared around her eyes. Glen admitted that she couldn’t have picked a better beast to dress up like- the blonde was widely known for being one hell of a leech when someone needed her services.

As she always said, information was power. And power didn’t come cheap.

“And why aren’t you dressed up, Glenny?” drawled out the blonde and pointed at him accusingly with a finger clad in elbow-long satin gloves. “Meissa would be furious if you don’t follow the dress code for her own birthday party! And, besides, do you even realize how much time she spent setting this whole gig up and persuading all those rich snobs that were forced on her guest list to dress up as well?”

“We already ‘talked’,” said Glen and made air-apostrophes for emphasis. “I told her I was going as myself this year. A zombie infectee.”

“Oh, come on,” protested the blonde and waved him off dismissively, flashing her signature cheerful smile all the while. “It’s not that ba-“

Glen lifted his left hand for her to see. The sleeve of his shirt was rolled up but the teen showed no concern for the biting cold- after all, he could barely notice it with his senses deadened as they were. All the way down to his elbow, pale ghastly flesh had replaced his own and even under the dim light coming from the inside, the black pulsations of the web of veins under the corrupted flesh were clearly visible. Glen didn’t wait for the blonde to comment.

“It started acting up this morning… I can’t contain it to the chest area anymore. He’s here, Nia, grandfather’s here and the Crest is trying to set up the host body for him.”

To her credit, the one called Nia didn’t look fazed by the news at all. Instead, she just started digging through her rather miniature handbag. The somewhat cocky smile never left her face.

“While I appreciate your sense for dramatics, little Hamlet, you insult me by implying that I of all people don’t already know that.”

Glen’s eyebrow hid in his dark red hair when he recognized the small figurine being offered to him. Inside Nia’s extended palm lay an ordinary chess piece- a black knight. The red-haired teen picked up the figurine and held it at eye level.

“I guess now’s the moment when you admit you’ve officially gone stark raving mad?” finally said Glen and threw an aside glance to his long-time acquaintance. Nia just leaned closely to him, her exaggeratedly ruby lips curling into a vicious smirk. Those false fangs almost looked real on her, as if she was getting ready to pounce on him and drain him of his blood.

“Or maybe this is the moment when you get on your knees and thank me for getting you this.”

Rather theatrically, Nia swiftly took out something else out of her handbag- a worn-out brownish card. She held it up for Glen to see clearly- both the armored man riding a chariot and the bold text under the picture.

“Rider,” whispered Glen, almost in awe, as his perpetual mask of boredom finally cracked. “So it’s really true, isn’t it? There’s going to be a War here in Hartcroft?”

“It seems so,” replied Nia but pulled back her hand when her red-haired friend tried to seize the card off her grip. “And I really am offering you to join the game board- hence the knight piece- but before that, Glenny… we’ve to make sure you really want it.”

The blonde extended her hand over the railing, ready to drop the card at any given moment. Or at least she would have if Glen hadn’t stopped her in mid-motion. His face was now back to its usual disinterested expression.

“I’m not one to let you play your little mind games, Nia. Stop it.”

“Oh, you’re no fun, Glenny,” replied the blonde and pouted, an expression both so fake and so realistic. “Here then, just take it! Consider it my early wedding present for you. And tell Meissa you won’t be getting another one.”

The redhead took the offered card without bothering to answer. But the moment his fingers touched the surface of the worn-out paper, pain shot through his hand as if his flesh had suddenly been ripped open. And, in reality, it seemed that precisely that was the case. Small droplets fell off his bloodstained shirt and onto the knight piece as Glen kept on holding to the Rider card, his magic circuits being forced open after so many years. The crest picked up on it as well and his blackened heart started beating faster than ever. But it all died down quickly enough when Glen forcedly dammed all the prana in his body, leaving his circuits empty and lifeless once again.

He rolled up his stained sleeve and inspected his new wound under the light stemming from the ballroom. Even though it had bled profusely mere seconds ago, the wound seemed to have closed up on its own. It would have looked like any old scar if not for its peculiar form. A sword-like symbol encircled by the familiar broken circle which represented the snake chasing its tail depicted on the Grimaldi coat of arms. But instead of the sun that always accompanied the snake as background on the family crest, the third symbol of Glen’s seals was a moon. An ordinary full moon like the one he liked to watch during the sleepless nights. It suited him, he thought.

“It seems to like you,” teased Nia and leaned closer to inspect the wound. The expression on her face was like that of a little girl exploring the outside world for the first time. “I couldn’t get a good look of the one that Saber’s Master had, tho. I wonder if they are similar in some way?”

“I honestly don’t know if I should be happy that you seem so willing to discuss other competitors or if I should be scared that you’re probably treating my personal info the same way,” said Glen and threw an unamused look at the blonde.

“Easy now, dear Glenny, you know I’d charge triple for any info on you,” shot back Nia and waved off the redhead’s comment with a dismissive hand.

“I can sleep soundly now, thank you. I’m just flattered, given how concerned you are about my well-being,” replied Glen with a look that could convey how positively not-flattered he was even to someone blind.

A minute passed in silence, the teen inspecting the card and the young woman just gazing at the skyscraper-ridden horizon.

“So why didn’t you keep a card for yourself if you had two?” suddenly asked Glen and his eerie green eyes shifted to the side so he could observe the blonde’s reaction. “Surely you must have some big wish for the Grail to grant you. Or do you just want to play chessmaster by controlling the participants?”

“I actually had three cards, mind you. Well, technically had.” Nia replied casually and puffed her buxom chest up a bit in a display of pride. “But my initial contact fell off the radar completely. Somehow. So instead of bothering with him I had that girl go buy the Saber card from that old coot in Chinatown. He would’ve never sold it to me. Whatever wishes I have, I need no miracle to achieve them. And why should I bother playing chessmaster? That’s no fun at all!”

“But yanking the pieces around, messing whoever’s the guy in charge’s plans- that’s what I love! No game’s fun without me derailing it!” proclaimed the blonde and threw her hands up in the air. She looked like a little girl stuck in a grown-up’s body.

“So how did the meeting with this other Master go?” asked Glen in an attempt to steer the conversation away from any future grandiose theatrics on Nia’s part.

“Oh, I think we got along swimmingly!” replied the blonde with a meaningful smirk. “I even got her to cry for a little bit.”

“What did you do again?” asked the redhead after letting out a tired sigh at Nia’s usual antics.

“I made her hold a knife to my throat and tried to force her to kill me,” blurted out the blonde in a single breath. A cheerful smile danced on her face, eerily contrasting with the contents of her statement. Glen’s eyebrow once again nearly got lost in his hair.

“What?” protested Nia. “It makes sense in context!”

Glen didn’t seem to be impressed by her defense. The blonde let out a sigh of her own and turned to go back inside.

“Aren’t you coming?” she asked and threw a teasing look at the red-haired teen. “Meissa said she’s taking her real guests to the Starlight to celebrate her birthday proper.”

“As strange as it sounds, I’ll pass up this opportunity to spend even more of my precious time with her,” answered Glen and shook his head. Makes you wonder why, huh? Given her sunny disposition and all that.”

“The arranged marriage is hard on her as well, y’know,” chastised him the blonde, her voice being a bit more serious this time.

“Well, that makes two of us then,” shot back Glen and turned his back to Nia, ending the conversation.

The blonde left soon enough, leaving behind the red-haired teen finally alone at his favorite place on Earth. High in the air, stuck between the city and the moon. But this time there was someone else there to keep him company- the bloodstained figurine of a now crimson knight.

Spinach
August 29th, 2011, 09:17 PM
Part of me wants to complain that you didn't give us some more details on Rider's appearance, but the other part just wants to sit back and silently wait for the information to come.

Aladar
August 30th, 2011, 06:41 AM
Well, he isn't summoned yet so I can't describe him yet, y'know.

Any opinions about the new characters and how Ayaka's doing for now?

Spinach
August 30th, 2011, 08:15 AM
Nia is interesting, and I wonder how much of a role she'll have, how well she'll manipulate things from behind the scenes. Glen seems like an unfortunate guy, I hope his eventual death, if it happens, isn't too cruel. Ayaka's in a rough spot, I'm not too keen on her mindset on the fire, thinking herself a killer. I hope she straightens up once her Servant starts to have an effect on her.

.. But most of all I want to see Servants.

Sherrinford
August 30th, 2011, 08:28 AM
I wonder if Luciano will be on Kotomine's level... trollface.jpg

Anyway, I like every character so far. Everyone is unique and interesting in their own way.


.. But most of all I want to see Servants.

I want to see interactions between servants and masters, something that 6th HGW fainfics don't do too often.


A chapter really well written, Aladar.

Aladar
August 30th, 2011, 08:35 AM
If not from the next chap, then from the one chap after the next, Servants will finally enter the story proper.

ItsaRandomUsername
August 31st, 2011, 05:03 PM
Curse you and your hooks!

Curse them!

Aladar
August 31st, 2011, 07:12 PM
Heh.

Oh, but guys, if you could tell me your opinions about the characters and setting and stuff in general so far I'd be really thankful. I'm building those OCs from scratch so any input is welcome.

Aladar
August 31st, 2011, 08:07 PM
Chapter 3:

Opening Move


The gentle rays of moonlight entered unobstructed through the ceiling of the dilapidated building. Or rather, they entered through the enormous hole that had taken the place of the ceiling. And whenever the moon shined, only more and more destruction was revealed. It was as if a hurricane had stormed through the building or a war had been waged inside. There was not a single pillar left intact in the spacious hall and the once clean to reflection floor was now smeared with blood and littered with more holes than a Swiss cheese. The west wall was completely missing, seemingly destroyed in a single blow. Expensive crystals, now smeared with blood and covered in a thick layer of dust, littered whatever parts of the floor were still intact- remnants of the dozens of crystal chandeliers which had once served to light up the place. And amidst this chaos, on a large pile of rubble was sitting a lone young man.

He was a very strange man. Even though the area around him was like a war-zone, there was not a single cut or wound visible on his body. His choice of clothing also contrasted with the scene, both with its present and former appearance. The typical Hawaiian shirt made him look like a lost tourist and the camouflage cargo pants somehow ended up seeing even more out of place than it. And yet, despite his appearance, the man was most certainly really there- and reading a worn out, almost ancient book by the looks of it. How exactly he managed to was a mystery, what with only the moon illuminating the place and with his eyes hidden behind a pair of sunglasses.

One couldn’t tell if the man was actually reading, looking at the strange illustrations of the book or just passing time by turning over the yellowed pages. It seemed like the young man was waiting for someone, but for whom and why there, no one knew. In the end, after many hours had passed and the day finally changed from Halloween to the first of November, the man seemed to have finally grown bored of waiting.

He jumped down onto the shaky floor and looked around for an exit which could lead him to some still intact stairs. But before he could decide on his escape route, the female voice that reached his ears made him stop.

“So was my tip of some use to you, Mr. Cyrus?”

“Hey, dudette, remember- it’s The Cyrus!” proclaimed the young man with burning passion clearly evident in his voice and pointed an accusing finger at the newcomer.

Said newcomer was a teenager- or rather, a young woman. She was certainly easy on the eye, her pale skin making you want to hug her to get her warm and she could just captivate you with her fiery red hair, which went down past her waist and glistened slightly with every move she made, as if there were numerous small crystals buried inside it just to reflect the moonlight. She had a body many women would kill to possess- and however cliché it may have sounded, ‘curves in all the right places’ was only the accurate phrase The Cyrus could think off. But then again, he admitted to himself he wasn’t much of a literary genius for someone who constantly hauled an ancient book around with him. Still, it only took one glance at the eyes of the girl- at those eerie venom-green eyes- for him to remember with who he was actually dealing with. In front of him may have been the body of a young attractive woman, but The Cyrus knew well enough what was hidden under the skin. Or rather- who.

The young man ran a hand through his spiky blond hair and finally answered properly after letting out a tired sigh.

“The mission may have been impossible, but the mission’s a success. But Gosh, was she a tough cookie for a teenage girl. Offense fully meant.”

The redhead just put some locks of her fiery hair behind her ear and flashed him an innocent smile full of promises of pain and death for later on.

“Come, come now, Mr. The Cyrus. All I want is to know whether I have to worry about her anymore or not.”

“See for yourself,” replied The Cyrus with a shrug and tossed a nearby chunk of debris to the redhead.

She caught the stone with relative ease, using only a single hand to booth. Her eerie green eyes immediately glared at it, soaking in the features of the stone which looked like half the broken off head of some statue. The broken face was that of a girl, her lower lip bitten and her determined eyes seemingly looking into the very soul of whoever glanced back. When the redhead spoke, she sounded almost sincerely impressed.

“My, oh my, Mr. The Cyrus! You mean to tell me you have a basilisk stashed inside that Scripture of yours?”

“Oh, I’ve many things stashed in here,” answered the blond man and his lips curled into a smirk. He tapped the cover of the worn-out book with his finger. “Given that she was a girl, I decided to be a gentleman and start off with some unicorns, y’know, fluffy stuff. But after she cut them up to pieces and nearly skewered me with ‘em nasty shadow tendrils of hers, I decided I’d stop going easy on her. Her main weapon were the eyes, right? So, I thought, ‘hey, if she has to look at someone to kill him, why not make her face an enemy she can’t look in the eyes’? She struggled a lot, tho, only turned into stone after I used her delayed reactions to kill her. I kinda shattered her ‘cause I was scared she’d spring back to life or something.”

“And what about old Regnar?” inquired the girl and tilted her head in curiosity.

“Whonar again?” blurted out The Cyrus and scratched the back of his head.

“Big scary shadow demon thing, who’s actually the real possessor of the Mystic Eyes?” clarified the redhead with a tone one usually reserved for explaining things to little kids.

“Oh! That one!” almost shouted The Cyrus and snapped his fingers cheerfully. “Your Whonar dude is now the resident of page number… 1187,” the blond finished with a voice that clearly conveyed how much trouble he had accepting a book of so much pages and power being so small in actual size.

“And any chance I can persuade you to give that little page to me? Or at least burn it?” asked the redhead with the nicest voice possible, hands behind her back and slightly leaning forward, revealing quite the cleavage. She fluttered her eyelashes, eyes piercing deep into the man’s soul. The Cyrus gulped rather loudly.

“Honestly, you disgust me. To know what I am and still get swayed by appearances… pathetic.”

The voice that came from the redhead’s throat could give a heart attack to anyone unprepared. It was rude, gruff and very positively male. Crossing her arms in front of her chest, the redhead shot The Cyrus an arrogant look filled with disgust. She extended her hand and nonchalantly said to the blond:

“Give it to me. Now!”

A beat passed, The Cyrus still trying to get used to the male voice coming out of the girl’s throat. But when it looked like he’d finally bow down to the whims of the mysterious redhead, he only pushed back his sunglasses and plastered a knowing smirk on his lips.

“And you better give me a reason why not to turn you into the resident of page 1188.”

A cold hoarse laugh filled the annihilated hall after about half a minute of silence. The redhead was now laughing her head off, hands clutching her sides in a vain attempt to stop herself.

“Do you honestly think, whelp, that you can stand even a ghost of a chance against me?”

To his credit, The Cyrus didn’t seem threatened in the least. The knowing smirk was still plastered on his face, splitting it almost from ear to year.

“Ain’t nothing but the truth, dude- I stand no chance against the King of Nightmares… but isn’t the one I’m facing now just a desperate old man who stole the body of a little girl so he could keep on living on borrowed time?”

It had been a nonchalant comment but it had cut short the redhead’s fit of laughter rather abruptly. The glare of those eerie eyes seemed almost like the glare of a real basilisk- petrifying whoever looked at it on the spot.

“Don’t push your luck, kid,” eventually growled the girl.

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” replied The Cyrus with a shrug and, hands buried deep into his pockets, walked past the redhead and towards the exit. “Oh, and before I forget- the Cardinal said the info on her location has earned you some time. You won’t be our first on the list of Masters to target. Rejoice, dude!”

“And you tell your Cardinal this, Burier,” countered the redhead and threw a mocking side glance to the fleeing blond. “This battle has helped me estimate the power of his strongest. End result: you won’t stand a chance against even the me of today.”


***
The darkened forest was engulfed by eerie silence. From the shadows lurking between the trees, so dark that they almost looked like black holes in the night, the watchful eyes of the nocturnal predators observed the strange actions of the invader in their land. The hooting of the numerous owls and other such night-dwelling birds was the only thing that disturbed the silence that was permeating the place. The chilly autumn wind made one’s skin crawl, making you feel as if there was someone right behind you, breathing down your neck. And with every sudden gust the whole forest came to live and the trees started ominously waving their branches around, as if to chase away the unwanted guest that dared disturb them. Even the full moon looked unwelcoming, its pale light looking almost sickly as it washed all over the clearing and colored the whole place in a white and ghastly hue. The grass, whispering after even the lightest gust of wind, was mostly covered by the shadows of the clouds looming from the skies above.

All in all, it was quite the scary place.

Or maybe it was just her imagination and Ayaka was merely too nervous about what was to come. The no small amount of blood loss may have had something to do with it as well, since the bespectacled girl had greatly underestimated the amount of the crimson liquid she would have to spare to complete the summoning circle. But now she could finally bandage her rapidly bleeding palm and get a few short minutes of rest before she proceeded with the main part of her task.

The girl pushed back the few sweaty locks obscuring her vision and plopped down on the cold hard ground, leaning against the nearest tree. Her vision was somewhat blurry and she felt like drained on the inside. Maybe it had really been only the blood loss, but something deep inside her whispered that the meeting with her unknown ‘benefactor’ may have had something more to do with it. Ayaka cast up her eyes at the cloudy skies and let out a weak sigh.

One would normally wonder why she would play along with that blonde after it was painfully clear the other woman was just using her. But to Ayaka, that was nothing more than equivalent exchange between mages. Just like she was using Jed as her lifeboat to the point that she would let him use her if the status quo of their friendship required it, so was she ready to allow the other woman to use her if Ayaka got something equal in return. Indeed, the bespectacled girl considered herself nothing more than a leech sapping off the life energy of others. A monstrous vampire hiding in a human disguise, unable to keep on living without hurting those around her so she could survive.

Shortly put, an abomination. Trying to pay back something equal in return was the only think that somewhat managed to alleviate her disgust of herself.

The lone light of her cell phone’s display failed to illuminate anything more than her pale face when she glanced at the clock. It was already the first of November and Ayaka sincerely hoped that the blond woman hadn’t urged her to perform the ritual that night precisely because it had still been Halloween back then. The black-haired girl had no actual knowledge of whether specific dates and times of the year could affect magecraft or if a certain ritual would work only under specific conditions. The information that woman had given to her mentioned nothing like that. In fact, just as she had warned Ayaka, the information on the War itself was minimalistic. Virtually everything explained was only how to construct the summoning circle, the chant needed and how the bond between Master and Servant worked with the help of the Command Spells binding them together. The majority of the other information was more akin to a tour guide for the mage side of Hartcroft, plus the digital copy of some book about ‘Formalcraft’. On further inspection the girl had determined that Formalcraft was basically what she had been doing so far- old, hermetic magic that required circles, chants and other similar specifics tied to the witchcraft which normal people knew about.

It would have been no use waiting anymore, so Ayaka slowly pushed herself up and tried to rein in her dizziness. The girl walked slowly back to the circle drown in the center of the clearing, almost fearful that it would come to life on its own and summon God knows what kind of horror. With shaking hands, she dripped some of the blood oozing from her bandage onto the class card and carefully placed it into the center of the circle. After taking a few steps back, the bespectacled girl took several deep breaths to clear her head and began the chant, trying to keep her shaking voice as clear as possible.

“Upon this crimson blood I pledge myself-
This vow a I swear on the highest of Heavens
And on the darkest pits of Hell itself.”

The girl gulped rather audibly, black eyes fixating on the dim glow that had started emanating from the circle in front of her. The sensation of electricity running through a grid inside her body was getting stronger and stronger.

“These very words shall be our chains
The bindings between this world and the next.
Hear me,
And lend me your wings, to become the Valkyrie soaring above this twisted battlefield.
Answer me,
And be my shield, for now and times eternal.
Obey me,
And become the bloodied sword that slays my enemies.”

Ayaka felt like something was siphoning out her insides. The sensation of an electrical shock running through her body was becoming unbearable and the world soon started spinning around her. Frightened what could happen if she lost consciousness at a time like this, the bespectacled girl hurried to finish the chant.

“From blood to blood and ashes to ashes-
Our souls now forever intertwined.
Let the gates between our worlds be shattered,
O Saber, heed my call and descend from your rightful Throne!”

The clearing disappeared into a flash of brightest crimson when the summoning circle erupted with the force of a hurricane. As the world around her was engulfed with this blinding red blanket, the girl thought the blood vessels in her eyes had probably erupted from the pressure. Ayaka was send flying backwards into the nearest tree, crashing abruptly into its hard trunk. The miniature storm of arcane power died down just as quickly as it had appeared. The winds calmed and the forest fell silent again. Everything was back to how it had been just before the ritual- everything except for the presence of the lone figure standing in the center of the clearing.

There was no doubt that he was a knight- that much was certain. But the moonlight illuminating the proud figure revealed a frightening appearance that made Ayaka ask herself if she had botched the ritual. The knight was clad in black armor from head to toe. And even though the figure and the armor it wore were certainly more slender than one would expect from a frightening black knight, his attire was still somewhat spiked and twisted. The blood-red cloth that was visible where the armor didn’t cover him didn’t help Ayaka think more highly of this newcomer either. Crimson was also the color of the waist-long tail attached to his frightening helm and of the cloth attached to his armor at the waist- it looked to her like the knight had taken the lower part of some trench coat and attached it to his armor just to be have something to billow in the wind in unison with the red decorative tail on his helmet.

But at a moment like that, the bespectacled girl was far from the thought of telling that to the black knight. Fear had taken hold of every fiber of her being and she could only gawk from her place on the ground as the black knight finally noticed her and started walking towards the scared girl.

The black figure stopped right in front of her, the visor of the helmet fixing onto her widened eyes.

“Are you my Master?”

The question of the man was left unanswered, his words lost in the nightly wind. Ayaka could only nod ever so slightly, almost hypnotized by the oppressive aura stemming from the black knight. It made her feel on the verge of passing out for real.

“I asked of you,” repeated the black knight, voice as cold as the first time. The summoned one was obviously unsatisfied by the reactions of his summoner. “Are you my Master?”

The thought that he may kill her if she kept on responding with incoherent mumbling struck even more fear into Ayaka’s heart but still, she forced herself to answer.

“Y-yes… I’m your Master. And you’re my Servant. Correct… uhm, Saber?”

The faint hope of him becoming friendlier or, at least, less ominous when she confirmed her power over him died out quickly. The black knight only kept on glaring at her from behind his helmet, probably judging what kind of Master he had ended up with. Ayaka had to admit that she doubted his first impressions of her were any good. Eventually, after what seemed like eternity, Saber answered.

“Correct.”

And the minutes started trickling down the hourglass of time once again, the strange duo as still as ever. If she couldn’t hear the breathing coming from within the helmet, clearly audible in the quiet night, Ayaka could have mistaken her Servant for a museum exhibit which had somehow ended up in the middle of the forest.

“If I may ask, Master,” said Saber with clear mockery and poison dripping from the last word. “How long do you intend on lounging on the ground while there is a War fought out there?”

His words left the black-haired girl blinking in confusion, her mind needing a few moments to process what he had just said. Ayaka felt even sillier when she realized she had completely forgotten why she had summoned Saber in the first place. After realizing that the black knight had no intention to give her a helping hand, the bespectacled girl stood up and dusted herself off.

“Now that we have achieved such progress, Master, mind telling me what is our plan for this War?” asked Saber, his voice once again cold and emotionless. Ayaka guessed that it was probably his usual way of speaking. Or at least, speaking to her.

“Well, we… erm,” the black-haired girl found herself at a loss. She actually had no idea what to do after summoning her Servant. Sure, it was obvious even to her she had to defeat the six other Masters but how exactly she could even find one was a mystery to her. The looming figure of Saber, waiting for her answer and being just creepily ominous overall, didn’t help her much either. In the end, she chose the only option she actually had. “First thing tomorrow morning, we shall visit Father Luciano and… inquire him about some tidbits of more intricate information concerning our current predicament and the War.. as… a whole? Ahem.”

Her plan to gain some respect by using bigger words in front of her Servant crashed and burned several seconds after its implementation.

“Well, I guess that it could have been worse,” said Saber, but without the tone of resignation one would usually use in such situations. “You could have summoned me on accident, considering how much of an amateur you look to be.”

Ayaka chose to let this comment go unanswered. After a quick glance at the clock on phone, she meekly asked her Servant to follow her back to her house. After Saber’s rather disinterested ‘Lead on’ Ayaka had fallen almost completely silent, save for a few comments about how they should be protected a bit by the bounded fields. The one she had placed around the house. The tiny fact that she had no idea whatsoever whether they worked at all was promptly left out.

And so the strange duo, the meek girl and the knight clad in black and crimson, began their nightly stroll between the woods. Whatever critters had scared Ayaka on the way there couldn’t even hope to measure up to the ominous aura coming from the man currently walking half a step behind her. For someone Ayaka knew she would have to trust her life to, Saber was quite the uninspiring person. And speaking of Saber, she realized he had never even told her his real name and identity. But just as the bespectacled girl turned around to ask him, she found herself shoved back with enough strength to send her flying back several meters down the road. Ayaka, finally getting angry at how her own familiar and Servant was treating her, was about to protest when she noticed the rail of black daggers embedded into the ground, the first one stuck where she had been merely a second ago.

Those were the strangest daggers she had ever seen. And they got even stranger when they disappeared into a cloud of tiny black embers afterwards. Saber wasn’t even looking at her, instead scanning the forest surrounding them, from the undergrowths to the highest of treetops. His voice remained unchanged when he asked her:

“Do tell Master, could it be that you remembered to secure your house but forgot to put bounded fields around the summoning site to hide the prana surge that could possibly reveal your location to every mage in this city?”

Ayaka was speechless upon realizing her own stupidity. She could only nod her head in shame at her lack of experience and hide her eyes behind her bangs. The girl opened her mouth in a vain attempt to protest a second later but her words died down her throat when she noticed the black bolt shooting towards her. Time seemed to slow down to a crawl and the girl prepared herself to meet her end, skewered by the alien weapon- a lance of black fire, somehow given shape and form. And then, in a blur of black and crimson, Saber appeared in front of her. Ayaka opened her mouth to shout, only now noticing her Servant had no weapon on him… and then matter just materialized out of nothing into Saber’s open palm.

With a single horizontal slash, the lance was cut in two from tip to end. Just like with the daggers, only a flurry of black embers remained behind when its two halves melted into the still night air. Ayaka could only watch in awe the back of her Servant, a black sword now clenched in his right hand. It was like no other sword she had ever seen- not only because of its unique design but because of the crimson… veins of brightest crimson that interweaved with each other all over the blade’s surface. It was like watching poison ivy grow in fast forward. And as she watched the dance of the crimson veins that adorned his black blade, Ayaka realized her Servant wielded a tainted blade.

But her awe at the protective figure of Saber was cut short when the hiss of the black flames once again filled the air. Surrounding them like vicious cobras, the dozen or so black tendrils rose high up into the air before lunging straight at the cornered duo.

Only an irritated grunt escaped from Saber’s lips when he jammed his tainted sword into the ground- and when the blade entered the Earth, Ayaka felt the surge of energy rumbling under her feet. Surrounding them like a shield, the dome of black and red prana erupted from below them and surged outward, disintegrating the flaming tendrils in the process.

“Are you done probing me?” said Saber as he pulled out his sword, his voice echoing clearly into the silent night. “Or do you intend to try killing the helpless girl several more times instead of facing her knight? Show yourself, Servant, if you have any honor as a Heroic Spirit at all!”

At first it seemed like Saber’s challenge would go unanswered- but then the cheerful voice of a woman rang through the cold night air.

“Aww, did I hurt your archaic feelings, sir Knight? Is your little mind unable to comprehend the fact that a sensible opponent wouldn’t want to face someone such as you in a head-on battle, hm?”

Ayaka looked at the direction into which Saber had turned his head. There, atop one of the tallest of branches, was perching a slender woman. She seemed completely unfazed by the black and crimson metal-clad warrior currently glaring at her and just dangled her legs in the air, like a girl sitting on the railing of a terrace. Her face was also obscured. An eerie bone-white skull mask covered her whole face except for the lower part- revealing her ruby lips, currently stuck in a seemingly permanent state of an arrogant smirk. To say that the woman was dressed provocatively didn’t even deserve to be called an understatement. Her shapely legs were clad in a weird combination of belts and bandages, with the long dark purplish skirt covering them having high enough slits on both sides that it made itself almost useless. Her upper torso, or rather- only her ample bust- was barely contained by the similar purple cloth wrapped around them. The woman had noticeably tan skin but that wasn’t her most exotic feature in the least. No, it was her hair, which one would certainly call fiery not because it was red, but because it was made of wreathing black flames reaching all the way past her waist.

“I should have guessed,” said Saber disinterestedly. “Assassin. Excuse me for not recognizing your cowardice from the beginning. I was expecting to encounter a more… worthy opponent.”

“And you call yourself a knight?” said Assassin and put a mocking hand to her chest. Her lips morphed into a fake pout. “These kinds of words can hurt a lady, y’know.”

“Then it’s good thing I’m not talking to one. The shame would have been unbearable, truly.”

Letting out a clearly audible hiss, the enemy Servant inclined her head at Saber and asked in an annoying saccharine tone.

“So, the knight is dead-set on bravely protecting the measly damsel in distress from the stunningly gorgeous witch?”

“I would have swapped the first letter with a ‘b’, actually,” countered Saber, his voice as even and cold as ever. “Otherwise you are spot on.”

Assassin twirled a lock of her flaming hair before she continued.

“But truth to tell, sir Knight, you do look like the kind who would rather ravage the damsel than be concerned about her purity. I’m scared what you would do to the poor girl if given the chance!”

“If we are going to judge by appearances, Assassin, they you must have been the most sought-out whore in whatever filthy brothel you’ve crawled out from. But if I were you, I’d be more concerned by what I’m going to do to you now then what will happen with my Master later on.”

The billowing hair of flames sizzled and a twin pair of black scimitars formed into Assassin’s waiting hands. She finally stood up and glared at her opponent from above.

“Fine then, sir Knight, I shall now indulge your earlier request,” she said as she bowed mockingly. “But don’t hold back, I like it rough.”

Before the last word had even left her lips, Assassin darted forward like black lightning. To Ayaka, it was a miracle that Saber had even managed to counter the dual swipe with his sword- but what followed after only amazed the bespectacled girl more and more.

She could say with total honesty that all she was able to perceive for the majority of the fight were to black blurs, one with undertones of crimson and the other- of purple. The blades in their hands didn’t stop moving even for a second. Showers of sparks erupted with each clash of their respective weapons and the air around them seemed to grow heavy, the combined killing intent of both combatants seeping into the nearby area. Ayaka’s clenched fist started bleeding as she dug her nails deep into her palms, scared for her Servant’s safety. On the one hand, the black knight looked to have a clear advantage. His heavy rapid blows were like a crimson whirlwind, shattering one black blade after another. But the magical fire of Assassin never ran out and she just kept on making more, sometimes even sacrificing them to try and get into a better position to stab Saber. At first Ayaka thought that only Assassin’s superior speed was what had been keeping her alive but then, when her eyes finally started discerning the motions of the two fighters better, she noticed that Assassin always seemed to be one step ahead of Saber. Each of his blows was countered, dodged or deflected as if anticipated and sometimes it even looked like the fiery-haired woman was outright allowing the black knight to strike where she wanted.

Still, the difference in raw power was clear. Assassin couldn’t hide how hard it was to deflect the whirlwind of blows that Saber was inflicting on her. Probably noticing his foe’s predicament, the black knight made one mighty horizontal strike to the right- and then, just as Assassin had once again positioned her blades to deflect it, his tainted blade let out the surge of prana from before. But this time the energy erupting from his blade just pushed him in the opposite direction, allowing the black knight to quickly do a hundred and eighty degrees turn and swipe at Assassin from the other side. Her torso turned into black flames as the tainted blade cut her in half and she disappeared into a swirl of fire.

Ayaka opened her mouth to congratulate Saber but her blood froze in her veins when his head jerked in her direction. The dozens of blades- swords, daggers, arrows and spears- all made from the blackest of flames- appeared seemingly out of thin air above her. One after another or at the same time, she couldn’t tell- all Ayaka knew was that the black blades had darted towards her and in the next second she found herself lying on the ground and pinned down by Saber.

Her scream of horror never left her mouth, because all the girl could do was choke upon sensing the hot blood dripping all over her face. Shoulder joints, knee joints, elbows, wrists… his neck- every area unprotected by his armor was penetrated by the fiery blades, the black knight now littered whole with various weapons piercing his body deeply, as if he was some grotesque human pincushion. Only a faint hoarse gurgle came from the knight’s helmet as Ayaka watched with horror the tip of the spear protruding from Saber’s neck.

“Thought I didn’t know he’d reach you on time, huh, sweety?” spat out the now dreadfully familiar voice of Assassin, her body reforming from the black fire next to the defeated duo. “I have to thank you, dearest, I could’ve never done this without you here to distract him and serve as bait.”

Ayaka didn’t even dry to struggle as the other woman dragged her out from below Saber’s body and slammed her against the nearest tree.

“Just look at you, darling,” whispered Assassin as she buried her face into Ayaka’s hair. “So full of prana, all of it ripe for the picking.”

Tears started swelling up in the bespectacled girl’s eyes as she felt the hand roaming beneath her sweater cup one of her breasts.

“Before I finish you off like my Master ordered,” kept on whispering the fiery-haired woman. “Why don’t we arrange a little prana transfer, hm? I promise you, little one, you’re going to be ecstatic when we get into it.”

But even the woman nibbling on her ear and the terror she had experienced in those few short minutes beforehand wasn’t enough to even compare to what the girl felt afterwards. Even the moon itself seemed to grow dimmer as the wave of killing intent washed all over the forest and for one seemingly endless instance, made Ayaka’s heart stop.

The roar that followed was the roar of the deadliest of beasts, finally unleashed from its cage.

Alulim
August 31st, 2011, 08:26 PM
Ah, flame Assassin.


And berserk Saber.

Aladar
August 31st, 2011, 08:29 PM
Saber's origins allow him to kinda work part-time as Berserker. It's in the blood... kinda. And Assassin's ability is tied to the jinns of Middle Eastern mythologies, creatures made of 'smokeless flame'.

Everything will be explained in detail when I post the Wise-up thread. Servant and Master info, info about Hartcroft and its five founding families, the factions in the city, the church's influence in it, the strongest seven of the city etc

I3uster
August 31st, 2011, 10:35 PM
Short version: I like the characters so far. Ayaka works as "broken heroine", Nia feels fun although I hope you develop her character more as this moves on and not just rely on "she is trolling", but I trust you, since what I read to this point is just excellent.
Glen is sympathetic, I like him and his backstory. Cyrus is a bit annoying. Psycho Gradfather will be my favorite character, I feel it.
As for the Servants, lets wait and see.

Also, I have a bad feeling concerning Jeds survival.

Aladar
September 1st, 2011, 06:00 AM
So no guesses about Saber's identity? I figured you'd try a few times, given that there aren't many famous black knights in history.

Sherrinford
September 1st, 2011, 10:57 AM
Ok, let's begin.

I really, really like Ayaka. She may look weak, but I think she's just hiding her true nature.
I also really like Jed, I hope he won't be just a bystander.
Nia is a character still open to interpretation (I agree with I3uster, remember that Kotomine wasn't just the "resident troll", he had deep motivations. But again, I trust you).

“The” Cyrus may not be such an original character, but it's not bad. Wonder what will be his role and if he has ties with father Luciano. (WMG: he seems to be some kind of collector, and what better pieces than servants for his collection?)

And who is the red-haired “trap”? Grimaldi's older brother? One of the masters?

I think it's still to early to talk about the character's psychology. We still haven't seen their “life philosophies”in practice during the HGW, so…

The setting is ok. It's a 6th HGW fanfic with completely original characters so... yeah. I don't really know how to comment the setting.

Unless you give us some details (forexample, what is the style of Saber's sword?), trying to guess Saber's identitywould be like shooting in the dark. I'm guessing Sigurd, based on yourdescription of his sword (Nasu said that Gram is the strongest demonic weapon),but really… I don't know.

Satehi
September 1st, 2011, 11:23 AM
Sigurd is the invulnerable dude, it wouldn't make any sense for him to be hurt by the smoke flame weapons.

Aladar
September 1st, 2011, 11:38 AM
The 'trap' is Glen's grandfather- the one who is 500 years old and has lived so long by taking over the bodies of the Grimaldi family's Crest-bearers. After Glen's big bro got guilty for quitting on him and leaving the kid to surfer what should've been his fate, he got him out of there. But since even his 'guilt' is twisted by the Grimaldi 'family values', he left Glen's twin sister there and old man Grimaldi was desperate. He is even forced to keep her appearance because otherwise the body would disintegrate far more rapidly- the only stable host for him is Glen as the Crest-bearer.

On the matter of all Servant's identities- every one of them has something in similar to their respective Master. It was precisely similarities like those that made them answer the call. The similarity may be based on behavior- say, a trickster summoning a trickster- or on similar events happening during their lives. Sometimes it's even their reasons for pursuing the Grail that coincide. And as it is pointed out in the Wise up thread, Saber's appearance is changed by Innocent Monster, since history hasn't been kind to him.

And about the hidden depths of some characters- when all the wise ups are posted, an observant reader can pick up enough clues to guess the major points of some character's- like Nia's backstories. Also, lotsa names are Meaningful Names. Or Theme Names that can help guess relations to someone. Also, lots of Wonderland allusions. And shout-outs. And twisted Wonderland allusions.

Sherrinford
September 1st, 2011, 01:52 PM
... you know, one of my first guesses (before the actual summoning) was that Ayaka would summon the real, male King Arthur.


Sigurd is the invulnerable dude, it wouldn't make any sense for him to be hurt by the smoke flame weapons.

Eh, point. Fafnir, then? *shrugs*


The 'trap' is Glen's grandfather

Ah, so they are related. Good.


At least for now, the names don't tell me much. But I'll wait.

Aladar
September 1st, 2011, 02:06 PM
@Sherrinford: Close but no cigar.

Sherrinford
September 1st, 2011, 02:26 PM
@Sherrinford: Close but no cigar.

Dunno, then.

now that I think about it, I wonder how Ayaka will handle such a troublesome Saber (it's the first time we see such a Saber).

Interesting...

Aladar
September 1st, 2011, 02:30 PM
Yeah, there's like this unwritten rule that Sabers are always noble knights and such and I just thought, hey- here's a black knight and his backstory can relate easily to Ayaka's. Go-go black knight dude!

Spinach
September 1st, 2011, 03:40 PM
Is Saber Hogni/Hagen? You say 'close' to the Fafnir guess, so I assume he has a relation to Sigurd or Fafnir in some way. He also killed a king, Sigurd, although he did not do it entirely willingly, and is made to be the villain, thus Innocent Monster? Other accounts say he was descended from a not entirely human line, I think on his mom's side. It's been forever since I read anything from the Nibelungelied, so I could be wrong.

Aladar
September 1st, 2011, 04:02 PM
I said 'Close but no cigar' referring to both guesses he made. About which one precisely... well, 'tis for me to know and for you to find out.

Sherrinford
September 1st, 2011, 04:10 PM
Both... my guesses?...

Male King Arthur and Fanfir?

/ confused

Aladar
September 1st, 2011, 04:11 PM
Yep. One of those two stories are what you should be combing down.

Spinach
September 1st, 2011, 04:15 PM
Welp, I don't feel like pulling out any of my books on the Arthurian stories. I give up on that front, and will just stick to my guns and keep guessing Norse heroes, specifically the ones most commonly involved in Sigurd's story.

Regin, Fafnir's brother? Meh, he never killed royalty, not that I know of anyway.

Gunnarr/Gunther? Some versions have him assist in the killing of Sigurd.

Guttorm? Half-brother of Gunnarr and Hogni, he's the one who's most often the killer of Sigurd.

As you can see I'm very dead set on the Sigurd thing. I'm probably wrong, though. Don't think any Norse heroes dressed in full plate. He's probably from an Arthurian legend.

Sherrinford
September 1st, 2011, 04:20 PM
Welp, I don't feel like pulling out any of my books on the Arthurian stories.

Eh, me too. I don't do research for my guesses. I happen to know something about different mythologies (although mostly Greek) and this helps. If I find some hint that makes me "lighbulb" fine, otherwise... I do the same for that other fanfic, btw.

Aladar
September 1st, 2011, 04:26 PM
Whatever floats your boat, people. :)

And there is a Greek hero in the story, too.

Spinach
September 1st, 2011, 04:31 PM
But of course there will be Greeks. What sort of Grail War has NO Greeks?

<Sudden realization that my rough draft for an original Grail War story that will never see the light of day has NO Greeks.>

Sherrinford
September 1st, 2011, 04:36 PM
But of course there will be Greeks. What sort of Grail War has NO Greeks?

The fourth one? Alexander counts as Greek?

/ spamming the thread lol.

Spinach
September 1st, 2011, 04:41 PM
I consider Alexander a Greek, but if someone is an expert on him and proves me wrong I'd be more than happy to have my perception of him shattered.

Sherrinford
September 1st, 2011, 04:43 PM
Wasn't he Macedonian? At best, he was fond of Hellenic culture.

Spinach
September 1st, 2011, 04:46 PM
Wasn't Macedon located in Greece? I'm truly curious, my knowledge of Alexander isn't that great.

Sherrinford
September 1st, 2011, 04:48 PM
Not really.

^ lol, pun.

Spinach
September 1st, 2011, 04:49 PM
I shall take your word for it.

Pun was unintentional, but I'll just pretend it wasn't.

Aladar
September 1st, 2011, 05:10 PM
Wasn't Macedon located in Greece? I'm truly curious, my knowledge of Alexander isn't that great.

During the antiquity Macedon was part of Greece and during the Middle/Dark Ages it was part of the Bulgarian kingdom (a nomadic kingdom that kicked Byzantium's butt and took a big chunk off its Slavic/Thracian populated territories.. Then after the Ottomans conquered the then split-apart Bulgarian kingdoms and the Byzantium, Macedon was taken as well and was part of the Turkish empire until they were officially established as their own country around the 1900.

So there's a chance of Alexander being Greek, Thracian or Slavic.

Spinach
September 1st, 2011, 05:17 PM
I see. Thank you for telling me.

Aladar
September 1st, 2011, 05:21 PM
No problem. Glad to clear things up a bit.

Spinach
September 1st, 2011, 05:27 PM
Always glad to learn something.
So then, getting back on topic, I'm assuming that even if someone does correctly guess who Saber is you won't confirm it, right?

Sherrinford
September 1st, 2011, 05:39 PM
Always glad to learn something.
So then, getting back on topic, I'm assuming that even if someone does correctly guess who Saber is you won't confirm it, right?

I hope so.

Aladar
September 1st, 2011, 06:24 PM
No confirming until the in-story revelation. It goes for every Servant.

Bloble
September 1st, 2011, 07:03 PM
Nia sounds wierd... reminds me of Demonbane.

Oh crap. You... didn't get the inspiration for her character there, did you?

Aladar
September 1st, 2011, 07:12 PM
I've never actually watched/read Demonbane. Is it a good anime/manga?

Inspiration wise, Nia is based on Izaya Orihira but more... benevolent? Good-ish in a sorta-kinda way? Her alignment is Chaotic Selfish but she isn't that bad a gal actually.

Bloble
September 1st, 2011, 07:15 PM
I've never actually watched/read Demonbane. Is it a good anime/manga?

I played through one route of the VN out of three, and if you like Cthulu and giant robots you should like it. It's also got large amounts of mindfuck and just plain ridiculous power levels too. I heard that the anime was pretty crap though.

Sherrinford
September 1st, 2011, 07:18 PM
I played through one route of the VN out of three,

english patch is out?

Bloble
September 1st, 2011, 07:25 PM
english patch is out?

An english version's been out for a while man.

Sherrinford
September 1st, 2011, 07:29 PM
An english version's been out for a while man.

TO PIRACY, THEN!

Aladar
September 1st, 2011, 08:15 PM
I forbid the discussion of piracy in this thread for anyone not in possession of an eye-patch and/or a peg-leg. :P

Alulim
September 1st, 2011, 08:17 PM
There is an authentic peg-leg in my attic. Is that good enough?



By authentic I mean used.

ItsaRandomUsername
September 1st, 2011, 08:19 PM
Demonbane is crazy awesome, if a bit weird.

Okay, a lot weird. But hot-blooded over-the-top mecha and Lovecraft!

Aladar
September 2nd, 2011, 06:59 AM
Coincidently, Lovecraftian works and names and shout-outs are also present in the fic. :)

ItsaRandomUsername
September 3rd, 2011, 10:21 PM
Finally read the update! :O

That was actually pretty bad-assed. I'm liking this Saber, and Assassin is rather creatively done. As for the allusion shout-out of this one, an "Ayaka" summoning a Saber. >:3

Aladar
September 4th, 2011, 04:46 AM
Glad you liked it!

... And I feel like an idiot 'cause I can't understand that 'an 'Ayaka' part. xD

ItsaRandomUsername
September 4th, 2011, 12:07 PM
Proto-Saber's Master was named Ayaka. This girl is also named Ayaka, so...

Aladar
September 4th, 2011, 12:09 PM
Uhm, technically she is said proto-Saber's Master.

As the first chap kinda points out, she lost her parents in the fire but ended up being adopted by fa foreign family and not sent to Kirei, hence the name 'Millsbury' and not 'Sajyou'.

Also, her appearance and the magecraft used is completely the same.

Sherrinford
September 4th, 2011, 12:10 PM
Proto-Saber's Master was named Ayaka. This girl is also named Ayaka, so...

And she summoned male King Arthur as Saver (Saber). I thought Aladar did it on purpose...

/ confused

Aladar
September 4th, 2011, 12:12 PM
Again, same character, just the Servant is different.

Sherrinford
September 4th, 2011, 12:37 PM
Aaaahh... I see.

Aladar
September 4th, 2011, 04:35 PM
Chapter 4:
Backstage Alliances

Terrifying.

Deadly.

Unreal.

Ayaka knew of no words capable of describing the emotion that was now gripping her heart to the brink of bursting. Deep inside, she even doubted such words existed at all. The feeling that was threatening to make her go insane with fear wasn’t of this world- how could one expect someone to describe it in an Earthly language then? Like miasma, the dreadful promise of destruction spread throughout the whole forest in the matter of seconds. There was no animal that didn’t sense it- and there was no animal that didn’t flee. The sensation that had sent such a chill up her spine, of ice so cold that it actually burned, was an omen.

An omen of the arrival of a beast so deadly, it existed only in legends.

Maybe it was only her imagination, brain already hallucinating after nearly being rendered catatonic just by the sheer proximity to the beast, but Ayaka could have sworn that the land really shook when his roar echoed into the night.

Leaning on his tainted sword, her knight had managed to stand up despite his gruesome energies. But that thing there, that thing with the two burning red eyes, like blazing rubies, staring at them through the visor of his helmet? That wasn’t her Saber. Couldn’t be him. And yet, no matter how much she tried to deny it, it was, in a sense, undeniable. The black knight was now both Saber… and something else completely.

Once again, he bellowed out. Once again, the roar travelled to the farthest ends of the forest. And just like that, as the crimson prana started seeping out from every crevice, every joint and crook of his armor and swirling around him like a bloody ethereal vortex, the fiery blades driven deep into his body melted.

“Assa-!!”

An unholy mix between a roar and a lisp, the mad knight bore his blazing eyes into his prey. Assassin didn’t waste any time with Ayaka anymore. It was painfully clear that to her, the teenage girl didn’t even exist anymore. All that mattered to the fiery-haired Servant was the beast now staring down at her. And if Ayaka, nothing more than an amateur magus, could sense his overwhelming presence so clearly, she shuddered at the thought of what must have been the feeling now gripping Assassin’s mind. Once again, the black fire morphed into a pair of twin scimitars right into the woman’s waiting hands. But even to Ayaka, half-mad and half-conscious and not even able to see the eyes behind that bleach-white skull mask, it was painfully clear. Assassin wasn’t looking for an opening to win anymore. Drowning in clearly evident desperation, all that mattered to the other Servant now was escaping with her life intact.

“ASSA-!“

With a blood-chilling roar, the mad knight lunged at his prey. Compared to his previous speed, compared to even the insanely agile Assassin, that speed was something else. All Ayaka could see was a crimson and black blur- one moment it had been away and then next- swinging his tainted sword at Assassin. A second after he had passed over it, the land crumbled into nothing, indicating his destructive path. Assassin dodged miraculously, once again predicting where her opponent would strike. But even without touching her, just by being near that tainted crimson prana and by the aftershock of the swung blade, the woman’s side became scorched and torn apart. Her fiery black hair enlarged and sizzled, melting into thin air and taking its owner along with it.

But as if he could sense where Assassin would reappear, the mad knight lunged in a seemingly random direction. The last dozen or so meters he took in a single leap and rose his tainted blade high above his head. Assassin blinked in an out of existence for a single second, disappearing immediately after she had noticed the blur darting towards her in mid-air. The black flames burst out of nothingness right behind Saber and Ayaka instinctively found the strength to shout a warning. But the mad knight either couldn’t hear her or just chose to ignore the cry of the bespectacled girl. Without even looking back, he proceeded to plunge his sword deep into the ground.

And the prana surge that erupted from the epicenter uprooted every tree in a twenty meter radius, the ground itself crumbling to dust as the crimson wave washed over it. The shockwave sent Assassin flying backwards. The fiery-haired woman’s limp body crashed through several trees before skidding to a halt. Unsatisfied yet with the damage done to his prey, the mad knight pulled out his sword.

And as if a crimson star had been born right then and there, in the dark and chilly autumn forest, his tainted blade shone in a bright and sickly light. Every bit of blazing prana was absorbed into it, the red glow making it seem like Saber had compressed that tainted star into something one could actually touch.

“ASSASSIN!”

And then Saber swung his blade. He didn’t change his position, didn’t dash forward, didn’t even seem to aim. He just swung the tainted crimson star at Assassin and the pent-up prana erupted in one last surge, obliterating everything on its path. The lance made of light connecting Saber and his prey lingered into the air for a second, illuminating the forest…

And then all hell broke loose as the lance of light exploded and the wall of wind made probably every tree in the forest bend over. When the hurricane finally died down and Ayaka’s ability to see clearly returned, there was a five-meter wide ditch in the scorched ground all the way from her Servant to some faraway centennial tree that had somehow managed to survive, despite ending up snapped virtually in two. There was no sign of Assassin anywhere.

With the night once again having gone silent, Ayaka clearly heard the metallic sound that accompanied her Servant’s fall on the ground. Despite the lingering memory of the dreadful feeling that had encased her heart in fear, Ayaka stood up on her wobbling feet. The black knight didn’t even move a finger when she neared his body, sprawled on the destroyed ground like a marionette with its strings cut. Gone was the cloak of raging prana seeping out of his armor or the mad crimson eyes that had burnt a proverbial hole into her soul.

The black knight, her Saber, just lay there unmoving.


*** “Yo! Did the party start without me? Fret no more, peepz, ‘cause the fashionable hero was just fashionably late!”

The shout of the young man echoed inside the moldy hall, an artificial and spacious cavern connected to the web of underground passages running under the whole of Hartcroft. The citizens of the city had dubbed it ‘The Undercity’, but those aware of the arcane part of the city knew well enough that there were far more dangerous things prowling down there than the giant spiders most urban legends claimed to have made their nests in the spider-web of ancient corridors. But the five people gathered in the gloomy darkness of Hartcroft’s Undercity weren’t afraid of whatever failed experiment had made its home and set its traps in the rat-ridden underground corridors. Or rather, whatever creatures lurked down there, they should have been the ones afraid of those five.
The proclamation of the man in the Hawaiian shirt was met with either cold indifference or outright hostility. It didn’t take much for someone to guess his ‘teammates’ weren’t happy to see him in the least.

“Go crawl somewhere and die,” said the girl with short and shaggy blonde hair and glared at the newcomer.

“Didn’t the Cardinal send you to battle a little girl, Cyrus? I assume you have managed to complete this arduous task since you are here. A pity,” calmly stated the man in the ridiculous getup, a strange combination of a jester’s suit and a priest’s frock. His face, hidden under the ever-frowning red mask, couldn’t be seen but it was obvious he, too, was looking down on The Cyrus.

“As hypocritical as it may sound- gosh, you are so immature,” said the little boy after letting out a tired sigh. He was dressed quite strangely as well- his black uniform of some fancy prep school contrasted sharply with the heavy chains hanging from the shackles around his ankles, wrists, neck and that metal blindfold that always covered his eyes.

In contrast to the rest of his ‘teammates’, the hulking man in the immaculate business suit remained silent. And yet, out of all other reactions, it was his steely gaze that made The Cyrus let out a sigh of defeat and slump against the nearby column, ready to listen. The bald broad-shouldered man contrasted sharply with his companions. Even though they were all dressed strangely, their attire had one thing in common- be it the masked jester’s robes, the short-haired easily-angered girl’s frock or the little boy’s uniform of some Catholic school, the only thing that showed the bald man’s allegiance was the tiny cross hanging off his thick neck.

Of course, The Cyrus’s attire didn’t fall in any sane category whatsoever.

“Now that we’re all finally gathered here-“ began the broad-shouldered man and ‘just business’ attitude oozed off his every pore. Alas, he ended up immediately cut off.

“Oi, Kane, what about Mikey and the psycho bitch?” lazily said the man in the Hawaiian shirt and pushed his tacky sunglasses up his nose.

“Miss Adams is already fulfilling her duties as our mission control. As you have seen, her abilities proved incredibly useful in learning about the appearance of the Grail beforehand,” said Kane with an even voice and cleared his throat before continuing. “Mr. Norcroft has ran into some trouble while transferring Abdiel into the country. Many of the factions in this city would like to get a hold of it- but why they would bother themselves with some old archaic piece of metal instead of with some of the newest optic-enhanced railgun shotguns is beyo-“

Once again Kane was cut off, this time by a rather fake cough which had come from the direction of none other than the jester-priest clad in black and crimson. The broad-shouldered man promptly stiffened his posture and resumed the lecture he had barely began beforehand.

“As I was saying, now that we have eliminated the potential ‘oddity’ in the Grail War, we should set our sights on the Masters and their Servants proper. But before that, I would like to remind you all of something-“

The hulking man’s steely gaze grew fierce and he seemed to almost get even bigger, like a bear rearing up on its hind legs.

“Per Head Cardinal Alterigia’s explicit orders, we are on our own here. From the moment we set foot in Hartcroft, the probability of us being discovered rocketed sky-high. Any contact with the Church outside Hartcroft is forbidden. Any contact with our Church representatives here is forbidden as well- our position of power in Hartcroft is shaky as it is. As the only member part of the original Burial Agency, I am in charge of this operation. Any disobedience that has the potential to endanger our mission will be gravely sanctioned. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should agree with any contradicting, strange or outright idiotic orders of mine. First of all, imposters are a constant danger and I am willing to hear your opinions on our modus operandi at any time. But we are, for all intents and purposes, trapped here until we succeed. No matter how much you dislike each other, no matter how much you want to strangle the one next to you, we will work as a team in the name of our mission. If we fail, the Church is going to deny any connection to us and all the blame is going to be shifted on me, the renegade Burier who recruited you from the list of potential Eights. If we fail, we die. The more we try to bite our throats off, the chance of failure gets higher. Understood?”

A small chorus of mumbles of agreement echoed in the spacious underground hall.

“Thanks to Mr. Cyrus here, who tracked down and eliminated our first target-” said the hulking man. He gave a curt nod of acknowledgement to the blond man but was cut off rather rudely once again.

“-Yo, I told you already, dude, it’s The Cyrus!”

The Cyrus was promptly ignored by his leader, who just continued speaking as if nothing had happened.

“-We are free to move on to our next target. The man in question, a mage ‘archaeologist’, has a workshop nearby the Caspar Bridge in Crestford. The information we have indicates that he is the one in possession of the Berserker class card, thus making him potentially the deadliest opponent, rivaling whoever is Saber’s Master. Since the Berserker class is known to live up to its name, I am making its and its Master’s elimination our first priority. Coincidently, our target fell off the radar the day our… sources confirmed that the Servant Berserker has been summoned.”

The small crowd in front of him listened intently and even The Cyrus seemed interested a bit.

“Since this opponent will be unlike anything you have faced before, three of you will be tasked with bringing it down. I will begin investigating the whereabouts of Saber’s Master, Miss Adams will keep her role as mission control and the other two will search for the rest of the Masters independently. Any information we discover will be relayed to the others via three separate channels- first you inform me, then you inform Miss Adams and then one of the others at random. That way we can quickly discover potential traitors messing with our information and guarantee that at least one of the called can relay the information to the rest.”

Once again, the small ‘team’ nodded in agreement.

“Hellequin, as the second in seniority after me, you will be in charge of hunting down Berserker and its Master. Feel free to choose the other two,” concluded Kane and glanced at the jester-priest in wait for his answer.

“Gideon and Lucinda,” immediately answered the Executor. His voice remained as calm and even as ever. “I’m going to need a lot of fire-power against Berserker and I’m also going to need someone to control Gideon if he goes out of hand.”

The two chosen didn’t look surprised in the least by their senior’s decision. They only followed the jester-priest down the nearest tunnel. With a cruel expression on her face, barely able to wait for the upcoming slaughter of mages, the girl with the short blond hair impatiently yanked her hand forward, as if to drag the little boy closer.

The heavy chains in her hand appeared seemingly out of nowhere, connecting to the ones hanging off the boy’s shackles and nearly making him fall over when he almost ended up being literally dragged along. A bestial hiss was clearly heard into the moldy hall when the boy bared his sharp fangs at the teenage girl.

The Cyrus up and left not too long after, apparently unsatisfied with the lack of proper greetings and the general reactions at him being present there. The broad-shouldered man was left alone in the darkness of the haunted Undercity. It seemed that he was waiting for something or someone- but for what remained a mystery at least until his cell phone rang.

“You must have quite the advanced technology to boost the signal all the way to the Undercity, Miss Smith,” said Kane upon picking up. “You are quite the strange mage.”

“Don’t bother yourself with flattery, dear,” answered Nia’s cheerful voice from the other end of the line. “It won’t get you any discounts. Besides, you are quite strange yourself, conspiring with mages behind your partners’ backs. What would that brave noble knight in your group think of your betrayal, hm? And that angry blondie will probably sick her vampiric beastie on you. Not to mention, that circus-escapee would probably want nothing more than have your position.”

“I see you are well-informed on things you shouldn’t be,” calmly replied Kane. “And I don’t see where is the conspiracy in using you to gather information on the mages participating in the Grail War. If anything, you are betraying your kind.”

“Who is using who, I wonder?” shot back Nia. A faint giggle could have been heard from the other end of the line. “Did you put the information I gave you about Berserker’s Master to good use?”

“None of your business. And who knows how accurate it is when you couldn’t find that potential ‘oddity’ in the War.”

“That girl was an… irregularity,” said Nia and her voice sounded obviously less than cheerful. “Anyone and anything else, I can dig dirt on. That’s why I’m both so loved and hated, dear. Nothing escapes my eyes and ears.”

“You better hope you are right… for your own sake. Any information on Saber’s Master then?”

Only silence could be heard from the other end of the line, as if that devil of a woman was weighing her potential rewards for divulging the information.

“A powerful mage, male, middle-aged,” eventually sing-sang the woman.

“You just described half of the mages in Hartcroft. How is that of any help to me?”

“It isn’t. That’s just the outer ‘package’, the details on the ‘insides’ you will get after merely one teeny-tiny transaction.”

A tired sigh escaped Kane’s lips. The hulking man wondered how much this whole stupid War was going to cost the Church.


***
The air from inside the young man’s lungs came out in short, tattered breaths. The Japanese’s raven-black hair was gleaming with sweat, some of it even falling down onto the blindfold covering the man’s eyes. His usually immaculate dress shirt and pants were now in a noticeably bad shape and even the katana in the young man’s hand was somewhat loosely held.

In short, Shinosuke was at a total and absolute loss.

He hadn’t been surprised at being faced with that wraith made out of pure fire. Slaying it had been tricky but manageable. He hadn’t been surprised when that man had conjured a golem made out of stone. Beating that one had been somewhat challenging. But countering each and every one of his techniques? Dodging strikes that were virtually impossible not to hit the target?

Surviving ‘that’ move?

The man before him, the one currently looking down on him with that half-smirk playing on his lips, was like no other opponent Shinosuke had faced in his life so far. Hell, he had barely moved from his spot, letting his… summons or whatever the hell they were do his work for him. But the man in the red trench coat had managed to summon and control them and that only served as proof of the man’s strength in Shinosuke’s eyes. The heart of the young man almost fluttered, ecstatic at having finally found such a strong opponent. Finally facing someone he could afford to go all out against, Shinosuke prepared to take off the blindfold-

“Not so fast, Hasegawa,” said calmly the long-haired man. Like on cue, two razor-sharp water whips stopped right in front of Shinosuke’s eyes. But instead of despairing, a twisted yet sincere smile appeared on the young man’s lips. The battle really was proving to be a challenge.

“I’m listening,” finally said Shinosuke and let his hand fall down. “But do make it quick if you please, I can’t wait to see whether you are going to kill me or I am going to strangle you with your own intestines.”

“I’d prefer to take the third option,” replied the long-haired man and shrugged nonchalantly. The decorated Zippo lighter in his hand was switched on yet again- but this time instead of conjuring a fire wraith the man just lit up the thick cigar in his mouth.

“Which is?” calmly said Shinosuke, trying to be as polite as always in such a cathartic to him situation.

“You want to fight strong opponents, right? I can help you face off against such people. I have around five of them in mind-“

“Let me guess,” cut him off Shinosuke. “The other Masters beside us?”

Several seconds passed, both men staring each other down despite their nonchalant and polite behavior.

“Wrong. On the contrary, you are to leave any and all Masters and those connected to them alone. In exchange, I will provide you information on people trained to kill the toughest foes possible- the Burial Agency. And it just happens that there are Buriers here in Hartcroft. Seven in total, but one is a non-combatant and the other you will stay far away from unless you want to end up as a museum exhibit. Alive. Forever.”

Almost like making a favor to an old friend, the long-haired mage took out an envelope from within his trench coat and threw it casually at Shinosuke.

“All the information you need is here. You will stop attacking non-combatants and you will rein in Berserker. I’ll overlook that ‘battery’ of yours so just keep Berserker feeding solely on it. And when you eliminate those Buriers, you will give up your right of being a Master.”

“And do so kindly inform me why precisely I should do that?” asked Shinosuke and tilted his head slightly in curiosity. That man may had been strong but he was wrong if he thought Shinosuke was going to bow down to him.

“Because if you do that I will grant you what you came here for?”

It was worded as a question, as if the long-haired mage wanted to taunt Shinosuke. Finally angered enough to give him a piece of his mind, Shinosuke opened his mouth… and just froze in place when he heard what the mage said next.

Two single words that summed up Shinosuke’s every desire. And there was no chance in hell anyone short of a mind-reader could know that. Hisgrip on the katana tightened, betraying the young man’s true feelings hidden behind his calm words.

“You seem to know about a lot of things no one should possibly know about.”

“Oh, Hasegawa,” said the man with a bitter smile. “You’d be surprised how much I know and want to forget about this War.”

“How can I be sure you can keep your promise?”

“None of your speed and strength matters in a fight against me because my summons derive their prana from the surroundings. I just provide the ‘spark’ and the ‘leash’- it would be like fighting against Nature itself and she can never tire out. My… teacher originally came up with the concept of giving semi-sentience to an element, I just… modified it, actually. Take my water shield for example. A limited source of water on me, like a bottle, and the moist derived from the air is enough for the shield. It can become vapor, ice or liquid. The oscillation rate is high enough to cut through solid concrete and scatter almost any attack. And the fluctuations of the water can even bend light, thus rendering any Mystic Eyes seen from behind the shield obsolete.”

The words were cryptic and seemingly out of context, but to the two men who knew Shinosuke’s sole desire, they were more than enough to seal the pact. Sensing his victory, the long-haired mage turned to leave- but not before giving one final instruction.

“Some of your targets will be at Persephone’s Grove Park at around 4:45 this morning. Be there. And remember, Buriers only. Attacking Masters or anyone else is out of the question.”

After a short pause, Shinosuke nodded. The long-haired mage smirked in return, something that probably passed as a half-genuine smile to him. After a casual wave of his hand for goodbye, the man shoved his hands into the pockets of his red trench coat and walked casually away.

“Oh, and Hasegawa? The name’s Velvet. Waver Velvet.”

Spinach
September 4th, 2011, 05:00 PM
Awesome update. I love the Buriers idea, I can't wait to see more of them. Also cool to see Waver show up finally, was waiting for that. I guess the fact that he's sicked Shinosuke on them means they're pretty serious threats? I feel like Shinosuke is deadlier than a normal human should be, the vibe he gives off when he does get the spotlight just feels like that. Can't wait to see some more new characters, and to learn more about the established characters.

holy crap typing with two broken fingers is hard

Aladar
September 4th, 2011, 06:35 PM
Cool, that means I'm doing things right when writing Shinosuke...

Sherrinford
September 4th, 2011, 06:41 PM
I really liked this chapter, well done. Especially the last scene... Waver? Waver Velvet is in this, and he seems to be a badass? Gold. (the water whips remind me of El-Mellois magecraft).

... and the Executors seem to be an interesting group.




Head Cardinal Alterigia

LOL, was this done on purpose?

Spinach
September 4th, 2011, 07:05 PM
Yeah, he just seems too confident, too in control for being so far out of the mundane world. There's also him mentioning his attacks being virtually impossible to dodge, as well as the mentioning of 'that' technique.

ItsaRandomUsername
September 4th, 2011, 08:21 PM
I'm getting some delectably murderous vibes from Shinosuke, Waver is awesome, and I still have no idea who Saber could be. Although I think my favorite character so far has to be The Cyrus.

Irothtin
September 4th, 2011, 08:50 PM
So are you posting this as you write it, or is it all sitting in a folder complete somewhere?

Aladar
September 5th, 2011, 05:11 AM
Well, the basic plot and the twists are in my head, and everything else I make up as I go along.

That's my usual modus operandi with fics. Otherwise I would have a set day for updating or something.

Also, glad y'all like it so far.

Irothtin
September 5th, 2011, 11:33 AM
And about how long would you say it takes you to write a chapter?

Aladar
September 5th, 2011, 01:14 PM
Oh, it depends on how the inspiration and muses and lack of writer's block and stuff... but if I've to give an average estimation for an average chapter... a couple of hours, but it takes up a day in realty to fix up the bugs and smooth it over and stuff.

In short, I can write a chapter a day with sufficient time and inspiration.

BTW, I haven't seen one so far in Beast's Lair, but should I make a PM/VM notification list for when I update a chap? If there's anyone who thinks s/he'll keep on reading and wants to be notified, do tell. :)

Spinach
September 5th, 2011, 05:42 PM
Hmm, I stop by multiple times a day so I'll spot an update when one happens. This is one of the threads I search for specifically when I come by.

Aladar
September 6th, 2011, 05:01 AM
'Tis makes me happy, yo. xD

Spinach
September 6th, 2011, 05:57 AM
'oh sweet Al just posted maybe it's an update?'

<3

Sherrinford
September 6th, 2011, 06:59 AM
'oh sweet Al just posted maybe it's an update?'

<3

No, it isn't ;_;

Fangstrike
September 6th, 2011, 11:58 PM
Waver as a badass? Awesome. I like how he schooled Shinosuke. Guessing Waver might be the one who travelled back through time.

I'm liking the story so far. The setting seems to be well crafted. I'm looking forward to seeing how the situation in Hartcroft unfolds and whether or not its' history or the various machinations of the Five Founding Families will have a significant effect on this HGW. Given that Aladar has put so much effort into creating the FFF, I"m going to assume yes, probably some of the other masters will come from their families.

The prologue definitely led me to believe we're not going to see an upbeat or heroic bunch, and it seems that way so far. The characters are just as interesting as the story, but I'm having trouble getting myself to liking them. Nia seems like a bipolar troll, and is annoying in an evil way, while Jed is annoying in a harmless way. I'd recommend to ease up a little on the trolling. There's just something really annoying about Nia's dialogue that makes her a little difficult to read. I also don't have a good handle on her personality yet, though I assume that's just the dissonance of seeing her deal with two different characters in very different manners. She seemed to be threatening/manhandling Ayaka, but she seems to have a teasing relationship with Glen, who she also might be using despite their history. I do question her sanity. It wouldn't surprise me if she has some kind of machination in the background; she's a little obvious about it.

I'm a little confused on Ayaka. In the Wise-up her parents are dead, but she's also living with parents now. I assume they're foster parents or something, but I'd like these sorts of factual things spelled out for me in the story. I'm not sure why her past was kind of glossed over but not Glen's. Maybe there's a reason, but there's been enough hints in the Wiseup that we can guess her past. And while her reaction to Nia's harsh antics is understandable, and her history is meant to garner our sympathy, there's something about Ayaka disolving into a gibbering mess that just didn't endear her to me as a character. If this was RL, my reaction would be different, but in a fictional setting we come to expect certain things about main characters and more from them than we would normal people. At the very least, they need something to charm us, and I think Ayaka is lacking in this a little. I think it's important to know her goal and her history soon so we can better understand her as a character.

Glen's another sympathetic character, but just knowing what he's going through isn't enough to make me feel like we've lived it. I don't need a whole flashback, though that's a popular method. Seeing everything inside his head lacks a certain strength, kind of like an info dump, that I think dialogue and actions could evoke more strongly. Well, we haven't seen much of Glen, so maybe I'm expecting too much too quick. The one main thing that stood out to me about Glen was how he dealt with Meissa. Sure, it's an arranged marriage, but he being a jerk about it. He's getting something out of this too - mainly protection and living necessities - probably more than she is, considering his circumstances. It'd help if I knew what kind of person with Meissa is. As it stands, with her absence, I might be judging Glen too harshly, and she could turn out to be a real bitch. Also, it'd help if we knew how this arranged marriaged came to be. Did Papa Scorpius seek out Glen or was it the other way around?

Shinosuke... Well, he's a psychopath. I'm not sure if he serves a purpose further than that, except to highlight how awesome Waver has become, but I hope he dies a horrible death, along with his human battery, who doesn't like a much better human being, given what he had intended to with Kayneth's system.

The Burial Agents... Not sure how to feel about them, except I hope they're not all Ciel-level, though I guess they'd have to be to take on a Master and Servant.

Saber's an awesome character too. I like the way he talks to Ayaka, reminds me kind of Archer. Plus, his fight scene was awesome. I was kind of disappointed with the idea of an Assassin holding its ground against Saber, kind of hypocitical given that I feel differently about the canon Servants, but then Saber went berserker on her ass and bitch-slapped her halfway across the park. The only thing I'd point out with the fight is that Ayaka didn't seem to feel the drain as much as Saber did.

Spinach
September 7th, 2011, 12:25 AM
Nia seems like a bipolar troll, and is annoying in an evil way,

She hasn't been active enough that I agree about that, and the story is a little too young to judge her too harshly. She could have good reason for everything she's done and will do in the future.


while Jed is annoying in a harmless way.

This.. I kind of agree with.

Most of the stuff you said about Ayaka I entirely agree with. I trust Al to develop her, though, and let us get to know her a little better. We're only like four chapters in after all.

On Glen:
Well, we haven't seen much of Glen, so maybe I'm expecting too much too quick. That about sums up my thoughts.


Shinosuke... Well, he's a psychopath. I'm not sure if he serves a purpose further than that, except to highlight how awesome Waver has become, but I hope he dies a horrible death, along with his human battery, who doesn't like a much better human being, given what he had intended to with Kayneth's system.

y u do dis? Strangely enough, Shinosuke has so far made himself the most interesting character to me, mainly because Al has written him to have an air of confidence that I like in a character.


Saber's an awesome character too. I like the way he talks to Ayaka, reminds me kind of Archer. Plus, his fight scene was awesome. I was kind of disappointed with the idea of an Assassin holding its ground against Saber, kind of hypocitical given that I feel differently about the canon Servants, but then Saber went berserker on her ass and bitch-slapped her halfway across the park. The only thing I'd point out with the fight is that Ayaka didn't seem to feel the drain as much as Saber did.

Assassin was doing something similar to what Archer did in UBW against Lancer, using Eye of the Mind(True) to overcome a difference in sheer power and speed and managing to not get decimated by a superior opponent.

Fangstrike
September 7th, 2011, 12:50 AM
She hasn't been active enough that I agree about that, and the story is a little too young to judge her too harshly. She could have good reason for everything she's done and will do in the future.


Whenever I attempt to do criticism, stuff comes out harsher than I intend. It's possible Nia's a good puppeteer, as opposed to an evil one like Kotomine. Regardless, she isn't shaping up to be a likeable character, at least to me.


y u do dis? Strangely enough, Shinosuke has so far made himself the most interesting character to me, mainly because Al has written him to have an air of confidence that I like in a character.

It's possible there are depths to Shinosuke that we haven't seen yet, and that there's a reason behind his violence. So far, he's been portrayed as a hedonistic killer seeking a strong opponent. Confidence is good, but since he's going down the darkside, and I don't see any redeeming qualities yet, I can't bring myself to like him as anything but a target for our less evil characters.


Assassin was doing something similar to what Archer did in UBW against Lancer, using Eye of the Mind(True) to overcome a difference in sheer power and speed and managing to not get decimated by a superior opponent.

Yeah, I guessed it was that or something else, another skill or an NP. Depends on how much Aladar wants to keep to the Assassin's only having some variant of Zabaniya.

Spinach
September 7th, 2011, 01:10 AM
Whenever I attempt to do criticism, stuff comes out harsher than I intend.

I don't think you sounded harsh. Lol contradiction.


It's possible there are depths to Shinosuke that we haven't seen yet, and that there's a reason behind his violence. So far, he's been portrayed as a hedonistic killer seeking a strong opponent. Confidence is good, but since he's going down the darkside, and I don't see any redeeming qualities yet, I can't bring myself to like him as anything but a target for our less evil characters.

This is just a matter of taste. I can see he's clearly not a nice guy, but to me that doesn't particularly matter. I've liked everything Shinosuke has done, and while the magus he Kayneth'd totally kind of deserved what happened to him it was indeed very cruel of Shinosuke, I don't find myself disliking him for it. Even had he done it to a completely innocent random bystander, I think I would still like him. Then again, I loved Uryuu from F/Z a lot, too. I have a thing for confident characters who spend their time doing what they enjoy, and don't care for others perceptions of their actions.


Yeah, I guessed it was that or something else, another skill or an NP. Depends on how much Aladar wants to keep to the Assassin's only having some variant of Zabaniya.

In the Wiseup thread she has Eye of the Mind(True) B, so yeah. The flame Zabaniya variant is also super cool, it almost reminds me of something I had planned for a Lancer Servant involving mist.

Fangstrike
September 7th, 2011, 01:36 AM
This is just a matter of taste. I can see he's clearly not a nice guy, but to me that doesn't particularly matter. I've liked everything Shinosuke has done, and while the magus he Kayneth'd totally kind of deserved what happened to him it was indeed very cruel of Shinosuke, I don't find myself disliking him for it. Even had he done it to a completely innocent random bystander, I think I would still like him. Then again, I loved Uryuu from F/Z a lot, too. I have a thing for confident characters who spend their time doing what they enjoy, and don't care for others perceptions of their actions.

Yeah, I didn't have much problem with how he Kayneth'd that archeologist, given what he intended to do. In fact, I found it poetic. In the end, he's just doesn't seem to have any redeeming qualities and that's the determining factor to me. I'm very picky about that. Well, I might like him if he turns out to have some kind of dark or tortured past, though that might be depressing. The other reason I don't really care for him is that Shinosuke just doesn't stand out to me compared to Glen and Ayaka. Then again, if Shinosuke does something complete badass, I might chuck my morality to the side. Mystic Eyeing Berserker was interesting. It certainly brought up a number of questions like what kind of Mystic Eye does Shinosuke have and why would it work on a Servant? Is Berserker just susceptible to it, due to his mental status or lack of magic resistance?

Aladar
September 7th, 2011, 05:49 AM
Woah, a big review!

First of all, don't worry about being harsh. I myself am against sugarcoating reviews because it prevents the writer from seeing any mistakes or details that came out wrong. Just keep 'em coming and be as open and sincere as possible. If I accepted only positive reviews, my writing wouldn't have improved since I started writing around 2-3 years ago.

Now, a reply to some of the things you pointed out:

The characters are meant to be in the grey spectrum. There's no clear cut good/evil distinction like in F/SN.

Glen comes off as a jerk because he is a jerk. The 10 years spent in Hartcroft around normal people have mellowed him down noticeably but deep down he still believes in the twisted 'morals' of the Grimaldi. He may not go around experimenting on people and turning them into a horror show but there are still many lingering traces of a 'fundamentally better than you' mentality. If anything, Glen is meant to be the Villain Protagonist or just an Anti-hero who is skirting the edge of evil quite closely. Plus, don't forget what getting eaten from the inside out each and every second for each and every day since you are 8 can do to your mentality. There's also the the tidbit that thanks to his grandfather Albus who keeps possessing his descendants, the Grimaldi's family tree loops several times over back onto themselves in addition to being composed solely of Grimaldis marrying each other for around 1000 years. The Hapsburg syndrome is turned up to eleven in their case. And thats without even taking into account the various vampiric and demonic blood that runs strong into the family- its a small miracle Glen hasn't Inverted yet under all the pressure. And since his alignment is somewhere between Chaotic Selfish and Neutral Evil, well... even his good acts will seem morally questionable sometimes. Also, it was his older brother that arranged the marriage and Papa Scintillare was more than willing to agree.

Nia, as the proverbial embodiment of the Cheshire Cat, is meant to come off as somewhat loose in the head but she does have goals of her own. And the reason for seemingly being bipolar is precisely the one you noticed- she has more or less 'raised' Glen since he stepped foot in Hartcroft and he is one of the few people who have a 'special' spot in that bastardly heart of hers. As Glen mentions, she really does see all her manipulations as a game but there is a reason for her being so... off. And since she is a Manipulative Bitch, everyone is fair game to her, only Glen might get a bit of leeway.

Jed, as the proverbial embodiment of the Mad Hatter, is also meant to be raving crazy. But consider for a bit what can traveling around dozens upon dozens of parallel words can do to the mind of someone if he starts doing it since a little kid.

Shinosuke is, well... you gotta wait and see.

Ayaka's true nature is that of a horribly broken girl. The fire from the 4th War that took the lives of her parents broke her completely since she chose to abandon them instead of trying to help them. And now she thinks she is a monster because put more value in her life instead of the lives of the two closest to her back then.

The Buriers are a tough bunch. Dare I say, some of them even go above Ciel-level.

About the Saber VS Assassin fight- Assassin only managed to barely hold him off for so long by being faster than him (higher Agility), having Eye of the Mind (dictating the flow of the battle) and Eternal Arms Mastery (being immediately experienced with any weapon and style and thus understanding his style as well) and spamming her NP constantly. And even then he would've overwhelmed her if she hadn't tricked him into exposing his weak points by rushing to protect Ayaka. Also, he is now completely drained of prana because he used up the considerable resources he has. Due to his origin, Saber is, more or less, chock full of mage circuits.

Any other questions? I welcome them!

Aladar
September 8th, 2011, 05:47 PM
Chapter 5:




Invitation for a Duel




The morning sun rose above the ruined forest just like always, as if there wasn’t a fated war of life and death currently waged in this unfortunate part of the world.

Between shattered trees and onto deep scorched trenches, the gentle beams of Sol made their way, almost like everything was right in the world. They were barely able to chase off the morning chill of the autumn. Caught up in its losing battle against the cold northern wind, the Sun paid no attention to the harsh wounds inflicted on the very Earth itself. Even the animals were gradually returning, many of them only to find their homes either utterly destroyed or outright absent. Centuries, perhaps thousands of years of growth had been erased in one single night, in one single second…

And yet the Sun was rising up as if nothing had happened and the northern wind was howling as strong as always, uncaring about the damage done to one minuscule part of his autumn realm. As if meant to show off the unimportance of the individual, the world just went on like always. All the godly kings were locked up in their heavens and deemed that, as long as the kingdoms of this Earth were strong as a whole, everything was right in the world.

It was behavior like this, putting the ‘whole’ above the ‘individual’, which made the blood boil in his veins. He was no king to judge how others should rule- after all, it was the one title he was fated never to possess. But even that rapid change in his ideals was easy to justify… once already, he had seen the death of such an ideal. Because, after all, as he came to realize perhaps all too late, no king who had become the literal embodiment of his country’s needs could keep on ruling.

The ideal king who sacrificed his whole life for his kingdom, who had become a king not only in title but in identity itself, had been discarded by the very people he had striven so much to protect.

But as Saber watched the gray skies looming above him from his position on the tattered ground, his thoughts were actually far away from that bloodstained battlefield where he had found his death. No, it was something else that weighed heavily on the black knight’s mind and even the overwhelming emptiness inside him couldn’t distract him from it.

A field of flames existing only in a girl’s stolen dream. Fire and brimstone that melted flesh and bones. Blood-chilling shrieks that threatened to overwhelm the tiny figure running for her life amidst the reign of Hell. And above her, a black tainted star, an empty hole that blotted out the sun itself and refused to go away until the merciful clouds hid it from view.

Accompanied by the signature creak of his armor, now feeling ten times as heavy as usual, the black knight turned his head around to search for his Master. His emotionless wandering eyes found her slumped against a nearby tree that had somehow managed to survive his earlier rampage. Her skin was pale and she seemed to be shuddering a bit- all clear signs that falling asleep out in the open hadn’t been her best of ideas. Her irregular breaths were clearly visible in the cold morning air. Her eyes remained hidden behind the collective veil of her short hair and glasses but, judging by the slight frown on her barely parted lips, she hadn’t forgotten about the proverbial nightmare that had transpired the previous night. Ayaka had fallen asleep while hugging her knees, as if trying to make herself look even smaller in a vain attempt to be overlooked by any potential enemies.

According to Saber, it was a small miracle she was still sleeping after he barely managed to get himself back on his wobbling legs. The clanking of his armor had probably informed any half-decent Servant in a several mile radius of their location. Which was, by Saber’s own admission, an amateurish mistake he couldn’t possibly even try to correct in his current condition. And so, one shaky step after another, the black knight approached his Master. At first, he intended to either shake her awake or outright hoist her up on her feet-

But then Saber saw her pale and almost lifeless lips, still trying to word the screams of the girl trapped in the fiery nightmare. Letting out a disgruntled sigh, the black knight nudged the bespectacled teenager with his armored foot. Ayaka awoke almost immediately. She was clearly on edge, despite her still-sleeping brain not knowing precisely why. The black-haired teen looked like a trapped rabbit as her eyes frantically darted left and right in search of some nonexistent enemy. And when she caught sight of the black knight looming above her, Ayaka barely restrained a small frightened yelp and scuttled even further away, her back pressing against the tree trunk.

“Fell free to deem me wrong, Master,” said Saber with a signature lack of interest apparent in his voice. “But I doubt you can act your role better if you hide behind a tree very time you see me.”

For around half a minute, the frightened girl just stared at her Servant, as if she half expected him to grow demon horns and tear her in tiny pieces right then and there. What went behind those black eyes of her, Saber couldn’t tell. But even to him it was pretty obvious his actions during the fight had left quite the impression on his young Master. And exactly that kind of impression was most likely to make things harder for him, considering he was stuck with the girl for the duration of the War. While deep down Saber couldn’t actually force himself to claim his twisted features weren’t an accurate representations of his wretched inner self, his afterlife visage was certainly proving to be an arduous chore.

“I… I tried to move you to my house,” finally said Ayaka. Her words were barely audible even in the silent forest. “But you were too heavy and… and I was tired and s-scared so I just sat down to wait for you to wake up and I must have fallen asleep and-” the bespectacled girl cut herself off and just finished with a small “Sorry.”

Now that she mentioned it, Saber noticed the bruises and scratches, many of them still oozing blood, which littered the girl’s small palms. Now that his appearance proved detrimental even to his Master’s health, Saber felt fully obliged to curse Fate several times more for forcing him to be stuck in it until this War ended and he was summoned back.

“I guess I should be thankful you didn’t leave me behind for the scavengers,” said the black knight and crossed his arms. “But next time you want to help, Master, I suggest you lend me at least some amount of prana. Death by over-exhaustion is not exactly the most honorable way for a knight to go.”

Ayaka just blinked in confusion and a shocked expression appeared on her face.

“But I thought there is a link between Master and Servant that transfers all the prana needed!”

“And do tell how precisely are you expecting it to transfer anything else than hot air if you have closed off all your circuits?”

“But I thought-“ the bespectacled girl was cut off by her Servant before she could even begin.

“Close your eyes.”

As reluctant as Ayaka seemed to close her eyes around him, she eventually obliged.

“You feel prana like electricity running through your body, correct? But any time you aren’t actively using it, you just seal off the whole grid and prevent any movement of prana inside and outside the circuits.”

Ayaka furrowed her brows, like a student trying to comprehend the teacher’s lesson while still in class.

“Now imagine that there is an on and off switch to this grid. It’s on when you cast a spell and it’s off when you want to preserve energy, but using that switch, you can use a chosen amount of circuits and not strain yourself by turning everything on and off every time you need to use prana. Try to turn some circuits on.”

A tiny crevice appeared on Ayaka’s forehead as she bit her lower lip and struggled to control her inner energy grid. After some time Saber finally felt it- the gradual flow of foreign prana entering his body through their bond. It was still somewhat shaky and certainly nothing overwhelming, but for a day or so he deemed he would get back to his average fighting potential.

A tired smile appeared on Ayaka’s pale face when she finally decided her Servant’s lack of reprimands meant she was doing it correctly. The bespectacled girl let out a weary sigh and let herself slump down to the base of the tree. After a minute or so, Saber’s emotionless voice once again cut apart the silence.

“Master, did you by any chance make this forest our base of operations while I was busy lying half-death from exhaustion?”

Ayaka was up on her feet in record time, frantically muttering apologies and looking around to find the right way out of the forest amidst all the natural wreckage. In the end she ended up going straight ahead, hoping that the small island forest’s end was near enough. Like the previous night, the mismatched duo walked in silence. Ayaka was ‘leading’, with Saber half a step behind her and ready to fight off any potential danger. It was daytime but there could be plenty of cheating opponents in the War and, besides, the location was remote enough for the usual rules to be ignored. And Saber wasn’t about to let a repeat of his first fight in the War.

A victory was a victory and the situation had been in his enemy’s favor, but being forced to resort to using a Noble Phantasm against a mere Assassin was shameful for the supposedly strongest class in the War.

“Hey, Saber,” suddenly said Ayaka and stopped, dragging her Servant out of his musings and back into reality. “I… well…”

The bespectacled girl took a deep breath and, finally forsaking all kinds of mumbling, muttering and babbling, blurted out:

“I thought you didn’t like me but you risked your life for me and nearly died. Why?”

“Some Master you are,” said Saber, his even voice showing his lack of concern for Ayaka’s emotions. “A knight is obliged to protect his king with his life if need be. And as your Servant, I am your sword and shield for the duration of this War- your enemies and goals are mine as well. Besides, I can’t survive without you supplying me with prana.”

“So, metaphorically speaking, I am your current king- or rather, queen?” asked the girl and tapped her lips as she tried to wrap her mind around the concept. “I hadn’t thought about it in such way. I always pictured it as a mere familiar-master bond.”

“Heroic Spirits are far above mere familiars, humans or mages,” hastily said Saber, his cold voice finally showing some clear signs of irritation. “And, I assure you, your role is that of the king. No offense meant, Master, but I find it difficult to compare your abilities to those of the queen piece.”

But this time, instead of slumping her shoulders or averting her eyes, Ayaka just kept on going forward, posture unchanged. The mismatched duo resumed their silent walk, but somehow the black knight’s overwhelming presence didn’t seem to affect the bespectacled girl so much anymore.



***

Despite Ayaka’s promise to visit the overseer first thing in the morning, the amateur Master and her Servant ended up staying at her house until noon. The bespectacled girl was a mess both physically and emotionally after the events that had transpired mere hours before, so Saber had insisted she had some sleep because a half-conscious Master would only hinder him in any potential battles.

When Ayaka awoke, once again in her familiar bed in her familiar room, for one fleeting moment the thought that maybe everything had been just a dream invaded her mind. And then the pain from the bruises littering her back returned along with the unfamiliar feeling of the ‘electricity’ running through her body being gradually sapped out. The black-haired teenager tried to pinpoint her Servant’s location through their new-forged bond but all she felt was merely his oppressive yet familiar aura emanating from somewhere inside or near the house. She chalked it up to a still forming bond instead of some kind of failure of hers and prepared to head down and try to finally pry out Saber’s identity out of him.

Finding the black knight had taken more time than Ayaka liked to admit. After checking every room in her house, the garden shed and even peeking over in her neighbours’ yards, she eventually found him down in the basement, inspecting the hidden magical diagrams she had used as an anchor for the bounded fields around her home. Saber’s only comment on their quality had been a curt nod.

Ayaka decided to try and please her Servant a bit before trying to pry out any information so she used whatever products she could find in the fridge to make him something to eat. His comment upon being presented the slightly burnt dish of unknown origin was:

“…I think it will be just fine if you merely keep supplying me with prana.”

After the initial blunder, things didn’t go much smoother either. When Ayaka finally asked who he was, Saber just pointed out anyone could pry out the information from the mind of an amateur magus like her and even only the image of his face would be enough for some contemporary Servant of his to recognize him. The bespectacled girl just let out a heavy sigh and nodded diligently at her Servant’s cold explanation. Truth to be told, their Master-Servant bond felt either nonexistent or just flipped upside-down. In the end Ayaka had spent nearly an hour prowling through her father’s clothes to find some hoodie which Saber could wear to hide his face when going out in the city… only for the black knight to just point out he could turn invisible on a whim.

When noon finally neared, the mismatched duo decided they had finally rested enough. A strange feeling, like the expectation which children usually experienced on the night before Christmas, weighed on Ayaka’s mind. It didn’t help that it was combined with the usual gloomy feeling that took over a student’s mind before an important exam. The bespectacled girl both dreaded and desired what was to come but, in the end, she just admitted it was way too late to give up now. And so, with an invisible Saber following her through the rooftops, she headed towards St. Patroclus’s Cathedral as instructed. The trip certainly took quite some time- her home in Hillsdale was quite far away from the gothic cathedral located at the very end of the Crestford district. But eventually she reached her destination- and to her surprise, she found herself getting calmer when she sensed Saber’s still somewhat ominous presence next to her.

“This is technically neutral territory but it wouldn’t hurt to be careful,” suddenly said the black knight. His still invisible gauntlet gripped the teen’s shoulder to make her stop. “There is another Servant here, near the main entrance. You will probably feel the presence as well when you walk past but just ignore it. I will stay near to interfere if need be.”

“Can’t you go inside with me?” asked the girl as she squinted and tried in vain to locate the invisible enemy Servant.

“Normally it isn’t allowed. They are probably keeping the Grail in there so any Servant going near it until all the others are defeated could have… unfortunate consequences.”

Ayaka nodded slightly to indicate she understood and when she felt Saber letting go, she kept on going forward and tried to look as confident as possible. Usually the cathedral was a major tourist attraction as one of the biggest in the world, but for about a month or so there were signs posted around it that proclaimed it was currently under renovation. It was easy to guess that whoever was in charge just wanted to keep out unrelated people from the War but even though no one should technically be allowed to go in, there were many tourists from various nationalities hanging around and taking pictures of the majestic building.

It was considered an important symbol of gothic architecture from whatever century it had been made. To Ayaka it was more like an ominous castle of some eerie dark lord, given how the numerous gargoyles, dragons, demons and angels with raised swords perching atop its spiky walls made her blood chill even in the clear daylight. Its steel double doors, decorated with golden embeddings depicting some gloomy artist’s depictions of scenes from the Bible were like a monster’s maw just waiting for its prey to willingly walk inside it. Still, the bespectacled girl didn’t slow down or show any discomfort. Inwardly, she was trembling but the outside world could never guess it only by watching her.

Ayaka refused to flinch even when she finally sensed the other Servant. While her Saber’s aura was, while ominous, that of a natural disaster, of a raging dragon born to be a natural killer… this one was truly that of a cold-blooded reptile. It was alien, calculated animosity as cold as ice. The kind of ice cold enough to burn you when you touched it.

“Figures I must wait for some two-bit amateur to arrive before I can finally receive at least some information!”

The irritated female voice was easily heard even from the distant end of the cathedral, the acoustics of the place able to turn whispers into a normal voice and a normal voice into shouts. And whoever was speaking certainly wasn’t whispering.

“Come now, child, there is no need to raise such a commotion in the house of God,” responded a far more subdued elderly voice. “And, besides, isn’t learning more about any potential opponent an advantage to you as a Master?”

“Well, I guess sparing some time wouldn’t hurt if I really must…” muttered the female with annoyance and then finally noticed the newcomer, whose steps had finally been heard over the commotion. “Took you long enough to come, some people don’t have all day to spare, y’know.”

The speaker, who had treated Ayaka as one normally addressed an acquaintance hours late for a pre-scheduled meeting, was a girl seemingly her age. A lock from her bright blond, almost golden hair which went all the way down to her waist, was being rather irritatedly twirled around her slender fingers. Her icy blue gaze was rather unsettling as well- the look one usually gave to a subordinate who had done something wrong. But what struck Ayaka as strangest was the girl’s attire- how anyone dressed like that was allowed to enter a church was a mystery but since she was most likely another Master, some rules had been probably stretched in her favor.

The blonde’s lean legs were clad in fishnet stockings- one going all the way up beneath her black-and-yellow skirt and the other- only up to her knee. Despite the rather cold weather, the blue-eyed girl wore something like a black corset with yellow highlights… whose purpose was probably to make the blonde’s… assets stand out a bit more, given how lacking she seemed to be in the chest department for a girl her age. On her right arm was a fingerless glove going all the way up to her elbow and her left was covered almost whole by an intricate tattoo of something akin to vines and flowers interweaving with little stars. But what really caught Ayaka’s attention was the crimson marks that easily stood out amidst the normal tattoo. The spear-like sigil surrounded by spiky wings was certainly different than her sword-shaped Command Spells but were more than similar enough for Ayaka to draw a conclusion.

“It’s not wise to alienate a potential ally,” said the aged priest and smiled wryly.

The man, dressed in a traditional priest’s frock, looked lean but wiry, like an aged tree still capable of enduring many storms. His sardonic smile showed he had managed to keep all of his teeth and even his grey hair was still in its place. At first glance, one could call the old man somewhat suspicious- he had a thin goatee and his shallow cheeks were sunken, not to mention his skin was rather pale. But the cheerful spark in his steel-grey eyes which showed he was certainly not willing to give up on living any time soon and the somewhat casual way he held himself quickly dispelled such suspicions. The priest was leaning on a worn-out walking stick, the cane carrying an intricate gold-trimmed design that reminded Ayaka of the carvings on the front gate a bit.

“As if I’d need any allies to win,” spat out the blonde and bridled up. “This is a War, remember? Everyone’s an enemy.”

“True,” admitted the priest and shrugged nonchalantly. “But why shouldn’t one try to understand their enemies and turn them into allies, hm?” he suddenly asked and the blonde found herself with the tip of his cane pointing at her face in accusation. “If this is something as great as a Grail you are fighting for, why not share this seemingly unlimited power with the rest?”

“How should I know?” blurted out the blue-eyed girl and slapped away the cane. “You are the ones ordering that only the last one standing can have it, not any of us Masters.”

“I’m afraid it’s a tad more complicated than that, child,” said the priest and shook his head. “But, enough babbling is enough! Now for the serious matters. As you probably know since you are here, every Grail War is supervised by a member of the Church assigned as overseer. This time the unfortunate chosen one is this humble servant of God, known as Father Luciano, that you now see babbling before you like the old man he is,” said the priest and leaned a bit forward in a mock bow. “My job is explaining the boring stuff to you and cleaning up after your blunders. Which, given your age, you will surely make and provide me with probably several sleepless nights. The War itself is simple enough. Seven Master, seven Servants, last one gets the Grail and it grants him or her any wish. Fighting during the day is forbidden. And even while fighting at night I suggest you do it at remote locations where few people usually go. Any non-mage witness has to be, sadly, disposed of. But don’t think even for a minute there won’t be repercussions if your mistakes cost the lives of innocent people, understood? I’ve seen more than enough good folks die for good reasons and I don’t intend on seeing any more losing their lives because of some petty mage contest.”

Both girls nodded. Ayaka’s was that of a student getting reprimanded by her teacher and the blonde’s – a curt, disinterested one.

“Each of you has three Command Spells somewhere on your body. That’s three absolute orders you can give to your Servants which are impossible to resist, but keep in mind that after using the third one the Servant will no longer be bound to you. If you lose your Servant but still have a Command Spell, you can enter in another contract with some Servant who has lost his or her Master but is still around. That’s why both Masters and Servants are dangerous in this War. Technically, anything is allowed, but I would prefer if you refrain from more… grandiose or backstabbing tactics. If you want to give up or your Servant has been killed and you need refuge, you come here. The doors of the ‘Casa di Angeli Piangeti’ will always be open for you seven.”

As if to emphasize his point, the aged priest pointed at the seven statues looming above the altar. The marble sculptures of the seven archangels, tears streaming down their faces, were certainly majestic but to Ayaka, they were more fear-inducing than anything else. Those raised swords and other kinds of blades in their hands certainly looked dangerous enough and the statues were frighteningly life-like.

“Is that all?” asked the blonde and raised a delicate eyebrow in annoyance.

“Almost,” replied the aged priest and glanced intently at both girls. “Before you go and join that certain slaughter raging out there, I’ve one thing to ask the two of you. Why do you fight?”

Those four simple words echoed in the spacious cathedral. Ayaka suddenly found herself biting her lower lip at being forced to divulge her reasons but the blonde answered immediately, almost laughing at the ‘silly’ question asked by Father Luciano.

“To prove to the world I’m the strongest, of course. This War is just a means to show off my abilities. I don’t even care for this Grail of yours. A truly strong person can reach their dreams without the need of some miracle-machine.”

The words of her blue-eyed peer cut deeply into Ayaka’s soul. The nails digging into the flesh of her clenched fists almost drew out blood but despite the shame and her burning cheeks, despite admitting that she was weak enough to need a miracle to achieve her dreams when she already had magecraft, the bespectacled girl managed to answer with her head held high.

“I guess my reason is… to set right what once went wrong. Y’see, my parents, my real ones anyway, died in a fire some years ago and-and… I want to bring them back. And I’ll win this War to do so!”

“But you have parents now, too, right?” suddenly asked Luciano.

“Well, yes, I do.”

“And they probably raised you like their own, gave you a roof over your head and cared for you all those years? And you probably have no siblings?”

“That’s… right, yes,” admitted the girl sheepishly and wondered why the priest was asking all those strange questions.

“One a self-centered brat who wants to fight just to earn some bragging rights,” spat out the priest and glared at the blonde. “And the other an ungrateful child who wants to take away the whole life of two innocent people who have spent so much time giving her a real family,” he finished and shifted his glare to Ayaka.

“Bah! Do what you want,” said bitterly Luciano and turned around to leave into some back room, walking away with surprising sped for a cripple. “Just try not to kill each other immediately after you go out. I sincerely hope I didn’t take too much time to explain the rules because I would be surely crushed if you think of me as a ranting old coot.”

Dumbstruck, both girls could only stay rooted at their spots for a whole minute after Luciano had disappeared from view. The first one to recover was the blonde, who just shook her head in irritation and headed out. Ayaka followed soon after, lost deep in thought but still as eager as ever in her decision to correct her past mistakes.

“How did he even know I was coming?” mumbled the black-haired girl and tapped her lips in curiosity.

“Duh, there are dozens of bounded fields around the place,” said the blonde and turned around to face her fellow Master. “Seriously, are you really such an amateur? Didn’t you feel them at all when you entered?”

“Well, I-“

“It’s decided then!” cut her off the blonde and pointed at Ayaka as if she was accusing her of some gruesome crime. “Since this War is going to be the stage where I am meant to shine, the weaklings like you have to be dealt with first. You are going to be my first opponent so, remember this! Those who face me- Meissa Scintillare- face surefire defeat.”

The end of Meissa’s boast was followed by a slow sardonic clapping coming from somewhere nearby. Both girls looked around immediately, weary of any possible danger despite being out in a bright day and on neutral territory no less. The newcomer turned to be surprisingly familiar to Ayaka. He was leaning on a nearby tree and was rather easy to spot, considering how his black pants, white dress shirt and long blue scarf contrasted with the palette of fallen leaves surrounding him. Like the last time, his peculiar dark-blue hair was covering one of his eyes- and his visible one was currently looking rather intently straight in Meissa’s icy-blue eyes.

“Just try it,” grumbled the blonde and for a second there Ayaka thought she had seen lightning arc around her peer’s clenched fist.

The blue-haired newcomer clicked his tongue in annoyance but didn’t seem that surprised. He scratched the back of his head and flashed both girls a suave smile that was promptly dismissed by the two of them.

“Now, I’d like you to know that this seems to be kind of an off week for me, it doesn’t usually happen,” said the young man with a distinct English accent. “When I met you those bounded fields in the shop interfered with any magecraft performed inside and you blondie have strong magic resistance and-“

Both girls just stared at the blue-haired teen, one not knowing what to say and the other in annoyance.

“-Ahem, anyway, let’s cut it straight to business, shall we?” asked rhetorically the blue-haired teen and, after shoving his hands in his pockets, drew closer to the two girls. “I’m here to propose an alliance to both of you. Frankly, I was just passing by but then I saw you two pretties and said to myself ‘hey, Graham-‘, that’s my name by the way, pleased to meet you, ‘-why don’t you help out those two considering how much of an outstanding mage you are’?”

Meissa didn’t even bother answering his question. All she did was point at the newcomer like she had at Ayaka and declared he was going down second. Graham didn’t seem fazed in the least. He only scratched his chin and flashed yet another pearly-white smile.

“Why wait for you two to finish your little game? Let’s just settle for a threes-“

The lightning this time was more than real enough to prove its existence to Ayaka. Like dancing light, the blue electrical arcs engulfed Meissa’s fist for a second before they shot out when she slashed her hand in Graham’s direction. Like a whip, the blue lightning jolted forward, straight at the young man who didn’t even bother to step out of the way…

And then the skies seemed to shatter as, with a thunderous roar that gathered the attention of everyone present, the bounded fields around the cathedral were pierced one by one by one with some invisible object. Shattered, melted or torn apart like paper, they all gave in in the span of a mere second- and then Meissa’s lightning whip suddenly found itself embedded to the ground. With ominous crackling and sizzles, the blue electricity dissipated to reveal a small leaf-shaped blade connected to the blonde’s arm by a thin wire. And, piercing the blade right through the middle, was a seemingly ordinary arrow that melted into the air seconds later.

Meissa could only blink. The strange mix of hot and cold ominous auras that suddenly blanketed the area probably meant the girls’ respective Servants were now by their side and ready to battle. The blonde’s lips could only mumble a quiet ‘how’.

“My Servant can’t stand by and watch you lash out at me in such a crude way without interfering, y’know,” chided her Graham and shook his head as if trying to explain to a child why what they had done was wrong. “And no need to worry about fighting him. As I said, I want to form an alliance and this is neutral ground after all. Although he is outside said neutral ground and at the top of that tall… swirly building over there,” the blue-haired boy finished with a smirk and pointed confidently at the tower.

Right where he was pointing at, Hartcroft’s second tallest buildings, located half a city away from the cathedral, was standing tall and proud.

The Skyspire.

When Ayaka realized the frankly insane distance that Servant had shot the arrow from, her heart skipped a beat. The enormous distance, the line of sight, the interference by the strong wind currents raging around the many skyscrapers in Hartcroft, the several bounded fields around the cathedral and merely the fact that the arrow had nailed down a lightning-fast moving object roughly the size of her palm were just few of the indicators that this kind of a shot was… impossible. There just wasn’t any other word capable of describing it.

“Impressive, right, love?” cheerfully said Graham when he noticed Ayaka’s shocked expression. “That’s kinda Archer’s main shtick, getting his arrows through the smallest nooks and crannies when faced with impossible odds. Well, think about my proposition. It’s always open for the two of you. Farewell, for now!”

The blue-haired foreigner waved them a casual goodbye and, not even bothering to return the glare Meissa shot him as she retrieved her peculiar weapon, walked away in the direction of the cathedral. The blonde fumed a bit more before storming to somewhere far away, pausing only to order Ayaka to wait for her at the docks at midnight.

Somewhere on her right, Saber voiced his opinion almost amusedly.

“I guess it goes without saying we are going to be there, right, Master?”

Alas, after seeing what that blonde was capable of, the bespectacled girl was somewhat less than willing to grant her Servant his wish for battle.

Sherrinford
September 8th, 2011, 06:32 PM
Good! I liked this chapter!

Ayaka and Saber, d'aaaawwww...

Father Luciano seems a good person.

tch. I hoped for a new Kotomine, but it's okay, I like his character.

Gonna guess... Servant Archer is Odysseus.


However, to be impartial I must make the same objection I made for Five_X: it doesn't make much sense for Luciano to meet two masters at the same time. Finding the identities of the other masters is part of the war, but in this way...


The doors of the ‘Casa di Angeli Piangeti’ will always be open for you seven.”

Did you mean "House of Crying Angels"?

I3uster
September 8th, 2011, 06:38 PM
Oh god, an Archer actually using arrows? How did we deserve this honor?

ItsaRandomUsername
September 8th, 2011, 06:58 PM
I'm getting some Risei vibes from Father Luciano, which is a bit of a good thing.

I shouldn't be so impressed by Archer, but I am. 'tis the way of a Heroic Spirit, I suppose, always making wee little modern humans feel insignificant.

Aladar
September 9th, 2011, 10:02 AM
Glad you liked it people!

And yes, IMO, an Archer should be an Archer, using bows and arrows and stuff.

Spinach
September 9th, 2011, 01:10 PM
Nonsense. Archers should fly around on golden spaceships, rewrite reality, and shoot swords instead of arrows.

Looking forward to the next chapter by the way. Shit's getting interesting, I like Graham somewhat, hope to see more of him and Shinosuke next update~

Ace
September 10th, 2011, 12:35 PM
Meissa.... have we found a .... tsundere!? Graham is also quite interesting so far. He reminds me of Shinji with the blue hair and playboy attitude.

If those three do form an alliance ..., well all three knights together would be a formidable foe.

Aladar
September 12th, 2011, 06:20 PM
Chapter 6:




The Princess and the Witch




“Are you prepared to kill?”

Saber’s disinterested voice and the very fact that he could ask her something like this so casually, made Ayaka drop the pen held in her trembling hand. Or maybe it was just the fact that her Servant had brought up something she didn’t want to think about at all. After all, it was a killer’s guilt that made her become a Master in the first place- and the bespectacled girl had sworn to herself that her victory wouldn’t be at the cost of more lives.

Whatever happened-

-She wasn’t going to trample on the dreams of others, deny them their goals for forever by taking their very lives and chances for success, just because she had a dream of her own.

Hiding her eyes under the fringe of her black hair, the teenage girl mumbled something incoherent and silently picked up her pen to resume scribbling various notes on whatever meager magical knowledge she had. Her opponent was certainly a tough one- and her only chances of coming out of that scuffle alive were either a miracle or not fighting at all. But still, under the artificial light of her desk lamp, the bespectacled girl read over and over every tidbit of magecraft info she had acquired over the years. Sadly, none seemed to mention a surefire way to defeat an experienced electro-mage.

“Why?” suddenly asked the black knight in his usual emotionless tone. The girl knew he was most likely scrutinizing her under his cold gaze from behind that ominous helmet of his but she didn’t dare look. She could only determine that he was currently casually leaning on the doorframe with hands crossed with her peripheral vision.

Frankly, she was surprised at his question. Ayaka had expected yet another dry quip or a witty jab at her complete lack of understanding of what it was to be a mage. But no, all her Servant apparently wanted to know was why his Master had taken such a decision. In a way, she preferred to be belittled by him than to be forced to put her feelings into words. All her life, the bespectacled girl had preferred to keep such things to herself- she felt somewhat safer that way, not giving the others the chance to pity her when they should actually despise her. And then Saber had come along and started asking such questions in a tone one would usually use to dictate a shopping list.

“Well, I…” the girl paused, unsure what to say to him. Ayaka knew Saber would never accept the answer of someone ‘weak’ and he could probably easily tell if she lied just to please him. So, in the end, the black-haired teen settled on answering more or less sincerely. “I think that those who are… really strong can defeat an enemy without killing him. It’s not just a weakness to let a deadly enemy go it’s just that… only the strong can afford to show mercy, right? By sparing your opponent you aren’t being any less strong, but quite the contrary- you are showing the enemy you are strong enough not to care if he comes after you again.”

“Interesting theory,” said Saber after around half a minute of silently staring at his Master and making her feel like being inspected under a microscope. “But as interesting as it is to hear your theories on psychological warfare and the right of the strong, Master, I doubt things will be any different. Whether you are willing to kill this Meissa or not, the end result will be the same. No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try… you stand virtually no chance against her.”

Ayaka realized all too late that she was actually staring at her Servant agape due to the sheer shock. After asking all those questions, after making her open up to him… he went and outright told her she was going to certainly lose. The bespectacled girl, her cheeks flushed both because of anger and embarrassment, opened her mouth again to retort to Saber’s comment but the black knight cut her off before she could even utter a single word.

“There is as much as sense in getting angry at the truth as there is in trying to fight her head on. You have to understand, in life you are going to meet both enemies weaker than you, enemies you are roughly evenly matched against and enemies that hold a difference in power over you that is insurmountable. Power is power, you can’t change that. No one can.”

At a loss of words once again, the girl turned her back to Saber and hugged her knees. ‘At least some support would have been nice,’ thought Ayaka.

“So,” continued the black knight, his cold gaze drilling a proverbial hole through his Master’s back. “You just have to found a way to turn your loss into a victory.”

“Saber, that’s just nonse-“

“Do you know how one defeats a superior swordsman, one your techniques and strength and speed can never match up against?”

Once again having been rather rudely cut off, the girl just shook her head.

“You let him hit you. You take the hit from his blade and, as you swing your sword with all your strength, you pray his sword would be stopped by some bone or would just hit a non-vital area. Because, when the difference in power is too great, that’s the only way. To allow yourself to get hurt to hit back.”

“So,” Ayaka began and turned around meekly, still too angry at her Servant for his usual uncaring behavior. “You are saying that I’ve to let her strike and then knock her out?”

“Impossible,” declared Saber. Ayaka’s spirits once again reached an all-time low. “The only types of magecraft you are familiar with are Formalcraft and Witchcraft and none of them are meant to be used offensively in a head-on battle anyway. You can slow her down, I guess, but nothing more.”

“Then how-“

“Do you have any knowledge about Ahriman?” shot off Saber, as if they had been discussing this topic since the beginning.

“About Ahriwho?” echoed the girl and raised an eyebrow in curiosity.

“About Zoroastrianism as a whole?”

“Uhm, no, can’t say that I do,” admitted Ayaka, wondering if her Servant had suddenly lost it.

“Have you practiced Persian magecraft before?”

“No, I’m sure I would’ve noticed if-“

“Then what about the bounded fields around the house?” asked Saber, continuing his investigation like it was a natural thing to do in such a situation.

“Oh, those diagrams!” exclaimed Ayaka and tapped her lips to help herself remember faster. “Well, Jed actually showed me how to draw them. That was before I had gotten that old grimoire and he had taught me how to transmute elements successfully before that so I thought they would work. But I haven’t actually had any chance to try them out yet,” admitted the girl rather reluctantly, making sure not to make eye-visor contact with her Servant.

“And who exactly is this ‘Jed’ person, if I might ask, Master?” inquired Saber in a way that clearly conveyed Ayaka had no right to refuse an answer.

“A… friend of mine. He is a mage, too… at least I think he is. Jed seems to know more about magecraft than me but he always claims he can ‘slide between dimensions’ or something-“

“So let me summarize things a bit,” said Saber as he raised his hand to cut her off. “Your ‘friend’, who claims to be a practitioner of the Second Magic, taught you how to assemble bounded fields built around a two-and-a-half millennia old Zoroaster curse?”

“I didn’t know it was actually that old,” admitted the girl and wondered what other kinds of ancient esoteric knowledge Jed kept stored inside that crazed mind of his. She made a mental note to ask him next time they talked. “Now that I think about it, those runes did look vaguely Middle Eastern-“

“Take off your top,” said Saber without even the slightest change in his usual disinterested voice.

“WHAT?!” Ayaka’s yelp, which had come out more like an outright shriek, echoed in the scarcely-lit room.

Saber’s tendency to jump from one topic to another and disregard her completely along the way had been annoying but this new subject certainly put all the rest of the black knight’s seemingly nonsensical statements to shame. Ayaka instinctively hugged her knees even closer, trying to cover herself up despite knowing full well she was clothed completely. Her tired mind unconsciously recalled Assassin’s quips on what blacks knight usually did to young women… but Saber just stood there, leaning on the doorframe and being seemingly as bored as always.

“Just do it,” ordered the black knight once again. “I can’t inscribe the circle through your sweater, unless you want your clothing to do the fighting for you.”

And with that he was gone, leaving behind one very confused teenage girl. Due to the understandable bewilderment, Saber found his Master the same way he had left her when he returned- fully clothed and trying to make herself look as small as possible. The black knight set down the first aid kit and one of the sharper kitchen knives at her desk and just loomed silently over his Master.

“It’s disinfected,” pointed out Saber as he somehow managed to deftly twirl a bit the kitchen knife between his fingers despite having his bulky black gauntlets on. The black knight either didn’t care or chose to ignore on purpose why precisely the teenage girl before him was reacting like that.

“But you are a knight, not a mage,” meekly countered Ayaka in a vain attempt to dissuade her Servant.

“I was raised by a very experienced mage,” countered Saber. “Although she was abysmal at the actual ‘raising’ part. Besides, this kind of magecraft doesn’t require the one making the circle to be the one actually using it. All you need is a ‘focus’ for the spell. The circle I’ll add to the original one will just allow a one-time connection to the bounded fields around the house. But if you can think of any other way, feel free to tell me. I’m all ears, Master.”

“Can’t you inscribe it on my hand or something?” almost pleaded the bespectacled girl.

“I don’t know if you have noticed lately, but I’m a knight. I wield swords. Using a kitchen knife to carve your back is my limit, anything smaller and it would be like telling me to sew up my armor with a needle and a thread.”

After half a minute of tense silence, at least for Ayaka, the black-haired girl let out a weary sigh and took off her sweater. Covering herself up with her hands, she turned around and tried to hide her blush. Saber remained as still as a gothic statue brought to life. Letting out another sigh, the girl took off her bra as well, trying as hard as she could not to show to the black knight more than he needed to see.

“Lie down.”

“W-what? But-“

Alas, despite her protests, the bespectacled girl found herself pushed onto her bed as Saber pinned her down. Her blush only got stronger but her Servant really did seem interested only in what was the most efficient way to apply the diagrams to her body. To his credit, the black knight really did try to be as gentle as possible- but pain was pain and every time the blade cut through her tender skin Ayaka had to suppress her yelps. In the end, she found herself biting her crumpled sheets in a vain attempt to vent off. As the time passed and the thin streaks of blood poured down her pale body, Saber just kept on talking- about how the spell was going to work in what kind of situation, what she needed to do to activate it, when it would be the best moment to do so…

The black knight just droned and droned in that same bored indifference he usually showed to her. After some time, Ayaka chastised herself for actually being somewhat disappointed he didn’t at least comment on her body. It was a strange kind of feeling, somewhat both anxiety at being stuck in such an embarrassing situation and annoyance her Servant didn’t even bother to treat her as a woman. But then again, he had quite some trouble treating her as an equal human being in the first place.

But, after all, Ayaka still had some vanity as a girl- while not as slender as that blonde mage for example, the bespectacled girl somewhat prided herself on being way more endowed than that flat-chested Master. For a moment the amateur mage asked herself whether her Servant preferred the same sex… but stereotypical as it may have sounded, she imagined he would had been a somewhat happier or at least a bit nicer person if that was the case. The thought of Saber being secretly a woman under that armor also crossed her mind… but the black knight’s voice was way too masculine to be that of a woman, no matter how butch she tried to sound.

It was more like… she had seen him bleed, she knew he was flesh and blood and yet- Saber acted much more like a machine than anything else. Just like a robot made out of flesh and blood, all he could show to the world of the living was cold indifference.

Then, trying to escape as far away from the pain as possible, her thoughts wandered in a different direction. Like what would her parents do if they saw her in that particular moment. Mr. Millsbury getting a heart attack was the most likely outcome but since the chances of her parents barging into her room after suddenly coming back from Miami a month earlier were slim to none, Ayaka didn’t bother worrying. All in all, it was far more likely Jed to jump in through the window than anything else. After the blond lunatic had entered the house through the chimney last Christmas, dressed as some weird mix between a leprechaun and the Easter Bunny, Ayaka was rendered unable to be surprised by anything he ever did anymore.

A sudden yell echoed into the room as the cold blade bit harshly the girl’s skin.

“Why did you do that?” Ayaka cried out in pain.

“You were unresponsive when I asked if you were listening. I thought you might have lost consciousness because of the blood loss so I applied more pressure to wake you up,” Saber lied without even the slightest change in his tone.

The black-haired girl could only let out yet another scream when she noticed she had instinctively gotten up to shout in Saber’s face and was now giving the black knight an eyeful of the gifts Mother Nature had bestowed on her.

“Just finish it,” muttered Ayaka ashamedly as she pressed her body against the mattress and glanced at the clock on her nightstand.

The time to her fateful first duel in this War was drawing awfully near.



***

As the main tourist disembarking point of the Montressor Harbor, Pier 51- otherwise known as ‘The Sparrow’- rarely got to see much work during the autumn and winter months. While during late spring and the whole summer it was easily one of the busied places in Hartcroft, rivaling both Little Vegas and the business district, during those two rather cold and tourist-repellant season it was more akin to a ghost town than anything else. Since the warehouses were empty and no ships were actually docking in the harbor, the guards- who were few and far between in the first place- had chosen to just be as lazy as possible and even sleep on the job.

It was in one of those empty warehouses that the mismatched duo of Master and Servant were waiting for their enemies. The night was fairly clear- the waning moon was in plain sight with the lack of the usual veil of clouds that had hid it those past few days. The distant rumble of the waves crashing against the shore was the only sound that accompanied their waiting. Both of them were too deep in thought to bother actually talking with each other. Ayaka was rather prone to unneeded fidgeting as the anxiety ate her up from the inside- and it certainly wasn’t helping that the carvings on her back ached painfully after even the slightest of moves.

Midnight eventually came and went. The bespectacled girl started wondering if by some heavenly miracle her opponent was unable to show up or if they had just went to the wrong spot. Alas, Meissa did show up- albeit twenty minutes later.

“So you really are dead-set on getting embarrassed, huh?” drawled out the blonde as she twirled a lock of her wavy hair around her slender finger. “I decided to be generous and give you a chance to give up since you are obviously new to this and all but apparently my generosity is wasted on you.”

Meissa’s face was now adorned by a rather knowing smirk and her posture and attitude were more akin to a cruel bigger sister bullying a younger sibling than that of a deadly mage about to fight another Master. The blonde was dressed as provocatively as always, seemingly not caring about the chilly night weather. Meissa easily reached the lower level of a pile of stacked boxes and plopped down at the top. Her icy gaze bore into Ayaka’s uncertain black eyes, as if waiting for her opponent to just turn tail and run. To her credit, the black-haired teen found the strength to glare back.

“And here I thought you had gotten scared and hightailed it out of here,” drawled out Saber in his usual bored and indifferent tone. “How silly of me, my lady. Normally I would feel obliged to apologize but I’m afraid currently I just don’t… how was the saying again? Ah, yes. ‘I don’t give a damn’.”

Meissa clicked her tongue in annoyance but chose to just wave off Saber’s comment.

“The supposedly mighty Saber resorting to shallow verbal retorts? Hah, pathetic,” Meissa said dismissively. She opened her mouth to say something else but the turn of events that followed silenced her quickly.

The air in front of Saber grew think and heavy as some kind of impregnable black mist formed out of thin air. Suddenly, the mist had taken the form of another black knight- one currently in mid-motion of slashing horizontally with his spear at Saber. Ayaka’s Servant jumped back, possibly in the last possible second, as the tip of the spear actually managed to hit that tiny crack between his helmet and his breastplate and nearly sliced through his neck. To the bespectacled girl’s horror, there actually was a thin stream of blood along the edge of the newcomer’s spear.

“Tzk, too shallow,” muttered the other black knight in conclusion to his surprise attack.

While both he and Saber were apparently those warriors one would call ‘black knights’, there were quite a few noticeable differences between them. The spear-wielding Servant had no helmet and apparently didn’t bother to reveal his face. He was clearly middle-aged, at least in appearance, and yet his wild disheveled white hair, sunken eyes and pale slightly wrinkled skin clearly indicated he was old far beyond his natural years. And while Saber’s armor was threatening but rather clean, akin to a set of tournament gear, the other Servant’s black armor was covered in rusty, suspiciously crimson-colored blotches and spots. A tattered red rag of a cape was hung over one of his shoulders.

“Lancer?” asked Saber, clearly surprised. Ayaka’s Servant’s next words were far closer to his usual quips, tho. “And here I was, thinking they only admitted honorable fighters in the three knight classes.”

“Honor?” echoed Lancer in a hoarse, ominous voice. “Honor?! You, whose own holy blade was tainted by your actions, dare accuse me of being dishonorable?! Let me tell you something, kid, those like us don’t talk about honor. Honor is something those clankers in shining armor live by. Us two… we’ve thrown our honor to the dogs long, long ago.”

“I’d be rather thankful if you didn’t include me in that little one-man group of yours just because of lack of members,” retorted Saber as he gripped the black-and-crimson blade that appeared out of thin air right into his waiting hand. “I have standards, you know.”

“Lancer!” bellowed out Meissa, seemingly angry at her Servant for some reason. “I told you ‘no sneak attacks’! What’s the point in proving our superiority if we do it by stabbing them in the back?”

“And what’s the point in being superior if you are dead?” shot back Lancer. “Fallen knight or not, he’s a Saber. I can’t afford the carelessness of giving him a fighting chance. All’s fair in war, Meissa, so next time you want me to play by the rules of a duel, use a Command Spell.”

“What now, when your little scheme has failed so spectacularly?” asked Saber and readied his tainted blade.

“My, my, for someone who nearly got his throat sliced just moments ago you sure are confident, aren’t you?” retorted Lancer, the spear in his hand now nothing but a blur as he twirled it around in his hand fast enough to make it seem distorted.

Suddenly, in all the time it took Ayaka to blink once, the spear was thrown at her Servant with blinding speed. This time she really felt the prana siphoning out of her as Saber borrowed some of her energy to counter the attack. The red burst of prana was the only thing that moved his sword in front of the spear in time for the attack. Both blades clashing, they froze in mid-air in a vicious battle for superiority as the spear tried to keep going forward and skewer Saber and the black knight tried to push it away. Like a never-ending rain, sparks flew out from the point of impact and the air swirled around the crashing blades. In the end, backed up by a crimson burst of prana, Saber’s sword won the vicious clash and shattered Lancer’s spear in hundreds of tiny pieces that just melted into the air.

Seizing the opportunity, Saber dashed forward and covered the distance between him and Lancer in a single leap. His sword cut through the air with enough force to send a shockwave through it… but Lancer just ended up materializing a different spear and literally swatted away the tainted blade instead of blocking the vicious hit. Turning the tables around, Lancer flashed a knowing smirk and used his and Saber’s momentum to swipe at Ayaka’s Servant with the other end of his spear, force him to do a complete one-hundred and eighty and then send him flying back from where he had darted from.

Saber skidded to a stop several meters in front of Ayaka. Both Servants stared down each other, seemingly satisfied with the initial probing exchange of attacks.

“Hey, Meissa,” Lancer called out to his Master. “Don’t underestimate the opponent just because she is inexperienced, understood? Don’t hold back on that girl’s account.”

“Okay, okay,” hastily replied the blonde and bridled up. “I knew that already! Just try not to get beaten, ‘cause I’ll never forgive you that.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” replied the older knight and readied his weapon.

“And you try not to get killed,” said Saber loud enough for only Ayaka to hear as he stepped forward to resume his own battle.

When their eyes met, almost like they had appointed it as a signal beforehand, both black knights darted towards each other with inhuman speed. Lancer’s spear disappeared in a flurry of vicious jabs and Saber’s tainted sword became nothing but a blurred whirlwind of destruction to the untrained eye. Soon enough, both Servants bolted out of the warehouse, exchanging blows all the while, in search of a battlefield where they could employ their more destructive skills without worrying for their Masters.

And the Masters themselves remained rooted at their spots, each of them waiting for the other to make the first move. Their reasons for waiting, however, were as different as night and day. Ayaka was trying to restrain her shaking as sweat trickled down her spine and she clenched and unclenched her trembling hands again and again to handle the pressure. Meissa, on the other hand, was merely giving the black-haired girl the opportunity to do first move out of pity. It was painfully clear that the blonde was way more than certain in her superiority by the way she just idly dangled her legs and waited for her amateur ‘colleague’ to start their duel.

Ayaka had no hope for a last second miracle. She knew what kind of a mage she was facing and what the difference in their respective levels was. In a way, it was like trying to outshine a stage light with a candle. The bespectacled girl knew it, Meissa knew it and even Saber had flat-out admitted he was certain his Master would fail… and yet, despite the plan they had concocted, the black-haired girl didn’t want to give up just yet. Deep down, even though she knew she wasn’t the type upon whom Lady Luck smiled, Ayaka wanted to at least try and put up a fight. Because the girl who wanted her miracle so much… she wanted to be the one to earn it as well.

Just like Ayaka knew that only erasing her mistakes from all those years past wouldn’t be a payback enough for her betrayal to her parents, the bespectacled teen also knew well-enough that she wouldn’t be able to look them in the eyes if she earned back their lives through dishonest means. ‘Saber is going to be so mad at me,’ admitted the girl bitterly to herself.

And yet her hand seemed to have stopped trembling on its own. Raising it, she pointed at her expecting enemy and the name of the spell rolled out naturally off her tongue. The tiny black sphere, a concentrated form of malice and ill intent befitting of a witch like her, shot out from Ayaka’s finger. Almost as if she had decided to brave the curse head-on, Meissa remained at her spot until the last moment. But then, the darkness around her was illuminated by a lone blue flash of lightning that engulfed the blonde’s body. As if being there the whole time, Meissa appeared right in front of her startled opponent and slashed horizontally at Ayaka’s throat.

Just like her Servant earlier, the black-haired girl managed to narrowly escape a slit throat by jumping backwards. Alas, being nowhere near as athletic or experienced as Saber, Ayaka ended up falling back onto the hard floor. A thin stream of blood oozed from the shallow cut across her pale neck. Mirroring it, small crimson droplets were now dripping down from the tip of Meissa’s blade, still mounted below her wrist. Apparently, despite Lancer’s warnings, the blonde wasn’t even going to use her magecraft against Ayaka.

And despite being ashamed of apparently not being worthy enough to be fried with lightning by the blonde, the black-haired girl didn’t lose any resolve. On the contrary, she took it as an opportunity. Even if her only way to victory was defeating an opponent not even trying to fight seriously, Ayaka was going to accept such a win if it was earned with her own sweat and blood. Thankful that she had swapped her usual attire with a track suit for that night, the bespectacled girl rose shakily to her feet and tried to ignore the burning pain coming from the cuts on her back.

Meissa just smirked even more, apparently happy that her opponent was at least showing some spunk, and took a step forward…

Only to end up frozen in mid-motion, as if the very air around her had suddenly turned into stone. Realization settled in the blonde’s widened blue eyes when she noticed the faint glow of the ritual circle etched into the ground finally revealing itself upon activation. It had been another suggestion of Saber’s- to use whatever spells and curses Ayaka knew just to make her opponent think that the black-haired mage really was fighting desperately to win. Arriving earlier than the two Masters had agreed upon, or rather –earlier than Meissa had ordered her to be there- the amateur mage had used whatever time she to spread around the warehouse as many ritual circles as she could make.

Their initial purpose may have been misdirection, but now Ayaka was going to try and make use of them as much as she could. Despite the fact that even holding the knife given to her by Nia made her want to puke, the black-haired teen flicked the blade open and darted towards her opponent. Meissa all but laughed at the sight of her charging peer. Her smile and disdainful look clearly showed that the binding circle was nothing more than a minor inconvenience to her. Once again arcs of blue lightning shined brighter than even the moonlight as they covered the blonde’s body. With the sound of breaking glass, the seal around her feet was shattered in an instant. As if teleportating, the lightning-mage disappeared for a single instant, which to Ayaka seemed to last as long as eternity.

And then she felt the cold steel bite her side as Meissa once again slashed at her. But one hit turned into two and two turned into four and more as the barrage of strikes came from seemingly each and every direction. Covered in cuts and bleeding from at least a dozen different places, the black-haired girl fell to her knees, the knife falling off her wounded arms.

“Give up,” plainly stated Meissa. “Between someone like me and the likes of you, the difference is measured in light years. Just give up your Command Spells and walk out of here no more hurt than you already are.”

No words left Ayaka’s throat. She knew the blonde would never understand her reasons and, besides, the combined pain of all the cuts- both old and new- was starting to make her dizzy. Her yellow track suit was gradually getting redder by the minute. And still, she picked up her dropped weapon and rose up slowly. Her free hand clutched the one holding the knife, both to steady it and to make sure her Command Spells were still there. The black-haired teen’s quivering lips moved quickly, weaving together a spell heard only by the one casting it.

That amateur tactic was her only hope of standing even a ghost of a chance against Meissa. A lone candle had no chance to outshine a stage light. But if enough candles were lit, their collective light just might be the one thing leading her to victory.

With the knife held firmly in her hands, Ayaka once again charged at her much more experienced opponent head-on. Meissa was now beginning to look more annoyed than anything else and this time chose to just sidestep away and counterattack with yet another vicious slash. Expect this time, the blade she wielded passed only through thin air.

“An illusion?!”

The blonde blinked in surprise but it was too late for realization to settle in when she saw the glint of the reflected moonlight coming from the blade rapidly nearing her from the side. Caught off guard and unable to activate on time whatever spell she had used before to move so quickly, Meissa could only hold up her hand and defend herself from the knife with it. Her distorted expression showed not only pain but anger at being caught off guard by an amateur- hers was the face of someone dead-set on not playing nice anymore.

But before the blonde could even word a single spell, Ayaka had ran off in the distance after only a single slash, which had only gotten the blonde’s hand anyway. Running frantically between the meters-tall piles of boxes and crates, the bespectacled girl fought for every single breath of air as her burning lungs struggled to keep on working. The blood loss was finally starting to get to her and the world seen through Ayaka’s eyes became blurred and distorted. The bespectacled girl stopped seemingly at a random spot and fell down on her knees, trying to catch her breath.

“Found you!”

Not even a second later, the lance of lightning ploughed through the pile of crates at the end of the row and darted straight towards the gasping teen. Once again the whole warehouse was illuminated by the bright blue light but for all its beauty, the blue beam was as deadly as they came. For a second, all seemed lost- and then the lightning-enhanced blade changed direction for some unknown reason. The lightning lance veered off completely from its initial course and ended up bulleting through the roof.

Surrounding Ayaka, another magical circle now glowed faintly into the moonlit night. The distorted air, which formed a small dome around her, clearly showed that whatever magecraft construct it was, it was certainly defensive in nature.

“Another one?” asked rhetorically Meissa as she came into view, walking out of the wreckage her attack had left behind. With a loud buzz, the wire retracted the blade back to its original place below her wrist. “It must be surely tough for third-rate mages like you, having to rely on such pre-made amateurish traps merely to survive.”

An almost sincere smile appeared on the blonde’s face.

“Well, no matter. It’s a wonder it actually repelled it, tho. Want to see if it can take a second hit?”

Before even the last word had come out of her mouth, the lightning-blade flew once again. Once more it struck the shield head-on. But this time, instead of bouncing off, it kept on pushing forward and sent ripples of electricity running over the transparent dome. Ayaka could barely even think anymore. On top of her physical pain she could feel her prana being siphoned out more and more- Saber was either in dire straits or maintaining a Servant’s fighting prowess while fighting yourself was really that taxing. Still, she had to try. She had to push on because that was the path chosen by her and even if her body betrayed her, even if her mind gave up on her… she had to keep on.

Whatever happened.

It wasn’t merely a frightened, battered girl that stood up. It was a mage, fully aware of what was at stake. With an empty expression, the most determined look she could actually manage while being in so much pain, the bespectacled girl slowly licked Meissa’s blood off the blade. The words of the spell flowed out easily and Ayaka could only pray she had enough time to finish the curse. Just as the last whispered word left her lips, her shield broke into millions of tiny pieces which melted into the chilly night air. Meissa retracted the blade and flashed her a knowing grin.

“I guess the third time will be the charm, ri-”

The look of horror on the blonde’s face spoke volumes. With eyes widened in shock, the blonde tried to stop her arm from moving but her struggling was in vain as her body was forced to obey. Mirroring Ayaka’s actions, the arm bearing the blade turned on its owner and headed slowly towards her slender neck.

Witchcraft was inherently a type of magecraft that required specific conditions. The ability to cause greater harm with small efforts was one of the main points of this system of spells- making up for lack of natural talent by using something to ‘focus’ your magecraft on and enhance the effect of the curse. That kind of body-controlling magic required a physical part of the victim- like hair or blood- and something human-shaped, like a doll, to act as the ‘focus’. But since none of Ayaka’s skills included on-the-spot doll-making, she was forced to improvise.

Looking back, that was perhaps the only true talent she recognized as her own. The ability to understand the meaning behind a spell’s construction, to read the ‘cause’ of a curse and not only see its ‘effect’. Maybe that was why she had end up delving into precisely those two kinds of magecraft. Because, like a child playing with Lego blocks, whatever spell Ayaka came across, she could dismantle and reinvent it. And so, with nothing even remotely-doll like on hand, the bespectacled girl was forced to turn her own body into her ‘focusing point’. A living voodoo doll whose movements the opponent was forced to mimic.

That kind of magic was not without its drawbacks, though. First of all, the spell’s effect grew stronger the closer the caster was to the victim. Plus, there was a reason an inanimate object was needed in the first place. Moving her arm and making Meissa’s do the same was beyond excruciating. It felt like her muscles and tendons refused to move and instead they ended up being torn apart by her own bones, themselves ready to snap at any second, as she tried to forcedly move her arm. Both girls refused to look away. During that agonizingly long minute on that fateful night, nothing existed in their worlds but each other. Lightless black and icy blue pierced through each other, both mages finally understanding that the point of no return was finally being crossed.

And when her own blade finally touched her exposed neck, Meissa stopped holding back.

A single word, a single spell. The only one she actually bothered using every time she fought.

But this time, instead of being channeled through the wire and into the blade or being harnessed by her own body, the electricity flooded out of her system in a torrential surge. The raging arcs of lightning turned everything around her into splinters and Ayaka was sent flying backwards by the aftershock of a lightning whip which crashed into the ground and barely missed her. The curse was broken and, losing all control, the bespectacled girl was left only with the pain that increased tenfold upon her rather gruesome landing.

Ayaka, lost between reality and unconsciousness, could barely recognize the distorted image of Meissa looming above her. The blonde was telling her something but the black-haired girl couldn’t make out any of her words. Ayaka’s ears were ringing and even the gleaming blade pointed at her face meant little to her. She tried to laugh bitterly but her throat was too sore and too damn tired to make the effort. Finally admitting defeat, Ayaka barely managed to whisper those two words, the single spell that ensured her defeat would mean denying her opponent’s victory.

A two-and-a-half millennia old curse waved into a bounded field.

A circle inscribed onto her bruised, battered and bleeding back meant to allow a one-time connection to it and turn Ayaka herself into the ‘focusing point’ for that bounded field.

A link between her and her enemy- the link which could transfer directly each cut and every bruise, every bit of pain she had experienced up until now to the enemy caught up in the field.

And those two words.

“Verg Avesta.”

At first, nothing happened. Meissa just kept looming over the bespectacled girl without even flinching. And then, with a half opened mouth that was unable to even let out the blonde’s blood-chilling scream, the lightning mage fell down next to her enemy and lost consciousness as her mind turned off in an attempt to protect itself from the invading pain.

Ayaka just stared at the twinkling stars visible through the hole in the roof and wondered whether that was a false victory or just a shared defeat.

Sherrinford
September 12th, 2011, 07:03 PM
Whoa. Shit.

Ayaka using Verg Avesta. Didn't see that one coming.

Now... who the hell is Jed? Because I don't think he's entirely bluffing... and how does Saber (and Jed) know about Zoroastrian magic?... and wait, Verg Avesta is a connection-catalyst between her and Saber...?

... aaaarrrgh! Too many questions! Too many questions!

Lancer fighting style makes me think about... Vlad?


“Take off your top,” said Saber without even the slightest change in his usual disinterested voice.

Saber’s tendency to jump from one topic to another and disregard her completely along the way had been annoying but this new subject certainly put all the rest of the black knight’s seemingly nonsensical statements to shame.

LOL, I like the style of this Saber.

Ace
September 12th, 2011, 07:38 PM
Aha! I knew Jed wasn't just a comedic minor character!

Woah, Ayaka's pretty badass when she wants to be. Good job Aladar, you write a good fight scene.

I3uster
September 13th, 2011, 03:40 AM
Using an NP as normal human? She just pulled a Bazett.

Spinach
September 13th, 2011, 03:42 AM
Is Saber... Mordred?


Innocent Monster: A: The name of the monster that had his past and way of being distorted because of the image that was born from his behaviour in the previous life. Both abilities and appearance were transformed. Incidentally, this equipment (Skill) cannot be removed.

Slayer of Kings: A: Receives a bonus to damage and increased damage resistance when facing enemies with royal blood. The skill is active even if facing enemies who are not directly descended from royalty.

“I was raised by a very experienced mage,” countered Saber. “Although she was abysmal at the actual ‘raising’ part.

And then there was his reminiscence on the 'king' subject.
And then I realized I stopped reading halfway to ask this question, back to the chapter~

Aladar
September 13th, 2011, 11:02 AM
Eagerly waiting for your review then Spinach.

Glad you liked this chap, folks. And no Verg Avesta isn't a connection between Ayaka and Saber but rather a link between herself and the bounded field placed around her house- it allows for momentary 'expansion' of the field in the area around her. As mentioned in chapter, Saber was raised by a very pwoerful and thus knowledgeable mage and Jed... well, Jed

Spinach
September 13th, 2011, 11:33 AM
You write fights better than I ever could. I could feel the pressure Ayaka was under without it being shoved down my throat by endless dribble about how inferior she is. I like Saber a lot, and I liked the scene where he had Ayaka take off her top and was very mature about it, that or he just gives not a single fuck. It's probably a lack of fucks being given, which is also charming in a way. Hopefully after this Meissa wises up and cuts out the pity business, no room for that in a Grail War and this little lesson should have her taking things a bit more seriously. A lil sad I didn't get to see more Lancer. Guessing who the Servants are is my favorite part of these stories. Will we get a glimpse of Lancer vs Saber now that the girls are napping?

EDIT: Something I forgot to ask, is there a reason this Grail can summon anti-heroes or whatever you wish to call them? That wasn't possible until the original Fuyuki Grail was corrupted in the 3rd War, so is this Grail just different, or is something in it a little off?

Aladar
September 13th, 2011, 11:36 AM
Next chap will be dedicated to the Saber VS Lancer fight.

You can start betting on the winner.

Sherrinford
September 13th, 2011, 11:37 AM
Is Saber... Mordred?

...

... eh, he could be...


And then I realized I stopped reading halfway to ask this question, back to the chapter~

I usually open a word doc to keep track of my thoughts.

Spinach
September 13th, 2011, 11:38 AM
>reply to thread
>edit post
>close tab
>new post
>read new post
>close tab
>new post

Lol greentext

Aladar
September 13th, 2011, 11:45 AM
Oh, this Grail is somewhat connected to the old one. But it's a whole new shtick actually. Can't say anything that isn't a spoiler, sadly.

Sherrinford
September 13th, 2011, 11:56 AM
>reply to thread
>edit post
>close tab
>new post
>read new post
>close tab
>new post

Lol greentext

Are you talking to me? No, I just write down what I think of the current scene while reading.

Spinach
September 13th, 2011, 11:59 AM
It wasn't aimed at anyone. I just found it funny that every time I closed the tab for this thread a new post was made.

Aladar
September 13th, 2011, 12:02 PM
*posting partially cause I want a new post to be there after Spinach closes the tab*

What do you guys think of Meissa as a character anyway? And how do you see her interacting with Glen of all people?

Spinach
September 13th, 2011, 12:04 PM
*posting partially cause I won't a new post to be there after Spinach closes the tab*

Damn you, I fell for it.


What do you guys think of Meissa as a character anyway?

Capable, a little egocentric, and a tad naive.


And how do you see her interacting with Glen of all people?

I hope Glen kicks reason to the curb and uses his magic, not giving a fuck about alerting his grandfather to his location, and kicks her ass and knocks her off her high horse~

And then she goes totally tsun tsun dere dere for him.

ItsaRandomUsername
September 13th, 2011, 10:42 PM
Finally got around to reading this one. Blasted internet. =3=

Verg Avesta was...unexpected.
DAMN YOU ALADAR AND YOUR TWISTS AND WHAT THEY PORTEND
THEY ARE CRACK TO MY SOUL

Aladar
September 14th, 2011, 04:38 AM
Tweeeests?

They ain't even 'ere yet, pal.

Soldat der Trauer
September 17th, 2011, 05:43 PM
@Aladar: So, I finally caught up w/ the fic itself and the Wise Up! thread. This is really expansive stuff you're covering, and thus far it's been a fantastic accomplishment. The background setting alone would make for a good RP basis sometime, i think.

So, story time, story time...

I must admit, Wonderland analysis isn't exactly my strong suit, so I think that for those of us who either have not read Lewis Carol's imaginary world or just aren't that hardcore about the original and all the influenced spin offs since, some things will just pass over heads for a while. There's nothing wrong w/ a high degree of subtlety or leaving things to be painstakingly pieced together, but the potential depth in that subject material threatens to impose continuity lockout: either we know it or we don't.

Things could get lost in translation, as it were. You don't have to dumb down your planned plot or make things really obvious, but a tad more explicitness may help out in following along w/ hidden Easter egg goodies and shout outs that help to flesh out the story in its entirety.

Character-wise, I found Assassin by far to be something akin to F/SN's Medusa. She's a sensual creature, something that manages to steal the scene when she's there. That, and her streak of cavalier sadism is kinda entertaining to picture. She's so...liberal, i guess. So free and open. Very endearing to me for some reason I can't quite put my finger on.

Ayaka... Definitely Shirou's sister, just going by her self-outlook. They're both the same in that their survival haunts them w/ a massive specter of irrational guilt, but their responses are different even if their desire for "atonement" is the same. Shirou fights to prevent the same thing from happening again, but he doesn't want to bring back what's been lost b/c the value of everything that's happened since would be cheapened into a like. Ayaka, on the other hand, wants to recreate the past at the expense of the present. The former is selfishly selfless, the latter more like selflessly selfish. I do have a question, though. Ayaka's memories of the past seem more intact than Shirou's. Does she remember other things from her past life as well, or just that one memory? And what was it that spared her from becoming a blank slate? B/c Shirou's original consciousness died in the fire, but Ayaka seems more complete as a human being than he.

Saber... Yeah, that guy's pretty awesome two. He does come across a bit like EMIYA, and not just personality-wise. Actually, his character reminds me a bit of a combination of Arturia's businesslike and Medusa's stoic sides, but he has EMIYA's way w/ words. I'm curious as to his identity, he sounds like he could be sympathetic. I also picked up Mordred vibes from his reminiscence, but it feels off, even if you speculate that his personal story was skewed by history and legend. I dunno.

Meissa... Mmm, I'm not sure what I think of her yet. She's obviously quite the legitimate magus, but she's also too naive and simple-faceted. It is still early in the plot, though.

Lancer... Well, he certainly knows how to make an impression.

Jed... Well, I definitely want to see him have more screen time soon. He's an enigma, and a peculiar one at that. It'd be one thing if he's an actual wielder of the Kaleidoscope, but there are other legitimate supernatural explanations to account for the things he may be aware off. Definitely someone to keep an eye on. He's in a position to act from behind the scenes, and I doubt anyone would really suspect such an oddball.

While seeing Waver Velvet in the spot light again was nice, I'm curious as to how he fits into the War as a whole. The implications are there that he's the POV from the prologue chapter, but that could easily be someone else provided the right conditions were met. Upon reflection from the information so far, I suspect the POV may have been Ayaka instead, but that might be b/c certain words in the passage stuck out more.

Glen... I await the grimdark yandere horror love story. Saya no Uta proved to me that 'body horror x Rumeo and Juliet' can be beautiful and tear jerking. That is all.

Hasegawa... That's going to be so bloody wicked, and it'll be fun. He sounds like an Uuryu crossed w/ Kuzuki's skill, except w/ demon hunting techniques and 'cursed eyes'. I can't wait till he ends up hunting down a Master or Servant, b/c that's obviously going to happen unless he's killed off early, deal or no deal.

Nia... In the word's of Velma, "Something veeeeeeeeeeery suspicious is going on around here". I wonder why she covered for Ayaka being Saber's Master.

Berserker... I haven't a clue. Zilch. Nada. Null.

Fangstrike
September 18th, 2011, 06:50 AM
*posting partially cause I want a new post to be there after Spinach closes the tab*

What do you guys think of Meissa as a character anyway? And how do you see her interacting with Glen of all people?

I found Meissa relatively more interesting than the other characters, but mostly because she has a different feel than the others, a sort of liveliness and vitality that the others seem to be lacking. But my interest was hampered by how she seems to be an extreme version of Luvia. I dread her future interractions with Glen since I can't imagine them being civil to each other. How on earth did their engagement last this long without something bad happening between them? Or maybe it has. Well, since Meissa doesn't need the Grail, I guess she could ally with Glen... I suppose Scorpius might want it, but if either of them died it wouldn't be good for the family line.

When Saber mentioned Persian magecraft, I actually thought of Verg Avesta for some reason. I had mixed feelings about seeing it actually come true. While I liked the details and action in the fight, I also didn't like how sloppy it made Meissa seem, but that could've been on purpose. It appeared like she had several times to finish Ayaka, not that I expected it to happen given that she's the main heroine.

I noticed with Luciano that Aladar seems to have a penchant for writing strange characters, or at least it seems that way. I'm not saying it's a bad thing. It just throws me off a little. We've seen only the briefest of moments with Graham, but he's already giving me a weird vibe.

Aladar
October 24th, 2011, 06:06 AM
Soon...

I3uster
October 24th, 2011, 06:13 AM
I hope so.

Spinach
October 24th, 2011, 06:15 AM
Wow. I got out of the shower about an hour ago and thought to myself "I wonder what happened to Aladar and Fate/Re:Trace?" Then after cruising the internet for about an hour I check up on BL and this happens. Very strange. Are you by chance monitoring my thoughts, Aladar?

Sherrinford
October 24th, 2011, 11:29 AM
Soon...

Better be true.

I miss this fanfic.

Aladar
October 24th, 2011, 12:10 PM
Chapter 7:

Inferno // The Judas of Knights





Unreal. Unbelievable. Surreal.

Those were the only words one could use to describe the clash between the two black knights who waged their personal war under the autumn moon on that faithful night. The cool air was echoing with the sounds of metal striking against metal. The inky darkness engulfing Montressor harbor was illuminated each and every second as a new shower of sparks erupted from the points of impact of sword against spear. The two men, as swift as the wind and as strong as a natural disaster, performed their dance of death with picture-perfect choreography.

It almost looked staged in way.

There was not a single movement wasted, nor a single feint going unpredicted. Both knights were masters of their respective weapons. Their skill had transcended mere human mastery long ago- truly they were the epitome of being a Hero of the Sword and Spear. Their battle could have been compared to the well-known clash of unstoppable force against unmovable object- but only this time both sides were the kind called ‘unstoppable forces’.

A hurricane of strikes against a never-ending flurry of jabs.

Their offense was at the same time their defense. Indeed, the battle between the two-forces of nature, a kind of battle one could see only in a Grail War, truly did show off the amazing strength of the two members of the Knight classes.

Lancer’s main strength was his speed. Operating on the principal that no matter how strong an opponent is, his strength is meaningless if he dies before using it, the white-haired knight was striking again and again in hopes of taking out his foe as early as possible. Saber on the other hand, while being quite fast himself, knew he was no much for the speed of the most agile of classes. And so, he opted to rely on his Prana Burst to compensate and try to batter through his enemy’s defenses with his superior strength. The two black knights’ mutual problem was, both their tactics were proving to be equally successful.

That is to say, not at all.

Saber was beginning to understand why exactly the War was considered fair to all participants, despite his class supposedly being the best of them all.

Since the fight had started he and Lancer had left their Masters behind to find a field of their own. However risky it was leaving the girls behind why they waged a battle of their own, the two black knights both wanted a battle where they could fight without worrying of defending someone else. And so, exchanging countless blows all the while, the two men darted around in the narrow alleys between the empty warehouses in search of a battlefield that suited their tastes. At first Saber had thought that if he just used the Burst to equate their agility, his brute strength would manage to batter through. Alas, while Lancer had already lost seven spears, his supply didn’t seem to be at a limit. The white-haired Servant pulled out of thin air one after the other, seemingly without consideration for his weapons of choice. Or rather, there was no ‘supposedly’.

Saber may have been the wielder of a tainted sword, but even his weapon had a ‘pride’ of its own. It was a weapon with history, written in bloodied deeds and slain enemies. The crystallization of Saber’s previous life, mirrored in the form of a blackened blade- a true Noble Phantasm fitting of a fallen hero such as him. And while Saber himself hated his sword almost as much as he hated himself, he could never deny the ‘pride’ embodied in his weapon. But it took only one look in Lancer’s hardened eyes, only several clashes between him and his foe, to fully realize how little the white-haired knight cared for his weapons. His spears lacked ‘pride’. They were just ‘tools’. Ordinary… things, meant to be used and thrown away like toothpicks, caring absolutely no history of their own. And yet Lancer kept spamming one spear after the other, proving that quantity could somehow match up to superior quality.

Needless to say, Saber wasn’t finding this amusing at all.

To the naked eye their attacks were nothing but blurs- dashing sequences of strikes, jabs and somersaults, accompanied by flashes of red and blue and the vicious clanks of metal. The dueling duo left a trail of shattered ground behind them- even blocking each others’ hits made one of them dig trenches in the ground to be able to remain balanced. Eventually, in the middle of one of the many empty warehouses now lacking a roof after their grand entrance, the two black knights pushed away from each other after yet another vicious clash.

They didn’t actually disengage because they were tired or out of breath. Rather, after the initial exchange of blows, fully capable of squashing a tank in tiny pieces, the two knights needed to come up with a tactic to defeat their painfully equal enemy. Saber had no way of knowing what Lancer was thinking but he thought he was right to guess that the other Servant was just as bothered by their even chances as he was. Not that the white-haired knight showed any of it- he stood there as stoic as ever, with a trident-like spear loosely rested over his shoulder, and evaluated the armor-clad knight with his cold black eyes. Still, Saber had noticed one distinct advantage during their exchange of blows. The way he was a tad quicker, being able to somehow swing even easier his heavy blade and somehow notice a chink here and there in his opponent’s defenses- all clear clues that whoever the enemy Servant was, he had certainly being some kind of royal.

In a sense, Saber hated it, hated having to rely on the twisted mistakes of his past to win this War. But in that case, facing that kind of a strong opponent while his own Master was surely getting her butt kicked all over the place somewhere near, the black knight decided that he wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

One second Saber was examining his stoic opponent, demonic sword readied in his hand, and the other he was already dashing forward with his sword pulled back and ready to be swung. He hadn’t held back in his speed- he was akin to a giant armor-clad bullet racing towards his foe. But even that speed wasn’t enough to surprise a Servant, much less someone as agile as Lancer- and that’s precisely what Saber wanted his opponent to think. Halfway through, the black knight pumped his sword full of prana once again. But instead of reserving the gathered energy for the actual strike, he realized the pent-up force through the length of the blade. The bullet turned into a rocket and suddenly Saber was covering ground ten times faster, seemingly too fast for his opponent to react.

What Saber hadn’t expected was for his opponent to attack instead of defending- much less by actually throwing his spear. The make-shift javelin certainly took him by surprise. In one single movement Lancer had turned Saber’s speed against him. The black knight was going too fast to fully react and the only way to save himself from self-impalement was to veer to the side and thus lose precious seconds. The tip of the trident spear only nicked his armor and he still managed to swing at his enemy. But the few seconds were enough for Lancer to pull out yet another spear out of thin air- one with a peculiar long leaf-shaped blade- and spin to the side, circling around Saber and slashing at him whilst holding the spear like a sword, close to the base of the blade.

The unexpected move made the black knight almost lose his balance when he jumped back- a move that almost proved fatal when Lancer struck from above by releasing the spear to its full length and grabbing it at the very end just before it slipped fully out of his hand. His tainted sword ended up blocking the hit that would have surely split his head clean in two had it hit- but even the ground beneath him gave away as Saber tried to push away the pressing blade, his vision obscured by the shower of sparks.

Not one to pass up an opportunity, Lancer quickly noticed that Saber was trying to push back the blade with both of his hands while he still had one free. Yet another spear appeared in his left hand and, with a triumphant smirk on his aged face, the white-haired knight prepared to pierce his opponent’s exposed heart and end this battle once and for all. What he certainly hadn’t expected was for Saber to let go with one of his hands and actually catch the spear a mere inch before it could pierce him. With one mighty pull the black knight got the older Servant closer- and promptly used the advantage of wearing a helmet to deliver a vicious headbutt to his enemy’s unprotected face.

The white-haired Servant staggered backwards and Saber wasted no time, attacking immediately with a wide horizontal swing of his sword. Lancer managed to block with his spear, only to lose it when it shattered in pieces under the force of the blow and melt in thin air. Trying to squeeze the most out of his momentary advantage, Saber pushed forward relentlessly. Like a hurricane, his tainted sword landed blow after blow, sending ripples through both ground and air and shattering one spear after another in an impressive shower of sparks. Lancer was falling back step after step, unable to retaliate and forced only to defend to keep his life. The scowl on the white-haired knight’s face only got sourer when Saber lunged for yet another strike to the side- only to use the Burst yet again to rapidly change direction from left to right completely and in mid-motion. The Master of the Spear did jump back- years of training and honed instincts managed to alert him on time. But along with the deep trench on the ground formed from the aftershock of the blow, his black and worn-out armor was now shattered diagonally in two.

“Tc, too shallow,” calmly stated Saber, mockingly echoing Lancer’s earlier words.

Plunging in for the kill, Saber raised his sword to finish off his enemy- only to be forced to hastily step back as another lance fell down from the sky out of nothing when Lancer snapped his fingers. The lance turned out to actually have a banner attached to it- a torn crimson rag like the one Lancer wore over his shoulder, with the only difference being the black dragon drawn on it. But just as suddenly as it had appeared, the flag sunk directly into the ground, disappearing completely.

The change in the atmosphere was imminent. The air grew cooler and somehow thicker, as if drenched with blood, and an eerie uneasiness filled Saber to his very bones. Lancer just grinned- a teeth-filled smile befitting of a bloodthirsty predator who had forsaken any and all human feelings. The spear-wielder wasn’t even wearing his top armor now, forsaking the ruined chest piece for better mobility. Only the red rag of a cape still hung over his dirty-white shirt.

“If someone has somehow forgotten to fill you in on the rules, Lancer,” drawled out Saber in his usual disinterested tone that now was meant to hide his increasing worry. “Territory Creation is a ability of the Caster class.”

“All is fair in love and war, runt,” replied Lancer with a smirk. “Isn’t that what people say?”

“I regret to inform you that I just don’t like you,” deadpanned Saber. “I really doubt it would’ve worked out between us anyway.”

All Saber got for his snarkiness was a halberd-like spear flying threateningly close to his head- or rather, it would’ve flown through it had he not dodged. Now backed-up by the significant bonuses from Territory Creation, Lancer managed to turn the tables around. Wielding not one but two spears, the white-haired knight immediately put his younger ‘colleague’ on the defensive. It was a storm of slashes and jabs that was literally too fast for even Saber’s eyes to see- all he could do to defend was step back further and further and try to determine where the next strike would land by the position of his enemy’s hands. It was plain to see that the black knight was getting herded into the nearest wall where he would have no more space to escape- a surefire recipe to get killed. And so, Saber had to find a way out of this rather nasty predicament before that could happen. His Prana Burst was barely keeping him able to prevent himself from being skewered by the barrage of pokes and slashes so using it to batter through was out of the question.

He could use his sword- but he had long sworn that he would be damned before relying on the power of that tainted blade to win. And so, that left only the lesser of evils. Saber was fully aware that it was only being stuck in that particular place that put him in such a disadvantage, but still it was a harsh blow to his pride to have to rely on his Noble Phantasm to survive.

A roar shattered the stillness of the night.

It was only later that Saber realized it had been his. All sanity was swept away by the muddy river of madness. The blood boiled inside his veins, threatening to incinerate him from the inside. And yet beneath all that pain was hidden the pleasure of reveling in that power born of madness, in the primal instincts woven into his very being. His humanity was overtaken by the dragon inside, by the raging beast that oozed crimson prana off every chink in his armor with enough force to make a crater around him and force Lancer back.

With another blood-chilling raor, the beast of a knight lunged forward faster than ever, leaving a crater in his wake and delivering a strike strong enough to literally rip apart his opponent’s right arm despite actually missing. A sickly sizzling filled the cool air as the wound was almost immediately cauterized by the burning prana. To his credit, the white-haired knight didn’t scream in pain. Not that Saber could actually realize it- with all sane thoughts gone, all the mad knight could think of was destroying his prey.

Kill. Maim. Devour. Annihilate.

And the stench of burn meat was just driving him even crazier. At first he thought it must had been his sanity slipping even further away when he saw his slashes going straight through Lancer- but then he recognized the pitch black mist as the Noble Phantasm the white-haired knight had used earlier to ambush him.

It was a vicious standstill. The raging beast’s attacks did nothing but destroy the landscape even more as they passed through his opponent’s body as if was smoke and, taking advantage of his momentary invulnerability, Lancer was slashing and jabbing again and again at his foe. Despite having only one functioning hand, the white-haired knight was proving to be quite the undying enemy whilst using the black mist. Unfortunately for him, even his strongest blows only served to irritate the mad knight even further.

Another Prana Burst, this time backed up by his Phantasm, fully blew away the wall of the warehouse- and those of all the consecutive ones down the beam’s path. And still Lancer was alive and well, as well as a one-handed man could be at least, despite the beam having passed right through his ethereal form. Saber got ready for yet another mad animalistic leap at his opponent-

-And then he felt it. Somewhere deep within, hidden under the many layers of madness, wrath and rage, the black knight felt his Master lose consciousness. Had he been sane enough, Saber would have noticed Lancer’s expression showed clearly that the same must had happened with his Master as well. But since common sense was somewhat lacking now, all the mad knight could do was just roar yet again and try to take it all out on his opponent.

Lancer’s lips were moving, forming words that the human Saber could’ve easily understood- but not this raging beast who knew only to destroy. His burning ruby-red eyes bore into his enemy’s, ready to savor the light of life twinkling away as he slashed through him. That was the final, decisive moment and the mad beast was determined to claim victory once and for all.

Only for his enemy to be obscured by the forest of spears that erupted from the ground as soon as Lancer plunged the tip of his spear into it. Inwardly, the mad knight laughed. Be it one or one hundred, Lancer’s spears was no match for his might. They were just one last irritating poke by the spear-wielder, his pathetic attempt to delay his inevitable death. And so, the raging beast lunged forward straight through the path of spears with their bloodied tips turned towards him.

The pain that followed overshadowed the madness thousands of times over. It was so unreal it could shatter his sanity more than any curse that flowed into his veins. It was the pain of hell itself, the pain of regret and want of redemption, the very pain he had always thought he fully deserved.

The pain he felt the moment one of the spears touched his skin- it was his payment for being the wielder of his cursed blade and all that came with it. And now, now that he could feel his own bones melting inside him and even his screams refused to leave his throat anymore, Saber realized what Lancer had said just now. A few short words that spoke volumes to anyone who had actually experienced the vicious sting of Lancer’s spears.

For every sin and every crime,
From now until the end of time-
I bestow upon you this eternal curse
Of paying back the worth of every drop of blood.
May your screams reach the highest of Heavens
For you shall drown in despair and die.
Look upon these crimson skies and scream in awe.
The hour of your repentance is here at last.

Stuck between two kinds of madness, between fury and pain, Saber’s brain fought to comprehend what was happening. The influx of memories only increased the pain- or maybe it was actually causing it? He had no way of knowing, he didn’t want to know. All he wanted, all he would’ve given his very life for was the pain to stop. But it truly seemed infinite, or maybe the excruciating torture had destroyed his perception of time as well.

Lancer didn’t even try to finish him off. He just stood there, as silent as ever, and watched the writhing knight with his cold black eyes. His stoic, wrinkled face showed no emotion at all. With heavy steps, the apparent victor walked to his kneeling opponent. The white-haired knight didn’t even bother raising his spear, merely holding it loosely in his one remaining hand.

“Black mist…” eventually managed to wheeze out Saber from his place on the ground. “A Lancer able to designate a territory as his own… and most of all… all those spears… there’s only one man in history who has wielded so many, isn’t there… Executor King?”

“Too bad it took you this long to realize it, kiddo,” replied the one who had once been known as Vlad the Impaler. “Some good it is to you now when you are already death,” finished the white-haired knight, with his usual gloomy ‘smile’ still plastered on his face.

Something that was probably meant to sound as a mocking laugh escaped out of Saber’s unfeeling throat. The blow to his head by the blunt end of the spear went almost unnoticed, the physical pain being nowhere near close to what the black knight had just experienced. The helmet finally fell off, letting loose the shoulder-length, prematurely grayed hair. The knight’s green eyes were sickly and unfocused, still bearing the shock from the impending pain. Saber’s skin was as pale as snow, looking almost ghastly.

“And what about you, runt?” asked Vlad in a tone that clearly showed he expected no answer. “Do you actually think one helmet can hide your identity when but a look at that coward’s blade is enough for every Heroic Spirit worth his salt to recognize you from a mile away?”

Saber remained defiantly silent, even when the white-haired knight propped up his chin with the tip of his spear.

“Or maybe you are actually ashamed to show your face, aren’t you?”

It was both a question and an answer in and of itself. It was something only someone like Lancer could understand, at least partially. After all, each and every one of them was meant to carry their twisted and tainted burden separately.

“Sometimes I think it hurts more if you actually regret it,” eventually grunted the white-haired knight, referring either to their mistakes in general or the horrendous might of his Noble Phantasm. Or maybe both. “And this, runt, is the reason why you lost tonight. The difference between the likes of me and the likes of you is that I have accepted this darkness. Each and every sin I made is mine to bear… and so it shall be. You can’t change the past, runt. Don’t bother with it. You know… in a way, I was the worst opponent you could’ve ever faced in this War. Guess you’re just unlucky.”

Silence once again descended upon the duo, only for Lancer’s hoarse bark of a laugh to chase it away soon later.

“I must’ve really grown soft over the years, kiddo. I don’t usually make a habit of getting into deep philosophical conversations with the ones I kill.”

“I presume you won’t be willing to skip the whole killing part?”

With a smirk dancing on his lips, the white-haired knight shook his head.

“This place is not the best of graves for a knight… but we have long since forsaken our prides as ones, haven’t we… Mordred?”

Saber didn’t even bother with replying. All he could do was clutch his sword and wait for the inevitable as Lancer raised his spear. If he used his sword now it would have surely drained him out of all the prana remaining- but perhaps he could survive long enough for his Master to replenish him. But then again, he could try attacking with an ordinary, less-consuming Burst… and save himself from having to fall back on that hated coward’s blade.

“Good night, Judas of Knights,” said Vlad with a stoic expression. “And may flights of devils wing thee to thy rest.”

The crimson glow illuminated the night as Saber pumped as much as prana as he could into that fateful last Burst. Racing towards Lancer’s exposed chest from the side, it split apart the air in a wide glowing arc and forced the white-haired Servant to jump back… only for him to drive his spear straight into the ground, as if he had intended it from the very beginning.

“Abandon hope, all who dare thread my kingdom.
Now and forever, welcome to the Fortress of Impalement!”

And as the night sky was engulfed by a crimson sunset and a barren field spread as far as Saber could see, the endless forest of spears erupted from beneath the ground…



***





The night sky was gradually getting swept away by the impending dawn. As the darkness receded and the stars twinkled into nothingness, the white-haired knight could only stare at the sky he hadn’t seen for centuries and wait until his Master would finally wake up. Meissa had surely severely underestimated her opponent, of that he had no doubt, but from what he could gather, the other girl must had been knocked out as well. She had just probably woken up before his momentary ‘liege’ and crawled somewhere away. In a sense, Lancer was thankful that said opponent hadn’t slit Meissa’s throat while she had been still unconscious. Considering what he had gone through during the battle, it would have been a major kick in the gut had Fate left him Masterless in such a condition.

Not that the one once called Vlad had any trust in Fate. To him, she had always been something even more than a fickle bitch. Indeed, Fate had made sure that Lancer’s lot in life had been one of the worst for all times- something pretty impressive when it was coming from the mouth of a king.

The blonde next to him stirred a bit but her eyes remained firmly closed. A silent curse escaped Vlad’s lips. He would had long hauled her up and ran away if he could- but now with both arms missing that was next to impossible. And so, all the black knight could do was stay near her and pray to whatever gods were left willing to listen to his pleas that no enemy attacked them now. ‘Easy prey’ didn’t even describe their current predicament.

Alas, to someone such as the Impaler, Fate was too stubborn to show some kindness even in his second parody of a life. With a low guttural growl, a four-legged creature slid out of the darkness. Lancer was sure that some of the other Masters, if not all of them, had managed to place familiars nearby to observe the battle. But that kind of a familiar he had never expected to encounter in this War.

The hellhound, because Vlad couldn’t think of anything else appropriate to call the foul beast, had a disproportional body covered in blood-red scales. His muscular top half contrasted strongly with his thin, hairy legs that ended up in hooves. Its arms, ending in claws comparable in size to miniature swords, were as thick as tree trunks. Its wolf-like head was adorned with a twisted crown of horns and a mane of burning fire went down its back. Four sulfuric yellow eyes were currently staring down Lancer, as if the creature was trying to decide whether it should devour him first or the girl.

In short, Fate had sent after him a beast straight out of Hell itself when he couldn’t even pick up his weapon. Vlad was well aware that there wasn’t probably any god in the Universe that didn’t hate him, but sometimes they just loved rubbing salt in his wounds way too much.

The black knight stood up with a tired sigh and walked in front of his Master, hoping to at least be able to divert the beast’s attention from her. A shorter spear, the shortest one he had in stock, formed out of thin air. Clutching it between his teeth, the white-haired knight stared down the beast, as if facing it armless and with a weapon in your mouth was the most natural thing to do in such a situation.

The hellhound, apparently more interested in such a strange opponent than actually scared by his actions, prepared to lunge forward-

“Gotta hand it to you, bruv, I’ve seen some batshit guys, but your insanity just takes the cake.”

The annoyingly arrogant voice could’ve been heard loud and clear in the silent warehouse. The speaker- the blue-haired amazingly irritating guy from yesterday whose name Lancer hadn’t even bothered to remember- was currently sitting atop one of the piles of boxes and idly dangling his legs. His one visible deep blue eye was observing the situation in a way that was reminiscent of a little boy examining ants under a looking glass. A situation which usually ended with slow, painful and very excruciating incineration for the ants.

The crimson beast looked even more irritated than Lancer at the sight of the newcomer. Probably deeming him the most dangerous pray, which was kinda easy since he was both conscious and had all his limbs attached. With a deafening roar, the creature leaped towards its new choice of prey. It was an outstanding jump, able to cover the significant distance between them in a single instant. The readied claws of the beast were just about to tear off the blue-haired man’s face-

-When the hellhound was suddenly struck in mid-air and nailed to the ground by some invisible arrow. Amidst raging fire and terrifying gurgles, the beast’s body disintegrated into embers and disappeared into the cool night air, as if it had never existed. Lancer threw a weary look at the far-off crane slightly visible through the hole in the roof- that was the direction from which the shot must have come from, judging by its trajectory. Vlad thought he could see a small figure at the tip of the crane’s arrow but the distance was too great for him to make out any details. The black knight let go off the spear and let it disappear into nothingness.

“Friend of yours?” gruffly asked the white-haired man and nodded in the direction where the hellhound had been killed.

“Can’t say I’ve met him before, bruv,” replied the blue-haired teen and shrugged. “Although I’ve no idea why she’d let them attack me, too,” mumbled the foreign mage and shook his head to clear his thoughts. “But if I’ve to estimate I guess, I’d say ‘em beasties must be Caster’s,” he finished loud enough for Lancer to hear- not that a Servant’s ears could’ve missed his previous words.

“What now?” plainly asked Vlad.

“Now I’ll go secure yet another ally,” answered the blue-haired mage and stood up, almost giddily. “Oh, and that’s for you. An… investment in my alliance with your Master.”

Offhandedly, the foreigner threw a glistening emerald at Lancer’s feet. The prana radiating off the gem could’ve been felt from three blocks away by even the most amateurish of mages.

“See ya,” said plainly the blue-haired mage as he jumped down from the pile and disappeared back into the shadowed alleys.



***






When the sun rose on that cold autumn morning, the blood-chilling screams of a wounded girl filled the crisp air when she laid her eyes on the lone body crucified amidst the forest of spears.

Soldat der Trauer
October 24th, 2011, 12:35 PM
...

DAMMIT!!!

The fic is back, but I have class right now, so i can't read it yet!

Arggh, such misfortune...

Sherrinford
October 24th, 2011, 12:36 PM
Oh my- it's back!!!

Ah, good. Good, good, good.

What now, Ayaka?

I3uster
October 24th, 2011, 01:44 PM
Yay!
Did you have a "canon" version of Vlad in mind when doing this one, design wise at least, like Extra or Apocrypha Vlad?

Aladar
October 24th, 2011, 04:15 PM
Extra!Vlad.

And kudos to those who got Saber's identity right.

Ace
October 24th, 2011, 04:17 PM
Blue haired guy is reminding me more of Shinji, a Shinji that doesn't suck at magecraft.

It's also great to see this back.

Soldat der Trauer
October 24th, 2011, 06:15 PM
@Aladar: Read the update, loved the update. Was one of the ones who guessed Mordred, too. The man's such a smartass, he's hilarious. Had guessed Lancer might have been Vlad, but was thrown off by his characterization when speaking and ability to keep materializing new spears one at a time in the previous chapter, so oh well.

So, can we expect to see an update to the Wise Up! appendix in the next few weeks, perhaps?

And delicious Assassin, there must be MOAR.

Spinach
October 24th, 2011, 08:12 PM
I love your fight scenes, Aladar. Was great. Took me longer than I'd like to admit(Up until he used the spear with a red banner with a dragon on it.) but I managed to figure out who Lancer was. Very nice. I can't wait for the next update.


And kudos to those who got Saber's identity right.

:neco_arc:

Aladar
October 25th, 2011, 11:01 AM
Updated the Wise Up.

Also, what do you think is gonna happen to Saber and Aya now?

In other major news, I'll let you vote for who our sensual Assassin-chick fights next. Saber is excluded 'cause he already got his turn. All other classes are fair game, despite you not knowing the Servants corresponding to some of them. Who knows, you might get a catfight if you vote right.

Soldat der Trauer
October 25th, 2011, 01:16 PM
@Aladar: It almost sounds like you're insinuating we should vote for Caster (assuming that's a female)...

Lancer's wounded, so his turn might have to happen later in order to get a quality fight. Teleport spam versus intangibility, fighto!

Rider's an unknown, but NP activation is unlikely to happen this time.

Archer... Don't know enough about him (Paris?), but that could be really interesting seeing as how he seems to be strictly a ranged combatant.

As for Berserker, doesn't he have asymmetrical arm sizes? I could totally see Assassin making sex jokes about him. But then there's his Master, and he gives off Kuzuki vibes...

HMMM.

Aladar
October 25th, 2011, 02:52 PM
So who's your choice anyway? xD

I3uster
October 25th, 2011, 03:02 PM
Berserker. I want to see him in action.

Sherrinford
October 25th, 2011, 03:02 PM
Archer: I have a theory on his identity, so another fight may clarify my idea...

Rider: a chance to get (some) infos on another servant...

Lancer: it would be interesting, to see how it would turn out (considering lancer's injuries)... nah, let's spare him.

Well, I vote Rider. I want to see one (two) new character. But they are all fine, after all.


(P.S.: so, are you deciding the story "on the spot", or this is just a special event, and their fight wouldn't have much 'impact' on the story?)

Aladar
October 25th, 2011, 03:57 PM
I'm making up the story as I go along. The major stuff has been decided but the things in between are all up in the air.

Soldat der Trauer
October 25th, 2011, 03:57 PM
@Aladar: I vote Archer. Failing that, Berserker.

Aladar
October 25th, 2011, 04:00 PM
1 vote for Berserker, 1 for Rider and 1 for Archer.

Lolz is what I'm saying. xD

Ace
October 25th, 2011, 04:02 PM
Archer for me.

Spinach
October 25th, 2011, 07:07 PM
Rider.

Aladar
October 26th, 2011, 07:05 AM
So... Archer or Rider? Guess there will be some new Servant revelations either way...

Spinach
October 26th, 2011, 07:28 AM
Well, it has always been a long standing tradition that:

Rider's are awesome
Archer's are overpowered

Going by these facts, I must say meeting the Rider sounds far more interesting.

Sherrinford
October 26th, 2011, 07:46 AM
Going by these facts, I must say meeting the Rider sounds far more interesting.

I must say meeting the Rider sounds far more interesting.

meeting the Rider



>Meet the Rider.

>Meet the Servants.

Idea for a series of oneshots?

Spinach
October 26th, 2011, 08:14 AM
And I just spent the last 10 minutes watching the Meet the series on youtube after you linked the Spy video in Spy's thread in the 7th. GET OUTTA MAH HEAD, SHERRINFORD

Sherrinford
October 26th, 2011, 08:45 AM
And I just spent the last 10 minutes watching the Meet the series on youtube after you linked the Spy video in Spy's thread in the 7th. GET OUTTA MAH HEAD, SHERRINFORD

http://www.turkcraft.com/mangas/Me o Mite Hanase/01 -/43.png

Caster
October 27th, 2011, 05:43 AM
And finally managed to read all of this. Took me longer than I thought. I remember wanting to read it, but something made me hold off. Eventually I decided that it be best to do so, since it would probably be disappointing for me if I didn't. Definitely enjoying it, but too little to form much opinion on. I hope this Caster is a good entity, since... of ones made so far, none of them have been unanimously good. Sadly looking like that won't be the case, what with hellhound and all, but who knows. Won't dislike the story if not.

So far, definitely like Saber. He's nice, in his own way. Definitely bound by his past though. Which is a shame, makes me want to go and give him a hug. Odysseus definitely seems like a strong choice for Archer, but no telling if that will happen. I'm afraid I don't have too much to say as a whole, but I liked the more mystical Assassin nature, helps it stand out from the other two (three if Extra is used) so far. Somewhat surprised you didn't use a non Hassan, but I like what you did with her. Would like to sign up for the notification, assuming you ever decide to do it, though would prefer an email, since I have no clue if I'll notice a PM. Thanks for the story so far, I look forward to the rest. :)

Oh yeah, I'll vote for Rider currently. Though Archer works too.

Dragoon
December 27th, 2011, 11:50 PM
...

So... is it still going on? Or is it discontinued? Unless you're suffering from writer's block or getting too busy in real life? Yeah, I understand when it happens like this...

Alright, movin' on ...

Really, I don't know what words to say about this... but I gotta say... this is awesome... far beyond awesome... I don't know... I really want to find the exact words that best describes something other than the word "awesome" ('Epic' might be that word, but I'm not sure)... but, all I could say is that I like it (a lot) and I grew a lot of interest of reading this... especially all the characters... Seriously, this is a good read... I mean it.

As for the vote... yeah, I'm still struggling to choose either Rider or Archer... so... though it's two months late... I was thinking of voting for Rider...

Anyway, really liking it, so keep it up... if you can... but, you know... just keep up the good work...

Spinach
December 28th, 2011, 12:33 AM
Darn. Thought there was an update. Oh well~

I doubt it's discontinued. And yes, Aladar's writing is really good. He deserves more love. Keep it up, Aladar, your story is great.

Soldat der Trauer
December 28th, 2011, 03:46 AM
School. Researching and coming up with concepts for a original story of my own. Skyrim.

How can I come back, I'd really like ta know. :)

This was Aladar's reply on December 13th when I asked him how an update was coming along.

Lycodrake
December 28th, 2011, 10:07 AM
Read what has been written here, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Looking forward to when it updates. ^^

I3uster
December 28th, 2011, 10:33 AM
Goddamit, I thought there was an update ;_;

Aladar
December 28th, 2011, 07:33 PM
Around 1/3 through chap 8, which includes a part from Graham's POV, Nia trolling Glen, Rider VS Archer and Assassin coming out to play.

Spinach
December 28th, 2011, 08:18 PM
Assassin!

Rider AND Archer?

Trolling!

Yesss

ItsaRandomUsername
December 28th, 2011, 08:21 PM
I approve of this message.

Dragoon
December 28th, 2011, 08:35 PM
Same here

Soldat der Trauer
December 28th, 2011, 11:54 PM
YEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!

Aladar
December 29th, 2011, 09:58 PM
Chapter 8:




Duels at Dawn





“And here it is! A nice warm cup of steaming hot cocoa for my crying beauty.”

Once again Graham’s words fell on deaf ears as the bespectacled girl just took the cup in her hands, like a robot going through the motions, and kept on staring a hole into the nearest wall. Her eyes were still bloodshot and filled with bitter tears. To say she was a wreck would have been putting it rather mildly but Graham, who liked to imagine himself a gentleman at heart, preferred not to mention that to his newest ally.

While she had been rather… hysterical at first, getting her back safely to her house hadn’t been the most challenging of tasks. Now, getting her Servant back without him dissolving into glittery dust- that had been a task arduous enough for the English mage to ask himself if it had been really worth it. But the blue-haired man sure as hell wasn’t going to let a Saber go to waste- he needed all Servants of the Knight classes for his plan. Between the three of them, no other Servant or Master would be a challenge, that much was certain.

In this broken game the only way to win was having the most broken pieces of all on his team.

Plus, he hated seeing girls cry. Three precious gems out of the seven he had left, one for Lancer to recover and two for the nearly-dead black knight- that was the price for forming his ragtag team. And considering how high his new teammates ranked on his hotness scale, Graham considered it a bargain for the ages.

Without him even realizing it, the cards were once again back into his hands. The deck was being shuffled for probably the thousandth of time that night, a habit he would have never admit showed how nervous he was actually. Too much was at stake indeed- and yet he found it rather disheartening that after all his years of balancing on the razor’s edge and numerous gambits, he was starting to get sweaty just then.

The gem he gave to his other ally was a beacon, a jewel filled with enough prana to attract half the mages in Hartcroft and probably more. Weak as he was, the blonde’s Servant still had a presence frightening enough that his alien coldness had almost made Graham stop and reconsider for a bit. Which meant that only a mage with a Servant at his or her back would dare to approach the wounded duo.

The oldest trick in the book. Anyone worth his or her salt would check around before going closer to the little wounded gazette he was herding them towards. And certainly no one was capable of noticing the lone figure perching atop the Skyspire, half a city away.

Perfection in simplicity.

That had been always his credo. Flashy tricks were for wooing the girls. Against your enemies you had to hit hard and fast and preferably before they even knew you were near. Frankly, Graham still couldn’t believe how lucky he had been to actually get hold of the Archer card, the one Servant who probably synched with his own style the most.

The quiet girl in front of him was occasionally washed away along with the well-lit room as his mind’s eyes got glimpses of what Archer was seeing. It had been somewhat frightening the first time really- how through the Heroic Spirit’s eyes the night was both dark and as light as any day or how the most distant of things looked as close as the fingers on his own hand. And still Graham found it incredibly hard to keep himself in the other man’s head. While he deemed himself a prodigy in some areas, sharing his sight with a familiar had never been a strong point of his.

Not like it mattered in this case. Archer was there not to spy but to ambush and he was certainly more than capable enough to handle it without Graham blaring orders from inside his head. Nah, both of them had a mission and had to succeed alone and independently.

A common goal achieved not by combined strength but by separate victories.

That was the core of the blue-haired mage’s relationship with his Servant. They were not literally a master and his follower, nor were they a team who tackled their enemies together. They were more like a unit if anything- a unit of two where one always covered the other but both preferred to work alone. Yet another reason he was rather happy his partner was an Archer.

A quiet sob brought him back to reality just in time to see Ayaka liven up enough to wipe out her tears with the back of her trembling hand. Her bloodshot eyes were hid from view by the veil of her shoulder-length hair but her small and scared voice did manage to reach his ears. The ‘thank you’ was so quiet that he thought he must have imagined it at first but, apparently, that was all the girl could muster in such a condition.

“Hush, luv, don’t waste your pretty little voice on me just yet. Actually, I’d rather you screamed my na-“

The pain shooting through his head was a remainder enough that their connection was two-fold.

“Spoilsport,” muttered the young man through gritted teeth. If the girl had even bothered to hear what he had said, Graham couldn’t know.

No matter how much Graham wanted to talk business, pleasure or just pure nonsense with the girl, now just wasn’t the time. At least not until that black knight of hers was good enough to personally tell her not to worry.

With a tired sigh, the blue-haired man hopped back onto his feed and started rummaging through the cupboards in search of something alcoholic enough to get him through his somewhat lonely watch-duty. The broken girl just kept on staring somewhere above him, probably lost in accusing herself of having failed her Servant or something, if Graham could hazard a guess. If anything, she was the one in need of a bloody drink, concluded the mage as he browsed the contents of the cupboard.

And if he got her drunk enough-

The throbbing pain suddenly pulsing inside his head like a second heart was proof enough that he was surely going to waste a Command Spell one of those days.

To make Archer shove all his arrows up his own hypocritical arse.



***

“Try as I might, I can’t help but think listening to you is a really bad idea.”

“Come now, Glenny, when have I ever lied to you?” quickly retorted the cheerful female voice on the other side of the line.
The runaway Grimaldi let out a tired sigh and scanned his surroundings, from the numerous empty warehouses, to the lone cranes reaching towards the heavens and finally to the nearly cloudless sky now getting slowly colored with the pink tint of dawn.

“Should I recite the list in numerical or alphabetical order?”

“Or you can instead trust me and go there to find a defenseless Master with a crippled Servant, both ripe for the picking,” nearly sing-sang Nia and the red-haired boy could almost picture her playfully wagging her finger at him, one blue eye closed and lips morphed in a catty smirk. “You can feel it, can’t you?”

“I can and it doesn’t precisely feel ‘defenseless’,” countered the teen begrudgingly and his eerie green eyes glanced rather cautiously over the nearly roofless building from which the prana was stemming from. “You know I can’t afford to fight for lost causes.”

“Surely my sweetling wouldn’t mind a bit of a challenge?” teased Nia and let out a painfully girlish giggle. “Relax, your pray is as harmless as a newborn kitten. What you do with said pray is up to you, I can’t be bothered anymore now that I’ve led you to her.”

“Nia, what the hell do you me-“

The words froze in his mouth when Glen finally entered the dilapidated warehouse. Amidst shattered concrete and broken crates, clear signs of a battle having been waged, was lying none other than one very unconscious, one very ‘not supposed to be a Master’ Meissa Scintillare. No bruises covered her body and yet the numerous clues around her spoke of a duel between mages. It was actually somewhat disheartening that Nia of all people, considering her sheer speed, had been beaten but not that was the problem at that particular moment.

Her sleeping face looked almost peaceful, eyelids fluttering and lips moving slightly, as if she was talking to someone inside her dream. The platinum-blond color of her hair, now sprawled all around its owner, was almost silvery-white under the caress of the waning moonlight. Strands of it covered her right hand, like glittering rivers criss-crossing the tattooed roses and vines entangled under them.

And on the back of her hand, the three Command Seals reflected the moonlight almost tauntingly.

With gritted teeth the teen approached his unwanted fiancée, her Servant materializing only three steps later. A middle-aged man from what Glen could see, yet already gray-haired and somehow old beyond his years. Nia hadn’t lied about that one- the black knight lacked both his hands and even from his position next to his Master he couldn’t do a thing, considering Rider was here as well.

And yet, for the briefest of moments, the redhead froze in mid-step. Cold, so cold it could actually burn him from the inside out, the Servant’s presence made his heart skip a beat when he realized how familiar it felt. It was the aura of a murderer of a different caliber, way too similar to the one of his chaser. The moment of weakness passed just as quickly as it had appeared.

Glen frankly doubted there had been any other Master lucky enough in the history of Grail Wars to find such an easy opponent. Or anyone as unlucky as Meissa. Frankly, he was rather curious how anyone could actually beat her, considering her signature spell made her a possible threat even to him. Save from something targeting the whole area in general, someone actually faster than her or, hell, even a Servant, Glen had his doubts Meissa could lose unless she threw the much on purpose. Which wasn’t actually that far-fetched a possibility considering how much pride a lithe body like hers could contain.

And yet, there she was- one tight squeeze away from being killed.

One opponent less standing in the way to his dream, one step closer to breaking his poisoned chains.

With green eyes hidden behind the fringe of hair colored deep crimson, the teen kneeled to his would-be bride. Her slender throat felt so frail under his grip it was unreal. Oblivious to the danger lurking so close, the blonde once again murmured something in her sleep. Her Servant could only glare, helpless. Hell, if anything, Glen was more concerned whether Rider would try to stop him.

And yet the one for whom he harbored both hatred and respect kept on breathing, even as his hand kept on clutching slightly her throat. What had Grandfather said once, all those years ago?

“Killing a man is more than just killing the body. When you kill someone you don’t just deny them their future. You rob them of their dreams. Anything and everything a man could ever become or achieve, create or destroy, you erase it. And just as the kill is your responsibility, so are the man’s dreams. Only those willing to shoulder those dreams should kill. A Grimladi knows this. A Grimaldi gives a fighting chance.”

But then again, Glen was sure that many would rather forsake their future and dreams then endure the ‘fighting chance’ a Grimaldi would offer them. Few were those actually able to overcome the power of his family’s signature Fleshcrafting, even after years of being prisoners in their own skins and bound by their own spines, locked deep under the family’s mansion. But that was neither here nor there.

And what was her dream anyway?

“The world’s a stage- and it’s meant to show me shine.”

Kinda easy to remember, considering how prone Meissa was to repeating it. Or at least she was when they had first met. She had been rather talkative back then. Hell, friendly even. It almost concerned him how he couldn’t even remember when they had started hating each other’s guts. Almost.

A really little bit.

And the hand just kept on clutching the throat, the dawn creeping closer and closer…

With a roar akin to thunder, what remained of the roof was shattered in an instant. Glen’s eyes widened in disbelief and even his blackened heart skipped a few beats. The red-haired boy could feel it, he could hear it, and he knew what was currently racing towards him with nearly the speed of light.

And worst of all, he knew damn well enough he was powerless to stop it.

The rushing wind chasing after the invisible arrow turned into a hurricane as it hit the sparkling mist of gold and silver. With a long blonde braid billowing in the wind and with a mischievous smile plastered on his lips, the knight who appeared out of thin air grabbed the incoming arrow inches away from his own eyes, colored a deep inky blue. The rushing gale forced Glen on all fours, almost crushing the girl beneath him, but the silver knight just stood stalwart, as if it was nothing but a morning breeze.

The surges of bluish prana, crackling like whips of electricity, came not long after. But all they did was end up dispelled and withering away when they hit his silver armor, a pristine masterpiece of craftsmanship adorned with golden gauntlets and boots and eagle-shaped spaulders. The red cape currently billowing over one of his shoulders bore a winged sigil-an eagle with two heads.

Gradually, the wind died down and the arrow melted into nothingness.

The silver knight let out a rather arrogant ‘hmpf’… and promptly put his hands around his mouth so he could shout better.

“HEY, ARCHER, WHY DON’T YOU TRY BETTER NEXT TIME? THIS ONE WAS RATHER DISAPPOITING!”

The runaway Grimaldi barely resisted the urge to bury his face in his hands so he only settled on pinching the bridge of his nose to fight off the impending headache.

“Just… go defeat him, okay? And don’t do anything stupid, like rushing in if they outnumber you or something.”

“Come now, Master, whenever have I done anything stu-“ started the blonde knight and, with a thousand-watt smile plastered on his face, sheepishly rubbed the back of his head.

“Numerical or alphabetical order?” cut him off Glen without even looking in his general direction.

“- And off I go to fight the bad guy!” abruptly finished Rider, promptly choosing to ignore his Master’s question.

The boastful knight dissolved into a mist of silver and gold just as quickly as he had appeared, once again leaving his Master alone with Meissa and her useless Servant.

Yet again his emotionless green eyes, colored that inhuman green hue that made normal people so wary around him, turned to the sleeping girl and-

“Well, well, well.”

They were only three words, three ordinary words said in a sensual, drawled out tone that somehow made his skin crawl more than that magical arrow ever could. He didn’t need to see her reflection in Lancer’s glare to realize who she was… or rather… what she was.

Like a loving lover, Assassin embraced him from behind, her ample chest now pushed tightly against his back. His would-be killer whispered tenderly into his ear, probably way too fond of praying with her prey before she finished it off.

“Did I stumble on a secret lovers’ meeting, I wonder? Is this crippled old coot bothering you, my sweetling? Should I gut him first? Come now, don’t be shy! Just tell little old me what’s your desire,” Assassin’s voice grew almost inaudible. “It would be rather rude for me to deny a dying man’s last wish, wouldn’t it?”

Glen knew he could probably call back Rider fast enough with a Command Spell… but aside from not wanting to waste one so early on he doubted his head would be attached to his shoulders long enough for him to finish the order. Grimaldi or not, he had no desire to check whether he could survive a beheading in his current state. So using his Crest or Spells was out of the question. What did that leave him? Bargaining? As if an enemy Servant would-

“Or maybe, just maybe,” said Assassin and hugged him even tighter. “You’d just walk away nice and quiet and let me get the one I came here for. It’d be a shame to waste a pretty young boy like that, wouldn’t it? But I’m sure someone like you would never do such a thi-“

“Agreed,” cut her off Glen, voice as stoic as ever. “I’m a Master, she’s a Master. One less enemy to worry about. I would’ve killed her anyway.”

The shocked silence made him wonder whether he had surprised her. Still, he felt her shrug her shoulders behind him and, after one ominous ‘are you sure, my sweetling’, she just let go off him and knelt next to the girl. Darker than the blackest night, the veil of Assassin’s fiery hair hid Meissa from view. Turning his back on them all, the red-haired teenager started walking away, anxious to slither back somewhere under the waning veil of the night. It wasn’t the coward’s way, he told himself. It was the pragmatic way.

A Grimaldi always takes the rational decision.

He heard the clatter of armor behind him- doubtlessly Lancer trying to get up to defend his Master. A brave yet futile deed. Not like it mattered to Glen anyway.

And yet…

“The world’s a stage- and it’s meant to show me shine.”

A dying girl, a fading dream.

That’s how the world worked. He knew it well enough. He had learned all those years ago that words are wind… and that unless you were strong enough to earn it with blood, tears and iron, any kind of dream was useless. A Grimaldi knew, a-

“A Grimladi leaves no debt unpaid.”

He said it out loud, despite himself. Words plain and clear, dissolving into the night just as fast as they had appeared. In a way, he felt he was trying to counter himself. Assassin lifted her head, as if in curiosity, but he had no way of knowing with that white skull mask of hers which hid her face from view.

In a flash of blackest flames, the dark-skinned woman melted into thin air right as the pillar of bones, bleach-white spikes over two meters tall erupted from the ground beneath her. Like a twisted version of a blossoming flower, the spikes grew until they surrounded both girl and Servant.

It was more instinct than anything, sensing her behind him. Appearing out of nothing, with only black flames heralding her attack, Assassin swung a curved sword made out of her own fiery hair- and promptly jumped back when the bones erupted from his back like a porcupine’s spikes.

With a snap of her fingers the black flames soared into the air around her and morphed into a whole ghastly armory consisting of every kind of weapon he could picture and many whose shape he was seeing for the first time. Before the redheaded teen could even react, the flaming onslaught shot into his direction, almost as fast as Archer’s arrow.

His flesh was scorched and pierced, torn and shredded, battered and broken.

And yet, when the cloud of smoke cleared, he was still there- a living corpse full of holes, still standing upright, eerie green eyes locked into the unseen eyes of his foe. And right then and there, as his own flesh and bones sewed themselves back together and Assassin stared at the blackened heart visible through the gaping wound in his chest, Glen felt it.

Ephemeral and momentary, lost in that one second of eternity and yet, still there. Even for the littlest of bits, she was afraid of him.

“My turn,” plainly stated the green-eyed boy.

As if having a mind of its own, the blood splattered around their surroundings rose into the air. To her credit, Assassin didn’t seem fazed by the wall of crimson spikes levitating behind her foe. With a snap of his fingers, the barrage was let loose. But his opponent was way too fast to be caught. After once again disappearing into a flash of black flames, she reappeared right in front of him, twin swords into her hands. Glen wasn’t fast enough to jump back in time. And yet, even though both his hands were cleanly cut off his body, the whips of blood connecting their owner to them just pulled them back and flesh was seamed back to flesh as if nothing had happened.

With the fleshly sound of pierced meat, two of his own ribs jutted out and no sooner had he pulled them off when their form changed to that of Assassin’s curved swords. It didn’t matter how much faster she was, how much stronger or how suicidal would be to attack her head on. None of it mattered to someone like him- and Glen was well aware that she knew that and, most of all, she feared that.

Sparks flew into the air as steeled bones met living flames. Their dance of death was unreal and with every kiss between their twisted blades, one thing became apparent. Unless she managed to strike his heart, the prospect of losing was frighteningly real for her.

And strike his heart she did- only for the black blade to be met with a crimson shield of wall-like blood beneath the flesh. Glen didn’t bother replacing the broken blade into his hand. Bones as thick as those of a dragon covered his whole hand in mere seconds, the armored punch sending Assassin flying back a few meters before she skidded to a halt.

With ragged breath and battered body, the redhead still bared his teeth into a feral smile.

“The question you should be asking yourself now, Assassin,” declared proudly the boy. “Isn’t ‘how long can he fight until I finish him off’. It’s ‘can I survive long enough to finish him off’. A subtle difference, yet rather important… my sweetling.”

Even with his deadened senses he barely bit back the scream when he suddenly found himself being impaled through the chest with a lance-like drill made out of ebon flames. The message that she wasn’t playing around anymore was rather painfully clear. And yet, Assassin was too late. Even thought his crimson shield was shattered in an instant, the wall of solid bone beneath it managed to halt the onslaught halfway through, even for a second. More than Glen needed frankly.

Her attack had drawn her closer than ever, drenching her in his own blood. A rather amateurish mistake for someone like her, he thought. Then again, Glen doubted she had ever fought a Grimaldi. A snap of his fingers was all it took. And suddenly the blood had disappeared, sliding inside her through pores and cuts and wounds, spreading, infecting, eating her from within.

Another snap- and the flaming lance shattered into embers as her screams filled the air. The deepest crimson, like a blossoming rose, spikes made out of their shared, twisted blood had erupted from her slender body.

Retracting and growing back, again and again.

Glen could almost taste her pain, which probably magnified threefold with each and every snap of his fingers. Finally, after the corrupted blood had finally neared her heart and the next spike was probably going to erupt right through it and end her once and for all, Assassin melted into nothingness yet again. But Glen knew well-enough that it wasn’t her black flames this time. Her Master had finally recalled her, either to scold her or save her from being butchered.

And just as suddenly he felt his own strength leave him. His knees met the cold blood-splattered ground rather harshly but whatever pain he could feel was overshadowed by the sensation of one of his Command Spells burning out.

He had only two aces up his sleeve- two Command Spells he could afford to use as an outside system, separate from his own and the Crest. Two Spells before falling back on the last and final chain that defined him as a Master. And one of them he had used for her.

A Grimaldi left no debt unpaid, that much was certain.

The only thing that bothered him was that Glen wasn’t sure himself whether his debt had anything to do with this at all.



***

Yet again, with an ominous snake-like hiss, Rider felt the air next to him split apart by some invisible force. Like torn flesh being mended by some kind of sorcery, the cool night air always snapped back together and once again the rush of oxygen filled the space it had been pushed away from. The arrows were a double-edged sword. Even if they missed he was always hit by his very surroundings snapping around his body like the jaws of an angry beast.

There was no sense in trying to approach his opponent while invisible. Archer could sense him clearly enough, Rider knew precisely where his foe was perching.

Nothing else was needed for their fiery clash of blades, wills and wits… only problem being that the silver knight was still too damn far to be able to use any of them. Not that the blonde was particularly worried about that in the moment. The smile of dawn was coming in closer and closer from the far east, the night air was pleasantly chilly and he had the wind in his billowing braided hair. Battle was coming, his very first duel in this Holy War- meaning, his very first meeting with someone equal to his strength, someone truly able to challenge him. Inwardly, Rider hoped his opponent was actually stronger than him. At least a bit.

He hadn’t gotten this far in life by battling those weaker, so he saw no reason why he should do so in death. Only in the face of overwhelming odds you can outgrow yourself. Plain and clear. Glen would’ve called him a fool again and chastised him, Rider knew that. But the silver knight also knew that his Master had the habit of coming off as more ruthless and intimidating than he really was, like a viper constantly showing off its poisonous fangs for everyone around to see. Frankly, Rider was a bit sorry for the boy. But since worrying about anything more than necessary was far from his nature, he was more than sure that his Master was going to turn out fine in the end.

Somehow.

Wind and prana intertwined in one once again tried to pierce his heart- but the silver knight just dodged to the right with a wide smile on his face, one some would have even called feral, and proceeded to bounce off the nearest building with enough strength to cover the distance left to his enemy’s vantage point in a single leap. Glass and concrete erupted from beneath his feet when he landed on the side of the Skylance but the silver knight paid no heed to the collateral damage. With a boyish laugh, he once again disappeared into a gold-and-silver blur racing towards the top.

“ARCHEEEER!”

The blonde’s roar shattered the silence of the night as he faced the final arrow head on. With a shower of gold and blue sparks his sword morphed out of thin air and right into his expecting hand, clashing with the invisible rocket immediately after. A screech akin to that of a dying beast followed as the shockwave which erupted turned into dust every single window of the majestic building from top to bottom.

“You’re a persistent one, I’ll give you that,” muttered Archer with annoyance and scratched the back of his head, adorned with slicked-back dark red hair, the same color as the man’s goatee. The gold armor covering his tanned body was noticeably light, leaving exposed his whole arms… and that strange armor-skirt of his didn’t seem to offer much protection either. Rider briefly wondered if it was even fair to fight someone so lightly armored and call it a challenge. Well, a duel was a duel and the blonde reasoned with himself that he wasn’t going to be responsible for any chopped limbs.

What did intrigue him was his opponent’s weapon. A bow so big Rider had never seen before- it was almost as tall as its owner, noticeably adorned with various carvings and equipped with curved blades along the edges. A splendid weapon indeed… he could almost take his opponent seriously now, despite his choice both in armor and in a bit of a coward’s weapon.

“It’s called determination, “ cheerfully replied Rider and shrugged. “We deemed it a virtue in my time,” finished the silver knight and bore his mischievous blue eyes into his foe’s olive black ones, as if daring Archer to oppose his statement.

“Words are wind, Rider… I of all people know this,” plainly replied the red-haired hero and let go off his majestic bow, letting it melt back into nothingness. Once again rubbing the back of his head, one eye closed as if to emphasize how laid-back and harmless he was, Archer carefully eyed the sword in Rider’s hands.

Black handle, silverfish blade, a dash of gold sprinkled at the center of its crossguard and a gem at its pommel.

“Quite the sword you have there,” finally said the red-haired hero. His one open eye moved to meet his opponent’s ones. “I never thought I’d see it again actually, not after the war ended.”

A slow whistle rang into chilly night.

“That explains the bow I guess,” mumbled the blonde knight mostly to himself. “Now I want to fight you even more, y’know.”

“I don’t imagine you’d have much trouble, considering how obviously close combat-oriented the Archer class is,” countered the redhead and let out a wistful sigh. “I can’t imagine you’d agree to brawl, hm?”

The silver knight looked at his opponent with widened eyes, seemingly in shock at the ridiculousness of the question. And then he promptly burst out laughing loud enough to wake up half the city.

“I like your kind of opponents, Archer!” declared the blonde as his sword melted back into the night air. “BRING IT!”

After clearly suppressing a cringe at his opponent’s nonsensical shouting, the red-haired hero raised his fists almost lazily. Rider prepared to dash forward, yet another battle shout already on his lips meant gleefully announce the beginning of their duel… only for all the air in his lungs to promptly leave him when he found himself with an elbow nearly denting his full-plate armor. Archer’s sudden hit sent Rider staggering backwards and the silver knight had barely regained his composure when his opponent’s fist found itself firmly planted into his face. A mere meter away from the edge, the blonde skidded to a halt with one armored hand almost literally buried into the concrete to slow him down.

“Man, you do have one helluva punch,” said the silver knight with a pained smile plastered on his bloody lips. A few ragged breaths escaped his lungs as Rider once again raised up his fists. “Okay, now, one more time!”

With the signature speed one of the Rider class boasted, the knight dashed forward at the same time Archer jolted towards him. Two shouts melting into one, their extended fists passed each other in mid-air… only for both their punches to miss by centimeters. And somehow Rider still ended staggering to the side with teeth feeling like they had been broken, pulled out, put back in and broken again.

That is to say, it hurt a whole damn lot.

“That’s how you do it then,” finally said the silver knight after catching his breath. “The wind, right? Invisible arrows, being so fast, your punches hitting me despite missing, everything. It’s wind control. You twist the air around the arrows to bend the light and make them invisible, simultaneously pushing any air away from their path so they could fly faster… plus, the vacuum created behind them rapidly closes when the air pushes back in, thus giving them even more speed and power. Same with everything else. Now, the question is whether this is a skill of yours or a Noble Phantasm. I’d wager on a Phantasm because you are noticeably not invisible, meaning this little tricks of yours must cost at least some prana to use on a grander scale..”

The look Archer gave him was almost skeptical.

“What, you thought I was charging in blindly just because I like getting punched?” cried out the blonde, sounding almost hurtful.

A heartbeat passed in silence.

“So are you drawing out that damn sword or not?” blankly asked the red-haired hero, preparing to bring out his bow on a moment’s notice.

“Nah, not just yet,” said the blonde and shook his head. “I want to try breaking through without it.”

“That’s insane,” countered Archer and seemingly suppressed the urge to laugh out loud. “And impossible.”

“You call it impossible. I call it a challenge,” plainly stated Rider and hastily continued before his foe could cut him off again. “Life isn’t fair and you can’t expect to always face a foe on even ground. What if I didn’t have a sword? It’s much better to find a way to beat such odds here and now, when I know I can fall back on my weapon, instead of being a sitting duck wondering what to do in a situation when I can’t.”

“You’re… not as stupid as you seem to be,” eventually admitted Archer, one eyebrow raised in curiosity.

“I used to get that a lot.”

Just like the wind that was lending him its powers, Archer rushed forward with a raised fist… only to hit his opponent with seemingly no resistance at all. The redhead’s eyes widened in surprise at first, only to widen some more when he realized that Rider had practically entrenched himself to the ground, legs digging through the concrete as he was pushed back. The armored fist sent Archer reeling backwards, forcing him on his knees.

With gritted teeth he pulled out his bow out of the chilly night air, an arrow appearing in his hand simultaneously. Blue eyes widening, the silver knight barely had any time to unsheathe his sword. With a dreadful screech and a shower of sparks, metal clashed against metal and all Rider could do was push the projectile to the side. A deep, almost smoking trench was drilled all the way through the Skylance’s roof.

“Kid around, you do not,” exclaimed the knight, staring at the trench almost in shock.

“I happen to be rather… pragmatic,” replied Archer with a plain shrug and proceed to prepare for shooting two more arrows. At the same time.

Noticing the incoming danger, Rider dashed forward with a sword raised high above his head, hoping to be quick enough to pass between the two projectiles and strike- only for the twin invisible tornadoes surrounding them to send him reeling backwards.

Even with his sword dug into the already demolished roof, the silver knight was barely able to stop himself from falling off the building.

“I knew the man who used to wield this sword,” shouted Archer from his end of the roof. “A brave and noble man who ended up losing his life in someone else’s war, fighting someone else’s battles. Just like many others.”

A strained silence filled the air when Archer paused, both kneeling combatants eyeing each other wearily.

“What kind of a twisted… moron enjoys battling, Rider?! Bravery? Honor? Or maybe glory? Which one is worth so much that one would start massacring people for petty reasons like insults or territory or a woman? This War is no different. People are dying now, because someone’s twisted way of determining one’s worth depends on who’s the last one left standing. When you kill, you take away a man’s future, a man’s dreams, everything one could ever create or destroy. So don’t you dare just laugh as you swing that sword and-“

“So should I cry instead?” cut him off the blonde, voice harsh perhaps for the first time since they met. “Don’t just blabber about it- do it! If you don’t like this War then put an end to it. Me? I made a vow to my Master to help him succeed. I don’t care who I’ll face or what I’ll have to go through, it doesn’t matter to me whether I’ll have to fight with angels or devils, go down to the ninth circle or storm the gates of Heaven themselves. I follow what my heart deems right. Even if others tell me I’m crazy, even if the only chance of succeeding is zero, then I’ll take this zero… and turn it into infinity!”

Moonlight and sunlight both kissed the sword in the knight’s hand, blade gleaming like a star capable of shaming its waning cousins above.

With a bitter smile on his lips, Archer rose back onto his feet.

“I guess we are past the trickeries now, hm?”

“We sure are, Trickster King,” replied the blonde and nodded in agreement, his long braid fluttering in the morning wind.

“Hmpf, what kind of an opponent gives resolve to his enemy?” asked the redhead as he readied his bow.

“There’s nothing wrong with being friends with your enemies,” countered the silver knight and readied his sword high above his head.

As the sun rose between them, seemingly all the fury of the elements gathered at the top of Hartcroft’s Skylance. The rushing wind roared louder and louder, turning from storm into a hurricane as Archer’s arrow turned into lightning itself, whips of blue electricity darting around like rampaging snakes and dissolving everything in their path. Sword turned into spear as the blade in Rider’s handhungrily drank the light around it, growing stronger and stronger as its light shielded its owner from the raging storm.

Sword and arrow. Light and storm. The two knights prepared to clash with each other once and for all, twin shouts announcing the names of their Phantasms…



***

With the strength of a thousand suns, the column of light erupted from the top of the Skylance, blue and white morphing into one and racing towards the heavens as the shockwave roared all across the city. No window was left intact as the thunderous surge passed through Hartcroft. Tremors rushed outwards from the base of the proud skyscraper, mirroring the ripples that tore apart through the veil of clouds high up in the morning skies.

The man with the expensive dress shirt and the overcoat hanging from his shoulders grimaced as his grey eyes scanned the stain on his rather expensive carpet. The deepest crimson, like a blossoming rose, the wine just soaked deeper and deeper- almost tauntingly. The man didn’t seem to mind his proximity to the freshly-broken panoramic window, uncaring for the rushing winds that billowed his tied up white hair- always in such a contrast with his rather young features. What was left of his broken wine cup ended up on the express way down.

“My, my… this War’s already turning into quite the mess,” drawled out the white-haired man and shifted his grey eyes to the other occupant of his office. “Isn’t it, Assassin?”

“If Master says so,” replied the kneeling woman almost immediately.

A strained silence followed, only occasionally interrupted by the humming of the man as he inspected the lone Command Spell still clearly visible on his left wrist. With a hoarse and fretful voice, the masked woman tried to speak up, only to be cut off.

“I’m angry, Assassin,” plainly stated the man, as if reciting a grocery list. “Furious even. Seething with rage. But you know what? I’m angry with myself. It was my mistake that I thought my Servant was worth something,” cheerfully concluded the white-haired man and smiled widely at the fiery-haired woman.

“I-“ began the woman but only ended up choking on her own words. Some time passed before she gathered the courage to continue. “My deepest apologies, Master, but I nearly killed Saber. I managed to put Lancer on the defensive, Archer as well, even thought we were fighting face to face. I survived Berserker! You say these were only reconnaissance missions but in the end instead of letting me deal with the Masters quietly you insisted I fight their Servants head-on and-“

“- And what about that boy, hm? Is he not a Master?” countered the white-haired man, sounding as cheerful as ever.

“I… he… there is no excuse for this transgression, Master. Punish me as you see fit,” admitted Assassin and bowed even deeper, forehead almost touching the expensive carpet.

“Punish you?” echoed the man with feigned shock. “How can you even think I could do that, my most precious Assassin, hm?” asked the white-haired man and knelt next to his Servant, cupping her face into his hand.

“How can I be angry with you… when you have found such a fun opponent for me?”

Snax
December 29th, 2011, 10:07 PM
AND SHIT HITS THE FAN! yay this is awesome.

Lycodrake
December 29th, 2011, 10:20 PM
I've got to say, Rider's personality and ideals, from what've been revealed, are certainly endearing. Maybe a bit much, but it comes with the territory of being a Rider, I guess. XP

Laith
December 29th, 2011, 11:07 PM
Rider is awesome. Glen is badass and Assassin's Master sounds like he is pretty interesting.

Dragoon
December 30th, 2011, 01:21 AM
Alright, THAT new Chapter, right there, is KICKASS. Let me say that again, KICKASS. Dude, you made my day... I can't wait for more, and I had a feeling that's it's going to be more EPIC as it keeps on coming ... so keep it up there. *two thumbs up* ... I wish I have more thumbs...

Soldat der Trauer
December 30th, 2011, 01:57 AM
@Aladar: As much as I enjoyed this most recent chapter, which was A LOT... It feels a little bit off compared to previous installments, somehow. Pacing? Tone of the characters? I'm not sure what it is that pinged for me here.

Oh well.

Assassin's battle w/ Glen was an interesting twist, especially b/c seeing Kirei's Command-Seal-as-prana-battery trick used by some teenager was a nostalgic surprise. And Archer's suggestion of some fisticuffs was as funny as it was endearing. And Graham... Man, that guy's a riot!

Ah, one last definite thing. I remember how the link on this thread to when the fic was originally suggested had Assassin's Master as a guy in a wheelchair. The way the chapter ended made me think that he's able-bodied. If this is not just me jumping the gun b/c of him 'kneeling', I must admit to being a tad disappointed, personally. Given how well Glen performed in direct combat after so much build-up both IC and OOC that his using magic was a BIG no-no, I had been looking forward to how someone partially crippled would have had to find their own ways of compensating as a combatant.

Once more: oh well...

ItsaRandomUsername
December 30th, 2011, 03:08 AM
Glen has such freaky powers.

It's awesome.

Also, Rider and Archer's dynamic is intensely interesting. I guess we might be due for a wise-up soon?

Spinach
December 30th, 2011, 07:08 AM
That fight between Archer and Rider was really badass.

I have a guess for Rider's identity, but I'll wait until we get a wiseup update to throw it out~

Great work as always, Aladar.

Aladar
December 30th, 2011, 12:30 PM
The wiseup has been VERILY updated. Also, it's driving me crazy.

So, what do ya think about Rider and Archer and Glen's fighting style?

Sherrinford
December 30th, 2011, 12:43 PM
Well, very good chapter!

Boy, Glen is badass. His fighting style reminds me of SHIKI (provided I remember correctly SHIKI's fighting style, :P)

Archer vs Rider... whoa good. Hell yeah.

Seems like Assassin will be an active character in this. Spinach must be happy. Her masters is... interesting, to use an euphemism.



Wind manipulation. Trickster king. Plus that little excerpt from an earlier part... my guess on Archer... Odysseus.

For Rider... mmmhhh... blond-haired, seemingly chivalrous... sword, Rider... Sigurd, but it's shooting in the dark.

EDIT: after reading the Wise Up!!, I think I'll have to take back my guess on Sigurd, unless...


Guardian Knight: A: The epitome of the paladin, the user derives great power when defending those ‘close to his heart’, be they loved ones or comrades.

..."paladin" here is not to be taken that litterally.

Aladar
December 30th, 2011, 12:59 PM
As this is a F/SN fanfic, anything and everything is to be taken both literally and metaphorically, preferably with added mind screwy-ness, twisted euphemisms and words that both mean and do not mean something or anything.

In short, you're stuck at guessing.

Sherrinford
December 30th, 2011, 01:03 PM
=3=

Well, it could be a chance to refresh my knowledge of Paladins...

... I wonder what Spinach's guess might be...

Aladar
January 1st, 2012, 04:33 PM
... It seems he doesn't want us to know yet xD

Spinach
January 1st, 2012, 04:48 PM
What you don't know is that Spinach is carefully looking over every last minute detail, and making his guesses.

Anyway, my guess is that the Archer is Odysseus. I don't feel like justifying that, but I'm going with it, and Archer's identity is crucial to Rider's.

Now, Rider. His sword was apparently owned by someone that Archer knew, long before Rider owned the sword. His NP is ranked A++ (This is the same rank as EKKESUKARIBAH). That Guardian Knight skill, Battle Continuation, and Bravery... I think Sherrin knows where I'm going with this. He knows me well enough.

I'm very set on the belief that he's Roland. Hector, in some versions of myths, owned Durendal and it made it's way down to Roland. Durendal is, in Nasuverse canon, close/equal to Caliburn or Excalibur in power(not sure which). Guardian Knight... Roland was often a pretty chill guy who fought to defend others and championed for France. Battle Continuation, Roland, yeah. Bravery. Oh lord, Bravery. "Courage bordering on recklessness." Hahaha, Roland. His general attitude is very "Roland", and I took the braided hair as a nod to Astolfo from Apocrypha's hair and the ornaments he keeps there as a sign of his friendship with Roland.

The only doubt I have is the double headed eagle. I don't know if it had any ties to the Franks, so I'm not declaring my guess as concrete yet.

Also, if the Archer turns out to be a hero with no ties to Hector of Troy my entire theory is automatically CRUSHED.

ALSO HASSAN HASSAN HASSAN HASSAN HASSAN HASSAN HASSAN HASSAN HASSAN she's so awesome Glen kicked her ass screw you Glen HASSAN

Aladar, you write really cool fights. I can really see it play out in my mind, and it's awesome. How I envisioned the Archer/Rider fight was... whoa. You're very good at capturing the sheer speed and power behind a Servant battle, and showing how much the environment gets damaged when they clash.

Sherrinford
January 1st, 2012, 05:06 PM
Yes, Roland is a plausible guess.

Spinach
January 1st, 2012, 05:11 PM
Well, I like to jokingly guess in 6th War fics "IS IT ROLAND" whenever someone knew shows up and uses a sword, but this time there's actually a lot of evidence that it could be him.

Which makes me sad because I feel like it's not a proper 6th War fic if I don't make baseless assumptions that a Servant is Roland with no evidence to support the theory.

Lycodrake
January 1st, 2012, 05:13 PM
Well, I like to jokingly guess in 6th War fics "IS IT ROLAND" whenever someone knew shows up and uses a sword, but this time there's actually a lot of evidence that it could be him.

Which makes me sad because I feel like it's not a proper 6th War fic if I don't make baseless assumptions that a Servant is Roland with no evidence to support the theory.
I feel your pain here, Spinach.

Roland is one major possibility, but the two-headed eagle does bring up only one nation to my mind: Germany. (Or at least the "Holy Roman Empire"...)
So I have my doubts...

Sherrinford
January 1st, 2012, 05:21 PM
Well, I like to jokingly guess in 6th War fics "IS IT ROLAND" whenever someone knew shows up and uses a sword, but this time there's actually a lot of evidence that it could be him.

yes, it could be him. And as Lyco said, there's always the problem with eagle...


Which makes me sad because I feel like it's not a proper 6th War fic if I don't make baseless assumptions that a Servant is Roland with no evidence to support the theory.

Eh eh, lol.

Aladar
January 1st, 2012, 05:26 PM
On another note, which of the two Servants'... philosophies do you support?

Lycodrake
January 1st, 2012, 05:28 PM
On another note, which of the two Servants'... philosophies do you support?
...actually, I'm not sure. Rider's sounds close, but is more idealistic than what I would agree with. Archer's? Not so much either way...

Sherrinford
January 1st, 2012, 05:28 PM
You mean,


“What kind of a twisted… moron enjoys battling, Rider?! Bravery? Honor? Or maybe glory? Which one is worth so much that one would start massacring people for petty reasons like insults or territory or a woman? This War is no different. People are dying now, because someone’s twisted way of determining one’s worth depends on who’s the last one left standing. When you kill, you take away a man’s future, a man’s dreams, everything one could ever create or destroy. So don’t you dare just laugh as you swing that sword and-“


“So should I cry instead?” cut him off the blonde, voice harsh perhaps for the first time since they met. “Don’t just blabber about it- do it! If you don’t like this War then put an end to it. Me? I made a vow to my Master to help him succeed. I don’t care who I’ll face or what I’ll have to go through, it doesn’t matter to me whether I’ll have to fight with angels or devils, go down to the ninth circle or storm the gates of Heaven themselves. I follow what my heart deems right. Even if others tell me I’m crazy, even if the only chance of succeeding is zero, then I’ll take this zero… and turn it into infinity!”

...this?

Spinach
January 1st, 2012, 05:28 PM
Rider. Archer makes good points, but he also seems to be a stick in the mud. Rider knows what's up, and seems to just be enjoying the situation he's in. Totally my kind of guy.

Also, ^ make a decision and stick to it. That's one of my favorite character traits. "I said I'll do it, so I'm going to do it."

Aladar
January 1st, 2012, 05:33 PM
Yeah, Sherrin, that.

Also, Archer's just kinda touchy about that particular subject. 'Off work' he is like, say, a more mature Graham.

Sherrinford
January 1st, 2012, 05:36 PM
Mh, both make good points... but no one is entirely right.

Well, matters of Life and Death aren't easy things to talk about.

I think I'm sliding towards Rider but... he didn't really answer Archer nor is completely clear about what he's talking about...

Spinach
January 1st, 2012, 05:41 PM
Also, Archer's just kinda touchy about that particular subject. 'Off work' he is like, say, a more mature Graham.

Sounds like he's an alright guy, but I still prefer Rider.


Mh, both make good points... but no one is entirely right.

Well, matters of Life and Death aren't easy things to talk about.

I think I'm sliding towards Rider but... he didn't really answer Archer nor is completely clear about what he's talking about...

This is also very true. All of it. Both made good points, and the subject is rather touchy.

Aladar
January 3rd, 2012, 08:55 AM
Next chap will feature a bit of Waver POV, a glimpse in Glen's past and whatever the hell I can cook up next.

Sherrinford
January 3rd, 2012, 09:08 AM
Yeeeaah.

Aladar
January 3rd, 2012, 01:07 PM
Chapter 9:
Nightmares and Daydreams



The deepest crimson, like a blossoming rose.

That was the only color that existed in the boy’s horrid dreams.

The darkness engulfed the world around him- a dark veil that mercilessly hid everything from view. And yet it didn’t matter to him whether he could see or not, whether it was night or day or if the world was still alive out there. All that mattered in his gory little world was that vivid crimson, the one thing he could focus on which helped him escape the seething clutches of insanity.

Crimson like her hair, sparkling under the sun’s gentle kisses as it cascaded past her shoulders.

Crimson like her lips, always curled in a smile when they played amidst the rose bushes in the mansion’s garden.

Indeed, the blood surrounding the boy was his one and only friend and the sound of its never-ending dripping was music for his ears. He had quickly found out that he could ignore their shrieks of agony if he just focused on the dripping. Things were easier that way- because even though the cold underground darkness hid them from view, the boy knew well-enough that they were still there- always there.

Lurking, frothing, wailing, clawing, biting, eating… waiting.

And he waited, too, for the moment when he was finally going to be set free from his prison. A prison of flesh, blood and bone, as alive as it was dead and as much as its own prisoner as it was his captor.

He had never been the one meant to descend down the spiral staircase which led to the Feasting Halls. Not even after Big Brother had run away was it his task to prove his worth as a successor by spending the traditional week down there. It was her duty and honor to inherit the Crest, no matter that she was older than him by not even a minute. He had heard his parents arguing with Grandfather about it- ‘the Crest must be passed down by merit’, they had said. ‘Both of them are much too young,’ they had argued.

But Grandfather had insisted, pointed out that he was dying and wanted to see a successor chosen before his old and useless body withered away. And so it had been decided that she was the one who had to spend a week down in the Halls. That was the night when the boy had seen Mother cry for the first time in his life. Father’s reaction had been rather more… forceful.

A boy risked only devouring. A girl going down in the Halls… risked much worse.

And so the boy had easily decided that it was going to be up to him to brave the Halls. It sounded dark and dangerous and positively not a place which she, with her lovely crimson lips and flowing hair, should visit. But he- he was determined to prove to his Grandfather that he needn’t worry and send her in just because Big Brother had escaped. If Big Brother had dealt with the Halls successfully, then so would he, concluded the boy. The Crest was supposed to be passed down by merit after all- and the boy wanted to show that he was leagues above that blood-traitor.

The boy had descended down the spiral staircase on that faithful night with only a simple note left behind to explain his intentions. The doors of the Halls had opened almost welcomingly- and yet they had shut themselves behind him with a dreadful screech that had echoed inside the whole cavern. The boy had brought a torch- a mistake he would regret for the rest of his life. Some kind of unknown magic snuffed out the flame almost immediately or maybe it had been just the wind… it didn’t matter.

All that mattered was that one single moment when it had managed to cast its traitorous light on his surroundings. The boy had harbored one sole desire in that fleeting moment- to claw his eyes out with his bare hands.

Writhing and drooling, claws drawn sharp and eyes going mad, their teeth as long as daggers, bone hands and fleshy tentacles wrapping around each other, blood dripping from the web of veins that criss-crossed all over the place, from one creature to another. Some of them were like giant centipedes, one body seamed to the other with dozens upon dozens of thin and wry hands clawing all over the place. Other were nothing but constantly morphing lumps of flesh, tentacles flaying wildly in search of their pray, the one thousand burning eyes covering them staring right into his own. There were half spiders-half men, blind winged worms with seething jaws and a thick hide of spiky bones or just human-shaped dolls of flesh and bone with literally expressionless looks, their faces nothing but an oval membrane under which one could glimpse the constant snapping of their hungry jaws.

Those were to be his inmates inside the Halls. Prisoners gathered for millennia, victims of the Grimaldi’s gift of a ‘fighting chance’. All was one and one was all inside the halls. Connected through the ages with their fleshy bonds and bloody chains, they had grown into a single being, a single conscious yet many. And they remembered.

The first thing the boy learnt how to regrow was his spine.

But the doors never opened when he had expected them to. One week had came and passed and suddenly he was finding himself growing weaker as the hunger threatened to overcome him. A Grimaldi’s body could survive for about a week without any food or water but even a Grimaldi couldn’t live solely on stale air. By the middle of the second week the boy was beginning to get increasingly worried… but he had been resourceful enough to find a solution to his problem.

Men were meat after all. It had been the rational decision.

By the end of the third week, when loneliness and insanity were starting to devour him from the inside, the boy decided to make his little world a bit more like the beautiful one outside.

So he made it rain.

By the end of the fourth week, when one month finally passed and his Grandfather finally opened the gates and allowed him outside, his friends were long since too scared to even slither or crawl anywhere near him.

But the boy didn’t care anymore. Because she was there to greet him, sunlight dancing in her hair and lips as crimson as the blood he had learnt to love so much.

His Alyss.

The cheerful warm glow of the sun blinded Rider when he tried to open his eyes. The blond knight shielded his face with his hand rather groggily as his mind struggled to divide the knight from the boy and boy from the knight. There was a bitter taste in Rider’s mouth but he doubted any liquid, alcoholic or otherwise, could get rid of it.

“Took you long enough,” came Glen’s indifferent voice from the other side of the spacious living room. “Almost thought I’ll have to look for a new Servant.”

Still half-asleep and currently trapped by one very stubborn blanket wrapped around him, Rider answered in the only way he could. With a couple of rapid blinks and a yawn wide enough to swallow the nearby plasma TV. His red-haired Master, nose buried in the morning newspaper with a comically big mug of coffee in his hand, didn’t even bother sparing a glance in Rider’s general direction.

“Why the hell did you even use your Noble Phantasm? You nearly got yourself killed,” muttered Glen under his breath and raised his voice enough for Rider to hear the rest- ergo, the scolding. “Rider, how many times do I have to tell you- I can’t supply you with prana correctly! Wasting yours in situations when victory isn’t certain is just digging your own grave deeper! And unless you are willing to go out and hunt, which I highly doubt you will with your whole goody-two-shoes shtick going on, then you better start thinking before doing anything else reckless like-“

“Yeah, yeah, tactical thinking, preparations, not storming a castle all by myself, yada-yada… yep, all clear, Glen!” announced the muffled voice of the knight, still waging a losing war against his blanket even when he had already gotten up and started walking around the apartment.

Even without being able to see it, Rider knew his Master was currently scoffing. Not that it mattered to him particularly- Glen was kinda broody and mean on the surface but on the inside he was a nice enough guy. It was like the redhead was always running hot and cold and even when he did something good for someone genuinely, he had to act like a dick while doing it. The knight made a mental note to either talk or punch his Master out of this habit.

“For some reason I’m finding it rather hard to believe,” retorted Glen and raised the coffee to his lips only for it to be snatched by his Servant, who had just freed himself from the accursed blanket.

“This thing…” announced Rider after downing it all on one go. “IS GODLY!”

The cup was raised triumphantly in the air, only for Glen to snatch it back seconds later. A sigh escaped the teen’s lips as he pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Dear God, it’s like trying to win this War with a talking monkey for a Servant!”

“What is it? Can I have more? How do I make more? Don’t tell me we can’t make more! There has to be more!”

The words were coming out of the blond knight’s mouth stringed together, making him almost impossible to understand.

“Alright, alright, I’ll even teach you how to make coffee if you just started listening to what I tell you for once,” cut him off Glen, more in the hopes of shutting him up than anything else. Rider’s long braid swished when he fell down on one knee, voice turning serious and solemn.

“If my freedom must be the price I pay for the secret of making this godly ambrosia, then so be it!”

Glen stared at his kneeling Servant, opened his mouth and then closed it again. It took him half a minute to word a proper sentence.

“Lady Luck must have been really smiling upon me when I summoned you, hasn’t she?”

“Hey… Glen,” said Rider some time later. “Congratulations for earlier by the way. I’m somewhat proud of you really- it was a major step forward.”

“A major step?” echoed the redhead and let out a wistful sigh. “I wish it was. Matching Assassin when she’s out of the shadows isn’t that big a deal for a Grimaldi. Plus, she escaped and I only ended up wasting that Spell.”

“Uhm, I was kinda talking about saving the damsel in distress,” elaborated the blond knight.

“I had a debt to pay, that’s all,” shot back the redhead before his Servant had even finished the sentence.

Inwardly, as a man of action, Rider was fighting the desire to punch the truth out of his Master. Punching a fellow man always straightened him up and raised the morale, or at least so Rider thought. But he decided to make an exception just this one time.

“Riiight,” drawled out the knight and smirked at his Master, only to change to a more serious tone when Glen shot him a glare capable of piercing concrete. “Look, I’m no fool. I’ve seen more war- real war- than you ever will. Believe me. Your debt was paid the moment you didn’t kill your enemy on the spot when you found her lying there. You didn’t even order me to attack Lancer. Repaying her and her family had nothing to do with it, we both know it. Lie to yourself if you want. The truth is the truth and you can’t change it.”

“Nonsense! I did it just because a Grimal- why the hell did you do that for?!” cried out the teen in anger and rubbed the spot where his Servant had smacked him up the head. Rider thought his Master should have been thankful he wasn’t wearing his gauntlets but instead chose to skip straight to the point.

“Do you even know why I answered your call?”

Glen, frankly, looked a bit shocked at the question.

“Well, usually the Servant answers because they have a wish of their own and need the Grail to realize it. But in your case- God only knows. Hell, I’m scared to ask. Please don’t tell me it’s just because you find the local cuisine delicious. You at least have some reason to fight, right?”

“I answered because all you asked for was a fighting chance. Not to rule the world or change the past or anything else- all you wanted was a shot at breaking your chains,” explained Rider, hands crossed in front of his chest. “Back then when you summoned me, you asked for my assistance as yourself. Not as a magus, not as the scion of a millennia old family, but as yourself. So what I’m asking you is this, Glen: are you going to wage this war as yourself or are you going to keep on living as an extension of the very thing that chained you?”

Perhaps for the first time since they had forged their contract, Glen had no witty retort ready for him.


***


The sparkling dust danced lazily under perhaps the few warm beams the sun had left in stock. Autumn was reigning outside, as evident by the leafless trees visible through the windows but one couldn’t really tell from inside the warm house. It was one of those picture-perfect homes signature for the American suburbs, white porch and all, but Waver Velvet wasn’t there for sightseeing.

So, without even looking twice at the bespectacled girl calmly snoozing snuggled in a blanket on the nearby couch, the magus headed straight for the blue-haired teen currently sprawled on the floor. Graham’s bluish hair was in a state of dishevelment comparable to a bird’s nest and through his open mouth escaped an amalgamation of brutish sounds akin to a buzzsaw trying to cut through solid concrete. Waver’s eyes stopped for a bit to inspect the empty bottle of whiskey his apprentice was currently hugging and then let out a tired side alongside the smoke of his cigar. The long-haired magus nudged his younger counterpart with his foot but all he succeeded in doing was making the blue-haired teen hug his leg instead of the bottle.

“I-i-I dun care if yer… not that kind o’ girl, sweetey! This is a matter o’ supreme importance so just ditch ‘em clothes and-“

A painful yelp escaped Graham’s mouth when his now-crouching teacher flicked him mercilessly on the forehead.

“Wha? Huh? Who?” blubbered Graham and tried to look around, only for the sunlight to blind him. “Tohsaka? That you?” suddenly asked the mage as enthusiastically as a just woken-up drunk could and squinted at Waver’s face.

Another flick promptly followed.

“You wish, kiddo,” said Velvet and went to open the curtains. The new onslaught of sunlight made his apprentice let out a sound akin to a hissing cat. “Although after that little jewelry theft of yours she’ll probably do come by to visit you sometimes soon. As I caring teacher I’ll even come visit you in the hospital and tell you stories of what you’re missing out in the outside world. I’m sure I can squeeze you I somewhere between poker night and… uhm, well, I’ll think of something.”

“I’m sure it’d be just delightful,” muttered groggily Graham from the floor as he struggled to get back on his feet. The black-haired girl was still sleeping as soundly as ever, the events from the night before finally taking their toll on her. “Besides, I took the jewels from the Edelfelt girl.”

Waver’s reply was just taking a long drag out of his cigar and giving his apprentice a look that clearly told him ‘meh, you’re screwed either way’.

“How’s Archer?” asked the long-haired magus instead.

“Exhausted. Mostly,” answered the teen, somewhat more seriously, and slumped down on the nearest armchair. “But from what he told me about Rider, I think I know with who we’re dealing with here- and I’m telling you, I don’t like it one bit. This guy has the potential to be ridiculously overpo-“

“Everyone in this whole damn War is ridiculously overpowered, Graham,” cut him off the long-haired magus and shot his student a stern look. “That’s the one and only reason it’s even considered fair in the first place. The sole thing that keeps the system working as a contest at all is every Servant being able to walk all over the rest and vice versa. It’s the circumstances leading to that surefire victory that you have to find. That’s your job as a Master.”

“Still, it’s kinda hard to believe what a Servant is capable of sometimes,” admitted the blue-haired teen and let out a wide yawn.

“Oh, trust me, kiddo, you ain’t seen a thing yet,” Waver said as he looked wistfully out of the window, his mind going back to a war long over. Things had been much simpler back then, now that he thought about it. All he had to do back then was win- now… well, his current objectives were rather different from before. “So, how did it go? Did you give her the card?”

“After saving her from the clutches of some Burier goons I did,” proudly proclaimed Graham and puffed his chest a little.

A moment passed in silence, the only thing heard being the sleeping girl’s steady breathing and the autumn wind outside.

“Burier goons?” slowly repeated Waver.

“Okay, okay, they nearly curbstomped me for most of the time but I pulled through in the end, understood? And then there was some psycho with a fancy sword that showed up and-“

“I sent him over to help. I’m persuasive like that,” calmly stated Waver and casually waved off his student’s concern.

“He is nucking futs, bruv!”almost shouted Graham, making Waver cringe.

“A temporary alliance meant to take the Church and its Buriers out of the picture. Or at least sidetrack them a little.”

“Well, still,” muttered the blue-haired teen and grimaced to show his disapproval of his teacher’s tactics. “Why give that girl the Caster card, tho? Sure, she’s probably important if they were after her but I thought you were going to use it.”

“That was the… original plan,” replied Velvet and furrowed his eyebrows. “She’s rather imperative to this War so I’d prefer if she had more protection. Nothing better than a personal Servant when she’d be a target either way.”

“Why?” asked the apprentice and raised an eyebrow. “She certainly didn’t look like Master material to me.”

“You’ll learn why in time,” cut him off the long-haired magus. “For now, focus on beating Rider. And I suggest you get some help from your two little knightly allies when you make your move.”

“Archer and I can take him on! Just give him a day or two to recover and then-“

Graham almost dodged the flick that time. Key word being almost.

“Okay, okay… sheesh, you’re pushier than usual this time.”

“Just… I’m glad you made it through, kiddo,” said the teacher after a short pause and ruffled his student’s already disheveled head some more before turning around to leave.

“Pfft, I would’ve so totally gotten those Burier schmucks. Shouldn’t have worried, y’know.”

“Yeah, yeah, and the girl would’ve even given you some ‘thank you’ snogging,” said the long-haired magus after letting out a hearty laugh and waved his student goodbye before closing the door behind him. “Keep dreaming, kiddo. A life without far-fetched dreams isn’t a life worth living.”

Graham’s indignant retort, muffled by the closed door, fell on deaf ears as Waver set out in the flurry of autumn leaves dancing outside. The long-haired man wrapped his yellow scarf a bit more tightly around his neck and raised the collar of his red trench-coat, his teeth clutching his cigar with contempt as he shivered under the onslaught of the north wind. Sunny or not, winter was coming.

And there was nothing scarier for the magus then what winter could bring alongside itself upon arrival. As if it hadn’t chased him enough inside his dreams, the image of the Skylance encased in flesh and bones, the blood-spawned wings of the creature perching atop it reaching towards the crimson skies, like the tentacles of a beast clawing at Heaven’s Doors, flashed inside his mind’s eye.

A girl still lost in an inferno which had long since died out, seeking to forsake her future for the chance to undo the past. Unknowingly bringing to others the pain she had been forced to endure, she had found a reason, a meaning, and an excuse for each and every death… And when her black knight had finally perished, bound by the chains of heaven … the mind of the girl had shattered.

A boy who always deluded himself that life was nothing but a game of cards, willing to wager his life and that of the world itself on a winning hand that was never dealt. And as his smiles had turned into frowns and his boasting into threats, he had kept on lying to himself that he could fix everything if he just pushed forward a bit more… one more step, one last push and, in the end, yet another corpse.

A girl who dreamed of being a star, the princess always hidden behind her stalwart walls of arrogance and pride. She had stepped into the War knowing full well of the treachery inherent in a human’s soul and yet, despite all her efforts, despite winning each and every battle, all had been meaningless in the end. Betrayed and forgotten, the brightest star in the night’s sky had blackened and fallen, victim to a debt forever left unpaid.

A man still fighting with the crying child inside him, fixated on a pain that only ended if he shared it with the unsuspecting world. A hunter made to hunt his own kind, the spider’s chase had pitted him against a predator too strong for a mere angry child stuck in a grown-ups body to defeat. And as his crystal heart was shattered, alongside him died his dream of freedom.

A man torn apart between his humanity and bloodlust, a death dealer whose only desire was to receive the gift of eternal peace himself. But as the crimson skies had cried above him and the blackened egg inside his heart was about to hatch, even that simple wish was denied to him. Left prisoner in his own skin, the only gift the man received was a ‘fighting chance’.

A girl born of winter, moonlight in her hair, seeking a meaning to a life whose sole and only purpose was death. And even so, her crimson eyes not even once wished to see the world in pain. Alas, the War was no place for the winter fairy’s innocence- and so, on that winter night amidst the blood-tinted snow, the light of her life had been snuffed out forever.

A boy whose prison was his own body, bound by chains of bones and bonds of blood, he had been the one willing to let the whole world burn so he could have his freedom. But when his own blackened heart had finally threatened to kill him and he had found refuge in the heart of another, he had sworn to himself that he would kill the world a thousand times over to protect the one precious to his true heart.

And from that broken promise had been born a crimson angel, the Heaven’s Reaper who hatched from both human and Grail and amidst that unholy marriage between Heaven and Hell… the angel had bloomed.

Waver spat bitterly and rubbed his forehead to chase out the impending headache. Things were getting a bit too confusing for him. Past memories clashed with the never-ending déjà vu of the present and sometimes he found himself wondering if he wouldn’t just avert the old tragedy only for a new one to take its place. It wasn’t as easy as they made it out in books or movies. The long-haired magus had no idea what kind of consequences could result from even the smallest push. And so, hoping to derail the sequence of events as much as he could, Waver had hatched his daring plan.

The biggest change was already evident. Graham had escaped unscarred from his clash with the three Buriers, so he probably would never grow bitter, resentful and blinded by revenge. His apprentice wouldn’t get himself killed, prompting Waver to take his place as Archer’s Master. The newspapers were mercifully lacking the reports of the trail of gory murders originally left behind by Shinosuke. Berserker’s Master was occupied enough with the little Burier hunt Waver had sent him on, which would hopefully lead to someone finally granting the hunter the gift he desired the most. Skirt-chaser that he was, the magus had hoped for his apprentice to immediately propose an alliance to Caster’s Master, forever preventing Glen’s descend into madness upon her death.

Alas, Graham had actually showed a bit of tactical thinking by seeking out the Masters of the other two Knight class Servants… still, there was hope yet. The blue-haired mage had apparently stumbled upon Rider and his Master by chance and he seemed intrigued enough in a potential rivalry. Now, if only Graham could get that boy and his knight out of the War as early as possible… That only left the scheming Burier and the second Grimaldi Master. As far as Waver remembered- and it was somewhat hard to, considering the magus even caught himself having trouble on what tense to use sometimes- Avenger wouldn’t be summoned until some time into the War proper.

That left him still able to intervene with the ritual if he could find the place where old Albus would summon him… and then he guessed one last team-up with Shinosuke would be for the best if they hoped to take down the rogue Burier as quickly as possible.

But, deep down, Waver’s main concern was the Grail itself. Something that shouldn’t have even existed- and he had made sure of that himself- was now about to descend again, twisting Fate around it once more. And there was something wrong with it even before the Grimaldi’s deranged wish had stained it with the boy’s madness, Velvet was certain. He concluded that there was only one way out of it…

Like the one before it, the Grail had to be destroyed as soon as it descended.


***


The reddish tint of the retreating sun was gently spreading all over the waning twilight. The gloomy clouds were drawing closer and closer, heralding a night that was going to be veiled by the curtain of the late autumn rains. Way up high, in their kingdom amidst the skies, the first stars began to appear almost at the same time as their cousins down below. One lit window after another, Hartcroft was shedding its daily skin and morphing into the shining amalgamation of glass, neon and steel it turned into every night. Hidden somewhere beyond the grey cover of the clouds, the waning Moon awaited its chance to get a glimpse of the never-sleeping city of a thousand tales. The northern winds were strong even on the street level but so up high they turned into an almost roaring pack of hounds chasing one another amidst the tops of the skyscrapers that defined the city’s skyline.

From her place atop the railing of the penthouse’s balcony, the blonde girl watched over the modern kingdom she was never going to inherit. Meissa’s electric blue eyes soon turned skyward, staring longingly at the twinkling dots littering the night sky. The cold winds played with her wavy hair but the blonde, despite still wearing only her signature attire, didn’t even shudder. Lightning had many uses- including keeping you warm. But no matter how many uses she found for her family’s magecraft, there was no sense in even trying anymore. Cousin Sirius had already proven that lightning can do anything either way.

No, all Meissa had left was that rare chance of winning the Grail for her family. Even her father would never dare deny the birthright which was stolen from her anymore if she succeeded. The path before her was clear- but somehow instead of proving her superiority she had ended up losing against a total newbie. The word ‘humiliating’ crossed her mind but the blonde somewhat doubted humanity had yet invented a way to express the shame she was feeling properly. And when Glen came into the picture as well…

Shuddering not because of the cold but because of embarrassment, Meissa called out her Servant. Lancer, who had been in spirit form whole day long to heal faster, morphed out of the thin air next to her in a flurry of black mist.

“What is it?” asked the grey-haired knight rather gruffly.

“I…just- well,” Meissa wanted to slap herself to stop the stuttering but instead just kept on focusing on a far off star, hell-bent on not even looking at her Servant. “I’m sorry, okay! I told you there was going to be hell to pay if you lost but in the end you won your match and I ended up… losing,” finished the girl, her last words nothing but a mumble.

A hoarse laugh escaped Lancer’s throat as the knight inspected his newly grown fingers. Meissa wanted to punch his smug face for laughing at her after such a heartfelt apology, at least it was one when coming from her, but the blonde had to just admit to herself she probably deserved it.

“Is it true, what you said? About Glen?” instead asked the girl, probably for the seventh time that day. Her mind was still struggling to comprehend why that brooding egoist would not just spare but even try to help her.

“Rider’s Master? I told you what I saw, Meissa. Believe me if you want, it’s not like I care particularly,” replied the grey-haired knight just like the last six times and shrugged.

“And about that blue-haired pervert?” asked Meissa once again, almost praying for the answer to be different this time. To her horror, Lancer just let out an irritated sigh.

“I’ve turned into a laughing stock!” screamed the girl in anger as blue sparks crackled across her lithe body.

“Oh, enough with the overreacting!” cut her off Lancer, not even flinching under the killing glare she shot at him for daring to shout at her in such a moment. “Do you want to win this War or to look good in front of others? You got out alive, miraculously as it was, and that’s all that matters. Even if one bends the knee upon defeat, he can still strike back later. So just suck it up and the next time you fight, fight for real instead of playing cat and mouse! Because, trust me, rats have the rather nasty habit of biting back when they are cornered.”

“You don’t need to shout it in my face, y’know,” muttered the blonde and once again looked away from her Servant in shame. Yet again, the wind raced around them with a roar.

“What I’m saying is,” eventually continued Lancer, this time a bit more subdued. “Is that as long as there’s blood in your veins and strength in your arms, victory is still in reach, Meissa. Frankly, it’s better now because they will probably underestimate you. And an opponent you don’t take seriously is a deadly opponent. And if you are still worried about what they think of you, then instill fear in their hearts when you show them your real strength.”

The blonde raised her tattooed hand, reaching out towards the heavens as if trying to grab hold of the stars above. The three Command Spells engraved into her flesh glistened slightly under whatever light could reach them, both natural and artificial.

“What is your wish, Lancer?” asked Meissa as she kept on admiring the seals that branded her as a Master.

“My wish is none of your business,” replied the grey-haired knight. “My duty is to win the War for you. I’m not here to be your friend or the shoulder you can cry on when you need to. What I swore was to give you the Grail- and I will do so, no matter who I will have to face or how many need to die in the process. Even if you beg me on your knees not to kill someone, if that someone stands between you and the Grail, I will annihilate them. This is the only thing I can promise you.”

“And what if I am the one that stands between us and the Grail? What if I turn out to be the one thing that prevents us from winning?”

“My answer remains the same,” grimly stated Lancer.

“You are a strange Servant, you know that?” finally asked Meissa, almost with a giggle.

“You aren’t the most usual of Masters yourself. How come I’m not hearing you order me to obey your every order yet?”

“Because what you promised was loyalty,” replied the blonde. “What you promised was that even if I lost my way, you won’t be afraid to drag me back to it, kicking and screaming.”

“A monster’s loyalty,” tried to correct her the grey-haired knight but the girl just shook her head, moonlight dancing in her wavy hair, and smiled.

“Myself aside, Ayaka was weakened and her Servant is still probably half-dead. Assassin’s feathers were rather harshly ruffled by Glen, who himself would fight only in the most dire of circumstances so soon. Not to mention both Rider and Archer have wasted a ton of prana in their fight,” summarized the blonde and her blue eyes locked with the ones of her Servant. “You know what that means, right Lancer?”

“The other two Masters are going to hunt tonight,” replied the grey-haired knight and bared his sharp teeth in a predatory smile. “And so-“

“They wouldn’t expect us to do a little hunt of our own as well,” finished Meissa and rose up, balancing on the railing with two hands outstretched. “What do you think about that, Lancer?”

“I think you should get dressed before we go out.”

Meissa shot her Servant a rather brazen look.

“What’s the matter, Lancer? Am I arousing you by any chance? Perhaps my mini-skirt is a bit too mini for you, hm?” teasingly asked the blonde.

“Hardly,” shot back Lancer. “Unlike buxom women, flat-chested girls don’t usually grab my attention.”

With an indignant ‘hmph’, Meissa bridled up and turned her back to her Servant, only to jump down from the railing a second later. With an irritated sigh, Lancer rushed to follow his Master.

Sherrinford
January 3rd, 2012, 01:25 PM
Holy shit Glen Grimaldi.

Plus, Waver scheming. What is his hidden agenda... ? Or better, what is his source of informations?


“My wish is none of your business,” replied the grey-haired knight. “My duty is to win the War for you. I’m not here to be your friend or the shoulder you can cry on when you need to. What I swore was to give you the Grail- and I will do so, no matter who I will have to face or how many need to die in the process. Even if you beg me on your knees not to kill someone, if that someone stands between you and the Grail, I will annihilate them. This is the only thing I can promise you.”

Blood knight... indeed.


“And what if I am the one that stands between us and the Grail? What if I turn out to be the one thing that prevents us from winning?”

Eh! Better not be the last obstacle between Vlad and the Grail, Meissa... better not be the last obstacle between a servant and the grail at all.


“Because what you promised was loyalty,” replied the blonde. “What you promised was that even if I lost my way, you won’t be afraid to drag me back to it, kicking and screaming.”

“A monster’s loyalty,” tried to correct her the grey-haired knight but the girl just shook her head, moonlight dancing in her wavy hair, and smiled.

Team Meissa/Vlad just gained five points!

I3uster
January 3rd, 2012, 04:03 PM
Chapter 8:
If it wasn't already apparent that you have a talent for writing exciting action scenes it certainly is now. I look forward to more Rider/Archer interaction in the future. Also, I like the dynamic between Assassin and her Master.
Chapter 9:
Oh those Griamldis are surelyohgodwhatthefuckamIreading. Also, lol at Graham pissing off Rin.

ItsaRandomUsername
January 3rd, 2012, 07:26 PM
Thus, this chapter reminded me why I like Aladar's work so much.

Loved the horror tone in Glen's backstory segment. Some nice Lovercraftian vibes emanating from it, which if I remember correctly is what you wanted to go for, yes?

Watch out for Rin, Graham. Watch on out.

Also, this chapter again refutes how great Riders and Lancers are, character-wise.

Aladar
January 3rd, 2012, 09:30 PM
Loved the horror tone in Glen's backstory segment. Some nice Lovercraftian vibes emanating from it, which if I remember correctly is what you wanted to go for, yes?


Well, yes... but just about every Master has some throwback to the ones from the 4th and 5th Grail Wars. Like, similar circumstances but totally different ways of dealing with them.

Ayaka, the obvious one, shares her backstory with Shirou (duh) but instead of 'going forward' she is fixated on the past and is, as another reviewer pointed out 'selflessly selfish'... or was it the other way around? :) Plus, she has a Saber who just happens to be a son/clone of Arturia.

Meissa is the Tsundere who is a must for any TM fic and as the daughter of the Second Owner of Hartcroft maps up to Rin. Gave her a Lancer to mirror Proto-Rin.

Glen is a mash-up of Sakura and Kariya, what with the whole Fleshcrafting, Feasting Halls, tainted Crest and rotting body shtick going on, who instead is fixated on surviving no matter what and escaping his fate as the next body for the family head. And he has a Rider to boot. Who could've been a Berserker, too.

Shinosuke, at his core, is a Kuzuki in skill and stoicness and Ryuu in bloodthirstiness.

Graham is kinda-sorta similar to both Waver and Bazett, in being an English low-gen runemage. But according to all of you he's Shinji reincarnated. Go figure why. :P

Caster's Master screams Illya and Iri.

And Portia, damned spider that he is, is the odd one out.

But all that aside, the important thing is that the Troll lives on and is strong in Nia. Kirei would've been proud, I think.

Caster
January 4th, 2012, 12:00 AM
It's Luvia that he has to worry about. He stole her gems, not Rin's. Unless I misunderstood his statement. Man, forgot about this, glad I came back. I really like what I see so far... and no surprise, I love Rider. I seem to love most of the Rider's believe Extra's is lowest on my list, but in general, Riders are ones I like.

Spinach
January 4th, 2012, 05:32 PM
Awesome chapter. Lots of character development. One thing I remember Sherrin talking about in 6th War fics is something along the lines of "Heroic Spirits inspire people, change them", and I'm seeing what looks like just that between Glen and Rider, who are shaping up to be my favorites of the War. Graham is also a pretty cool guy.


And he has a Rider to boot. Who could've been a Berserker, too.

ohhi

Aladar
January 4th, 2012, 05:34 PM
ohhi

Wut?

Spinach
January 4th, 2012, 06:20 PM
"Orlando Furioso"

Aladar
January 4th, 2012, 06:26 PM
"Orlando Furioso"

Is from where I'd choose a mount for an Astolfo Rider if I ever write about one. About this Rider, I'd suggest you try going a bit to the North. West. Northwest?

Spinach
January 4th, 2012, 06:28 PM
I have little trust in you, most kind sir! I am strongly of the belief that Sir Rider is indeed Roland and I shall not be swayed in any other way.

Aladar
January 5th, 2012, 02:07 PM
I am truly hurt by how distrusting you are. xD

No, seriously, have some faith.

Also, next chap will be devoted to the psychopaths of the fic- Alexander, Shinosuke etc etc

Spinach
January 5th, 2012, 02:14 PM
I will have faith

In ROLAND

ROLAAAAAAAAAAND

(I miss your previous avatar. Fah la la la FUS RO DAH!")

Aladar
January 6th, 2012, 08:20 PM
Chapter 10:
Hunting in the Rain





The roar of the autumn wind fought for dominance with the monotone clatter of the chilly rain. The clouds that had been gathering since sunset had now fully covered the night sky, hiding both moon and stars and making it seem like the heavens had turned into one endless black hole. The only light entering through the broken panoramic window came from the seemingly endless neon parade which enveloped the city every night.

But none of the occupants of the spacious office could be bothered by the lackluster lightning in that rather… tense moment.

“I had that window changed this very afternoon!” exclaimed Alexander, sounding almost genuinely hurt. The suit-clad man currently getting his head crushed as the silver-haired mage hanged him out of said window could only gurgle angrily in response.

“Honestly,” continued Assassin’s Master and shook his head in emphasis, his long ponytail swishing in unison. “What kind of tactless idiocy is just barging in through my door, guns ablazing? I realize the other members of the board would be furious after I basically flipped you all off at VEXA and joined the War, but jeez… talk about having a short fuse. Hell, you’re all technically my employees, too! Some assassins you are, trying to kill the guy who pays you.”

Once again, Alexander found his little speech answered by only a few short gurgles. Well, the man did try to shoot him in the face as well but all the bullet did was get flattened at the crystalline armor which covered the silver-haired mage’s cheek and eye in an instant, seemingly growing out of his very skin. Understandably, amused, Alexander was not.

“That. Does it,” plainly stated the man, sounding more irritated than actually angry. “Trust me, my soon to be deceased friend, inwardly I’m pissed. But you know what? I’m angry at myself. I should’ve killed you along with the rest,” he said and gestured with the bluish-white crystalline blade currently substituting for his right arm at the dozen or so corpses currently littering the place.

“Their idiocy, you see, was somewhat understandable. Sure, they’ve heard of me. Everyone has heard what I’m capable of. But since we’re all people of science here… or, well, at least its pseudo-thaumathurgical version,” said Alexander and shrugged. “It was normal for them to be skeptic and call bullshit on it. So they came in, I showed them the color of their innards, end of story! Hell, as a member of the board I’ll probably have their families receive compensation for such a freak work accident. But you actually think you can kill me after seeing what I did to them?! How did we hire an idiot like you in the first place? You know what? No compensation for your family- you’re fired.”

The scream that came out of the man’s throat was beyond description. As if someone had set his insides on fire and started shredding them all one by one, while pouring salt on them simultaneously, the dying hitman could only howl as sparkling crystals colored bluish-white grew all over his body, like some twisted glittery version of cancer. At the same time, the crystals covering Alexander’s skin retracted, as if they were being transferred into the dying man. Finally, after half a minute of near-constant shrieking, the man could scream no more. The dead had the habit of being rather silent, after all.

“My, it’s good to be free of the pain for a bit!” cheerfully exclaimed the silver-haired mage as he dropped the crystal-covered corpse through the window.

“Master, with all due respect,” almost meekly said Assassin as she appeared out of thin air next to him but the mage just raised his hand to hush her.

“Do you think he’ll hit someone when he reaches the bottom?” asked Alexander and his grey eyes turned downwards, like the eyes of a child wondering what would happen if he introduced some ants to a magnifying glass. “I’ve always wondered if I can kill a man by dropping another man on top of him. Imagine that.”

“Well, yes, but Master-“

The poor fiery-haired Servant was interrupted by the untimely ringing of the phone atop the desk. As he picked it up, the silver-haired mage concluded that his Servant looked almost like a kicked puppy in that instance, if that was even possible for someone hiding her face under a bleach-white skull mask.

“Why, hello there, Mother!” said Alexander and plopped down onto his rather bloody president chair. “Would I be picking up if I wasn’t alive, what kind of a question is that? Yes, yes my ‘going rogue’ shtick turned out to be successful enough to turn our own people on me, apparently. I guess both Elysion and VEXA would be going on a merry little chase after me. I’m under whose protection as a Master? The Church?! Well, now that’s a convenience for you.”

Assassin was all but covering her mouth in meekness as she watched her Master talk his mouth off and play with the phone’s wire.

“Yeah, yeah, Mother, relax. I’ll get that Grail thingie for you. It’s kinda hurtful, you know. Until a few years ago this little shiny spider was your favorite but now I have to share your attention not only with that little harlot, I mean, Charlotte of yours, but with your new pet project? Seraph? Who’s in charge of thinking up the stupid names in the company anyway? We have to fire him, I’m telling you! Wha-“

Alexander looked at his Servant incredulously.

“She hung up on me!”

“How, uhm, rude of her,” said Assassin, concluding that those were the words her Master wanted to hear. “What I wanted to ask you, Master, is that… well, isn’t it dangerous for you to do the fighting like right now? With your condition unnecessary fighting is dangerous and I would have easily disposed of-“

“Aw, is my precious little Assassin worried about me?” cut her off the silver-haired mage and cupped his Servant’s face in his hand, leaning in close enough to feel her ragged breath. “Or are you just scared you will have to share my pain again?” asked Alexander, vice growing as cold as ice. The mage’s lightless grey eyes bore into the black holes in Assassin’s mask.

“No, Master, I would never-“

“There was something else you’ve been wanting to ask me right?”

“This-this woman… why are you calling her ‘Mother’? I thought you planned to-“

“Just a habit of mine, I guess,” replied Alexander and, finally letting go off her face, waved his hand for emphasis. “True, I may have been her glorified lab-rat but she’s been the one constantly there for me since I could remember. No matter how twisted it is, the White Queen has some kind of perverted motherly instincts for her projects. She may rule over the Board of Directors from the shadows but to us she showed her face and shared her name. Plus, Miss Harwey’s the reason I got out of that orphanage and gave me this life of luxury. The only price I had to pay for the gift that turned me into probably the most powerful man in Hartcroft was the pain. And it’s somewhat hard to remember what it was to live without it anyway.”

“And yet-“

“And yet I have no intention whatsoever to give her the Grail,” said Alexander, not caring that he had interrupted his Servant for the umpteenth time. “As I said, my only price was the pain. But I have gotten tired of paying it again and again. The White Queen will soon find out that my mock defection isn’t as fake as she thinks.”

Assassin only nodded silently, the mane of black flames adorning her head dancing around her frame like an unholy halo.

“Where do we go now, Master?” she finally asked and gestured to the wrecked room.

“Five of the Master-Servant pairs, us included, got hit rather hard last night,” said instead Alexander. “Surely some tactical genius among the other four pairs has wrongly concluded that Berserker and Caster would be out for blood tonight and decided to spring a trap on them while the two healthy Servants themselves are looking for the injured ones. But since we know for a fact that Caster is still holed up in her Workshop and Berserker is kept on a tight leash underground for reasons unknown, we two will take advantage of the situation and-“

“Ambush the ones setting up the ambush,” finished Assassin, her lips morphing into a predatory smile.


***



Frankly, the never-ending rattle of the rain was beginning to grate his nerves. After spending the majority of the day and the night chasing after the three Buriers who had escaped him the night before, Shinosuke was understandably less than happy when his hunt had led him in the less than picturesque back alleys of the city.

Hidden deep below the imposing figures of Hartcroft’s giants of glass and steel, these dirt-covered shady streets seemingly exemplified the worst possible facets of the big city. But his trail had led him there and the young man had no intention whatsoever of letting go. Not after he had wandered around the city like a headless fly for so much time trying to corner his prey. At first cutting off their way to the cathedral had seemed like a good idea but after not even one of them had headed in its general direction, things had gotten rather… complicated.

But now Shinosuke was finally about to catch up with one of them and finish what he had started in Persephone’s Grove. The thought that they had escaped from him at first was somewhat embarrassing, but the young man assured himself that there was nothing shameful in letting one of the famous Buriers of the Church slip away, even if they were only three and he had had that silly-looking blue-haired mage and his Servant to serve as a distraction.

A stray cat hissed somewhere near as it jumped inside a dumpster to hide from the pouring rain but Shinosuke paid it no heed. With only the occasional faint ray of light stemming from some high up window to partially light his way, the young man pushed forward relentlessly. Eventually, after turning round yet another dark corner and ending up in a dead-end alley, he came face to face with his prey. It was the blonde girl- or rather- the young woman with the four mechanical limbs which ended in sharp, curved claws.

Now that he could actually stop for a bit and take a look at his prey, Shinosuke concluded that she could even pass as somewhat pretty with a bit of primping. Her chin-length hair was rather unkempt and that tight fitting bodysuit she wore revealed a slim and muscular, yet rather flat figure. Still, her butt looked rather ample. Were all female Executors sporting ample butts because of all the training they got, absent-mindedly asked himself the young man as he loosened his katana from its sheet with his thumb. Then again, categorizing women in such manner was rather rude. Plus, that woman was going to be nothing more than a corpse after a minute or so and since it was even ruder to speak ill of the dead, Shinosuke refrained himself from voicing his question. Instead, the young man bowed slightly and said:

“Shinosuke Hasegawa, a pleasure to meet you. Is there any particular way in which you wish to die? I’m somewhat tired after the chase so I just want to get this over with and go have a shower.”

“You. Are. Insane!” shouted the woman and pointed at her hunter with one of her clawed artificial fingers. “You’re worse than even those filthy mages, you bastard! Do you actually listen to yourself? Are you even fucking human, you fucking dolt?!”

“Now that’s rather rude of you to sa-“

In the time it took for him to blink, the Burier was already in front of him and rearing back her clawed hand. Unfortunately for her, the loosened katana was out of its sheathe in an instant and Shinosuke’s one-handed upwards arc almost sliced her face in two. Ducking down and to the side, the woman immediately dodged the strike and extended her claw upwards, preparing to strike the man’s chin from below… only for him to step backwards.

Shinosuke prepared to execute one last sideways slice and be done with it- she had overextended herself. But instead the Burier was now behind him, jamming her elbow into his spine hard enough to nearly shatter it and more than hard enough to send Shinosuke reeling forward. The young man used his katana as a break to stop himself.

For the first time since forever, his breath was somewhat ragged. He had done well to remove his blindfold when he had started his hunt. The currently damp fringe of black hair still hid his eyes from those around him but even looking through the bangs was helpful when it came down to dealing with someone so fast. That had been the woman’s main strength the last time as well. Somehow, and for the life of his Shinosuke couldn’t say how, she was faster than him.

Hell, in an open field she may have even stood some chance.

The young man’s musing were cut short when, accompanied by the clank of chains, her right claw came flying towards him. It was easily dodged, but the electrical surge it let out when embedding itself into the wall behind him blew it up with enough force to send him flying into the opposite direction. Somehow regaining his footing and dodging the retracting claw on its way back to its owner, Shinosuke readied his katana and darted towards his prey. She dodged his strike, that much he had expected, but he had certainly hoped for his one-hundred degrees kick to do more than nick her chin as she jumped back. Having swapped their positions yet again, the hunter prepared to lunge at the hunted once more…

Only for the Burier’s artificial hand to reveal a palm-mounted canon already lighting up with the gathered electricity. Barely managing to drive his katana into the ground on time, Shinosuke was hit by the full burn of the blast. In an instant, the whole night was lit up as blue arcs of roaring thunder crashed all around him. The feeling of his flesh being nearly burnt off overrode his mind with pain… and soon enough that thing inside him decided to intervene, scared for its well-being. Diamond-hard black scales, like those of a snake, grew over his body to protect the thing’s container. And, eventually, when the whole storm subsided, the Burier could only look incredulously at him.

“You have an Egg like Gideon,” stated the woman. It wasn’t a question. She knew it and from what Shinosuke had seen in her way of dealing with her Burier… partner, she knew well enough how to use that newfound information to her advantage. The young man let out an irritated sigh. Sometimes, luck just wasn’t on his side.

He moved to dodge them, albeit knowing it was futile. The enchanted chains springing forth out of the Burier’s ahnd, seemingly out of thin air, locked onto him like hounds picking up the scent of a wounded animal. Immobilized and humiliated, Shinosuke was forced to endure the blonde’s smirk.

“The Ninth Holy Scripture- Reins of Seven Heavens,” said arrogantly the Burier. “Created with the sole purpose of suppressing and controlling those of your kind. Now do you see the might of the Church, you foul beast?”

Shinosuke could only grit his teeth in annoyance. The black scales had already been suppressed but he preferred it that way- he went all-out only against someone strong enough to pose a real threat to him. But this woman had just about lost the battle when she had fallen back on relying on her fancy weapon. Coerced by some undeniable power against his will, Shinosuke was forced to step forward and pick up his weapon. His own hands turned the katana against his heart. He knew what came next. He only prayed his will was strong enough to twist his hands a little because being killed by that annoying woman would be too much of a shame to bear.

As she jerked her hand, the blade he had taken so many lives with shot forward to take his own. But instead, barely biting back the shout of pain, its owner managed to twist the katana enough so it would merely pierce his chest right next to the heart. Aside from the pain nearly making him black out, Shinosuke’s plan had worked- that much pain was definitely strong enough to force his body out of her hold.

The Burier wasted a precious few seconds, both shocked at him shaking off the strength of the Scripture and wondering whether he had wounded himself enough. Shinosuke’s answer to that question was pulling out the blade sticking out of his chest with an expressionless mask plastered onto his face. Realizing her mistake, the Burier shot out both her claws at once. One of them he dodged, leaving it to embed itself into the wall next to him and the other he took out mid-air, his katana nailing it to the dirty ground. With both hands stuck, there was nothing much the woman could do when he darted towards her. Instinctively, she tried to retract her artificial hands- but she gave up just as quick when his hand grabbed the side of her hand. The blonde’s eyes widened in realization. Shinosuke’s blood may had been the one staining the both of them at that very moment but she knew well enough what was going to happen next. Already feeling that thing inside him stirring up and demanding blood to heal itself, Shinosuke bared his now pointy teeth. The woman apparently decided to at least die defiantly.

“Fucking bast-“

Just like the melons he had batted that one time when he had visited the beach alongside his adoptive family, the Burier’s head exploded into red bits when he slammed it against the nearby wall.

Funny thing, concluded Shinosuke. He drank red juice after both smashings.


***



Liked ripped straight out of the set of some Hollywood B-rated horror flick, the insides of the cathedral could captivate a man’s mind with how marvelously gloomy they were. Aside from the few torches lined up along the distant walls, the only source of lighting was the moon, in the rare instances the clouds parted enough for it to peak through the painted windows. Lined along the lone aisle in the center were the two equally shadowed wide rows of seemingly empty seats.

And straight ahead, just above the altar, were perching the tall statues of the seven archangels, with weapons raised towards the skies. Their valiant shouts, no doubt meant to rile up the humans against the forces of evil, were frozen on their lips, never to be actually spoken. Just below them, in front of the altar, was kneeling a lone girl, moonlight engulfing her body. Her voice remained nothing but an unintelligible whisper, even when one took into account the impressive acoustics of the building.

Albus shook his head at how clichéd was the scene before him, the lustrous fiery mane of his current body mirroring the movement. The echo of his steps went seemingly unheard by the girl below the altar. Only the still faces of the seven angels looming above seemed to observe him with interest. The sculptor had done his job a tad too well, concluded Albus.

Having finally reached the front row, the patriarch of the Grimaldi gleefully took a seat and bore his eyes, colored the eerie inhuman hue of green signature of his family, into the praying girl. Moved by the will of lifelong habits, the lithe hands the Grimaldi now counted as his own moved to straighten the hem of the pristine white dress he had chosen for his current body. Usually, Albus paid no heed to such little things which lingered on for some time after taking over a new host, but this time around they served only as remainders how humiliating it had been to take Alyss’s as his next body.

Nonchalant as he had tried to make it seem, losing both his prime candidates had been a harsh hit. His son-in-law, as tough as he certainly was, considering that the former Executor had dragged himself out of the Halls and actually learned the art of the Grimaldi, just wasn’t blood enough to be a stable host. The only body capable of being properly lived in could only be a Grimaldi one- otherwise Albus would have been forced to change his host every month or so. Alyss had been the best choice left, as the youngest Grimaldi at his disposal. Sadly, being compatible meant also being strong enough to try and reject him on instinct. And so, Albus Grimaldi was stuck in the body of the girl, unable to even mold it into his own image in fear of quickening the rejection. Still, it would certainly last long enough, even if he used his magecraft extensively. He considered the Grail already in his pocket- but, as it had been already noted, the hit had been harsh.

To his pride, that is.

Which he fully intended to pay back upon meeting his grandson.

Taking brother-sisterly love to the next level was a tradition in their family, one meant to keep their blood as pure as possible. But even before the twins could be nudged into such a direction, the boy had showed signs of protectiveness and possessiveness towards Alyss, which had highly amused the patriarch of the family. Half the reason Albus had declared that the girl was going to be sent down into the Feasting Halls had been to see Glen’s reaction. His grandson hadn’t disappointed him the least. Albus had been almost willing to let the transgression slide and let him out after the second week but since Glen had began to show such interesting methods of dealing with his predicament, the eldest Grimaldi had decided to see how things would develop. Patriarch or not, Albus had known he would be pushing it if he had kept the kid inside for more than a month but it had sill been painful when he had been forced to cut his little experiment short.

After all, Glen was such an interesting object to observe! There were few people like him nowadays- even among the Grimaldis themselves, whom Albus considered to have grown stagnant after his successes had basically removed any obstacle in their way. But Glen showed some weird kind of determination eerily reminiscent of Albus’s own when he had been his age- and so he had let him run off to the Scintillares and live a little. The older brother was considered the prodigy, be it on a technicality or not, but the youngest Grimaldi had already shown that he could do wonders with his magecraft when his sheer stubbornness was added into the mix.

And so, Albus had spent the last decade more or less preparing for the Sixth Grail War. Two hundred years ago, when he had been still in that stage of youth he still found dick joke funny, his warped sense of humor had cost him a marriage which would have given him a place as a Master. And then the Einzberns had botched the whole thing during the Third War, making both the Fourth and Fifth much too dangerous for his plan. It was after the rather explosive end of the Fourth War that he had decided to take matters into his own hands.

But since patience was perhaps the only virtue Albus Grimaldi possessed, and in abundance no less, he had waited for someone else to clear up the mess first. Taking unnecessary risks with a tainted Grail had never been in his plans. By then he had already lived for five hundred long years, scheming and waiting for his plan to be fully set in motion. Not that the waiting was that hard to endure. Quite the contrary- the world was always in motion, with each and every decade more and more new things were discovered and humanity in general was just so damn interesting to observe! Unlike some beings who were as old or older than him, Albus had never embraced the idea of living in the past and scoffing at every new tendency which popped up. No, the Grimaldi carefully tasted the feel of each and every age and century he lived through, living his life as if each and every minute could have been his last.

After all, why would one want to live forever if he didn’t have fun? If anything, there was one guilty pleasure Albus had fully embraced over the years. And that was to always act on it when he inwardly asked himself ‘what would happen if?’.

The only thing which mattered to him aside from that was his plan, the plan which would eventually turn into reality that promise left unsaid half a millennia ago. And now that less than a month was left to that faithful moment, Albus was fully intent on having a blast with this War.

Glen was certainly the pawn which held in store the most surprises. As he had expected, his grandson had been chosen as worthy by the Grail. The interesting part was how far he could get into the War before he was taken out or his Crest eventually consumed him, even if it was only due to Albus being so near. The Grimaldi wondered how to make it even more appealing to observe…

Perhaps the boy had someone dear to him who could be kidnapped or killed? Forcing Glen into a situation where his choice was between using the Crest and letting a loved one die would be a most amusing thing to watch, concluded Albus. Especially if the boy had gotten as close to someone else as he had been to Alyss once. Of course, there was still the inherent fun in merely meeting his grandson while in this body. Should he reveal himself and watch him fly into a fit of rage? Or had the boy grown weaker, which would mean that he would just fall to his knees and stare in shock? Then again, perhaps pretending he was the real Alyss, forced to come alongside her grandfather for the War would be the better choice? This would surely heighten the shock value when Glen eventually learned the truth. He had to be really careful at playing the part in that case, considering how attuned the boy had been to his opposite sex mirror image. One wrong step and Glen would immediately realize what was going on.

So absorbed was Albus in his daydreaming, that he had forgotten why he had sat down near the girl in the first place. Returning his wandering gaze back to her figure, the magus strained his ears to make out the words rapidly leaving her lips. Soon enough, it became rather apparent that what she was saying certainly wasn’t a prayer.

“The deepest crimson, like a blossoming rose,” muttered the girl, seemingly to no one. “That’s the color of the Moon after his accession. The Twenty-eight, He Who Morphs the Seams of the Living and the Dead, Heaven’s Reaper- his titles are his very being, a lone king sitting atop his throne of flesh and bones. The seas are red with blood, the snow is ashes… all is one and one is all in his embrace…”

The string of ominous predictions kept on pouring out of the girl’s mouth but Albus refused to listen to her ramblings anymore. Predicting the future was a fickle thing- time wasn’t a river which flowed only in one single direction so that people could read the flow correctly. It was more akin to a tree which branched out at every single instance, when even the smallest of actions led to the greatest of changes. The things she was seeing had no guarantee whatsoever of happening.

Still, hers was a rather rare gift to have indeed, Albus admitted and glanced at the wide-open eyes of the girl. The brightest purple, like amethysts, they could see through the vague twists and turns of the future… but could be just as much as a curse as they were a blessing. Bored of waiting, the magus wondered what to do with the girl to pass his time. Darker than even her nun’s robes, straight raven-black hair fell down the girl’s back. Her face was rather pretty and she did seem to have a shapely body under the robes. Almost a shame she would waste away nature’s gifts serving the Church. Although as far as anyone knew, the Buriers’ regiments were rather… lax in most regards.

“So she’s the one who saw the Aylesburries attempt to call forth the irregular Servant, huh?” suddenly asked Albus and looked over his shoulder at the aged priest who had sneaked nearby under the veil of the darkness.

Luciano frowned at his unwanted ally, his stern eyes drilling proverbial holes into Albus’s. The hand clutching his ornate cane’s handle was visibly shaking in anger, no matter how much the priest was trying to hide it.

“How did you get in here?” sternly asked the grey-haired man, somehow managing not to shout.

“Through the front door,” answered Albus with the voice of his granddaughter, making the most innocent expression he could manage. Fluttering his eyelashes had apparently been the breaking point, because the magus was ready to swear he had seen steam escape from the priest’s nostrils.

“I’ll give you one last chance before I exorcize you right here and now,” said Luciano. “How did you get in here?”

Letting out an irritated sigh, Albus decided to just answer the question and postpone the opportunity to paint his white dress red with blood for some other time. After all, he needed a living Luciano to talk business with him.

“That boy you’ve ordered to guard the perimeter constantly walks in and out of the bounded fields. The sword he carries emanates enough prana for me not to be noticed if I just hide my presence a little and walk through the barrier at the same time as he does.”

“How-“

“Hard for him to notice a pool of blood right around his feet in this dreadful weather, y’know,” cut him off Albus and shrugged. “If anything, I suggest you send out your little knight to hunt some Masters instead of keeping a very impatient young man around for guard duty. What, you’re afraid someone will try stealing the Grail? Hah, that’s rich. I guess you don’t trust your abilities enough anymore, old man.”

“You’re the last one I want to hear this from, demonic scum,” spat out the priest. “What do you want with me?”

Hopping back onto his legs, hands behind his back, Albus leaned forward and smiled at his ally mischievously.

“Just a friendly chat, old man, that’s all. This place is so gloomy and boring anyway,” said the magus with Alyss’s voice.

“About what in particular? I wouldn’t like wasting your precious time here so do ask and then you can be free to go away. Immediately.”

“Man, you’re such a depressing geezer,” shot back the redhead, but upon noticing the priest’s glare, cut straight to business. “What happened to that opportunistic Indy-wannabe you hired? I figured a magus willing to work for the Church wouldn’t be the most trustworthy of partners, but he just fell off the face of the Earth after he got you those Grail fragments from Japan. I thought you said he wanted to participate in the War as well.”

“He did,” answered Luciano as evenly as he could and stroked his thin goatee. “But I had already distributed the class cards back in Europe when I let out the rumor that the War is going to take place here, so I told him the last known location of the one he wanted.”

“Which was?” drawled out Albus.

“The Berserker card,” grimly replied the aged priest. “As far as I know he traced it to that mage informant who played babysitter for your grandson these past ten years. After that, he just vanished.”

“Perhaps he’s just hiding,” suggested the redhead and shrugged his shoulders. “Berserker would be the one Servant who is the easiest to track back to his Master’s hideout so he’s probably waiting until the others kill each other off a bit. His Servant should technically be stronger or on par with Saber- a smart man wouldn’t risk scaring the other Masters so much that they team up against him.”

“That is a legitimate possibility,” agreed Luciano. “What is interesting, however, is that my associate apparently planned for more than just having a fair shot at the Grail. You see, it seems he didn’t give me all the shards of the Grail he managed to gather. One of them he kept for himself- and implanted it inside his daughter.”

The redhead whistled and the sound ended up magnified a dozen times by the acoustics of the cathedral. The kneeling girl behind the scheming duo just kept on droning on and on, still lost inside her future-seeing trance.

“So Berserker’s Master has got himself a Lesser Grail? I presume that you are doing something to fix this, considering two active Lesser Grails splitting the Servants’ souls between themselves would lead to nothing. We need only one start-up key, preferably the one in our own hands,” pointed out Albus and wagged his finger playfully at his accomplice. “Geez, old man, you should know that already!”

The redhead thought it was a small miracle that the priest didn’t start whacking him with his cane right then and there. Instead, Luciano just grumbled and mumbled before he answered.

“It turns out Mr. Reinsviel’s interest in the Grail is more than a passing one. I did a more thorough background check, this time going back a few generations, and it turns out he is descended from an exile of the Einzbern family who fled to Hartcroft at around the end of the Third War. That daughter of his, she’s an Einzbern-style homunculus, modified inside the womb of her mother. With the shard inside her, the girl may even be chosen over our Lesser Grail by the Greater One. Part of the Saint of Winter lives on in shards we used for the construction, after all.”

“I must say I’m somewhat impressed,” said Albus and then flashed a wide smile at his accomplice. “But it’s mainly you whom he outwitted, considering that you were in charge of setting up the Greater and Lesser Grails.”

Somehow yet again holding back his seething fury, Luciano asked:

“What I want to know is how on Earth we can gather enough prana to make a stable connection to Akasha, even if we possess the Lesser Grail. The reason I had to create the class cards is precisely because our Grail was much too weak to summon them without a solid template. Even if this place is a layline convergence point we can’t hope to-“

“Simple,” said Albus upon cutting off the priest. “We’re not summoning it here.”

Several seconds passed in silence.

“What?”

“I said that we won’t establish the connection here. When the day comes we’ll move the Greater Grail to a place specifically created for that purpose four hundred years ago.”

Once again, the aged priest could only blink in surprise.

“What?”

“You have a map around here somewhere?” asked Albus and looked around as if he expected one to pop up out of thin air.

With an irritated sigh, Luciano motioned to his accomplice to follow him to his office in the back of the cathedral. After some rummaging through the cabinets, the priest eventually unfolded a city map atop the desk.

“So,” began Albus and picked up the nearest pen. “You know that we need a Servant to interact with the Grail, hence why you will make a Contract with some Masterless one using the leftover Command Spells you have from the last War,” clarified the redhead and noted towards Luciano’s robed right hand. “The other thing you know is that this place is one of the main layline convergence points in the city. The rest are here, here and here,” continued with his explanation the Grimaldi while encircling the Skylance, the Skyspire and the Skyarrows. Add in the bounded fields and seals placed around all over the island’s borders so that the prana would be bounced back into it instead of escaping out and the Vimur channel, which is the main layline ‘artery’ of Hartcroft, and you get… this,” concluded Albus and presented the map back to Luciano.

“The island-wide seal meant to spread all the prana around the city equally, with four main convergence points in the cardinal directions and a main artery through the middle so no one can have a monopoly. At least that’s what the Second Owner of the land thinks. In reality, I managed to persuade the Escalus that since they were the ones who rerouted all the laylines towards the island, they deserved the best hotspot of them all… without the other founders knowing, of course. And so along the Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar bridges were forged a couple of more laylines, which, along with the ones who follow the roughly crescent shape of the two main districts, hook up with all others and converge at one single, all-controlling point riiight here!”

Jamming his finger at the middle of the Vimur channel, Albus covered almost the whole patch of artificial land that was representing Persephone’s Grove Park.

“The position of the laylines… the whole city,” muttered the priest, the hand clutching his cane once again shaking.

“Is one large-scale copy of the seal which I will use to open the hole to the Root. We don’t need the seventh Servant to be sacrificed. At the moment of activation, every single person, every single oddity which has gathered here over the last four hundred years, will be used as fuel for the Grail. You better wish fast, Head Cardinal,” said Albus and smiled as innocently as he could at his accomplice. “Your connection to the Grail through your Servant and Command Spells won’t keep you alive forever.”

“I’d prefer if you refrained from addressing me with my proper title here,” gruffly said Luciano Alterigia. “You don’t know who could be listening.”

“What, you don’t trust your own Buriers?” asked Albus and raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Or maybe you haven’t told them yet that they, too, will end up as fuel for the Grail? How many of them even know you are even here anyway?”

“Two,” replied the priest. “Michael guards the Greater Grail while we keep it here and Lily acts as mission control for the others while they are off hunting Masters and Servants and thinking this is just a routine assignment meant to test if they are truly worthy to be full-fledged Buriers.”

“Sucks to be them, I guess,” replied Albus with a shrug. “I’ll be out of town the moment I finish transferring the Greater Grail to its proper place.”

“Won’t you take that spawn of yours back with you? You’re family after all,” asked the priest.

“Nah, I want to see how far Glen can go,” replied Albus and shook his head. “If anything, I’d advise you to target him first. What with those ominous predictions your little Lily was chanting just now.”

“Heaven’s Reaper, the one who morphs the seams of the living and the dead,” echoed Luciano and eyed his accomplice suspiciously. “This is you most likely, considering the kid can’t even use his Crest without it killing him from the inside out.”

“Who knows?” countered the redhead and shrugged nonchalantly. “I wouldn’t put much faith in her predictions anyway. The Eyes of Absolute Precognition surely can see a potential future, but you never know what kinds of choices have to be taken to reach or prevent the outcome she sees.”

“The main targets for now are Reinsviel and Berserker along with his pet Grail and Saber’s Master, by virtue of possessing the supposedly strongest Servant,” stated the priest. “And now would you finally leave? Just looking at you makes me sick.”

After a casual wave for goodbye, the redheaded mage walked out of the room, whistling.

Spinach
January 6th, 2012, 09:42 PM
Whoa. Lot of plot going on there. Alexander is an interesting badass... The Harways? Seraph? Oh my. Shinosuke, as expected, was a total ass kicker. That was awesome, and completely unexpected. And the big dialogue between Albus and Luciano really helped clear up some information about the premise, how a Grail War occurred here, etc. Very interesting chapter, sir.

Dragoon
January 6th, 2012, 10:12 PM
Wow, I was gone for a few days, and there's two new EPIC chapters already. This keeps getting better and better. Awesome, dude. Awesome...

Someone should make a Trope Page of it. I wish I could, but it's gonna take me awhile and that I'm gonna need a lot of help there.

Aladar
January 7th, 2012, 05:16 AM
Sadly, for all my trope-related knowledge, I'm not an official troper and besides, I don't think an author should make their own page, 'cause it's like really blatant self-promotion.

But if any good samaritan really does try, I'd be more than glad to help out by telling them the tropes I had in mind when creating some of the characters and the setting and plot and stuff. No spoilers, tho.

Caster
January 7th, 2012, 05:20 AM
Hope you got my PM, but an interesting chapter. Glad it's continuing. Was worried I'd miss out on new stuff. Needs more Rider though, he's so awesome. :P

Sherrinford
January 7th, 2012, 09:39 AM
Good chapter!

Alexander is... interesting. Although maybe a bit stereotypical... ? But his backstory seems interesting, surely there are some secrets about him. I like how Assassin seems to have an active role in their relationship.

Albus looks like a mix between Tokiomi and Zouken.


“So she’s the one who saw the Aylesburries attempt to call forth the irregular Servant, huh?”

Avenger? Uh-oh.

Aladar
January 7th, 2012, 09:55 AM
Actually it wasn't Avenger. It was another 'version' of a Servant already summoned in the War. Actually, I think it's possible to guess who the irregular would-be Servant and Master were from the info given in the wise-up.

ItsaRandomUsername
January 7th, 2012, 05:47 PM
Wait...Harwey?

Oh bloody hell. They aren't who I think they are, are they?

Still, any Re:Trace update is a good one in my book. Love how it makes me feel like it's an actual new Grail War going on, like Apocrypha or Strange Fake or Zero.

Aladar
January 8th, 2012, 01:07 PM
The Harways are the Harways. :P

Was there anyone who was actually surprised at the priest being up to no good?

And some feedback on Albus would be really nice, considering this is the first instance of the story being told from his POV and revealing quite a bit of his way of thinking and plans and such.

Sherrinford
January 8th, 2012, 01:21 PM
Was there anyone who was actually surprised at the priest being up to no good?

Well, he has to face Kotomine. :P


And some feedback on Albus would be really nice, considering this is the first instance of the story being told of his POV and reavling quite a bit of his way of thinking and plans and such.

He looked like a mix between Tokiomi and Zouken to me.

Spinach
January 8th, 2012, 01:43 PM
He looked like a mix between Tokiomi and Zouken to me.

This. I don't really have much else to say, lol

ItsaRandomUsername
January 8th, 2012, 01:57 PM
Yeah, what Sherr said. Zouken mixed with Tokiomi, a hint of Kayneth and he's also feeling a desire to mess with Glen. Presumably because Glen wants out of the Grimaldi clan.

Aladar
January 8th, 2012, 04:55 PM
Yeah, what Sherr said. Zouken mixed with Tokiomi, a hint of Kayneth and he's also feeling a desire to mess with Glen. Presumably because Glen wants out of the Grimaldi clan.

It's more because Glen's stubbornness reminds him of himself at that age and Albus wants to see how far in the War he can go before failing.

Besides, Albus's general outlook on just about everything is as that of a kid who knows he'd get away with it no matter what kind of a mess he makes. He just finds humanity interesting and, as mentioned in the text, always acts when he ask himself 'what would happen if I do that?'.

In short, if Glen is the ant, then Albus is the kid who wants to see what happens if instead of a mere magnifying glass he uses a flamethrower.

Dragoon
January 21st, 2012, 10:56 PM
Alright everyone.

Fate/Re:Trace now has a Trope Page (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/FanFic/FateReTrace)

Lycodrake
January 21st, 2012, 10:58 PM
Alright everyone.

Fate/Re:Trace now has a Trope Page (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/FanFic/FateReTrace)
REJOICE ALADAR AND FELLOW BL FORUMITES! AGAIN I SAY: REJOICE!
/kicked

Aladar
January 22nd, 2012, 06:20 AM
Now go forth and edit as you see fit as I curse the bunch of exams preventing me from writing new chaps!

Soldat der Trauer
January 22nd, 2012, 07:15 AM
WHHHHHHHHHHHHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY

Aladar
January 22nd, 2012, 07:23 AM
Ask the teachers. End of term exams suck... well, any and all kind of exams suck, actually.

In the meantime, review, edit the trope page or indulge in wild mass guessing. Thread is yours, people.

Spinach
January 22nd, 2012, 07:25 AM
Then I will start us off.

Assassin is hot.

Discuss.

I3uster
January 22nd, 2012, 08:06 AM
I see what you did there.

Aladar
January 22nd, 2012, 02:24 PM
Then I will start us off.

Assassin is hot.

Discuss.

And here I thought that after fondling Ayaka you'd describe her as 'flaming'.

Dragoon
March 17th, 2012, 06:58 PM
*bump*

... I couldn't help myself... *waits patiently again*

Aladar
April 14th, 2012, 10:51 AM
Chapter 11:



A Glimpse Behind the Curtains



The Undercity.

The one part of Hartcroft that was always conveniently forgotten to exist by the residents of the City of Mages. A damp spiderweb of labyrinthine passes, halls and arenas shrouded in darkness day in and day out. It was the one place in the city’s proud history that the ones aware of it wanted to forget. The dumping ground for just about every single failed experiment created since Hartcroft’s founding ended up there sooner or later. It wasn’t just deadliness or shame that had made the mages of the city seal off that underground part of their kingdom. The age old catacombs were, if nothing else, a remainder of all their failures as wielders of the Gift.

But on that fateful night, the serpentine alleys of the subterranean city were anything but silent and dark. As the echoes of metal clashing against metal reverberated off the mossy walls again and again, so did constant flashes of sparks illuminate the forgotten tombs. As alien to the Undercity as it was to them, two men were currently engaged in a struggle of life and death. Although, even in this gathering place for freakshows and Frankensteins, rarely could one find anyone as strange as the two battlers.

The one wielding the katana was a young man of seemingly Japanese origin. His once white shirt was so ripped and tattered it could barely cling onto his body anymore. His damp raven-black hair clung to his face and obscured his eyes, not that it seemed to matter to him, if one was to judge by his stoic expression. The man’s face was a mask of calmness and detachment completely inappropriate for such a strange situation.

His opponent’s face on the other hand, was literally obscured by a red, always smiling mask. Only the lone eyes glistening through the single slit on the mask showed that it was a person and not some kind of automaton doing the fighting. Everything about the man seemed out of order. His mask and jester’s hat clashed harshly with the priest’s frock he wore, albeit they did compliment the ridiculous puffy red sleeves taking the place of the cloth’s ordinary ones. The man’s weapon seemed to be the strangest thing about him by far- a mix between a cross and a double guillotine, a madman’s weapon seemingly designed to be just as much a threat to its wielder as it was to any enemy.

Trading blows back and forth, the two strange men danced around the corridors of the forgotten kingdom of darkness. Neither seemed to tire or show any intention to change the pace. Both of them had apparently reached the silent agreement to just fight on and on and on, at least until one of them faltered. Eventually, as the tiny corridors they battled through turned into wide underground streets and the streets turned into spacious halls, the duelists ended up at the edge of an arena. Perhaps once used as the sight of many a gladiatorial battle between not-so-willing creatures, now it was nothing but a perfectly round chasm gaping even further into the darkness.
Without hesitation, the joker-priest lunged into the pit, only to be followed by his opponent almost immediately. Because, true to his usual polite and proper self, Shinosuke felt obliged to finish the battle. He had started it in the first place after all, and although they were now far from where they had begun, the young man knew it would be a show of bad manners to call it off merely because his opponent was acting nonsensically.

The swordsman landed somewhat shakily due to his lack of proper vision. The pitch black darkness made it hard to navigate even for one possessing eyes like his. Shinosuke was frankly amused how his opponent could see where he was going with merely a single eye, much less one that was apparently completely normal. Still, not being concentrated during a fight could also be considered rude so the young man just politely fulfilled his role and once again lunged at the jester-priest.

Alas, his masked opponent dodged deftly yet again. Shinosuke attempted to follow him into the narrow corridor but found himself repelled by some kind of a force-field barring the entryway. Squinting, the swordsman finally noticed the two black keys embed into some sort of focusing circle positioned right at the doorway. Without saying even a word, the jester drew out another black key. Shinosuke prepared to dodge or swat it away- apparently the force-field worked only on his side- but the signature Executor weapon just flew passed him and into the darkness.

Judging by the loud clang, what Shinosuke heard was perhaps another black key getting swatted away somewhere on the far side of the arena. And when one took into consideration the combination of slithering and hissing sounds that followed, along with the pair of glistening white-purplish diamond-shaped eyes currently drilling a hole through him, the answer was somewhat easy to guess.

“That is your other teammate, correct?” plainly asked Shinosuke and turned to the jester-priest. “Gideon was it? I see that killing the holder of the Scripture responsible for keeping his Egg in check hasn’t particularly… helped him suppressing its influence.”

The beast that had once been human growled from behind the veil of the darkness. But even through it, Shinosuke could see the glistening scales that covered the monstrosity’s whole body, much akin to black diamonds. Its clawed hands dug deeply into the cold hard ground with each of its predatory steps. From the waist down the legs had merged into a single meters-long tail, as thick as a tree trunk. Like those of a shark, three rows of sharp teeth were currently smiling viciously at Shinosuke.

Or maybe the beast just had too many and couldn’t keep its mouth shut, concluded the swordsman.

Only the eyes had remained unchanged. As deadly as ever, the Mystic Eyes of Petrification-the Cybele- were a constant feature of those who had a shard of the Twelfth's soul- an Egg- buried inside of them. The Cybele was the inescapable mark of the Dead Apostle Ancestor who had claimed himself to be the Basilisk of Akasha- the one who had once though he could surpass the immortality of the man who had turned him into a vampire in the first place.

But that was neither here not there.

“A shame really,” eventually answered the jester, yanking Shinosuke out of deep thought. “A sinner he may have been, just like all of us, but he willfully came to the Church to ask for help. And look at him now,” the Burier said and shook his head. “Needless to say, by now you must have realized why I was so easy to find. And that his barrier is meant to keep not you, but him out. Let’s say that it was tough… persuading him to come down here in the first place.”

“I hate him,” dispassionately announced Shinosuke, trying hard not to stare into the beast’s eyes. What few glimpses he had caught had cost him the movement of his legs already. “I hate how he had to scurry to others stronger than himself to contain what was inside him. He didn’t try to become stronger to fight it, didn’t even accept being his own warden!” the swordsman gripped tightly his sword, his voice growing bitter and bitter. “And yet, I can relate somehow. To the pain eating you from the inside, the tiny whispers in your head, the rush of tasting blood for the first time… that inherent desire to just kill, kill and kill again and again and AGAIN!”

The shout reverberated off the cavern’s walls, mixing with the echo of the beast’s threatening hisses. Mirrored eyes finally meeting each other, Shinosuke pointed his katana at the circling beast.

“This technique I reserve for only the strongest! But as a kindred soul I’ll show it to you just this once, understood?”

Whether the monstrous vampire-snake understood or not, the swordsman couldn’t tell. It just opened its detachable jaws widely and lunged towards its prey, finally tired of waiting for it to make the first move. Defiant, Shinosuke held its gaze as the petrification climbed upwards from his waste. Now that his opponent was so close Shinosuke could easily estimate that the shortest of its fangs were easily as long as his fingers.

If the man had to summarize the monster’s capabilities with one single word, that word would have been…’ irrelevant’.

One single, seemingly ordinary horizontal slash- and before the katana had even finished its arc, the beast had crumpled into the ground into a single sorry heap. Blood oozed from its still gaping maw and its now motionless eyes. With voice barely kept from shaking, the Burier jester asked:

“What on Earth is that sword made from? Nothing should be able to cut through that skin of his. Nothing!”

“It’s not the sword,” calmly replied Shinosuke and wiped his now bloodied blade on the remains of his shirt. “It’s the technique.”

“But still-“ began the Burier, trying to protest what his eyes had witnessed.

“You’re not wrong actually,” cut him off the swordsman. “Nothing can cut through that skin, I know as much. What I did was ‘go around’ the hide, metaphorically, and strike what was directly behind it.”

“But that’s-“

“Multi-dimensional refraction phenomenon or something,” replied Shinosuke and shrugged nonchalantly. “A mage that witnessed me use it made up a big deal of it before I killed him. He used a lot of big words but from what I could gather, this technique of mine allows me to cut through dimensions. But doesn’t having that Egg keep me connected to Akasha either way? That’s where the Twelfth’s soul really is, right? I think that’s how I’m able to do it but I don’t see what’s the big deal about-“

But this time it was Shinosuke who got rather rudely cut off. With deadly precision the jester’s cross-scythe whizzed past him, once again only the young man’s reflexes saving his life. Barely a second later he was forced to jump back yet again to dodge another swipe by the Burier, this time armed with three black keys clutched in each hand. The swordsman was forced to use his sword to swat away two of them chucked directly at him, only for the next two to send him flying backwards as they erupted in flames on contact.

Shinosuke concluded that the first two black keys had been ordinary ones on purpose- they were meant to force him to take the second pair head on as well. Having learned his lessons, he dodged the third pair completely… only to end up completely immobile as they pinned his shadow to the ground and him as well by proxy.

“So it was the second pair of black keys that were meant to fool me?” asked the young man, more surprised than actually distressed. “Or rather, they were meant to both make me dodge the third and light up a fire for me to have a shadow, right?”

“You would be correct in that assumption,” replied the Burier jester as he picked up his scythe. “Not that it matters to you now anyway. As yet another demonspawn being sent back to the pits of Hell, what are your last words, sinner?”

“My last words?” asked Shinosuke almost absentmindedly, as if his life wasn’t about to be snuffed out as easily as a lone candle facing the autumn wind. “I don’t think I get the right to have any, considering how easily I was defeated. And by such cheap tricks, too! A shame really, Mister Burier. No offense meant, but I think I am normally far out of your league, as good a battler as you are.”

“Vanity,” announced the Burier and pulled back the scythe, preparing to lop off his opponent’s head in a single swing. “Definitely my favorite sin. I should have been dead a dozen times already- but you insisted on trying to win without fighting seriously. Your pride prevents you from dedicating yourself to any fight. With that technique of yours, you should have killed me the moment we crossed blades.”

“Still, would you fulfill a dying man’s last wish?” asked the swordsman and beamed an innocent smile, rendered somewhat ineffective considering how blood-splattered he was. “Can you at least kill me with my own sword?”

“And get caught by the reflection of your eyes on the blade when I try picking it up?” shot back the Burier and laughed out loud. “I don’t think so, kid.”

“Well, I guess it was worth a shot,” said Shinosuke as passionlessly as ever and shrugged.

The jester-priest swung his signature weapon in a wide arc. The gurgle of a dying man echoed into the cavern as the spray of blood painted the fire-illuminated ground in red. Shinosuke could only blink at the pitch black tendril jutting out from his shadow and currently piercing the Burier’s neck. Another shadow tendril had pierced the scythe’s handle, stopping its momentum just in time.

“What the-“ gurgled the jester-priest, voicing Shinosuke’s own thoughts. The third tendril nailed him straight through the lone visible eye, jutting out bloody on the other side of his head. And as the shadow tendrils melted into thin air, Shinosuke’s would-be killer crumpled onto the cold ground like a puppet with cut off strings.

“My, my, that sure was close, wasn’t it?” suddenly announced a female voice as parts of Shinosuke’s shadow detached themselves and slithered off. Combining and sprouting upwards, like some parody of a blossoming flower, the shadows morphed into the shape of a woman. The image was almost transparent- it was like seeing her reflection in a foggy mirror. Leaning forward, as if just to show off the cleavage of her barely buttoned up shirt, the blonde bore her blue eyes into his and smiled mischievously.

“Nia Smith, pleased to meet you. But you can just call me ‘gorgeous’,” introduced herself the newcomer and winked playfully. She gave off the vibe of a child stuck in a woman’s body… if one was willing to ignore how easily she shrugged off killing another person so quickly. Not that Shinosuke was anyone to judge, but…

After several seconds of staring at the newcomer and blinking rapidly, all the swordsman could come up with was a nonsensical jumble of a ‘how’ and a ‘why’. Or at least that’s how the mumbling coming from his throat sounded.

“Oh, the confusion is understandable, don’t worry,” said the blonde and waved him off with a laugh. “You see, I’ve been keeping tabs on the more important players in this oh-so-interesting War,” announced the woman and began circling the swordsman like pray, hands behind her back. “Getting so much precious information aside, I wanted to find, let’s say, the deadliest participant and assign him a rather special task. And since you fit that description and I happen to have what you want, I think we can get along just splendidly and do ourselves a favor by helping each other out.”

“I sincerely doubt you know what it is that I wa-“

“To die, of course!” quipped the blonde and leaned dangerously close to his face, the smirk on her lips widening. “That’s what you agreed on with Lord El-Melloi, wasn’t it, sweetie? You do him a favor by removing a few Buriers from the picture and then he puts an end to that miserable existence of yours. That’s what you’ve been doing this whole time, wasn’t it? Running around the world, searching the whole time for someone capable of killing that animal you have become.”

Shinosuke could only stare silently at those icy blue eyes as the newcomer continued ripping his motives apart.

“But you just can’t find the one strong enough, can you? That thing inside of you prevents you from taking your own life or just letting someone kill you. So the only way out is to find an opponent so much stronger than you that they can kill you despite all your abilities. Even unconsciously, you still hold back. That’s what this ‘vanity’ of yours really is, right? You may feel ashamed by it but you were glad that you were going to die, here and now, despite falling victim to trickery and not real power.”

No response came from the swordsman. Nia stepped back and pouted, hands on her hips.

“Aww, does my knowledge shock you so much? Consider yourself fortunate, dear, I doubt there’s anyone else in this city who has witnessed by magecraft. How could I gather all that precious info if everyone was suspicious of their own shadows? But, just for you, this is a very special show of good faith.”

“Since you apparently know me so well you must also be aware that I won’t break off my previous agreement,” finally replied Shinosuke, voice as cold as ice.

“Sure, sure, but there’s no need for that!” waved him off Nia and let out a girly laugh. “I’m merely asking you to just take a momentary break from your task. If anything, the chance of finding death facing the one I’m sending you up against is infinitely higher than against any of the Buriers or our dearest Lord El-Melloi. And if you do manage- by some miracle or another- to come out alive of this ordeal, you can just proceed as usual and hope someone else would be strong enough to finish you off, now that I have denied you this easy death. I doubt that thing inside of you would let you hold back so much more now, would it?” asked the blonde and leered at Shinosuke’s chest, as if she could see the monster hidden inside.

“Are you real?” eventually asked the swordsman.

“If you are asking whether I’m here in person, then no, I am not,” replied the blonde. Her lithe hand gestured as if to cup his cheek only for the shadow to go straight through him like a ghost. “Much too dangerous, considering you are probably pretty pissed at me right now. Plus, how can I otherwise look in your pretty eyes and not end up a gorgeous, yet very unmoving statue?”

The fire was beginning to die out, the image of the blonde fading out along with the shadows. Finally breaking the heavy silence, the swordsman asked:

“Then who it is you want me to kill or die trying?”

Nia answered just before she faded out along with the shadows, her giggle lingering into the damp and lonely darkness.

“Merely the King of Nightmares, dear. I want you to kill Albus Grimaldi.”




***



Instead of the all-permeating darkness that had engulfed her mere moments before, it was the familiar sight of her office which greeted Nia upon opening her cerulean eyes. The sharp intake of air, the slight shiver running through her spine as her mind got used to the thought of having a corporeal body again- it always felt so surreal. It was perhaps the one aspect of her magecraft that would always seem so unfamiliar to her- the sensation of both being a human and a proverbial ghost.

A tired sigh escaped the woman’s lips as she ran a hand through her waist-length hair. The lone light of the desk lamp ended up reflected off the cascading strands, the tiny flickers mirrored themselves onto the surface of the panoramic window behind Nia. Only the artificial lights of the city permeated through the veil of the night, ending up distorted by the torrential rain. As soundproof as the room was, the low and constant hum of the music blaring downstairs at the ‘Arkham’ still somehow made it through. It was reassuring in a way. Hearing that jumbled seemingly never-ending bass reminded her she was at home more than anything.

More because of habit than anything else, the blonde twirled again and again on that favorite swiveling chair of hers. The uncharacteristic look of boredom on her face seemed so different than her usual bubbly, mischievously smirking self that Nia was pretty sure even Glen would be genuinely surprised if he saw her at that moment. When that fake smile had really become her true face, Nia couldn’t help but wonder.

With the signature screech of straining springs, the chair groaned when its owner steadied herself. Flashes of blue danced across the gloomy sky behind her, giving life to the writhing shadows in the room. As thunder roared somewhere outside, Nia slumped onto her desk with crossed hands below her chin and threw a blank look at the lone photo adorning her rather clustered desk.

Her own face was now hidden by the shadows but the one she was gleefully hugging from behind was clearly visible. Alas, although their crimson hair was the same disturbing shade of blood and their green eyes possessed the same eerie green hue, Glen wasn’t the one she wanted to be on that photo. No matter how closely related they were, the Grimaldi she had watched over during all those years had grown up to be as different from his brother as night was from the day.

Where Corbin’s smiles could always assure her that everything would end up okay, Glen’s signature smirks reminded her of cold indifference. The older Grimaldi’s eyes had sparkled with life, unable to wait until they could witness something new and unfamiliar, while the younger one’s eyes were like the emerald embers of a fire dying out for years on end. Hot and cold, sweet and sour, the Grimaldi boys had ended up twisted reflections of each other.

Corbin had entrusted her with a broken child all those years ago, making her promise she would help him do what Corbin never had- escape the millennia old legacy of his family. To be completely honest, Nia had hated the little brat with a burning passion at first. It was sickening to watch how the boy already dead inside would get to live another day while the one she really wanted to survive withered away with every minute. Flesh and prana withering out one day after the other- his very body draining its own life away until he finally succumbed to the inevitable.

There was a reason there were no rogue Grimaldi after all- and Corbin hadn’t had a Crest inside of him to keep the curse from eating him away.

And so Nia had ended up alone, caring for a legacy that wasn’t even hers. It had been painful having to take care for the one she deemed responsible for her lover’s death. Long ago she had indeed dreamed of raising a child with the Grimaldi blood in his veins but she had been forced to make do with Glen. At first Nia had been as lost as the newly free Grimaldi- her sole thoughts had focused on rejoining Corbin in death.

But a promise was a promise- and so she had made up the bubbly façade and the mischievous smile, the mask which was her only way to deal with being forced to look the little kid in the eyes. Her hatred had been disguised as practical jokes and never-ending pranks, her playful teasing had been her sole outlet capable of hurting Glen even just a little while she could still keep her promise to his older brother.

As the years went by Nia’s feelings had taken a sudden turnabout. Glen had somehow grown stronger despite the treacherous heart devouring him from the inside out, his resolve had only strengthened, prompting him to clutch onto each and every chance of living to see another day. Coupled with how much he had resembled a younger Corbin back then, Nia’s thoughts had changed from hating to hoping to learn to love the growing Grimaldi. They were feelings born of madness, but the blonde had persuaded herself again and again that maybe, just maybe, she could mold Glen into another Corbin. Another chance for her to see, touch and taste the love of her life.

But just like every crazy dream that one had ended up rather abruptly, too. Only once had she stolen his lips, but their coldness, so akin to that of a corpse, had only served to cement the fact that Glen would never be Corbin. And then, after another year or two, Nia had caught herself forgetting. Her memories of her savior had muddled and twisted, had ended up slipping through her fingers like sand. Suddenly the sole remainder she had of Corbin had ended up being his only legacy.

And as she had realized how Glen had somehow ended up being part of her live for so many years more than his brother, she had also found herself accepting the boy as himself. The teasing had never stopped but had become sincere, the smiles were faked no more. She could never see the one she had loved so much in Glen anymore but, in his own strange way, the younger Grimaldi had grown on her. He felt more like family than hers had ever been. Deep inside, the blonde hoped that the boy felt at least a bit the same.

So many years ago, it had been Corbin Grimaldi who had saved the one once called Lavinia Aylesburry from living the life of a porcelain doll, a tool meant to continue the centuries-long legacy of her family. He had been the first one to put a sincere smile on that blank face, he had been the one to give her the strength to severe the chains that had held her back. And, with his dying words, he had made her promise that she would give his brother the strength he had once given her.

The strength to break those poisoned, centuries-old chains.

It had taken nearly a decade, but the rogue Aylesburry could finally admit to herself that it was more than just a promise that made her help her adoptive little brother. The Juliet of Shadows, for better or for worse, had found reasons to live despite the death of her Romeo.

Breaking apart the heavy silence, the energetic jingle of her cell phone yanked Nia back into reality. The blonde shook her head, glanced at the caller’s ID and, after taking a deep breath, finally answered.

“Why, hello, Mr. Kane,” cheerfully announced Hartcroft’s infamous informant, a mischievous smile once again playing on her lips. “Is there any particular reason you’re calling me at this late hour or are you just lonely? You have to at least take me out to dinner first, y’know! And here I thought a man of the cloth would at least be more subtle.”

“You told me to call you,” eventually came the positively unamused answer from the other side of the line. “And I suggest you get to the point immediately because my tolerance for childish jokes is running rather low tonight.”

“Aww, you’re such a spoilsport!” chastised Nia, absent-mindedly twirling a strand of her hair. “Well, if that’s what you want… as a show of good faith, I have decided to bestow you with some rare million dollar knowledge! Dealing business with you so far has been a pleasure so I think one teensy freebie won’t be out of place.”

“I’m listening,” replied Kane, failing to hide the fact how suspicious he was of such generous offers.

“As a Burier I think you will recognize the potential of this info. A little bird just told me that none other than Albus Grimaldi himself is in town- and he just happens to be hunted by perhaps the deadliest Master of all seven participating in this War. Do you think you’d be interested in buying any information concerning the location of their battle when it starts? I’m offering you front row tickets, y’know!”

“You just said the information is free,” reminded her the Burier in his usual even voice.

“Of course it is!” agreed the blonde and chuckled. “Telling you there is going to be a fight between two of the most dangerous men in Hartcroft is free. The location of their match, however, may prove to be a bit more… costly. But, just imagine, having a chance to take out both of them out when they are tired and unsuspecting! A golden opportunity, no?”

After half a minute or so, a tired sigh was heard from the other end of the line.

“What’s the number of the bank account this time?”



***


Rodents and insects and creatures one could hardly pinpoint what they were anymore, all of them fled before the nearing flicker of the flashlight. The steady steps of a lone man echoed inside the spacious caverns of the Undercity as The Cyrus ventured further and further into the darkness, seemingly unconcerned by the creatures leering at him from every dark corner. The echo of the catchy tune currently being whistled by the strangely-dressed Burier resonated within the walls of the subterranean kingdom.

Eventually the melody was cut short. The Cyrus had finally reached his destination- a deep pit stretching right in front of him, having served as a battling arena mere hours ago. A single jump later he was at its bottom, the flashlight in his hand darting left and right in search of his objective. The black carcass of what had once been Gideon, scales glistening under the ray of light, was naturally the first thing he found. No wound was clearly visible and yet there was still blood dripping slowly from the creature’s mouth and eyes.

The Cyrus let out a sharp whistle of admiration at the skill of his teammate’s killer as he nudged the corpse with his foot.

“Sure did a number on you, eh, pal?” asked rhetorically the Burier and ran a hand through his disheveled blond hair. “Well, at least it saves me time from having to off you myself, right? We gotta look on the bright side, pal, right?” almost shouted the man and let out a hearty laugh.

Removing his ever-present eye-obscuring sunglasses, The Cyrus gave one last glance at the glazed over eyes of his former teammate. Cybele met Cybele as the blonde’s purplish-white eyes reflected the light of the flashlight. Mirroring those of the carcass, pitch black scales covered the Burier’s hand from the elbow down, ending up in sharp, curved claws. Digging into Gideon’s chest with some difficulty, The Cyrus eventually retrieved what he had come looking for- a small oval black stone, only a lone light pulsing from its insides showing any signs of life.

The Egg of the Twelfth was down his throat in single gulp. Having done his job, The Cyrus once again hid his eyes from the world behind the reflective sunglasses. With a cheerful wave of goodbye, the blonde was on his way to the nearest exit, not even bothering to look at the corpse of his other teammate.

“Well, back to pretending I’m a harmless idiot, I guess,” said The Cyrus to himself with a dejected shrug.

I3uster
April 14th, 2012, 11:12 AM
OH HELL YES IT'S BACK!

Aladar
April 14th, 2012, 11:18 AM
SPREAD THE WORD!

Spinach
April 14th, 2012, 12:34 PM
IT LIIIIVES

TSUBAME GAESHI?

NIA BACKSTORY!

THE CYRUS!

Hell yeah, I missed this story so much.

Ace
April 14th, 2012, 01:07 PM
UPDATE!

GLORIOUS UPDATE!

Lycodrake
April 14th, 2012, 01:11 PM
Already been said before, but I'm seriously glad to see this back in action.
Mostly because I really like the design for Assassin here, and her NP. ^^

Aladar
April 14th, 2012, 01:16 PM
Some comments, nice they would be. :)

Meaning, comment on the story and characters 'cause since I'm making up this on the spot, might as well see what gathers more interest and feature it a bit more.

Sherrinford
April 14th, 2012, 01:17 PM
ALAAADAAAAAARRRR!!

In this chapter!!

Roa wannabes!!

Tsubame Geashi!!

Zelretch!!

Devil's Advocate quotes!!

Nia!!

The Cyrus!!

Spinach
April 14th, 2012, 01:31 PM
Some comments, nice they would be. :)

Meaning, comment on the story and characters 'cause since I'm making up this on the spot, might as well see what gathers more interest and feature it a bit more.

Winging it? You are the manliest author.

Nia is surprisingly deeper than I thought she would be. Shadow magecraft? I can dig it. Also the fight was pretty cool without having more than a few specific actions. How do you manage to do that? Are you a wizard?

Also, THE CYRUS

Aladar
April 14th, 2012, 01:44 PM
Yeah, making up things as I go along can kinda go out of hand. For example, there are so many players trying to influence the War that I'm beginning to lose count. I think I'm gonna need a flow chart or something.

Cardinal Luciano Alterigia wants to wipe out everybody in Hartcroft and use them to power-up the Grail so he can wish upon it.

Albus has his very own plans for the Grail, but mostly wants to have some shitz and giggles before the time comes. Also, he's pretending to be an ally of Luciano, not that he buys it much.

The Cyrus is playing the fool and gathering the Eggs of the Twelfth, with only Shinosuke's one left for him to collect so he could be reborn as a DAA.

Waver wants to make drastic changes to the timeline so this version of the Sixth War won't end up a disaster like the last one. He used his knowledge of Shinosuke's wish to sick him on the Buriers so they won't be a problem like they were the first time around.

Nia is playing all sides, trolling everybody but simultaneously trying to help Glen win the War. She's managed to sick both Shinosuke and the one true Burier around at Albus and Kane's meant to take Shino out as well 'cause he's a Master.

Harwey, acting from behind the scenes, are using VEXA and Alexander to get the Grail but he is only hasn't actually fake-defected but really does plan to give them the finger and use the Grail himself.

... And I'm not even counting the rest of the 6 Masters.

Spinach
April 14th, 2012, 01:46 PM
Yeah, this fic has so many characters that I'm pretty surprised that you're winging it and it's still so good.

Which pretty much confirms that you are, without a doubt, a wizard.

Or Santa.

Aladar
April 14th, 2012, 03:26 PM
Psst, Santa isn't real, y'know.

ItsaRandomUsername
April 14th, 2012, 04:26 PM
But wizards are. '__'

Anyway, it's great to see this finally back in action. Welcome back, Aladar. You've been missed.