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Thread: [FF] Legacies of Fate (Type-Moon - Trinity Prelude)

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    [FF] Legacies of Fate (Type-Moon - Trinity Prelude)

    DISCLAIMER: Lunar Legend Tsukihime, Fate/Stay Night, and all related characters and concepts are the creation and property of Kinoko Nasu and Type-Moon. No monies are generated, or intended to be, from this unauthorised use of said properties.



    Legacies of Fate - Prelude






    Where did it all begin? When did it all become inevitable? Which event locked these chains into place?

    The heartfelt wish of a young girl to preserve that which she cherishes.

    We made the decisions we thought were best, even the ones we didn’t want to. Was there another way? A better way?

    The unyielding determination of a lost soul to find a rightful place.

    Can everything that happened be blamed on the choices of free will, or the whims of random chance? Are human desire and blind luck truly powerful enough to bring about such a situation?

    A meeting that could never happen, and did.

    Is it even right to blame ourselves? Should we lay that burden on the ones who came before us, instead? Does the responsibility for the present lie with those who exist in it, or those who created it?

    When the secrets of the past threaten to destroy the future . . .

    I don’t know. Even now, with everything I’ve seen and done, I can’t say whether or not we are all responsible for our own actions, or merely prisoners of fate. But I’ve lived my life believing that determination can succeed where even hope fails - and I still do.

    . . . The only salvation may lie in the impossible.

    I’ll keep my promise to you, because I said I would - and because I love you.

    The eternal war continues . . .

    Goodbye.

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    Chapter 1






    In a place beyond time and space, they wait. Culled from lands and eras beyond counting, they are the children of gods, demons, and humans. Some call them heroes, others monsters, yet they share a bond in that they are warriors, all of them. Long gone from the earth, but never forgotten, they yet exist in a place that is born of dreams - a place that offers them a solace which neither life nor death bestowed. Yet for this peace, there is a price. When the time comes, that peace must be laid aside, the land of dreams departed from, to return to an existence of flesh, blood, and war in the name of hope.

    In the realm of legend they await the Call to battle - for the time is now, and the eternal war will begin anew . . .


    She awoke with a start. To her surprise, she was still in her darkened bedroom, the sheets wrapped tightly around her form. Rain pattered lightly against the windows, in counterpoint to the ticking clock which read 3:08 AM. She lay there a moment, pulling the cloth closer to her, shivering in spite of herself as she listened to the downpour, a gentle prelude to the great storm she knew was coming.

    “Not again,” Sakura whispered to herself.






    Strike. Guard. Sweep. High. Low. Centre. Each movement graceful and precise, where a difference of a single inch would weaken its effectiveness, spoil the move - rendering one vulnerable to counterattack. Most people likened it to a dance, but to her it was music, a rhythmic melody where every note had to be just so, to sweep one’s sense of anything else away . . .

    “Takara-chan . . . Takara-chan! Takara-chan! TAAAKAAARAAA-CHAAAAN!!

    Discord intruded, throwing off her timing by an instant, and jarring her back into the everyday world. With a gasp, then a sigh, she lowered the practice sword and turned to face the interruption.

    “What is it, Momoko-chan?” she asked in a long-suffering, though not displeased tone.

    The girl in question, a bubbly, baby-faced girl (an impression aided by her fondness for pigtails, despite her age), fairly bounced at the question. “I’m going to the ice cream parlour after school! Did you wanna come?”

    Takara sighed. Momoko was one of her best friends, and meant well, but . . .

    “I’d like to, but I’d better head straight home - I worry about Father,” she answered.

    Momoko’s expression shifted to sadness, as though someone had taken her favourite doll. “He’s still not doing any better?”

    Takara’s expression was grim. “No. And the doctors still can’t figure out what’s behind it.”

    “He should be in the hospital,” Momoko said decisively.

    “I know,” Takara groaned, “but he absolutely refuses, and Mother won’t make him go.” She sighed. “Mother won’t do a lot, lately.”

    Anything else she might have said was cut off by the school bell. “I guess that’s it for the day.”

    Bowing to her training area, she replaced the wooden weapon in its rack and made her way unhurriedly to the changing room.

    Takara Aozaki was a lot of things. The seventeen-year-old girl was a good student, though nothing spectacular. She was quiet without being shy, tomboyish in her choice of activities but undeniably feminine, and reasonably well-off, but not snobbish about it. Her long, dark hair was tied into a ponytail when she did anything in gym or home ec, but otherwise it ran loose. Her paler-than-average skin hinted at her mixed ancestry, as did the sky-blue hue of her eyes, but her features were otherwise Asian, until you realised her “black” hair was in fact a very dark chestnut.

    Sighing, she changed from her kendo garb into the navy-blue sailor uniform she usually wore on school grounds. Tying the yellow scarf into its customary knot, she snatched up her school bag and exited the changing room at a dash.

    She slammed almost immediately into a solid body, and bounced off it. She was all set to unleash a few words her mother would not approve of when she locked eyes with the impromptu speed bump, and stopped dead.

    “Mother?” Takara said, surprised. “Why are you here? Is Father - “

    ”He’s sleeping, Takara - and next time, apologise after you hit someone that hard.” She pushed her glasses higher up the bridge of her nose, turning them coldly opaque as the light hit the lenses.

    Despite being in her mid-thirties, Ciel Aozaki looked easily a decade younger. Her face was unlined, her hair was still so dark it had blue highlights, and her figure had won a flawless victory over childbirth. Half the students in her social studies classes were won over through sheer admiration of her beauty and warm enthusiasm. The other half were brought into line through the iron will and inflexible discipline she exerted on them. Takara, having grown up experiencing both, swore at times that her mother had to have multiple personality disorder.

    What she faced now was the serious side of Ciel, the staunch traditionalist. Takara was not quite afraid, but she was wary - summer vacation was too close to risk provoking the Wrath of Mother (second only to the Wrath of God, but only just).

    “Yes, Mother,” she said carefully, bowing low. “I’m sorry.”

    “That’s better,” Ciel said quietly. She smiled, and her face softened. “I’ve come to take you home, Takara-chan. Are you ready to go?”

    The teenager blinked. “Uh, yeah.”

    Ciel’s eyes twinkled. “Such rough speech, after all my work to make a proper lady out of you - it’s got to be your father’s influence.” She turned and began walking to the car.

    Takara jogged a little to catch up. “How is Father?”

    Ciel’s expression turned sombre. “Tired, as always. He was asleep when I left for work, had some soup for lunch when I came home, and was napping when I left to come get you.”

    Takara frowned. “Will you be going out again tonight?” She asked it in a tone that said she already knew the answer. It had been going on for two weeks, after all.

    “Yes.”

    Takara said nothing, but pressed her lips together so hard they turned white.

    “I know you don’t approve, Takara,” Ciel said tiredly. “But the church is doing its best to try and support us - when they ask for my help, it’s the least I can do.”

    “What kind of work can they have you doing that’s more important than being with us?” Takara wanted to ask. But she couldn’t. Good girls didn’t scream and shout at their mothers for abandoning their families. And even if she wasn’t perfect, Takara had been raised to be a good girl.

    “Please, just look after your father again tonight,” Ciel said in a soft tone that was not quite begging. “In another week, hopefully, I’ll be finished - and then it’ll be the three of us, together.”

    The phrase For however long it lasts was not spoken, but it hung in the air between them, nonetheless. Both of them might not vocalise it, for fear of making it irreversible, but they knew the truth. The only man that mattered in their lives was dying, and nothing, it seemed, could stop it. And it infuriated Takara that her mother would squander what little time was left by not being with her husband.

    The silence stretched as Ciel navigated out to the bungalow by the lake they called “home.” Finally, they reached their destination, and Takara unbuckled her belt.

    “I’ll try to be home soon,” Ciel promised. “Just in case, can you make dinner on your own?”

    “I guess,” Takara muttered.

    Her mother smiled, a little wistfully. “Thanks, treasure. Have a good night.”

    Takara got out of the car, and didn’t quite slam the door.

    “I love you,” Ciel said to the empty seat. She took a suddenly shaky breath.

    “Please let this work, and quickly,” she prayed. “Please, God - I’m running out of time.”






    “Bungalow,” while being the correct word for the place Takara called home, was really an inadequate term. While everything existed on only one level (not counting the storage attic or the basement), it was a vast structure, containing several rooms. Thus, there was really no need for Takara to be quiet as she entered - it was unlikely her father would hear her - but she was careful all the same, and didn’t announce herself as she entered.

    Thus, it came as a complete surprise to hear a voice call, “Welcome home, Takara-chan.

    Dropping her school bag, Takara quickly donned her house slippers and made her way up the foyer stairs and out to the back patio, where her father was hanging laundry. He put up a blanket as she watched.

    “Father! Why aren’t you in bed, resting?”

    Shiki Tohno’s eyes twinkled, “Because if I’d left your mother’s things alone for much longer, I would have had to herd them into the washing machine. As much as I love her, that woman has no sense of proper housekeeping.”

    He turned with obvious slowness to pin another shirt to the clothesline. Takara winced just watching him.

    For as long as she could remember, her father had always been a strong, handsome man. Not a musclebound hulk, but subtly resilient - a tree, instead of a mountain. Likewise, he’d never be a movie star, but there was a freshness to his features, an open sincerity, that turned otherwise plain looks into something attractive. But ever since the illness had hit, he seemed to have aged almost twenty years. His hair was more gray than brown, and his slender body had receded into a more skeletal appearance. His complexion was paler, his skin wrinkled. Movement was an obvious effort, and he tired very easily.

    “You shouldn’t be pushing yourself,” Takara said quietly.

    “I refuse to waste whatever time I have left lying uselessly in bed,” Shiki replied in an edged tone. “So, how was school?”

    “It was all right, I guess.”

    “You still have no date for the summer festival, hm?”

    Takara flinched. “Father!”

    “What? I can’t have an interest in my only child’s social life?” His tone was undeniably teasing. “What’s wrong with the boys at your school? Do I have threaten them with a knife to get them to date you?”

    Takara sighed. “Well, let’s see. I don’t make a habit of pointing out we have money, so the fortune hunters aren’t interested. You’re not connected politically, or in the business world, so the career ladder climbers aren’t interested. I’m too good at athletics for the jocks to feel comfortable, my grades aren’t good enough to deal with serious academics, I’m too tomboyish for the ones who like feminine girls, too good for the ones who like bad girls . . . and I’m half-blooded, so that lets out the traditionalists. Honestly Father, I think the only way that I could get a date is to be someone else entirely.”

    “Takara!” Shiki snapped, and she jumped. She could count on one hand the number of times she’d seen or heard her father be truly angry - and this was one of them. He turned to face her, and his eyes blazed with more life than she’d seen in weeks.

    “There is nothing wrong with who you are,” he said, in a tone that dared her to disagree. “I can see the young woman you will become in a few short years. You are intelligent and beautiful, strong and compassionate - a girl that I’m proud to call my daughter. And as for your blood, your mother is the woman I love, more than my own life. If you take after her, how can I be anything but elated?”

    Shiki slumped, as though the speech had drained him of any energy he had left. He moved towards the laundry basket, then stopped and shook his head. “I think I should go back to bed - would you finish this for me, sweetheart?”

    “Of course, Father,” Takara said quietly. “Sleep well.”

    He nodded, and stopped to place his hand on her shoulder as he passed. “Be proud of yourself, Takara - I am. The only thing you could ever do to disappoint me is despair.”

    “Yes, Father.” She smiled slightly.

    He managed a weak smile of his own in return. “That’s my girl.”

    As he went into the house, her smile faded. “You love her more than your own life - and while it slips away, where is she? Mother, how in the name of God could you do this to him?”






    Sakura had drawn the ritual circle with care, set all the proper materials in their place. Now it was time, and she found herself hesitating. What if it didn’t work? What if she failed?

    No, she told herself firmly. It would work - it had to. No one had more right to this than she did. With that to bolster her confidence, Sakura began the incantation.


    “Warrior soul, plagued by strife,
    If ye be willing, return to life.
    Renew thy spirit’s chosen form,
    And tread anew in flesh reborn,
    The path from which you were torn.
    Heed now the spinning wheel of fate,
    I command thee, INCARNATE!”



    The candlelight flared an unearthly colour, echoed by the glow of her ritual seal. That light gathered at the centre of the seal, expanding with a roar of wind into a humanoid form. There was a crash, as though of thunder, and the light in the room suddenly extinguished, sending it into abyssal darkness.

    After a moment of silence, the voice of a nervous girl pierced the darkness. It asked a single question, hesitantly.

    “Shirou?”






    Ciel frowned, scanning her list. This was taking too long. She had to find a way to move things along faster, or else it would be too late.

    How could she make things move quicker? If only she could find a way to add to the time she had . . .

    Forgotten memories surged from her subconscious, triggered by desperation. Yes, that would work . . . but could she make it happen?

    Ciel withdrew a cell phone from her purse, and reluctantly dialled a number she’d long ago memorised, but never used.

    “Yes, this is Ciel. Do you remember who I am? . . . That’s right. Listen to me, please - I need your help . . . My husband is dying, miss. It’s slow, and painful, and right now there’s no way that anyone will be in time to save his life. You and I both know that you can help him - so I’m begging you to try. Please.

    There was a long silence on the other end of the line, and then agreement. Ciel tried not to weep with relief.

    “Thank you. Now, let me tell you how to get here - hurry, please, time is of the essence.”






    After finishing with the laundry, Takara retreated to the attic. More specifically, the attic room that was used for the family’s rare guests, usually one in particular. Takara’s favourite aunt was a Gypsy-like wanderer who breezed in and out two or three times a year, a little brash in her manner, but always arriving with some wild story to tell, or a trinket for her favourite (and thus far, only) niece. She’d typically stay no longer than a week, just to catch up, and then vanish again for parts unknown. It used to disappoint Takara that there was no fixed address she could write to, or phone number she could call in order to converse with her aunt - but thinking back, the woman always seemed to show up when she was really wanted, didn’t she?

    “I wish you were here now, Aunt Aoko,” Takara murmured into the empty room, before correcting herself quickly, “Sorry - Onee-chan.

    The one time Takara had referred to her relation by her proper title, she’d been asked, “Are you trying to make me feel old, Takara-chan?” The question had been jovial enough, but the chill in the redhead’s eyes had convinced the girl that she never wanted to make Aoko feel old. Though, to be fair, she never looked that old. Aoko had probably inherited the same genes that kept her mother youthful, as well. Takara wondered if she’d be as lucky.

    She wondered if she’d even be lucky enough to spend this Christmas with her family intact.

    Shivering, Takara wandered around the small room, delicately picking up the small keepsakes and books scattered around - partly to dust them, and partly to remember where and when they’d come from, happier times that now seemed so long ago and far away.

    A framed photograph of Aoko and her other aunt, holding a written certificate for winning some eating contest - Takara wasn’t sure what kind, but since her mother wasn’t there it obviously hadn’t been curry . . . A small hand mirror, inlaid in pearl, with what looked like a highly-stylised “Z” on the back . . . a basket bed for Aoko’s cat, when she was brought along . . .

    Mostly, they were all little things - small items to make Aoko feel at home whenever she stayed, but nothing too valuable, nothing she couldn’t afford to lose by leaving them at someone else’s house. The only real oddity in the room was a carved wooden sword hanging on the wall. At least, it appeared to be a sword - a foreign design, Takara thought, though given the pictures on the “blade,” the shape could be a coincidence.

    The carving depicted a pack of wolves standing in a pine forest, howling at the full moon in a starlit sky. Bordered by thorny roses, it was a masterful work, and it never failed to catch Takara’s attention when she saw it. Aoko had brought it from some trip, saying she thought it would be a good decorative piece for the room in general. Seeing it now, her niece agreed.

    She reached out to brush one of the wolves, and seemed to feel the ridges of fur under her fingertips. The carving had a story attached, didn’t it? Some old fairy tale of wizards and warriors.

    “It was made by a master woodcarver, long ago,” her aunt had said. “A symbol of friendship for his comrade, who loved the wild places, and was a skilled warrior and healer - skilled enough to bring the woodcarver back from the edge of death.”

    Takara felt tears start to burn hotly in her eyes. That was what her father needed now - a healer who could work miracles. Why did it have to only be a story? Why couldn’t someone stop her family from falling apart? Why couldn’t there be someone to save them?

    “Why?” she demanded of the heavens.






    The Call has come again, and the realm of legends trembles in its wake. Warriors stir from their repose as it spreads over them like a net, for this summons holds power like they have rarely felt. Yet, for all its strength, it is unfocused, uncertain. It does not truly understand what it seeks, yet will not yield the search for its goal - a warrior of power, who can make miracles come true.

    He is not what he was, pained and confused by a death that was not so long ago. It would be easy to allow another to follow the shining beacon back to the realm of war. Though the Call is strong and the presence of the blade chains him to its path, he still holds power enough to resist it. Were it only desire that beckoned, he would ignore it, as he so often has. But there is something else in the Call as well - a deep, soul-aching need. To be wanted is one thing . . . to be
    needed is another.

    Very well. Though he is weak and ill-prepared, though the path is long and uncertain, he will answer the Call. Because there is need of him, and because it is what he has sworn to do.

    And his word is his life, even in death.







    The air split, not with a crack of thunder, but a scream, as though a thousand newborns had suddenly begun wailing in unison. In the rift, a colour that was everything and nothing could be seen, swirling chaotically with the potential to be any colour at all. Wind roared into the absence, and as it filled the gap, the light that was not light assumed a shape that was human, and the wind’s howl lessened, from the mournful cry of a lone wolf to the agonised groan of a merely mortal voice.

    When all was calm, and Takara could see again, she was staring at a man in a hooded cloak as green as the forest leaves. Black leather breeches and boots emerged from the cloak’s lower boundaries, and a tunic of the same colour as the cloak covered what she could see of the upper area. Rough hands attached to muscular-looking arms lowered the hood, revealing an angular face framed by midnight-black hair and a rough beard. He seemed a young man, perhaps half again her own age, with high cheekbones, a hawklike nose, and green eyes that held hints of gold.

    Those eyes stared almost angrily into her own, until Takara felt her own defiance rising. Why should he look at her that way when he was the intruder? She spoke, her words matched precisely by a gravel voice that seemed to growl as much as speak.

    “Who the hell are you?
    Last edited by Kieran; December 19th, 2012 at 09:28 AM.

  3. #3
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    Chapter 2





    In the space of a heartbeat, his began again, and the world was a place of life and sensation. Colour and light stabbed his eyes, sound crashed through his ears with the force of an avalanche, and his mind was lost in a whirl of sharp, painful scents. The sensory deprivation of his repose was lifting, and the cacophony of the living world threatened to overwhelm with its suddenness, its intensity.

    It was only then that he realised the hood of his cloak was up, still muffling the sensations he was feeling. With a hint of trepidation - he refused to call it fear - he lowered the protective binding, and narrowed his eyes against the sudden brightness.

    He stood in a soft room, filled with comfortable things - noting the bed, he assumed it was someone’s sleeping chamber. Before him stood a young maiden, garbed in a white tunic and loose breeches made of cloth, with soft slippers on her feet. She was of a petite build, and slender, with waist-length hair that smelled of flowers, but her muscles had a subtle tone to them that indicated she was accustomed to a certain level of hard work - a puzzle, to be sure. Her face was . . . warmer than he was used to seeing, with a small nose, soft mouth, and delicate cheekbones. The almond shape of her eyes indicated some kind of mixed blood - elf, maybe? Their colour was that of a summer sky, when the clouds had rolled away . . .

    Something in those eyes flashed, and her stance became defiant. Sensing a challenge, he bared his teeth defensively, and snarled, “Who the hell are [i]you?”

    The same question, as it emerged from her lips, hit him like a thunderbolt. Empty spaces yawned in his memories, connected by flashes of images and sounds that made no sense with the absence of the larger fragments.

    . . . Running free under the moonlight, the scents of the forest on the wind, opening his jaws to howl . . .

    . . . Cold iron clamped around his wrists as he hung in the dank cell - the pain of the slaver’s whip biting into his back . . .

    . . . The heartbeat of the land synchronising with his own, warmth filling his body as magic returned to his hands . . .

    . . . The Council of Mages, dead or dying at his feet, their centuries of tyranny ended at long last . . .

    . . . A flash of terror, a brief sensation of being airborne, and the fiery kiss of oblivion . . .


    No, that wasn’t right . . . Was it? What had happened? How had he died? Who was he?

    “I asked you your name!” shouted the girl, anger rising, but a frisson of fear as well.

    Names have power, warned a distant corner of his mind, a knowing voice that thereafter went maddeningly silent.

    “My name . . .” he repeated, questioning himself more than anything else. Possibilities floated to the surface, but none of them had the sense of rightness that should belong to his true name. Still, one persisted . . .






    “Lancer,” answered the stranger at last.

    Takara blinked. “Lancer?” It sounded more like a title than a name.

    “It will do,” he rumbled in what she was coming to realise was not an affectation, but his natural voice - if a sound that seemed more appropriate coming out of a bear could be called “natural.”

    “What . . . “ At the last moment, Takara altered her question. “What are you doing here?”

    Those golden green eyes locked on hers again, and his nostrils flared. “You called me here.” It wasn’t a question.

    I did?”

    “I can smell the magic on you from here, girl,” he snapped. “You summoned me using only my keepsake as a focus. My only question is, what does someone who can cast so powerful a spell want with me?”

    Takara blinked. What did she want . . .?

    “I want my father to be well again,” she blurted.

    A black eyebrow arched. “He’s ill?”

    “He’s dying,” Takara corrected softly. “Slowly, and frequently painfully.”

    Lancer’s posture relaxed, though he hadn’t moved.

    “Tell me of your father,” he said in a softer tone. “Is he a wizard? A warlord?”

    “He’s an artist,” Takara said. “He paints landscapes and portraits, and studies oceanography in his spare time. He does the cleaning and the laundry, and takes us out to the beach in the summertime to swim and hunt for seashells. He likes hamburgers, and sleeping late, and . . . And he doesn’t deserve to die!”

    “No more than most, and less than many,” Lancer agreed. “All right, child - I will do what I can.”

    His nostrils flared again, as he inhaled deeply, tilting his head to one side, as though listening to some faraway conversation. “The sleeping one below us . . . is that him?”

    Takara stared, dumbfounded. “Yes.”

    Lancer nodded, turned, and with a grace she normally ascribed to cats, moving quickly and silently down the attic stairs. She looked at the path he’d followed for several seconds before following.






    In the darkness, the call was repeated fearfully. “Shirou?”

    Flame sparked to life in Sakura’s cupped palm, the light rising even as her heart sank.

    “No, Saber,” she replied thickly. “It’s me.”

    The blonde’s face visibly crumpled. “Oh,” she said in a very small voice.

    While she wasn’t unhappy to see the girl (girl, she was at least fifteen centuries old!), Sakura was furious. Why hadn’t it worked? Why hadn’t she gotten the Archer she’d called for - the Shirou she wanted back so badly - getting, instead, another woman who missed him just as much?

    Sakura paused, mentally. Had she just thought . . .?

    No, but Saber had. Either Sakura was a far more empathetic person than she’d ever believed, or . . . No. It seemed more likely that the summoning spell - the most powerful ritual she’d known - plus the excess mana that still, after almost fifteen years, remained in her system, seemed to have created a binding between them on a deeper level than most Masters and Servants had.

    Saber? she called mentally.

    The warrior’s head snapped up to look at Sakura, her dull eyes widening in shock. Then they narrowed, as her face rearranged itself into an unreadable mask. Curtains seemed to draw across her thoughts as the Servant concentrated her formidable will towards keeping the contents of her mind hidden.

    Nonetheless, Sakura tried. I want him back as badly as you do. His other self - you haven’t seen him?

    “No,” Saber said calmly. “And I looked. Archer is gone.”

    Sakura refused to voice what that might mean, and answered, “Then our only hope is the Grail.”

    Sakura looked at the Servant who had been once an enemy, once an ally, but mostly a stranger. She knew bits and pieces of the warrior’s history, half-remembered from her time in the darkness. While she recognised Saber as one of Shirou’s friends, and a good-hearted person, there was no guarantee that she would willingly aid a rival - much less one with her history. They were united only in their loss.

    Sakura spoke. “After everything that happened, you have no real reason to trust me, much less help me. But he’s been gone for almost half my life, and I don’t think I can bear it much longer. With the Grail, I can bring him back to me. To . . . to us. Please, Saber . . . will you help me?”

    Saber gazed at the woman who looked older than she did, despite being so very much younger. The woman who had power enough to compel her, chain her to her will, if she so chose. And yet, knowing that, she still chose to ask. Still said, “please.”

    Sakura’s eyes turned down at the silence, and so she was surprised when the blonde’s hand reached out to grab her forearm in a warrior’s clasp.

    “I’ll do everything in my power to bring him back,” Saber answered. “I swear it.”






    Takara followed him as Lancer swept through the house like an ocean current - swift, silent, and direct. His long strides ate up the floor space, forcing her to hurry, yet there was no haste in his movements. Rather, what impressed her was the sense of purpose in his movements, the determination to carry out his chosen course. She’d seen it before, in her father and mother, though rarely. It was not a common sight in modern Japan, more a hallmark of the samurai ages, when one’s duty and honour were more than words to be paid lip service.

    Who was he, really? Where had he come from? Or, perhaps, when? Takara couldn’t say for certain, though she’d had enough training to recognise the movements of someone well-schooled in the art of combat.

    “A skilled warrior and healer,” her aunt had described the owner of the blade. “Skilled enough to bring the woodcarver back from the edge of death.”

    Perhaps, just perhaps, there was room in the world for miracles, after all?

    Lancer paused outside the bedroom, as if to assure himself that its occupant was still asleep. Then he slid the screen open.

    The room was remarkably clean, given the condition of its occupant. It was not large, or perhaps it only appeared that way, as it was dwarfed by the king-sized four-poster bed her parents typically occupied. It was one of the few non-Japanese items in the house - Takara had always wondered at the fact that, despite her foreign origins, her mother seemed at times more traditionally Japanese than her father. The individual closets were closed, and there was little else in the room itself aside from a night table with lamp on either side of the bed and an east-facing window that was, at the moment, covered by thick velvet curtains to block all but the worst of the daylight.

    Her father was curled up in the bed, breathing very slowly and evenly. His glasses were resting on the table, along with the hard carrying case he put them in when travelling. Takara stared for a moment. He looked so peaceful asleep, so far away from the pain his condition had to be causing him. How often, she wondered, had he watched her sleep like this, as a little girl? Would he ever do it again?

    “The only thing you could ever do to disappoint me is despair.”

    Remembering that, Takara steeled herself. There was a way to save him, and if her mother couldn’t be bothered to try and find it, she would.

    Lancer’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “Step away, please. I’m ready to begin."






    As he’d gone through the house, a sense of disorientation persisted. His movements seemed - off, somehow. As though he wasn’t quite the size or shape his body believed itself to be. He couldn’t explain it, but it threw his sense of equilibrium off ever so slightly. The girl’s language - a variation on one he’d begun to learn, as that people’s lands bordered his grove’s. Then, too, there were his surroundings - he was a druid, enamoured of the wild. While he could endure being in castles or towns for short periods, he preferred the open spaces of verdant forests, or other natural surroundings. A house such as this should be anathema to him.

    Why, then, did he feel . . . comfortable here? It wasn’t just the ambience of the house, which was designed to feel welcoming. It was something in the very existence of it, as though he belonged there.

    Snarling inwardly, he turned his thoughts to the task at hand. To heal a sickly artist, of all things. Still, there were worse things he could have been asked to do. Far worse - he’d done them before, when the situation demanded it. Yet for once in a long while, he’d been summoned to renew a life, not end it. It was a welcome change.

    The man lay on the bed, asleep, oblivious to the presence of two intruders. He studied him carefully. The room smelled of death, but not sickness or poison. This was a wasting death, a gradual decay . . . but with no obvious symptoms. It was as though he’d simply chosen to fade away.

    Lancer - for so he had proclaimed himself, whatever his true name was - frowned. Without knowing what to treat, the best remedy was to try and heal everything at once. Fortunately, he could. Gently, he clasped his patient’s wrist, and concentrated.

    The power was slow to respond to his call, almost hesitant, yet it flowed nonetheless - a torrent of healing energy that only the most powerful of his sect could produce. Verdant light blazed from his palms, swirling around the man. The scent of blooming flowers filled the air, as carried on a summer breeze - cleansing, renewing, energy that filled the sleeping form. Then, gently, it expended itself, vanishing like a snowflake against warm skin.

    When it was done, Lancer left the room and Takara followed.

    “So that’s it?” she asked. “He’s healed?”

    Lancer shook his head grimly.

    “Why not?” Takara demanded, in a voice that was half-furious, half-begging.

    “What afflicts him is no battle wound, or toxin, or sickness. Even if his mind were unhinged, I could heal that - nothing short of amputation is beyond my ability to repair. But this . . .”

    What’s wrong with him?!” This was in a whisper, so as not to disturb her sleeping parent, but so fierce it rivalled Lancer’s growl.

    “Dig a flower from the ground, and you condemn it to death. That can be offset if it is replanted quickly, or its death slowed by immersing it in water - but death will come to it sooner than it otherwise might have, in any case.” Lancer stared at her. “I felt it when I tried to heal him. The core of his life force has been extinguished, somehow. He’s simply . . . going out. Remnants of his vitality are trying to maintain his life, but they’re like echoes of the original melody - growing fainter and fainter until it’s finally gone. Frankly, I’m amazed he’s lasted this long.”

    “And there’s nothing you can do?”

    “I could ease his passing, but not halt it. My arts are drawn from an understanding with forces of nature. This is in the nature of different Powers, that men sometimes call ‘gods.’”

    Takara’s eyes narrowed. “You sound like my mother, when she talks about God’s plan. I refuse to place faith in any God that would take my father from me like this! Isn’t there anything else?”

    Lancer hid a sad smile. She reminded him of himself, at a younger age. “I . . .” The world suddenly began to lose colour. Weariness and cold crept through his bones, and he felt unaccountably light, as though he could drift away on the wind.

    So tired . . . Yet he’d cast only a single spell - one of his most powerful to be sure, but one only - and this was the result?

    “What is it? What’s wrong?” he heard the girl ask, and he realised he’d fallen to his knees. He looked up and saw her face, soft with concern, and a little pale with fright. Yet, as he looked at her, the answer came from that unseen, omniscient corner of his mind.

    “The Grail . . .” he said, and was displeased to find his voice little more than a whisper. “A relic of vast mystic power - the power . . . The power of miracles.”

    “Where is it? How do I get it?”

    “A . . . A ritual contest. I will fight for the Grail - in your name.”

    Takara frowned. “I’ll fight my own battles, thanks.”

    “No . . . Part of the rules. You are - the Master to my Servant. My skills - are yours . . . For the sustenance you provide . . .”

    “Sustenance? You’re not making sense!”

    “Magic . . .” The room spun. “Your magic - will feed me . . .Will you . . .?”

    Her eyes widened in realisation. “That spell - it drained you, didn’t it?”

    Lancer grinned weakly. “I don’t - take orders . . . But I want to help.”

    He seemed to be shrivelling as she watched, paling and thinning away like morning mist. She was starting to panic - was this how her father would die, too?

    “Do what you have to - just stay with me!” she cried.

    “Your name . . . Tell me your name . . .”

    “Takara! Takara Aozaki!”

    “Takara Aozaki . . . I will serve thy cause, on my honour - and bind myself to thee . . . By blood and power . . . Until the end . . . So I swear!

    With a sudden lunge, he clamped his jaws around her wrist, and bit down, hard. She cried out as blood flowed - and Lancer began to lap at it like a dog. After a moment, he licked the wound a final time, and whispered something that made her skin tingle, to close the wound. His gaze met hers again, his eyes seeming more gold than green now.

    “It is done . . . My lady.”

    At this point, Takara surrendered to a time-honoured, ladylike tradition - she fainted.






    In the early night, in an alley far from the prying eyes of the daylight world, the first skirmish of the War had begun.

    There were three of them. The most confident was the man in white - in his mid-thirties, with vaguely handsome features, platinum blond hair tied back in a small ponytail and cold blue eyes. He wore confidence like a cloak, and gazed at everything with the look of a man absolutely certain of his position - which was above everything else. Beside him stood a man whose body was concealed by a long leather trenchcoat, bright red in colour. His black hair was cut in a military fashion, his eyes were a dull gray. He looked at everything as though it was of absolutely no interest to him.

    The first to speak, however, was the man in black. Garbed in chain mail armour, with spiked gauntlets covering his hands and a visored helm his face, he stood proudly before his opponents, his black eyes so deep they seemed to possess a crimson sheen. When he spoke, it was in a deep, melodic voice, richly accented - but with a tone that could freeze water.

    “My business with you is quite simple,” he stated. “I wish the Vessel. Where is it?”

    The voice of the man in white had a distinct German accent as he sneered, “You sound saner than most of your kind, Berserker. Is that why your master is hiding - because he’s so weak as to summon a flawed Servant?”

    “You are unwise to judge me so quickly, Herr Einzbern,” the armoured man warned. “However, if you will not provide the information I desire - “

    ”Rider,” commanded the man in white suddenly.

    Twin gunshots rang out within the confines of the alley, exploding from the duster as the man in red fired both the pistols in his pockets. This was followed by a fusillade of bullets, aimed with careful precision at a variety of potential weak points both on the human body and within the armour itself. After a dozen shots, the man called Berserker stood, his armour flawless, and with no appreciable damage from the assault. It was as though the bullets had passed right through him.

    Schiest! Rider - Eisenkreuz!

    In response to the command, Rider leapt impossibly high, into the sky, where his billowing duster swirled and shifted into an entirely different shape - impossibly, that of a red triplane.

    Einzbern ran down to the far end of the alley as Berserker stood impassively at the sight of the approaching aircraft. Almost immediately, the flying machine unleashed a barrage of heavy machine-gun fire, and released streaking bombs which exploded with terrifying force. The alley, only bricks and stone, collapsed under the assault, burying all sight of Berserker beneath the rubble. Only a rising cloud of dust marked the spot where he had stood.

    Smoothly, the form of the plane collapsed into Rider’s duster-clad form, and he landed lightly on the ground. Einzbern walked in triumph to his Servant . . .

    . . . Only to see a black-armoured hand materialise out of the dust and snatch Rider by the throat. With a convulsive move, the Servant’s head fairly leaped off his shoulders, and Berserker strode unconcerned - and totally unaffected - out of the cloud.

    Einzbern gaped. “Impossible - Richthofen was one of our greatest heroes . . .! His Noble Phantasm had no effect at all?”

    “The renowned powers of your family have fallen far indeed, if that one was your best result,” Berserker mused, his voice a lethal purr. “I hope the others are a greater challenge, else this will be a hollow victory indeed. I have asked, Herr Einzbern, and now, I command you: Tell me where the Vessel lies.”

    His eyes, like twin glimpses into the void of space, locked onto Einzbern’s. They seemed to drag him in like the tides of a whirlpool, threatening to cast him adrift into the cold, empty darkness . . . and desert him there for all eternity. The force could not be resisted, yet all he had to do to avoid that terrible fate was answer . . . just answer the question, and it would be all right . . .

    Einzbern was nowhere near as powerful as he liked to believe himself, however, he was still a mage, with all the mental discipline such a path demanded. The strength of Berserker’s will was immeasurable, yet not absolute. The mage couldn’t bring himself to resist answering the command, yet he found the resolution within himself not to speak.

    Berserker stood barely three feet from him now, and nodded silently in affirmation of the mage’s will. “Very well, Herr Einzbern. If you will not serve me in one manner, I will make use of you in another . . .”

    The armoured warrior raised his visor . . .

    And with a final, strangled scream, the Master joined his Servant in oblivion. A moment later, Berserker strode out of the alley, sated but unsatisfied, and vanished into the night.

    The first victory in the War had been won.
    Last edited by Kieran; December 19th, 2012 at 09:29 AM.

  4. #4
    The Jester Kieran's Avatar
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    DISCLAIMER: Lunar Legend Tsukihime, Fate/Stay Night, and all related characters and concepts are the creation and property of Kinoko Nasu and Type-Moon. No monies are generated, or intended to be, from this unauthorised use of said properties.



    Chapter 3






    Strategically placed lanterns in gold wall scones, their glass bowls sculpted in the shape of blooming flowers, shed a dim orange light, illuminating her surroundings. Takara stared. The gray, stone hallway was large enough to accommodate ten of her standing shoulder to shoulder, and seemed more twice her height. Rich red carpet cushioned her feet, and thick oak doors, so tall they touched the distant ceiling, stood before her, standing an imposing guard between her and whatever lay beyond them.

    There was no sound in this massive place, no hint of life. Barely any colour, either. The whole place seemed . . . dead.

    Cautiously, Takara touched the doors, and was surprised when they opened at her barest touch. Curious, she walked into the room they revealed.

    Like the hallway, the stone was an unpainted gray, yet though it looked like granite, the texture seemed more like marble. High columns, carved from the walls themselves, supported a massive, vaulted ceiling far above her head. From all corners of the room, thick, heavy chains hung, converging into a single point, just above a throne half again Takara’s height. A figure hung there, pinned like a fly within the centre of a spider’s web. A woman.

    She was garbed in white finery, and nearly as pale as the dress she wore. Her blonde hair all but concealed her face, and had grown so long and thick it was interwoven with the chains, until the golden strands extended almost to the floor. She had a slender frame, though she didn’t seem malnourished. However, her voluptuous figure made it easy to see that she did not breathe, and as Takara drew closer, she could see that the chains had spikes that dug into the woman’s flesh, though no blood flowed from the wounds.

    She hung there, impaled on the chains that bound her, looking like a fairy tale princess that had been abandoned by her prince. Takara felt sad, seeing her that way. No one should be that alone. She stepped forward, reaching out to touch her, try and free her from her imprisonment.

    A voice whispered to her, “Not yet . . .”







    Takara’s eyes snapped open, and she found herself looking at a familiar ceiling - that of her room. She stared at it for a long time, trying to sort out how she’d gotten to bed, and finally banished what she thought she remembered happening - a man appearing out of thin air, healing magic and blood bonds - as just another part of her dream.

    “It was all just a dream,” she told herself.

    “If so, you have a stunning lack of imagination,” Lancer commented dryly.

    Bolting upright, she saw the cloaked man sitting casually in her bedroom doorway, looking hale and hearty A quick glance at her right wrist confirmed that she was no longer injured - but a strange crimson design was imprinted on the back of her hand.

    “What is this?” she demanded.

    “The symbol of your Mastery over me,” Lancer answered, sounding not entirely happy about it. “As long as we have a contract, you’ll bear its mark.”

    “My mother went ballistic when I dyed my hair blonde at a slumber party - she’ll kill me if I suddenly have a tattoo!” she protested. “For that matter, what do I do about you? How can I explain you?”

    “You won’t have to. There are some woods by the lake - I’ll stay there while you’re in the house. When you’re outside, I can trail you from a distance.”

    She stopped. Even though he’d only be maybe twenty or thirty yards away . . .

    “You don’t have any kind of equipment - that can’t be comfortable,” Takara said. “Maybe I can talk my mom into letting you stay - say you’re a foreign exchange student whose arrangements fell through, or something . . .”

    “Miss, from what I understand of my nature, I don’t need to eat, and sleep is optional. I can stay pretty much anywhere, and I prefer the woods. They’re close enough that I’ll hear if you call for me.”

    “You’re not afraid somebody will notice a suspicious guy in the forest?”

    Lancer grinned. “Believe me, I know how to hide - and besides . . .”

    He blurred, and a large black wolf with golden eyes that held a hint of green finished the sentence. “Who said anything about me staying there as a human?

    Takara had to be getting used to repeated shocks - she barely batted an eyelash this time.

    “I think you’d better tell me about yourself, and everything you know about this Grail thing,” she said calmly. In absolutely no way could anyone mistake it for a request.

    Lancer shifted back to his human form and shrugged. “My memory is still - unreliable - but here’s what I can recall . . .”






    Saber sat in the parlour of the old house, gazing quietly at the stars, and noting the particularly bright half moon. Some rooms away, Sakura, her current Master, slept in the bed of her former Master. By all rights, she should have been sleeping, too - but the newest wrinkle in her life was keeping her far too awake.

    What are you doing, Arturia? she asked herself.

    It seemed like only yesterday that Emiya Shirou had called her, however unwittingly. A seventeen-year old boy, barely aware of his magical potential, almost nonexistent training, and no real interest in the War - just a desire to do good. Like the man who’d raised him, her former Master. Like she herself had, so long ago.

    It would be foolish to say that she loved him. The time between them had been far too brief for such things, and their individual natures had made expressing such a thing impossible, even if it existed. But she had respected him, as a youth dedicated to doing what he believed in, and capable of accomplishing great things, in his time. In time, she’d learned his potential was even greater than she’d believed, when Archer’s true identity had been revealed.

    But then had come the Shadow . . . Sakura . . .

    The Shadow was her deepest nightmare, now. It had taken everything she believed in, everything she was, and twisted those things to serve its own desires. Under the Shadow’s mastery, she had become the antithesis of herself, just another of its puppets, and remained locked within her own mind as the Shadow pulled her strings. For all her strength, she had been completely helpless, until she was finally broken beyond repair and discarded, like all its other tools.

    It seemed like only yesterday . . . and to her, it had been. Her unique nature allowed her only brief touches of the Grail’s power, enough to pass her from battlefield to battlefield. Not for her the rest granted to the others - only the War, unending, and the information she required in order to fight it.

    And so she had answered Sakura’s summons knowing that all the Servants had been Called, and that there was an absence in the Grail’s core - one that only the Archer who had been her former Master could fill.

    She had so hoped that it had been Shirou who’d summoned her again, to prove to her that he had survived the battle - and so that she could properly apologise for all she’d been made to do to him. Instead, of all people, it was her former tormentor . . .

    No, that wasn’t fair. She knew, from its touch upon her mind, that the demon had been as much responsible for Sakura’s behaviour as her own will. Yet, she could not help but be angry - for it was Sakura Shirou had died trying to save. Sakura for whom he had sacrificed his own ideals, and his life . . . and there was every possibility that it had destroyed Archer, as well.

    Great heroes were prone to great weaknesses as well, often fatal ones, but Saber had never before heard of one destroying a hero before he even became one.

    And yet, here she was, trying to aid the person most directly responsible for wreaking havoc in her life. Why?

    Because she had been asked to. Because Shirou’s memory deserved more than to waste away and be forgotten by the world. And because, in the final analysis, she couldn’t simply walk away and leave Sakura to her pain. It wasn’t who she was.

    Saber sighed in the quiet night. Perhaps she was getting too old for this.






    Lancer sat at the water’s edge, not far from the forest he would lair in, and breathed. As a human, he’d need to rest in order to recover and focus his mystic energies - a necessity for the spells he cast on a daily basis. As a Servant - he didn’t know, but the near-fatal weakness that had come of his attempt to heal Takara’s father indicated that something was badly out of balance within him. So he meditated, and tried to reach out to the flow of the natural world around him. Until he understood the problem, he didn’t dare use his magic - and while he disdained relying on any one weapon, simply ignoring a potential resource was equally stupid.

    The currents of power around him were . . . Different. The overall source of the energy was identical to the one he’d used before, though a little weaker in consistency, but even more, the pattern was not the same. The rhythm by which it moved just that little bit different, and it didn’t respond as easily to his call, coming only grudgingly.

    The difficulty, Lancer suspected, was that he was truly not of this world. Takara’s amazement over the story of his life had driven him to believe that this was not the future of the world he left behind. None of the landmarks, or names of deities, nor even the races had survived. This was a world of humans, and excepting beings such he was now, only humans.

    Which, he realised suddenly, was the other half of the problem. His abilities were defined by nature, and supported by it, but he was no longer of nature. Absorbing the energies of the living world was the province of the living, after all. For that, he had to rely on Takara Aozaki. She was the source of his strength now, his acknowledged Master, whether he liked it or not. To power his spells, he needed to draw power from her.

    That would limit the amount of spells he could cast. If he burned too much energy, he would fade, as he’d begun to earlier. And even if he took power from Takara regularly, she only had so much to spare. It would be best to avoid using magic altogether, if he could.

    That would make the battle more difficult, and reminded him uncomfortably of the years he’d spent in the House of Sorrows, as special “fodder” for the gladiator’s arena. He’d escaped only because his friends had gotten him out, then . . .

    . . . But this was now. He was stronger now, and he had a cause. It wasn’t an earth-shattering goal - in truth, whether or not he succeeded mattered to no one save his Master and her family. But from what he’d been told, she’d had a happy family life before this illness, with parents who loved her - a far cry what he remembered of his own.

    . . . Bleeding, broken, and on fire from the pain, he still heard the slaver laugh as he sold his newest acquisition to the pit. That sound followed him into the darkness of unconsciousness - the sheer pleasure his younger brother felt at the betrayal . . .

    Lancer gasped, and shuddered at the sudden memory. That was long ago and far away, and Adrian had paid more dearly than he’d ever intended for that crime. It didn’t matter, now. What mattered was that he had a chance to restore happiness to a family that deserved it, and the smile to a lonely young girl’s face -and that was a battle worth fighting, even if it killed him again.

    He laughed in the darkness. “I must be going soft.”

    Lancer turned to the lake. There were six others in this competition, potential foes he might have to fight, singly or all at once. It would be wise to gather as much information as he could before that happened.

    A minor spell, then, just as a test. If it failed, he’d attempt the more powerful version when his liege lady was closer at hand.

    His reflection gazed back at him - his own, and yet, not. The face was the same, if a little younger. He was slightly taller, and not as heavily muscled - though no weaker, so far as he could tell. The elemental marks of power - the blue-white hair and navy blue eyes - were gone from his features, replaced by a trifoliate symbol on the back of his left hand, containing the Japanese symbols (or so he’d been told) for light, water, and air. On the back of his right hand was the image of a vermillion dragon, ascending in flight - it had been on his palm, before. And his eyes, originally forest green, were lighter now, with a golden sheen they’d never possessed.

    The differences in his appearance were impossible to explain, yet seemed so natural - and Lancer had no explanation as to why. Was it something to do with this world, itself? Was his appearance its interpretation of how he should look?

    It was a minor annoyance, he decided, and one to be pondered at leisure. Right now, there was work to be done. He concentrated on the only thing he knew - a name, and cast his power onto the water’s surface.

    “Saber . . .”

    The lake water shimmered, and rapidly grew dark, revealing nothing. Failure, then. He knew too little of his target to do a proper divination, at least in order for such a weak spell to be effective. Either that, or Saber was heavily shielded against such magic. In truth, it had never been his specialty, anyway.

    Until tomorrow, then, when he could ask for aid. Perhaps that spell would fail, too. Either way, he’d end up facing Saber - and all of his warrior brethren - soon enough. For now, he might as well grab what rest he could, to clear his mind.

    The War had only begun, after all.






    Takara lay in her bed, unable to sleep. She’d shared a bowl of instant ramen with her father, who had seemed healthier-looking if no more energetic, tried to do the last of her math homework (why should it clutter up her vacation?), and then gone to bed. All this was done on a kind of autopilot, however. Inside, her mind’s wheels were still spinning.

    An unending war between sorcerers. A prize that could grant the miracle of life, potentially eternal. Doing battle using the summoned spirits of ancient myths and warriors. It all sounded like a stereotypical anime plot to her - not that she watched much anime any more. As a high school girl, she was expected to concentrate on the important things - homework, fashion and boys, not necessarily in that order. It all seemed unreal . . . But it was real. There was a chance her father could be cured, and her mother would come home - and they could be a family again.

    If she was brave enough. If Lancer was strong enough to win. If they were lucky enough. Takara didn’t kid herself - nothing this potentially wonderful would not have a terrible price attached. In this case, it was the War, the need to kill in order to survive, and the threat of being killed. If she truly decided to fight, she would be in danger every moment, until either she won . . . Or until; she died.

    But either way, she wouldn’t be alone. Lancer had promised to be with her, every step of the way, until the end - whichever end it might be. That was more than she had now, with a father being forced to withdraw from her life, and a mother who had chosen to.

    She wasn’t actively hated at school. She was pretty enough to draw attention, and her achievements in kendo tournaments had won her some acclaim, but she had few close friends. Most of them had moved away over the years, or been forced away by peer pressure or intolerant parents. That had hurt, but for the longest time, she’d had her family to support her and accept her. Now that had been taken from her, and she knew how badly it hurt to really be alone.

    She wanted her father to hold her again with all his strength. She wanted to be her mother’s precious treasure again. And from where she was right now, she saw only one way to do that.

    “All right, then,” she whispered to herself. “It’s war.”






    Sakura dreamed.

    She dreamed of the time long before the Grail War had come into her life, when she had first been told to observe the boy named Emiya Shirou. A solitary young man who hadn’t welcomed her intrusion into his life - at first. He’d been accustomed to being alone, and no matter how cheerfully she swept into his day-to-day schedule, it was not easy to accept the presence of another person against the dictates of habit.

    But then, when he’d been hurt, she’d managed to convince him to accept her help. And, little by little, he’d come to think of her presence as a bright moment in his day, rather than a shadow. And she . . .

    While she held no hatred in her heart over what her brother and “grandfather” had done - it had been imprinted on her too young, so that she could accept that there was no real wrong in their actions - her time with the boy she would call “Sempai” had shown her something better than her life with them. That she could feel so much brighter, so much more happy about herself and her existence. He had cared for in a way that was different from the way she was treated at home - a way she didn’t truly understand until it was taken from her.

    But in her dreams, she was young again, and her Sempai was there to smile at her, and her whole world was bright and wonderful. And she would have that back again, would do anything to have that back again.

    As long as her Sempai was with her, everything would be all right.






    The house was almost completely dark as Ciel let herself in. The sole light came from a small lamp burning in the main sitting room - the proverbial “candle in the window” that they always left on when one or more of the family was away. A light to guide them home.

    She gently turned it off. Everyone should be home by now, tucked safely in their beds. As disappointing as Takara’s social life might occasionally be, one positive aspect was that they always knew where she was at night. The former Executioner slipped silently across the halls to her room, pausing only long enough to reassure herself that, yes, Takara was sound asleep, right where she belonged.

    Ciel felt a guilty sorrow as she watched the sleeping girl. She wasn’t spending as much time with her daughter as she should - especially now, with Shiki so very ill. But this was part of the price she had to pay to keep them safe. As much as it hurt her to see Takara in pain, she’d rather be resented than see Takara hurt . . . or worse.

    Shiki was dying. She could see it happening, a little at a time. The doctors had given him three months, but Ciel was too familiar with death not to know that there was even less time than that. Soon, those eyes that looked so warmly at her when they awoke, even as they saw the irrefutable evidence of her mortality, would go blank and cold, forever. The man who had been the pillar of her world for almost half her life would be gone. If she lost Takara, too . . .

    If Ciel lost everything that tied her to this world, she’d never find the strength to keep living in it. She’d been an ethereal being before, and she couldn’t do that again.

    You’re going to lose her anyway, she berated herself. You can’t abandon her like this and expect to earn forgiveness.

    It had the bitter taste of truth. But that was why she had to do this. If she could pull this off - if she could make it work - then it could all be the way it was before. Shiki would survive, and she could make up for all the time she had lost with Takara. She would have a chance to try for her forgiveness . . . If her plan succeeded.

    Her biggest enemy in this was time. If Shiki could just find the strength to hold out long enough, it would be all right - but this was the enemy no one could defeat. Ciel could only hope, and pray, that her husband could hang on until her reinforcements arrived. And that her reinforcements could do as she wanted.

    Feeling every year she’d lived, Ciel padded off to her room, and curled up close enough to her husband to feel the reassuring warmth of his body, but without touching him so firmly as to wake him.

    Shiki . . . Please don’t give up. As long as you’re alive, I can still hope.

    Then, finally, she passed into the night’s embrace, and slept.
    Last edited by Kieran; December 19th, 2012 at 09:30 AM.

  5. #5
    The Jester Kieran's Avatar
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    Chapter 4






    Morning came, as morning inevitably did, and routine took over, as routine was meant to do. Takara rose grudgingly from her bed - she might have inherited her looks from her mother, but not the dreaded “morning person” gene. Not even the threat of the mid-term exams she had to write today could really wake her up. For that, she needed a shower.

    The Aozaki bathroom was another place where Western invention triumphed over Eastern tradition. There was a toilet, and a shower, though the room did include a large furo. However, while the cold water dousing would wake her up, previous experience proved that soaking in the warmth of the tub would put her right back to sleep. Hence, Takara showered - first in icy water, cold enough to raise goose bumps on her already-pale skin, to snap her mind into focus. Then, a gradual warming, to get her blood circulating, followed by a vigorous towel-down once she was clean. Once done, she was refreshed and awake, if not totally ready to start her day.

    A quick change into her school uniform, and a double-check of her bag to ensure that all her needed materials were there, and she was essentially ready for school. She picked up her tote bag, placed it in the foyer by the front door, and went to the kitchen to handle the next part of her day - breakfast.

    Her mother and father were already at the table. Her father was dining slowly but enthusiastically on rice porridge, which was a pleasant change - perhaps the spell Lancer had cast had done some good. Her mother had an empty bowl in front of her, as well as the container typically reserved for curry topping - half-empty, Takara noted. She liked spicy things well enough, but could never understand how her mother could handle that so early in the morning. At the moment, the older Aozaki female was sipping from a large coffee mug - which meant she’d come in very late. Most mornings, Mother was satisfied with a cup of green tea.

    “Good morning, Takara,” her father said.

    “Good morning, Father,” she replied, adding with a nod, “Mother.”

    Sitting, she began to serve herself. Rice porridge and tea for starters. She knew there should be at least one chocolate chip muffin left from the batch she’d baked on Sunday, so she’d add it after the main course.

    “So, which exam is it today?” Shiki asked.

    Takara made a face as her mother answered, “Math.”

    “You don’t care much for it,” he chuckled.

    “I’d rather be doing the practical P.E. exam,” she grumbled. Sitting in a classroom and trying to work out algebra was so stifling. She’d much prefer doing something - even music was an activity.

    “Well, I was considering working on my painting today,” her father continued.

    “Don’t push yourself,” her mother warned, and Takara found herself nodding in agreement.

    Her father sighed. “Ciel, I’m not an invalid, and I’m not dead yet. I refuse to be confined to a bed. I’ll take it easy, but I’m going to live my life.”

    They stared at each other for a long time, and Takara watched, her mother sighed, and lowered her eyes. Her father’s smile was sympathetic, but did nothing to weaken the resolve on his face.

    “Now, you’d better hurry and finish up, the both of you,” he said. “It wouldn’t do to be late.”






    Sakura arose around ten o’clock, took a long bath, and had a leisurely breakfast. Saber watched her with more than a little incredulity.

    “For someone eager to win, you don’t seem to be in any particular hurry,” the Servant commented.

    “I’ve spent the last five years laying groundwork,” Sakura replied. “Preparation and patience, Saber, are the key to gaining any advantage - you should know that.”

    She did, although Sakura’s attitude in reminding her rankled a little. “Yes. And?”

    “And . . .” Sakura walked over to a home computer, and started it up. “We know that we’ll meet the others eventually - the Grail will make sure of it. If we want to win, we need to know who they might be.”

    She clicked through her message files. Technology was so useful.

    Saber crossed her arms, repeating, “And?

    Sakura smirked. “Onee-chan’s latest message says that the Mages’ Association was informed of the death of a ‘Klaus Adler’ last night - one of the aliases of a man named Heinrich von Einzbern.”

    “Rin’s an Association mage?” Saber said with surprise.

    “Yes. She’s apprenticed to someone fairly high up, though she’s never told me who,” Sakura said with some pride. “And, as you see, she sends me things she thinks I might want to know. If an Einzbern is dead, then likely the War’s already started - with one competitor down.”

    That left five. Five potential pairs of enemies - maybe one more, if the Servant had survived.

    “I also have an informer in the household of another prominent family,” Sakura said. “They’re a little low-key in terms of magic, but they’ve got supernatural edges of their own, and keep tabs on similar things all over Japan. If anything important comes up, I’ll hear about it. I’m going to be well-informed of any major mystic events that might indicate a Servant or Master arriving in the city. Now, it’s only a matter of waiting.”

    Saber frowned. Sakura struck her as being far too confident in this. Yes, she was a powerful sorceress - a great deal of mana still remained from her time as the Grail, and Saber could feel the energy coming from her. And yes, Saber herself was no minor threat, especially with such a potent source of strength to tap. But prior experience had taught her that the War always was full of surprises. But she supposed it wasn’t her place, in this case, to question her Master. This was Sakura’s world, after all.

    “So what will you do in the meantime?” Saber asked.

    The woman grinned. “You are going to borrow some of Rin’s old clothing, and then we are going to do some gardening.”

    The Servant blinked. “Gardening?”






    Takara waited as they pulled into the school parking lot. Soon, her dreaded math exam would be coming. She privately hoped that her mother would accidentally take too long to park.

    “Takara, I didn’t want to mention it in front of your father,” her mother said, “but I’ve hired some help to look after him. With any luck, the person should be arriving today.”

    “You hired a nurse?”

    “A caretaker,” Ciel corrected. “Someone to do some of the chores your father normally does, and to keep an eye on him while we’re both away.”

    Takara bit back a sudden surge of anger, but couldn’t stop herself from saying, “So because you hired someone else to be with him, it’s OK for you not to be there.”

    Her mother hit the brakes. “Takara! That’s not why I did it!”

    Takara unbuckled her seatbelt. “Isn’t it?”

    Ciel reached for her daughter - and the slamming door nearly took her fingers off.
    Takara charged away at full speed, a raven winging its way gracefully in her wake.




    “Takara-chan!” Momoko greeted cheerfully, then froze on seeing her friend’s expression. “What’s wrong?”

    “My mother,” the taller girl spat.

    “You had a fight?”

    “An argument.” A fight would’ve implied leaving one of them broken and bleeding on the ground somewhere - not that the image didn’t hold a certain appeal, just now.

    “Today’s not a good day for anybody,” Momoko observed.

    Takara blinked. “Why? What else is wrong?”

    “Two kids from Class C are missing,” Momoko replied. “The school phoned to make sure they weren’t just skipping their exams, and their parents said they never came home last night. The police are interviewing a few of their friends now.”

    Takara frowned. An exam, an argument with her mother, and now missing kids. What else could happen today?

    Momoko looked at her watch and blanched. “Oh no, we’re going to be late! Hurry, Takara-chan!”

    As she took off running, it only then occurred to Takara that given the events of the day before, maybe she shouldn’t have asked that question.






    After three hours of perching on the school roof, Lancer had decided he was well and truly bored. While it was pleasing to know that his druid abilities appeared to have survived intact, and useful to get a bird’s-eye view of the area, there wasn’t a whole lot for a raven to do while his mistress was inside being educated.

    Still, he had to be on guard. His memory and overall knowledge of the War might be suspect, but he knew that, even if it appeared to be a coincidence, Takara would cross paths with the other Servants or their Masters. Takara seemed to have as much mystical training as the average rock, so he had to be certain he was around to protect her. Besides, if he was caught out by another fighting pair while he wasn’t with Takara, the battle could be very one-sided - their side.

    The odd thing was, he’d watched the woman who drove Takara here, and she’d seemed . . . Familiar. He couldn’t say why, but he couldn’t shake the feeling.

    Time passed. Students entered the courtyards for a break between classes, or perhaps lunch. Lancer glanced around, but didn’t see her anywhere. Probably still inside, then.

    Then a car drove up, two people got out, and he knew.

    The blonde carrying the toolbox was a Servant. Which one, he wasn’t entirely certain - no, he was, but he didn’t know how, and it confused him. Saber had entered the school grounds. Why she was dressed like a labourer, he didn’t know, but she was there. And that meant Takara was in danger.

    He was safe enough for the moment. Saber, if she sensed him, would be looking for a human, not a bird. But she’d be on guard, and she was as dangerous as they came. He had to make a choice - leave, and risk having Takara vulnerable, or confront her without his partner and risk finishing his War right here and now.

    Choice? What choice?






    Saber stiffened, and Sakura caught a glimpse of her thoughts.

    A Servant, here?

    That was fast, Sakura mused. It must mean all seven are - or were - in play. I wonder if it’s Einzbern’s?

    Saber blinked as the trace started fading.

    Follow it, Sakura commanded. Dispatch the Servant if you can, call for me if you have trouble.

    “Yes,” Saber replied, and started running.

    Sakura, for her part, turned to the flowers her gardening society helped to tend. Saber likely wouldn’t need her help, and would be back to assist her soon.






    Lancer landed in the grove of trees bordering the athletic field - as much home ground as he was going to get. A moment’s thought shifted him back to human form. He knew that, even if Saber didn’t know what she was following, the Servant was close behind him.

    A fact flitted from that damnably secretive part of his mind: Saber had a high magic resistance. That meant that direct combat with his spells might put him at a disadvantage. He also couldn’t leave himself open and allow Saber to get close. That left arrows or melee combat as his options - and since he didn’t carry enchanted arrows, they were only likely to annoy her. Melee combat, then.

    He started to draw his scimitar, then stopped. Vanir was his most powerful weapon - not a trump card to be used lightly. If, for whatever reason, he failed to defeat Saber, then she’d be forewarned of its power, and fight accordingly. Best to keep it in reserve. Similarly, while fighting with fang and claw was tempting, it was best to hold as many surprises as possible. That left hand-to-hand fighting, with no weapons at all.

    Chanting a spell meant to enhance one’s natural weapons - in this case, his fists and feet - Lancer dropped from the tree branch to the ground.

    This is stupid, reckless, likely to get me killed, and I know better, he mused. So why am I doing it anyway?

    He was unable to answer, but his pulse quickened in anticipation as he strode to meet his opponent.






    Saber blinked, startled as the cloaked figure dropped from the trees, landed easily, and began walking towards her. He was a tall man - about six feet, she estimated, and muscular, but not overly so. He wore no armour but a pair of bracers, bore no visible weapon, and walked silently and easily through the forest.

    The garb of a Caster, the physical prowess of something other than a magus, and no weapons. What was he? A Rider? An Assassin? Or . . . A Berserker?

    Saber drew her sword and held it in a guard position. Much as it pained her strike down someone who seemed to be unarmed, it was also foolish to assume that someone with no weapons wasn’t dangerous - even when one’s opponent wasn’t a Servant.

    He lowered his hood, and she beheld a face seemingly no older than her own (though that was far from certain), a little plain-looking, but attractive in its way. His eyes were definitely like her own - someone who’d enjoyed his share of peace by surviving his share of war.

    He paused before her, and nodded. His voice was almost a growl, echoing off the trees. “Shall we dance, milady?”

    At that, he attacked. His speed was phenomenal, as he slipped a punch under her sword and slammed it into her left hip. Saber went down on one knee, and tried to push him back by swinging her sword in a horizontal arc as she fell. The tactic worked, and he moved back, still with that amazing speed. She sprang forward in an impaling thrust, trying to use the reach of her sword to counter his close-in style. He sidestepped the blow and brought his fist down on her sword arm. Even through the armoured gauntlet she wore, she felt the jolt, and it forced her blade to earth, where he stamped on it solidly, pinning her main weapon to the ground.

    Her main weapon.

    A hurled dagger to the face forced him back to dodge, to the side and back again, allowing her to retrieve her sword, and she backed off as well, re-measuring her opponent.

    He had a wolfish smile on his face as he plucked the dagger almost gently from the trunk of the tree it had landed in, and tossed it courteously in her direction. The golden green of his eyes matched the sunlit leaves they fought beneath, and while they were no less serious about the outcome of this battle, there was a fierce respect in them that said he was enjoying himself.

    Saber had to admit, as her heart pumped and her breathing quickened, that she was starting to enjoy this, too. The stakes were no lower than her life, and she fought with every intention to win, as did her opponent - but there was an element to this battle she’d missed. It lacked the sheer malice of many of her other Grail combats, the determination to utterly destroy one’s adversary at any cost. This was a battle to pit oneself against a worthy opponent, and see who was better. And while it was not an attitude she endorsed as a lifestyle, Saber was enough of a warrior to appreciate the spirit, the sportsmanship behind such a contest.

    As she plunged back into the next bout of combat, she couldn’t stop a smile from forming on her face.



    Sakura set down the watering can, frowning. Saber was taking too long. She should have been back by now. She concentrated on the Servant . . .

    . . . Sword against fist - it seemed unfair, but her opponent was holding his own, countering her superior skill with a speed and strength that seemed inhuman. She was managing to block or deflect most of his blows, but her own strikes were dodged or seemingly absorbed. The blows he did land were powerful, but she could tell he was still holding back. Worse, the battle had been going on twenty minutes, now, and she was starting to reach the end of her peak, while he wasn’t even breathing hard. If she was going to win, she might have to use Excalibur . . .

    Sakura blinked. Someone who could hold their own against Saber bare-handed - and she was tiring. And if this Berserker had the same resurrection capabilities of the last one . . .

    She ran in the direction Saber had gone. She had to end this, now.






    Lancer admitted it to himself - he was outclassed. Saber was too good at slipping past his guard, too good at anticipating his strikes. She’d been fighting for a lot longer than he had, and in an even match, she’d take him down in seconds. If she’d been armed with the right weapons, he’d never have stood a chance like this - maybe not even if he’d used Vanir. As it was, only his supernatural endurance and healing factor were letting him handle her on equal terms. And he could smell her sweat, hear the rhythm of her breathing changing - she was slowing down. He could win this.

    The problem was, his own powers were working against him. Since being blessed with the elemental forces of Light, he was naturally restricted from harming any good-natured creature. His blows were weakened at the moment of impact, to do the least possible damage. He could overpower the tendency through an act of will, when he had to, but against Saber . . .

    Beauty was not an unknown quality to him - his own mistress was quite lovely, if a little on the young side. Yet, this close to the swordswoman, he found himself unable to bring the necessary concentration to bear. This was a problem, as she was doing a fair amount of damage with her blade. Eventually, she’d do him too much injury to recover from in time, and then he’d be done for. Either that, or she’d just use her trump card - and while he was tough, he wasn’t that tough.

    Lancer felt her sword slice his cheek, and reached out to grab and pin her forearms. Then the wind shifted, and he looked past her.

    Another woman had entered the grove - Saber’s partner - and light flickered between her hands. No, not light, fire.

    Another choice. He had enough time to try to dodge the spell, or maybe use her as a shield. Saber was probably tough enough and magic-resistant enough to survive the blast, either way. The key word, however, was probably.

    Choice?
    Lancer asked himself. What choice?

    He used the split second he had to hurl Saber away, with all the strength he could muster.

    Then his world was consumed by flames.






    A sudden burning sensation in her right hand made Takara cry out, as an agonised howl rang through the school.

    “What’s the matter, Takara-chan?” Momoko asked. “Did it startle you into burning your hand? I told you that soup was hot.” She paused. “It sounded like some poor dog got hurt.”

    Takara said quickly, “I’m going to go to see the nurse. I’ll be right back.”

    She stood up, and ran out of the cafeteria. Once again, in her haste she hit a speed bump.

    “OH!” she cried, helping the boy she’d crashed into with a blush. “I’m so sorry, Emiya-sempai! I have to go! I’m sorry!”

    The upperclassman watched her sprint off. “That’s quite alright, Miss Aozaki . . .” he said to himself. “We’ll see each other again soon enough.”






    She found Lancer unconscious in the woods, horribly burned. He was healing amazingly quickly - even as she watched, black char burst, revealing smooth, new flesh. His breathing was laboured, but slowly evening out. Yet he showed no sign of regaining consciousness. Not knowing what else to do, Takara had picked him up and more-or-less dragged him home. She’d catch hell from her mother for ditching school, but her mother’s opinions mattered little enough in her present mood.

    Her father was asleep when she entered the house - she supposed whatever he’d accomplished during the day had exhausted him. By this point Lancer was semi-conscious, enough to sort of sleepwalk to her bedroom and be put down - but still not fully awake, not enough to tell her what had happened. He’d run into someone - or some thing - at school, that was clear. And it looked like it had beaten him soundly. Lancer had seemed so confident in his own strength. Who, or what, had done this to him?

    And if it was one of their opponents, Takara wondered, then why leave him alive?

    She sat with two half-dead men in her home, and puzzled over what she should do.

    There was knock at the front.

    Answer the door, of course, she told herself. It was probably her mother’s hired caretaker. In her present mood, Takara toyed with the idea of greeting the person at the door with her kendo practice sword - or at least opening the door only long enough to slam it.

    Her father wouldn’t appreciate her manners, she chastised herself with a sigh. Besides, it wasn’t the nurse’s fault - it was her mother’s for hiring such a person. Resigned, she opened the front door.

    The woman was striking even without makeup, with red-highlighted strawberry-blonde hair, cut in a no-nonsense pageboy style. She was garbed in an understated, dove gray ensemble meant for working women that probably cost more than at least half of Takara’s wardrobe combined. The colour emphasised the gray in her eyes, making them seem darker and colder than they probably were. A serviceable luggage set stood beside her.

    “This is the Aozaki residence, correct?” she said. At Takara’s dumb nod, she continued. “Then you are Miss Takara Aozaki. Allow me to explain myself. I have been engaged by Ciel-san to provide any services you and your family may require of me. My name is Hisui.”
    Last edited by Kieran; December 19th, 2012 at 09:31 AM.

  6. #6
    The Jester Kieran's Avatar
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    Chapter 5






    The moon was full as he walked into the clearing. It allowed him to see the bodies perfectly. Men, women, children - all slaughtered, without prejudice. The ground was a dark red beneath him as he walked towards the central tree. The tree where the boy waited. Where he was always waiting.

    “So this is how it ends, huh?” the boy asked him, in a voice that didn’t belong to a boy. No, this voice was his own, but warped ever so slightly, to sound darker and more dangerous - hungrier.

    “No big climatic battle with something more powerful than anything should ever be,” he complained, “no collapsing into a sea of blood beneath a pile of enemies sworn to kill us - hell, we don’t even rate an ambush in the night like these poor suckers. We just slowly fade away, until there’s nothing left.”

    “I suppose so,” Shiki said.

    “‘I suppose so.’ God, I’m fighting tooth and nail to survive, and if it was up to you we’d be dead already. It’s a good thing that one of us wants to keep living.”

    “I do want to live! It’s just that - well, what can I do besides enjoy whatever time I’ve got left?”

    The boy snorted. “You could act like a Nanaya, instead of a Tohno.”

    “Which means?”

    “The brat. She’s the last possible heir to the bloodline. If she’s inherited it, with the right training, she could be as deadly as she is stubborn. Instead of getting her trained, however, you’ve spent the last seventeen years of her life treating her like every other waste of space on the planet. They must have brainwashed you but good - you’re ensuring the final death of the Nanaya clan, just like any good little Tohno would.”

    “Since when do you care about anything but killing?” Shiki asked bitterly.

    The boy smirked. “I don’t - you won’t let me. Consciously or not, you made the choice to stop being me a long time ago, and dumped everything I could have been in the deepest, darkest place you could find. So I am what I am - your defence mechanism, the Shiki you want to pretend doesn’t exist. But if I’m going to go, I want to take as many people with me as I can - and the best way to do that is to make sure there’s somebody else around to keep the body count up.”

    “You’re insane.”

    “Probably. Try spending a quarter-century in this place and see how well you hold out.” He shrugged. “Personally, I don’t care what you think, or what you do - but I’d be a little more concerned about the world around you. There’s something in the air lately that I don’t like. Not that you pay attention to me when I try to warn you. Like now, for instance.”

    “What are you talking about?”

    “Can’t you smell it, Tohno? It’s an old, favourite dish of yours . . .”






    Shiki’s eyes snapped open. There was something in his face - warm, soft, and vaguely sweet. He reached out to remove it, and heard a squeak of surprise as he touched an arm that wasn’t his. The object in view pulled back rapidly to reveal a redheaded woman in a French maid’s uniform.

    “M - My apologies, Shiki-sama,” she said quietly. “I didn’t intend to wake you - I was merely straightening your pillow.”

    For a befuddled moment, he thought he was seventeen again, and wondered what he and Hisui were doing in such a strange room. Then his mind woke up a little further, and he wondered what a strange woman was doing in his room. Then he understood what he was seeing.

    “Hisui?” he croaked. “What are you doing here? When did you get here?”

    “Ciel-san phoned the manor and asked for my assistance in caring for you. I arrived an hour ago.”

    Ciel did?” Maybe it was the sleep still clouding his mind, but he couldn’t fathom it.

    “Yes, Shiki-sama.

    “My wife - who was barely aware of you to begin with, and has successfully ignored your existence for almost twenty years - phoned you?”

    “Yesterday,” Hisui confirmed.

    “And you came, just because she asked?”

    “Of course I would come. For me, Shiki-sama has always been Shiki-sama, and always will be.”

    There was something fundamentally disturbing in a woman of Hisui’s age proclaiming that as though it was the Eleventh Commandment, but Shiki wasn’t up for a psychoanalysis or discussion of feminism.

    “And . . . “ He broke off. This was the part he really had trouble with, especially after their last encounter. “And . . . Akiha let you come?”

    Hisui’s expression looked troubled. “Akiha-sama’s wishes are no longer a matter of concern.”

    Shiki blinked. “What? Why not?”

    “Because. . . She passed away six weeks ago,” Hisui said quietly.

    The room was silent for a long moment after that, as Shiki absorbed the fact of Akiha’s death. Based on lies or not, Akiha had been, for a long time, the only sister he’d ever known. And as caring as Aoko and Touko were - after so long, they were his sisters - they weren’t her. Even after Akiha had decided to cast him out of the clan over Ciel, she was still the closest thing he had to a real sister. If she’d asked, he would have gone to her, even now.

    And she’d died so recently, only six weeks ago . . .

    “ . . . Six weeks, Hisui?” he asked carefully.

    “That’s when you became ill, yes?” Hisui asked, her sad smile making it a statement, not a question. “It could not have been otherwise, Shiki-sama. It is the other reason I am here. I will help you because I can, Shiki-sama . . . And I will do as Akiha-sama would have done, in my place.”

    She walked closer to the bed, and bent to bring her face level with his own.

    “I will try to make amends,” she whispered, and then her mouth covered his own.






    The question roared through her mind with the force and fury of a thunderclap. It pervaded every sense, every thought, until it was the sole occupant of her mind.

    WHY DIDN’T YOU KILL HIM?!

    Saber glared at Sakura, not appreciating the intrusion - no, the assault.

    “I refuse to strike down a completely helpless man - especially when he saved my life,” she answered frostily.

    “You should have survived that,” Sakura spat.

    “He didn’t know that - for that matter, neither do I. But I watched his eyes, saw him make the choice - it would have been just as easy to escape the blast, or push me in its path. He chose, instead, to throw me clear of it. Besides, with the power of that attack, there’s little guarantee that you didn’t kill him. He looked as though he was dying when we left - and if he has no Master, then he has no way to heal himself.”

    “And what if he does? What if we meet him again, and he beats you?”

    “Then I had no chance of defeating him at all - but blind-siding him like that was hardly necessary. I am more skilled with the sword than he is at hand-to-hand, and I still had Avalon and Excalibur to use. I could have won.”

    “And what if you can’t? What then, Saber? What happens to Shirou, then?”

    “Then Shirou remains as dead as he ever was,” Saber replied, “and the Grail can be used later instead of now.”

    The sorceress trembled with rage. “I don’t want to wait decades! It’s been too long already! Why did you spare him, Saber? Don’t tell me you couldn’t bear to kill him just because his roguish charm and noble ideals swept you off your feet! What of your vow to do everything in your power to bring Shirou back, Saber? Does your word mean nothing?”

    The force of the blonde’s unexpected slap sent her to the ground. Sakura stared at her in disbelief.

    “You spoiled little fool,” Saber hissed. “You use the word noble, but you don’t know what it means. You have no idea of the damage you’ve done, and you act as though the world owes you your every whim!” Her emerald eyes bored into Sakura’s own like those of an eagle into a mouse.

    “Do you have any idea what Servants truly are? Each one is a legend, an example of the best and worst in humanity. The deeds we do in life are great, though never easy, and we may think little enough of them at the time, in that they were of no consequence to us, or far too dear in the striving for them. But to the rest of humanity, they are trials and achievements that inspire them for generations - ideals and nightmares by which to define their world. We Servants may each hold some regret, something we failed to accomplish in our lifetimes - but to the world, what we did accomplish creates a resonance in the human heart that drives them to do similarly great things. We are immortal, not through the magic of the Grail, but for the tales of the achievements we left behind, and the inspiration those achievements create.”

    Saber leaned in closely to the other woman. “Shirou was one such person. He was a good boy, but he could have been, would have been, a greater man. Archer’s existence was proof that one day, the world would have been indebted to him for what he did, and been made a better place for what he accomplished, and the things he stood for. He threw all that away for you, to preserve your life. And what have you done with that life since, Sakura? What, besides let your love curdle into obsession? What, besides pine for the man who died for you, and scheme to have him back at any cost?”

    She straightened up. “I will restore Shirou to you, because I said I would, and because he would want you, even now, to be happy. But I don’t like you, and I refuse to fight dishonourably unless someone’s actual life is at stake. If you don’t like it, that’s too bad.”

    “I don’t like it,” Sakura said flatly. “And here’s something you won’t like.” Her Master mark flared, and Saber stiffened as its power enforced her next command. “I’ll give you all the mana you’ll require for this. Find the Servant you fought, Saber, and make sure it’s ended, one way or another. Now that I’m a part of this War, I don’t really need you - I’m still a combatant if you die . . . And I’m more powerful than you’d ever believe.”

    She matched Saber glare for glare, pouring all the power she could into it, infusing the Servant with energy until the blonde’s hair began to stand on end.

    “Just to make things clear,” she continued, “to hell with your ideals. I’d trade every minute of your legend to hold Shirou in my arms again - and I’m going to have him back, even if I need to kill every Servant and Master in this War with my bare hands. And now that we understand each other - go, and don’t return unless it’s finished.”

    Stiffly, the blonde warrior left.

    “It’ll all be worth it,” Sakura said to the empty room. “Nothing matters as long as you come back - right, Sempai?






    The forest was open, and empty. It was twilight, a quiet time when the full moon was rising through the trees, but the daylight was not quite gone. He leaned against one of the trees, felt its solidity, and sighed.

    “Peaceful here, isn’t it?” growled a voice. The speaker was an inch or so shorter, and far more massively built. His roughly cut hair was white with highlights of the palest blue, and his eyes were the blue of the darkest ocean depths. Those eyes looked at him now, a little impatiently.

    “Look kid, how long are you going to sit there? It’s been hours, when it should’ve been ten minutes. Get it through your head - fire did kill you, but not this time.”

    “What do you mean?” he asked.

    The dark eyes narrowed. “You know - you just won’t admit it to yourself, even here.”

    . . . A flash of terror, a brief sensation of being airborne, and the fiery kiss of oblivion . . .

    “If you want to call it quits here, that’s fine. I frankly don’t care - I’m only here because you want me, after all. But you could’ve done better than this. You walked right up to her instead of ambushing her, and used your bare hands - magically-enhanced, granted, which proves you’ve got some sense, but not much. Still, there were so many better ways to handle that fight if you wanted to win - so why didn’t you?”

    He couldn’t answer that one.

    “If it’s a matter of respect, then you should’ve fought all out, anyway - she was good enough to take it. If it’s some twisted obsession you want to call ‘love,’ I would’ve thought she was the wrong blonde. Whatever it is, bury it. I’m a survivor first and foremost, and so are you. The next time you cross paths, give it everything you’ve got and don’t stop until one of you drops. Anything less just isn’t right.”

    “What makes you think that’ll happen?”

    “You’re giving up, after all?” he asked in surprise. Anger kindled in his features. “If you want to just lie down and die, go ahead. But I thought you were better than that. You made that girl a promise, didn’t you? Maybe not directly, but you gave it - and it was one of the things you prided yourself on, that you kept your word. It’s one of the few things we have in common.”

    “. . . One question.”

    “Try me.”

    “If you’re Kieran Holt . . .”






    “. . . Who am I?” he asked.

    “Lancer?” Takara leaned over him, peering into his face. “You’re awake. Are you all right?”

    “I’m tired,” he admitted, after a moment. “I could probably use another magic infusion from you.”

    She frowned. “Does that mean you have to bite me again?”

    “No. Concentrate your energy on me. Focus it towards me, and I should be able to absorb mana that way.”

    “Like channelling my ki into my arms for a sword strike?”

    “Close enough.”

    “All right.”

    She placed her hand on his forehead, and he was surprised at its touch. While delicate in appearance, there was a fair amount of callus built up after years of holding and swinging swords. Like the subtlety in her muscle tone, it was another indication that she was stronger than she appeared. The rose’s thorns were hard to see, but no less sharp for their apparent invisibility.

    Then the circuit that bound them as a fighting pair opened, and such considerations were forced out of his mind.

    The first transfer had been done hurriedly, and crudely - like a man dying of thirst, desperately trying to scoop up water and pour it into his mouth, catching a few droplets out of every handful. This, though . . . For the first time, he could appreciate the vast power his mistress held - she was a sea of brilliant green energy to those with the eyes, deep enough to drown in and bright enough to blind, held back only through ignorance and inactivity. Now, that sea flowed, ever so slowly, to pour into him.

    Strength returned to his limbs, and his senses sharpened. His body warmed as the power trickled through his system, healing and revitalising him - literally. Her magic was his life, and it was so vast . . .

    Finally, with a supreme effort of will, he forced the link closed again. With Takara’s power flowing through him, he could blaze so brightly he would burn out. It was a caution he’d have to keep in mind.

    “Are you - better?” Takara asked uncertainly. She sounded winded, as if she’d run a great distance.

    “Much refreshed,” Lancer assured her, staring at her in something akin to wonder. All that power - even the massive amounts of energy she’d given up to him had seemed to only tire her, and yet she seemed like any ordinary girl. Very much an ordinary girl.

    Takara blushed under his scrutiny. “What is it?

    ”Who are you?”

    She blinked. “I’m Takara Aozaki, that’s all.”

    Lancer chuckled. “Not hardly ‘all,’ child.”

    “Don’t call me a child - you’re not that much older than me!”

    He smirked. “Are you sure?”

    She opened her mouth to reply, and paused. Lancer gently pressed her hanging jaw up.

    After a moment, Takara changed the subject. “What happened to you?”

    “I ran into another Servant - Saber.”

    “And he did this to you?”

    “No, she didn’t. It was her master - a very powerful sorceress.” He recalled the feeling of flesh liquefying, than evaporating from his bones and shuddered. “Very powerful.”

    “Can you beat her?”

    “The sorceress - almost certainly. As long as I can get to her before she can cast a spell, I can neutralise her. Saber will be harder - she’s very skilled.”

    “Is she pretty?”

    Lancer looked at her, wondering why that question had come up.

    Takara nodded. “I thought so. Maybe I’d better handle her, so you don’t get distracted.”

    “My job is to protect you.

    “No, it’s to help me. We’re supposed to work together.”

    “Do you even have a weapon, or know how to use one?”

    “I’m a kendo champion,” she retorted. “And I’m sure I can find a weapon, somewhere.”

    Takara held up her right hand, and turned the back of it to face Lancer. “I don’t want to order you, even if I can. I’m asking you instead, to promise me you’ll let me pull my own weight in these battles, and not try to do it all yourself. Promise me.” She stared at him intently.

    “ . . . Yes,” Lancer sighed.

    Takara smiled, and said. “Good.” Something impish twinkled in her eyes as she added, “This is my quest, after all. You’re just the hired help.”

    “Hey!”

    “Now, if you’re feeling better, get up and come on. The school should be closed by now, and it’s the perfect time.”

    “What are you talking about?”

    She smiled again. “You’ll see.”






    Saber considered where to begin her search. The Servant, if he was still alive, could be anywhere at all by now. If he had a Master, they’d likely be together. If it was the Einzbern one, he might have been hunting her in an attempt to steal mana before he faded, and get one step closer to the Grail. If he wasn’t, then anything was possible - he could be anywhere in the city.

    She sighed. Tracking was not her strong suit, but Sakura’s command could not be disobeyed. She had to find that warrior, assuming he still lived, and finish their conflict, permanently. Trapped in her own personal hell, she headed for the school - just in case.
    Last edited by Kieran; December 19th, 2012 at 09:32 AM.

  7. #7
    The Jester Kieran's Avatar
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    Chapter 6






    Shiki pulled away in shock. “Hisui!

    She flinched. “Shiki-sama . . .

    “Hisui - I’m a happily married man! What the hell did you think you were doing?”

    “It’s part of your treatment,” she said, her cheeks colouring. “No - it is your treatment.”

    “What?”

    “You are dying, Shiki[/i]-sama,[/i] because Akiha-sama was sustaining your life. Without her, you don’t have the strength to go on. But . . . My sister and I can share our strength. It’s why the Tohno family took us in. It is why Ciel-san called for me.”

    “What are you - ? I don’t understand any of this!”

    Hisui’s voice was flat, almost dead. “With our help, the members of the Tohno family have the strength to fight the urges of their blood. We give them the energy to do it. That energy can give you strength as well, Shiki-sama, but it has to be given in a . . . A delicate manner.”

    Shiki stared at her. She was being indirect, but while he was dense, he could fill in the gaps easily enough.

    “Hisui, you can’t tell me that Ciel asked you to - “

    ”It doesn’t matter!” she cried. Shiki stopped, because he’d never heard her yell before. “She asked for my help because she wants you to live, and so do I! This will let you!”

    Hisui advanced on him, her eyes glimmering. “For eighteen years, I’ve known nothing about you - where you were, how you were doing. I had to watch Akiha-sama die, knowing that you were doing the same, somewhere far away from me. I’ve wondered for so long . . . and I’ve been waiting even longer than that. And now, I won’t let Shiki-sama die, no matter what I have to do!”

    Hisui’s expression firmed with resolve, even through her tears. “Takara[/i]-san[/i] went out a while ago, and Ciel-san told me she would not be home tonight. The only ones here are you and I. Please, Shiki-sama, don’t fight it. Just let go - and take me with you.”






    Hisui unbuttoned her uniform blouse, revealing more of her bare skin than anyone other than she and her sister had ever seen. Knowing what she’d come to do, Hisui hadn’t bothered with lingerie.

    He was going to speak, but she kissed him again before he could. He tried to break free again, but she snaked an arm around to grab the back of his head, and clench his arm against his body. She did the same to his other arm with her free hand, and climbed atop him.

    Hisui broke the kiss at last, taking a deep breath as she rose. His lips were softer than she’d expected, tasting of salt and a peculiarly masculine quality she had no name for. She looked into his eyes, the ones that had haunted her dreams. She’d thought of him for so long . . . Almost her entire life had revolved around him, in one facet or another. She’d begun by serving as his friend and playmate, than as a retainer served her lord. Now, she would serve him in the way she’d always wanted - as a lover served the one they loved. It might be her only chance, and she meant to make the most of it.

    Moving his hands to her chest, she began unbuttoning his top. Once his chest was exposed, she moved to kiss him again, moving along his cheek to blow gently in one ear, then down his neck. As she did this, her hands moved downward, to the bottom piece of his pyjamas.

    Not ready yet. Hisui frowned mentally, and began to massage the problem area, moving her head further down to kiss his chest, and lick the twin nubs there. There - that was getting a reaction. Encouraged, Hisui continued, and set her fingers to work in earnest. She was pleased with the results.

    “Hisui . . .” Shiki groaned. Whether in protest or pleasure, she didn’t know - but she hoped the latter.

    As certain sensations reached her brain, Hisui noted that his grip was getting tighter. Not painfully so, but enough so that he definitely had her attention. She gave three more kisses, to each side of his chest and one to his mouth, before yanking down his pants and positioning herself. Before either of them could think about anything else, she’d finished the job.

    It hurt, but Hisui forced herself to keep going. It didn’t have to feel good as long as it accomplished what she needed . . . But, gradually, it did. It felt very good. Her heart, already pounding over her actions, began to race. Her breathing quickened, and Shiki’s increased pace to match. Sweat beaded on his forehead, and his hands were clenching and unclenching rapidly. Hisui was very aware of the latter action, and it caused more than one groan to escape her lips. Pressure built deep inside her, squeezing so tightly she feared she’d burst.

    The bed rocked wildly under them, creaking and shifting in harmony with their own rhythm. Finally, in a single, glorious moment, Hisui gained release - and the warmth spreading through her lower belly indicated that she was not the only one.

    Shiki-sama went limp beneath her, almost instantly falling to sleep, his expression troubled. Hisui gazed at it for a moment, noted the blood stains on the sheet beneath them, and leaned over to whisper in his ear.

    “I won’t ask you to dream of me, Shiki-sama - but don’t hate yourself, either. This, too, is my responsibility. My duty. If only you had asked it of me, it would have been my joy, as well.”

    She kissed him lightly on the forehead, and while he stirred, Shiki did not wake.

    Not even when her tears spilled onto his skin.






    In the penthouse floor of Fuyuki’s top-rated hotel, an unusual business meeting was unfolding. It consisted of only two people. One was a woman with long red hair, held back by a blue ribbon. Garbed in a black kimono with a matching blue sash, she kept her golden-brown eyes resolutely on the floor. The other was seated behind a desk, hidden in the shadows of the room itself. It was this conspirator who chose to speak.

    “What have your researches uncovered?”

    “This is indeed the city our buyer resides in, Dono,” the woman replied, her voice soft. “I have confirmed the trail - she is not too far from here.”

    “That is excellent news,” her master agreed. “And the traitor?”

    “She is here as well,” the woman stated confidently. “However, as of yet, I have not located her.”

    “It’s a matter of time. And when she is found, the true betrayer will pay, at last. It’s been nearly twenty years - but the Tohno family will extract its blood price, nonetheless. No one can escape vengeance forever.”

    The kimono-clad woman smiled slightly. “No, [i]Dono,]/i]” she agreed. “No one at all.”






    Takara guided Lancer back to the school, and she stared at the walls surrounding the building.

    “Why are we here?” he asked.

    “Because all the weapons I know how to use are here - we just have to get them,” she answered. “I don’t suppose you’re strong enough to break the lock on those gates?”

    Lancer frowned. “I could bend the bars - but there’s an easier way.”

    She looked at him. “Easi - EEEERRR?!”

    In a movement almost too fast for Takara to follow, Lancer scooped her up and reached the top of the wall with a single leap. A second one carried them almost to the school doors.

    As her feet touched ground again, she cuffed him along the temple. “Warn me first, next time!”

    “Yes, milady,” he responded dryly, seeming not at all fazed by her attack.

    Takara looked at him and remarked. “For someone who doesn’t like having a master, you sure seem into it.”

    Lancer frowned, but said nothing.

    “So, how do we get past the locks on the front doors?” she asked. “We can’t jump over them.”

    “No,” Lancer agreed, taking her hand. Murmuring under his breath, he walked with her to the brick wall - and then through it. They entered a hallway.

    “Nice trick,” Takara murmured, once she remembered to breathe. “You’d make one heck of a thief.”

    “I have some experience with sneaking into places,” Lancer replied. “Laying siege, too. Get what you need - I’ll wait here.”

    “The equipment room will be locked, too.”

    Lancer stared at her. “Oh, for - All right, let’s hurry.”

    “Why hurry?” Takara asked. “Is there some danger?”

    “I don’t like being indoors,” Lancer tossed off as he stalked away.

    Takara stared after him, before clearing her throat. “Uh, Lancer? The gym is this way.”






    Saber struggled against the compulsion that held her with all her strength. The will that had built and held an empire that stood as a shining example of civilisation throughout the ages hurled itself against the sheer force of the magic that bound her actions - and failed utterly. The system which dictated her existence enforced the power, and while some Servants had the strength to disobey its commandments, it appeared she was not one of them.

    Once again, she was bound to Sakura’s will, utterly. Her worst nightmare was once again her reality. Saber could do nothing about it, only feel the mana rage in her veins, compelling her to carry out her Master’s commanded.

    Sakura must have been a nice girl, once. Shirou would not have risked so much for her, otherwise. But whatever love she’d had for him had poisoned her after going unfulfilled for so long. She wasn’t thinking clearly, or at least, she was so fixated on her goal that she’d allowed herself to justify any means to reach it. On that basis, it was hard not to feel sorry for her.

    Saber noted that the realisation did not prevent her from hating her Master, nonetheless.

    At last, she reached the school, and felt a familiar sensation - the presence of a Servant. She hoped it was the one she’d met before, lest she be compelled to carry on longer in this near-helpless condition.

    Either way, she would end the battle with him, one way or another. She had no longer had a choice in the matter.






    As they emerged from the wall, Lancer’s nostrils flared. A quick shove sent Takara and her cargo - three practice swords and a bow and loaded quiver - flying across the courtyard. Wincing at the bruises she knew she’d have, Takara rose to demand just what the hell he thought he was doing - and then she saw the blonde.

    She was a petite little thing, almost cute - but she moved like a cat, toned and perfectly balanced within her small frame. She wore Western armour, and even from where she sat, Takara could see her eyes glitter.

    “Saber,” Lancer growled, and Takara immediately scanned the area. No second person that looked like a sorceress in sight. They had her outnumbered.

    “This is not how I would have preferred to meet again,” Saber said, and there was something stiff in the way she spoke. “My Master has commanded that there be no more games.”

    Takara could see it. There was something in the woman’s stance that looked different from the sort of combat forms she was used to. There would be no holding back, like in her tournaments. This would be a literal death match.

    Lancer nodded grimly, drawing a curved blade that looked like a fang carved from moonlight, razored silver-blue steel. At its lower tip pulsed a stone the colour of heart’s blood. He took a deep breath, and called on the gift of the moon.

    Midnight fur shrouded him as his fanged muzzle and claws burst forth. With golden eyes that held only a hint of green, he snarled in a bass tone.

    “Let’s get it done.”






    A lycanthrope? Saber registered in surprise. No wonder her earlier battle tactics had been so ineffective. Only silver or powerful magic could truly harm those beasts. But she’d thought them long extinct. They’d been rare enough in her own time.

    And this one had to be powerful, to shift without the help of the full moon. Her face took on a grim cast. This battle would not be easy. Still, she drew Excalibur, and in a swift motion, hurled the power that rendered it invisible at him, hoping the blow would end this quickly - he’d be too dangerous at close quarters.

    He was in blade’s reach before she even realised that he’d moved - her weakest Noble Phantasm had no effect at all, and now Excalibur stood revealed. Worse, only her highly-trained reflexes saved her left arm from being amputated at the shoulder - and the blade still cut deeply enough that it would be practically useless until she healed it.

    He followed the first cut with a series of blindingly fast strikes that she was hard-pressed to defend against. Either he was better-trained as a swordsman than as an unarmed fighter, or the sword he wielded held considerable power of its own. No, it had to be the blade - she could see the tiny corrections it made in mid-swing, perfectly aimed to hit where her guard was weakest. She needed to disarm him, fast, but his hide seemed tougher in his bestial form - less yielding to her sword’s edge. Added to that was the fact that he seemed to move more quickly - she would strike where she believed him to be, only to find it was an afterimage of where he’d been.

    Saber had the skill to beat him, but she wasn’t properly equipped to counter his raw supernatural power.

    In desperation, she ducked under a decapitating slash, into a kneeling position, and thrust her sword forward with all her strength. Though the resulting howl nearly deafened her, the wolf-man dropped to his knees.

    She smirked - it had been a dirty trick, but she was a lady, it was an expected tactic. Saber raised her sword, preparing to find out how vulnerable his eyes were . . . and then whirled to cut an arrow in mid-flight that had been aimed at her.

    “Leave Lancer alone!” cried a female voice.

    The archer was a girl no more than Shirou’s age - mixed blood, she suspected. She wore neither the garb nor bearing of a warrior, and while Saber could feel the power she held inside her, she held none of the confidence of a trained magus, either. Was she another innocent with extraordinary natural power? Another child, with no real understanding of battle, much less the War . . . Like Shirou?

    For a moment, Saber stared, startled at what appeared to be history repeating itself. “You . . .”

    The kick to the right side of her ribs would’ve driven them through her lungs, if she’d been human. As it was, Saber was slammed into the courtyard, cursing herself for a fool. The mana placed inside her by Sakura expended itself into sustaining her, healing her injuries. Her Master’s command would not be disobeyed, for any reason.

    Saber rose regretfully. Even now, for whatever reason, he seemed compelled to show mercy. It could just as easily have been his sword impaling her chest - it should have been, if he was as smart a fighter as he seemed. And she would repay his small kindnesses, not in kind, but with oblivion.

    Find the Servant you fought, Saber, and make sure it’s ended, one way or another.

    So she had been Commanded - and so she must obey.

    “Now it ends,” Saber said decisively, invoking her sword’s power. It glowed increasingly brightly, until it appeared to be formed of blazing light.

    “Oh, bloody hell,” her opponent replied.






    Lancer saw the sword, and knew it for what it was - all of what it was - and for once, didn’t question the knowledge. Saber had just resorted to overkill, and it was all he needed to understand. As she brought the weapon up to aim, he used his full, lupine vocal range to yell a command.

    “TAKARA, RUN!

    Then the sweeping cascade of light came for him, and he braced himself - and his weapon - to block it.






    Takara heard the shouted order - she bet Okinawa heard it - and watched as something similar to a solar flare lashed out to engulf Lancer with a roar like that of an enraged dragon. It was too bright for her to look at . . .

    Until, with an equal roar, a shroud the colour of midnight erupted to answer the challenge. She watched, awed and terrified, as the powers of light and darkness did battle. Somewhere in the middle of all that was the only hope she had for ensuring her father’s survival.

    She could only pray he’d survive it.






    The holy blade, Excalibur. Forged by divinity in a time long forgotten, and granted to mortal hands as the ultimate symbol of kingship and righteousness. A golden-white sword whose brightness rivalled the sun’s, it converted and amplified the mystic energy of its wielder into a divine bolt of fury against which no man or army could hope to stand. Wielded by Arturia, whose dragon heritage granted her greater strength than any mere human, it was quite possibly the most powerful weapon on Earth.

    The lichblade, Vanir. Forged by the most powerful divine, arcane and chi masters in the world, it held as its heart the crystallised essence of an undead dragon, containing and binding the dark power of the godlike being to the service of light. Capable of absorbing ambient magic to increase its own strength - including, most recently, the life essences of four god-touched archmagi - the sword was a legendary weapon of power, and wielded by one of its creators, whose own power was no less inspiring.

    Two warriors stood firm in their resolve, one a gold-haired female with emerald eyes, the other a midnight-black beast-man with eyes of flame. Twin dragon essences battled, one born of light, the other of darkness, each terrifying in their power. The night sky was torn apart by dual roars and raging winds. For an eternal moment, the tableau froze - golden-white and vermillion-black, twisted mirrors of one another, locked in mortal combat.

    Then a cracking sound, like the breaking of a glacier, was heard, and the darkness faltered.

    The lichblade Vanir was more formidable than even its master, nearly indestructible.

    Nearly.

    Almost at once, the dragon’s roar echoed out again, followed in tandem by a cry that was part wolf’s howl, part human scream. The blade shattered into a dozen glittering fragments, and the tide of Excalibur’s fury - much diminished, but still potent - washed over the inhuman form it had been seeking to swallow. The wave carried onward, collapsing the front half of the school building.

    Slowly, the woman warrior sheathed her weapon, and bowed her head.






    “Their guards are down - I can strike them down now, Master.”

    “No, Archer. I’ve seen what I needed to - we should leave. Let them be, this once.” A smile in the darkness. “For old times’ sake.”






    With a look of sorrow, Saber left. Takara let her. She stared at the smoking ruins of her school, too numb to do anything else. For a moment, all was dust and silence. Then a cry arose, a scream of fury and terror so wild and pained that it didn’t seem as though it could have come from a human throat. She wondered at its source - and then she recognised the voice as her own, crying a single word.

    “LANCER!!”
    Last edited by Kieran; December 19th, 2012 at 09:33 AM.

  8. #8
    The Jester Kieran's Avatar
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    DISCLAIMER: Lunar Legend Tsukihime, Fate/Stay Night, and all related characters and concepts are the creation and property of Kinoko Nasu and Type-Moon. No monies are generated, or intended to be, from this unauthorised use of said properties.



    Chapter 7






    The airport was more crowded than she’d anticipated - her time away had made her forget Tokyo’s dense population, and the almost claustrophobic atmosphere it engendered. The taxi she’d hailed had come as a relief - it, too, seemed small, but at least it was relatively private.

    It was also a potent soporific when combined with jet lag. She found herself dozing, more than once. Every time she awoke, she had to remind herself of where she was. And, more importantly, why.

    She’d fought against this assignment. Fought long and hard, using almost every ounce of goodwill she’d built over the years - but to no avail. Her own skill and ability argued for her selection, as did the “home ground” advantage. She knew the territory, most of the potential major players, and was the most experienced with the situation. And frankly, most of the Association felt that, given her history, this was her mess to clean up. When her superiors had ordered her to go, she hadn’t had much choice - no, she’d had precisely no choice at all.

    And when the Old Man had added his two cents, then like it or not, she was on the next flight to Tokyo.

    Rin Tohsaka sighed wearily, muttering to herself, “Some homecoming.”

    She stroked the wrapped bundle in her lap, and hoped the situation wasn’t as bad as everyone feared, because her orders were as clear and inflexible as diamonds. Under no circumstances was the scenario of the last Grail War to be repeated. Should a similar threat arise, any and all beings involved were to be neutralised with extreme prejudice. When compared to releasing the embodiment of evil upon the world, the level of collateral damage was not a concern.

    In short, if Ahriman or a similar danger emerged as a result of the Grail War this time, Rin was to ensure that it was eliminated - even if she had to destroy all of Japan to do it.






    Takara stared at the building that had once been her school. The front half of the building had collapsed into a blackened, pulverised heap - as though the school had been a sandcastle, kicked in by an angry child. Trails of charcoal dust ran in tiny rivulets down the slope of it, and fires raged along its rear surface, spreading along the delicately balanced rear half, threatening to collapse it on top of the rubble.

    In the space of two heartbeats, one of the largest structures she’d ever known had been reduced to little more than a blackened husk, almost completely destroyed. Takara felt ice slide down her throat, to settle heavily in her stomach, a sensation so cold it burned. This was what she was up against. This was the level of power she had to defeat, in order to gain her desire.

    This was completely out of her league. Despite whatever magic Lancer insisted she had, Takara was just an ordinary, athletic schoolgirl. She wasn’t as strong as Lancer - able to leap tall fences in a single bound - nor did she have the raw destructive capability that blonde knight had displayed. Whatever skill she had was negligible in the face of the sheer power the Servants possessed.

    And their Masters were sorcerers powerful enough to command such beings . . .

    She needed Lancer’s help. She didn’t have the strength to win this battle alone.

    Her gaze went to the mark on her hand, so faint it was transparent. It appeared that even with her Servant gone, the War wouldn’t release her so easily.

    “The mark is the symbol of our contract,” he’d said as they’d walked to the school. “It designates you as a part of the War - but it has additional abilities.” He'd traced the symbol gently. “Three times, you may invoke the contract over me, to allow - or force - that which is impossible.”

    “What do you mean?”
    she'd asked.

    “Your ability to Command me can be used to make me do things I cannot - or would not - do.” His gaze was almost angry. “Use it wisely, because nothing and no one forces me to do anything without regretting it. I walk my own path, always. Also, when the third use is exercised, our contract is ended. Unless I make a new one, I will return to - wherever I came from - and you will fight the War alone . . . Or with another Servant, if you choose.”

    Takara stared for a long time at the symbol, hesitating. This was her only chance, but if it didn’t work . . .

    “Lancer . . .” she breathed. “Come to me.”

    A portion of the symbol faded away, and wind arose, as if the world itself was drawing a breath. With that breath, a human form faded into view.

    There wasn’t a single hair, anywhere. A smell, faintly of roast pork but more strongly of charcoal, arose from the remains. The eyelids and mouth had been seared shut, and the flesh . . . Skin and muscle had melted like wax before fusing to blackened bone. The right hand had fused to the sword hilt it still clutched, the blade a jagged ruin barely six inches long, and still glowing cherry red. Spots glowed similarly along the throat and chest, where shards of the blade had lodged when it exploded.

    Takara was suddenly and violently ill, all over the pavement. The smell of that provoked another eruption, even after her stomach was clearly empty. She closed her eyes, and waited for the world to stop heaving, for her lungs to stop aching with every breath. Her eyes began tearing up, and it wasn’t because of her body’s reactions.

    “I . . . can’t,” she whispered. “I can’t do it. They’re too strong, Father . . . I’m sorry.






    His first memory is also his last. The caverns, the Grail - and the knowledge that, even if he succeeds, he is going to die. There’s a moment of contemplation in it, of concentration, as the power he has so unsuccessfully wielded in the past takes time to gather, to respond to his will.

    And it shouldn’t be like that, whispers a voice in the back of his mind. The power is mine to use - it should be as natural as breathing.

    Once, that might have been true, if he were the man the power belonged to - if he was the man who would be Archer. But the choice, after much agonising, is made. He will not pay the price of heroism with Sakura’s life. He will save her, no matter the cost, because she is important to him - and innocent.

    But the potential for the power is still within him. What Archer achieved, he could as well, and it is that which lets him believe that he can do this, he will do this - and he does. With one last, desperate thrust of his magic, the blades converge on the Grail, saving the woman he loves - and the world in the bargain.

    It is, dare he say it, a heroic sacrifice.

    Beyond that, the memories grow dim, and distant. Did he reach Heaven? Or perhaps wherever it was the Servants went, between Wars? Was it possible that Archer’s spirit, which had existed even after their chosen paths diverged, had still been his own? He didn’t know. His next, true memory, is of waking within a vat of - something. It was a cauldron, he later discovered, and the first sounds he heard, aside from his own breathing, were words in a language he did not know, yet understood all the same.

    “A perfect creation,” boasted one. “The culmination of centuries of research, as used by my own genius.”

    “It’s . . . It's certainly larger than other homunculi,” admitted another.

    “Pah, this is no mere homunculus - this is the pinnacle of achievement! A vessel so perfect, it’s as near to true resurrection as one can achieve without the Third Magic itself! Even that Japanese wench couldn’t do better!”

    “Why this manifestation, though?”

    “Partly for psychological purposes - the two sorceresses will no doubt be hesitant to fight their former comrade. Partly because the essence was that which banished the Shadow the last time, and the antipathy reaction should prevent it from using the Grail as a gateway. And, frankly, the power potential makes the Grail’s formation a certainty. The spirit has a natural link with the Grail system, which should make completion of the process mere child’s play.”

    Shirou could practically hear the smirk in the man’s voice as he said, “Don’t worry. Success is a foregone conclusion. I have precisely calculated every possible variable.”

    At that point, he decided he’d heard enough.





    Breaking out of Einzbern’s lab had been surprisingly simple. His intuitive understanding of the Grail system allowed him to do things that had never been possible for a minimally-trained sorcerer’s apprentice. Once he was loose, the next logical step had been to return here.

    The truth was something ingrained in his very being. He was animate, and aware, but not truly alive. To be alive, to be a living man again he needed the power of the Grail. The War had to begin, and he had to win.

    Emiya Shirou had been prepared to die in order to save Sakura’s life. In order to save his own, and share it with Sakura, he’d do many, more terrible things. Starting with the closest and most vulnerable of his competitors. Takara Aozaki . . .

    It was regrettable, but she had to die. Still, if all went according to plan, she’d die happily, painlessly, and so immediately that she’d never know what killed her.

    “These are your instructions, Archer,” he told his Servant. “Listen carefully . . .”






    The streets were quiet as she trudged along them, weary in both body and soul. This was just as well, as her current raiment would stand out, and she had no wish to attract attention, of any sort. At this point, she wanted only to be left alone.

    “Leave Lancer alone!”

    She flinched in remembrance. The girl had been no older than Rin, the last time she’d seen her, and quite possibly younger. Another child on the battlefield, but less prepared, more afraid - she’d seen Shirou look that way before, too, when she fought. As though the only thing that kept him from madness was slipping away through his fingers.

    No, that wasn’t quite true. Shirou had known something of magic, if not of the War - he’d been at least partly prepared to deal with her world. The girl . . . She’d looked more desperate. She’d used arrows - she couldn’t be a trained magus. Perhaps some kind of latent talent? If that was the case, she would now be completely helpless when the others came for her. Because the only thing that had shielded her was gone.

    Saber . . . There you are. Is it done?

    Saber frowned, carefully disciplining her response. Yes.

    Did the Servant have a Master?

    If so, I cannot say I saw him on the battlefield,
    Saber responded.

    Then it was Einzbern’s. Good - one less rogue element. How are your mana reserves?

    The Servant considered. Drained, but I can last awhile.

    Very good. See if you can find anyone else, but be careful. If you’re truly weak, return to me.

    Yes, Sakura.
    The sense of the sorceress’ presence faded.

    Saber sighed. She’d done all she could for the girl. Whatever her reason for entering the War, she’d agreed to the risks when she made the contract - but Saber’s sense of honour didn’t agree with simply making her a target out of hand, when she seemed so helpless without her Servant.

    With luck, she’ll know to flee to the Mediator, Saber consoled herself. But so long as I am bound to Sakura, there’s nothing more I can do.

    An empty can clattered on the roadway. Saber snapped out of her introspection with a start, one hand going to the hilt of her sword.

    A teenaged couple, dressed in the uniforms of the school she’d been to earlier, the school where - she refused to complete the thought. That battle had been fought, and she’d won, that was all. In any case, they were hardly likely to be a threat. She relaxed, nodded slightly at them, and prepared to walk by.

    The teens were silent, only looking at her intently. Saber blinked under their combined stare, beginning to feel uneasy. Yes, her armour was out-of-place in this era and setting, but . . .

    They were almost within arm’s reach when she realised what was really bothering her - their movements. When they walked along the street, it wasn’t with the easy stride of a couple, or even the average one of a late night stroller. It was the silent, graceful stalk of a predator.

    Saber gazed back at them, feeling her own expression harden. “What do you want?” she asked coldly.

    Their eyes gleamed red, just before they moved.






    Her last memory is of her mistress’ tears. She had been a proud woman, even in her self-imposed exile from the world. Though the years and trials had weighed heavily on her, and burdened her still, she’d chosen not to surrender to despair. She’d chosen defiance, to instill in her remaining life the meaning she had lost. Though she had no heart to face the world, she worked from the shadows to make the world fear her legacy.

    Over the last fifteen years, the Tohno family had become a more diverse group, breaking into many nontraditional fields with the will of their leader to spur them on - and under that will, they had succeeded on those unfamiliar battlefields, to become more powerful and respected than ever before. Yet the force behind those achievements remained elusive in the public eye, content to allow others to enjoy the gains, always thinking of the next challenge.

    No, that wasn’t true. She always sought the next challenge, but it rarely occupied her thoughts. She thought always, not of her successes, or of the chances yet to be taken, but of her one great failure. Of him.

    For nearly eighteen years, he’d been a living ghost, haunting the Tohno household. If he’d sought revenge for the hell made of his life, he could have executed no greater plan - and nor could she. It contented her, day after day, to watch her mistress pore over reports from investigators that were barred by bureaucratic red tape, or mysteriously vanished records, or even people who had no memory of ever having encountered their subject, despite having hinted otherwise only an hour before. Investigators of all forms and natures could not confirm that the one they sought still existed in the world.

    It was a masterpiece worthy of the Tohno name - and as the years passed, it made her mistress afraid. She began to jump at every shadow, flinch at every coincidence. For if he could disappear so completely, he could reappear as well - and who knew what he planned in the dark?

    What made it worst of all was that she still would have given anything and everything to see him, even if would be the last thing she ever saw.

    In time, she had needed to confine her mistress, as the other had once been. It had been her duty to watch as the proud woman collapsed into a beast, as malevolent and mindless as her forebears, or so she had thought. But in its last moment, a single, intelligible word remained to the beast; a name.

    And those crimson eyes had wept.

    That had given her pause. Vengeance had been handed to her in this. Her plan, while failing in its execution, had nonetheless attained the goal. By all rights, it was enough. The score had been evened, the pain inflicted returned threefold. It should have ended there.

    But she had moved for so long under no will of her own, that she continued to do so. Her limbs still moved, her mouth still smiled, and her mind still schemed - all governed by no greater force than habit. And in truth, it was not finished yet, was it? So long as there was a Tohno alive, and content . . .

    So long as a Tohno was left alive, it would never be finished. But there was no malice in what she did, no long-burning fire of vengeance that cried out for blood to douse it.

    Dolls cannot stop moving of their own volition, once they have begun. They simply repeat the pattern of motion that is allowed to them, until they no longer have the energy to do so.






    In the night, he hunted. Not on his Master’s orders - for though his Master was mighty indeed, and more dangerous than even he himself, he in truth acknowledged no one as his Master, save himself.

    No, he hunted because it was in his nature to do so. Because it gave him pleasure, as few things did, in this existence.

    One thing alone gave him greater pleasure than the hunt - the fight. To feel enemies break under his blows, sending their blood flying in great vermillion sprays. To harry and hack at them, a little at a time, until they collapsed under the sheer weight of his attack. To kill warriors, not the ignorant sheep of this foreign land, and take his rightful spoils from them . . . It was the greatest sensation to be found on either side of death, and he hungered to feel it again. His thirst for battle, for blood, was a painful one indeed.

    As yet, however, this “War” was a disappointing one. No mighty armies massed against him. No hordes of soldiers descended upon his sanctuary to test his prowess. No, this was a silent war, a series of duels fought in shadows and subterfuge - not to his taste at all. Still, his opponents were reputed to be some of the mightiest in existence, and for that chance, he would fight as he had to. To gain his goal, he would do much worse, and had, in his past.

    So for now, he hunted the peasants, foolish creatures that they were. He had been told that once, there had been a caste here whose sole purpose for a thousand years had been war. If so, their time was long over. The people here were so dulled by the comforts of their world that they had lost any fighting spirit they had once possessed. It was a truly disappointing thing to observe.

    They died easily by his power, and their screams were not as pleasing to hear, because it was too easy. The airman had been the same - too easy, far too easy. Where, in all the land, was there a challenge for him to face? Where was there one worthy of his mettle?

    Still, the war was far from over. There were two opponents destroyed at his hands, yet they were only two, and with he and his Master, they only accounted for four of the fourteen players of the game. There were many chances for battle, still - and for loss, which meant the potential for victory as well. No, there was still time to find satisfaction in pitting himself against great warriors and their modern commanders - and crushing them utterly.

    “So, you play your wits against mine,” he murmured to the sorcerers behind the War. “Me, who commanded armies hundreds of years before you were born. Fools!”






    The fate of all life is extinction. Animals know this, but concern themselves with it only on an instinctual level, as a real fact that is not worth their consideration. Humans know this, but refuse to acknowledge it to themselves. When they consider it at all, they treat it as an abstract thing, a possible future, but never immediate, never a certainty. A select few humans, however, know it as an omnipresent fact, a tangible constant. They see, with more clarity than their fellows, the inevitability of the end - and the ease with which the fragile tether called “life” can be severed. It is inescapable, even in dreams.

    In his dreams, he stood within a ruined city. Around him, the panicked mob fled from beneath the tide of ghouls that reached out to engulf them. Few were successful in escaping their grasp, and those that did would only face more terrible odds later, as those that fell today would rise another night to pursue them. Or perhaps sooner, for the sun was a mere shadow of itself, a pale ring of light around a sphere of absolute darkness. Casting far greater illumination was the full moon, but it too, seemed a malefic thing, a pulsing orb of crimson light. Under its auspice, the world seemed awash in blood. But even without it, the appearance would still be the truth. Hell had come to Earth.

    Atop the highest tower of a ruined castle, the source of the darkness waited. The heart of the plague, a cancer that had consumed the entire world, and he walked along a path cobbled of skulls to reach it. Perhaps he could stop it, perhaps not - but it was against his nature not to try. However, at the castle gates, he had to stop. He realised, then, that any effort at all was now far too late.

    The gates were formed of iron spikes, and impaled upon each one was a human body. Ciel, Aoko, a black-haired woman and some blonde knight whom he did not know, each with a sword shoved down their throats until it emerged from their lower regions. But the central one . . .

    She had been hung feet-first on an inverted crucifix. Blood-stained nails jutted from her skull. Her nails and teeth had been yanked out as well, allowing blood to drip from the tiny wounds, so slowly, until it lay in a puddle on the ground. An open cavity in her chest showed where her heart had once been, and while the face had been mutilated so badly it wasn’t recognisable as human, he did, because her eyes were intact.

    Shiki stared into the empty, golden eyes of Arcueid Brunestud, and finally knew despair . . .

  9. #9
    The Jester Kieran's Avatar
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    DISCLAIMER: Lunar Legend Tsukihime, Fate/Stay Night, and all related characters and concepts are the creation and property of Kinoko Nasu and Type-Moon. No monies are generated, or intended to be, from this unauthorised use of said properties.



    Chapter 8





    The pair moved with supernatural speed and coordination, consummate predators working in instinctive tandem to surround and harry their prey. Moving in both directions, they sought to encircle their quarry, and taken advantage of its off-balance reactions to deliver the killing blow.

    It was a well-conceived strategy, save for one problem. Weakened and soul-weary though she was, Saber was anything but off-balance. She executed a quick draw and stabbed out to her right at the instant the pair blurred, impaling the male as he passed and swinging around the blade to position his body between hers and the female, neatly bisecting the torso as she did. Another step back pulled her sword free and gave her fighting room to face her remaining opponent as her former foe crumbled to ash.

    Left to itself, the creature showed no great intelligence or fighting skill - only an inborn ferocity augmented by natural capability. As it darted forward, Saber met it with a thrust under the rib cage, angled to pierce its heart. The inhuman speed of its motion buried the blade up to its hilt before the thing even realised what it had done. It had only enough time to open its mouth in shock, exposing ivory fangs, before joining its companion in the dust.

    Saber stared at the empty clothes of her opponents. While her era had its share of tales of the risen dead, never before had she faced one in combat - yet there could be no question of their true nature. Where could they have come from, and was their meeting her merely a coincidence, or part of some deeper machination?

    Worse, the inherent weakness of these two seemed to relegate them to little more than fodder. If that was indeed the case, it meant that a “master” vampire or necromancer yet remained at large. And his - or her - powers would be far more formidable. If, for some reason, the creature did have an interest in the War . . .

    It meant that she, Sakura, the girl, all of them - were in danger of losing not merely their lives, but their souls, as well.






    I have many names, and this I know as truth. Most recently, I am called Lancer, but once I was called Kieran Holt - the dark druid of the Mistwood. I was born the second son of a wealthy merchant. Secure in my position, I studied as a child to be a scholar, fascinated by the forests surrounding our home, and the wood elves who dwelled within. I remember this.

    I remember my father’s disputes with them, culminating in his hiring a band of sell-swords to wipe them out - and watching as they burned, my warning too late to save them. I remember, then, forsaking my father’s name and home, and dedicating myself to the wild in penance. In time, my devotions gained me peace of mind, and some measure of power. For a long time, I retreated from the world of man, and was content to keep its borders from my true home. I was of the forest, and the forest was mine to preserve. It was all I required.

    But nothing is eternal, save change, and my life was no exception. I became more than a human, more than a druid. I became a werewolf - at first mastered by the curse, then the master of it. I became a warrior, and more, a general - a commander of men, and armies. I lost the blessings of the wild, and regained them, along with the touch of the elements themselves. I faced and defeated monsters the likes of which my world had not seen since a time before humans or even elves crawled upon it - and, if there is any mercy, will not see again until long after they are gone.

    Though I am far more than I ever dreamed of becoming, I have always made my own choices, followed my own path. I know my own desires. I know who I am. And yet . . . Though it is the truth, I cannot say that this is true.

    I walk in a world where nature is consumed by human greed, crushed beneath a tide of metal and stone, where the water and the air itself reek of poisons more virulent then any I know. It should be utterly abhorrent to me - and yet I feel only a weary disgust. I am in a land whose customs are unknown to me, but I am unsurprised by what I see around me. And more than my feelings, my very behaviour has changed. I speak more often, more easily and in unusual patterns. I act with hesitation where only decisiveness should be. I am a spirit that does not remember death, wholly apart from the natural balance, bound to the service of another, and willingly so.

    I do not understand it . . . And yet, it little troubles me. Lancer knows things I do not, acting not always or precisely as I would, and sees no paradox in it. Yet if Lancer is myself, how can this be?

    And as I am borne away on the cascading tide of dragon fire, I wonder if this death will provide me with the answers I seek - or if my only answer will be the kiss of oblivion . . .







    Repair. Restore. Renew. It was one of the most automatic functions, perhaps the most automatic, so deeply ingrained as to be beyond instinct. When damage occurred, healing began. So it would be, so long as life, even the tiniest ember, remained. And so the process was underway. Blackened char pushed upwards, cracking and flaking away to reveal pink, new skin. Metal fragments were either forced out by the sea of flesh, or swallowed up, to be broken down and expelled inside the body.

    This time, however, the body betrayed itself. No longer truly a living thing, healing was not a natural process, augmented by supernatural means. Healing required energy, energy no longer generated from within, but taken from the world around it. In restoring itself, the body consumed its own life force, shortening the span in which it could remain within the world. Yet the process continued.

    Bones, twisted and warped by intense heat, began to tremble, popping and cracking like a series of gunshots as they became soft and supple once more, resetting themselves to their proper sizes and positions. Liquids held within cauterized cavities jelled, forming eyes. A whisper filled the air as hair grew softly over an unmistakably male form, sheathing pale pink in a coat of glossy black.

    The core diminished, as it was tapped ever more deeply, and no way from which to gain new strength lay open to it. The moon, even as it bathed him, held no revitalisation in its light. And the channel to the bright green sea, the source of life, was gone, perhaps never to return.

    Nerves tingled, sending impulses along their length. Lungs expelled carbonised pieces of themselves and lingering toxins in a cloud of black smoke, and slowly drew in a renewing breath.

    If individual cells had possessed sufficient awareness, they might have laughed at the irony. In moments, they would die in perfect health.






    Rin walked casually up to the gates of the Tohsaka homestead. Though it had lain unoccupied over a decade, it had been well-cared for in its family’s absence. She had made certain of it. Of course, if Sakura had chosen to stay here, instead of at Shirou’s, the expense wouldn’t have been quite so burdensome - but the elder Tohsaka understood her baby sister’s reasons, and hadn’t pressed.

    The gate key opened the lock easily. The warding enchantments were set to ignore her presence - save for the fact that they reset themselves to a lower alertness level. There was, after all, no need to render the grounds unnoticeable to casual viewers when the Family was present.

    Sighing, she unlocked the front door, dumped her luggage in the vestibule, and headed upstairs. Unpacking could wait. First, she wanted a hot bath. Then, maybe something to eat. And then, she’d go call on Little Sis.

    Oh, to be certain, meeting with the Manager of the War would probably be a better choice to gain information on the overall status of the conflict - and Rin admitted that she might have to, before her mission was done. At the same time, whoever the Church’s current dogmatic enforcer was would probably take unkindly to the presence of an Association agent in the situation - especially one with her orders. She didn’t care to make any more enemies than she had to, right now.

    Sakura, on the other hand . . . Sakura had been obsessing over this since the last War. There was no way on Earth she wouldn’t participate, and as a former Grail core, she might have some insights on the kind of intelligence she needed. Hell, if she was lucky, Sakura had already eliminated all the threats she’d been sent to deal with. Rin might outstrip her sister in skill, but Sakura still possessed more raw power than any mage she’d ever met, short of her master. Any Servant she summoned would be just shy of godlike.

    But first, the bath. And possibly food. Then she’d talk to Sakura. It had been a long trip, after all.

    The fact that she was delaying the meeting because she felt guilty for staying so distant from her sister never crossed her conscious mind.






    At first, there was only the hollowness, the sensation of drifting away in the darkness. Then the voice came, as if from a very great distance, but insistent.

    “Get up.”

    Too faint, too far away. He couldn’t reach it, and didn’t have the strength to try. He was tired, and it was so peaceful in the dark . . .

    “You’re not finished yet - there’s still more for you to do.”

    Immersed, suddenly, in a green sea - not warm and bright, but dark, nearly black. An ocean of dark ice that poured itself into him, flooding into his nose, mouth - all over his body. It crackled through his veins, freezing the air in his lungs. There was so much . . .he was drowning in it . . .

    “Get up. Go to her. She . . . She needs you.”

    That voice . . . That familiar voice. He cracked open his eyelids, and forced himself to breathe. Forced himself to ask.

    “Mom?” Lancer croaked.

    Silence and darkness. The wind whispered softly along the pavement, bringing with it the scents of the night . . . no, the twilight. It was nearly dawn. He had to have been unconscious for hours.

    My healing factor isn’t working as quickly as it should, again, he thought in annoyance. Then his mind realised why he’d needed healing. On second thought, I should be grateful I survived at all. What happened to . . .?

    Of his mistress and his opponent, there were only lingering scent trails, hours old. As for his weapon . . .

    Vanir’s hilt lay on the ground next to where he’d been, the blade melted down to a jagged stump, four inches long. Around it were fragments of its former self. Cooled droplets of metal marred the hilt, and the gem which served at its pommel looked dark and clouded. Lancer frowned, sheathing the remains. His most powerful weapon had been destroyed - so why wasn’t he more concerned? He didn’t know, but he simply wasn’t worried about it.

    In the meantime, his mana reserves seemed to be at full capacity. So long as he was in such a state, he might as well put the energy to good use. The urban environment would slow him down, but he had Saber’s scent, and she thought he was dead. And there wasn’t a creature on Earth he couldn’t find, when he put his mind to it.

    Taking a deep breath, Lancer grinned wolfishly. It was time to go hunting.






    The ringing of the telephone jolted Shiki from his nightmare, and he lay there stupidly for a moment, not recognising it for what it was at first. It stopped by the time he was conscious enough to make an attempt to answer it. He lay there silently for a moment, almost back to sleep, when a slender arm tightened its grip on his suddenly, and he realised Ciel was not only in the bed with him, but burrowing closer. More than a little surprised, he turned to face her.

    A pair of wide blue eyes, still a little sleep-fogged, twinkled at his look. “Good morning,” she murmured dreamily.

    “Ciel . . .it’s not Sunday.” That was the only reason he could imagine for finding his wife still abed this late in the morning. Or was it earlier than he thought? The sunlight shining through the thick curtains tended to agree with his original assessment of the time - it had to be well past nine, perhaps even past ten.

    Ciel stretched lazily in response. “Mmm . . .No.”

    “Don’t you - have to go to school?”

    “No school,” she murmured, burying her head in his shoulder, so that it muffled her next words. “It blew up.”

    Shiki started. “What?”

    “The school blew up,” she murmured next to his ear. “Police are investigating, they want me in this afternoon for an interview - all the staff. Hisui told me.”

    Even in her half-asleep state, Ciel didn’t miss the fact that her husband suddenly went stiff. When he did move, it was to pull away from her, leaving her suddenly cold on the sheets. She saw his face, deadly serious, gaze into hers.

    “Ciel . . . Why did you call Hisui?”

    “Because I thought you and Takara needed looking after, with my being out all the time . . . And because she can treat your condition.”

    Shiki looked at her for a long moment. “Do you know how she treats it?”

    His wife’s eyes held no trace of sleep any longer, only a focus that was almost hateful in its intensity. He’d asked the question of soft-voiced Ciel, but it was the Executioner who answered, in her iron tone.

    “The Church compiled dossiers on everyone connected with the Tohno household when we were hunting Roa. Very complete dossiers, Shiki.” Her eyes didn’t change, but it was Ciel who said, “Yes, I knew what she would do.”

    “And you . . .”

    “I what? Condoned it? Willingly gave my husband, the love of my life, to another woman? Yes - because it will keep you alive. Maybe not forever, but for a while longer, and if that means I have to share you with her, I’ll do it, because it means I can still hold you in my arms like this.” She tightened her grip.

    “Ciel . . . This can’t go on. It’s not fair to Hisui.”

    “No, it’s not,” she agreed. “None of this is fair, Shiki. I wanted us to see Takara’s children grow up before we died, together. I didn’t want to watch my younger husband just wither away after everything we’ve been through. I can’t . . . “ She paused, blinking back tears. “I can’t lose you, Shiki. I can’t. Do you understand? You’re what makes my life make sense.

    “Takara -” he started.

    “Before Takara, there was you. I have Takara because of you. I became her mother, and I tried to be a good one, because I do love her, but she’s almost grown. She doesn’t need me any more. You’re both going to leave me soon - and I still need you.

    She looked at him, and it was a look he’d seen only once, when she given him a life-changing revelation, years ago. “I will keep you alive as long as I can - even if every Dead Apostle on Earth stands in my way - because who I am now is your wife, and Takara’s mother. And I will not let anyone, or anything, take my family away from me without a fight. I will find a way to cure you, I swear it. I just need time. So please, Shiki, let Hisui help you.” She kissed him, suddenly. “Do what she wants you to do, for my sake if not your own.”

    “. . . I don’t like it, Ciel. It’s not right.”

    “It’s better than the alternative. Shiki . . .”

    He sighed. “All right, Ciel. For you and Takara - because I love you . . . I’ll go along with this.”

    She smiled suddenly, and her tone was light as she asked. “There, now. It’s not so bad, is it? Hisui’s very pretty . . . And you do feel better, don’t you?”

    Shiki didn’t trust himself to answer that statement, so he merely nodded.

    Ciel’s eyes gleamed. “Good. Because I want to show you just how much I love you.

    Only once in their relationship had the physical union between them developed into more - and the complications at Takara’s birth had rendered a second occurrence impossible. But because it could be so casual, it had always meant more to them. They didn’t simply have sex, because it was too easy, too meaningless. They made love, because it was the only physical way to demonstrate it to one another. . . and because, after all the years and trials between them and behind them, they were still very much in love.

    In a darkened room, dimly lit by morning sunlight, Shiki and Ciel reaffirmed once again that they belonged with each other, to each other, now and forever . . . No matter what lay ahead.






    Takara brought her shinnai crashing down on the straw figurine again, splintering the target, and sending a powerful jolt up her arms. Her strikes were sloppy, almost wild - not proper form at all. In a real match, she would have been defeated in less than a minute.

    She didn’t care. She needed something to vent her frustrations on, and the destruction of inanimate objects suited her just fine. She would have torn it apart with her bare hands, if she could have, but she’d always preferred the more “civilised” art of the sword. But there was nothing civilised in her actions now, only raw, furious hatred.

    Lancer had tried to help her, in every way he could. He’d tried to protect her, even though she insisted on being treated as an equal. Equal - ha! He’d known exactly what they were facing, known she wasn’t up to the task. He’d borne the danger and damage of every battle, taken every risk onto himself, because she couldn’t withstand it. She was completely out of her depth, and he’d known it - she’d just been too naive to realise it.

    And now he was dead, and it was her fault. Her father would die, and she couldn’t do anything about it, either. For all her skills, she was completely helpless. Utterly useless.

    She couldn’t do anything at all, for anyone. Why did she even try?

    “Takara-san?” asked a quiet voice. She whirled, startled, to see the nurse - Hisui, wasn’t it? - standing on the back porch. She was garbed in a French maid’s outfit, of all things, right down to the headdress.

    “My apologies, but there’s a telephone call for you. Will you take it?” She seemed not to notice the seven destroyed dummies and two broken swords on the ground. Her face, even at a distance, was a professional mask - empty of all opinion and expression.

    Takara didn’t answer at first, realising that she was nearly out of breath. She’d been beating on dummies for the last half hour, at least, and hadn’t rested.

    “Yes, ma’am,” she replied at last, sucking in another deep breath.

    “Simply ‘Hisui’ will do, Takara-san,” the nurse said. “Would you like the extension, or will you take it inside?”

    “Here’s fine.” Hisui nodded, and handed her the unit before returning inside.

    “Hello?” Takara asked, assuming it was Momoko, looking for something to do with the school closed down.

    “Aozaki-san,” said the voice on the other end. “Are you well?”

    It took her a moment to recognise it. “Emiya-sempai?

    “That would be me,” he agreed amiably.

    “How did you get this number?” she asked, thinking it a slightly better question than asking why he was calling.

    “Now, now - did you forget I’m the student council president? And your mother’s a teacher - finding your home phone number wasn’t that difficult. Or maybe I’m just secretly stalking you.” The amusement in his voice was infectious. He laughed, and she did too.

    “Now, as to why I’m calling,” he continued. “As far as I know, despite the terrible incident that destroyed the school, the town has no plans to halt the festival tonight. I was wondering if you planned to attend - and if so, if you’d mind some company? I hate to go alone, and you do owe me for steam-rolling me yesterday.”

    Takara blinked. She liked festivals - fireworks and games and other loud, boisterous activities. What she didn’t like was having to dress in a formal kimono to attend. She looked good in them, but they were so inflexible - she could hardly move in them. Still, she might have attended with her parents, if her father was well, or if she had a . . .

    “Wait a minute - are you asking me out on a date?” she choked.

    “With a little emotional blackmail to make the bait harder to refuse, yes,” Shirou agreed. “You don’t mind, do you?”

    Her depressive funk was gone. Her mind was currently flashing “TILT” as she tried to process that the student council president - someone with more than a few female admirers - was apparently interested in her company. “Uh . . .”

    “Am I too late?” he asked suddenly. “Was there someone else you were going to go with?”

    The image of a man with golden green eyes flashed before Takara’s own for a moment. “ . . . No, Sempai. There isn’t anyone else.”

    “Then you’ll go with me?”

    “Sure,” she answered, not entirely enthusiastically. “It . . . Sounds like fun.”

    “I’ll do my best to guarantee your best night on Earth,” he assured her. “I’ll pick you up at seven, all right?”

    “That’s fine,” she murmured.

    “OK, see you then.” There was a click.

    Takara lowered the phone from her ear. She had a date. With a popular, unattached, handsome boy. Who was apparently - surprisingly - interested in her. Apparently, the universe had decided that she was better off as a normal, feminine girl, and done its best to set things up accordingly. And maybe it was best that way - her tomboyish self certainly didn’t seem to do anyone any good. Maybe she should take a stronger interest in girly things, like boys, and makeup, and clothes . . .

    She blanched. “Oh, God . . . What am I going to wear?






    Shirou hung up his own phone with a smirk. Excellent - all was going according to plan. He couldn’t wait for tonight. He would make it Takara Aozaki’s best night on Earth, because it would likely be her last. If her Servant had been in play, he’d never have gotten close enough to pull this off, but with him gone . . .

    Soon, the biggest obstacle to his regaining his humanity would be removed - and everything else would be child’s play. It was a pity that Aozaki-san would have to die in the process, but . . .

    Well, everything had a price - and he knew from personal experience that the price of miracles was always very high, indeed.

    “Soon, Sakura. Soon.”
    Last edited by Kieran; December 19th, 2012 at 09:33 AM.

  10. #10
    The Jester Kieran's Avatar
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    DISCLAIMER: Lunar Legend Tsukihime, Fate/Stay Night, and all related characters and concepts are the creation and property of Kinoko Nasu and Type-Moon. No monies are generated, or intended to be, from this unauthorised use of said properties.



    Chapter 9






    Rin had prepared herself for the day ahead slowly. The time difference between Fuyuki and London kept her from sleeping properly, and she knew that she didn’t dare face what lay ahead at anything less than her best. A long sleep, followed by brunch around eleven-thirty, washed down by a cup of Earl Grey (they might be strange, but at least the British understood tea). Then a leisurely bath, followed by a long process of selecting her wardrobe. Would it be better to be dressed in a traditional Japanese style for this, or something more like what she’d become accustomed to?

    Shrugging to herself finally, she decided on a white t-shirt with navy piping and blue shorts to show off her legs, and white tennis shoes - just in case she had to exert herself today. Tapping a wraparound pair of red sunglasses into place on her nose, the mage exited her room and prepared to head for her destination - and then paused as a final thought occurred to her. Should she take it, or not?

    If she brought it with her, Sakura might assume she’d come looking for a fight. She did not want to clash with her little sister - at all, ever. Once had been enough. On the other hand, with the War going on, Fuyuki wasn’t exactly the safest place around. All she needed was for one of the competitors to read her mana levels and assume she was a viable target . . .

    Then again, maybe she could hide it?

    When Rin left the house, she bore a white lady’s parasol. Just the thing to have in case her delicate complexion was in danger of getting too much sun, or in case the weather suddenly turned . . . Stormy.

    The Emiya homestead was much as she remembered it, not surprising with Sakura living in it. No, that was the wrong word. Sakura wasn’t living here - she was just around to maintain the place for Shirou. This was a house, but it wasn’t a home. It was a shrine to a boy that had died nearly half her lifetime ago - one who shouldn’t have died, should not have had to die, but it had happened. And Sakura - sweet, tormented Sakura - had never been able to move beyond that. In that sense, the place was very different from her memories. Whatever it had been, it was a haunted house now. And Sakura was the ghost tied to it.

    Attempting to banish her sudden gloom with a sigh - and finding herself only partially successful - Rin reached out to rap the door, and announce her presence. The door, for its part, vanished underneath her knuckles and revealed an unexpected face.

    “Saber?” Rin exclaimed.

    For her part, the Servant looked serious but unsurprised - she must have been watching her approach the house. Despite the almost cold look on her face, however, something warm brushed the slight smile on her lips.

    “Miss Rin,” she answered with a nod. “It’s good to see you again. Please, come in and I’ll announce you.”

    “You’re Sakura’s Servant?” Rin clarified. She squashed a mild jealousy that her little sister had managed to pull off something she’d tried and failed to do.

    “Quite by accident, I assure you,” Saber’s tone couldn’t quite have frozen water, but it came close. Rin looked at her, surprise stifling her jealousy.

    “Is something wrong?” the mage asked.

    Saber glanced at her, and looked away. “It’s nothing you need concern yourself with, Miss. Please, this way. I’m certain you and your sister have a great deal to discuss.”

    Rin said nothing, merely noted what the warrior had - and, more importantly, had not - said, and followed her gracefully into the house.






    Takara stood indecisively in front of her parents’ door. Did she really want to do this? If her mother was even in, which she likely wasn’t, their last “conversation” hadn’t been on the best of terms. And her father was likely sleeping in any case . . .

    Good, sound arguments all - but desperation drove her to tap hesitantly on the door. “. . . Mother? Are you in?”

    “Come in,” her father answered.

    The teenager slid the door open. “Pardon the intrusion . . .” She trailed off.

    Her father was flushed, sweat clearly visible on his bare chest. His hair was utterly dishevelled - partly sweat, and partly the fact that he was liable to fall asleep in the shower if he tried to wash it himself lately. It was another measure of how ill he’d been that she could see the definition of his ribs without any problems. Nonetheless, he greeted her with a smile as he pushed his glasses into place on his face.

    “What is it?” he asked.

    Takara wasn’t sure how to answer that - the sight was a little shocking. She’d known he was sick, but sights like that one really brought home the fact that her father was slowly but surely wasting away. She was spared an immediate need to reply as her mother stepped out of the bathroom, clad in a white robe that had black lace peeking from the triangle of flesh near the top.

    Ciel blinked at the unexpected visitor. “Takara-chan?

    “Mother . . . “ Takara’s throat closed up. Ciel, too, was flushed - which gave the girl suspicions that her father was not running a fever. Once again, anger percolated from her centre through her veins. So, she’d disappear for nights on end, while her husband got sicker, and just expect him to be able to perform whenever she wanted . . .

    Then her anger was swept away by teenaged embarrassment, and a heartfelt thanks that she’d waited as long as she had before coming to ask for -

    “Help!” she blurted. “I . . . I wanted to know if you had a yukata I could borrow.”

    Ciel tilted her head to look at her in surprise. “We found out last year that you’d outgrown yours - you didn’t get a new one for yourself?” Clothes shopping was one of the traditional girl activities Takara actually enjoyed, and her allowance was sufficient to cover it.

    “Um . . . Well, I hadn’t actually planned to go to the festival this year, with . . .” Father’s illness, she didn’t say. “But I kind of, well . . . I have a date.”

    “A date?” her parents replied, followed by Shiki asking, “Who?”

    “Emiya Shirou . . . He asked me,” The embarrassed blush that had been threatening to inflame her cheeks made good on it now, for an entirely different reason than before.

    Shiki glanced at Ciel, who answered, “The student council president. Hardworking and confident, with good grades and more than a little charisma, but he’s a very private person.” Despite the glowing words, her tone did not sound entirely approving.

    “You don’t like him?” Shiki asked quietly.

    “He reminds me of a certain foreign exchange student, back when we were in high school,” she replied. Shiki nodded and said nothing.

    Takara sensed an undertone to the conversation that she wasn’t understanding, but didn’t inquire. What mattered to her, in this case, was ". . . So I can’t go?”

    Ciel was suddenly all bright smiles, as her “doting mother” persona took control. “Of course you can go, sweetheart - and have a good time. But be careful, too, all right?”

    “Of course - but there’s still the problem of what I should wear.”

    “Actually, it’s not a problem,” Shiki informed her. “Your birthday present from your Aunt Touko arrived last week - we can give it to you now, for this festival, instead of next year’s.”

    “She sent me a yukata?

    “Carefully tailored by some of London’s best,” Ciel said pleasantly. “And I’m sure we can find things to make a perfect outfit for it! Just give me a moment to throw something on myself, and I’ll be glad to help.”

    Takara blinked, turning crimson as she suddenly remembered her earlier thoughts.“Of course,” she said hurriedly. Bowing slightly, she added, “Please excuse me,” and left.






    Once they were alone, Shiki asked, “So, what is he?”

    “A sorcerer,” Ciel replied. “He’s got some kind of agenda, I’m sure of it - or maybe I’m projecting. He’s got Arcueid’s colouring.”

    Shiki sighed. “She wasn’t that bad, Ciel.” It was an old argument, and he saw no reason to resume the debate at the moment. “Is Takara safe with him?”

    She bit her lip. “Probably, but . . .”

    “That’s good enough for now, Ciel. This is her first date - far be it from us to spoil it for her. If you’re reasonably sure she’ll be OK, then I won’t worry about him any more than I worry about Takara being hit by a bus every time she leaves the house.”

    “Which is to say, ‘always?’” Ciel wasn’t the only one overprotective of Takara.

    “Frequently,” Shiki corrected. “How about the white dress shirt with the gray skirt today? You can add the gray jacket when you go for your interview.”

    Ciel nodded, sliding out of her robe.






    “I can find no trace of the ones we seek, Dono,” the woman in the kimono informed her master. “It appears we shall have to ask our buyer for more information, after all. Shall I arrange a meeting?”

    He nodded, his attention fixed on the third figure in the room. Wrapped in two straitjackets, and tied to a stretcher by padlocked chains, the third person’s face was covered in a full-face mask that acted as both blind and gag. Its two halves were bound by yet another padlock. Yet even blind, mute, and bound, it still struggled against its imprisonment. It raged against the bonds that held it, to the point that the stretcher itself cried out in protest at the force employed against it.

    “Was it always so powerful, I wonder?” he mused aloud. “Or is such strength a gift conferred upon those chosen as warriors?”

    “I do not know, Dono,” she replied. “But I am afraid its bonds will not hold.”

    “Hmm . . . You have a point. As entertaining as this is, it would be - unfortunate - to see him released so early.” He glared at the writhing creature. “Cease your struggles. Hoard your rage for those I deem worthy of your wrath. Then, you may release all the violence you wish - indeed, that is my desire. You are my trump card . . . My perfect assassin.”

    He trailed off, suddenly pale.

    “Are you alright, Dono?” she inquired of her master.

    “Its fury - thrilled my blood . . .” he rasped. “And commanding so powerful a thing takes a great deal of strength. I . . . I require your services . . . Kohaku.”

    “Of course, Dono,” Kohaku replied instantly, her hand going to her sash.






    Ciel knocked lightly on her daughter’s door, carrying a wrapped bundle.

    “Come in,” she heard.

    “Pardon my intrusion,” Ciel replied as she entered. She glanced at Takara, sitting on her bed, and the dressing table with the mirror in the far corner, next to her closet.

    “Here’s the yukata,” she said. “Change while I set up the dressing table to do your hair and makeup.”

    “My hair? Makeup?” Takara sounded close to panicked. Sure, it was a date at a festival, but it wasn’t like she was getting married!

    “Nothing fancy,” Ciel assured her. “If your date’s tonight, we’ve got no time for curling or perming. But I can brush it for you, and we’ll add a little lipstick, some perfume . . . you want to look nice, don’t you?”

    “I . . .”

    “If not for your date, then think what your father will say when he sees you.”

    “. . . That’s not fair.”

    “Of course it isn’t,” Ciel teased. “You haven’t wanted to play dress-up since you were nine years old - I plan to enjoy every minute of this. And take pictures.”

    “MOTHER!”

    As Ciel laughed, she continued setting out cosmetics and glanced in the mirror long enough to confirm that Takara had no visible bruises or scratches anywhere, beneath or beyond her clothes. Her little girl always had been a quick healer - one of the reasons Ciel had never really objected to all her rough-and-tumble activities.

    Ciel stopped to sigh. Her little girl . . . Not any longer, not really. But, at the same time, always. Her name had been selected for its truth, not its irony - Takara was her mother’s treasure, now and forever.

    “Would you mind holding my hair, please?” the older Aozaki heard, and she chided herself for drifting like that. She did as requested, taken the dark, silken mane so that Takara could slide into her kimono top without pinning it.

    “Thank you, Mother.”

    “I’m here to help,” Ciel replied.

    Takara said nothing as she tied the belt into place, and turned to face her mother.

    Ciel’s eyes widened. “That does look good on you - your aunt has excellent taste. Be sure to write her thank-you letter promptly.”

    Takara nodded.

    “Now, as to the rest of you,” Ciel continued, gently pushing Takara onto the padded stool. “Your hair is good as it is, I think - we shouldn’t need to do much more than add a clip or two. Do you have any red ones? They’ll match the belt.”

    Takara slid open a drawer. “White ribbon, silver headband, sky blue ribbon, red ribbon . . .Ah!” She held out a scarlet hair clip in the shape of a butterfly. “Momoko left this here at our last sleepover. I don’t think she’ll mind if I borrow it.”

    “It’s the right shade,” Ciel agreed. “Now, just close your eyes, and leave the brushing to me - or see if there’s a lipstick shade you like.”

    Takara nodded and closed her eyes as Ciel took the clip, and ran a hairbrush through her tresses. Slow, even strokes - gentle, but firm. It reminded her of when she’d been a little girl, fresh from the shower. Sitting in Mother’s lap, in her warm bathrobe, being stroked like this . . . She used to pretend to be a kitten, and meow and purr . . .

    “Takara-chan,” Ciel said quietly. “I didn’t . . . I didn’t hire Hisui just so I could have an excuse to be away. I asked for her because she’s an old friend of your father’s, and I can trust her to take care of him. It’s not fair to ask you to do it . . . And as long as I’m looking for a cure, [i]I]/i] can’t, either.”

    Takara’s eyes opened. “I thought you were working for the Church.”

    “I am. The people I’m dealing with have a lot of power and influence. They also devote themselves to the obscure, and the unorthodox. If there’s a way to help Shiki, I’ll find it from them. But in exchange, they ask that I devote a lot of time and energy to their plans.” She locked eyes with Takara through the mirror. “It isn’t that I love him, or you, any less. It’s that I’ll do anything at all, no matter how slim the chance, to save him. Can you understand that, Takara?”

    Takara was silent a long moment, as she considered this. Her mother’s absences weren’t born of indifference, but desperation? So much that she’d risk losing her last moments together with her father if it meant a chance at saving him? It sounded ridiculous . . . But so did fighting for a mystical Grail using the souls of ancient warriors as pawns. Why should she be the only one entitled to believe in the possibility of miracles?

    Ciel looked at her intently, eyes wide with what Takara recognised belatedly as fear. Fear of her rejection.

    Takara smiled her slight smile. “I love you, Mother . . . And I’m sorry.”

    The next few moments were devoted to hugs and tears. When they were done, Ciel laughed. “It’s a good thing we didn’t apply your makeup yet - we’d have to do it all over again. Now, we can make your complexion paler, or more ruddy. What do you think?”






    Hisui closed the door to Shiki-sama’s room as quietly as she’d opened it. Ciel-san and Takara-san were engrossed in something else - they showed no sign of having heard her activities.

    The maid was torn. On the one hand, she was having to sneak around like a thief, a woman of the lowest morals. To be something seen and not heard, and barely noticed, most of the time. An open secret from the world at large . . . :ike her sister had been. It was infuriating, and humiliating, and she hated it.

    On the other hand, she was almost having her life’s dream come true. She was with Shiki-sama, in a place where no secrets were between them, and they could just be who they were, together. And she got to share with Shiki-sama what she had always wanted of him, and would have given to no one else. Were it not for the fact that she had to share him, it would almost be paradise.

    The role of the mistress was a longstanding if unofficial one in Japanese society. So long as discretion was properly served, it could even be a respectable one. Hisui understood and appreciated that. But it was not a role she found comfortable.

    Yet, a corner of her mind remarked. Not yet. But so long as you can have Shiki-sama, [i]is it so bad to be this way?

    It was not as she might have wished it to be. But she was of a lower class, and believing that Shiki-sama could ever have officially bound himself to her was a childish fancy. Even if he had not left the Tohno clan over Ciel-san, it would never have come to be, save in her dreams. Indeed, if he had stayed, she might still be performing this role, and only the household would be changed.

    But so long as you can have Shiki-sama, the inner voice repeated, is it so bad to be this way?

    Try as she might, Hisui could not honestly say that it was.






    He stood upon an interior balcony, overlooking a vast chamber. The stone that formed it was an unpainted gray that looked like granite, but the texture of the railing under his hand felt more like marble. High columns, carved from the walls themselves, supported a massive, vaulted ceiling perhaps two or three lengths of his own body above his head. At the far end of the chamber stand two massive doors, carved of solid oak, with no handles. There was no sound in this massive place, no hint of life. Barely any colour, either. The whole place seemed . . . Dead.

    From all corners of the room, thick, heavy chains hung, converging into a single point, twenty or thirty feet below him. Staring, he realised that all the lines, too, everywhere in this room, fed into that point, as though there was no individual distinction between any object here - as though the fate of all things here was tied to that lone source. A figure hung there, pinned like a fly within the centre of an elaborate spider’s web. A woman, he knew.

    She was garbed in white finery, that much he could see. Her blonde hair all but concealed her face, and had grown so long and thick it was interwoven with the chains, until the golden strands extended almost to the floor. She hung there, silent and unmoving, pristine and untouched in all the ways that mattered. For all intents and purposes, she might as well be dead.

    Shiki wanted to touch her, to reassure himself that this was not so, but could not. From where he stood, she was too far away for him. The fall was too far. It was important that someone reach her, but he was only mortal, not strong enough to go to where she was and survive the journey.

    A young girl’s voice whispered to him, “Not yet . . .”







    Shiki jolted awake at the sound of a tap, and realised that he had fallen asleep. He frowned, realising that he’d been dreaming about Arcueid again, and not knowing why. It had happened infrequently before - once or twice a year, every year - but never so close together. There seemed to be an urgency to them that had never been present before. Especially in that first dream - always, before, the dreams had been set in the castle, and never of her dying. What, he wondered, was his subconscious trying to tell him?

    A sneering laugh seemed to echo in his ears, but he dismissed it.

    “Shiki?” came Ciel’s voice from beyond the closed door, quietly. “Are you awake?”

    “Yes, sorry,” he answered. “Come in.”

    The door opened, and Ciel entered with a smile. “I know you’re the artist of the family, and I’d like your opinion on my latest creation: Takara Aozaki - the ‘First Date’ edition.”

    “MOTHER!”exploded from the hallway, and Shiki had to chuckle.

    “You’re enjoying this too much,” he chided her, unable to keep from grinning himself.

    “When am I going to get the chance again?” she responded. The merry twinkle in her eyes had been missing for a long time, and Shiki was glad to see it again. He’d missed the warmth Ciel naturally exuded.

    “Come in, Takara-chan,” Shiki called.

    “Let me at least set up the camera!” Ciel protested, but her words fell on deaf ears as their daughter glided in.

    She was wrapped in a dark blue kimono, upon which white roses blossomed, connected by webs of thorny vines, all carefully patterned upon the silk. A scarlet sash encircled her waist, tied into a delicate bow at her back, matching both the sandals she wore and the butterfly that perched upon the left side of her head. In her right hand, she carried a folding fan, fashioned to match the yukata in its blue-and-white scheme. Her face had been covered only by a base foundation, rendering her neither too pale nor too flushed, but adding an extra smoothness to her features, and a subtle glow to her skin. Pale pink lipstick covered her mouth, matching the hue of her nails. She wore no jewellery, but the faint scent of cinnamon followed her into the room.

    Wide blue eyes looked at Shiki for a moment, and then at the floor. Her cheeks darkened in embarrassment.

    “Will I do?” she asked shyly.

  11. #11
    吸血鬼 Vampire MrTags's Avatar
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    Whu it actually worked? I mean how do you like the power of my Gae Bolg you wanton demon!?
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    To be honest I always thought of this as a Scions prelude.

    But that went out the window didn't it?

  12. #12
    The Jester Kieran's Avatar
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    DISCLAIMER: Lunar Legend Tsukihime, Fate/Stay Night, and all related characters and concepts are the creation and property of Kinoko Nasu and Type-Moon. No monies are generated, or intended to be, from this unauthorised use of said properties.



    Chapter 10






    A key component of successful tracking is render oneself invisible. No matter the circumstances, locale, or nature of one’s quarry, it was all the easier to find when it remained unaware that it was being hunted. Therefore, he needed to blend in with the city itself, lest Saber be on her guard.

    Shortly after dawn, a black wolf rummaged through the still-standing remains of a destroyed school to acquire a set of gym clothes intended for a forgetful teenaged boy. They had been in a locker, and thus spared the stone dust and rippling heat brought on by Saber’s attack, but they stank of stale sweat, impeding the wolf’s sense of smell. Still, given the destroyed state of his own garments, he had little choice. First, however, he had to fit the clothes. The shift back to human form was near-instantaneous, as natural as breathing. Now, to make it the right human form, he had to concentrate.

    Suntanned skin lightened, becoming more golden in hue. Height vanished as bones contracted into a smaller frame. Muscles shrank into themselves, largely disappearing altogether. Golden-green eyes darkened, first to brown, then a near-black, as their dimensions stretched to a more almond shape. Skin smoothed, lines and definition melting away, until a Japanese teen in his gym uniform could go about his morning jog unnoticed - save for the pack slung over his shoulder, and the boots he wore in place of running shoes. It was the only major flaw in his disguise, but it couldn’t be helped - no shoes were to be found with the uniform, and the sound-baffling enchantment on the boots could only help him approach Saber stealthily.

    Once clear of the building, Lancer took a few deep breaths. Saber had gone . . . That way.






    “It’s good to see you, Sakura,” Rin said, and meant it, no matter how awkward she felt. When was the last time she’d seen her little sister? Four years ago now - or was it five? It wasn’t that she didn’t want to spend time with her only remaining family, but living a continent away, from either side of the map, made visits difficult, at the least.

    “What’s wrong with Saber?” she asked. “She seems a little - upset.”

    Sakura’s tone was light, but something in her eyes was icy. “She and I have a disagreement on the scope of her duties, but it’s not important. Tell me what brings a Magus of the Association this far east . . . As if I couldn’t guess.”

    “I’m here to observe, Sakura, not participate,” Rin assured her.

    “Really?” The tips of her hair stirred slightly, as if brushed by an unfelt wind. “You mean to tell me you won’t be assuming your responsibility as head of the Tohsaka clan?” The younger woman’s voice was hard, and so Rin’s answer was deliberately soft.

    “If I did, do you think I would wish for anything else but what you want, Sakura-chan? He was my friend, too . . . And you’re my sister.”

    Sakura’s posture relaxed. “I’m . . . I'm sorry, Onee-chan. I just . . .”

    “I know,” Rin replied. “You want him so badly - too badly. Sakura-chan, Shirou would have wanted you to be happy. Are you happy, living like this? All alone?”

    It was the wrong thing to say, or the wrong way to phrase it. Sakura’s eyes chilled again, and her face hardened.

    “That’s not my fault,” she snapped, and the older sorceress flinched.

    “I try to visit, and I keep asking you to come back to England with me,” Rin countered, as gently as she could.

    “I don’t want to leave!” Sakura fired back. “I like it here, at Sempai’s! I don’t want anything else but to be here, with Sempai! Why can’t you understand that?”

    “I do! But you’ve shut out everyone and everything else, Sakura! Your entire life is wrapped up in this now, and nothing more! And what happens if you can’t bring him back? What then? Will you wait another fifteen years? Another fifty? If the gate doesn’t open again within your lifetime, what will be left of you?”

    “I WON’T FAIL!” Sakura roared. “He deserves to live, and I’ll make him live again! I’ll bring him back, even if I have destroy anyone and everyone who stands in my way!”

    “Even you, sister,” she added in a low voice.

    Rin’s face was pale, but her voice and eyes were hard. “I won’t stand in your way, Sakura, don’t worry. But I won’t stand by, either, and let you kill innocent people, if it comes to that.”

    “I’ll remember that,” Sakura sneered. “Now, get out.”

    “Oh, I’m going,” the elder sorceress assured her. She stood, and walked to the open door. Pausing, she added, “I almost hope you fail, Sakura . . . Because I think it’s better that Shirou stays dead, rather than letting him see what you’ve made of the life he died to preserve. ”

    Lightning crackled between Sakura’s fingers, but Rin was gone before she could decide whether or not to hurl it.

    The sudden ring of the telephone broke her focus, and she glared at the offending instrument before picking it up.

    “Hello,” she growled. “. . . Yes. Yes, I can do that. Here, at seven. Good, I’ll see you then.”

    Saber! Sakura commanded.

    The answer, when it came, was subdued to the point of monotony. Yes?

    Follow my sister, and report back to me if she does anything against me.
    Rin could claim her presence was neutral, but so close to victory, Sakura couldn’t take any chances.

    Yes, Sakura, the Servant answered, in a mental “tone” that sounded resigned.

    The sorceress considered punishing her, but decided that so long as Saber followed orders, it didn’t matter. She had more important things to consider, such as the newly-scheduled meeting with her sources.

    They must know something valuable, or they wouldn’t have called. The Tohnos were, after all, well-paid for their efforts.






    Takara walked uneasily beside her date, on their way to the festival grounds. For the first time in a while, this was not because of any approaching danger, or grief, but because she wasn’t entirely certain how to behave. She’d rarely had any contact with Emiya Shirou before now, and had no idea what he might expect of her. And this was the Tanabata festival, the one night of the year when the weaver princess Orihime was allowed to meet with her beloved, the cowherd Hikoboshi. It was a time for wishes - and romance. Takara wasn’t especially comfortable with either.

    Shirou broke the silence between them. “Forgive me if I’m being rude, but I wasn’t expecting your father to be that much older than your mother, Aozaki-san. Was he her high school teacher, perhaps?”

    Takara was torn between being thankful that the burden of starting a conversation had been lifted from her, and wincing at the choice of topic. “Actually, Mother is a year older than Father. He’s been very ill, recently.”

    Shirou rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. “Ouch - I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to -“

    ”It’s . . . It's all right,” she assured him, not entirely certain that it was. “You didn’t know.”

    “Is your father all right?” His tone was laced with sympathy.

    Takara stayed silent, unwilling to elaborate on just how very not “all right” his condition was.

    Shirou’s eyes turned serious. “I see,” he replied, in a tone that said he did, indeed. “Well, tonight I can promise to keep your mind occupied with other things. Maybe you’ll even enjoy some of them.”

    Takara glanced at him. If he was expecting what she thought he was . . .

    He seemed to interpret the look, and hastened to add, “Tonight we’ll go through every booth at the festival - twice!”

    She let out a breath she hadn’t realised she’d been holding. Despite his looks, position, and popularity at school, the student council president seemed like a nice enough boy. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad, after all.






    It wasn’t. After taking her to the community tree, where they each tied on a wish (a secret one, of course), Shirou guided her to the games aisle. They tried the shooting gallery, ring toss, goldfish-scooping game, and strength tester. Shirou demonstrated remarkable hand-eye coordination, winning at the first two and coming close to managing the third, but he lacked the physical strength to ring the bell. Takara did passably well in the first two games, managed to snag a goldfish in the third (which she gave to a thankful little boy - she didn’t need or want a pet), and nearly knocked the weight high enough to ring the bell on the strength tester.

    After so much exercise, it was decided that food was in order, so they began to browse the vendor’s stalls, chatting as they went.

    “You’re very strong, Aozaki-kun,” Shirou remarked, having switched to the more comfortable honorific over the course of the night. “Maybe even stronger than me.”

    “According to the tester, I am stronger,” Takara corrected.

    He smiled. “Are you sure I wasn’t holding back?”

    “Were you?” she challenged him.

    “May ~ be,” he singsonged, darting over to a snack booth and ordering a strawberry ice cream crepe before she could say anything. Takara considered getting a chocolate mousse one, then considered what kind of stains chocolate could put on her brand-new yukata, and bought a box of chocolate-and-strawberry swirled Pocky instead. It wouldn’t quite satisfy her desire, but it was neater and would take the edge off.

    “You should have let me pay,” he chided. “I’m the one escorting you, after all. In any case, Aozaki-kun, it’s quite impressive to see that kind of strength in a girl.”

    “You don’t think it’s - unfeminine?” Takara asked shyly. She couldn’t help but blush at the question.

    “On the contrary, it’s very attractive,” he assured her.

    She blushed harder. She’d received compliments before, but never in this kind of setting. It was, she admitted, nice.

    “Um, Emiya-sempai?” she asked suddenly. “Why did you . . . I mean -“

    ”Why did I ask you out?” he finished. When she nodded, he smiled.

    “Because you have something I’ve been looking for, and haven’t seen for a long time,” he answered. “Something I need, very badly. You’re a wondrous combination, Aozaki-kun. Such power . . . and purity.”

    Takara blinked, not fully certain she understood. “Emiya-sempai?

    It was then that the crowds started screaming.






    Rin sat in the hastily-erected food vendor’s booth, sipping a cup of sake. She’d wanted to just go directly to her hotel, find a bottle of scotch, and tuck herself in with it, but the crowds had drawn her attention instead. She might not have been properly dressed for the occasion, but it had been so many years since she’d celebrated Tanabata, why not? Anything to take her mind off Sakura.

    She had only herself to blame, really. Sakura had been hurt when Shirou died, and she’d gone off to study under Zelretch instead of trying to help her. No, that wasn’t fair - she had tried, but Sakura hadn’t wanted help. Hadn’t wanted to face the possibility that death was death. Sakura had spent almost five years, instead, patiently waiting for Shirou’s return - and another ten working to bring it about herself. And Rin, an ocean and more away on either side of the world, had let her do it alone.

    And where did that leave things now? Sakura wasn’t in love any more, she was obsessed to the point of madness - if she wasn’t already beyond it. The mundane course of things would suggest getting her treatment, or at worst, locking her away. Sakura, however, was anything but mundane. Rin doubted that the Association could build a prison that would hold her. And in that case, there was only one course of action. To the detriment of magic as an Art, but for the sake of its continued survival in the mundane world, Sakura would have to die.

    Very few individuals would have the power to end her life. Sakura’s sheer power rendered her all-but-invulnerable against common sorceries, or the average warrior. Zelretch certainly could do it, or the legendary White Princess, if she so deigned, or even her sempai, the dreaded Magic Gunner. The Association, however, would say that there was no need to try to coax any of these powerful beings to act, when an agent was already on-site. And it was the sort of task she’d been sent to do.

    Rin didn’t want to do it, and wasn’t certain she’d have the strength or skill to succeed, even if she tried. This was her only remaining family, her much-abused baby sister. Killing Sakura would destroy her, even if she lived through it.

    Shirou had thought much the same way - and it had gotten him killed.

    “Would you have changed your mind, if you’d known?” she asked him quietly.

    “I wonder that myself,” came her answer, and the sorceress jumped at seeing Saber slide into the seat in front of her.

    “Why are you here?” Rin asked, surprised.

    Saber scowled. “Ostensibly, to spy on you. My ‘mistress’ doesn’t trust your motives.” Her emerald eyes blazed. “I, on the other hand, have differing opinions - on several subjects. Still, I am curious - what precisely brings you here? I would assume you wish nothing to do with the War, after the last time.”

    “Association orders,” Rin answered with a grimace. “They fear another threat like Ahriman’s.”

    Saber blinked. “I had thought the demon destroyed.”

    “Banished from this world, but not destroyed,” Rin corrected. “I’ve had a long time to study the principles behind the Grail system, and see how it works. The Einzberns summoned the most powerful Servant they could conceive of, a supreme embodiment of war capable of defeating any power which stood against it - and they succeeded too well. Ahriman became more than simply violence personified - instead, a living incarnation of all that is evil in this world . . . And how do you destroy the combined darkness of humankind?” She shook her head. “Destroying the Grail like that severed Ahriman’s link to this world, permanently - but the thing still exists. And so could another like it.”

    Saber shivered, suddenly paler than her Caucasian features could account for.

    “So, I’m here to play judge, jury, and executioner,” Rin said bitterly. “If anything even remotely dangerous on that scale shows up, I’m to destroy it without hesitation - no matter who or what I have to eliminate to do it.”

    “Like your sister?” Saber asked softly.

    Rin didn’t answer.

    “I admit, I don’t care much for my role in this, either,” the Servant admitted. “I want to win, yes - and seeing Shirou restored is a cause I deem worth fighting for. But I spent my life dedicated to the ideals of justice and fairness, dedicating myself to a code of honour. If I sacrifice my principles to achieve my desires, what kind of victory have I won?” She frowned. “Unfortunately, Sakura doesn’t seem to share my viewpoint. Her own desire has blinded her to all else, I fear.” Her emerald eyes were serious. “If she is not yet the type of threat you were sent to eliminate, I think she is not far from reaching the end of that path.”

    “I know,” Rin sighed. “Her only hope - our only hope - is to end the War as quickly as we can. Or at least, finish my task so that I can leave before it happens, and claim I didn’t know - grant Sakura that much longer.”

    “You anticipate another threat?” Saber asked tightly. Her entire posture tensed.

    Rin gazed at the Servant, knowing her ultimate loyalty had to be to Sakura, but remembering, as well, that she and Shirou had been able to trust her with their lives. What happened to the warrior afterward had been neither her choice nor her fault.

    “My master gave me a lead before I ever left England,” Rin said quietly. “There was a summons, across the dimensions, and -“

    She never got a chance to finish her sentence, as Saber grabbed her head and forced her down under the table, even as she threw herself back and under as well. Rolling, the knight lashed out with both feet to send the table flying up and over where the sorceress had been sitting, to catch a pair of human forms approaching their location at high speed.

    Saber flipped to her feet, and drew her blade. Three pale females, two on the ground, one beside a fourth figure - a large man clad in chain mail armour, as black as the darkest midnight. Around the group lay the corpses of several festival-goers - grabbed at random, it seemed, and slain for no better reason than that they were close at hand.

    The armoured man nodded his head slightly, seeming to give her an appraising look from head to toe despite the visored helmet. He spoke, in a deep yet melodic voice that made something deep inside Saber shiver, and not necessarily from fear.

    “A challenge at last.”






    Shirou had drawn out the night, partly to make his intended victim drowsy and off-guard - the better to ambush her - and partly to allow her to enjoy herself. There was no point in torturing her for this, after all. He wasn’t a heartless monster, someone who enjoyed that sort of thing. This was simply an unfortunate task that needed to be done, and that was all there was to it.

    What he hadn’t expected was to enjoy himself in doing it. Takara Aozaki was a girl who was obviously confident in her abilities if not her qualities. She was not a social creature, though capable of being sociable. She was very much a lady despite her tomboyish tastes, unrefined but elegant nonetheless, and possessed of a mind and tongue that were both very sharp.

    It was, he mused, as though someone had infused some of Sakura’s nature into Rin, and the combination was certainly intriguing.

    His interest, unfortunately, wouldn’t spare her. His only desire in this pseudo-life he now possessed was to return to Sakura, and Aozaki’s death was an unavoidable step in ensuring the safety of that goal. Even if this part of his plan had been unnecessary, she would have had to die anyway - she was a participant in the War, and possessed of far too much natural talent for his own peace of mind. She was dangerous, plain and simple, with that much power . . . the same power that was so vital to his goal.

    Still, admitted a small portion of himself he refused to acknowledge, she was very attractive.

    Shirou looked into her confused blue eyes and prepared to murmur the words that would send her to a sleep that she would not be waking up from, when he paused. As the Grail’s current core matrix, he had access to avenues of information no normal sorcerer would, and new presences had suddenly impinged on his senses. Three Servants had just entered the area. Two were strange, somehow . . . But the third was familiar to him. She’d once been his, after all.

    The sorcerer paused. If he cast a spell now, there was a good chance Saber would sense it, and be on guard against him - their former bond and his current nature might allow her such a sympathetic connection, even if she wasn’t capable of it on her own. That could complicate things. Worse, he had no real idea of the other two’s abilities - and if either was a Caster, they would know he was here, and know him for a sorcerer in the War, if not the living Grail itself.

    But what were they all doing here, in such crowded environs? It went against the established rules, but it couldn’t be a coincidence. Were they somehow looking for him?

    Then the screams began, and he felt Saber move towards one of the other Servants. It appeared, in violation of the War’s edicts, an open battle was about to occur. That might serve as an acceptable distraction.

    “Sleep,” he commanded, and the girl slumped bonelessly against him. He lifted her weight easily, and spoke aloud to his own Servant.

    “Ignore the current battle - make sure I escape unmolested, Archer.”

    The most key step to attaining his goal was nearly at hand.






    In the wild, he was unmatched. He could track a single goblin with a three-day head start across hard ground, on a moonless night, after twelve hours of heavy rain, and still find his quarry without too much difficulty. The city, however, was not the wild. The usual signs of a trail were muted at best, or absent altogether. The streets were labelled with an incomprehensible language, and strange scents choked the air, as well as an unending tide, or so it seemed, of humanity, passing over the same area again and again, to obliterate all traces that might, however remotely, remain. It was an impossible task to accomplish.

    But he had Saber’s scent, time, and patience. And he was still the greatest tracker his world had ever known, tireless and relentless.

    It was dark by the time Lancer had reached the house where Saber’s trail ended, only to begin anew, minutes later, seemingly in pursuit of another scent - female, he suspected, though not her Master’s. And the moon, just past half full, was high in the sky by the time he reached the fairgrounds. But he followed the trail, because it was what he was. A hunter.

    The crowds were too thick for him to see much, and his attire was inappropriate - as before, he’d stand out. He’d be better off roaming the area as a “stray” cat, or flying overhead as an owl. And so, he stood outside, concealed in the shadows, and observed.

    The festival goers were all garbed in some kind of ritual vestments - a clinging robe, of some form, with patterns - some floral, some animal, such as butterflies. Bright colours and delicate cloth was the order of the night, it seemed. It was - pretty . . . And also familiar?

    No, the familiarity came from a scent, he realised. A scent he knew deeply, as deep as the blood that flowed beneath delicate flesh. His Mistress’ scent. She was here.

    Keeping to the shadows, he stalked along the grounds, trying his best to stay silent and unseen - and, he supposed, being mostly successful. At the very least, he saw no open reactions to his presence.

    She was garbed like the rest of them, in a dark blue garment that would emphasise the paler aspect of her complexion, he was certain, and offset the lighter shade of her eyes. It was patterned with white blossoms - roses - and there was a scarlet ornament in her hair. She looked . . . She looked lovely. A young lady, in stark contrast to the stubborn girl he knew.

    And she was not alone, but escorted by a young man of her own age. His skin was nearly as pale as hers, and his hair white, or a blond so pale it was close enough. His eyes were brown, but of a hue that looked almost red in the dim light. His posture was easygoing, his smile genuinely charming, and she seemed to be enjoying his company very much.

    An unconscious growl burned Lancer’s throat, and he wondered why. Then the wind shifted slightly, strengthening their scents, and he knew. He looked and acted charming, but he smelled inhuman. He was a Servant, or something else - but something dangerous, Lancer was certain. And when his mistress collapsed, he darted forward, fully intent on rending the offending creature limb from limb.

    Into his path stepped a man wearing a bronze breastplate and helm, small but wiry-looking. A polished longbow was slung over his left shoulder.

    “Stop, boy,” warned the dark-complexioned man, “ or die a terrible death.”

    “Been there, done that,” Lancer snarled. “Your turn.
    Last edited by Kieran; December 19th, 2012 at 09:34 AM.

  13. #13
    The Jester Kieran's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MrTags View Post
    To be honest I always thought of this as a Scions prelude.

    But that went out the window didn't it?
    Yup - I overreached myself, and there was no way it was ever going to be finished. So out it went.

  14. #14
    Red & Black & White & Red ItsaRandomUsername's Avatar
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    It's back with a vengeance! YES.
    eddyak:
    IRUn is not a teenage white girl.
    My gast is well and truly flabbered.

    Rafflesiac:
    It's a good thing the Fuyuki Municipal Library had that copy of the Epic of Gilgamesh as well as that sword dictionary and that Kuzuki went over Plato in ethics class.

  15. #15
    The Jester Kieran's Avatar
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    Yeah - not sure how much longer I can maintain the pace, but that's a good chunk so far. On the other hand, in the last few days I've now managed 23 chapters out of 140 written . . . Really doesn't seem like much, does it? *sigh*

  16. #16
    吸血鬼 Vampire MrTags's Avatar
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    The pace?

    Aren't you just copy pasting like the rest of us?

    Though I must admit for new readers this is something like fic overload.

  17. #17
    吸血鬼 Vampire Cascade's Avatar
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    Lol, I was thinking of doing the same thing. However, I have to track down all my old files. Most of them are still up on the other page I posted them on. (typemoon.us) but the newest one is probably lost.

  18. #18
    The Jester Kieran's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MrTags View Post
    The pace?

    Aren't you just copy pasting like the rest of us?

    Though I must admit for new readers this is something like fic overload.
    No kidding.

    No, I have to recode them first - by which I mean all the [square bracket stuff]. And I do a bit of tweaking for the occasional error, and the like. And because it's repetitive, my CTS does not like. But I'd really like to get back to what I was doing, so it needs to be done.

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    The Jester Kieran's Avatar
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    DISCLAIMER: Lunar Legend Tsukihime, Fate/Stay Night, and all related characters and concepts are the creation and property of Kinoko Nasu and Type-Moon. No monies are generated, or intended to be, from this unauthorised use of said properties.




    Chapter 11






    Sakura was surprised by the pair who arrived on her doorstep. The woman, she had met before. But her companion . . . He had not been at all expected.

    “My master felt it was time to meet, face-to-face,” was offered by way of explanation, and then the full introduction. Sakura nodded in understanding, upon hearing the name.

    She guided them into her parlour, where her sister had been, not so long ago, and offered tea.

    “That would be quite kind of you,” the gentleman replied. “However, do not feel it necessary to serve. I assure you, Kohaku is quite able to.”

    “But she’s a guest,” Sakura protested. “I couldn’t - “

    ”She is a servant, and it is her duty. She has no other purpose in this meeting. So please, allow her the liberty of availing herself of your kitchen. I wish to focus your complete attention on the purpose of this meeting, and you can’t do so if playing hostess, hm?”

    As she could see no way to refute the logic of that, Sakura acquiesced.

    “Very good. Kohaku, prepare the tea.”

    “Hai, Dono,” she replied. Sakura frowned at the near-robotic tone of the response. No Grail energies emanated from her - she might be a servant, but she was no Servant. Noticing the look, the woman flashed her a smile that seemed to reach her eyes, unless you looked deep enough.

    “What is it you want to discuss?” Sakura asked, bringing her attention back to the Tohno representative.

    “We have done you a great service, over the years, of funnelling information regarding certain unusual individuals and events,” he began.

    “A service for which you’ve been well-paid,” Sakura pointed out.

    Irritation crossed his features. “Money is not the issue. What I require now is a favour in kind.”

    Kohaku was at their elbows before she even realised it, tea cups balanced perfectly on a tray she hadn’t seen or thought of in weeks.

    “Excellently done, Kohaku,” her master said, taking the cup nearest him. “She is a veritable magician herself, within the confines of a kitchen.”

    Sakura took the cup with thanks, and sipped. It was quite good, and she acknowledged it with a nod.

    “In kind?” she continued.

    “For some years, we have been seeking a particular individual - not of the kind you were tracking, but of considerable importance to our family’s honour. For as long as I can remember, we’ve searched for him, without success. Until a few days ago, when he coerced a member of our household to come to him.”

    Sakura tilted her head. “And what does this have to do with me? Surely, you can find your missing member, if not the man you originally sought?”

    He frowned. “No. She was most careful in hiding her tracks. Her one error was underestimating her sister’s loyalty to the house. I’m afraid I know nothing, beyond the fact that they are here, in this city.”

    He smiled suddenly, and it was a nice smile, though it had the opposite effect. “However, I have learned throughout our association that your resources, if not your reach, are greater than mine. You have, shall we say, a greater variety of means at your disposal. I would like you to seek out the pair I wish to find.”

    “And what could you have that I would want to do this for you?” Sakura asked lightly.

    “The identity and current location of one of the sorcerers you hunt so ardently for,” he answered. “One who commands a spirit such as the ones you described.”

    Another competitor down, for a minor divination? It seemed simple enough, and little enough effort for the reward - which she was certain would be genuine. The Tohnos had never dealt in anything but fact, with her.

    “Very well,” she agreed.






    Saber surveyed her odds with the calm expression of one who has seen a thousand battles, and survived them all. Those odds, she admitted, were not good. She was outnumbered, four vampires to her one - and while three of them seemed of much the same class as her previous opponents, the fourth was almost certainly not. In point of fact, she could sense his nature - a Servant of the Grail, as she was. How that could be, she didn’t know, but it meant at the least, his potential power was equal to hers. Added to the confusion was the need to shield Rin from harm - not for fear of Sakura’s wrath, but because Rin was one of the few living beings she could honestly name a friend.

    Her friends were rarer than gold, and more precious. She would not let this one be taken from her as well, not by anything less than Time itself.

    The third female, the one by the armoured man, darted forward, dashing over her brethren in a full frontal assault. Saber cut in an arc, severing the head almost to her own surprise. The two trodden-upon vampire women slowed their rise - apparently their “sister” had crushed ribs when she’d run them over.

    Not a trio, then, but three opponents - and there was a difference. They didn’t function as a team, as the last pair had. If she could use that . . . She might survive long enough to face their master.

    The man made no move, seemed utterly unresponsive to the death of his companion. Instead, he watched as the final two rose to meet Saber’s charge, unleashing the full ferocity she contained. Diving under their mutual grapple attack to hack at their legs, rising and spinning as one jumped the strike to somersault over her head, stabbing her sword back through the throat of the one she’d cut off at the knees, withdrawing to give herself time to bring the sword back around (incidentally severing the head from the body), to block a long-nailed slash at her throat.

    The deaths of two of his children meant little - he had time to make more. Besides, over the years he found his tastes had changed. He no longer desired the passive, simpering women he’d had in the past. Too often, down the centuries, they became shrieking harridans, boring him with endless prattle and whining. Now, he wished to make brides of warriors, to see if the flames within them would endure through the centuries.

    And here, here was precisely the kind of spirit he sought. She charged forth into odds even the bravest soul would hesitate to face without hesitation, to battle with consummate skill - and without mercy. He watched the flash of her blade as it blocked strike after strike from the last girl, pushing forward with each blow, until the impacts took her off balance. Then, in that crucial instant, she swung the blade forward and up, under the rib cage to impale the heart, withdrawing the weapon and taking the head with her next blow, to be utterly certain. The Berserker saw it all, and could say only one thing.

    “Magnificent.”

    And Rin, tired of being ignored, chose that moment to hurl a good-sized fireball right through the visor’s slit.






    The dark-complexioned man had no reaction to his statement, other than to draw a bronze sword. Lancer paused for only an instant - an obvious Archer, trying for close combat? And in his current garments, he lacked the mystic armour of his bracers.

    This could be trouble . . .

    Then he saw the pale one scoop his Mistress up into his arms. Emotion flared suddenly, a volcanic surge of near-hatred that was astonishing in its intensity. This was not the cold, steel-sharp anger of his remembered human life, nor the primal savagery of his wolf self, nor even the berserker fury that was the dragon’s gift to him. This was an almost hateful rage that desired nothing more than to rend and crush every living thing to a mass of bloody rags. It blazed inside his body, galvanising muscle and burning his world away to a single point, one goal - Takara. Reaching her was the sole purpose of his existence, and neither death nor God Himself would save those who stood against him.

    Lancer exploded out of his human disguise with a roar, the enraged wolfman lunging at his foe. Too canny, the Archer side-stepped, and stabbed his blade out - and stumbled as it struck something too hard to pierce. Lancer responded with a single uppercut from his taloned hand. The breastplate was hardened bronze, but he was two hundred pounds of infuriated werewolf, and it folded like cardboard. Still, it did its work, and shielded its wearer from the rending talons - though the impact of the blow sent him flying into the air . . . with a smirk.

    A dozen feet in the air, and perhaps twice as far away, the Archer drew his bow and began firing shots in rapid succession. Black shafts left dull red trails as they streaked through the air. Surprised though he was, Lancer had enough adrenaline charging his reflexes that he managed to deflect the first shot, and the second. The third pierced his throat, and his nostrils brought a sense of the coating on the arrowhead an instant before it hit. Hydra’s venom, perhaps the deadliest poison known.

    The druid dropped like a sack of concrete.






    Shiki reclined easily on the sofa, Ciel curled against his body. Hisui sat rather uncomfortably on a straight-backed chair, not far away - uncomfortably because she was unused to the chair, the freedom to relax, or the company, he couldn’t say.

    Despite her earlier enthusiasm, Ciel looked honestly tired. Given the hours she’d been keeping, he wasn’t surprised. Even if she wouldn’t tell him what she was doing, that it was Church business was not difficult to guess. Tonight, though, was a night for relaxation and reflection. They were all doing better than they’d been for a long time, and they deserved to enjoy the peace of that.

    Shiki turned on the TV.

    “ - reports of gang warfare in the Ryudo temple, the site of the annual Tanabata festival,” the reporter exclaimed. “At present, it is known only that there are several wounded, with an unknown number of possible fatalities.”

    Ciel had gone from relaxed to bolt upright. “Takara.”

    “Go,” Shiki all but commanded. “You’re faster.”

    An instant later, she proved it.






    The flames roared around Berserker’s form, seeming to move with a consciousness of their own, hungrily devouring the Servant, until only ash remained of the imposing warrior.

    Rin and Saber traded glances. “You’ve grown more powerful since our last encounter,” the blonde observed.

    “Yeah, but that was a pretty standard attack,” Rin protested. “It should’ve hurt, but I never dreamed it would be that effective.”

    A black-and-red streak crossed between the two women, becoming a foul-smelling arrow embedded in the ground.

    “Stay here,” Rin ordered. “The last thing I want is to be surprised if he somehow reforms again.”

    “But -“ the knight protested, as the dark-haired woman dashed in the direction of the projectile’s origin. She sighed, then noted that the ash had yet to dissipate. “Perhaps that’s wise.”

    Rin, being quick enough to get out of earshot, didn’t answer. Instead, she focussed on the object she held in her right hand, willing away its disguise. Like the play of moonlight on water, the form of the parasol wavered, revealing a crystal katana whose blade was curved, almost to the point that one might mistake it for a bow.

    Though she hadn’t loved Shirou - at least, not as Shirou - Sakura was far from the only one who mourned his loss.

    She tightened her grip on the hilt, casting several spells. First, a charm to increase her vision’s range in the darkness, and a second such charm that opened her to the presence and intensity of magic. Her next action was willing a shield in existence around herself as she moved, using it to increase her speed by pushing aside the air before her. No further arrows were forthcoming, however, and she was puzzled - why fire only one shot?

    Then her eyes saw something else. To a normal human, it would appear as a crumpled mass on the ground, perhaps the carcass of a large animal, if they got close enough. Rin saw more - a brew of several potent magical energies whose strongest portion was just the slightest bit “off.” Given who had trained her, she knew the distortion for what it was - the subtle harmonic variation given off by those not native to the world around them. Or, more accurately, the existence around them.

    Rin’s eyes narrowed. “So that’s what you look like now. I’ve found you at last.”






    The arrow had speared his windpipe, inhibiting his ability to breathe, but the air itself had infused him once with its strength, enabling him to minimise the need for it. He could be sealed in a coffin and buried alive, and survive for hours, or breathe air through water, as fish did. Lack of air was not the problem. It was the cold - blades of ice that stole his strength even as they cut into the marrow of his bones. The venom flowed in a frosty wave through his system, seeking to end his life, but he was a druid, rigorously trained to gain immunity from all poisons born of the fangs of beasts. Nonetheless, a Hydra was far from any mere beast, a creature born of divine as well as natural heritage, and the mystic qualities kept the poison circulating, virulent. It might yet kill him.

    It doesn’t matter! screamed a voice inside him. It’s only pain!

    Once again the feeling came from its unknowable source. Though it was alien to who he was and had been, the rage enveloped him with the familiarity of an old lover. It met ice with searing flame, screaming for release inside his motionless body. Paralysed muscles twitched, immobile from pain but unable to resist the sheer force of the rage’s demands.

    It was not an easy thing. His muscles ached, his bones felt as though knives had been embedded in them, and despite his knowledge, his instincts were terrified at the realisation that breathing was all but impossible. The rage heard the cries of his agony, but it offered no compromise, no mercy, only absolutes. He would rise. He would fight. And he would destroy anything that stood in his way.

    Slowly, he rose.






    Archer lowered his bow, grimly satisfied. He had warned the boy - the creature, as it turned out. He had known the agonies of poison too, in his lifetime, and seen the black venom of the Hydra at work. Even mighty Heracles had been felled by it - his divine heritage alone had prevented his being slain outright. Even then, he had been reduced to a screaming, almost mindless thing, tortured beyond endurance by the accursed toxin that had been smeared onto his clothes. Only death had ended his suffering, and Heracles had willingly chosen to be burned alive rather than live with the torment of the Hydra’s venom.

    He turned back to his master, to see the girl he had been watching all evening - and thus did not see the bestial warrior, until its jaws sank into the back of his neck. Then, as they clamped shut, he saw only darkness . . .

    “OK . . . I wasn’t expecting that,” Rin murmured to herself, turning a little green as the wolfman began to gruesomely and efficiently devour his opponent. Not exactly a civilised way to kill, but a great way to replenish expended mana. She glanced away from the sight, and saw - an impossibility.

    He was paler, with white hair and eyes that were nearly red, but otherwise unchanged by the passage of time, and she could never forget the face tied up with so many of her important memories.

    “Shirou?” she whispered.






    “Your missing clan sister is here,” Sakura told them, tapping to a spot on the city map. “It’s not all that far away, actually.”

    Of course, Sakura neglected to mention that the spot was the site of a home maintained by, as she understood it, a branch of the Aozaki family. One of the most powerful, if not the most respected, magical lineages in the world, and there was no doubt that the place would be well-defended. That kind of information hadn’t been asked, and she saw no need to volunteer it. Once this transaction was complete, her business with the Tohno family, as far as she was concerned, would be forever ended.

    “Very good,” came the response. “I won’t claim to understand your methods, but I shan’t doubt your skills. You’ve been most helpful.”

    “And now?” Sakura pressed. “My payment?”

    “Ah, yes.” He smiled. “The Tohno family only recently came into possession of this information, but I would gamble anything asked on its authenticity. It is the location of one of your rivals, and his Servant . . . Assassin.”

    A heartbeat later, and a wave of force shot through the room in all directions, emanating from Sakura, sending Kohaku and her master tumbling to the floor, and causing the slender man in the full face mask to stumble back, off-balance. The rod dropped from his suddenly nerveless fingers.

    A corona of lightning surrounding her, like the halo of a dark saint, as she rose from her chair to glare at her betrayers. “Did you really think your puppet could kill me?!” she roared. The lightning increased in its intensity, as if indecisive as to whether to leap to the Servant or its Master first.

    The Master, for his part, smiled wider. “Of course not. But it got your heart beating a little faster, didn’t it? It got your power flowing, yes?”

    Sakura started to respond, when the world suddenly went black.

    “Well done, Kohaku,” he praised. “You mastered that old family recipe perfectly.”

    “Thank you, Dono,” she responded.

    “She was so confident in her power - as if a family like ours wouldn’t have a way to subdue such dangerous beings,” he sneered. “How would we contain those of us who’d lost control of their blood? Fool.”

    He stepped over Sakura’s prone body to lift the taller man to his feet. “Come, Kohaku - make the necessary preparations and let’s go. The endgame is finally upon us.”

    They didn’t bother to close the door as they left, since they were setting the whole house ablaze to destroy all evidence of their presence. Sakura made no effort to correct their bad manners, instead remaining where she had fallen.






    Saber staggered suddenly. The world went from colour to black-and-white, and a numbing cold struck her body - one she was all too familiar with. For no discernable reason, she was dying. In desperation, she reached out to Sakura, hoping the sorceress’ impossible power could somehow save her own life.

    Instead of Sakura, she found only the void, which drew her all the deeper inward . . .






    Driven by instinct, Lancer consumed the power his enemy held, feeling the fresh warmth wash away the chill of the poison. His healing factor was working properly, for once, and now had the energy to spare - combined with his natural immunity, he should recover in seconds. He found that, though he’d expended a great deal of violence on the bowman, he still had rage to spare, as well. Fortunately, there was a remedy for that close at hand, too.

    A single leap propelled him in the direction of the pale thing, the betrayer - the one who held his purpose over its shoulder. As he soared through the air, he flexed his gore-stained claws, considering just where, how hard, and how often to rake them. He snarled in warning - no, not warning, promise.

    The pale thing snapped an arm out, almost casually, in response. Nearly quicker than Lancer’s eye could follow, a shower of shining lights cut across the distance between them - and agile though he was, in the air, there was nothing he could do but take the blows.

    Pain exploded in multiple points across his body, all sensation leaving his limbs beyond a cold so deep it burned. He hit the ground hard, and found that he could no longer even force himself to move. It was as though his extremities had fallen completely asleep - but they shrieked, the white noise of pain blocking almost everything else from his mind.

    Nonetheless, the voice still reached him.

    “Well, well, so you survived Saber’s Excalibur,” observed the pale boy. “I must admit, I’m impressed. I’d ask you how you managed it, but you’re in no condition to answer, nor will you ever be again. I severed five major arteries - with silver throwing knives, no less. You’re gushing blood like a fire hose, and the enchantments on the knives will keep you bleeding, despite your body’s obvious attempts to heal itself. Still, the fact that you survived everything until now is an impressive testament to your power - and hers.”

    He saw the incandescent blaze of hatred in the dying Servant’s eyes, watched his muscles twitch feebly in a last-ditch effort to throw himself at his enemy. “Determined until the end, eh? I admire that in a man. But you must know it’s useless. This close, I can see you for what you are - and no pretender could ever beat me.”

    “How about me?” snapped a female voice.

    Shirou’s eyes widened, seeing its source. “Rin . . .” Then they hardened. “For your own good, stay out of this, Rin. I don’t want to fight you.”

    “Tell me what’s going on,” she demanded. “How are you here, and what are you doing with that girl?”

    “Look at me, Rin,” he countered. “Can’t you see what I am? You have to know - and you know enough about the Grail to guess why.”

    She was anything but stupid. “You’re the new core. You’re what Sakura might have been.” A shadow passed across her face. “She still loves you, you know.”

    He nodded. “I hoped so. I want nothing more than to be a human again, Rin, to be together with her. And the Grail can do it, no question. It can grant any wish - except its own.”

    Rin made the logical jump. “Which means -“

    ”When the Grail completes, I surrender my life to it, my self. My existence will be expended to form the core of its power - a power I’ll no longer have the will to command. Completing the Grail will be my death, but my wish can’t be realised without the Grail.”

    “So Sakura can make it for you,” Rin answered. “It’s what she wants, what she’s given up so much to achieve. It doesn’t explain her. I want that explanation, Shirou, and you’d better give it to me - now.”

  20. #20
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    Chapter 12






    Unattended and unnoticed, the pile of ash that was Berserker began to smoke. Pale mist wafted up from it, gathering the motes as it rose, whirling in upon itself to form the armoured warrior once again, hale and whole.


    He gazed at Saber’s still form, and felt sorrow at the life force ebbing from her. Her strength was nearly gone, and while he had the power to bind her to his will, he could no more maintain her link to this earth than he could his own. It would be a hollow victory.

    As he mourned the loss of such a worthy bride, his ears picked up a conversation on the night wind . . .






    “Sakura’s powerful, but she’s only one person,” Shirou said. “I can’t be sure she’ll pull it off. But if we’re both working towards the goal, it’s that much surer. If you help us, it’ll be that much easier - I can help you summon a Servant beforehand to make certain you get what you want.”

    “Beforehand?” Rin repeated. “Before what, Shirou?”

    “Obviously, as long as I’m the Grail’s core, I can’t risk fighting in the War. But this girl . . . She’s got power beyond anything I’ve ever seen, except maybe Sakura’s. She’s also pure, in every way. It seems to be wrapped up in the very nature of her magic. I’m sure the Grail will appear, as it was meant to, if born from such an ideal source.”

    The sorceress went white, realising fully what he intended. “You . . . you’d sacrifice an innocent girl to -“

    ”She knew what the War entailed when she contracted for it,” Shirou responded coldly. “She’s no innocent.”

    “And you’re not Shirou,” Rin spat. “Not anymore. I won’t let you do this.”

    Shirou’s eyes were chips of scarlet ice. “You can’t stop me, either, Rin. Goodbye.”

    A scream followed, splitting the night air.






    Within a prison of flesh and bone, a storm raged, full of sound and fury - but ultimately signifying nothing. The will remained, but pinned by blades of his kind’s bane, there was little to do but lie helplessly and bleed out. And it infuriated him.

    For the first few seconds, Lancer called himself every variation of “idiot” in every language he could think of. Yes, he had a habit of fighting incautiously, and more often than not, swept over obstacles like a force of nature - but just often enough, unthinking recklessness had been his downfall, and only the efforts of his friends had pulled him through. The last time he’d made a mistake of this nature on his own, he’d wound up in chains. And this was far worse. He’d survived the gladiator’s arena - barely - but this would kill him, and who knew what Takara would suffer?

    The rage turned inward, frenzied at his failure, his inadequacy, his uselessness. He was no better than he’d ever been, helpless when something truly important was at stake. But what could he do? What options were left?

    Silver knives of wounding, came an errant thought. My lycanthrope nature means the silver hurts me like any weapon would a normal person. Worse, the enchantment on the blades makes the wounds not heal naturally, only through magic - healing factor’s supernatural in origin, but not “magic” in the relevant sense. It’s replenishing the lost blood, but that burns energy, too. I’m tougher than most creatures - I won’t die immediately, but I will die in a matter of minutes. With the arteries cut, I don’t have enough blood to move my limbs and try to reach for the berries in my bag - the actual injuries are small enough that the minor healing ought to be enough, it’s just where and how they’re made that’s killing me. Like it or not, there’s no way I can physically get out of this on my own.

    That left one option: magic. At best, it had been an unreliable tool, so far. His magic was drawn from a link and inherent understanding of the natural world, and while the understanding remained, his new status had severed him from that world, or at least altered his connection to it. Spells had proven to drain him unpredictably and leave him vulnerable - physical methods had worked more effectively, and so he’d relied on them, limiting his options. But he’d always made it a policy never to become dependent on one method or tactic, leaving him always with a wide variety of options. Risky as it was, he had to apply that policy now. If the spell drained him, he’d perish - but the choices were between a swift death trying to survive, or a slow, helpless one.

    I will not die like this!

    He couldn’t move, could barely speak - but he could concentrate. He lay in a park, where nature was abundant, if restricted. Spells were not impossible, and he had dozens, if not hundreds, at his disposal. He just had to choose the right one.

    Repel the metal? Too powerful. The healing spell I used on her father was lesser, and it nearly finished me at full strength. Transmute it to wood? That might force them out, but wouldn’t heal the wounds - and it’s of the same strength as the healing magic. I need something lesser, but effective. Dispel magic in general? Suppressing the enchantment might let me heal the wounds - but if the enchantment is stronger than mine, I waste the energy. I have only one chance - I have to get it right the first time.

    Finally, he settled on something that might be effective - a spell that would augment the speed and quality of his own healing factor, and hopefully overcome the blood-letting magic. Concentrating, he felt the connection work, and the spell take effect. He could see it do so, as the newly-regenerating cells began to slowly push out the invasive blades by sheer force.

    True weariness overcame him then, a darkness whose beckoning he could not resist. As he sank into its embrace, he had enough time for a final thought.

    I tried . . .






    Takara awoke hazily, her mind still clouded by - what? Why had she fallen asleep? And what had woken her?

    ”When the Grail completes, I surrender my life to it, my self. My existence will be expended to form the core of its power - a power I’ll no longer have the will to command. Completing the Grail will be my death, but my wish can’t be realised without the Grail.”

    Sempai’s voice, she noted. She could - feel it? She was suddenly aware that she was staring at the ground, held by a single, strong arm. What the heck?!

    “Obviously, as long as I’m the Grail’s core, I can’t risk fighting in the War. But this girl . . . She’s got power beyond anything I’ve ever seen, except maybe Sakura’s. She’s also pure, in every way. It seems to be wrapped up in the very nature of her magic. I’m sure the Grail will appear, as it was meant to, if born from such an ideal source.”

    Takara’s mind froze into crystal clarity, stifling any impulse she had to move. Was he saying what she - ?

    A voice she didn’t recognise protested, “You’d . . . You’d sacrifice an innocent girl to - “

    So it had all been a trap. He’d been attentive, and kind, all to get her to let her guard down . . . So he could kill her? No, worse - use her life to get what he wanted. It wasn’t even a fight between sorcerers in the War - she was just a means to an end. Just a resource to be used up - and so what?

    Anger stirred in Takara. She’d been enjoying herself, hoping that he was genuinely interested in her, that she might have found a boy who’d respect her enough to want to date her, despite her unfeminine nature and her “inferior” heritage. And it was all a lie, just a sweet deception to use her, like any other boy who’d tried to date her had wanted to. As if she wasn’t a real person with feelings to be considered, but a pretty little toy that made for a fun diversion, and nothing more.

    This was more than anger, it was hatred. She wanted to hurt him the way that he’d hurt her, wanted him to suffer for playing with her heart. She wanted to break him - and she could see where he was weak, suddenly. She saw the interplay of veins, or something like them, bright green and almost glowing to her eyes. Such vital things, she knew, and so very fragile. It would hardly take any effort at all . . .

    Takara hooked her fingers into claws, and drove them deep into the green line closest to her with every ounce of strength and fury she could muster - and still, no one was more surprised than she when Emiya’s left arm, the one which held her, tore completely away from his body. She gasped as she collided with the ground, but it was lost in the agony of the young man’s scream.






    Shirou clutched at the emptiness where his arm had once hung, surprised by the smoothness of the area. There was no raggedness that would indicate a cut. However it happened, it seemed as though the offending limb had simply fallen off. His wide red eyes stared at the gore streaming from his wound - the same substance which decorated the slender fingers of Takara Aozaki.

    “H - how?” he demanded shakily.

    She glared at him silently through changed eyes - colder than ice, and shining silver. Her hand blurred as she reached for him with a speed he’d never seen anyone human exhibit.

    A black shape interposed itself, gripping her wrist like a vise and halting her hand’s momentum with almost contemptuous ease. A single snap of the armoured arm, and the girl was sent hurtling through the air to collide with Rin, headfirst. Then the shape whirled to face him.

    Eyes that were darker than the deepest midnight locked on Shirou’s. An almost palpable force emanated from those eyes, and while he was anything but weak-willed, Shirou found himself cringing from the weight of the armoured man’s gaze. This was a being who had sacrificed more than his life, and who had stood on the other side of death far longer than he. The aura of power and violence he possessed was almost suffocating.

    “Sleep,” he commanded, and Shirou sank into darkness. Berserker lifted his head, as though addressing the wind. “I have the Vessel, Master. I return.”

    “I don’t think so,” Rin replied. She described a wide arc with her blade, and a wave of power surged towards the Servant.

    Berserker blurred again, leaving a trail of afterimages as he seemed to glide out of the shot’s path.

    “Unfortunately, miss, I have no time for dalliances, pleasant as they might be,” Berserker responded. “Another night, perhaps.”

    “You won’t see one,” the sorceress promised, carving out three overlapping crescents of energy which covered almost one hundred and eighty degrees.

    The armoured man leaped over them casually, and gestured, beckoning.

    “Very well,” he thundered. “If you choose not to stand beside me, you will fall before me! Come forth, my armies!”

    From beneath her they erupted, hands clawing at the earth and empty air. Tirelessly, they dug themselves free, clambering stiffly and purposefully onto the surface of the ground. In seconds, she was surrounded by a horde of pale, empty-eyed ghouls, ravening for her blood.

    Rin cursed as she tried to beat them back. There were dozens of them - no, hundreds. For every five she cut down, a score seemed to take their place. They weren’t incredibly intelligent, and had no sense of teamwork, but sooner or later, they’d get her through sheer numbers - there was only one of her.

    Or was there? She glanced down, and cursed again. The girl was out of it, and the body of the Servant Shirou had killed remained where it had fallen. She wondered why it hadn’t faded yet, then dismissed the question. Her real potential ally in this was Saber. If she could convince the Servant to use Excalibur, or Avalon . . .

    The dark-haired mage fell back in the direction she’d left her companion, hoping against hope that Saber had sustained no killing injury - and stopped at the sight of the blonde knight prone upon the earth, staring sightlessly at the sky.

    Dead, then - or was she? Servants didn’t leave corpses for more than a few seconds, they simply faded, dispersing their energy into the Grail system once more. But if she wasn’t dead, than what . . .?

    Desperately, Rin drove her sword into the ground, conjuring a wall of fire to hold back the wall of undead. She doubted it would hold long - once again, sheer numbers would press at least some of them through before the barrier could completely destroy them, and then she’d have flaming adversaries to deal with. But it might be enough time, had to give her enough time.

    Rin hadn’t done the exercise in ages, but the memory of it still came back to her. Gathering as much self-possession as she could, she sent power crackling into Saber’s still form, hoping to burn out whatever she’d been hit with by sheer mana overload. After a few seconds, it seemed to work. The Servant’s chest rose and fell as her lungs began working again, and her eyes fluttered open.

    “. . . Rin? W - what . . .?”

    “No time!” the mage informed her. “There’s an army on the other side of that fire, and -“

    The first batch began to pour through, burning as they moved. They’d soon be consumed, but not soon enough to keep them from reaching the pair. Rin gestured, summoning her blade back to her hand.

    “Saber, I know I’m not your Master, but I need you to help me, or I’m dead!”

    Saber blinked, confused. Rin flung another slicing blast at the mob.

    Please!






    Shiki stormed through the house as though it had personally offended him, gathering bandages, antiseptics, burn ointments - any and every item the household contained that might have a medicinal use. He even dared rummaging through the contents of Aoko’s room, in case it held some mystical talisman or exotic curative that might be of use. Sadly, the mage evidently kept such useful equipment with her person - probably in that fearsome suitcase. Still, he’d had to try. He had nothing else to do.

    For the first time, he genuinely cursed his condition. At full strength, he’d have followed Ciel and done what he could to help - it was his child’s life at stake - but he didn’t dare to. Hisui’s treatments weren’t a cure, and given the strain of using his abilities, he only risked burning out sooner. And then Ciel would have to protect both of them, and there was no guarantee she’d succeed. It was all too likely that one or all of them would die, instead, because she’d had to split her attention.

    So, he did what he could do. He prepared the house for use as an impromptu field hospital, in the event it was necessary. And he brooded, for the first time in many years, on dire possibilities he’d hoped to put behind him.

    A gang war? It was possible, Shiki admitted to himself, but he’d been the centre of too many unusual phenomena not to have developed a healthy sense of paranoia. Especially since Ciel had apparently been reactivated by the Church. Was it Dead Apostles? Some new demon hybrid? Or had something Ciel had done angered the Church into renewing their vendetta? And if the latter, why risk innocents when coming at them directly, in this isolated place, made so much more sense?

    The waiting was intolerable, but what choice did he have? He had to believe that Takara was intelligent and lucky enough to avoid being hurt, and that Ciel could get there before her luck ran out. He had to . . . Have faith, he supposed.

    All things considered, he’d rather have been facing Nero, Roa, and Arcueid and Akiha when they’d found out Ciel was pregnant, all at once. It would be less nerve-wracking than this.






    Saber’s mind was more than a little muddled, since she’d thought, for all intents and purposes, that she’d died. The energy circulating through her veins attested to the truth, however - Sakura’s death had nearly pulled her into oblivion with the mage, but she’d survived, at least for the time being.

    Of course, if the army of ravenous dead had its way, that time would be very short indeed. But limited though her time might be without a Master, Saber had no intention of surrendering just yet - and she couldn’t leave Rin to face them alone. It might be her last stand, but it was a cause worth fighting.

    Her eyes took in the battleground, enemy status, and potential allies. Rin was beginning to tire, having blasted her way through a good sixty or so of the creatures. Her sword might grant her infinite mana, but there were limits to the woman’s strength of will. She couldn’t hold her focus forever. There was a girl on the ground, unconscious, and -

    She stared. That Servant - he’d survived Excalibur’s blast? Not for very long, judging by the small lake of blood under his body, but that he’d survived at all was impressive. However, it made little difference now - even if he’d been inclined to aid them, his still form testified that he was out of this fight, and no doubt would soon be out of the War entirely. It was just her, then. Gamely, she drew Excalibur - draining as it would be in her present status, it was the best weapon she had for handling a mass of foes like this.

    Once more, a tide of holy light erupted forth from the blade, vanquishing all that stood against it. A hundred ghouls winked out in an instant, but more pressed on. These, too, were destroyed, again and again. Grimly, Saber continued the pressure, feeling what mana she’d gained from Rin seep away from her body. Powerful though Excalibur was, it lacked the ability to destroy thousands of foes in a single blast, and in her current state, Saber lacked the energy to maintain the attack indefinitely. She might destroy a thousand, or even two thousand - but she counted tens of thousands, pressing against the fiery barrier the mage had erected.

    It was no good. There were simply too many. They were going to be overwhelmed.

    Saber began to do something she hadn’t done since her mortal lifetime - pray.






    Ciel drove with a speed and precision most rally drivers would envy, reaching her target zone in scarcely minutes. She parked two blocks’ space away from the temple grounds - far enough that the car would probably be unnoticed, close enough to reach if she had to carry Takara out.

    It had been years since she’d needed to use her training, but the skills came back to her easily enough. Concentrate, and the physical pattern of her everyday clothes could shift to become her Executioner’s uniform, tougher than any normal fabric. Blades could erupt from black hilts, created and charged with mystical energy. That same energy could amplify the strength of one’s body, and increase its resistance, allowing her to perform thirty foot vertical leaps without breaking her legs upon landing, or slash through concrete without ripping her shoulder free of its socket.


    Ciel concentrated, and her internal mana reserves performed as needed. She was no longer immortal, and far older than her appearance implied, but her natural mystic power was still incredible, rendering her more than formidable enough to handle most threats.

    Perching upon the temple wall, however, it was clear that what she would face was not “most” threats.

    The grounds had long since been deserted by the general populace - or at least she hoped so, because it was all but bursting with ghouls. There had to be thousands of them, all surging in a specific direction, towards a sheet of flame. Ciel frowned, and focussed her gaze over the fire to see two people - no, four. Two standing, firing energy bolts to try and thin the herd, and two on the ground. Details at this distance were difficult to make out - the grounds were not a small space, but one of those standing had dark hair, another gold or white. Nonetheless, while both attackers were throwing off horrendous amounts of energy, it was clear that they’d be overwhelmed sooner or later. Probably sooner.

    Ciel hesitated. It was entirely possible that Takara was safe, or still somewhere in that melee - the dark-haired energy caster looked like her at a distance, though Ciel didn’t know how her daughter could’ve acquired the training to do it. But the other one seemed to match the descriptions she’d been given, and that made interference on her part strictly forbidden. On the other hand, part of her duties made eliminating those ghouls a priority before they could get loose upon the general populace - and lacking any visible leader to call them off, their doing exactly that was looking more than likely.

    It was a rationalisation, but it would serve. Course set, Ciel plunged two of her Black Keys into the ground below, and began hurling more in either direction. She’d have to work quickly if she was going to be successful. This trick hadn’t worked against Nero, but these were only ghouls, and far less powerful.

    She willed another blade into existence, and flung it into the earth below. All those two had to do was hold out another minute or so . . .






    Rin’s muscles ached from swinging her sword repeatedly. Her mind felt numb from the effort of maintaining the barrier spell, casting her attacks, and remaining aware of her surroundings simultaneously. She would have tapped the mana stores the blade contained to refresh herself, but that would have meant either ceasing one of her current actions, or attempting to split her attention anew - and while she was an excellent mage, she wasn’t certain she could handle concentrating on four separate and far from easy tasks at once.

    Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Saber wilting, as well. Maintaining her strongest attack at its highest effectiveness in a constant stream was no easier on the Servant than it was on her - less, actually, since Saber’s mana had a limit. And one, she judged, that the blonde would soon be reaching.

    They weren’t going to make it, she realised. They were two of the more formidable beings in existence, but they were simply too badly outnumbered, and too poorly supplied, to handle this threat. If they’d had more people, or if Saber hadn’t used up a great deal of her mana earlier without recharging, they might have been able to take even thousands of enemies at once. But their only potential allies were unconscious or dying, and neither of them could spare the time or energy to try and revive them - and while Rin had helped Saber regain a great deal of her strength, the Servant was being required to expend all she’d gained and more right now, with no way to restore herself.

    Frankly put, they needed a miracle.

    A flicker of movement from the top of her peripheral vision caused Rin to step back in surprise, and she nearly tripped as her heel collided with something. Sparing a precious instant to glance down, she saw what looked like a black crucifix imbedded in the ground - no, a sword hilt.

    A flash of silver, and two more hilts dropped by her to plant themselves to her right. Tracing the trajectory, she saw a figure in black throwing them - but why? Before she could decide to act, the figure made another quick toss, and two more blades found purchase in the earth - completing a ring, she saw. The black hilts glowed blue-white and power crackled along them for an instant, before plunging to form a complex web of energy in the ground, one that crawled along the ghouls and consumed them as it passed.

    Rin felt a tickling as the energy washed over her, and started as Saber staggered under its assault. She moved to the blonde’s side without thinking, not noticing the sudden silence of the battlefield, or the figure in black’s leap to the ground.

    As Rin concentrated, tapping her sword to first renew herself, and then Saber, she became aware of the emptiness surrounding her. Slowly, bringing her blade into a guard position, she turned.

    The figure in black was a woman with alabaster skin and short, dark hair. She held the girl Shirou had tried to use in her arms, supporting her firmly, but gently. Along the white cuffs of her garb, black cruciform markings were visible. And, to her surprise, the Servant Shirou had attacked was getting up, seemingly restored, if a little off-balance.

    Why would an obvious cleric tend him? Rin wondered. Or did he recover on his own, somehow? And if it’s the second option, how powerful is he? What does it take to kill him - a direct nuclear strike?!

    What she asked, however, was, “Are you Ciel Aozaki?”

    The woman turned her gaze away from the girl to look up at Rin sharply. Her eyes were older than the rest of her, deep, blue wells of melancholy that had accumulated over a long period of time - longer than her youthful face accounted for. Her face was totally blank, however, saying nothing in response.

    “My name is Rin Tohsaka,” she went on, undaunted. “The Mages’ Association sent me.” She glanced at the Servant who stood just behind the churchwoman. “I think we need to talk.”
    Last edited by Kieran; December 19th, 2012 at 09:35 AM.

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