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    Oh god, I see where this is going... Draconic's Avatar
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    Post Fate/Chaos Spiral

    Author's Note: Merry Christmas, one and all! Here's my gift to the fandom. I hope you enjoy The first installment. This is the story that Letters From Tohsaka Was leading up to, and initially, where I wanted to start two years ago. It's much better in its current incarnation in my opinion, but I'll leave that for you to decide.

    And now, with no further interruption, I am proud to present:




    Fate/Chaos Spiral




    Chapter I: Welcome Back


    Atop a mountain of corpses, a woman with a mountain of regrets knelt, having come to terms with her sins. After everything that happened, she had finally done something good. Something that she truly felt proud of when she had completed her task, even if it had ended with such a similar conclusion to that which had come before. A finale that had once left her drowning in the deepest depths of her despair and self-loathing.

    But she could see now that from the very beginning, the War had been a farce. It wasn't worth fighting for a Grail that could only grant wishes borne from the darkest thoughts humanity was capable of producing.

    She smiled.

    "I'm sorry… Gawain, Bedivere… Lancelot, Kay… everyone…" she turned to look at the treacherous fool that lay beside her in that intimidating armor of red and silver. "Even you, Mordred. None of you…deserved this. At least…I'll never again try to solve this catastrophe…at the expense of another world."

    She looked at the sword, embedded point down in the bloodstained earth before her. It gave her victory, just as promised, just at a greater cost than she had been prepared to pay. Yet she had known it all beforehand, and taken it up anyway.

    The girl absently wondered where Morgan was. Her half-sister. She wanted to remove the king from the throne, but…

    "I'm sure… she never wanted this either."

    Perhaps if they found each other now, they could reconcile? No, they were more likely to attempt to kill each other again. Their values were far too different.

    From somewhere below, she found she could hear a voice.

    Someone alive amidst all this destruction? It seemed impossible. Was it calling to her? She tried to listen, but she could barely understand the sound of her own voice anymore, much less that of another. She slumped forward. It surprised her that she could ever have forgotten. What a strange thing to forget… that she was approaching death's door.

    Soon… it would be over. The story of the girl who sacrificed everything about herself to be the perfect King. It would finally come to an end. And for one agonizingly long moment, she found that she was terrified. She didn't want to die! She hadn't even lived to see her twentieth year! There was so much… so much that she was capable of accomplishing… If she had only been able to understand others.

    But this wasn't a battle she could win. She had been dealt a mortal wound.

    It was time.




    * * * * *


    Taiga left quickly enough, having to get to Homurahara before classes started.

    By the time she left, Rin was itching to get started. However, before she did that, there was one thing she needed taken care of. Specifically, she gave Sakura a meat shield. It's name was the Weasel, and no one would miss him if he got his head blown off, and he totally didn't throw a fit of resentful abuse in her directing After she said all of that out loud.

    "In all seriousness though, Shinji Matou, if anything happens to Sakura while I'm still in Fuyuki, if any harm at all comes to her, I will hold you responsible. If she gets hurt, you get hurt. If she dies, so help me, I swear on my very name that you'll follow her to the afterlife in very short order. Are we clear?"

    She received a terrified nod. Thus did Shinji become Sakura's new bodyguard in a curious and sudden instance of roll reversal. He didn't dare argue. She had actually used his name for the first time in years, and she wouldn't even use it in front of their teachers back when they were in high school. She meant every syllable of that threat.

    As Rin had explained to Shirou on plane ride over, she wanted to transplant the essentials from her father's workshop into Shirou's storage shed, and to that end, she had started cleaning out various bits of metal detritus that Shirou had used to practice his magecraft. Shirou fetched a broom and a feather duster, and handed them off to Rin, who began sweeping up while he moved stacks of boxes as per her instructions. They didn't need to remove everything, just a few stacks and the junk littered across the floor. This took the better part of two hours. An odd sensation prickled at the back of Rin's mind when she was inside the shed, but focused as she was on her own and Shirou's tasks, she couldn't quite place it.

    Meanwhile, Shinji, having given up on his argument with Sakura from earlier, had gone back to his computer and was writing code furiously, his hands jabbing at the keyboard hard enough to make loud clicking noises, but not so hard as to damage the keys. Sakura was cleaning up from breakfast.

    Rin made to walk further inside to move another box, and felt her foot brush along a groove in the floor.

    "What did I just—" she looked down to see a curved live carved into the floor, along with a few intricate designs. Whatever it was, it was covered by boxes, but Rin had a pretty good idea what she had just found. She recognized that pattern, but moreover, she remembered what that odd sensation was.

    "Hey, Shirou? Help me move these."

    He turned to look at her as she struggled to push the large stacks. He joined in her effort, pressing his back against it and pushing with his legs. And slowly, one pile of boxes began to move. Rin looked down at the floor and smirked. Of course she had been right.

    "Did you know this was here?" she leered up at Shirou. He found himself shivering as though the temperature had dropped below zero.

    "Yes?" he tried to say.

    "Ugh, you are such an idiot sometimes!" she let out an ever-suffering sigh. "Well, as long as we're here, we may as well try and summon a Servant for you."

    They devoted about half an hour to getting the boxes obstructing the circle out of the way. It was unlikely that they would actually be a problem, but nevertheless, it didn't hurt to make sure. A clean workspace was a safe(ish) workspace.

    "What about you?" Shirou asked after they had gotten a significant number of boxes out of the shed.

    "What about me what?"

    "Summoning a Servant for yourself," Shirou reminded her of what they had been discussing earlier.

    "I have a summoning circle in my own house, so I'm going to use that one," she said, suddenly pausing.

    "Actually, since you don't have a catalyst, you should probably wait until your mana is at its peak, so you'll have a better chance of getting a good servant. What time are you at yo—"

    She was utterly stupefied when Shirou completely ignored her suggestion, walking over to the still partially covered circle.

    "Wait, what the hell are you doing?!"

    "Don't worry, I got this."

    "No you don't! You don't know anything about summoning a heroic spirit! You told me yourself that summoning Saber was an accident!"

    "Look, I know there's absolutely no way you'll believe me, but what if I told you that I know I'll summon her again?"

    "What?" she gave him a look.

    "I'm being completely serious," he said, "I don't know why, or how, but I'm sure that I'll summon Saber again."

    "You are completely out of your damn head," she seethed. Shirou could practically see steam pouring out of her ears.

    "Just trust me. Please. Just this once. If it doesn't work, then it'll serve me right for being so arrogant. If it does… well, then we have Saber again."

    "You're an idiot. You were still memorizing the incantation on the plane ride over here!"

    Shirou smiled at her.

    "Don't worry. I promise, I will summon Saber."

    He projected a dagger from his reality marble and held it over his hand.

    "Uh, stop! You don't have to do that!" Rin yelped.

    Shirou looked at her quizzically. "I heal pretty quickly, so it shouldn't be a problem…"

    "Yeah, but I have powdered silver, and that'll work just fine too. I don't want you to do this, but if you're going to do something incredibly stupid, at least do it without bleeding all over the place."

    She dug around in her bag of gems, pulling out a thick glass flask of the aforementioned substance and handed it to him.

    "This is your first actual summoning ritual. You realize what you're doing is tantamount to suicide if you want to keep people from dying in this Grail War?"

    Shirou took the sparkling dust and scattered it on the floor.

    "It won't be. I can feel it. I can't explain it, but I know I'll get her. For a fact. I'm that sure it'll work."

    "Hmph," she looked away hautily, "Watch it be some deranged loon. Caligula would serve you right."

    Shirou rolled his eyes.

    The dust began flowing through the grooves in the floors and the circle began to glow with an otherworldly light.


    * * * * *


    Even as she felt herself drifting away, something tugged her back. Sharply at first, but steadily losing its bite.

    The clouds above her parted ever so slightly, and angel stairways descended, illuminating the carnage around her. It felt like…

    "████"

    It was a different voice. Someone other than the person crying out below her at the foot of the hill. This time, she couldn't hear it, but she could understand it. Someone was calling out to her. She reached up toward the sky with her waning strength.

    A third time? Why? There was no point, was there? She had made peace with her decision. It wasn't as though she needed to answer the call either.

    Another pang of terror struck her. It only lasted a fraction of a second, but that was all the time she needed to make her decision. Perhaps if she survived the coming conflict, she could…

    No. It wouldn't do to make plans that far in advance. But by the time she thought that, she already felt the ground beneath her feet slip away.

    She supposed she would find her answers in due course. The world around her faded. She knew what to say. The words felt far too natural coming from her mouth.

    "I ask you," she said as the world resolved around her again… "Are you worthy, to be—"

    …And left her in some astonishingly familiar surroundings…


    * * * * *


    He saw the scabbard in his mind's eye, rotating in a void.

    He continued his incantation, and for a moment, Rin realized he fully meant what he was saying.

    I hereby swear that I will be all the good in the world.

    That I will defeat all evil in the world.

    Those verses were practically Shirou Emiya's mission statement. To a certain degree at least. Moments later, he completed the summoning ritual. The light turned blue, but it was so blindingly bright that neither Shirou nor Rin could tell.

    Then something became visible. The silhouette of a young woman in armor. The light began to dim, revealing a regal blue dress, thick gauntlets and a shining silver cuirass.

    "I don't believe it," Rin breathed.

    Shirou, having been closer to the light was still unable to see anything.

    Amidst the ocean of blue, Rin saw a shock of gold, and two points of green.

    In front of him, Shirou could see the sword, just waiting for him to grasp it. To join him again, just as before.

    He reached for it.

    The sword reached back.

    Before his eyes even had time to readjust, Shirou felt the gauntlet grasping his hand. It could easily have been someone else, but he knew, even if he couldn't quite see her. He knew. And Rin's gobsmacked utterance only confirmed his success.

    "I ask of you…" came a familiar voice, "are you worthy to be— …Shirou?!"

    He knew that voice. Even after five years, his memory of it had been perfect. It was so good to hear it again.

    It was strange to think that this girl had been part of his life for approximately a week, and yet she had left an impact on him more than equal to many people he'd known all his life. He scratched the back of his neck, a grin playing at the corners of his mouth.

    “Well, I guess. I mean, I hope I am, because I don’t know how to be anyone else.”

    He finally saw her, in all her resplendent glory.

    He turned to shoot a triumphant smirk at Rin, whose expression was beyond priceless, wide eyed, her mouth open wider than he had ever seen it. She was looking from him to the King of Knights, pointing at Saber like she was some sort of miracle. Which, technically speaking, wasn't inaccurate.

    "I'm glad to see that one of us finds this amusing," said Arturia, "Not that I find this arrangement disagreeable. Far from it. Merely that it is so far beyond unlikely that it approaches the realm of impossibility."

    Rin took a deep breath, swallowed hard.

    Shirou nodded at Saber, looking for a moment at the command seals that had appeared on the back of his left hand, and turned back to Rin. Just for a moment.

    "Told you," he said.

    Tohsaka didn't say anything. There was a noise coming from the back of her throat that would be best described as a cross between the sounds of a slowly deflating balloon, and a tired yet agitated cockatiel.

    Whatever it was, it was long, drawn out, and confusing Saber.

    "Shirou, has something happened to Rin?"

    "I think I just did something that doesn't compute by summoning you. She was beyond certain I couldn't."

    Saber broke eye contact for a moment.

    "To be fair, neither did I, and I've only just arrived… again." She looked back up and stared intently at both mages, as though examining them for some fine, yet very specific detail. "You don't appear to be very much older than you were when we last saw one another. How much time has passed since we destroyed the Grail?"

    "Around five years," Shirou answered, "why do you ask?"

    She smiled, a sly glint in her eyes.

    "Because, Shirou, by my admittedly rough estimation, I last saw you facing off against Archer… rather, Gilgamesh, around two hours ago."

    Shirou nearly choked on his own saliva.

    "Huh?"

    "My perception. I returned to the moment before I was summoned, and then I was summoned once again."

    "That's actually the first thing I've heard in the past five minutes that's made any sense," Rin grouched.

    "I can't wrap my head around it," Shirou winced in concentration.

    "Think of it this way: You have a magic box. Inside the box time slows to a crawl, while outside it continues as usual. If you go into the box at one point, when you come out, it could be several minutes later.

    "One minute in the box could equal ten minutes outside. Or one minute inside could be over a year outside."

    "I may need some time to process that," he confessed.

    "I don't mean to pry, but seeing as you're still alive, I take it you defeated Gilgamesh?"

    Shirou grinned.

    "He could barely even touch me."

    "What did you use to win? If you don't mind me asking."

    "Nothing. Just a nameless sword with no magical properties. I did a feint and dived at him behind Rho Aias. I used my momentum to chop through his right arm at the shoulder. Probably the reason I won, actually, because the weapon he'd pulled the moment before was just… anathema. It didn't even make sense. Forget not being able to copy it, just looking at it was like driving a spike into my skull.

    "I managed to keep him from retrieving it and slashed him across his chest. He actually tried to commit suicide, instead of giving me the satisfaction of killing him.

    "Before he could though, I don't even know what happened. The Grail… it… it did something… tried to suck him in. Or at least that's what it looked like. He managed to grab me with some sort of chain to try and escape. And then… well…"

    Saber didn't say anything. She just tilted her head to the side curiously, as if to say 'go on.'

    "I heard Archer tell me to move over slightly, and then an arrow lodged itself dead center in Gilgamesh's forehead."

    "But… Archer died, did he not?"

    "I think he came back in his capacity as a Counter Guardian. Combat the Grail, or something like that. But, whatever the case, he was the same old Archer."

    "You sound unenthused."

    Shirou rolled his eyes.

    "I can't really deny that. I hate his guts."

    "Archer was literally just, well, you but older," Rin snipped before a smirk worked its way onto her face. "His guts are your guts."

    Saber covered her mouth and nose with her hand to stifle a chuckle. This still seemed to agitate Shirou considerably however, and she looked up at him apologetically, though still wearing a wide smile.

    "Oh, come on, that barely passes for humor," he complained.

    "Look, Saber, we're about to head out to my house," Rin interjected, hoping to get back on track, "do you still have your casual clothes?"

    "I would expect otherwise, though I can always check."

    Saber closed her eyes, focused, and her armor vanished, leaving only her blue dress, breeches and boots. She shook her head. Shirou decided they'd have to do without her for the time being, but Saber had vetoed that plan when it was barely more than halfway out of his mouth. A few more minutes of discussion brought them to a familiar conclusion: They'd have to borrow some of Rin's clothes again. Fortunately there were plenty of those back at her house, but to get there, Saber would likely need to borrow something else, so that meant that before they could leave, Rin had to at least start unpacking in one of the guest rooms, and get some stuff out of her suitcase. And that required her to lug her suitcase all the way across Shirou's admittedly large house.

    After a few minutes, Rin returned carrying some more modern accoutrements, discovering that Sakura had met Saber while Rin was in her room, and had greeted her far more amicably than she had last time. At least Shirou could say he understood why that was this time around.

    The clothes Rin gage her weren't quite what Saber was used to, but the black blouse and jeans were enough to get her out if the house without people gawking at her. She took a moment to go out into the hallway and change clothes, something she managed to do startling quickly at barely even one minute.

    The moment she reentered the living room, something nearby roared and Tohsaka looked around wildly for whatever monster had made the noise, rolling up her left sleeve. Shirou on the other hand merely blinked and walked into the kitchen.

    "If it wouldn't be too much trouble?" Saber asked timidly, just as Rin caught on.

    Sakura giggled despite herself. Then she was distracted when she felt a draft, and found that one of the doors had been left open. As she went to close it, she caught a glimpse of the courtyard, and noticed several stacks of boxes had been pushed out of the storage shed. Out of curiosity, she decided to have a look inside. It would only take a moment.


    * * * * *


    As per Saber's request, they were now sitting in the living room eating an early lunch.

    Sakura had joined them earlier, clued in to the lunch plans when she heard the sound of dishes being moved about. She was just watching the dynamic between the three of them for now however. She tried to get a feel for what her chances were, but it was difficult. They could cooperate even while arguing. They chided each other, Rin being particularly merciless, but there was still a lot of affection. Observing from a judgmental perspective was making Sakura's head feel…very not good. There was definitely a word for that, and it was a pretty common one too, she was sure of it, but for some reason her brain had decided that it had done enough work and apparently language was on break. She eventually decided to just listen. And the moment she did, she could already feel the headache going away. Oh right, that word she was looking for was 'awful.'

    "You're telling me that you heard her calling to you?" Rin asked, her voice dripping skepticism.

    "I didn't say that. I said that I felt like she was calling out to me. I didn't hear anything. It was more like… you know how sometimes a person brushes past you and they don't quite touch you, but you sort of feel something going by? It was like that."

    "You're being extremely vague. What you're saying doesn't make sense."

    "I'm rather uncertain as to how accurate your testimony is," added Saber. "However, I am nevertheless pleased with this outcome."

    "Excuse me," piped Rin, "but there's something that I have to say really quick. I've been holding it in since he summoned you, but I feel like I'm going to crack at any moment."

    Neither the Servant, nor her Master knew how to respond to her. What did that even mean? Tohsaka was known to be impulsive on occasion, but why was she making an announcement out of it?

    She took a deep breath. Then started dancing around Shirou like he was some sort of religious totem.

    "You did it, you did it, you actually freaking did it! I didn't believe you could, and then you proved me wrong, which never happens, but oh my god, you freaking DID IT!"

    She took another deep breath, and adopted a more dignified stance.

    "Can you please keep it down! Some people are actually trying to work here!" Shinji growled.

    "Like I care about a weasel playing around with a giant calculator. ("That's it, I am done here.") Okay, glad I got that out of my system. The first one of you to tell anyone about this little episode dies. The second person… also dies."

    She ignored Shinji as he slapped his laptop closed and stalked out into the courtyard hallway.

    "You make a very convincing argument," Shirou answered, deadpan.

    "I am so serious right now, you have no idea."

    "Yeah, yeah, I wasn't questioning that."

    She gave him a suspicious look.

    "Just know that I'm watching you. Always. Watching you."

    "Do you really have to make things weird?"

    "Weird, maybe, but no one and nothing in this world will ever be weirder than you."

    "That seems like an unfair statement," noted Saber.

    "Life isn't fair—" Rin started with a grin only for it to expire on her face, as she saw the disappointed stink eye Saber had briefly directed at her.

    "I'm well aware of that fact."

    Though Shirou's mana capacity had improved over his time at the Clock Tower, he was still unable to provide her with the mana she needed on his own. That being the case, he had still made several strides forward. Of particular note was that she was able to use her anti-fortress Noble Phantasm without immediately vanishing, though the kind of frantic cooking he would most certainly be required to do after the fact was as much a deterrent as any.

    Before they finished eating, Shirou remembered that he had missed asking her something vital. Or at least, it felt vital to him.

    "Oh, r-right, I almost forgot, Saber. I, well, Rin told me who you were…er…are… a while back. I-I just wanted to know if you'd prefer it if I called you by something with more of an honorific? Like a 'Your Majesty' or something?"

    Saber actually went bright red at the mention of said honorifics. Oddly enough, she also hung her head, letting her bangs hide her eyes from view. If Rin didn't know better, she would have sworn that Saber somehow felt ashamed of her position.

    "I'd actually like it most…if you could avoid bringing up my kingship, if at all possible."

    "Then when we're around friends, maybe just, uh, actually it feels kind of strange to call you Arth—"

    "Arturia," she corrected, smiling, and lifting her head to look back at the two mages. "That will be fine. Nevertheless, I have no qualms with Saber either. I admit, I've gotten rather used to it over the past few weeks."

    Meanwhile, Sakura looked thoughtfully at the summoning circle she had found in the storage shed earlier.

    "Hmmm…"


    * * * * *


    Shinji left the living room behind. He had gotten used to aggravation, but ever since the Holy Grail War—the previous one since there was evidently a new one because one clusterfuck just wasn't enough—Rin Tohsaka was nothing short of intolerable to him. He couldn't tell whether he'd grown complacent, or whether the annoying quirks she had as a mage had just hit him with a vengeance after going so long without dealing with it. They were almost the same thing as was the result, so it really didn't matter until he got a motherfucking aneurysm. Once, he would have kicked Sakura against the wall for ten minutes, taking all his pent up anger out on her, but that was before she returned the favor by saving his sorry ass over and over again. He really hated that he had become so dependent on her. At least that freakish vampire Servant hadn't come in. Maybe she needed to be invited to get into the house?

    No… that was as ridiculous as it was superstitious. What the hell was… What the hell was his dunce of a sister doing in the storage shed?

    Sakura noticed Shinji step into the shed behind her, carrying his laptop under his arm. She was mostly just staring at the circle on the floor in front of them though.

    "Are you pining for him in here aga—Oh no!"

    Oh. So he noticed. Darn.

    "No, don't do it. Don't do it, moron! You heard Tohsaka; if something happens to you, I'm a dead man. This definitely qualifies as something happening to you!" he snapped.

    "I know. But, this is a Holy Grail War," Sakura protested. "We're in danger no matter what. This will only make things safer."

    "If you go through with this, I swear to god, I will punch you, screw what that bitch said!"

    "But I—"

    "Think about it, Sakura, doing this just puts a big flashing red target on your back. You can still avoid that," he skulked in a circle around her, prompting her to fidget with discomfort. "If you summon something here, you might as well start wearing a giant sign saying 'tear my lungs out.' Avoiding Grandfather's Servant will become the least of your worries. You'll be in danger constantly.

    "But you can avoid all of that," he hissed. "All you have to do, is walk. away. Right now."

    Sakura giggled. Not her dangerous, unstable giggle either. It was genuine laughter. Shinji's 'stressed' face tagged out and was replaced by his 'damn that Tohsaka' face. He never thought that Sakura would be able to embarrass him.

    "What's so funny?" he growled, "And think carefully about your answer."

    "You're like the devil, Shinji, don't you think?" she smiled, "Maybe more like the little one who stands on a person's shoulder opposite a little angel?"

    Shinji moved on to his 'I hate my life' face. He'd keep it on for a while. It'd probably be useful in both the short and long term.

    "I don't even need to guess who the angel standing on your other shoulder is," he grumbled. "Wait, don't—"

    "It's Senpai."

    "—say it…" he groaned. Too late. "Look, I will seriously punch you if you go ahead with this!"

    It seemed as though that was the wrong thing to say. In fact, it seemed to solidify her resolve.

    "No. I have to—" she twitched. "—to do this."

    She stood up straight. Almost proudly even.

    "I'm going to help my sister!" she declared.

    She…really believed in what she was doing. That it was the right thing. Well, maybe if she hated herself a little less, she'd at least be a little less irritating.

    She moved to bite down on her hand. She didn't have a catalyst, so her own blood would have to do, but she stopped before her hand was half-way to her mouth. She twitched again.

    Wait.

    Those weren't twitches. Those were spasms!

    Shinji went pale enough to earn the jealousy of a ghost.

    "Oh, shit," he groaned.

    Sakura retched, then her legs gave out. She supposed it was that 'other' time of the month as she slid to her knees in front of the circle. Another retch, and she vomited up altogether too many crest worms. At least they were dead and not squirming around, but it was still pretty horror-movieish.

    Then what Shinji was afraid would happen came to pass. The circle lit up, eerie red light pouring from the intricate patterns. The crest worms began to melt into a bloody soup which slid into the carving, as though it was devouring them.

    Sakura, still nauseated, could only think of one thing.

    The words! What were the words?! It had to be now!

    She knew what she had to say already; it was there somewhere in her memories. She just had to find it!

    "For… for the elements…" she choked before forcing herself to continue, "For the elements… silver and iron… and in the name… of the third family!" she didn't stand up. She could barely hold herself up on her hands and knees, but she forced herself to speak clearly.

    Her recitation was halting and most certainly flawed, but she managed to get through the entire ceremony.

    The glow reached its blazing finale, and then slowly dimmed back down to nothing.

    Which is exactly what appeared before them. Nothing had happened. Nothing at all.

    They waited for a few more moments, but it was in vain.

    "Well, I said I was going to hit you, so now I will," he pulled his arm back, "you're insane, and—"

    He stopped short as he suddenly found his fist caught in a merciless vice grip.

    "I don't know who you think you are," said a terrifyingly familiar voice, smooth as a snake's, with a barely perceptible accent, "or what you think you are doing. But I shall give you only one warning: You will never again attempt to lay a hand on my Master, or I will teach you how the rabbit feels when the wolf plays with its food."

    Shinji knew this woman. He would recognize the outrageously long violet hair and that strange blindfold anywhere.

    It was hard to forget someone when you watched one of your teachers punch her hard enough to snap her neck and twist her head all the way around twice.

    "R-R-Rider?! But, it's me! You know who I am, you were my Servant!"

    "That would have been an existence apart from my own. I apologize if I do not remember you, but as things stand, that girl is my Master, and you are little more than a snack. And likely an unsatisfying one."

    "Rider…don't hurt him," Sakura moaned.

    "You both seem to know me, though I'm afraid my memories of past summonings are not as easily recovered as they are by certain other servants. I apologize. I will need to get to know you again from a blank slate, Master," she knelt before Sakura.

    "That's…okay," she whispered. Why was everything fuzzy? Uh oh. She needed to tell Rider—

    "The owner of this house… and my sister. They have their own Servants… Please don't…don't…hurt…"

    "Master?!" she heard her Servant call out to her, but she was just so…

    …she couldn't…




    * * * * *


    With Saber prepared to leave, all three of them headed to Rin's house. It was mid-afternoon when they arrived.

    Before doing anything relating to the protection of their city, Rin decided that there was something she wanted to try out. She had given Shirou a tour of most of her house when they had started dating, showing him just about everything there was to see with the exception of several rooms; noteworthy exceptions being her father's workshop in the basement, the washrooms (it was good enough for him to know where they were, she didn't need to walk him through them), and of course, her bedroom.

    She had decided she wanted to see what would happen if she removed an item from that list. She was going to remove two actually, but one in particular.

    "Saber, would you mind waiting in the study for a few minutes?" she asked. "I just need to borrow your Master for a bit."

    "Very well. I trust you will not allow any harm to come him."

    Rin smirked.

    "Not any lasting harm."

    "Wait, what?" Saber jumped to her feet, wide eyed.

    "You've got nothing to worry about, Saber," Shirou said reassuringly. "She's kidding. I hope," he added as an afterthought.

    Rin then took hold of his wrist and led him up the stairs, leaving the somewhat bewildered knight behind them.

    "So, you've seen most of the place already, but I've been dying to show you in here from the moment we got back."

    She opened the door to her room and led him inside.

    There was no visible change on his features. If anything, Shirou seemed to be evaluating the contents of the room.

    She felt her bag of jewels and her pendant rattling around uncomfortably in her pocket, and set them down on her end table next to that evil alarm clock.

    "There's kind of a lot of empty space for a bedroom," Shirou said curiously. She frowned with one corner of her mouth, a slight blush coloring her cheeks.

    "Yeah, well you're one to talk!" she tossed back.

    "Point taken. Actually now that I think about it, it's less that there's a lot of empty space, and more that it's just a very big room. I mean, the colors are nice. It's very… you, I guess, with all the red. And the curtains are nice too, but it's still so huge. Don't you feel lonely going to sleep in a room like this?"

    Well, if that wasn't an invitation, what was?

    "Not particularly," she said, "But I suppose that I could do something to remedy the possibility."

    She grabbed the front of Shirou's jacket and fell backwards onto her bed, giving him a quick peck on the lips while he was still off balance. Her pendant slipped out of her pocket and she caught it just before it fell, hastily placing it on her night table.

    "Is now really the time?" he asked. Though his tone was that of annoyance, it was impossible for him to hide the smile on his face. Victory was hers. She went in for a kiss. He dodged.

    "I do like your choice in furniture though. The canopy bed is probably something I'd like if I were able to sleep above floor level."

    Rin momentarily stopped trying to make out.

    "You know, I was disappointed that you weren't embarrassed by coming in here, but I think you just made up for it," she snickered, "because that may be the most feminine thing I've ever heard you say."

    "Why would I be embarrassed? I come into your room every other morning to wake you up. Why would it feel different just because it's in another house?"

    Before Rin could respond to that, he added, "The bed'd probably be nicer with curtains to match the ones on the windows."

    "Emiya, are you sure you aren't a lesbian?"

    "What?"

    "Perhaps you don't understand the vernacular. You see, a lesbian is a woman who is interested in other women, and as you're obviously a chick—"

    "Oh, shut up!" he groaned.

    "How can I when you just jump right into these traps? And you're so cute when you're blushing."

    "Yeah, yeah…"

    "If you're finished sexually assaulting my Master, would you mind returning to the matter at hand?"

    "Yikes!" Shirou nearly jumped out of his skin as he and Rin both turned bright red. He took a deep breath. "It's… it's not assault, Saber. We've been dating for over a year now."

    Saber was the one to blush this time.

    "Yes, I had assumed. I apologize, I had jumped to a false conclusion that the two of you had gotten into an argument because I heard a few loud exclamations."

    She asked if they would prefer that she leave then alone.

    "It's probably a good thing that you got us when you did, actually," said Rin. She straightened out her shirt, which had begun riding up her body. "We are here for a reason after all. Though, I have to ask, how did you come to the conclusion that I was assaulting him. He was the one on top."

    Saber blushed again, "You did have your hands around his collar."

    Rin blinked. That was actually a good point.

    Once she had also shown around her father's old workshop, they spent the day packing up items that Rin expected she would need over the course of her stay at the Emiya household and preparing for the summoning ritual that would take place that night, or perhaps more accurately, the following morning.

    With help from Shirou and Saber, she had carried several bags, boxes and other containers full of gems loaded with magical energy up the stairs from the basement and into the front hall, transferring the contents of each container into suitcases. It wouldn't do to go walking around in public carrying several large, open crates full of jewels or strange-looking equipment, for obvious reasons. They went back and forth between their houses several times.

    The hours dragged on and on, every tick made by the clocks in the house making Rin more anxious to get started. She nearly lost her restraint and performed the ritual at midnight, but eventually, the time came.

    It was two o' clock.

    If there really was a war about to start, this was where things truly began.

    She held a number of jewels in her right hand and as she raised it over the summoning array, they slowly began to melt.

    The liquid crystal began to drip into the grooves in the floor, flowing through them at a steady pace, and the circle began to glow with an otherworldly light.


    "For the elements silver and iron, and for my great Master, Schweinorg:

    Close the four gates.

    Come forth from the crown and follow the forked path that leads to the kingdom.

    Fill. Fill. Fill. Fill. Fill.

    Repeat five times,

    But when each is filled, destroy it.

    Set.

    Heed my words:

    My will creates your body, and your sword creates my destiny.

    If you heed the Grail's call and obey my will and reason

    Then answer my summoning!

    I hereby swear, I shall be all the good in the world.

    That I shall defeat all evil in the world.

    Seventh heaven, clad in the great words of power

    Come forth from the binding circle, thou guardian of the scales!"



    As Rin completed her incantation, she looked at the back of her right hand, where her command seals had appeared. She looked around for her servant. For a moment she didn't see anyone, but then, with a shimmering flourish, a woman in gleaming azure and silver armor appeared before her. Her turquoise hair reached almost all the way down to her knees, and seemed to flow around her like a cape. But it was her eyes that were most striking. They were like windows to the night sky, and held an intangible sadness. What drew Rin's attention next was the large spear she held in her right hand with a vaguely heart-shaped blade.

    The heroic spirit stood by silently, evaluating Rin as much as Rin was evaluating her.

    "If I may ask, are you to be my Master in this conflict?"

    "Yes, that is correct. And you're a Lancer, if your weapon is any indication."

    "Indeed."

    Behind her, Shirou let out the breath he'd been holding.

    "And why do you sound so relieved?" Rin asked.

    "You're going to kill me for reminding you now instead of five minutes ago. See, I'm just kind of glad it slipped your mind that your pendant would ensure that you summoned Archer. And you left it in your room. I'm actually a little surprised that you didn't get him anyway."

    Rin stated at him blankly, a blush slowly creeping up her neck and onto her face. She trembled furiously, clenching and unclenching her fists.

    "I'd break your face for being a total scumbag, but…" she looked away. One deep breath. Then another. Her voice was nearly in a whisper, "But it was my mistake. I should have remembered, so it's on me."

    "That's surprisingly mature of you, Rin," Saber acknowledged.

    Rin spun around and just barely stopped herself from grabbing the collar of Saber's breastplate.

    "Are you saying I'm immature?"

    "Not at all, merely that you tend to display rather… aggressive behavior when confronted with your own deficiencies."

    "That's not calling her immature?" asked Shirou, cringing slightly.

    Saber blinked.

    "My mistake. Rin, please accept my apologies," she said, giving a short bow.

    Rin was about to try and make social commentary about having been bowed to by a king, but she was more eager to continue grilling Shirou, so she asked Lancer if she would wait just a few minutes before they introduced themselves properly. Lancer agreed, and Rin turned back to her boyfriend.

    "So, why didn't you remind me, Shirou?"

    "It's nothing against you. I just don't want to give my competition a leg up after I've already defeated him."

    "Competition? What kind of idiotic thing is that to say?"

    "It's not idiotic. You liked Archer more than you like me. Of course he's my competition."

    Saber's eyes said she was horrified, but her mouth said she was stifling a laugh.

    "So, if you really loved me, wouldn't you have done the opposite?"

    "Let's just say that I've found something that I like, and I'm not going to roll over and let an asshole have it."

    "I'm playing the objectification card."

    "Well I'm playing the I hate Archer's guts card!"

    "That has nothing to do with it! Also, his guts are your guts."

    "Yeah, yeah, I remember from when you told me this afternoon," Shirou deadpanned.

    Lancer looked at Saber.

    "Is she dissatisfied with me, do you think?" Lancer seemed ever so slightly troubled by the thought.

    Saber shook her head. "From my experience with her, she's prone to very brief episodes of hysteria, but she's more than ready to accept you as her Servant."

    The two Masters in the room abruptly stopped arguing when Shirou abruptly held up a hand, and Rin fell silent on impulse.

    "Is everything alright? Did you hear something?"

    "No, not really. Everything's fine, actually. It's just… I noticed something."

    "So you cut yourself off in the middle of a sentence a second ago," Rin snipped, "because you 'noticed something?' Care to tell me what that 'something' might be?"

    The answer she received this time was even less straightforward than the last. Hell, he answered her question with a question of his own, and boy was it random.

    "Well, Tohsaka…" Shirou looked around at the cramped, dark study, "are you sure that this is your entire basement?"

    There were a lot of possibilities that Rin had considered when she thought about what he was going to say. This was not in the list, nor the backup list. It actually took her a few seconds to process what she was hearing.

    "Beg your pardon, come again?"

    "Is this your whole basement?" he repeated. "It's just that… well, you've got a really big house. So why would the basement be smaller than my storage shed?"

    And with that, he had thrown her for yet another loop. Because not only did that make sense, she had never even thought about it before, and she really, really should have.

    While considering what Shirou has asked her, she caught a few snippets of a conversation being held by Saber and Lancer. Perhaps it was only appropriate that they were talking about food. From the few bits and pieces she could hear, her new Lancer was something of a heavy drinker.

    "I, uh… never really thought much about it," she said, focusing on the task at hand, "but I have to admit you've actually got a point."

    With a nod, he strode over to a wall, and asked one last question.

    "Do you want me to have a look?"

    "I can't see the harm in it. Knock yourself out, I guess."

    Placing a hand on the wall, Shirou closed his eyes and whispered the incantation that all present company (with one nktabme exception) had grown so accustomed to hearing.

    "Trace On."

    Within seconds of having analyzed that one wall, he was walking over to one of her father's bookshelves. He pulled a book away, or appeared to try. It came halfway out before there was a heavy clunk and the shelf swung open to reveal a hidden room.

    Rin couldn't decide whether to be impressed, or just annoyed that she hadn't found this room herself in all the years that she's lived here.

    "Well, I could say I'm not curious, but I'd be lying," she sighed, and was surprised to see trepidation in Saber's eyes.

    For now, she ignored it. Shirou's eyes were asking if she wanted to venture inside. She nodded, joining him as e he stepped into the darkness beyond. She pulled a gem out of her satchel and it began to glow with a soft, ethereal blue light revealing…

    Tohsaka's jaw dropped. The room was huge. It definitely fit the outline of the rest of her house. And the most shocking part…

    …was that it was completely, painfully, infuriatingly empty.

    "What the hell…?" Tohsaka whispered.

    She could see outlines on the wall that were slightly less dusty, indicating the former presence of furniture that must have been there. She could imagine shelves, desks, workbenches, all sorts of mystical tools that must once have been here. And they were all just…gone.

    "What. The. Hell…" she whispered again. She wasn't even angry. She was just… disappointed in herself for not having found this place when it was still a treasure trove.

    "Hey, Tohsaka, I think I've found something," Shirou beckoned her over to the opposite side of the room, where he'd been looking around by the light of some tiny flashlight-thing on his keychain. He didn't sound very enthusiastic. And she quickly discovered why.

    "That son of a bitch," she snarled.

    Scattered all over the floor in a remote corner of the cellar were a pile of black keys. And there was only one man in Fuyuki who used those who would ever have had occasion to visit her house.

    "Kirei you thieving piece of shit!" she hissed. "He's still taunting me even after he's a charred pile of bones!"

    That was when she noticed something sparkle underneath the pile of inactive handles. She dug through them for a moment and was astonished at the sight that greeted her.

    "Or maybe you didn't take everything," she muttered.

    She knew this thing. It's shape, it's color, the jewel embedded atop its head. She remembered how her father had carried it with him all the time.

    "A cane?"

    "My father's. He never needed it to walk, but… well, you know, a touch of class, and all that." She picked the rod up and passed it from hand to hand, testing its balance. "And of course it's a mystic code on top of everything."

    "A mystic code? What does it do?"

    "Well, for now…" she extinguished the light from her jewel and gave her father's cane a quick twirl, prompting the ruby at its head to produce a vivid scarlet light. She smiled softly at the object that she remembered being large enough to be a full-sized wizard's staff. Now it barely even reached her navel. It had really been a long time.

    "Heck why not, I'll keep the black keys too. No sense letting a whole pile of perfectly good weapons go to waste. Thank you, Kirei for once again being an arrogant bitchnugget and leaving me with these charming new toys."

    "Well, I'd say that was rude, but if he tried to kill you, like you said he did, he probably has that much coming to him.

    "Hold on a minute…" Rin muttered. She suddenly went wide-eyed as a brilliant idea struck her. She tore out of the workshop, rushing past an even more bewildered Saber (and Lancer), scrambling up the stairs to her room and grabbing her pendant. Then she jumped the stairs, rushed out the front door and tripped over something that seemed to vanish in the next instant. No, she did not just trip over her own feet!

    "Master? You seem to be in a rush," Lancer noted, joining her and helping her back to her feet. "If you need immediate transport, I could get you to where you want to go. I am an exceptionally fast Servant, even among the Lancer class.

    "Is that so?" Rin rubbed her lower lip with one finger. "Then I need to get back to Emiya's house on the double."

    "Very well, Master."

    Lancer scooped Rin up in her arms.

    Rin sighed. It just wasn't the same…

    And then Lancer broke into a run… no wait. Rin looked down and realized that the Servant wasn't running at all. She was literally flying several feet above the ground! And Lancer hadn't exaggerated; in fact, she had definitely undersold her abilities. Her agility was phenomenal. Rin had to brace herself to keep from getting nauseated. She was at the front door to the Emiya house within ten minutes, but despite not having run at all, she found the ride had left her out of breath.

    Rin hurried to the door and knocked. Shinji let her inside. She pushed past him, tossed her shoes aside and scrambled to the living room, hoping that Sakura would be there.

    She was, but…

    "Oh, sonofabitch!"

    "I take it that these are some of the people I've been instructed not to eliminate?" said a familiar looking Servant with incredibly long purple hair.

    "Rin, is–is something wrong?"

    "It's nothing, Sakura," she answered dejectedly, "nothing at all…"

    Meanwhile, back at the Tohsaka residence, Shirou found himself wondering something.

    "Is something the matter, Shirou?" Saber inquired.

    "No. Not really. It's just… Rin shouldn't have needed her pendant anyway. It may be a catalyst for Archer, but Archer, having the same pendant, in a way has a catalyst for her."

    "You mean to say that your future self should have appeared for Rin regardless of her catalyst?"

    Shirou nodded.

    He didn't know what it was, but he did know enough to be able to tell that something wasn't right here. Not right at all.


    * * * * *


    Roughly thirty-six hours earlier…


    A woman in a violet robe, eyes hidden beneath a deep hood, stood before Luvia.

    “I ask of you now, girl; are you worthy of calling yourself my master?” the woman continued, smiling with the corner of her mouth.

    Violet lipstick? Luvia noted, Who would ever wear such a thing?

    “Why, yes I am.” she answered, “My, I’m glad to see you catch on quickly.”

    She began to notice a chill in the room. It hadn’t been nearly this cold before she had performed the summoning rite. The woman frowned beneath her hood.

    “It would have been ever so tiresome to have a Servant who needed to have things explained to him,” she said, gliding around behind Luvia to whisper over her shoulder, “Now wouldn’t it?”

    With that as her only warning, a skeletal hand ripped its way out of the floor, followed by an arm. Luvia shrieked as skeletal creatures began pulling themselves out from beneath the floorboards with an unholy rattling noise. A thin fog began to condense around them as the temperature in the room began to drop more steadily. Though the woman’s hood hid her eyes completely, Luvia was overcome by the sensation of being carefully watched by a cunning predator.

    “I assure you that you have no need to instruct me, little miss,” she continued to speak over Luvia’s shoulder. “And don’t be frightened of my dragon tooth warriors. They’ll never attack you as long as you possess your command seals, and as a magus, you’re skill is… adequate. At least for a child.”

    "How dare you!”

    The woman’s lips twitched upwards ever so slightly, and the skeletons’ bones clicked together as they shuffled closer.

    “How dare I? I wonder?” she drawled, “Perhaps if you were to pay more attention, you’d have sensed the difference in our abilities. In comparison to myself, your capacity as a mage barely warrants so much as a glance, much less any true attention.”

    Luvia’s eyes narrowed, trembling with fury.

    “That said, I will admit that I have an unfair advantage over you, being a heroic spirit, and one from the Age of Gods at that.”

    Taking a deep breath, Luvia answered with as much dignity as she could manage.

    “I take it that this means you belong to the Caster class.”

    “Indeed I am.”

    As angry as she felt, Luvia knew that there were still a few formalities that needed to be taken care of.

    “Very well, so you’re a Caster and have all the strengths and weaknesses associated with that class of Servant. What else should I know about you? Do you have any proficiencies or deficiencies that I should know about?”

    Once again, the invisible eyes watching her began boring holes into her soul. Caster’s brief smile had vanished and her lips were now set in a neutral line.

    “Perhaps we should get to know each other better before I start telling you what makes me tick.”

    “Hmph. Have it your way then. My name is Luviagelita Edelfelt, heir to the Edelfelt family.”

    “Mind your tone, little girl, lest I be forced to teach you a lesson in manners.”

    Folding her arms across her chest, Caster took to drifting around the hotel room, keeping her eyes, locked on her master. She also dispelled her dragon tooth warriors, knowing that for the time being, she needed to conserve her mana. One by one, the skeletal monsters dissolved into black mist and vanished.

    “I—You… Argh!” Luvia ran her hands through her glorious curls with obsessive fervor as the frustration she felt continued mounting. “I thought Servants were supposed to be obedient!”

    “We are, dear. You just need to focus on the bigger picture here. I’ve no intention of insulting your pride. Even the difference in our skill levels has no reflection on your ability as a mage.

    “I merely meant that as a spellcaster, I am beyond comparison,” once again, Caster let a smirk appear on her lips, holding it for a few moments before letting it drop.

    “You’re that good, are you?”

    “Yes I am, and I say that without exaggeration. Only a handful of sorcerers throughout history could ever hope to match my skill as a mage,” she paused, putting a hand to her lower lip in contemplation.

    “And who might these powerful sorcerers be, Servant?”

    “Oh my, do you honestly expect me to lower myself to the extent of listing a parade of equal or superior mages?”

    "Humor me. I'll agree to a compromise; you need only name three."

    Caster's face went through several expressions before settling on a sly grin.

    "Very well, you ask for three superior mages, and you shall have them. Above all, King Solomon himself. Merlin for another. And Morgan Le Fey for a third. Are you satisfied?"

    Luvia folded her arms across her chest and grimaced.

    "Well played, Caster."

    "You should have specified that I not name historical figures who would be considered the paragons of the art."

    “At any rate, you seem to have no shortage of confidence in your abilities. But I’ve been burning with curiosity for more than long enough. Who are you, really?”

    Caster’s expression, at least what Luvia could see of it, didn’t change, but her tone indicated that she was satisfied.

    “I’ve been called many things, but aside from Caster, my favorite is the name I was born with. You may call me Medea.”

    “Medea,” the smile that took over Luvia’s face was reserved, but she was quite obviously thrilled. “I can see where that confidence comes from. The witch who brought heroes to…their…knees…"

    The temperature of the room, only just having returned to normal, plunged. Caster’s mouth was twisted into a scowl as she lunged across the room toward Luvia, stopping inches from her face. Her cloak billowed out to her sides like a pair of bat's wings.

    “Little girl,” she said, her tone smoldering in contrast to the chill in the room. “Call me what you like, but if you value your continued existence, you will never refer to me as a witch ever again. Do we understand one another?”

    “Y-Yes! Yes! M-my deepest apologies!” Luvia gasped, shocked by the aura of sheer terror Caster had given off. “I promise, I’ll never call you…that… ever again, whether you’re present or not. Not for the rest of my life.”

    The room’s temperature abruptly returned to normal, and Caster nodded, taking a slow breath to calm herself.

    “That will do. That will do just fine,” she said, “My apologies, Master. I assure you that my temper isn’t lost easily. I happen to have an… unfortunate history with men who’ve called me a witch. You do seem to be a decent girl. Perhaps a little na´ve, but who isn’t at your age?

    “I’ll admit, you do remind me of another girl I once met. An enemy Master in a previous Holy Grail War, if a few secondhand memories aren't completely flawed. I think I found her to be an unbearable little tart. Perhaps my perspective is biased by my opposition toward her, but you seem to lack the qualities that made me dislike her so much.”

    Luvia didn’t like admitting that she had anything in common with that lowborn upstart, but she was still curious, even if it was also incredibly unlikely.

    “This girl you refer to,” she began, “Her name wouldn’t happen to have been Rin Tohsaka?”

    Caster broke out in a grin, her shoulders trembling until she couldn’t contain her glee any longer and laughed. It was a diabolical laugh, but it did seem appropriate in the context of their conversation. For the first time, Luvia felt just the faintest bit of warmth in that invisible gaze.

    The sorceress allowed her laughter to run its course and then glided into the easy chair in the corner of the room and with a flick of her hand toward the kitchenette, made the kettle fill itself and set itself down on the stove.

    “Miss Luviagelita, was it? You seem to be quite the interesting young woman. I expect that we’re going to get along splendidly.”

    "Miss Luvia will be fine. No need to trouble yourself with my full name."

    Luvia was beside herself. Not only had she summoned an incredibly powerful Servant, but the wit… er… sorceress even knew and disliked her sworn nemesis among her peers at the Clock Tower. Things couldn’t possibly get any better!

    Hmm…”

    “Are you sensing something, Caster?” she asked, checking on the tea.

    “Nothing of great importance. Nor can I be certain,” Caster noted, “as my scrying crystal is still foggy. However, it appears as though that our mutual friend has just tripped over a stray cat.”

    Luvia grinned like a bottle imp.

    Life was just so wonderful.


    Author's Note: There was a second thread posted in error a bit earlier. Sorry about that. It was not intentional. Technically, this is the second thread, but when I was doing my last minute editing, I was not yet aware of what had happened. I'd like to thank the mods for taking the other one down, it was rather embarrassing.

    Last edited by Draconic; January 15th, 2018 at 01:36 PM.
    Stop trying to eat me!

    I joined two years too late...
    Quote Originally Posted by Hymn of Ragnarok View Post
    That makes me think of Rin as a loan shark.
    Quote Originally Posted by Hymn of Ragnarok View Post
    Admittedly, she'd probably be the hottest loan shark you'll ever meet. She'd probably make you smile as she sucked you dry.


    Oh dear, that doesn't sound like yuri at all.
    Quote Originally Posted by Techlet View Post
    Not with that attitude.

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    死徒 Dead Apostle hatori's Avatar
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    Edit: Brynhildr?!
    Last edited by hatori; December 26th, 2017 at 03:38 AM.
    I shall serve thy cause, upon my honour, till thy death.
    -Avenger/Jester. Trinity Series.
    Destined Legacies, shamelessly rewriting it since 2010

    When I go random.


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    Oh god, I see where this is going... Draconic's Avatar
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    Whoever that Servant is, I gave her to Rin for a very, very specific reason, as will be made clear in Chapter 3.
    Stop trying to eat me!

    I joined two years too late...
    Quote Originally Posted by Hymn of Ragnarok View Post
    That makes me think of Rin as a loan shark.
    Quote Originally Posted by Hymn of Ragnarok View Post
    Admittedly, she'd probably be the hottest loan shark you'll ever meet. She'd probably make you smile as she sucked you dry.


    Oh dear, that doesn't sound like yuri at all.
    Quote Originally Posted by Techlet View Post
    Not with that attitude.

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    Oh god, I see where this is going... Draconic's Avatar
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    Post Chapter II: Grand Theft Casa / Incessant Agitator

    Chapter II:
    Grand Theft Casa / Incessant Agitator

    It took altogether too long for the sun to go down. By the time the streetlamps out in Fuyuki proper were spilling their incandescent light all about and the skyline had become a glittering abstract image of glowing yellow boxes, Luvia swore she was going stir crazy. She might have had an entire castle to herself, but nonetheless. Melodrama aside however, she had a Caster class Servant to take care of, and hadn’t established a claim to a single decent strip of land that could be used as a workshop. The castle was fine, to be sure, but it wasn’t on a strong leyline. Also, it was incredibly drafty for obvious reasons. Not to mention she could feel another mage lurking about nearby, and she had no intention of lounging around while some trash waited for an opportunity to do away with her. Not that the city was mage-free either; she could sense at least three besides Shero and that insufferable Tohsaka.

    There was that church in New City, but it looked like it had been restored recently. She wasn’t na´ve: The place was poorly fortified and the bounded field around it was weak. It had almost certainly been attacked in the precious War. Aside from which, there was some woman in charge there now who gave her the heebie-jeebies.

    There was another spot in New City of course, that empty, barren park, but that place was dead. Whatever had happened there had cut it off from its leyline, or otherwise prevented mana from naturally flowing through the place. And despite its lonely, almost pitiful emptiness, it positively reeked of malice. That place hadn’t been the site of a magus’ assault. Something Else Entirely had done Something Unspeakable there, and despite being a treasure hunter, she had her limits. Even she knew that there were times when something was best left untouched.

    Caster had mentioned she set up shop at Ryuudou Temple in the previous War, but the temple was occupied, and some of the residents would likely recognize Caster as well. As well fortified as it was, trying to entrench herself there would require more than a silver tongue.

    And with those locations unavailable, that left only one spot…

    * * * * *

    Atop the roof of a ten-story building in the middle of New City, Sakura’s pharmacist blinked at the curiosity before her.

    “Huh… wasn’t expecting that,” she said, staring at the completely unthreatening young woman before her.

    “Pardon me, but I did order a demon, right?”

    “Yes. Why? What’s wrong, Master?”

    The redheaded woman, or rather mage, shook her head, looking at her new Servant with some measure of disappointment. The rest of her expression seemed to convey sympathy.

    “Nothing’s wrong, I was just… expecting something more…I suppose menacing would be a word for it. You’re a Caster, no?”

    “Yes I am, just tell me how I may be of service, and I will—”

    “Okay, a Caster. Nice to meet you. My name is Touko Aozaki. I’ll be your Master…for the time being.”

    “And what a fine Master you are,” Caster replied agreeably. “I mean, your skills don’t even compare to mine, but with this era’s magecraft, you’re definitely super impressive.”

    “Please don’t get too friendly. I already kind of like you, but…”

    “But whaaat~?” the Servant prompted. She sidled up to the mage that summoned her.

    “Well, you see, I had a certain plan that I was going to follow through and it hinges largely on you being a diabolical fiend.”

    “Who says I can’t be one?”

    “No one, but you’re, for lack of a better word, adorable.”

    The Servant lit up like a sunrise. This had the dual effect of looking even more charming, if that was even possible, and further crushing any hope Touko had for carrying through any of her plans.

    “Hmm. Good point—thank you by the way—being the monster-me is a real drag anyway, so—”

    “Excellent!” Touko clapped her hands together. “That makes this a lot simpler. Now that we’ve established that, I have your first order for you.”

    Caster gave a theatrical bow.

    “Your wish is my command.”

    Good grief. This Servant was positively glowing with enthusiasm, and somehow managing to be cuter every time she moved or opened her mouth! If this continued much longer, Touko was sure she was going to hurl.

    “Alright then, Caster, I’m afraid I’ll have to ask that we go our separate ways.”

    “You got it, Master, I’ll get right on—wait, saywhatnow?”

    Touko felt just the slightest bit guilty for leaving this charming and… unique… young lady to fend for herself, especially since she needed a steady supply of mana to keep from succumbing to spontaneous nonexistence.

    However, she was Touko Aozaki. She was ruthless, efficient, and above all, she had options available to her in a way that no other Grail War participant had ever been given. Options that the other participants likely didn’t realize they had.

    And over the years, she had also developed a mild case of egomania, which was probably the reason she was comfortable letting her Servant do whatever she wanted without any failsafes. On the other hand, once one conquered death as many times as she had, it was a testament to her discipline that she hadn’t developed a god complex. Out of all the participants in this death match, she was the only one who was in virtually no danger.

    “I said I need you to leave. I’m going to get a new catalyst, come up with a new plan, and you can do whatever you want. To an extent. I’m not going to use up a command seal, but I order you to seek out a new Master. If you’ve not found one within two days, then you are to kill yourself, if you haven’t already vanished by then,” Touko’s hand glowed for the briefest of moments, and then Caster felt something incredibly strange. Like… she was on the back of her own hand. It was hard to describe. She looked at the markings there and blinked.

    “Did you just give me my own command seals?” she gawped. Sure she would die if she didn’t re-contract within forty-eight hours, but still!

    “Yes. You are free to do whatever you please. Those will return to me the moment you forge a new pact, of course. And I would personally recommend that you find a new master before your Independent Action wears off.”

    Caster looked at her former Master. This was a shockingly generous thing for anyone to do, let alone for a mage. Foolish, yes, that too, but nevertheless, the gravity wasn’t lost on her.

    “Are you absolutely certain about this?” she asked. “I mean, you seem like a decent person—”

    Touko interrupted with a single bark of derisive laughter.

    “Well, that would be your mistake then. Now be on your way. I can still choose to kill you now, you know.”

    Caster didn’t say anything else. She just gave Touko a quiet look of gratitude, and leaped off the roof.

    Touko allowed herself another derisive chuckle. This wasn’t the first foolish thing she had done lately, and it very likely wouldn’t be the last.

    She took out a box of cigarettes and popped one between her teeth. She didn’t need to use the lighter to get it lit, but she used it anyway. She took a heavy drag and breathed out a long puff of smoke.

    “I really am going soft. Aren’t I, Aoko?”

    Her estranged sister didn’t respond. She didn’t even hear her. They hadn’t even seen each other in decades. Touko was speaking to an empty rooftop. And she damn well knew it.

    “…I’m so, so tired…”

    That said, she could feel the presence of a second Caster elsewhere in the city. This was incredibly strange. Either she didn’t get a last minute memo, or someone was up to something.

    * * * * *

    Elsewhere in New City, on the ground, a boy wandered aimlessly, wondering why exactly he came here. The invitation seemed shady at best, and he still hadn’t found a suitable spot to draw his summoning circle. He’d been under the impression that Fuyuki was a tiny hamlet, but that was his own mistake. A small city was still a city. And this particular spot was crowded, even at this time of night. If he was to be a Master, he was rather literally in no position to be one.

    At last, he came to an empty side street. He’d follow it and hope he could find a vacant lot. Had he known the city better, the boy would have simply followed the river northward toward the ocean and made his way to the abandoned loading docks at the port. But he didn’t. He was helpless and alone.

    Or rather, he was mostly alone.

    “Yup, he’ll do juuust fine.”

    She realized she’d misjudged the height she jumped from moments after she took the leap.

    “Okay, this was a mistake,” she said to herself. Changing direction in midair required some magic, but hey, needs must. She managed to angle herself so that she was just barely above the young mage, who from the looks of things, was incredibly startled when she tapped him on the shoulder.

    “Who’s there?!” be whirled around, brandishing a pair of cheap wooden chopsticks. Seeing no one, he continued looking about wildly. Caster could have stopped, but she couldn’t resist tapping him on the shoulder again. He spun around, looking more and more frantic by the second. “Show yourself! If you don’t, I promise, y-you’ll regret it!”

    Psst, up here,” she tapped him on the top of the head, which jerked straight up. He looked at her, his expression one of utter stupefaction.

    “Hi there,” she gave him a playful wave, then let out a heavy breath, “Whew, that took more out of me than I thought.” She froze. “Uh oh.”

    That was the only warning she gave him before her energy gave out and she dropped flat on top of him.

    * * * * *

    It was their first night since they returned, and as such, it was time for them to go out on a cursory patrol. Fuyuki was still quiet. They hadn’t been invited, so they had no idea when the Grail War was set to officially begin, so they were just starting as early as possible. The night air was a comfortable late spring temperature and no one aside from themselves appeared to be actively seeking out opponents. This in mind, she sent Lancer away to scout other parts of the city to observe any goings on elsewhere.

    They made it all the way to Mount Miyama without incident. Saber took a breath, then suddenly looked around. She sniffed the air. Yes, she knew that scent. Someone she once knew and didn’t particularly admire smelled of something similar, though not quite as badly. This brand was much worse.

    “Do either of you smell cigarettes?” she asked.

    “Wait, you smell it too?” asked Rin, “I didn’t see anyone so I didn’t—”

    Then she was struck from behind and collapsed, catching herself before she hit the ground, and scraping the skin on her palms. It took no time at all for her to regain her bearings. She kicked out in the direction she had been hit from, failed to hit anything, and reached for her gem satchel.

    Except it wasn’t there. She felt around her other pockets trying to find it only to be interrupted by an unfamiliar voice. One speaking English.

    “I’ll save you the trouble,” said a boy in a grey jacket. He looked poor and American. And he was shaking the pouch of gems at her. “You really shouldn’t carry valuables this late at night. I gotta tell ya though, this is just ridiculous. These must be a fortune… what kind of dumb bitch are you that you’d just carry this much bling at night?”

    The sound of his voice wasn’t exactly grating. His tone was passive-aggressive and carried a slight edge of superiority, likely unearned. However, it was the way he spoke that made the three companions cringe. The sheer assuredness in the mugger’s voice was almost depressing. He had mugged them, then mocked them for having something that he stole, and he was still standing around. He actually believed he had already gotten away with it. He smelled of cigarette smoke. Just enough to be off-putting. The grin on his face didn’t match the dark shadows beneath his eyes. “I suggest the rest of you assholes drop any other valuables you’re carrying or, well, you should be able to guess what’ll happen.”

    “What the hell did you just say?” Rin growled. The man either didn’t pick up on the menace in her voice, or thought he could beat all three of them in a fight if it came down to it.

    “I’m not gonna repeat myself for a high society cunt like you. Now pay up.”

    “You just stole a bag of jewels from me and you have the gall to demand more from us?! That’s a good one. I hope you still find it funny when you’re the one bleeding all over the pavement.” She saw a vein pulse in the mugger’s forehead in the dim light of the street lamp, though at the same time, his mouth twisted into a smirk. He didn’t respond though, so she took that as grounds to continue. “You also called me a cunt, and the fact that you aren’t running for your life after calling any woman by that word displays your inordinate stupidity. And I don’t say that as a threat. Just as a warning, because you’re either really bad at this, or really are just that much of a dimwit. Any mugger worth his salt runs away after landing something. He doesn’t hang around to try and piss his victim off. Though it’s extremely premature to call us the victims in this scenario. You clearly have no idea what you’re dealing with. Now hand me that bag or the only thing left of your favorite part of your anatomy is going be a cauterized crater between your legs.”

    “Did you seriously just threaten me?”

    “No. I just told you to return my property, and then you can be on your merry way. Unless you really think that you’re entitled to keep those gems in which case, it’s still not a threat; it’s my early Christmas gift to myself. I always wanted a human-shaped target that screamed upon being struck.

    Shirou winced at the thought. And then he winced again at the look on his girlfriend’s face.

    “You just insulted the wrong guy, you little bitch!” the American reached into his coat pocket and pulled a handful of small coppery objects.

    “If you seriously try to ‘throw me a penny,’ I’m going to shoot your head clean off your shoulders,” Tohsaka made a gun with her hand and pointed at the man’s face.

    “With what? Your hand? You really are retarded.”

    “I feel compelled to teach this man a lesson in propriety that has nothing to do with manners,” Saber grumbled. ”May I strike him, Shirou? I shall refrain from using a weapon.”

    “I think Rin’s got this covered,” Shirou answered, massaging his temples. The guy about to get hurt was a positively lousy human being, even if he was just a pathetic windbag with rocks for brains. On the other hand, he was the aggressor and now his girlfriend was probably going to lethally wound him in self-defense. He didn’t know who he should defend. After all, the mugger would die if he wasn’t careful, but the thought of aiding him was actually making Shirou a bit nauseated. He didn’t have time to make a definitive decision however.

    The American opened his hand, revealing that the small objects were indeed pennies, and sneered at the trio.

    “I’d tell you to go fuck yourselves, but you won’t have time for that,” he then tossed the coins at the three companions and Rin raised a barrier reflexively. She wasn’t exactly thrilled about expending mana on something as trivial as a man who made the Shirou of yesterday—or rather five years ago—look like a passable mage.

    But she was glad she set it up when the ground in front of her shook, flickering orange flames washing over her shield with a whoosh. The explosion was contained no question about it, but it had probably been powerful enough to leave some moderate to severe burns.

    That was mostly conjecture on her part, but whatever the case, the shockwave from the blast still managed to knock her backward into Shirou, who was in turn knocked through a shopfront window. Fortunately, there wasn’t any product immediately behind it. Which would have been particularly bad considering it was a produce market. They were apparently having a special on coconuts. A shame. He didn’t really use coconuts in his cooking very often.

    “Sorry, Shirou,” she said with uncharacteristic but increasingly familiar sincerity. “You aren’t cut up too badly, are you?”

    “I feel some scratches on my arms but nothing’s bleeding, far as I can tell.”

    “Oh. That’s good,” she said, sounding relieved as she stood up and brushed some dust from her skirt. She would have offered him a hand up, but Saber was way ahead of her on that front. She turned to leer out the shattered window, “Now pass me a melon.”

    “What?!”

    “Pass me… A melon.”

    Shirou sighed, disappointed that she really had said what he was afraid she did.

    “Yeah, I heard you the first time.”

    Further away, he heard the mugger’s voice. It was a bit indistinct, but Shirou was pretty sure he was ranting about their survival judging by the question, “How the hell are you still standing?!” that he caught. Another three coins flew toward them and he batted them back toward the one who threw them. Saber tried to assist, but evidently her baseball skills were still lacking.

    “If you heard me then just do it!” Rin shouted, breaking his concentration, and Saber actually caught the next coin. It exploded in her gauntlet and Saber didn’t appear to have noticed until she realized that there was soot falling from the gap between her forefinger and the rest of the solid steel mitt on her left hand.

    “I’m not stealing for you,” Shirou answered, putting his foot down.

    “Argh! Fine, I’ll do it myself! Saber, keep the assbag from getting away. Don’t hurt him too badly.”

    “Very well… is the theft really necessary? I cannot imagine what you intend to do with a melon.”

    “Oh, you’ll see.”

    Rin brushed her way through the store and grabbed a cantaloupe. She then tore a plastic bag away from the cash and slipped it inside, and also took a few coconuts for good measure.”

    Outside, Saber had handily caught the mugger, and was carrying him by his coat collar.

    She shook him painfully back and forth inside his coat when he attempted to struggle free. He didn’t seem to grasp the fact that Saber was only carrying his jacket and he could escape easily enough by pulling his arms out of his sleeves. It had to have been kind of humiliating for him to have been lifted off his feet and manhandled by a girl more than a head shorter than him.

    “Let me go, bitch, or I’ll snap your neck and shove your head up your goddamn snatch!” for all his bluster, he didn’t sound very confident anymore.

    “I really do feel like I owe it to myself to be more offended, but at this point I am not even surprised. You’re a tiny imbecile who tries to seem intimidating by barking like a rabid dog. And I’m not exactly preventing you from getting away. You have a simple method of escaping me as soon as you pay attention enough to notice it. I’m confident that you won’t, however. Depressingly so, in fact.”

    “Okay, you can put him down now.”

    Rin ducked out of the greengrocer’s shop with a bagful of stolen food. Mostly coconuts. Saber was only too happy to put down the snarling mugger. The moment his feet were on the ground, he spun around and tried to slug her in the face. She caught his fist and then twisted it down and to the side until he squawked. With her other hand, she snatched Rin’s gems from him.

    “You damn bitch! Give those back to me or else! You really… think you can just steal from me?! Give that back!”

    “First of all, ‘or else’ what? You are by no means a weakling, but I think it is quite clear at this point that you are utterly incapable of laying a finger on me unless I will it. And I do not. Second of all, you seem to be setting a double standard. You can steal from young women with no consequences, yet a girl who’s trying to simply retrieve lost property may not take it back from you when she overpowers you in a fight?”

    “I haven’t lost yet… And that’s the last straw. I’m through being humiliated by a bunch of kids!”

    He was dead serious. Shirou resisted the urge old his head in his hands.

    As entertaining as it was to watch him embarrass himself, his arrogance was starting to make Rin sick. She levitated the first coconut and shot it at him with more force than strictly necessary. It wasn’t going to be enough to break any bones, but it’d still hurt like hell. And make a mess.

    Saber let go of his wrist and the giant nut hit him squarely in the solar plexus, doubling him over. The next clocked him in the forehead, cracking open from the impact and splashing him with a faceful of coconut juice. Tohsaka sneered devilishly. The mugger paled.

    “Oh, great. Other mages. Just my damn luck…”

    If he was being honest with himself, Shirou didn’t approve of the theft, but he had to admit, her plan to deal with this haplessly aggressive mage non-lethally was pretty effective.

    “Oh god, he didn’t realize we were mages too,” Rin held her head in her hand. “If he wasn’t such an asshat I’d actually feel really bad for him now…”

    She fired the cantaloupe at him next without a second thought.

    It nailed him in the side of the head with a crunch before it splattered all over him.

    “Ow! Goddamn it! Cut that out! Ow! Bitch!”

    “He throws around this offensive language like it’s nothing,” Saber winced rubbing her eyes with her thumb and forefinger. When she looked up again, she was a little flabbergasted to see Tohsaka climbing out of the produce store’s broken window carrying a watermelon.

    “Oh, you’ve gotta to be fucking kidd—GBBPPHTT!” the American attempted to snarl before the heavy melon connected with his jaw and managed to break in such a way that his head got lodged inside the heavy fruit.

    If this had been the first thing she had used, Saber might have felt a little more enthusiasm. This was a genuinely hilarious sight. But Rin had already ruined two coconuts and a cantaloupe. She was no longer very feeling quite as receptive to letting her ravage the greengrocer’s stall. Which Rin promptly hopped back into for more ammo.

    “I’m gonna get rid of him,” she said.

    She grabbed grabbed a few more coconuts and began manually hurling them at the idiot laboring under the delusion that he was a powerful sorcerer because he could make pennies explode. Of course in addition to being an idiot, he now had weird bits of orangey, red, and grey stuff on his face, along with being splattered with translucent whitish fluids that were almost guaranteed to be mistaken for something other than coconut milk.

    “Stop! I’ll leave, dammit!” he snarled, covering his head as hard-shelled fruits rained down on him. “I said cut that out!”

    Another coconut slammed into his face.

    “Yeah? Make me!”

    “I said I’d leave you the hell alone! What more do you fucking want?!”

    He forced himself to stand up, spat out a few more noisy profanities, and scrambled away down the street.

    Shirou sighed with relief.

    “Well, that was annoying,” he muttered.

    “Yeah, you’d better run! We’ve got more coconuts!” Rin shouted, throwing one more down the street for good measure.

    Suddenly a firm hand clamped down on her shoulder. She turned her head slowly, a sense of dread that she couldn’t explain making her tremble. She was relieved to see that it was only Saber, but there was something blazing deep within the Servant’s eyes that was utterly terrifying.

    “Do not waste food,” she tightened her grip on Rin’s shoulder, “under any circumstances.”

    “Um. Okay. Saber, could you let go of me?”

    “Do you realize how much effort is required to move such things from one side of the world to the other?”

    “No, I don’t. I doubt you have a particularly firm grasp of the specifics either,” she argued back, petulant as ever. An idea suddenly came to her, adopting an almost imperceptible lopsided smile. “I mean, it’s not like people can just up and find them in our climate.”

    Arturia raised an eyebrow.

    “I suppose it would not be impossible…”

    “Well, if the owners here did ’just find them,’ how do you propose they made their way to wherever these people picked them up?”

    Shirou was thoroughly lost. Wouldn’t a bunch of lost coconuts just have been acquired elsewhere by someone else and…

    “The swallow may fly south with the sun, or the house martin or the plover seek hot lands in winter, yet these were not strangers to Britain.”

    “Are you suggesting that coconuts migrate?”

    “Not at all. They could be carried.”

    “What? A swallow carrying a coconut?” Rin had to force herself to sputter. This was almost too good to be true.

    “I must concede however.”

    Rin coughed, forcing down her prepared response.

    “Wait, come again?”

    “I concede.”

    “You’re just giving up? You seemed intent on holding your position a moment ago,” Rin pressed, attempting to get back on track.

    Shirou offered a sympathetic smile, shaking his head.

    “You were so close, Rin. I’m sorry, but that couldn’t possibly have continued any—”

    “Supposing for a moment that a five-ounce bird swallow could somehow lift off whilst carrying an entire one-pound coconut, the weight would nevertheless make their migration too arduous, and they would not be able to maintain the necessary momentum required to stay aloft.”

    “Wait, what? How do you know that?” she demanded.

    “Because I happen to know the average airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow,” she answered. “Both African and European.”

    Rin and Shirou both balked.

    “It is twenty-four miles per hour, in case you are curious. More importantly, however…

    “Rin,” Saber looked solemnly into the suddenly dumbstruck young woman’s eyes, before letting the corners of her mouth just barely twitch upward into a wry grin. “I’ve seen the movie.”

    There was a strange sputtering noise to their side.

    Then Shirou burst into a fit of laughter.

    The two girls could only stare at him in awe. Rin’s mouth hung open. For her, this was the kind of thing that one habitually hoped would happen while still holding the realistic expectation that it never will.

    “He’s laughing at my misfortune,” she whispered, a single tear welling in the corner of her eye. “I’m so proud of him.”

    “Oddly enough, so am I,” Saber muttered uncertainty.

    Shirou finally managed to cut himself off momentarily, just long enough for him to say, “Please, don’t encourage me,” before losing himself again in a fit of snickering.

    “It’s okay. It’s just a sign that you’re becoming more like a normal human being,” Rin patted him on the shoulder.

    “Because as a girl raised to be a mage from birth, you’re the resident expert on being a normal human being,” Shirou said, sounding skeptical.

    “You make a fair point, but I’m going to ignore it. For your sake, of course.”

    “My sake?”

    “Well, you don’t want me to treat you like Shinji, do you?” Rin said, the eerie smile on her face hinting at danger the likes of which Shirou typically didn’t like to imagine.

    He rolled his eyes and shook his head.

    “Good boy.”

    “I’m not a pet dog,” he muttered.

    They continued moving to their next stop on that night’s patrol. They might have had an encounter with a mugger, but that wasn’t even worth considering on a scale of an actual battle. They were all fine, and the idiotic thug was nursing a coconut-induced concussion, so overall this had been a success.

    “So, the movie… didn’t offend you?” Rin asked Saber.

    “Oh, no, I found the bizarre and inaccurate caricatures of my knights to be infuriating, to say nothing of that other one who didn’t exist.”

    “And yet you almost sound like you watched the whole thing…” she prompted, a catlike smirk spreading across her face.

    “Yes, erm, well…” Saber cleared her throat, trying not to appear embarrassed, “There… comes a point at which one is entertained to such an extent that one is willing to ignore certain matters they would find infuriating at any other time.”

    “So basically, you were bored, it was on, and since you watched more than you’d actually intended, you ended up enjoying it,” Rin deducted.

    “I should warn you that you can never say the words ‘I’m not dead yet’ around me…” she put a hand over her mouth to stifle a vivacious fit of giggling. Eventually, she managed to stop laughing by forcing a cough and mostly keeping herself in-check. “Or that will happen. It would be highly disadvantageous if you used that phrase to goad the enemy.”

    “You’ve got a point,” Rin frowned, putting a finger to her lower lip. “It would be pretty bad if you lost focus in the middle of a fight.”

    Saber nodded to end the discussion, but apparently Rin had something she wanted to add.

    “This being said though, Saber… I’m not dead yet.”

    “Damn you,” Saber sputtered through barely contained laughter.

    Rin couldn't help but notice that Shirou had gone silent throughout the whole exchange.

    She sighed, slipping her hand into his.

    “Look, I know I can go kind of far with my heckling. Whether you’re cute when you’re embarrassed or not, I shouldn’t be going out of my way to mess with you. So, I… I guess that I want to apologize for that.

    “You don’t have to apologize for anything,” he said, though he still had an irritable edge in his voice. “I’m fine.”

    Saber knew how the two felt about one another from when she was last summoned, but they seemed pretty terse with one another. She did have to wonder…

    “If you don’t mind me asking,” she began, having mostly regained her composure, “what exactly did you found your relationship on after the conclusion of the last Holy Grail War?”

    Shirou and Rin looked at one another. She flicked something Saber couldn’t see into the air in front of her and Shirou grinned, and they both nodded.

    “Mutual disrespect,” they said in unison.

    Neither of them even tried to keep a straight face and started snickering again.

    “I think that’s our best answer yet,” he said.

    “I agree,” Rin answered.

    “People ask you this question on a regular basis?”

    “Not this question specifically. But people often ask us why she’s going out with me of all people instead of, say, someone with a better pedigree. Or similar questions.”

    “I’ve actually memorized a few of them,” said Rin. “I have my previous answers on a sheet of paper back in our apartment.

    “Let’s see… I think the first time I said, ‘Oh, we’re not dating, I just keep him in a box under my bed when I’m not using him.’ Another time it was ‘He keeps me safe from people with lower intelligence scores than him, and he’s not all that smart, so what does that say about you?’ ”

    Shirou rolled his eyes.

    “Does she always insult you when defending you from others’ verbal abuse?” Saber asked uncomfortably.

    “Usually not,” said Shirou.

    “There was this one time that a guy actually caught me by the arm and wouldn’t let go. I told him, ‘my boyfriend’s the protective type, so I’m only looking out for you when I say you should leave me be.’ ”

    “He didn’t,” said Shirou, “so I faceplanted him so that she wouldn’t have to. And left a bunch of knives embedded through his clothes and pretty much stuck him to the floor until someone pulled them out.”

    “He deserved it. He was always pressuring girls into sleeping with him. He just assumed that I was another helpless young lady. I’m honestly shocked that he was even capable of such behavior in the Clock Tower. Most girls there aren’t exactly defenseless. However, this was during my first month and evidently there were a few people who didn’t know who I was yet. So Shirou was kind enough to remove him from my arm.

    “Unfortunately, he didn’t stop though, and he assumed that Shirou was only the crazy and jealous type. Not smart of him. He kept trying his grab-and-go routine with other girls, and what with Shirou being the upstanding gentlemanly citizen he is, people started finding this guy nailed to the floors, walls or ceiling by his shirtsleeves on a regular basis.”

    “He just never learned.”

    “Oh, there was this one guy with a great pedigree who wanted me to marry him for breeding stock and was actually offended that I was dating what he described as a common blacksmith.”

    “Oh no, not this one…” Shirou held his face in his hands.

    “Said that the blacksmith’s sword was longer than his.”

    Saber cringed.

    “I thought Shirou would appreciate the double entendre, but I guess I miscalculated.”

    “Thank you for that wonderful imagery, Rin. I’m sure I won’t be sleeping very well come morning.”

    Rin smelled blood, but since this was Saber, she decided not to capitalize on her opportunity. Just as well, since Shirou spoke up at that moment.

    “We should really clean this up.”

    Rin looked around. They had gone around in a circle and were back in front of the produce stand.

    And she suddenly realized they were all standing outside a store which they had just broken into. Something colloquially known as a crime scene.

    “Okay, okay fine. I shouldn’t be allowing this. You’re clearly a bad influence on me, Shirou,” said Rin. “With the proper application of formalcraft, I can use time reversion on the window and all the glass will pick itself up and put itself back together. Then there’s no danger to customers, and the only thing amiss is the stolen produce. God, why am I thinking like an altruist?”

    “I actually find this mindset most agreeable, Rin.”

    “Great. I need an intervention but I’m surrounded by enablers.”

    The entire process took less than five minutes, which was good because Rin heard sirens the moment the last shard of glass fixed itself into place.

    “Saber, carry Shirou. I can at least outrun a car that isn’t chasing me, so all I have to do is not be seen.”

    “Very well, that seems a reasonable enough approach to this predicament,” Saber agreed.

    “Wait, what?!”

    Shirou, it seemed, was somewhat less enthused. Sure, he was all for playing the knight, but no way in hell was he going to play the damsel… never again.

    Saber abruptly grabbed him underneath his arms and threw him over her shoulder. He lost sight of Rin moments later.

    “I don’t approve of this.”

    “You can discipline me—if you truly deem that necessary—once we’re no longer at risk of being caught by the local law enforcement.”

    Discipline King Arthur? …no, Shirou thought, that was not something he could do in good conscience…or with a straight face, apparently, and he turned a chuckle into a cough at the last moment.

    “Are you alright, Shirou?” she asked, leaping right to the top of a two-story building.

    “No. I’m being carried like a sack of potatoes by a girl who’s shorter than me.”

    “I’m physically stronger than you. The fact that I happen to be a woman is irrelevant. And in regards to your analogy, be grateful that I am the one carrying you, and not Gawain… The potatoes he touched all suffered a fate worse than death.”

    Shirou didn’t know how to respond to any of that, so he gave up, and resigned himself to being carried home by the King of Knights.

    * * * * *

    When he managed to clear the fuzz from his head, the first thing the boy noticed was something soft. The second thing he noticed was that his face was completely covered by this soft thing, and he could barely breathe.

    “Mpphht…” he tried to stammer, but there was a weight over most of his body. What was going on, why couldn’t he see— wait, he could see. He looked up to find himself staring into the face of a very pretty girl. Something was very strange about her and he was sure he knew what it was, but the fog in his head was preventing him from being able to place it. What had just happened? She scared him by tapping him on the shoulder, said hi, and then she fell on him, and now—wait, that meant that his face was—uh oh…

    She didn’t look too pleased.

    “You know, most boys would be elated to find their head where yours is now.”

    Yup, she was angry—hold on, what?!

    “Mmph?!”

    “Aww, you’re no fun at all,” she pouted, and stood up. “I have great boobs, since you don’t seem to realize that.”

    The boy scrambled backwards.

    “You have weird priorities. Just throwing that out there,” he said, backing away just a bit further and taking huge lungfuls of air. What was so off about this person? He knew it was just staring him in the face…

    “Aww, thank you~!”

    Weird reactions too, apparently

    What was it about her? He continued trying to figure it out. It was on the tip of his tongue, he knew, but it was just eluding his cognition somehow. Probably because he’d been stunned and then his brain was starved for oxygen, but he should at least have been able to figure it out after a few seconds. He watched her lean forward. Her furry ears twitching curiously, as her tail swished from side to… side.

    Tail?!

    Why did this girl have fox ears?! Why did she have a fox tail?! What the hell was going on?!

    “I can see you’re panicking. This is normal. No need to be embarrassed. You don’t often come across attractive girls with fluffy foxy features.”

    “What is this, a skewed educational video about puberty?!”

    “No, but it could be. I’d probably take it a few steps further but—”

    I don’t even know who you are!

    Mikon?!” she recoiled. “My gosh, introductions, how could I forget—hold on just a sec.”

    ‘Mikon?’ Was that supposed to be some sort of exclamation?

    She gave him a look, and her eyes glowed for the briefest of moments. Then, “Okay, nice to meet you, Kishinami. You can call me Caster. Please make a pact with me—if you don’t I’m probably gonna disappear in a few hours.”

    “Pact?! Wait, how did you know my— Hold on… Caster… You’re a Servant?!” Hakuno jumped back a pace, “so you’re here to kill me aren’t you?”

    “What?! No! No, not at all, the Master who summoned me decided she wanted something else so she left me to my own devices. I don’t know why she did that, but I’m not going to look a gift fox in the mouth.”

    Caster waved her hand in the air and conjured a scroll and a long quill.

    “If you make a pact with me, that gets you command seals, and those pretty much guarantee that I can’t kill you. Not that I would, but just to give you some perspective. And assurance about my loyalty. You’re a mage, and I need one of those so that I don’t go all fizzle.”

    She handed him the page and the writing implement. It was a fairly simple contract. He was also pretty sure pacts didn’t normally work like this.

    “I, sign name here, do hereby take Caster as my… Servant—dare I ask why the words ‘lawfully wedded wife’ have been crossed out here?”

    “It wasn’t originally made for this purpose, but I kept it around in case of emergencies.”

    Hakuno tried to think of an emergency that required an incredibly abrupt marriage to a fox girl, but found that he couldn’t think of any, and the longer he tried, the more he felt like he was having an aneurysm. Also, she had definitely just created this thing. He might have lacked talent as a mage, but he knew conjuration when he saw it.

    “Okay, moving on, skipping the ‘to love and cherish’ bit, (“Aww, spoilsport…”) aaand… wait, that’s the whole thing? Oh, never mind, fine print. A magical contract with fine print. You’re really sketchy, you know that?”

    “While I can sketch, I prefer painting. I’m very good at both,” she said, missing the point with obvious intent.

    “O…kay…” he squinted at her, “What’s this about me treating you to fried food at least five times a week?!”

    “I like fried food,” she said with a faux-innocent smile. “Like, you have no idea. I know it’s fattening, but this body doesn’t gain weight. It’s the ultimate opportunity to stuff my face with no possible consequences!”

    Hakuno’s suspicious gaze faltered. He had to admit, she did make it sound appealing. In a weird way, but still. Then he saw the next statement.

    “ ‘I will routinely ask you to perform sexual favors?’ Really? Really?!

    “You’re a mage, isn’t that just business as usual?”

    “I’ve known you for less than five minutes!” he squawked.

    “So?” she tilted her head to the side, a very simple gesture which somehow made his heart melt like strawberry ice cream.

    “So, it’s weird to come on to someone you’ve barely even met.”

    “Not that weird. Plenty of people do it routinely.”

    “And plenty of others don’t. Case and point,” he gestured at himself.

    “So, how about it?”

    “Are you in heat or something?”

    “Ew, come on, give me some credit, I’m still a person. I can control my urges. I just don’t see a need to right now. Please, come on, it’ll be fun, I’ll get the mana I need to stay alive, you get a really fun night, everyone wins.”

    Yeah, except for the rape victim, Hakuno thought.

    “It’s not rape if I can properly convince you to give in to your base urges,” she smiled mischievously, reading his mind again.

    This girl was clearly evil.

    “Granted, my foolproof plan to bag a nice boy in three easy steps seems to have failed, and I’m pretty surprised about that, but I can manage.

    “By the way, why are you so set on not letting me take you for a ride?”

    Hakuno seemed unsure of how to answer that. He could just come right out and say it, but did he really want to be revealing any personal information to a stranger? A perverted stranger at that, regardless of how attractive she might be… on the other hand, it seemed very likely that this woman was the persistent type. Choosing not to disclose could have immediate and aggravating ramifications. He groaned in perceived defeat, took a deep breath, and just said the damn words:

    “I’m a virgin.”

    The response was instantaneous.

    “Whoa! We gotta do something about that right now!” she said grabbing him by the back of his shirt as she tried to drag him away, presumably to her lair, or a love hotel, or possibly her lair inside a love hotel. He resisted of course, but she just pulled harder. And finally…

    “Okay! Okay, I’ll do it, just let me go! I’ll take you on as my Servant!”

    She immediately stopped tugging.

    “Oh? Well, that sounds lovely.”

    “—On two conditions!” he added, ”First of all, I’m not signing this, no way in hell. It’s the shadiest contract I’ve ever seen.”

    A beat.

    “Awww… Really?”

    Yes, of course really!

    She sighed in disappointment, but nodded. “Okay, fine, I’ll live. What’s the other one?”

    “Second, please, please stop being a pervert.”

    “Wait, what?!… but I’m a fox girl! Tempting men is, like, my entire reason for being!” she wailed, “Don’t take that away from me, please!” her lower lip trembled dangerously and her ears lay flat against her head.

    “She looks so sad…” Hakuno murmured to himself. He tried to resist but her eyes carved a path straight to his heart, and he found himself struggling to even stay mad at her, to say nothing of the wildly irrational urge to cuddle her that he was suddenly getting. “Okay fine, you can tease me, just… just don’t act on your impulses.”

    Caster hopped about with her previous exuberance, clapping her hands twice, then bringing one sleeve to her eye and dabbing away some very obviously imaginary tears. He noted absently that the last ‘hop’ was more of a leap, and it took her almost three meters into the air.

    “Yay! Master’s such a good person! I promise, you won’t regret this.”

    “I already do. And I don’t feel like a good person. And I also regret coming here… I don’t know what I did, but I’m now stuck with a crazy girl. I’m clearly in purgatory. I should have stayed in England at the Clock Tower where I at least had some vague idea of what I was getting into.”

    Even as he bemoaned his situation, Caster ran a hand through his hair, shooting him a playful grin.

    “Don’t worry about a thing, Goshujin-Sama. Your darling Caster is here to sort it aaall out for you~.”

    The moment her hand touched his head, a bright red crest seemed to materialize on the back of his right hand.

    “There are your command seals. Use ‘em carefully, because you only get three. Using them will force me to bend to your will and display absolute obedience for a single command.”

    Hakuno rested his head in his hands.

    “You just had to be creepy about it, didn’t you…”

    * * * * *

    Luvia approached the Tohsaka mansion warily. If her barbarian of a rival was in, then she was in for one helluva welcome.

    “Do you sense anyone inside, Caster?”

    “Nothing. If that brat really does live here, then she’s likely out right now just as we are. Hunting down potential opponents is only appropriate. Though if we were to run into her, I doubt we would survive as we are now.”

    “Excellent.”

    Caster wasted no time reformatting the bounded field around the house, a trivial matter for a sorceress such as herself, the process taking a matter of moments. With that task complete, Luvia reinforced her legs, hopped the front gate, and went around back. The bounded field that only moments earlier had considered her not merely an outsider, but an enemy, now welcomed her.

    With a wave of her hand, Caster unlocked the front doors. Her Master let herself inside, and went about making herself at home. The bastion that had housed the Tohsaka lineage for generations was now playing host to their bitter Finnish rivals. The next Tohsaka to attempt to return to this place would receive the same welcome an Edelfelt would have gotten.

    She gave herself a tour of the house. It seemed that Tohsaka had been back recently. Very little remained within that would be of value to a mage. Unfortunate. She’d have liked to see that blasted girl’s face were she to encounter her wielding one of the gorilla family’s own mystic codes against her. Assuming that the family even had any. Nevertheless, she quickly came to realize she quite liked this house. It was truly a shame that such a nice abode had to suffer the presence of such lowborn trash for so many centuries.

    It didn’t take long for her to determine which room belonged to Rin. However, though rooming there would have been delightfully ironic, she would sooner sleep in a barn that in the same bed as that barbarian. So she went about searching for a guest room. She found none, which was no surprise; mages rarely entertained guests for longer than a few hours. The master bedroom wasn’t exactly ideal either, but she had come prepared for such an eventuality. She turned to Caster and gave a brief nod. The Servant snapped her fingers and no less than twelve suitcases tumbled to the floor around her. It had been a hassle getting them all out of the airport, certainly, but it had been a trifle getting a taxi to take her to the edge of town. Then she just had to abandon them after bringing them all a short ways into the forest, and once she arrived at the castle earlier, Caster snapped them up for her. And now here they were. She hoped she wouldn’t have to do this too often, of course. She strongly doubted that Medea would be particularly enthusiastic about being reduced to a mere baggage handler.

    But back to the task at hand: Always coming prepared. And she had something for almost every eventuality in her luggage.

    In this case, that thing was an inflatable mattress.

    Whether it was Tohsaka or her parents, Luvia had no interest in sleeping where a member of that backwater family once did.

    That decision made, she looked at the rubber surface in perplexity. Where was the bloody mouthpiece? How was she supposed to get air inside of it if there was nothing she could use to blow it up? Caster watched in amusement as Luvia figured out that she could twist the cap off of the air valve, but proceeded to show her ignorance by attempting to blow it up using the power of her lungs. After a few minutes, it was less funny, and more agitating, and quite frankly, the Witch of Betrayal was starting to worry that her Master was going to pass out or die by not understanding that the valve needed to have a hollow pin inserted for any air to go anywhere. However, Luvia had not thought to bring an air pump. Most likely because she didn’t know what such a thing was.

    Caster had no choice but to explain that she could not inflate the rubber contraption without a device, which she then projected for the young mage, who was exceedingly irate that the Servant had known what to do the whole time but let her make a fool of herself. As was typical of Gradation Air, the pump would vanish once Caster stopped focusing on it, but that wasn’t anything particularly trying. And it was her own fault that it took Luvia longer than ten minutes to finish anyway. Upon finishing, having screwed the cap back on as fast as she possibly could to keep the mattress firm, she dug some sheets out of another piece of luggage, and tucked them across the rubber. Luckily, the flannel was at least thick enough to block the chill of the rubber. A few blankets and pillows later, and the only thing that broke the illusion of it being an actual bed was the fact that it was on the floor. But there was no avoiding that. She was borrowing a house, not trying to wreck it. She might not have liked the Tohsaka brat, but she was an Edelfelt for heaven’s sake! She had a standard to uphold with her behavior. It’s what set her apart from the rabble: She had class.

    “Caster, I sense a number of mages already milling about. I know it’s a risk, however I’d like to see if we can eliminate any of them preemptively.”

    Caster nodded.

    “Very well. I shall—”

    You shall construct a simple bounded field around the city. I will need you to have significantly greater mana reserves than we currently possess.”

    “A risk indeed. I’ll ask that if you do seriously plan on seeking out participants in the war without me being present, you take extra caution. As for the role you want me to play, on the other hand, I find that to be a fine arrangement. I was actually hoping you would be open to that strategy.”

    Luvia sighed.

    “Yes… about that… I fear that there are some conditions that you’ll have to meet.”

    * * * * *

    “Should’a learned something besides the damn coin grenades…” the mugger grumbled, splashing his face with water from the river that divided Fuyuki. The river was filthy, but he also didn’t want fruit stuck to him anymore.

    A dog trotted up to him and he wiped his hand on his coat and patted it on the head. It wasn’t even one year old. How did she even know to sympathize with him?

    “Hey there, Dana. Sorry… no food tonight. Messed up a bit.”

    He didn’t particularly like dogs, but it was a rescued pet—nearly drowned by her owner after his dog gave birth. And something about her resonated with him. Maybe it was just that she was a mutt. Like him. He couldn’t leave her by herself in his one-room subterranean apartment; there was no one who’d look after her. So he brought her with.

    He lay back on the grass, and the dog sat next to him before cheerfully rolling down the hill and laying down at the bottom. He’d make the circle tomorrow night.

    Oh, screw it! He’d do it now. He wasn’t going to wait a whole day to start taking what the world owed him. He removed the catalyst from his luggage. It cost him almost everything he had, but when this paid off—and it would pay off—it would be more than worth the week he spent eating nothing but saltine crackers.

    People were finally going to show him respect. Even if he had to kill them for it.

    * * * * *

    Luvia’s investigation was progressing uneventfully. There wasn’t likely to be another Master out and about already, not to mention it was two-thirty in the morning and the only people still out were unsavory types or barhoppers.

    Or mages.

    Nevertheless, what she was doing was a rather sizeable risk, considering her Servant was better suited to espionage and behind-the-scenes work than open combat. However, that was what she wanted to take care of. Caster had explained the functionality of her Noble Phantasm, and the idea of stealing another Master’s Servant from them made her tingle all over. The thought of stealing several… ooh, she could actually taste victory in her mouth.

    Of course, Caster couldn’t yet support more than one other Servant with her current mana supply, so while Luvia went out scouting, her new friend was setting up a bounded field around a residential neighborhood. Nothing too fancy, just a weak mana siphon system until they find a more permanent solution. Caster had suggested a more efficient means of mana collection, but Luvia had decided against it due to the above average risk of fatalities, especially amongst children, who didn’t have nearly as much mana to spare.

    Ultimately, Caster had agreed. Or in her words:

    “While I’m not above killing children, you have a point in that it would be something of a waste.”

    Luvia had to admit that this comment had taken her by surprise.

    “Good to know…” she had said, distaste coating her voice like marmite on a birthday cake.

    Caster’s weaker field was certainly going to cause some cold and flu symptoms, but nobody would die, and the bounded field would be gone soon enough once the two of them figured out a better way of collecting mana.

    She would have thought about this for a fair bit longer, but then she saw the exact thing she hadn’t expected.

    “Well then,” she said to herself, “it seems this is where the fun starts.”

    * * * * *

    Caster admired her handiwork as she completed her bounded field.

    There really wasn’t all that much to admire. It was just so inefficient… heaven help her, it had barely taken her three hours to construct the entire thing, but as per her Master’s specifications, it wouldn’t kill anyone. Or at least, no one who wasn’t already dying. It wasn’t easy to destroy, but it was exceptionally weak, considering what she was capable of.

    She wanted to find Souichirou. He was the one thing that resonated with her current self from her precious incarnation. It was strange; no matter where in the city she scanned she couldn’t find any sign of him. She needed to ask those two brats what had happened to him after she sacrificed herself. That said, she wasn’t na´ve: She knew Souichirou. Or… a version of herself had known him. And it was a Grail War. There weren’t very many scenarios that would have a favorable outcome for her. In all likelihoods, he was dead. Meeting those children would almost certainly be fatal to someone, but her mind wouldn’t be at ease until she knew…

    To get her mind off of that business, she thought of ways she could acquire more power. The survivors of the previous war were already wise to her ‘gas leaks,’ so there was no using that strategy again. She didn’t want said brats getting in her way. She had enough mana at her immediate disposal at present, her new domain being situated on top of a leyline, but more was always better.

    At the moment, her Master’s primary suggestion was to construct a bounded field that fed on people’s emotions. She could also kill sections of the forest surrounding the city. An old enough tree could have a fair but of mana stored up in its branches. As much as any city block she’d siphoned, but on the other hand, most trees barely had anything. It was only the oldest that yielded results, so she’d need to search for specific trees in a forest. What was that saying about the best place to hide a tree? Gods be damned, this was a frustrating puzzle she was being forced to riddle out. Irritating to have a master who seemed ruthless on the one hand, but wouldn’t even consider involving outsiders.

    An odd thought crossed her mind unbidden. Why was this war happening so soon after the previous one? She dismissed the notion. It wasn’t her immediate concern. She’d have plenty of time to think about that later.

    “Caster, I believe that the appropriate phrase is ‘target acquired,’ ” said Luvia through their telepathic connection.

    Her work done, Caster activated the field, faded into spirit form, and teleported to her Master’s side.

    * * * * *

    Two witches hid in an alleyway, watching a pair of unsuspecting men. Or at least, Luvia certainly hoped they were unsuspecting.

    “He’s just letting his servant walk around in the open like that?” Caster scoffed.” I sincerely hope that he’s merely cocky beyond reason. Because if he isn’t, it means he really is just that stupid. And really, where’s the sport in that?”

    “It could also be a trap,” Luvia pointed out.

    Caster grinned. “Except that it isn’t. There are no people around and not even a trace of magic worked into the area.”

    Luvia frowned.

    “You’re right. This one is boring.”

    “Would you prefer it if I attempted this preemptive strike?” Caster asked.

    “Tempting, but you can’t discount the fact that this is most certainly a knight class servant we’re dealing with. If it’s the Saber or the Archer, you might have a chance, but even then it’s a very slim chance at that. And if it’s the Lancer, you’ll be skewered before you even get near him.

    “You make a good point,” Caster nodded, expression grim.

    “I’ll distract them. If he’s dumb enough to think that walking around with his Servant on display is a good idea, he might just believe I’m the Caster class servant.”

    She forged ahead, moving to intercept the pair at the next intersection.

    “Strike only when I give the signal. I’ll launch a gold stone into the air and shatter it like a firework. And just to be clear, you do intend to steal this simpleton’s Servant, correct?”

    “Of course, Master,” Medea nodded, vanishing a moment later.

    Luvia crept forward, approaching the man with what was probably unnecessary caution. It wasn’t long before she could hear his voice. She quickly decided that she would have been happier not to have gotten an earful of his obscene vernacular.

    “So then I say to her, ‘if you don’t want me to complain, then stop screaming like a bitch all the time! I swear, I’m surrounded by fuckin’ dumbasses.”

    He was so engrossed in his monologue—and it was a monologue; the Servant wasn’t speaking at all—that he didn’t even notice her step into the road in front of him.

    “My, what a vulgar creature you are,” she said, “do you kiss your mother with that mouth?”

    “The woman died last year. Didn’t listen to me when I told her to see a doctor. Bring her into this and I’ll rip your guts out through your mouth.”

    “My…erm… apologies, I wasn’t aware. However—”

    “The hell do think you are anyway, speaking like some sorta princess or some shit? Go the fuck home and play with your dolls. Or my friend here will just beat the shit out of you and that’ll be that.”

    “How rude of you,” Luvia glared at the man. “Let me give you a demonstration,” she said, “of why it’s important not to offend your superiors.” She pulled a fistful of jewels out of her satchel.

    He threw something at her before she could throw them.

    There was clink of a coin landing on the pavement nearby and she looked down at her feet to see an American penny. Wait. Was it glowing?

    She jumped out of the way as the coin exploded in a human-sized fireball. Okay, so he was a mage after all. She threw her gems just in time to intercept the mage’s next attack. She really was lucky that this guy was arrogant enough to not bother using his Servant.

    The gems detonated, the shockwave carrying his coins back toward him.

    “Sonofabitch! Saber!”

    The servant nodded, a slim sword with a golden hilt materialized in his hands, blocking the ensuing explosion.

    “Shall I dispose of her, Master?” the Servant asked.

    “No, even I can handle this one. Just play defense if she does anything too dangerous.

    The Saber sighed. His master was truly hopeless.

    “Truly, is that all your capable of? Making bits of metal explode?” Luvia taunted.

    “Better than wasting jewels! …just my luck; there are two of this girl, but this one’s even more obnoxious…”

    “Pardon me? Did I hear you call me, Luviagelita Edelfelt, obnoxious? Of all the foolish trifling things to say. You have no idea how much trouble you’re in, do you?”

    The American spat at her.

    “Go fuck yourself! Saber, gimme that sword.”

    She actually wished she had misheard him. Was this fool really a mage? Never mind that, she just didn’t like this man’s attitude, so she’d beat him up a little, real mage or not. Either way, he had a servant. She threw a handful of gems at the man, which spiked out in random directions. Fortunately for the Master, the swordsman took the hit for him.

    “Master, I mean no offence, but are you sure that’s wise?” he grunted, pulling away from the crystals which shattered moments later. “I cannot fight as effectively without a sword. I will be far more useful to you—”

    “Shut up, moron, just give me the damn sword!”

    The Servant, put a hand to his head as though he were suffering from a particularly bad headache.

    “As you desire, Master,” he said, handing over his sword.

    Likely a holy weapon.

    “You… have my deepest sympathies, Servant,” she said, making eye contact. “Sincerely.”

    There was a jingling of coins and Luvia noticed that he’d managed to leave an entire handful on the ground in front of her. She rolled to the side.

    Moments later a sword nearly pierced her somewhere unmentionable, but for another timely roll.

    “Really? Attempting to ‘penetrate’ me with a holy artifact? I’m asking you seriously now,” she spat. “Is there any part of you that isn’t utter filth?!”

    “Oh, insulting me now are you?”

    “Oh, you can attempt to ram a sword up my posterior—I hope—ignoring just for the moment that it’s likely a timeless, divine artifact, but I’m insulting you?

    She threw another gem at him, which liquefied, expanded, and resolidified around one of his feet. Then she reinforced her arms and legs and pounded him until he managed to escape.

    “Damn right you’re insulting me! You’ve already pissed me off! You’re stupid, you’re whiney, you think you’re better than me—”

    “I don’t think; it’s just obvious! To anyone! Just by listening to you for more than ten seconds! And considering how vile you really are, simply being called my inferior is a complement! I don’t even know how you—”

    She dodged a swipe from the Servant’s sword, as the Master swung it around artlessly.

    “Stop interrupting me, you stupid whore! I get enough of this crap at home!

    “Everything you’ve said to me tonight has been a big mistake,” he snarled, flailing about with the sword, “But I can’t expect a stupid bitch like you to learn her goddamn lesson the first goddamn time, so maybe I’ll hold out on killing you and have some fun first.”

    “You’ll regret saying that almost as much as you would regret trying.”

    Three more coins landed in a line near her and exploded, and she threw down another of her yet unused gems to form a wall of stone in front of her. The flames singed her slightly, but she didn’t take the full brunt of the hit.

    “Hey, you! The hell do you think you’re doing, moron?!” he shouted at his Servant, though he wasn’t considerate enough to at least turn halfway around to look at who he was shouting at, “Stop playing with yourself and get the fuck over here! You’re supposed to kill her, aren’t you?”

    “I’m also a swordsman. But as you can see, I no longer have a sword. Ridiculous, but your choice, nevertheless. And you instructed me to take no action beyond defending you. Should you return my sword, I can deal with her.”

    As the American continued swinging said sword at her, Luvia threw a handful of jewels at the American, but stumbled, and most of them merely exploded well above him, though a few fragments still managed to pelt the man in the back of the head.

    “You sonofa—I order you by command seal to kill this bitch!” he snarled.

    The servant seized up for a moment, then stood still.

    “I’m afraid not,” he said.

    “…the hell are you saying! You can’t disobey me, I’ve given you an unbreakable command!”

    “Except you’re not his master anymore,” said Caster.

    “And just who the fuck are you?”

    “I am your personal gateway to Hades, if you don’t immediately clean up this little act of yours. And I recommend you be quick about it.”

    She left the ground, her cloak billowed out behind her like a pair of bat wings, and several purple nodes of lethal energy appeared in the air above her.

    “You can’t just steal another Master’s Servant! Fine, I’m not the sharpest tool in the toolbox, but you really think I’m that much of a fucking dumbass that I’d believe that load of horseshit!”

    Caster held up her hand to display three command seals, and judging by the look on the American’s face, he recognized them. His eyes shot toward his hand. There was nothing on it but some very faint red marks. Shapeless, like a rash.

    “How the fuck did you—?”

    “It’s my Noble Phantasm. It’s appropriately called Rule Breaker.”

    She made a twisted looking dagger materialize in her hand. ”If I can only get close enough to a servant and stab them in the heart with this blade, they become my own,” she turned to look at the Servant she had just appropriated. “I apologize, by the way. I imagine that stung for a moment. And after having the misfortune of being summoned by that thing. You drew the short straw, it seems. In this case, these command seals will be mine in form only. I’m turning this Servant over to my Master. I’m terrible in a fight, you see, so now we both have a decent bodyguard.”

    “Don’t worry about my feelings for being stabbed. Thank you. Being under this cretin’s control for only fourteen hours was enough to make me consider suicide. Not realistically of course. He’s… tolerable, merely aggravating to spend all one’s time with. Speaking of which…”

    He approached his former Master and held out his hand.

    “Return my blade to me now, and I won’t punch you in the head that sits so uselessly on your shoulders. I will if you force me to take it back myself.”

    The American, so full of himself not a minute earlier, was now on his knees, trembling. He dropped the weapon and scrambled backward.

    “You can’t do this, you bitch!” he screamed at Caster as the Servant picked up his sword.

    “You have no idea how close you just came to being reduced to slime just now,” she sneered. “And I’m afraid I can.

    “I pity you. Whatever life you have is a mountain of disappointments. You can’t please anyone, not even yourself. You take out all your frustration on your girlfriend, because you were fired for taking it out on your coworkers. You picked on so many people, yet the most pathetic of these other people was a god compared to you.

    “You’re a hack mage, barely capable of anything beyond making tiny bits of metal explode, and you wanted the Grail so that you could force people to love and respect you. You failed before you began, because not only do you miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take, you also miss one hundred percent of those you do. You delude yourself into seeing a world that isn’t there. A world where you’re important. That’s why you get so angry with everyone. Because every time anyone opens their mouth, they shatter your entire world. Because you aren’t important. You have no value, no purpose, and nobody will ever care about you. Were I to kill you here, no one would grieve. I’m sure that several of the people you’ve hurt would even pay good money to watch.

    She frowned, ruefully.

    “I would give anything to be in your place.”

    The American was sputtering with rage. How dare this whore try to analyze him! How dare she mock him! What fucking right—

    “I’m not mocking you,” she said, looking at his stunned expression with little enthusiasm, “Yes, I did just read your mind, and yes, I would in fact switch places with you in a heartbeat. But, tragically, that’s impossible.

    “Now run along before I decide that killing you is a better punishment than allowing you to live.”

    “So that’s it? I just lose before I even start? I’m supposed to just walk away and go back to my shitty life?!”

    “Be glad you’re going back to a life at all.”

    “Bitch!”

    There was a jingling sound as a dog scampered over to him, the metal tags on her collar clinking together.

    He struggled onto his feet.

    “Ah, I see. There is someone who would grieve, even if that someone is an animal. You should be satisfied with that. Many don’t even have the luxury of a single companion. And I should know. Now, please, run along while I still tolerate your existence upon this earth.”

    Oddly enough, he made the smart choice this time, running off like his life depended on it, which it likely would have had he stayed much longer. The dog followed at his heels. It was charming in a way. It actually seemed to like him, so he must have had a few redeeming qualities, though Luvia didn’t care to be in his company long enough to see what they were.

    She looked up at Medea, who had let her cloak fold back around her shoulders and began descending to the sidewalk.

    “Exactly why would you want to trade places with him?” she asked. The very thought made her skin crawl.

    “Not just him. You would be an acceptable substitute. Or that Tohsaka girl, or any of the normal humans that scurry about this city during the day. Because, unlike me,” she said, conjuring a noose and staring at it dispassionately, “you actually die when someone drops the floor out from under you.”

    “I don’t…understand,” said Luvia.

    Caster sighed.

    “Would you like to hear the long answer or the short answer?”

    Short, for now, please.

    “I have something of… well, I suppose you could call it a character deficiency. You know my story, don’t you? About how I fell in love with Jason before I ever met him thanks to that bitch of a love goddess.”

    Luvia nodded. What exactly had happened to this woman since the end of her myth?

    “I simply loathe being used. It’s been a constant for most of my existence. I assure you, I’m not of a mind to take my own life, but returning to the Throne every time I die, effectively being the gods’ plaything for all eternity, is a damnation that I would do anything to escape.”

    The Master could only nod her head. She had no idea how to sympathize with that situation. And she realized it wasn’t an exaggeration; Medea spent her entire life being jerked around like a puppet for Aphrodite’s personal soap opera, And in a way, now Luvia was the puppeteer. Perhaps not a goddess, but a manipulator nonetheless.

    “Medea… Truth be told, I don’t know what to say…” she paused. “However, if you ever have the slightest grievance in the time you remain here, please let me know. I shall not lie; I cannot guarantee that I will prioritize your concerns, but I want you to know that I have no intention of making this a one-sided arrangement. For as long as you are my Servant, your needs will be my own.”

    Medea allowed herself soft, if lopsided smile.

    “That is surprisingly generous of you, Master. I will endeavor not to abuse this privilege. Thank you.”

    A moment later, Caster remembered that she actually did have a request for the Edelfelt girl.

    “Actually, this in mind, if it wouldn’t be an inconvenience tomorrow night, I would appreciate it if we could find the Tohsaka brat and get some information out of her. There’s something she knows that’s of vital importance to me.

    “As for you,” she continued turning to look at their new companion with a smirk. The knight had stood by silently through the whole exchange. This one was a disciplined hero, she could say that much immediately. “You’re the Saber, are you not?” she asked.

    “Indeed. My true name is—”

    “Save the introductions for when we return to our Master’s current residence.”

    The Saber shrugged.

    “Very well. Lead on.”

    Luvia stretched her arms out above her head as she began her short trek back to the Tohsaka mansion. The sun would be rising in a few hours, so she needed to get her sleep if she was going to be up from midday until some point well past midnight.

    She had this contest as good as won.

    * * * * *

    Author's Note: I totally ditched Lancer… Whoops

    Believe it or not, that American slimeball was even more obnoxious in my first draft. Like, a lot more. But I needed to give him a dog. And the person I based him on, a guy I was unfortunate enough to know, well… he was much more reprehensible than this comparatively upstanding gent, so I needed to change the character.


    Also, hello to the MIKON! Camp! Who's excited for bad puns and assertiveness so subtle you can only scratch its surface?! I am!
    Last edited by Draconic; February 8th, 2018 at 11:17 AM.
    Stop trying to eat me!

    I joined two years too late...
    Quote Originally Posted by Hymn of Ragnarok View Post
    That makes me think of Rin as a loan shark.
    Quote Originally Posted by Hymn of Ragnarok View Post
    Admittedly, she'd probably be the hottest loan shark you'll ever meet. She'd probably make you smile as she sucked you dry.


    Oh dear, that doesn't sound like yuri at all.
    Quote Originally Posted by Techlet View Post
    Not with that attitude.

  5. #5
    闇色の六王権 The Dark Six RoydGolden's Avatar
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    Oh hey, I remember the first draft of this you PMed to me a while ago. I take it that American scumbag is going to show up again? He got a fair amount of focus if his only purpose was to give Luvia another Servant.

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    リビングデッド Living Dead
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    Oh, this is gonna be fun.

    Two Casters and Sabers? Are we going 14-man rosters here? If so, then this is gonna get interesting.

  7. #7
    闇色の六王権 The Dark Six RoydGolden's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Levnekov View Post
    Oh, this is gonna be fun.

    Two Casters and Sabers? Are we going 14-man rosters here? If so, then this is gonna get interesting.

  8. #8
    死徒二十七祖 The Twenty Seven Dead Apostle Ancestors
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    Quote Originally Posted by Draconic View Post
    Whoever that Servant is, I gave her to Rin for a very, very specific reason, as will be made clear in Chapter 3.
    Well Brynhildr and Rin could match considering the interdimensional phone calls Rin & Shirou make in FHA reveal that Rin (considering that Rin's personality was used for UBW Epilogue Rin IIRC) can be straight up yandere for Shirou, especially if you're a woman who seems to be threatening to harm him.

    Which makes me wonder how long it'll take before Brynhildr starts falling for Shirou...
    Last edited by warellis; January 16th, 2018 at 02:13 AM.

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    Oh god, I see where this is going... Draconic's Avatar
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    Post Chapter III: Waking Death

    Chapter III:
    Waking Death



    The American scrambled down the streets, running away from those women as fast as his unfit body could carry him.

    Those girls would pay. They’d pay big time. Maybe not this minute, but before this War ended, he’d show them what it meant to mess with—

    “The hell?”

    Someone else was on the street. A woman in a strange outfit. She was dressed, if anything, like a dominatrix.

    Definitely not his type.

    She stepped out in front of him.

    “Go home sweetheart, I’m not interested in sluts like you.”

    The woman didn't reply. She just huffed, looking down her nose at him. Behind him, Dana whimpered, and he reached down to give her a quick pat on the head.

    “S’okay, girl. You’re just fine.” He looked back up at the woman. “So? What’re you still standing there for? Get the hell outta my face!”

    She didn't move.

    “What, you don’t speak English? Figures. Just like everyone else in this goddamn country, you’re a fucking moron who can’t even speak a normal language. Let’s see. How do I make this clear?” He started pointing and making gestures, speaking patronizingly slowly. “You. Bitch. Go. Away. Or I will kill you.”

    She smirked, and his frustration climbed to ever greater heights.

    “The hell with this,” he grunted. He shoved past her only for a delicate hand to reach out and grab his collar.

    “You’re not getting anything out of me, you stupid whore!” he growled.

    Something white hot slammed into his stomach. He was vaguely aware that the woman was in front of him now. But what the hell was wrong with his—

    He looked down to see red. A lot of red. He was feeling extremely faint all of a sudden. To his side, he saw some sort of bag and some strange meaty looking objects.

    “Oh. It seems you’ve misunderstood the purpose of my being here. You see, what you are looking at are your stomach, liver, kidneys and intestines. I’ll be holding on to them for you.”

    The fact that she could in fact speak English was lost on him. As was the fact that the fingers of her right hand were coated in gore. She pulled him toward her, with the grace of someone who had done this many times before.

    Despite his nearly-unconscious state, he was still able to howl in terror as he saw her jaw come unhinged, revealing four unnaturally long canines. Still screaming, he tried to pull himself away, an exercise in futility as she sank her fangs into his throat. It was a mercy that by the time she ripped out most of the side of his neck with her teeth, the corpse was already a cold, sallow, and very much bloodless husk. This one would not be getting back up.

    Assassin threw the insignificant creature into the puddle of his own entrails. No, she wouldn't drink that. She was above lapping up blood from the sidewalk. Such uncivilized behavior didn't befit a noblewoman of her standing.

    She licked her lips, and exhaled a warm red cloud. Letting the vaporized blood condense around her right hand, she watched it form the rippling shape of a tiger’s paw, complete with abnormally large claws.

    Whoever said that the Assassin class wasn’t made for straight-up fighting would be in for an unpleasant surprise. The blood evaporated again and she inhaled it, storing it as extra mana for her to use when she felt the need.
    She was surprised by how well she got along with her master. She had never met anyone who understood her urge to play with those she desired before killing them.

    Of course, Carmilla never spared what she desired.

    As she left the drained husk behind, she failed to notice the creature that prodded its master with its snout.

    On the moonlit street, the one thing left in the world that cared for the hapless man nudged her owner, over and over again, waiting for him to get back up. It took some time, but she gradually came to the realization that the human that had taken care of her since she lost her mother wasn’t going to wake up. A soft whimper came from Dana’s throat. She looked down the street. There had been a monster nearby moments earlier. It was invisible, but she knew it was there. But it was gone now. She was safe. She was safe and her only friend was never going to greet her, or feed her, or scratch her behind the ears in that way she liked so much… never again.

    A mournful howl broke the silence of the night air, repeated over and over again. The requiem for a man hated by all but the song’s composer. Perhaps it was only appropriate that no one was able to hear her.

    Her cries continued into the early hours of the morning, until she could howl no more, and simply fell asleep, keeping her master company for what she knew would be the last time.

    * * * * *

    Forced to summon an Assassin class under preemptive pain of death.

    That was what they had done to him.

    “How dare you attempt to betray the young King by summoning a Servant,” the maid had said, her tone less expressive than a microwave’s hum as she thrust a knife into his back just shy of his spine.

    “I’m… sorry? What the hell…do you think I’m doing?”

    “Betraying your Liege, as you have every moment of your vile existence.”

    “I’m summoning an Assassin because I need to protect him, you…” he bit back an insult. Protesting his mistreatment at her hands was tantamount to somehow proving that his brother was actually the Beast. After all, their Liege was either their King, who they worshipped, or the Beast, who they killed. There was obviously nothing in between. How wonderful it must have been to live in a world of punch-card absolutes. “What better way to keep my brother alive than by killing his competition!”

    “You are a liar, as you have been from the moment you treacherous mother ejected you from her womb.”

    Treacherous because my body couldn’t accept transplanted magic circuits that you presumably ripped off our father’s body while he was still alive because he ‘wasn’t suited to be king.’ Explain it, what exactly are the qualifications, in your opinion?

    As much as he wanted to spit that in her face, he kept his mouth shut.

    “You will now summon an Assassin instead.”


    …What?!
    Oh, now I get it! An Assassin instead of an Assassin? Of course! Why didn’t I think of it?! I must be suffering from a catastrophic mental impairment!

    “Do you somehow not recognize that I was doing exactly that?!”

    “You were not because you cannot serve the King of your own volition.”

    “And why not? He’s my brother! He’s the only thing you haven’t stolen from me!”

    “He is not your brother, or he would be incomplete, and thus a monster like yourself.”

    Oh, of course. That makes perfect sense.

    “You have only ever before served your King under coercion.”

    But you’ve never once considered the fact that every time I try to help my brother, you attack me, and ‘coerce me’ into doing exactly the same motherfucking thing as I was trying to do before you forced me to jump through hoops for it!

    “You’re right. I am traitorous filth trying to usurp my brother for no reason other than that I desire to kill the King. Because I am a Beast.”

    “Correct. This has been explained to you multiple times. You seem to forget with impressive efficacy,” said the butler, his voice equally monotone.

    Maybe if you were capable of analytical reasoning you’d be able to see how wrong you are, but I’m asking for the goddamn moon.
    The knife dug deeper into his back. He performed the ritual. His catalyst was stolen for being ‘corrupt’ like everything else in the whole goddamn world, and he was forced to draw on his own life force. Why that didn’t corrupt the ritual too in their opinion, he had no idea. He poured every ounce of hatred and loathing for these demented homunculi.

    For a moment he thought the thing rising out of the summoning circle, like a demon from hell, was literally a representation of his disgust, but evidently he was wrong. It didn’t even look like an Assassin, but something told him that this creature would be able to do everything he required of it. In fact, it might have been more capable than Li Shuwen.

    Whatever the case, it was a monster.

    The two homunculi used the same circle to summon Servants of their own, but like everything else they did, their work was flawed from the moment they began. The incantation was wrong, as they seemed to believe that if they combined the basic ritual with some bizarre prayer to their make-believe king, they would receive stronger spirits. The two Heroic Spirits were indeed powerful, but it was in no way due to their input. They held no loyalty to their summoners, perhaps sensing how twisted the creatures posing as humans were inside their shells, and instead they had chosen to follow the brothers.

    And then his brother was forced to fight in the War as well. It wasn’t even necessary. The only good thing in this entire blasted situation, the one time that their mistakes were actually useful was that they had done what no other mages had ever managed to do before: They had managed to make a Grail that produced its own mana. And they were still hosting the war. There was no reason for it whatsoever. Only that his little brother would prove he was the One True King by achieving victory in the coming conflict.

    This of course meant that he would have to die so that his younger brother would live. But if he did that, who would protect him from the two incarnations of insanity after he became king? That didn’t even matter. His brother was a pure-hearted boy. Even if he proved to be a ruthless adversary, there was no way he could possibly emerge the victor when the war came to its conclusion.

    He was sick of it. Sick of them running his brother’s life, holding his brother’s life over his head like a prize that they would steal from him the very second either of them stepped out of their constantly wiggling line.

    That was the moment that Julius B. Harway decided that he was done protecting his brother.

    No.

    He was going to rescue Leonard. He would take him away from these lunatics, far away—Wait…
    He didn’t even need to do that. Leonard wouldn’t need to give up his luxuries. Said lunatics had been preparing him for this his entire life without even realizing it, believing him to be their subjugated satanic pawn. But what was Julius Harway if not an assassin? He would kill the two freaks. Two bullets for two skulls. If that didn’t work, he’d simply use methods used to kill monsters in folklore; slash their throats, stake their hearts, impale them with silver, behead them, and dissolve their bodies in acid. Whatever had to be done to permanently solve the problem of the Harway ‘family.’

    * * * * *

    He knew that if either of his or Leonard’s Servants fell, his little brother would be murdered for (somehow) consciously deceiving the two King-worshiping-obscenities from the moment of his conception. It was the unborn child’s fault that they had placed all their hopes on it. Hopes that couldn’t be fulfilled for their incongruent messages.

    The King must know only victory.
    Right...

    The King must know when a battle cannot be won.
    Of course, if the king didn’t know defeat and the king is used to all things in life going his way without exception, he would never be able to determine that the tide of battle will not simply turn around just because that’s what he wants.”

    The King is invincible.
    It would have been a thousandfold miracle if his brother had managed to go his entire life without so much as getting a papercut. When Julius had noticed his brother bleeding, he immediately fetched a pair of gloves and warned his only companion never to take them off. He eventually bought a pair of white microfiber gloves that didn’t hinder his brother’s dexterity and prevented him from getting cut as well. As things stood, the boy rarely left the mansion, however things still happened, and when they did, Julius was sure to prevent the two creatures from finding out.

    The King never flees in the face of adversity.
    Okay, fine, reasonable, but it was right above this in their little book of ‘scriptures:’

    When faced with a force beyond His power, the King will stand tall, for all things submit to the King.
    He didn’t even bother trying to understand how two creatures with brains could fail to understand the most basic principles of cause and effect. If a stick is thrown into a fire it will burn. Of course, if a boulder fell on Leo’s head, it would just move ever so slightly away so as not to crush him, because it knows he’s the King. And if it didn’t, they would dig him out and kill him if he wasn’t already dead, because he’d be the Devil.

    The two homunculi, the so-called ‘caretakers’ of the Harway family may have been scheming bastards; they might have been prepared to play the long game; but they were complete imbeciles. He would have done what they wanted without their violent coercion. No. It wasn’t that they were idiots; it was that their minds were fundamentally flawed. Logic didn’t seem to register with them. The new heir is born, therefore the woman who gave birth to the first heir must die or he will be corrupted by the first woman. And so, since Leo would have been killed had he not done so, Julius had looked his own mother in the eye and carved out her heart. Leo was kept isolated from the rest of the world, was prevented from seeing that it was a fundamentally imperfect place. However, there were times that Leo met other children.

    Those demons would corrupt the heir because they are not perfect and will make the heir unsuited to being King. And so these were the people Julius was tasked with killing: Children. Helpless kids who had he misfortune of coming into contact with his bother. If the parents were around, he ended them as well.

    All things that the King touches become perfect.
    Thus Julius was tasked with destroying everything that his sibling encountered because they somehow did not become perfect and thus couldn’t be allowed to exist or the very existence of the world would be in jeopardy because something that couldn’t possibly exist was encroaching upon reality. How many times did such a thing have to happen before they realized that their mantras were complete and utter nonsense? Oh, right, there was always room for an exception until Leo had to die.

    How Leo was intended to become king in the goddamn first place was beyond Julius. The blasted lunatics taking care of his brother were either blissfully unaware that Queen Elizabeth II and her family held the throne, or they had something truly horrifying in mind, and he would probably be expected to perform the deed.

    Julius snarled. The nonsensical anti-logic was driving him insane. Hell, it had long since driven him insane and he was grasping at straws, pretending he was anywhere near stable.

    The Harways weren’t even proper royalty. They had an obscure and unlikely connection to King George V, but of course, the records were all destroyed. Such documents could prove whether or not the heir is the One True King. Thus they cannot be allowed to exist because a king need never know how they achieved their station and should simply have faith.

    “And oxygen is the eighth element on the periodic table because the King needs it to breathe!” he spat.

    “Photosynthesis is necessary because without it, the King cannot see plants!

    “There is no such thing as sexual intercourse because the King must be motherfucking incorruptible, and therefore it no longer exists after he has been born!” he roared in his growing fit of hysteria. “The King exists because—oh, is that a system error?!”

    He stormed over to the wardrobe, grabbed one of the drawers and ripped it off its hinges, throwing it at the window, which shattered, glass raining down toward the streets below. He hoped he’d killed someone. He hated killing. He hated murdering people more than anything else in the world, and now he’d spent a lifetime butchering families, women, children, his own mother, because his little brother, the only thing in the world he knew he could avoid losing, would be killed if he refused; because his refusal somehow meant that the King was corruptible!

    A surge of adrenaline, and he picked up the whole wardrobe held it before himself and kicked it clear into the next building, the sound of shattering glass stolen from his ears by the wind between the two high rise buildings. He owed the hotel a new window and a new wardrobe. He punched the wall and his fist broke clear through and into the bathroom.

    “Whoa! Julius, calm down already. I’m willing to overlook the wardrobe and the window, but I’m really just freaked out what with the babbling gibberish earlier. Is that those caretakers’ mentality?” said the knight, raising her hands in a placating gesture that she just wasn’t used to making. “Their entire world revolves around this…idea of a king?”

    “You’re entirely right. They worship the concept of this ‘One True King,’ and God help you if you suggest that they’re wasting their time, or going about their business the wrong way if they really want to achieve their goals.”

    “Sooo… Not even a real one? I mean if it were a real one, then I’d get it, I really, really would. Like, you have no idea, how much I get that, but if this king of theirs doesn’t actually exist, then what are they doing with Shortstack and the other two knights?”

    “Don’t call him that. His name is Leonard. What they’re doing is trying to turn him into their King. It’s impossible of course, because what they’re seeking is a being who’s a mess of contradictions. When they finally realize that Leo—shockingly—isn’t The King after all, they’ll kill him, kidnap some woman, force me to impregnate her and start working on the next child who’ll be dead too in less than twenty years. Just as soon as I kill the woman the moment she’s given birth, I’m sure.”

    The knight made a face.

    “The hell is wrong with these fucks?”

    “That depends,” he said, dead serious, “on how many books you’re willing to write in order to make sure you remember the first things I said by the time I finish speaking.”

    “Yeah… that sounds pretty boring. But that’s still a lot of screwed up to fit into a couple of people.”

    “I hope you don’t plan on complaining about boredom, Saber, because you’re going to have to cope with plenty of it.”

    “Hey, as long as I don’t have to talk to Death Incarnate over there for any extended period of time, I couldn’t give two shits about having to wait around somewhere. I’d rather not, but I don’t mind. Actually, never mind, I’m definitely going to complain. Sorry—I’m not sorry.”

    Julius nodded, the only sign that he acknowledged her. He chose to disregard her attitude. He didn’t place any value in such things. On the other hand…

    “Assassin, we’re leaving. Now.”

    “As you command, Master.”

    Its voice alone would have terrified anyone else. Even Saber flinched. It was deep and at the same time it was hollow. It possessed a gravelly tone that added a certain intensity to the overall sound. The demonic skull mask and the jagged black suit of armor screamed Black Knight. But this was no knight. It was one of the deadliest killers to ever live. It could kill his targets by walking up to them, sword drawn and intent clearly visible, and they would nevertheless be helpless before it.

    Julius didn’t bat an eye.

    “Astralize. We don’t need anyone seeing you.”

    Assassin obeyed its Master’s instructions with a nod. Even this most simple of gestures projected an air of menace coming from the monster. As his image dissolved in an ephemeral cloud of blackness, Saber looked out the window at the dark skies.

    “It’s the middle of the night. Who’s gonna see?”

    “People stay out late. There aren’t monsters lurking in the dark.”

    “He said, while standing next to a beast wearing jagged armor and a demonic skull mask,” Saber gave a sardonic smile. “You’re taking the elevator?”

    “Yes, that’s what most people do,” Julius said warily.

    “Yeah, that’ll take too long. Fortunately, you made this convenient hole right here for me. That was so considerate of you,” she said, gesturing to the broken window. Then she took a running jump and hopped out of the building. Her voice was immediately swept away by the wind, but Julius could have sworn he heard her shout “Yahoo!” as she careened fifteen stories to the ground below.

    He hurried to the elevator, his invisible Assassin following at his heels.

    They were met by Saber when they arrived at ground level three-or-so minutes later. She had evidently astralized the second before hitting the ground to avoid making a scene, but she was now grinning like a maniac.

    “Where’ve you been, slowpokes?” A pair of ghastly blue flames appeared in the air in front of her, the mask materializing a moment later before both fading away again.

    “Okay, how you manage to keep your head with this monster anywhere in a fricking ten mile radius is enough to worry me. And I don’t worry about things! I just jump in.”

    “I don’t care about how you live your life. Just get moving.”

    “Okay, okay.” They were going to walk to the airport. As he was not the heir, he was intended to struggle in all endeavors, that The King’s life might appear easier than it really was.

    Nonsense, just like the rest of it.

    According to an informant, three of the participants had apparently fled to some city in Japan. That wouldn't do at all. For the time being, he needed to continue following the servants' demands, and that meant keeping the participants in their Grail War in line. Of course, the Grail had already picked out three new Masters, and the homunculi had already sent letters out, but apparently, they wanted all of them. So off he went, like a good little dog.

    It was all very frustrating. Unless he could meet with both of the homunculi, he couldn't kill them. Once the other found out, and they shared information incredibly quickly, it would immediately make a point of evading him until it could kill Leo, as one last act of defiance against the (perceived) devil. Then all those needlessly murdered families, all the sacrifices he made, what he had demanded that thing do to him! All of it would be for nothing! So many innocent, completely unsuspecting people had died so that Leo could live, so if he died before he was actually safe, before he even reached adulthood, the Harway family would end as nothing short of an atrocity of waste and insanity against all of humanity, even against magecraft itself.

    He would not let it end like that.

    He just needed to wait for the next time those creatures gave him orders in person. Then both of them could live their own lives… or at least, Leo would be able to.

    It was far too late for Julius. What he'd done to himself had damned him forever. Once this Holy Grail War ended, he would be nothing but a slave to a new master. And this time, his term of servitude would be much, much longer.

    But if it meant that he'd have peace of mind for even one second…

    it would worth it.

    Just to know, for the first time in his life, what peace felt like.

    Within three blocks, Saber stopped moving, looking into a shop front.

    “Hey, can I make a quick stop for a minute?”

    “No.”

    “Thank you~” she said, completely disregarding his refusal, “You’re just a generally nice person, aren’t you?”

    She astralized and rematerialized inside the store. Julius was forced to wait almost an hour as she tried on what must have been a myriad of different outfits trying to see what looked best on her. In the dark. When she finally came back out, she was carrying an armful of red leather and some ‘stylishly’ torn clothing.

    She was wearing an open leather jacket, and a pair of short shorts.

    “Ahh, much better! It feels so good to be out of that stuffy armor.”

    Julius noted with some distaste that she wasn’t wearing a shirt beneath the open leather jacket she now had on.

    “You should cover up. You’ll draw attention to us if you go around without so much as a bra.”

    “Bra? What’s that? Wait, what you’re getting at… are you calling me a—!

    “I’m not calling you anything,” Julius growled. “I’m just telling you to not attract unwanted attention.”

    Saber threw up her arms, huffed in irritation and went back inside. This time she was back in a matter of minutes. And she was empty-handed.

    “Didn’t have anything that really shouted ‘me,’ y’know?” she said, grinning, “I’ll check again at another place.”

    “Close the jacket then.”

    “Are you kidding? After all that time in that toasty room wearing that much metal? Not a chance.”

    A beat.

    “Can we please just get a move on?”

    “Alright, alright, cool it. Not like I’m being that much of a hassle.”

    Julius considered telling her that she would be if she kept this up, but decided that it was best not to argue. He didn’t want her going back to the two insane asylum escapees.

    And within two minutes she had ghosted her way into another store and untraceably stole five super-fitted tube tops of varying lengths and two very short tank tops. She now had to use both arms to carry everything.

    They were walking past a tourist-trap gift shop, and once again, Saber stopped walking.

    “You aren’t going inside this time. I’m drawing the line. We’re not stopping for anything else—”
    He was cut off abruptly as a large sword appeared at his throat.

    “Please, tell me how you plan on stopping me. You have as good a chance of taking me in a fight as a gerbil has of piledriving a lion. You’re not even my Master. I’m just following you around ‘cause I think you’re interesting.”

    He decided it was better not to give away all his tricks right away. This Heroic Spirit was obviously volatile, so for now, he relented. To be fair though, he was actually a little impressed that she had managed to hold her sword perfectly without dropping a single piece of her loot.

    “Hey, scary guy, hold these for me,” she held out her armful of clothes and the Assassin materialized.

    “Your orders, Master,” it intoned.

    “Just do what she says,” he grumbled, rubbing his forehead.

    Without another word, the demonic creature took hold of the hangers, managing to hold them all in his hands despite their awkward positioning.

    “You said I’d have to wait around a lot,” she drifted inside and came back out with a walkman and a pair of expensive headphones. “This looks fun. Wait, I need to put something in here, don’t I? I’ll be right back.”

    Oddly enough, she was telling the truth this time; she just grabbed a bunch of CDs at random, and came back out.

    It crossed Julius’ mind that she had probably stolen over two thousand pounds of merchandise within the past half hour without tripping any alarms. Then it got to the other side, and he continued thinking about the important things.

    “This was the last stop, right?” Julius growled as Saber took her haul back from Assassin, who vanished as soon as he had bequeathed it to her.

    “Yes, yes, alright we’re done—WAIT!”

    “What now?!”

    Saber astralized yet again, went into the display window, stole a large Swiss suitcase, and came back out. “Now we’re done.”

    “If she holds us up going into another store, kill her, Assassin.”

    “It shall be done, Master,” rumbled the demon, its voice like distant thunder, as it vanished into the ether.

    Saber gulped. This guy was serious.

    “You… you really want to save your brother, don’t you?”

    Julius shot her a cold look that wasn’t quite a glare.

    “Yes. And if you stand in my way, I won’t hesitate to eliminate you.”

    “I’ve never been good at family. My father rejected me in front of his whole court, and my mother, well, she sent me to him, making me think he would accept me as his successor so that I’d start a rebellion when he didn’t. It’s more complicated than that, actually. I don’t actually even know how it feels to want to save someone. But I know it’s a goal worth fighting for, so I swear to be your blade until the conclusion of this conflict.”

    “Don’t swear your loyalty to me, Mordred. Neither of us needs that hanging over our heads. And you can leave at any time. I certainly couldn’t stop you if you did.”

    The Knight of Rebellion shrugged.

    “Denying a knight’s oath. Real slick,” she fixed him with a deadpan stare. “Whatever you say, Julius. Whatever you say. But if you really don’t care whether I stick around, don’t complain to me later if I decide to bail at, like, the single time you could possibly need me for something.”

    “I have no interest in continuing this conversation,” he said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Let’s just get moving. And pray that no one saw us.”

    It was undeniable; Mordred had a knack for trying his already limited patience. He honestly wouldn’t mind at all if she decided to go off on her own and made a bid for the Grail on her own. At least he wouldn’t have to feel responsible for her.

    They continued their walk. However, one of them stayed behind. Without shifting out of its astral form, the ultimate Assassin looked up at the roof of one of the nearby skyscrapers.

    As it happened, they were being watched. The man simply waited in the road ahead of him. Assassin had noticed this one, but the human was by himself. It could sense the man was bound to a Servant, but it was elsewhere. What manner of foolishness was this?

    “Greetings, Julius, B. Harway, is it?” the man asked in a manner denoting that he knew exactly who he was speaking to. He spoke with a thick German accent.

    “And what if I am?” Julius asked. “Do you plan on killing me? Have I committed a crime against a family member perhaps? I regret my actions, but unfortunately they’ll only happen again if you intend to stand in my way. Moreover, I have two Servants here with me, you have no chance of killing me.”

    “Oh, but I’m afraid you misunderstand. I merely came here on a whim. I would very much like to meet you in combat however. You see, you do not yet realize that we stand on equal footing here.”

    “Explain yourself,” looking at the man, Julius noticed that even in the moonlight, he had an eerie and unnatural pallor about him that was only accentuated by his dark suit.

    The German chuckled darkly.

    “Very well. Rise.

    The concrete beneath Julius’ feet, shattered. And not only there. The entire street seemed like it was breaking into pieces. But the real attack wasn’t the quaking. It was the source.

    A hand reached out of the ground, followed by a shoulder, then a head. The desiccated bones clattered against each other, as the skeleton tore itself from the earth and took a swipe at him, which he easily avoided. He dodged four more attacks from four more assailants within the next second. All across the street, shambling bones were pulling themselves out of the earth. A necromancer, clearly. He certainly looked the part. But no matter how many undead mannequins he summoned, they would all fall to his Servants.

    “I like this guy’s attitude,” shrugged Saber as Assassin reemerged, “He gets right to the point.”

    She and Assassin both hacked the hideous creatures apart with great efficiency. Unfortunately, destruction of body parts only created smaller soldiers. Julius shattered two skeletons to pieces with no more than a punch and a kick but even the snapped and disembodied bones continued to attack him and his servants.

    It seemed that they weren’t fighting an army of skeletons so much as they were fighting legions upon legions of individual bones. Fighting these things would only get them killed. In fact, if they slashed and crushed the skeletons into enough pieces, they would end up facing an unblockable whirlwind of bullets.

    “Assassin, forget about protecting me, just kill the mage.”

    “It shall be done,” it nodded.

    The creature began walking toward the necromancer, apparently in no rush to complete its task.
    Julius and Saber both held their own as disembodied hands and skulls grabbed at them and individual vertebrates flew at them like shrapnel.

    But Assassin did arrive at its destination. The pale man looked the monster in the eyes, two ghastly blue pinpoints behind the skull mask. Julius certainly wasn’t afraid of his Servant, but this man, he almost seemed amused. It seemed absurd. But that didn’t matter.

    “The evening bell tolls and your name is whispered,” it rasped. “I now send you to it, that you may answer its summons.”

    The necromancer’s sneer only grew wider. Assassin, having stood before the man more than long enough to allow him to escape, sheathed his sword in the man’s chest, and perfectly bisected the man’s heart.

    The body crumpled, and the skeletons dissolved into dust as it hit the ground.

    “Press onward, Master,” said the monster.

    Julius didn’t respond. He merely stepped over the corpse when he came across it and continued on his way.

    Ten minutes later, the corpse convulsed. Then, with a gruesome squelch of unhealthy flesh, the hole in the necromancer’s chest knit itself back together. He chuckled darkly as he stood up, not bothering to dust off his suit. It was already in tatters. One needed only to look at it as it truly was to see that.

    “I regret to inform you that you’ll have no luck in killing me, Mister Harway,” he hissed, “though you made a laudable attempt in the opportunity I provided. But the contract ends with Him, not I.”

    He didn’t smile any longer. His face only displayed unprecedented disappointment at the young man’s failure.

    * * * * *

    The German hadn’t been the only person to have seen Julius however. Atop the building the Assassin had been peering up at earlier stood an old man. He had once been a British soldier. One of Her Majesty’s finest. A sniper, and a good one at that. He hadn’t needed a rifle or a scope to see everything though. And he wasn’t alone.

    “Master, shall I engage?”

    “No, Rider. The Assassin already knows we’re here and is waiting for you to leave my side. I’ll err on the side of caution and save this battle for another time.”

    “As you command.”

    * * * * *

    Hakuno awoke to find his head propped up, and looking into the eyes of a softly smiling face.

    “Good morning master~”

    A few seconds later, once he had a moment to think clearly, he would decide that this had been actually kind of nice, but in the moment his only conscious thought was ‘Who the hell is this girl and why is she in my room?!’

    Panicking, he flailed about for a moment, lost his balance almost immediately, and accidentally got himself caught between the bed and the wall. The girl on the other hand found herself knocked off the opposite side of the bed by a stray swipe of his hand.

    Mikon! Master hit me!” she whined petulantly, poking her head up to look over the mattress.

    She was pouting, her pointy fox ears laid flat against her head, and Hakuno was already losing his mind trying to resist gushing over how cute she looked doing it. Eventually, he knew he was going to have to stop and give in to the crushing urge to pet her, because it was hitting him with the force of a runaway freight train.

    “Oh, right, I forgot, I was waylaid last night and coerced into forming a contract with this sketchy fox…” he muttered, his memory of his shady meeting with this girl, or rather Servant, the night before steadily returning.

    As it turned out, Caster did not have a lair in a love hotel after all. In fact, she didn’t have a lair to begin with. Hakuno couldn’t deny that he was actually surprised by this. And though he was glad he wasn’t going to become her prey, he was almost disappointed that his suspicions about the Servant proved to be unfounded after how utterly shameless she had been when they began their partnership only a few hours prior.

    “Look, I’m sorry, really,” he groaned sleepily, “but next time please don’t startle me like that.”

    Getting himself unstuck, he shuffled around to the other side of the bed and began absently running his fingers through Caster’s hair. It was very soft. In a way, it was like petting a dog. She certainly had more than her fair share of puppy-like qualities. Even if she was a total perv.

    “I don’t mind. I apologize for startling you, Goshujin-sama. I promise, no more lap pillows.” She stood up,, prompting him to sit back down on the bed. “However, I think it’s crucial that we go and check out the city. Sightseeing as a strategy. We need to know what is where if we want to have any chance of success,” she announced. Her tone had changed and her gestures were less exaggerated. Hakuno realized abruptly that this was Caster when she got serious. “As a Caster, I’m not the most powerful Servant, so we’ll need to ensure we eliminate any and all potential disadvantages that we could be susceptible to. Starting with the lay of the land. We’re at a hotel, so there should be maps at the front desk. Now, quickly, get ready for the day!”

    To his surprise, she actually gave him some space to change, even going to hide in the bathroom. Nevertheless, he couldn’t rule out that she was still watching him somehow through some manner of spellcraft, so he still hid behind a bed.

    “Okay. While I agree that this is a good plan, there’s still one problem in that I have no idea how to find my way around here. Back in London, the street names are on the buildings. I don’t know how to navigate this town.”

    Caster flashed a charming smile his way. “Is that all?” she giggled. “Have no fear, Goshujin-sama, your dear Servant happens to be Japanese herself. I confess that in my era, the land was very different, and there certainly weren't any cities of concrete and steel like this. However, I do have inherent knowledge of how to get around these parts. I promise you’ll never be lost with me around. And I don’t mean that in the cute and humorous manner in which a female protagonist gets herself completely lost because of her own self-assuredness.”

    “You lost me on that tangent though.”

    “Never mind that, let’s get going, we're burning daylight! Also, any longer and we miss the complimentary breakfast!”

    Hakuno was about to follow her to the door when he was struck by a very relevant problem.

    “Caster, stop!

    “Eh?”

    “Your tail! You need to hide that! You can’t possibly go outside with it exposed like that.”

    “You would be surprised by what people won’t notice if they aren’t expecting to see it. People who see me might notice the ears, but they only see my tail if they are specifically expecting me to have a fox tail.”

    Well, uhh…

    How was he supposed to argue with that?

    “…Okay, we can go.”

    No, you idiot!

    …He knew she was lying. He just knew it!

    This was confirmed almost immediately when the guest next door left his room, saw them coming out of theirs, and raised an eyebrow at her. Hakuno could only wait as the man watched Caster warily until the moment he got on the elevator. Hakuno felt more awkward than he’d ever felt before in his life

    “For heaven’s sake,” he begged, “please just do as I say and hide that!”

    “But—”

    “Do it or no fried food for the whole day!”

    EEP! Okay deal.”

    Hakuno smiled the widest he had since he’d made his pact with the Servant. Weakness determined!

    “Can I at least keep it out while I’m in spirit form?”

    Hakuno shrugged.

    “Okay, as long as they can’t see you.”

    “Yip yip!”

    Did that mean ‘hooray,’ in fox? He decided that he’d ask when he was feeling braver.

    “If you want that hotel breakfast though, you’ll have to keep it hidden.”

    “Aww, phooey…”

    * * * * *

    Rin was up and doing her best to be productive, displaying such urgency that one would have thought she was preparing to go to war. Well, technically she was, albeit not in the traditional sense. The fact that she had woken up and gotten out of her bed on her own without the help of an alarm clock (or a Shirou), was already unprecedented, but hey, desperate times and all that. Of course she was still half asleep, but that was beside the point.

    Ugh! This really was the pits! Something was happening with the Fuyuki Grail, and only five years after the last one? Wasn’t it—her train of thought was broken as a deep yawn escaped her mouth, a few sleep-tears budding about her eyelids—where was she? Oh right, the Grail. It was like the time between advents was growing progressively shorter. Wasn’t it supposed to take sixty years? Why did she even bother asking herself that? She already knew the answer.

    And now it was forcing her to get out of bed early to take stock of what she brought back from her house. Her warm, cozy, soft…plush……snug………just a……just a few more minutes… just a few mo—NO! She managed to catch herself before she screwed up her morning plans. How had she managed to get from the living room to her guest bedroom without even realizing that she had moved so much as an inch? Had she fallen asleep standing up? She was already leaning over the mattress, swaying unsteadily. She caught herself on the nearby windowsill. She couldn’t. She wanted it more than anything else in the world, but if she so much as touched those sheets, she would be out like a light for hours. This was why she hated mornings.

    Sakura of course, had already been awake for hours by the time Rin managed to escape from her bed. She had busied herself with cleaning the kitchenette. It wasn’t a mess, but Shirou would be happier if his kitchen was sparkling when she got him up. And that made her happier. At least…she thought it did. It did, didn’t it?

    Tomorrow, she’d finish making breakfast for everyone before he got up. But today, she couldn’t help herself. There was something she hadn’t had the chance to do in almost three years waiting for her nearby. It was so close she could touch it.

    Walking over to his room, she quietly opened the door and knelt down beside his futon.

    “Senpai,” she called gently. “It’s morning. Time to get up.”

    Shirou groggily opened his eyes.

    “Heh, this is nostalgic.”

    “Isn’t it?” she squealed gleefully.

    “Darn,” said a sleepy voice. “I got the idea too late, but I guess you already did it for years.” Rin yawned as Shirou sat up on his futon.

    “Uh, by the way,” she added, “If you’re getting out, can I get in?”

    “Last night you told me not to let you go back to sleep right away,” Shirou groaned, “I’ll make some coffee.”

    “No, don’t worry, we’re going back to bed after this after all… we just need to eat first…” she mumbled. “Nnnngg… I don’ wanna…”

    Sakura winced. She knew that she was forgetting something that she could have done to fix the problem here. Coffee. How did she manage to forget about morning coffee? Her life practically revolved around breakfast and dinner at Senpai’s house during high school. At least in some respects.

    “So, Tohsaka, I noticed that you didn’t bring your dad’s cane with you last night,” Shirou mentioned, as they headed to the living room.

    Although it hadn’t been an accusation, Rin found herself feeling defensive.

    “I…need to practice using it first,” she said with a yawn. She really hoped she didn’t sound like she was lying, but even she didn’t believe herself.

    “You seemed to take to it easily enough when we found it,” Shirou countered, then smiled, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it. If you aren’t comfortable telling me right now, I won’t make you answer.”

    “No, no. It’s fine. It’s just… well, I’m already so comfortable in my way of doing things that I didn’t feel like changing things up,” she paused, taking a calming breath. “Well, that’s part of it…”

    Shirou slid open the living room door. He could already smell breakfast cooking so Sakura must have already started—he blinked in surprise, as he looked into the kitchen. When had she found the time to polish the countertops?

    “Breakfast is almost ready Senpai, big sister,” Sakura said brightly as she slid through the open living room door, heading straight into the kitchen, checked to make sure the fish was thawed, then was about to toss the fish into the grill pan when she yelped, pulled it back.

    “…spray the pan…” she mumbled, taking out the canola oil and following her own instruction. “Am I doing too many things at once? No, maybe I’m just overexcited?”

    “Thanks a lot, Sakura,” said Rin, interrupting her spoken train of thought. “I really don’t have the energy to cook right now, so this is a big help.”

    “It’s no trouble,” her sister said, though she hadn’t spoken loud enough to be audible. She put the fish in the pan and knew she was doing it right. However now her timer was going to be slightly out of sync between the mackerel and the other dishes.

    She grinned for a moment as they sat down at the table before her expression fell. “And that’s the other reason in the kitchen.”

    “Sakura? What does she have to do with the cane?”

    “Nothing, but that cane belonged to the man who separated us with no explanation and left her in an abusive household who let her natural abilities go to waste completely. Argh! Just thinking about it makes me furious! How the hell does a person even make that kind of mistake?! Once I thought about it for a bit, I kind of didn’t want to use the thing since it belonged to someone who I have such mixed feelings for now.”

    Shirou scooted around the table to sit next to her and gave her a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder.

    “I understand. It makes sense. Besides, it’s yours now, so you decide how, and whether you’ll use it.”

    A sudden whine of annoyance from Sakura prompted him to take his hand off Rin’s shoulder. The door to the courtyard opened and Saber came in, followed by Shinji. He looked exhausted, and Rin was displeased to find that he was glaring at her.

    “What?” she demanded.

    “Get that Lancer to stop watching me,” he growled, “Killer bod she may have, but her eyes give me the creeps. Also, you do know it’s creepy to watch someone while they sleep, right?”

    Rin’s eyes widened.

    “I’m surprised you even noticed, to be honest. But how did you see her?”

    “I felt like I was being watched all night, and she was corporeal when she was staring at me this morning.”

    Rin shrugged, ignoring Sakura’s brother in favor of asking how Saber was feeling.

    “I found myself dreaming of melons all night, for reasons I feel must be obvious.”

    “Not obvious to me, but do go on,” Shinji sneered.

    Saber looked perplexed for a moment, then abruptly went wide-eyed, her face turning red with embarrassment.

    “You’ve just asked King Arthur to talk to you about boobs, Weasel. I hope you realize that has consequences,” Tohsaka cracked her knuckles, smirking diabolically. Oddly enough though, Shinji didn’t look the least bit agitated.

    “King Arthur,” Shinji muttered. “Right. Say, Tohsaka, are there dancing sheep doing a tango around the room too? Because the last I checked, the only other man in here was Emiya.”

    “Your point being?”

    “Just that King Arthur is nowhere near here, that summoning him is probably astronomically unlikely. Oh, right, and that you’re crazy.”

    “She’s sitting right next to you.”

    “Sh–She—what the—are you high? King Arthur was a man, as his title makes kinda obvious.”

    “I’m afraid she’s correct, Shinji Matou. I am in fact King Arthur. My proper name is Arturia.”

    Shinji looked dumbfounded for a moment before his face returned to its default ‘bored and annoyed’ expression.

    “So, Emiya, mind telling me which of them is the delusional one?”

    “Her Noble Phantasm is Excalibur,” said Shirou without missing a beat as Saber let a crown materialize atop her head with an almost playful grin.

    It was all Shinji could do not to pull his hair out. This was a topic he never had wanted to pursue in the first place, what the hell was he doing letting it continue?! Was he some sort of weird social masochist?

    “Have I mentioned I hate magic?” he grumped. “What’s for breakfast, Sakura?”

    “Nothing if I get my way,” Rin smirked. “Besides, you still have to be punished.”

    “Which is the reason Senpai is the one in charge. I’m grilling mackerel. I also heated up some rice and miso soup from last night too. And I’ve got half-finished hard-boiled eggs.

    “Cool,” Shinji said without much enthusiasm, taking a seat.

    “Please stand down, Rin. I appreciate the gesture, but it seems unnecessary.”

    “I don’t remember making miso soup last night…” Shirou mused.

    “Oh, you didn’t. I just made some after you left,” said Sakura. She turned around to look at the the table, and turned off the rice cooker filling seven bowls.

    Shinji was getting his dishes ready when he gave a start.

    “Wait, hard boiled? You’re trying again? Also, those don’t really go with grilled mackerel, miso and rice, you know?”

    “What’s wrong with hard boiled?” Shirou asked.

    Sakura whined.

    “Everytime I make them the insides get all grey and awful by the next morning…”

    “Oh, you’re saving them. Well, first, you should be cooking them in hot water, not boiling them. So just put cold water in the pot, then put the stove on high and leave them for twenty minutes.”

    “That’s what I’m doing though.”

    “Are you putting them in cold water afterwards?” Shirou asked.

    “Huh?”

    “Oh, yeah, that’ll stop the discoloration from some chemicals in the yolk and the egg white reacting to one another. It’s the iron in the yolk, and something else in the egg white, but I can’t remember right this second. The grey-green isn’t actually anything, just discoloration, so it’s harmless, but it is pretty unsightly.”

    “So, I should put them in cold water after they finish cooking?”

    “Yup. One minute’ll do the trick. How many are you boiling?”

    “Well, there are six of us, so I bought three dozen for the next few days.”

    Shinji looked at Shirou.

    “See, this is what she does, she experiments with three whole cartons of eggs without even being sure they’ll turn out right. And they were going to turn green again if you hadn’t told us that.”

    “Well, now they won’t. All’s well that ends—”

    —slap—

    “Just... don’t finish that sentence,” Shinji grouched. Shaking his knuckles. “For the sake of humanity. Also, how did I backhand your mouth and hurt my knuckles?”

    “His body is made of swords, you can start there,” Tohsaka grinned, not waiting for him to question the statement, though he didn’t bother anyway. “Hey, where’s Rider at?” she asked.

    “Well, uh,” stammered Sakura.

    The Servant in question materialized.

    Specifically, she materialized right behind her. When she finally turned around to look for the Servant, she nearly jumped out of her skin at the sight of the imposing woman staring down at her.

    “Are you satisfied?” she asked.

    “Um… Yes?” Rin groused.

    “Very well then,” Rider vanished again.

    “Um, are you going to be staying like that, Rider? There’s no need to hide in here.”

    “I would disagree, seeing as there is a presence outside the front door. I am unfamiliar with this person and can only assume that they would be startled by me.”

    “But, don’t you at least want something for breakfast?” Sakura protested. “If… If it’s because of me, Senpai’s a really good cook.” Shirou could only watch as Sakura seemed to shrink in on herself.

    “I’m afraid that regardless of what either of you make, it likely wouldn’t suit my palate.” Rider’s disembodied voice echoed through the air. And as I have no need of sustenance as a Servant, I would prefer not to waste your resources. I apologize. It is no fault of yours.”

    “I suppose that will be your own loss,” noted Saber. She sounded calm, but at the same time, they could all tell that she was excited by the prospect of getting Rider’s hypothetical portion, which was amusing for multiple reasons.

    Having already decided that he wanted no part in the previous conversation and having no interest in any of the others, he went to grab the TV remote while Rin seemed to be attempting to come up with a plausible rebuttal. He pressed the power button and landed the picture somewhere in the middle of a newscast.

    “—found by police in a side street in the early hours of the morning. The victim appears to have suffered a vicious blow to the neck and had a large cavity slashed into the abdomen. Worth pointing out is that like several other recent murders, the victim was largely drained of blood. The victim is a young American male in his late twenties, but no ID has been found on him. Police do not yet have any suspects, and have not ruled out the possibility that this may have been the work of a wild animal of some sort due to the savage nature of the man’s injuries, but are continuing to investigate the—”

    Shirou’s eyes narrowed. A lot of the image had been blurred out so that the victim’s gored appearance wouldn’t be too frightening to any early-morning viewers, but he recognized the clothes, even with the massive bloodstains.

    “So, he was a participant after all,” Rin noted.

    “Seems that way.”

    Clearly they hadn’t gotten off to a very good start if there was already a fatality. Granted, other Masters were more likely to die than outsiders.

    “Sakura,” the invisible Rider asked, “do you intend to go into the city today?”

    Her Master responded with a nod.

    “Mhm. Shinji has classes today, so I think it would be best to go out and stay near the school.”

    “You might also want to check that body out,” Rin added. “If it becomes a dead apostle, a lot of people could die.”

    Sakura stared at Rin blankly. “A dead apostle? What’s that?” she asked.

    “A more common term would be ‘vampire.’ There are a number of stages that a victim will go through before becoming a proper vampire though, the first being ‘ghoul,’ followed by ‘living dead.’ The term ‘dead apostle’ covers the whole range of common undead, so mages tend to just refer to them all as that.”

    Sakura paled.

    “ ‘C-Common’ undead?” she stuttered. She suddenly felt that the world was a much scarier place.

    Rin didn’t seem to notice her sister’s discomfort, or if she did, she was too preoccupied with other matters to care.

    “Yeah, incidents are generally kept contained, but they’re still dangerous. A bite kills in seconds. Normally though, if a corpse were going to start moving again, it would have a hundred times over by now. Still, you can never be too careful with these things. The body needs to be cremated anyway as a precaution. A single unsupervised ghoul can destroy an entire city. Or worse…”

    “I’m never gonna be able to sleep ever again. I thought zombies were make-believe.”

    This finally got Rin’s attention. She turned to look at Sakura in honest surprise.

    “Eh? Sorry, I thought you were curious. I didn't mean to scare you.”

    “It’s… um… it’s okay. Just… how do you fight them?”

    “Don’t get bitten, and hope your friends don’t either. A ghoul’s only instinct is to create more things like itself, and it can do that by killing anything that’s alive by biting it and sucking its blood. Bites are always fatal, so the smartest thing to do, short of destroying them entirely, is removing the lower jaw. They’re basically harmless then. They aren’t intelligent so it’s unlikely that they would use a hand as leverage for their top teeth. Blades, clubs and explosives work best.”

    All of a sudden, something that Rin said resonated, and Sakura looked like she might be sick.

    “Wait a minute…”

    There was a pile of newspapers stacked in the corner of the room. Sakura slid over to it and began flipping through them, muttering to herself as she did. She finally pulled one out and brought it over to the table.

    “Here. Remember the bodies I mentioned in my last letter? The one with the head cut off? Look at this: Aside from having been decapitated, the woman’s body was ‘covered in lacerations, including several deep bite marks!’ ” Sakura’s eyes widened, “Oh no… there couldn’t be any zombies in Fuyuki, could there?”

    “It’d be awfully considerate of a dead apostle to neutralize the threat of its victims,” Rin noted, “I think we’re dealing with a run-of-the-mill psychopath or a Servant. Don’t worry about it, Sakura. Besides, haven’t you managed to avoid a vampire for a good long while?”

    “I… I guess so,” Sakura murmured.

    A ping from the kitchen timer saw to it that Sakura was back on her feet that very instant to pour the hard boiled eggs into a colander. She was about to start peeling them, then stopped, remembering Shirou’s advice, filled the pot with cold water, and poured the eggs back inside of it. Since her fish was a bit late, she decided to set the kitchen timer again, though only for one minute. Once she took the fish out of the grill pan, the eggs would also be ready, so she got to work peeling the shells off. By the time she was done, she figured that the fish would be about the right temperature to serve. Having done just over half of the eggs, she noticed the fish wasn’t steaming nearly as much anymore. She had taken too long. She was such a failure!

    She didn’t have very long to dwell on that self-destructive train of thought, because it was derailed the moment she set the fish and the eggs on the table: Taiga Fujimura sidled into the room and took a seat, serving herself along with everyone else as though she’d been there the whole time. Presumably she had been the presence which Rider had mentioned being outside.

    “Gosh, I thought the school was going to keep me on the phone forever, but it looks like I’m right on time!”

    “Right on time for what? Mooching off of us?” drawled Shinji.

    “I don’t want to hear that from someone as wealthy as you are, Mr. Matou. I don’t care that your grandfather is head of the PTA, there will be consequences for this rude behavior!” Taiga blathered, flying off the handle right from the get-go.

    “I’m not in high school anymore, you can’t touch me unless you plan on sending yakuza goons after me, and you really don’t seem the type for that crap. Also, that’d be illegal and I haven’t done anything.”

    “All I want is to eat something other than my usual diet for a change,” the teacher moped, “My lack of culinary skills is equaled only by the stars in the sky.”

    While Taiga waxed poetic about her failure as a chef and began to tell a story about some calamitous cooking catastrophe, Saber scanned the room with her eyes, not moving her head. Slowly, carefully as not to be noticed, she took a fifth and sixth hard boiled egg. Having successfully filched the food, she gleefully continued eating. Not for the first time, she wondered how anyone survived without all these options. She knew one thing for certain though: After eating modern day food as much as she had at this point, regardless of how limited her time had been, if she were ever made to eat Gawain’s mashed potatoes again, the first bite would unquestionably kill her.

    Perhaps on another battlefield, she would meet Gawain once more.

    She took another bite.

    If she did… She really just hoped she’d have the chance to tell him…

    …that his horse had no doubt been a better cook than him.

    Shinji finished eating, left his dishes on the table, and stood up, ignoring Rin’s muttered “ingrate.” Sakura silently began eating faster.

    “I have class this morning, if I’m not out of here within the next…” he checked his watch as he left the room, speaking louder the further away he got, “three-or-so minutes, I’m gonna be late for class. I’m still doing pretty well, you know, so I’d like to put off the moment where reality catches up to me and I ruin everything.”

    He realized as he finished speaking that he’d left his laptop next to the TV just as he got his shoes on. He kicked them off with a growl, swept back into the living room, grabbed his computer and his bag, which he had apparently also left on the living room floor because his brain apparently had decided to go on holiday this morning, and shoved the former into the latter, careful not to crush any loose pages. Sakura polished off her meal at about the same time, and followed him to the front hall.

    “Sorry Senpai, but I have to go with him. You can handle cleaning up on your own, right?”

    “Sure, don’t worry about it,” Shirou answered cheerfully. He shot a mischievous look at Taiga. “Maybe Fuji-nee can actually pull her weight and help with cleanup for a change?”

    Miss Fujimura swallowed the rest of her meal whole, coughed once, then hopped to her feet and scrambled out of the room.

    “Nope! Sorry, gotta go! Need to get to school before the students! Thanks for the food!” she called back all in one breath. She proceeded to escape the Emiya residence and floor the gas pedal on her scooter before even the Matou siblings got out the door, leaving them behind in a cloud of dust.

    “Wow…” Shinji deadpanned. Sakura waited for him to continue, but apparently that was all he had to say about that little episode.

    “Yeah, now I’ve gotta run he last few blocks or I’m gonna be late.”

    Sakura gasped.

    “What? You can keep up with me just fine,” he said as he set off at a brisk pace.

    “No, it’s not that, but I need to check out the body!” she said, barely avoiding stammering. “What do I do…?”

    Before Shinji could get a word in however, Sakura perked up and dropped her fist into her hand.

    “Aha! I know! Rider, you stay with him while I go check out the body.”

    “That sounds so wrong…” Shinji muttered under his breath.

    Rider, appearing in a wave of purple seemed hesitant from the moment her form was distinct enough to look at.

    It wasn’t as though they had a choice though. Shinji was in danger out in the city without someone accompanying him, but wouldn’t he be safer with a Servant than he would be with an invalid mage?

    Even after explaining this not wholly unsound reasoning to Rider however, she still seemed reluctant. Nevertheless…

    “If those are your orders, Master, I will follow them,” she said, a resigned sigh escaping her lips.

    “Thank you, Rider! You’re the best!” she gave the Servant a surprisingly affectionate hug, realized what she’d done, and immediately apologized. No one wanted to hug a worm-ridden thing like her. “Just, you know, protect him from any Servant who tries to attack him.”

    “Very well, Master. Please be safe in my absence,” she answered, and Shinji noted she suddenly sounded a lot more amicable somehow. She vanished, but Shinji knew she was still around. And then he ran off because he was going to be so, so late at this rate.

    From the other side of the wall, Rin whispered an order to Lancer.

    “Follow Sakura. I don’t want her to know you’re there, because it’ll probably only make her feel like I don’t trust her, but still, make sure that nothing hurts my sister.”

    “By your word, I shall be her shield,” Lancer whispered, laying her hand across her heart.
    Having done so, she leapt into the air, going into spirit form at the moment just before she cleared the wall around the house.

    Rin smiled for a moment, and then let her face return to neutral. Gosh, she must have been more tired than she thought if even smiling was tiring her out. She and Shirou both needed to get some sleep after being up for almost the whole night. He’d be in the middle of clearing the table by now. She’d best go help him.

    So tired…

    Neither of them had any idea what kind of mess they were going to encounter when they woke up.

    The Matous however, perhaps unsurprisingly, could have almost predicted what they'd have to deal with that evening. It was, regrettably, a necessary evil.

    * * * * *

    Author’s Note: I couldn’t resist memeing the “Mikon Master Hit Me” gag from Fox Tail. It literally couldn’t be avoided. I refuse to apologize.

    And I finally introduced a Harway. Julius is already a boiling cauldron of seething rage and resentment, as you could clearly see. He’s gonna be hard to predict.

    A lot of characters got cameos this chapter, actually. Some major, some minor, and two of whom are the most obtusely difficult characters I’ve ever written because whenever I accidentally make them come to rational conclusions, I have to rewrite the whole paragraph. Julius’ tormentors are OCs, just so that no one spends any time wondering who they are.

    I really need to get Lord El-Melloi and Gray on-screen, but I haven’t had an opportunity for Rider to crash into the middle of a fight and bellow his “I am Iskandar, the King of Conquerors! WHO WILL JOIN ME?!” speil. It’ll happen though. Guaranteed. Next chapter coming… who knows, really…

    Last edited by Draconic; April 19th, 2018 at 06:07 PM.

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