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    吸血鬼 Vampire Morg van Destro's Avatar
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    Fate/Without Justice

    I've been making this story for a while now, and my friend suggested I post it here. I just hope some of you will get as much enjoyment out of reading it as I did writing it. Not finished yet, but I'm close.
    Summery: It has been ten years since the fires that engulfed Fuyuki, and the Holy Grail War is almost here once more. Shirou's Father took measures to prevent him from becoming caught up in the conflict of ancient heroes, but it would seem that his fate is entwined with that of the Grail's. Having summoned a servant, Shirou Kotomine joins the Fifth Holy Grail War.



    Prologue: The First Lesson

    #1-This world is cruel. It will not coddle you. It will not help you. It will not mourn your passing. The only way to mark your existence on this world is to forge your own path through it, no matter what stands in your way.

    My eyes slowly open, the effort impossible despite the ease of the task. What was I doing here? Who is this man, whose smile speaks of joy I’d never known? What happened? All I can remember is… fire and… screams. Faces of anguish reaching out for aid. And me, trudging aimlessly through the destruction, unable to hear. Unable to respond. Unable to do anything but move forward in search of… something. What was I looking for? My family? Who were they? They were important to me, but they were… Me? My name. I can’t remember. It’s so close, just out of reach. I am…

    The man begins speaking, his words heard but almost indecipherable. I can’t understand, but I’m certain he was thanking something. I’m a little jealous that he could be so happy, just having found someone. I wonder how the joy I see on his face can exist in this ashen wasteland.

    I watch, barely comprehending, as the man’s chest explodes outward toward me, blood splattering my face and clothes already caked in soot and more dried blood. The smile wavers before the man is brushed aside.

    Another man, his right arm red and dripping, stands in his place. He also has a smile, but it’s something much different. The same joy plays across his face, far more malicious than the other’s could have ever been. The smile fades as he lays his eyes on me, mild interest taking its place. He kicks the other man’s body further away and knelt closer to me.

    He looks deeply into my eyes. I’m not sure what he sees there, but what I see is strange. His eyes seem… empty. Devoid of purpose, emotion, or desire. No, that’s not right. Maybe at another time, but now there’s… something. A yearning. The will to seek out something true. Something worth fighting for. A wish for fulfillment. It’s… familiar and… captivating.

    The man suddenly begins to laugh, standing up and drawing his right hand over the side of his head as if he was afraid it would be shaken off by the convulsions. I don’t know why, but I want to be closer to that. That happiness.

    I weakly stretch out my right hand, reaching for something that I can’t yet conceptualize. Something to bring me that joy.

    The man looks down at me, the same smile from before dancing on his face, before drawing his right hand away from it, showing bloody smears streaking across, and reaching down to grasp my hand.

    “Tell me, my son,” he asks me, kneeling down once more to lift me from the rubble I didn’t realized I lay in. “What is your name?”

    His deep, clear voice cut through the murk of my mind, and I’m finally able to grasp the name that had slipped from my mind so easily before. A small glimmer of clarity in the fog of my past. I remember. I rasp out the words, my life forever linked to that singular name.

    “My… name is…”

    ***********

    “Can you fix it, Kotomine?”

    I looked up at Issei with a playful smile. Today, I had been asked by the student council president to see if the various appliance breaking down in the club rooms could be fixed. Apparently, the current budget was tighter than expected, meaning the replacement of said appliances wasn’t viable at the moment.

    “Shouldn’t be an issue,” I told him. “But if you plan on me fixing all of them, I may have to start charging you.”

    "Like we could spare the expense,” he replied dryly before rising from his seat. “I’ll leave you to it.”

    Issei left the room, sliding the door closed behind him. All jokes aside, charging him for the repairs wouldn’t feel right considering the ease of the task. Not a permanent solution, but all I can do for now is patch up the power cord. A little electrical tape, and it should last till the end of the semester. I can probably fix it up before we get to that point, though.

    Even muffled by the door, I could hear Issei’s tired expression through his words.

    Tohsaka. You’re here rather early. I’m sorry to tell you that Kotomine will be busy helping me this morning, so you’ll have to talk to him later.”

    You assume that passing the student council room means I wish to speak with him? My, aren’t we presumptuous, Student Council President?”

    I shook my head as I wrapped the troublesome segment of cord with tape. Issei was right. Rin didn’t usually come to school this early. She had never been much of a morning person, so I understand him seeking some ulterior motive. I was curious myself.

    As I began to carry the heater to the door, Rin spoke once more after an annoyed growl from Issei.

    I merely decided to come earlier than usual. Surely the student council president isn’t against such promptness.”

    I opened the door and placed the heater between the door frames.

    Perhaps not,” I said, giving Rin a smirk. “But when the illustrious Rin Tohsaka graces us with her presence so early in the day, we can only be suspicious.”

    Well, perhaps I wished to encourage the other students, showing them that those who excel put in that extra effort.”

    Silly me. I thought that was my job.”

    We both smiled at that.

    Ever since we were young, competition was a near constant between us. While I was far better at Bajiquan after all the years Father drilled it into me, her grades and knowledge of magecraft still exceeded mine, if only marginally in the former. Grades were the one thing we felt had relatively equal footing, so we’ve been trying to out-do the other.

    Currently, she was in the lead, but I thought I could take it by the end of semester.

    Kotomine,” Issei said after clearing his throat, drawing our attention back to him. “We can’t afford to waste any more time here if we’re going to fix the heater in the A/V room.”

    He was right, of course. I picked up the heater once more and replaced it in the student council room before following after Issei who had already begun to move.

    I’ll catch you later, Rin,” I told her as I went.

    Rin hummed thoughtfully in response, which was the most confirmation I’d be getting. With a little extra effort, I caught up to Issei.

    It is a bit odd for her to be so early,” he said, glancing back at Rin.

    She probably just set her alarm wrong,” I told him. “That, or what she said is true. We could be seeing a lot more of her in the morning.”

    Somehow,” he brought his eyes forward once again. “I doubt that.”




    Chapter 1: Ties That Bind
    #7-It is important to form relationships with other people. There are things you may only be able to acquire, whether it’s information, connections, or support, with the aid of others. Find those who have what you need, then use them to reach your ends.

    Suppose we’ll fix the art club’s stove at lunch,” I said as we entered our first class of the day.

    Unless Tohsaka steals you away,” Issei replied.

    My lunches tended to be spent with either Issei or Rin with rare occasion when all three of us were together. Though, most time in the last example was taken up by them bickering about one thing or another. Why they spent so much energy fighting about nothing truly baffled me.

    We entered 2-C, the majority of our classmates having already taken their seats. I continued speaking as I made my way to mine.

    She’ll understand. It’s not like I belong to her.”

    Well said, Kotomine.”

    I took a moment before turning to face him, banishing any possible hostility from my demeanor.

    Shinji stood there; a smug smile plastered to his face.

    After all, men like us don’t belong to anyone,” he ran his hand through his hair, blue locks charitably comparable to a mop, uncharitably to a mass of seaweed.

    If you say so, Shinji,” I replied, a small smile on my own face. “How was archery club?”

    I was excellent, as always.”

    I’m sure. You can hardly string your own bow, let alone fire it accurately.

    I was so good; the girls were practically entranced by my form.”

    Or afraid you might injure yourself.

    And how was Sakura’s form?” I asked in the most innocent of manners.

    He frowned at that.

    She performed adequately, as to be expected of my sister.”

    My smile widened a bit as his frown deepened. It delighted me to no end to see his displeasure at such inquiries.

    That’s good. I’ll have to come watch someday and see your form for myself.”

    The self-assured smile returned, as I knew it would.

    Of course. Maybe you should join the club. I could show you the proper way to mend a bow.”

    I’m not so sure about that,” I said, chuckling at the double meaning of the words. “I don’t see myself as much of an archer.”

    You never know,” he said, taking his seat at the front of the class.

    Why do you humor him?” Issei asked in a hushed tone.

    The reason was quite simple. I’m not sure on the details, but even before I got to know Sakura, I could see the way she reacts to him. The tiny, flinching movements when he moved unexpectedly, the quick glances, the unconscious hand placements. That’s why I befriended this worm.

    Lesson #22-If you have an enemy who isn’t aware of it, befriend them. The sharpest and most painful knife one can wield is betrayal because it only comes from those you trust.

    Perhaps I see potential in him. Maybe I think that, with enough time and effort, I could help him be better.”

    I believe that as much as I believe Tohsaka will come here early from now on.”

    Believe what you will,” I replied with a shake of my head, noticing the bell ringing as I did. “We better sit down. Ms. Fujimura will be barreling in about now.”

    As we take our seats, a young woman with short hair and a green jacket shoots in like a bullet.

    Yes! Right on time!”

    **********

    The rest of the school day played out rather uneventfully. I was able to repair a few other broken pieces of equipment but made sure to tell Issei they needed to be replaced as soon as the budget allowed. I never did get back to Rin, though.

    As the day came to a close and the sun began to fade off into the horizon, I found Sakura waiting for me as she always did by the gate. A broad smile greeted me like so many times before as I approached.

    Senpai,” she asked brightly. “How was your day?”

    Issei had me fixing up appliances for the club rooms,” I smiled at her in turn. “By the way, did you see Rin leave earlier? I haven’t seen her since this morning.”

    Sakura looked up thoughtfully before replying.

    I think I saw her leave around ten minutes ago. Why do you ask?”

    No particular reason,” I began walking past her onto the sidewalk, her close beside me. "I didn't see her much today, so I was wondering if she was still around."

    "I see," I thought her words sounded a little deflated, but I didn't linger too long on them.

    This was quite the oddity. First, she comes to school early, then she rushes home as soon as it’s out. She usually would have tried to insert herself between me and Issei during lunch, and yet, she was nowhere to be seen. Things were starting to fall into place, and the timing is too perfect to be coincidence. Coincidence: the poor man’s excuse not to dig deeper.

    I debated whether or not I should pay her a visit at home but decided against it. If it is what I think, then Father has already made his thoughts clear on the subject.

    Eventually, we stood before the Matou mansion, Sakura giving me a warm good-bye before disappearing behind its doors. I began to walk away before noticing a light on in one of the upper rooms. A dark figure stood in one of the windows, and I was certain they were watching me. I reinforced my eyes, my vision focusing to peer closer at the figure. Somehow, in the time between my awareness and reinforcement, the figure had vanished. I swept my eyes over the three lit windows, trying to narrow down where they went, but I was met with an empty room. I watched for several seconds more before turning to leave. Whatever had been there, it was gone now.

    The bus dropped me off in Centerville. A few minutes’ walk from the stop, and I strolled into the Hyatt Hotel. The man at the front desk gave me a nod as I headed toward the elevator. Once it arrived, I pressed the 4 and waited as the elevator slowly pulled me upward. The doors opened, and I moved out into the hallway until I reached room 215. My temporary home.

    A modern looking studio apartment with a kitchen to the right of the entry, a living room that took up most of the space, and a bedroom across from a full-sized bathroom located in a small hallway off to the side. The apartment was all whites with dark blue furniture and yellow lights embedded in the ceiling. From what I’d heard, this apartment was relatively small compared to those on the higher floors, but that didn’t really matter. It served its purpose, and that was all it needed to do.

    Father had sent me here one week ago, saying he wanted me away from Miyama while the grail war took place. I would say it was for my safety, but it was most likely so no master would attempt to use me to curry favor with the mediator. However, I’m not convinced. My father has clothed, fed, educated, and looked after me for the last ten years, but I’d be hard pressed to say if he cared for me. In all honesty, it felt more like he was fulfilling some obligation he had as a father, rather than actually being one. All the acts were there, but the motivation felt different. If I was to be used or held captive by a master, I’m not sure my father would do anything about it. Even so…

    I make and eat a quiet meal before retiring to the bedroom.

    **********
    Today was as uneventful as the last. I walked Sakura to school, spent lunch with Issei, fixed more damaged goods, and generally acted like the model student I was. However, Rin was nowhere in sight. I asked Issei about it, but he seemed just as in the dark as I was. He offered to ask around about her, but I told him he didn’t need to worry about it. He just seemed happy she wasn’t around to bother him. Yesterday was odd, but now I wondered if she was actively avoiding me. My suspicions may just be correct.

    As the sun faded to orange, I headed over to the archery club, remembering that Rin had been rumored to be going there frequently the last few weeks. And by rumors, I mean Shinji bragging that she must have been subtly hinting at hidden affections.

    I stood in front of the archery club doors, wondering what my excuse for being here would be. I suppose I could use Shinji’s offer to come watch, but if Rin wasn’t there, I don’t think I’d be willing to stay long enough to make it believable.

    Hey, you!”

    I sensed a wave of bloodlust and whipped around to catch a pole right before it could cave in the side of my skull.

    A short black-haired girl wearing our school uniform stood there with mild surprise on her face. She cleared it as she attempted to pull her weapon from my grip. I considered holding on, making it clear who was in the position of power here, but let it go. If I needed to, this girl wouldn’t be a problem.

    Two other girls stood behind her on either side. One with slightly longer orange hair on the left and another with grey hair and glasses. Her compatriots didn’t look particularly thrilled with their friend’s actions, but I assume most people would be put off if one of their friends started swinging around something meant for pole vaulting like a lance.

    It occurred to me that they looked familiar, but I couldn’t place where I had seen them.

    Quick reflexes, Shinji Matou,” the attacking girl said, holding the pole as though preparing for another swing. “You know martial arts or something?”

    Bajiquan, actually,” I said, planting my hands in my pockets. “And Shinji? You think I’m Shinji?

    Don’t try to lie to me,” she whirled the pole around with practiced ease. I began to wonder how often she wielded that thing against others. “And don’t bother sticking around either, because Rin Tohsaka isn’t going to show up!”

    That caught my attention. These girls knew Rin. Now I remember them. These three are in Rin’s class. I’ve spotted her talking to them before.

    Maki,” the grey-haired girl said. “This guy doesn’t match Mitsuzuri’s description, and he doesn’t have seaweed for hair.”

    Ayako Mitsuzuri. Archery club captain and one of Rin’s friends. The picture is starting to come together.

    The way I see it,” the girl apparently called Maki continued. “He just wet down his naturally curly hair to straighten it, and a face this stupid looking could only belong to Shinji Matou.”

    What a clever ruse you’re accusing me of,” I replied, taking my ID from my breast pocket. “And I assume I must have also created this fake student ID for just such an occasion.”

    I tossed the ID over to the girl, who fumbled with the pole before releasing it to catch the oncoming object. She appeared irritated at my attitude before looking at the ID, at which point her face fell.

    The girl who had spoken earlier walked up and took the ID from her friend who had begun to twitch slightly. A bit more of an exaggerated reaction than what I expected, but at least it shows she recognizes the name.

    Shirou Kotomine,” the bespectacled girl said. “It appears we have the wrong man.”

    The same Kotomine who fixes our gear whenever he has free-time?” Maki said, beginning to hide behind her grey-haired friend. “The guy whose known as the Homurahara Brownie?”

    And there it was. Even if people didn’t know me, they knew my reputation. Being the guy who’s willing to help anyone and probably already has as one point in time makes resource gathering much easier. After all, it’s easy to help those who already helped you. It also helps my reputation that I’m one of the top students.

    And a close friend of Rin Tohsaka,” I took back my ID from the girl’s outstretched hand. “The one whom you apparently did all this for.”

    The girl flailed around some more before kneeling down and planting her head to the ground in a deep bow.

    I’m sorry!” she said, the words slightly muffled.

    We’re all sorry,” the third girl finally spoke. “It seemed like you were waiting for someone, so we assumed you were Matou.”

    Well,” I replaced my ID in my pocket. “You weren’t completely wrong. I haven’t seen Tohsaka today, but I heard she’d been coming here as of late. Thought this was as good a time as any to find out if the rumors were true.”

    Oh, you didn’t know? Tohsaka wasn’t feeling well, so she stayed home.”

    Yeah,” the bowing girl raised her head. “Tohsaka’s sick. Can you believe such a model student can catch a cold?”

    As the grey-haired girl sat upon her rowdy companion, I thought that over. No, I don’t for a second believe that a mage of the Tohsaka line could fall ill. At least, not to any common sickness. Rin was up to something. The grail war was upon us, and Rin may have just put herself into the fray.

    The girl atop her friend was about to speak, but I cut her off. I wasn’t trying to be impolite, but no more apologies were necessary.

    Guess there’s no reason to stay any longer. Thanks for letting me know, but I’ll be going now. You three have a safe trip home.”

    I don’t pay much attention to their farewells as I headed for the gate. I met Sakura there and walked her home, finding the upper room was no longer lit up. I wondered what was so special about last night that it didn’t repeat now. Then, I headed over to the Tohsaka mansion.

    It had been several months since I last visited the Tohsaka residence. Father had increased the difficulty and frequency of my lessons, leaving little free time to socialize outside of school. This didn’t stop Sakura from coming in the morning to help with breakfast, but my evenings were filled with magecraft and combat practice. Tohsaka joined every now and then, teaching me different aspects of magecraft. Father may have impressive magic circuits, but his knowledge was limited to what Tokiomi Tohsaka had taught him in their time together.

    I pushed open the metal gate and entered the grounds before I noticed that the lights were out all over the house. I made sure of this by moving around the perimeter. I placed my hand against the buildings wall, stretching out my senses to feel its infrastructure. Sure enough, the barrier was still active. All of which told me that Rin was not only healthy, but out wandering around.

    I left the grounds, closing the gate as I went. Either I’ll speak to Rin tomorrow at school, or I’ll come by again and wait till she returns. I’d get to the bottom of this, and I prayed I was wrong about her joining the grail war. Because if she did…

    I’m not sure I could keep myself from doing the same.

    **********

    It hit me like a wave rolling onto the shore as I passed over the school’s threshold. An inherent wrongness in the air. Magic being slowly drained from the ground, air, and myself. The shock must have shown on my face because Sakura stopped in front of me, looking worried.

    Are you okay, Senpai?” she asked concernedly.

    I recovered quickly, affixing an embarrassed smile to my face.

    It’s nothing,” I lied, trying to think of something to waylay her suspicions. I then noticed the red marks on her left hand. “What happened there?”

    Oh,” she looked down at her hand, and I could see her searching for an excuse. “I… tripped and fell before you came to get me.”

    Shinji. This was the first visible proof I’d seen confirming my suspicions. I may need to do something sooner than expected.

    Alright,” I acquiesced, my next words leaving a bitter taste in my mouth. “You should be more careful. Next time could be a lot worse than just a hand.”

    Okay,” a hint of shame on her face was quickly covered up. I forced the anger down, keeping my jaw slack so I didn’t clench my teeth. She began going toward the archery dojo.

    "I’ll see you later, Senpai.”

    See you then.”

    Only once she left my sight did I allow my hand to curl into a fist. Much sooner.

    Back to the matter at hand. Something was draining the mana in the area. It was subtle, but I could feel the pull on my own circuits. What could be causing this? I had little over an hour to investigate, but I couldn’t be too hasty. If someone was doing this, I didn’t want to alert them.

    I tuned out the world, focusing on the pull of mana. I felt several areas, each pulling at my circuits, but one was stronger than the others. Logically, this meant I was closer to it than the rest. I followed it, letting it lead me to the track field. It drew me toward the equipment shed, and, behind a few mats, I found it.

    A red magic circle of intricate design with markings I didn’t recognize. This thing was sucking in and storing mana from its surroundings. Judging by the fact that it seemed multiple circles were drawing in power; I could assume they were all connected. Must be in preparation for some ritual. Bounded Field? Depending on the placement, it could be set to encompass the school, but for what reason?

    I moved away, deciding that without proper knowledge of what I was dealing with, it was safer to alert someone who can actually do something. All the more motivation to talk to Rin.

    I went to the student council room and once again spent the morning temporarily repairing malfunctioning equipment. During lunch, I tried to find Rin, but she wasn’t in the cafeteria or on the roof like usual. She wouldn’t be down at the archery club, but where else could she be? I swung by her classroom only to find the trio from yesterday eating at their desks.

    The girl called Maki noticed me standing in the doorway and gave me a confused look.

    Kotomine? What are you doing here?”

    The other two looked at me as well, awaiting my answer alongside their friend.

    I’m trying to find Ri… Tohsaka. Do any of you know where she might be?”

    The girl raised an eyebrow at my words, and a small smile crept onto her lips.

    You were about to say ‘Rin’ weren’t you?”

    I sighed inwardly. I may be too liberal with her first name. I didn’t have time to deal with gossip.

    "Never mind,” I turned to continue down the hallway when the grey-haired girl spoke.

    I’m assuming you already tried the cafeteria?”

    I glanced back to see she had placed her hand over the other girl’s mouth from behind.

    Nowhere to be found.”

    The girl seemed thoughtful as I noticed her grip tighten slightly as her friend struggled against the hold.

    Why not try the track field. I’ve seen her eating on the steps once or twice.”

    I thought on that a second before nodding. Rin tended to find quiet places to eat, away from her various admirers. Outside on the empty track field seemed reasonable.

    Thanks. I’ll check it out.”

    She nodded back to me as I left. I could hear the previously silent third girl suggesting letting the wilder of the three go, but I was out of earshot before the girl in glasses responded. I should ask them for their names next time I see them.

    I went down to the track field and found no one. Where was she? Lunch was almost over, and all I’d been doing was jumping around trying to find her instead of eating. Why was this so difficult?

    I headed to the student council room and found Issei, having already finished his food, leaning his arm on the table.

    "Any luck finding Tohsaka?”

    None,” I replied, taking the seat across from him. “I could probably find her if I asked around, but people might take it the wrong way.”

    "Hmm,” he brought his free hand to his chin. “I thought the two of you would find each other.”

    What do you mean by that?” I asked, noticing the odd wording.

    "Tohsaka came by not too long after you left. I told her you were looking for her, and she seemed very annoyed by that.”

    I couldn’t say anything. All I could do was slowly place my forehead on the table.

    **********

    I headed down the stairs to the ground floor as the sun cast fading orange light through the windows. I was able to finish repairing the various malfunctioning appliances, so all that was left was to find Rin. I’m sure her reason in looking for me was the same as mine, so if I start following the threads again, I’ll probably find her. Those thoughts were interrupted by giggles accompanied by a familiar laugh. I turned back to find Shinji alongside two girls I recognized from our class.

    I really didn’t understand why some girls seemed to find him appealing. Even when dealing with me, his arrogance is on full display. If they knew what he did to Sakura…

    Shinji,” I faked a smile. “I didn’t expect to see you here at this hour.”

    I was simply regaling these two with my achievements,” that proud smile crossed his lips. “I assume you were doing something for the student council president?”

    Just some minor repairs,” I gave him a shrug. “By the way, tell Sakura to go home without me. I’ll be doing a couple other things around here, and I’d hate for her to wait.”

    He eyed me for a moment before replying.

    Alright,” his smile broadened slightly. “Then, if it’s not too much trouble, do you think you can clean up the dojo while you’re at it. I’d do it myself, but then I couldn’t give these girls the attention they deserve.”

    I thought about it. I couldn’t just outright accept it. The way his mind works, he’d take it as a cue to keep pushing his own chores on me. Likewise, refusing will weaken our relationship, making it harder to get close enough to slide the knife between his ribs.

    Buy me some mapo tofu while you’re out, and I’ll happily clean the dojo for you.”

    Shinji laughed at that.

    Whatever you say, Kotomine.”

    With that, he went back to entertaining the girls while I continued down the stairs. If I started on the dojo now, it’d be dark by the time I finished. Suppose I’ll have to go and wait for Rin at her house. If my instincts weren’t telling me this was important, I’d think it was too much trouble to deal with.

    **********

    It was the clanging that drew me out.

    Metal clashing against metal with enough force to be heard from the dojo. I found the source on the track field. Two figures, one red and one blue, were fighting in the middle of the field. I reinforced my eyes to peer closer.

    The man in blue wielded a long red spear while the man in red wielded two small swords, one black and the other white. They collided, kicking up a cloud of dust with each attack. I could barely make them out through the dust, but, after a short time, they stopped. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but the blue man shifted his grip on the spear. The spear began to bleed a red aura from the tip, mana oozing off in a flood.

    Servants. That was the only thing they could be. Their clothes, the magical energy rippling off them, the weapons and strength they display in wielding them. I wondered though. Why were they fighting here of all places?

    I got my answer as I looked around them. I saw Rin, for that coat showed it was unmistakably her, standing a distance behind the red servant.

    I was right. She was following her father’s footsteps. And to have summoned a saber servant, combined with her skills as a mage, she had a good chance of winning. Still, I could see the look on her face with my reinforced eyes. She was nervous, and rightly so. The amount of mana flowing over the lancer’s spear was staggering. It’s possible he’s about to unleash his noble phantasm. The smart thing to do would be to conceal my presence and sneak away while they were distracted. After all, witnesses to the Holy Grail War were to be disposed of. If I got caught, both master and servant would be obligated to kill me by the rules.

    Which made what I was about to do very stupid.

    I unzipped my jacket a little and reached inside to retrieve three small red handles. With an infusion of mana, long blades extended from between my fingers.

    With his relative position to me, his current stance, and the placement of the saber, he was likely to dodge backward away from his current foe as well as avoid the projectile coming at him from the side. Knowing that even then if the other two were not avoided, a lancer could easily deflect them. That bought me a few precious seconds to escape. Yes, this would likely result in my death. Yes, this was a stupid idea. Yes, I was still doing it.

    I took aim and threw the first black key directly at him. The other two followed close behind, aimed for my predicted target. As soon as the blades are loosed from my hand, I enhanced my legs and made dash for the gate.

    Fifteen seconds. Out the gate, I’m faced with a new decision. Going to the Tohsaka masion was out of the question, as that would just present the servant with Rin’s home base. Shopping district was also out. Too many closed spaces where they could corner me. That left the northern district. Old, traditional houses, many of which were unoccupied. If I could keep them from sensing me, it was possible I could hide out until they give up. That, or daybreak, but I wasn’t optimistic enough to hope for that.

    I rushed to the north, not daring to slow down. I could sense them now. Father taught me that killing intent was felt by all things in one way or another. Something unholy seeping into the world, like a drop of poison in a cup. To a normal person, the poison would be indiscernible from the rest of the liquid. But, to one who is familiar with the poison, it was as easy to identify as their own reflection.

    They were following me and gaining ground quicker than I could move. Closer, ever closer, as I dashed through the streets. I moved off into a grassy field, going for a more direct path than the streets could give me. I could hear the grass crumple behind me, my pursuer closing the distance. I risked a glance back and saw the lancer. Farther back, I could see a red figure also giving chase. I wondered absently what they’d do once the dealt with me. Right back to fighting?

    Didn’t matter. Mid step, I pulled out another black key and, after making a quick glance back, I leapt forward spinning, launching the blade toward the lancer.

    His spear flashed in front of him, deflecting the blade with a clang. I landed and found myself back on the road, wishing my attack had done more than minorly inconvenience him.

    I was beginning to see more traditional buildings coming closer. I was almost there, but I wasn’t sure it mattered anymore. Lancer was almost on top of me, and he would be by the time I got into the district. I knew this would end in death tonight.

    I got between the buildings and jumped to the side as the lancer impaled his spear where I had just been. Not bothering to look, as it would just slow me down, I leapt up to one of the shorter rooftops. My circuits were starting to tire. I hadn’t gone full force with them like this for such an extended period of time. They may give out in another minute or two.

    I leapt to another roof as Lancer was already right behind me. I pushed harder, not sure where I was going, but knowing anywhere was better than here. After three more jumps, I launched myself to the side to avoid a lunge from Lancer, consequently forcing myself off the building.

    I reinforced my body against the impact. I hit the ground hard, rolling to try and lessen the blow. I realized then that I was spent. My circuits were tired, and my mana reserves almost empty. I rolled to a stop, facing the stars as my death drew near.

    I heard him land a little bit away and walk up to me. I was breathing hard from the exertion, so it was pretty clear to him I was too weak to go farther. He stood over me, his spear resting on his shoulder.

    You’re a persistent one, but today isn’t your lucky day. Sorry, kid, but now that you’ve seen me, you have to…”

    He stopped speaking, and I saw his eyes narrow for a moment. We stayed there in silence for several seconds before he hummed thoughtfully.

    I see. Guess I was wrong, kid. Today is your lucky day.”

    Without another word, he turned around, and jumped out of view.

    I wasn’t sure what just happened, but it would seem Lancer’s master may not be on board with the idea of killing children.

    I laid there, catching my breath for a few minutes before bringing myself up.

    I stood motionless, considering my next move. If I’m careful, I should be able to find a bus stop and make my way to the church without being detected. Lancer may have given up, but it’s likely Rin hasn’t. While I don’t think she’ll kill me, she’d be hard pressed to just let me go. Refuge at the church may be my only option.

    Well, that was disappointing.”

    The sultry voice crept out from darkness of an alley. I didn’t wait to listen any further. I pulled a black key and hurled it into the shadows between the buildings. My legs protested as I once more began running, incapable of the enhanced pace from earlier.

    I heard the sound of metal rattling against metal as I felt something hurtling towards me at great speed. I dodged to the side and barely avoided what appeared to be a large nail attached to a chain.

    Running was no longer an option. My legs were too tired, and I refuse to die with my back towards the enemy. I caught sight of a particularly old gate surrounded by an equally old wall. Narrowly dodging another chain, I threw my body into the gate, the rotted wood crumpling under the force. I rolled into the front yard and dashed toward the main building.

    The building, like the gate, seemed on the verge of crumbling. The front door and walls were cracked and weak. I easily pushed through the door to find a barren hallway, dark and empty as I assumed the rest of the house was. I sprinted through and found it connected to another hallway, this one bearing open windows to the what may have once been a large garden. Perfect.

    I went outside into the overgrown grass covering the open space. Here, I could see them coming from any direction without cover to hide behind. I pulled out six more keys and wait.

    My master said it would be a simple matter to dispose of you.”

    The voice echoed out from a nebulous point, its origin indiscernible.

    It seems his cowardice is outweighed by his arrogance.”

    This servant was watching me. I could feel her eyes, peering at me like a predator. Father told me some servants consumed humans to bolster their mana reserves, and this gaze told me her intention all too well.

    Such a low opinion of your master,” my eyes roved my surroundings, waiting for her to strike. “Yet, you still follow his orders. A faithful servant if ever there was.”

    Must have touched a nerve. The servant came flying out of the shadows, chains flailing out toward me.

    I threw a key from my right hand as I brought the others up to block the attack. The chain screeched across the remaining blades, the force threatening to drive me back.

    As the weapons parted, I ducked a kick aimed for my head. I swung the three in my left hand upward, the servant leaping off its other leg to retreat. I threw the two remaining in my right hand toward her, one being knocked aside while the other flashed past her.

    I threw the last three into the ground between us, the keys widening and lengthening as I used the last of my mana to form a metal barrier between us. Following my instincts, I dashed to the left, putting a small, rickety building to my back. As I hoped, her attention was on the right, noticing her wrong prediction the same moment I flashed toward her in spite of my tired legs.

    I remembered my lessons, leading with the left of my body before twisting to the right, using every movement to enhance and direct my strength into my elbow. I drove it upward, planting a vicious strike into her right shoulder. I feel the bones break on impact, as Father said they would. As the servant was pushed backward by the blow, I realized I only managed this by virtue of catching her off guard with the advance.

    This doesn’t last as the servant is already counterattacking, slithering in like a snake low to the ground and thrusting the chained nail in its right hand upward. I attempt to dodge, but that forward rush taxed my legs more than I thought. The nail forced its way between my ribs and almost certainly punctured my lung. This was followed by a heavy kick to my sternum, launching me backward to crash through the crumbling building that, through my brain’s pain addled wonderings, I recognized to be a storage shed.

    I slammed into the back wall; the air thoroughly knocked out of me. I slid down as blood seeped from my wound, reddening my uniform as the servant calmly approached me.

    That was surprising,” the servant rubbed gingerly at the wounded shoulder. “It would seem my master truly is a poor judge of strength.”

    I coughed painfully as blood continued to fill me lung. I managed to glare at the servant as she slowly moved through the hole I made.

    I will honor your courage by ending your suffering.”

    I suppose there are worse ways to die. Killed in a dark shed by a magical being summoned to fight in a war I hand no part in. Alone, brought to this point by a foolish want to protect another. …When put like that, it almost sounds like a hero’s death. What a joke.

    As she raised her nail, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was okay dying like this. Quite anticlimactic, actually. After somehow surviving the flames from ten years ago, being adopted and trained by an executioner, and meeting a truly gifted magus, my life would end with an unceremonious murder. The world would continue onward. Eventually, my body would be found, the killer would remain unidentified and at large, and my name would go down as just another unsolved case. How… boring. No, not boring. Unfulfilling.

    I thought back to that day, looking up into my Father’s eyes. So hungry was his gaze. Those eyes told me he had found something worth living and dying for. Something to pursue with reckless abandon. I wanted that. I want that!

    I couldn’t die here. Not until I found that purpose. That yearning. That thing worth pursuing above all else. Something I can fervently declare I want to hold within my grasp. I won’t die here never knowing what that thing is. I refuse to die here! I will live! I will fight!

    I felt magic building up in the air around us. The servant seemed to feel it too. Light begun to blaze from the floor to my left, revealing a magic circle I hadn’t realized was there. I felt mana link into my soul and felt as though whatever had linked was pulling on me, using me as an anchor in this world.
    A figure materialized in the circle, charging forward toward the servant who had been about to end my life. She leapt back out the hole we’d come in and vanished in a wave of light.

    My rescuer stood in the moonlight streaming in from the hole, head scanning the yard for the servant’s presence. Then, they turned to face me.
    It was a woman clad in blue clothes covered in silver armor. Moonlight shined down on her golden hair as fierce green eyes looked at me with appraisal.

    I ask you this,” her voice every bit as strong and fierce as her eyes. “Are you worthy to be my master?”

    I don’t know how, but I felt as though I could answer her if I tried. However, I found myself considering my words. What did worthiness have to do with the summoning? To claim oneself worthy of calling a hero long dead to fight on your behalf is folly. Perhaps it is not the worth of a person, but the worth of a conviction? A will to see this battle to the end and claim victory? Even of that, I cannot claim.

    I can’t speak for whether I am worthy or not,” I spoke slowly, each word uttered painful. “But I can say with certainty that should this war bring me into conflict with others, I will fight them with all I have. I can’t die until I find what I seek. If you find this cause worthy of your aid, then I will be your master.”

    Those eyes stared into my own, unblinking as she listened my words.

    Very well,” she kneeled before me, her right arm resting on something I was unable to see. “Then I, Saber, devote myself to your cause. May we find what it is you seek together.”

    Then I,” I pause as I painfully work my way up the wall to a standing position. “Shirou Kotomine, swear that, as your master, I will do whatsoever is within my power to see this war to its conclusion.”

    I felt bolstered by my own words, which didn’t help my legs which gave out under my weight. Tonight had been a long night, but it seemed it would be longer still.

    Saber caught me as I came down., a look of mild concern on her face.

    Master. You should rest. You are obviously weak from your fight with the servant. Do you know of a safe place where you can recover from your wounds?”

    I could think of one, but it would be troublesome. I prayed they didn’t attack on sight.

    **********
    I was feeling much better by the time we stood at the door of the Tohsaka mansion. I only needed to lean on Saber at the moment, rather than have her carry me as she did the majority of the trip. I moved to knock on the door, but Saber gently pushed my hand down.

    Master, there’s a servant inside.”

    I’m aware, Saber,” My voice was stronger than it had been in the shed, but my words still flowed out slowly. “However, this is a chance we must take. I’m in no condition to register at the church, nor can we risk the long journey to my apartment without the dangerous situation public transport puts us in. As foolhardy as it may seem, this is our best option given our predicament.”

    While Saber mulled my words over, the door opened without warning. Rin’s servant stood there, blades in both hands, staring coldly at us. Saber wrapped her arm around me and jumped backward, gently sitting me on the ground before adopting a combat stance.

    So, another master was watching our battle.” The servant walked out the door and readied himself for battle.

    You have the wrong idea,” I forced my words to come out faster. “I…”

    "Archer!”

    I looked up to see Rin leaning out a second-story window. Concern was painted across her face as she took in the scene, and, presumably, the large bloodstain on my jacket.

    Let them inside. They didn’t come here to fight.”

    Rin, these are our enemies. We should kill them now while the master is weakened.”

    Hmmm. Calling her by her first name instead of ‘Master’. That irked me for some reason.

    My decision is final. I will be coming down immediately.”

    With that, she closed the window and moved from sight.

    Archer glared at the window before bearing his baleful eyes at us. However, he moved aside, and the swords dissipated from his hands. Saber watched him warily before releasing her grip on her invisible weapon and helping me back to my feet.

    We passed through the entryway just as Rin rounded the corner that led to the stairs. She was still in her school uniform, minus her favorite red coat. She came up to us quickly, the concern still evident on her face.

    Shirou. Are you okay? How did this happen? Did Lancer do this?”

    Oh. You knew it was me,” she had probably noticed that it was a black key that had been thrown. The weapons themselves were easily concealable, as they are just handles, but seeing a blade dissipate into just a handle is a dead giveaway of the weapons origins. As a weapon of the church, only those affiliated with them would have access to the weapons. “No. This was another servant’s doing.”

    She looked like she wanted to ask more, but she noticed the obvious pain I was in. She quickly composed herself, assessing the state I was in.

    You, Saber,” she pointed a finger at my servant. How did she know she was Saber? “Take him upstairs to the guest bedroom. It’s the door on the left. I’ll be up soon.”

    Without another word, she moved off to another area of the house. Saber waited until she was out of sight before walking me to the stairs. All the while, I could feel Archer’s eyes boring into my back. He didn’t like that we were here. I felt a little relieved Rin had such a watchful servant. If this had all been a trick, Archer would have seen right through it and acted already. I think it annoyed him, though, that it wasn’t.

    We made our way up the stairs, moving quickly with Saber’s help. As we did, I realized I didn’t yet know Saber true identity. While I wasn’t going to inquire about such a thing now, it was something I would have to touch upon later.

    We opened the door to the guest room, a room very similar to Rin’s room minus the small table and books. The beige sheets of the bed looked welcoming, but I settled for sitting on the carpet. I began removing my jacket, but Saber brushed my hands away and did so for me.

    Lift your arms.”

    I didn’t argue, but I hated how much I felt like a child. I had a vague recollection of someone doing this for me a long time ago, but those memories had burned up in the fires that brought me here.

    She pulled my bloody shirt off and laid it next to my jacket. Rin walked in as she did, a bowl of steaming water with a cloth hanging on the side resting atop a medical kit in her hands. Saber stood up and moved away as Rin kneeled down in front of me and placed the items on the floor beside her.

    Taking the bowl off the kit, she rolled up her sleeves before soaking the cloth in the water, straining the majority back into the bowl, and dabbing on my chest.

    The cloth was warm to the touch and felt nice on my aching chest. The dried blood was slowly wiped away to reveal a circular wound between my third and fourth ribs. She grimaced slightly.

    A third servant was apparently following me. Strange, as I hadn’t even summoned my own yet.”

    She gave me a curious look as she placed the cloth back in the bowl, the water turning red as the blood drained into it.

    What do you mean by that?”

    What I’m saying is,” I gestured toward my servant. “I only summoned Saber by chance after the other servant did this.”

    I directed my hand toward the hole, wincing as I accidentally move the muscles surrounding it.

    She kicked me into some shed in the northern district. A magic circle had been set up there. I don’t know why, but it was there.”

    Rin hummed thoughtfully as she reached into the kit and pulled out a bandage roll.

    Whatever the case, I hope you know that was a very stupid thing to do. Me and Archer were doing fine without your intervention.”

    I smiled at her words. Even as she cared for my wounds, Rin still had time to berate me on my stupidity. I didn’t disagree that it was a stupid move, but part of me wouldn’t let her have the last word.

    I know it was,” I raised my arms once more to allow her to wrap the bandages around my wound. “I just couldn’t bear the thought of losing you. Who else could possibly compete with me on the same level?”

    Rin’s cheeks reddened at the words which only deepened my smile. She tore off the end of the bandage and affixed it with a piece of tape.

    Well, I hope you realize you owe me a full explanation of what happened tomorrow. For now, you should get some rest.”

    She rose to her feet, picking up the red water and kit with her, and walked to the door. She began to close it but stopped halfway. She glanced back at me, the same look of worry in her eyes she had all those years ago.

    Sweet dreams, Shirou.”

    The door shut behind her with a soft click.

    I pulled myself up and crawled under the sheets of the bed. I turned to Saber.

    If I remember correctly, servants don’t require sleep. Am I right in that assumption?”

    Normally, yes,” she said with the first look of uncertainty I’d seen on her tonight. “However, due to the circumstance of my summoning, I believe it may be necessary for me to at some point. I seem unable to dematerialize, which allows servants to regain energy.”

    I see,” I considered this new information for a moment. “This bed is big enough to fit two people. You may sleep with me if you wish.”

    Thank you, Master,” her voice regained its confidence. “But, as I have just been summoned and have expended little energy tonight, sleep is not yet required. I will stand watch while you rest.”

    I understand.”

    It had seemed prudent to offer. If my servant was too weak to battle from sleep fatigue, I would be leaving us open to attack by not offering. She would probably find time to sleep during the day, which was probably better, as the grail war was to be mostly conducted at night.

    Then, would you please shut off the light?”

    Of course.”

    She moved to and flicked a switch next to the doorframe. The light in the ceiling went out, and darkness filled the room, only broken by the minor amounts of moonlight peeking through the curtains. I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep.

    **********

    I walk ever forward, my legs barely able to carry me as I move through the scorched remnants of the city. Bodies lay scattered and burned in my path. A few people clinging to life reach out towards me, hoping I could somehow save them from their pain. I can’t do anything. I can only walk, empty and numb. The agony and terror etched upon people’s faces, both alive and dead, forever emblazoned in my mind. I tell myself I will carry on for them. Show and bear the pain they no longer could. I will keep walking for those whose footing fell out from under them. But this hell rejects that childish notion. It consumes everything, from the people to the buildings, and it will consume me. How foolish of me to even pretend that I can walk out of this hell. I can’t bear anything. All I’m doing is walking further into its depths. My fate has already been decided from the moment I started walking.

    I awake with tears in my eyes, the flames still burning into my skin as I lay under the sheets, helpless. I want to cry out for someone. Anyone. But they were all gone. The fires had taken them. I’m all alone. Alone. Alone…

    Her arms wrap around me, pulling me in closer. Her warmth is nothing like the fires, banishing those flames like a warm breeze.

    It’s okay,” she whispers softly into my ear. “The fire’s gone now. You don’t have to worry anymore.”

    But what if it takes you?” I whimper into her nightgown, my tears soaking into the fabric. “It took everything else. It’ll take you too.”

    No, it won’t,” she rests her hand on my head. “No matter what it takes from you, I’ll always be here.”

    I want to believe her. I desperately want to trust her words. Trust that there’s something those fires can’t touch, can’t take away from me. I want to believe so badly it hurts.

    I won’t let it,” my words are shaky and still full of fear, but there’s an underlying conviction in those tiny words. “I’ll become stronger. I won’t let it take you.”

    She giggles a little at that.

    My hero.”

    **********

    I awoke to find Saber standing at my bedside, a small look of worry on her face.

    Master, why are you crying?”

    It had been so long since I had that dream. I had forgotten…

    It’s nothing,” I wiped my finger under each eye. “What time is it?”

    It appears to be ten o’clock.”

    I see.”

    Sakura would already be at school by now. I pushed back the sheets and swung my legs off the bed. I’m surprised to find I don’t feel any pain in my legs or chest. I gently touched where my wound had been only to find a small indent rather than a hole.

    Master.”

    I turned my attention to Saber and noticed for the first time she wasn’t wearing her armor. Instead, she wore a pure white shirt with a blue string tie atop a blue skirt that rested over black leggings. In her hands, she held a familiar looking shirt and jacket.

    Miss Tohsaka had Archer go to your apartment and retrieve a change of clothes. She also went out early to buy this outfit for me.”

    My apartment? How did she… Oh, yes. My card was in my jacket pocket. Though, I’m surprised she got Saber a change of clothes. Could it be she realized Saber is unable to dematerialize as well?

    Both she and her servant are waiting downstairs for us in the sitting room. It would be impolite to keep them waiting any further.”

    She was right, of course. I accepted the shirt and quickly put it on. There would be no point putting on the jacket right now. I moved to the door, Saber close behind, and prepared myself for a long talk.

    __________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ _______

    OP: Black Catcher
    __________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ ___________________
    I suppose we'll see what happens. Hopefully, I'll get more used to the posting layout as I go.
    Last edited by Morg van Destro; December 31st, 2020 at 12:29 AM.

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