- o -
Author's Note: This story is a collection of preludes and side stories to Crosswinds of Fate.
- Nasuverse: Fifth Grail War occurred in 2002 (Timeline Mk I), Unlimited Blade Works route, Good End. Holy Grail is dismantled in 2012.
- Potterverse: Begins June of 1995, soon after the end of the Triwizard Tournament.
- o -
Canonicity with Crosswinds of Fate: Full
- o -
Prelude: Walk Alongside Death
"A Sealing Designation (封印指定, fuuin shitei) is a title 'of greatest honor' bestowed upon a prominent magus; an edict handed down by the Mage's Association to maintain and protect special thaumaturgical abilities which cannot be acquired through study."
typemoon wikia com wiki Sealing_Designation
- o -
2006, July 9th, Sunday, in a Moonlit World…
Four years after the Fifth Holy Grail War.
"I must admit I had not expected this request," Zelretch said conversationally as he walked alongside three others down a corridor in the Clock Tower.
"Oh? How so?" Rin asked.
The wizard marshall glanced back at Shirou and Saber, who wore tasteful suit-and-tie outfits. "Considering the wealth of research and the Conceptual Weapon recovered from the last Apostle hunt, I would have expected you and Emiya to ask for something a bit more substantial."
"We are applying to study one of the few Noble Phantasms the Association possesses. How is that considered unsubstantial?"
"Well, studying this particular treasure had become something of a fad four or five centuries ago," Zelretch explained. "Many prospective graduates had convinced themselves that they could use it, and it was only after a few generations had passed that the idiots realized only the original user can activate a Noble Phantasm."
"Mostly," Shirou qualified.
The old man raised an eyebrow. "Pardon?"
"We're not expecting it to be the case with this one, but some Noble Phantasms have passive abilities that work with any user, and others have activations usable by anyone."
Zelretch turned to Rin. "Did your apprentice just try to correct me?"
"My apprentice did just correct you." The smirk on her face was one of amusement and satisfaction.
"Shirou's explanation is most accurate," Saber confirmed.
Seeing that he was in the presence of an actual Heroic Spirit, Zelretch refrained from continuing a losing argument. Genius required acknowledging there was always more to learn, and the wizard marshall was most definitely a genius. Having arrived at their destination, he opened the door as he resumed the previous thread of the conversation. "Since you two are clearly aware that you cannot use this Noble Phantasm, I am even more curious as to why you wish to study it."
Before Rin had a chance to respond, her eyes landed on the unexpected individual within the room. Inside, a woman a few years older than her stood with perfect posture and a severe expression. She was attired in a posh outfit which accented her beauty, a mithril gauntlet worn on her right hand, and a riding crop hanging off her belt.
Her presence screamed both nobility and danger. While Rin and Shirou had become accustomed to such an atmosphere due to Saber and Gilgamesh, they were not so jaded enough as to dismiss the fact they had just entered treacherous terrain. Nor were they senseless enough to show any form of disrespect.
"Vice-Director," Zelretch greeted pleasantly as he led the group in. "This is a surprise. What brings you to this storage room?"
The gaze of one Lorelei Barthomeloi swept coldly over the remaining three individuals. However, unlike most other audiences, these three held themselves steady under the evaluation. This was not to say that they suddenly changed their body language to convey defiance or arrogance. A more apt description would be that they entered a mindset of caution.
After a moment of mutual evaluation, Lorelei broke the silence. "When a requisition is made to study a Noble Phantasm, someone of sufficient status must be present."
"Yes, I had planned on fulfilling that role," Zelretch replied. "But I gather this request has garnered your personal interest for some reason?"
Lorelei gave the vampire an unreadable yet intense glance before resuming her staring at the other three. "King Arturia Pendragon. Rin Tohsaka. Shirou Emiya." She turned back to the older gentleman. "After the Matou debacle two years ago, I can only assume this is not a simple requisition. Especially considering the request came on behalf of the Magus Killer's son."
"For differing reasons, I was actually just making a similar observation," Zelretch agreed.
Rin maintained a careful countenance. Unlike most magi, she had experience being in the presence of overpowered beings.
Also, Saber was there.
"We merely wish to perform Structural Grasp on it," Rin explained politely.
The two wizard marshalls waited a few seconds before they realized that was the entirety of the explanation.
"I do not appreciate such glaring omissions, Tohsaka," Lorelei stated icily.
"That is the truth, Vice-Director. Unless our analysis shows something unexpected, we have no other plans while we study it."
"And what purpose does that serve?" Zelretch asked.
Rin turned to her mentor. "You are asking us to reveal our Mysteries?"
"You believe this to be an inappropriate line of questioning?" Lorelei countered. "Recall I have already acknowledged who you and your companions are."
"Yet you have failed to acknowledge one other point."
All eyes swung to the origin of that statement, the only one amongst them with Rank B Charisma. As expected, the King of Knights remained unperturbed by the intense gazes. "Shirou Emiya is not a member of the Mage Association. He is under no obligation to reveal the Mysteries he may use when beyond your jurisdiction."
There were precious few individuals willing to address the legendary Queen of the Clock Tower in such a fashion, so the vice-director had to admit it was a relatively unfamiliar experience. Nonetheless, she had been born and raised in an environment of politicking and power plays, so she betrayed none of this upon her visage.
Instead, what followed was a staredown between the King and the Queen.
The other three had varied reactions to the contest of wills.
Rin backed away slowly.
Zelretch lamented the lack of popcorn.
Shirou did the heroic thing.
"We're going to try to reproduce it."
Everyone turned as the tension was broken. The older man spoke up first. "You caved in fairly easily there."
The younger man tilted his head and stage whispered, "Do you really want to see those two fight each other?"
Zelretch thought for a moment before stage whispering back. "Actually, yes. Yes, I do."
With the confrontational atmosphere absolutely destroyed, Lorelei glared in ire and distaste at the two men, though most of it was concentrated on the vampire. "You believe you can reproduce the original Azoth dagger?"
Shirou carefully phrased his answer. "In the physical creation process, we can neither sympathize with the growth experience nor can we reproduce the accumulated history. But examining it may allow us to gain insight on the construction process, which we could use to create our own versions to be used as Mystic Codes."
"You used some specific terminology in your answer there."
"With all due respect, Vice-Director, while I fully acknowledge I am not a researcher like everyone else here in the Clock Tower, I do have some Mysteries of my own."
Despite the answer, Lorelei did not relent. "Magi have been creating Azoth daggers for centuries. You believe that by simply using Structural Grasp, you will have enough information to do better."
Shirou and Rin glanced at each other before replying simultaneously. "Yes."
"Clearly we have differing viewpoints on Structural Grasp," Lorelei stated skeptically. "Perhaps a demonstration?"
Saber opened her mouth to further protest, but Rin raised a hand to stop her. "It's fine, Saber. This is a Noble Phantasm we are requisitioning, so heightened security measures such as this are reasonable. And, as the Vice-Director stated, we are who we are. A backhanded compliment, in a way." Polite and diplomatic. "Shirou, go ahead."
All eyes turned to the younger man. Shrugging, he turned to the mithril gauntlet worn by Lorelei. "Trace. On. Your Mystic Code was constructed in 1312…" he began.
… twenty-three minutes later…
"... and at this point, the flaw in the pinkie is causing that section to block prana flow. As I said earlier, that flaw has been there for the past one hundred thirty years and is steadily getting worse, so you may want to get that fixed," Shirou finished.
No one made a sound as all waited for Lorelei to react. Her stony expression betrayed a slip of annoyance. The others were unsure if this stemmed from having the history of her Mystic Code revealed so blatantly or from Shirou basically proving her wrong about their abilities with Structural Grasp. While her temper should be rightfully feared, she refrained from lashing out since she was experienced enough in reading others. In doing so, she was able to determine that Shirou was not trying to mock her in any way. He simply lacked tact.
Also, Saber was there.
"And how would one go about repairing this flaw, Emiya?" Lorelei half asked, half demanded.
"Well, I could fix it for you," Shirou replied casually as he reviewed the flaw's characteristics in his mind. A feeling of nostalgia crept into his mind as his offer brought back memories of high school.
"You believe you are capable of modifying this Mystic Code?"
"I'd need Rin's help, but between the two of us, I think we can do something."
A full minute passed before Lorelei made an ambiguous reply. "I see."
"Oh?" Zelretch asked. "Is he correct about the flaw?"
- o -
In a bedroom of a modest single-family home near the outskirts of London, Sakura studied the papers strewn on the desk. They contained designs and notes for a project that the three magecraft users were working on. There were multiple tiers involved.
Milestone 1. Get Shirou access to the Azoth Dagger Noble Phantasm. While they already had normal ones, the blueprint of the original may allow them to create new versions that are superior to the existing Mystic Codes.
Milestone 2. Produce blueprints for a set of five Azoth daggers modified such that each was aligned to one of the five traditional Elements. This would allow Sakura and Rin to more easily execute elemental thaumaturgy without wasting materials in the future.
Milestone 3. Produce blueprints for Azoth daggers with pre-programmed Mysteries. This would allow Shirou to function as a halfway decent magus outside of combat.
Milestone 4. Forge weapons for Saber and Rider.
The last seemed utterly unnecessary, but there was an ulterior purpose to them. One must take into account each of their individual talents.
Shirou understood the construction process of weapons.
Rin specialized in energy transference.
Sakura specialized in Mysteries concerning spiritual phenomena.
Saber and Rider were spiritual beings composed of prana.
Pooling their resources together, the conclusion was obvious: Azoth daggers for the Heroic Spirits. In this manner, the two Servants can accumulate unused magical energy for later usage. While not magi per se, Saber and Rider nonetheless had the capacity to accomplish this, especially coupled with Sakura's Mysteries. Most days the Servants had an excess of Prana due to the simple fact that they were not engaging in heavy combat.
"Do you know anything about Caliburn?" Sakura asked.
Seated on the bed in casual clothing, Rider did not bother looking up from the book she was reading. "Nothing more than the obvious."
"Saber seems quite eager about this."
Indeed, though the King of Knights hid it well, the others recognized her anticipation regarding the project's completion. Shirou had planned to design Saber's sword to be a physical replica of Caliburn. He promised it would be capable of withstanding the stress of Prana Burst, thus making it a Servant-level weapon.
"I don't see why," Rider replied as she turned a page. "She already has the most famous Noble Phantasm in history."
"I'm confused as well," Sakura admitted. "Maybe it's nostalgia?"
"If she really wanted to use or just see Caliburn, Shirou could simply Trace it for her."
"Must be a swordsman thing."
Rider hummed a noncommittal sound. While she saw the obvious value of having an emergency supply of prana on hand, especially given her Master's unpredictable condition, she was not nearly as excited over this whole project as Saber was.
"Have you decided what you wanted your weapon to be?" Sakura inquired.
"Anything is fine. It's not like I plan on carrying it around."
The Master blinked in surprise. "Really?"
Rider turned another page. "I won't be able to astralize it."
Making an item that can be dematerialized was quite difficult. In general, Servants could only astralize mundane clothing and accessories. Thus far, Rider only had three significant items that she could use in such a manner. A pair of reading glasses, several pairs of contacts made from emerald, and a pair of mono shades. All three had Mystic Eye killing capabilities, and the last was something of a vanity item as it matched her combat outfit.
Rider often wore the latter when she went street racing.
"If anything," the Servant continued, "you should carry it with you."
"And if you need to leave my side?" This was the other benefit of the extra prana; the Servants would be able to exist away from their Master's presence for prolonged periods of time. Saber may have tremendous reserves and Rider may have Independent Action; however, if their experiences taught them anything, it was to prepare for the worst.
Rider finally looked up from her book. "I am not leaving your side. And unlike Saber, I refuse to gallivant around the world to save Shirou from his own self."
Sakura turned away from the papers and looked at her Servant. "Do you not approve of Shirou?"
"He is an adequate partner for you. So long as he does not drag you down into his troubles, I have no issue with him."
"Well, the Dead Apostle hunt is over, and I doubt anything will happen at the Clock Tower today."
- o -
"... He can reproduce Noble Phantasm effects," the Queen concluded.
And the day was going so well.
Zelretch tilted his head in thought. "Interesting conjecture."
"Perhaps if you paid attention earlier, you would have noticed his choice of words," Lorelei lectured calmly, despite being in the presence of one who was an affront to her very being. "In a physical creation process, one cannot 'reproduce the accumulated history' or 'sympathize with the growth experience'. The implication, then, is that he can reproduce and sympathize those concepts if he were to use a thaumaturgical process instead of a physical one."
Rin and Shirou kept impassive expressions.
The vice-director continued on conversationally, despite the growing tension in the room. "So, with an admittedly impressive form of Structural Grasp, I surmise he will construct the base item of a Noble Phantasm. Afterwards, he will then apply the accumulated history and growth experience onto it when he actually uses it, thus reproducing a Noble Phantasm effect. Via Alteration, perhaps?"
"Wait," Shirou interjected. "I think-"
"Shirou," Rin interrupted. "Shut up and let me handle this."
Lorelei raised an eyebrow. "And now your reactions confirm it. Most magi would be boasting about this Mystery in my presence, looking for a chance to impress me. However, you two are showing caution which would only be appropriate if this ability is worthy of the greatest honor."
The silence in the room spoke volumes. Rin silently cursed herself for her impetuous mistake.
"Given how rare such bestowments are, I am amused at how many of the recent ones stem from Japan. Perhaps we should reevaluate the country's status as backwater," Lorelei said casually. "Now then, give me one good reason why Emiya should not be Sealed."
Saber stepped in front of her companions. In a flash of light and burst of wind, she donned her battle dress and armor.
"That is admittedly a very good reason," Zelretch stated in a pretend-sage manner, clearly taking a neutral position to the current issue.
The Queen and King ignored the old man and resumed their staredown.
"Trace. On." The words interrupted the confrontation. A second later, a mithril gauntlet appeared and dropped onto the Faker's palm.
"Shirou! What are you doing?!" Rin hissed.
"Trust me," he replied. He tossed the Projection to the vice-director.
Catching it, Lorelei blinked at its familiar feel of magic. Keeping her eyes focused on Saber, she decided to follow what her instincts were telling her. She took off her original gauntlet and put on the copy. Despite all her previous experiences in thaumaturgy telling her this was impossible, when she channeled her prana into the Projection it felt similar to the original.
"The Saber class Servant has high Magic Resistance, correct?"
Saber nodded once. "Yes."
Rin and Shirou barely moved aside in time as a Rank A blast of wind thaumaturgy struck Saber. The armored Servant did not bother moving as the magic splashed harmlessly against her. Instead, she materialized her invisible sword. "Strike Air!" The swing was performed at superhuman combat speeds.
Lorelei snapped her hand up, palm facing the incoming attack. Rank C Noble Phantasms were comparable to Rank A thaumaturgy; thus, her shield was able to block the massive sledgehammer of wind. When it was clear the exchange of blows was over, she lowered her hand and said, "Thank you, Saber."
Everyone remained quiet while the Queen examined the pinkie on her gauntlet. Eventually, she asked, "Emiya, this Projection lacks the flaw you mentioned?"
Shirou nodded. "Yes, but as you no doubt can see, overall it is not as strong as the original."
"And you can project Noble Phantasms as well?"
Though it was clearly reluctant, he nodded again.
"Structural Grasp and Gradation Air," Zelretch mused. "Both considered useless. I must admit I would not have guessed this."
Shirou turned to Rin. A resigned sigh escaped her lips before she also made her incantation. Unlike Shirou, she required a whole line for each step of Tracing since she did not exclusively focus on that single spell for years. After a seven line aria count, silver and white sparkles appeared, slowly coalescing into a short sword with a jewel on its pommel. Rin tossed the finished Projection to her mentor.
Zelretch examined it closely. Muttering a short incantation, he caused the sword to glow white. "This is your jeweled sword? The one you have Internalized?"
"A Projection of it, yes," she clarified. Much as Shirou had Avalon embedded within him, so too did Rin have this Conceptual Weapon within her.
"The sword that stopped the moon?" Lorelei asked.
"Oh, you know about that?" the old man replied. "I thought it was not widely known how I actually stopped the moon."
"I research all of the Dead Apostle Ancestors," she said dryly. It was quite clear why she had done so and continued to do so.
"Ah, yes, of course," Zelretch replied, unfazed at the implications behind the statement. "Anyways, no, this is technically not a copy of my sword. To be precise, Rin has yet to achieve a true understanding of the Multi-Dimensional Refraction Phenomenon to recreate my Jeweled Sword. However, she nonetheless took what she knew so far and created this divergent version of the Mystic Code which can be Internalized. Clever, really. Clever enough that I have dubbed it the Jeweled Sword of Tohsaka. It allows her Circuits to access and process the infinite energies of the Kaleidoscope."
The vice-director blinked at the explanation before turning to magus in question. "You have access to infinite prana?"
"Not really. My output is still limited by my Circuits. Furthermore, my design is flawed compared to the original, so the amount I can draw is not infinite per se."
"I sense a 'but' coming."
Rin shrugged. "But it is nonetheless a ridiculous amount. I'd destroy my Circuits many times over before I'd be able to process all of the prana. The main motive for my deviation from the original is that the Jeweled Sword of Zelretch was designed for big bursts of large-scale magic. My version can allow for more subtle manipulation of prana flow, basically meaning I can use it for spellcasting in general or energy transference."
"Or support a Servant better." Lorelei's appraisal of the magus increased dramatically. "There are many magi who are willing to commit familicide and genocide to accomplish what you are merely stating as a matter of fact."
"The same could be said of your abilities," Rin responded. "I am simply keeping my current audience in mind. There is an obscene amount of power and talent in this room right now."
All eyes turned to the Projected sword, which now bore a noticeable crack across the blade. Zelretch pointed out the obvious. "I'm disappointed in you, Rin. This Projection is nowhere near as good as Emiya's."
"Obviously," Rin huffed as she glared at her mentor. "I'm learning how to Trace as a side project. I'd like to see you do better." She omitted the fact that this was the only Mystic Code she could (somewhat) Trace and only because she had both crafted it herself and Internalized it for the past thirteen months.
The copy of the Jeweled Sword of Tohsaka burst apart like glass, dematerializing into motes of silver and white light.
"I take it, then, that your point with this demonstration is that it can be taught to others," Lorelei said. "And thus it is not worthy of a Sealing Designation since the thaumaturgical ability can be acquired by others through study."
Shirou and Rin nodded.
"This fails to explain your particular reactions earlier. There is more to this, I believe."
"At the risk of offending you, you are not known for changing your mind," Rin answered. "Most anyone would choose their words carefully in such a situation." She risked a glance at Shirou who did not seem to understand the significance of the gesture. "Most anyone, at least."
The Queen raised an eyebrow. "I must admit, that was an excellent diverting reply. I daresay most other experienced magi would have fallen for it."
Rin suppressed a sigh at the failed attempt at deception. "Thank you."
"Tracing, was it?" Lorelei mused. "Very well. Emiya. Tohsaka. Saber. You three have given compelling arguments as to why Emiya should not be Sealed, so I will refrain from pursuing such a course of action."
"Thank you, Vice-Director," Shirou said honestly.
"That being said, I take it you wish for this information to remain within this circle," Lorelei continued.
It took a moment before Rin and Saber realized what that sentence meant.
The threat of a Sealing Designation was a misdirection to prod Shirou into revealing his Mysteries. The real peril was in trying to keep this information discrete from other magi. Unlike before, the presence of a Servant meant much less now as the vice-director's threat was not a direct endangerment to his life. After all, she had deduced the correct conclusion from scant clues, and it was her right to do whatever she wished with this information.
Rin's ability to access a ridiculous amount of prana was a somewhat different scenario, as she was an actual member of the Clock Tower. Unless there was just cause, it was in bad taste for someone of higher rank to reveal the Mysteries of a lower ranking magus, especially an apprentice of another. As was pointed out earlier, the son of the Magus Killer was not a member of the Association and thus an open target for the vice-director.
Even though the Sealing Designation was avoided, this would not stop a standalone magus from trying to capture Shirou for experimentation. Thus, Lorelei's advantage in this confrontation was very real. The most impressive part was that the Queen could not have made such a detailed plan beforehand. Instead, she sensed a weakness in Shirou's words and attacked viciously when the opportunity presented itself.
She made something out of nothing.
"Yes, I would appreciate that," Shirou answered.
Lorelei almost but not quite smiled. "It appears you do not fully understand the situation as your companions do."
Shirou looked at his lovers and saw their serious expressions. "What's going on? I thought it was a given that everything said in here was going to be kept secret."
"Why would you assume that, Emiya?"
Shirou scratched the back of his head in honest confusion. "Otherwise Zelretch would be able to mess with you and tell everyone that your Mystic Code has had a flaw in it for the past one hundred thirty years."
A few moments of awkward silence passed. It was quite obvious Lorelei had not made that particular connection, and having such an error pointed out certainly did not endear Shirou to her. Rin tried but failed to suppress a grimace at the lack of tact on Shirou's part.
After sending a glare at Zelretch, daring him to make any sort of response, Lorelei made her reply. "Be that as it may, I believe your secrets are more important than a minor issue with my Mystic Code."
Shirou frowned. "Are you blackmailing me?"
With a sigh, the vice-director turned to Rin. "He is really not good at this, is he?"
"There's a reason he's not in the Mage Association," the addressed individual answered dryly.
"Is there something in particular you are blackmailing me for?" Shirou asked.
"I prefer to phrase it as a negotiation where I have the upper hand," Lorelei clarified matter-of-factly. "And to answer your question, I would not be averse to studying a few Noble Phantasms. You would be compensa-"
"Oh, thank goodness," Shirou semi-exclaimed in relief. The tone of the interruption was so jarring that everyone could not help but focus on the speaker.
Much like one had a compulsion to watch a train wreck in the making, Lorelei felt an impulse to ask for an explanation. "What did you think I had in mind, Emiya?"
Shirou's relieved demeanor quickly changed to a mixture of terror fueled nervousness and embarrassment as something seemed to click into his mind. "Uh… I think it would be best for all parties involved if I said nothing," he attempted to wave off, his cheeks flushing slightly.
"No," Zelretch replied with a smile indicating he smelled blood in the waters. "I think at this point you have piqued all of our interests."
With both wizard marshalls requiring an answer from him, Shirou had no choice but to concede his stance on the matter. "Give me a moment to prepare, please. I am the bone of my sword."
All of the others in the storeroom blinked in confusion.
"So earlier, when I performed Structural Grasp on your gauntlet, I actually performed the spell on everything visible on your body."
Thirteen Rank A blasts launched from the Traced mithril gauntlet, all streaking at the younger male with differing trajectories.
- o -
The sound of a bell emanated from the ceiling.
At her desk, Sakura immediately scrambled out of her seat to retrieve her bow. "What's going on?" she inquired telepathically. Her Servant had gone downstairs earlier.
"Three magi entering from the front, three from the back. They know we know they're coming," Rider returned.
Next, she took out her bow string. With a bit of Reinforcement on her body, she very quickly strung the non-magical weapon with practiced motions. "I'll take care of the ones in the back."
"Master, I can handle them all with no issue."
"I am not a damsel in distress," Sakura insisted. Hidden from view from the open window, she pressed her finger against the side of the glass. She could feel the familiar magic on it and determined some of the Bounded Fields were still in effect.
However, the ones that provided more active defenses were taken down. This was a significant piece of information regarding the talents of the invaders. The London home had Bounded Fields that were installed by Rin and Sakura. While not a fortress by any stretch of the imagination, the fact the defenses suddenly collapsed without any warning until the last moment meant the attackers were at the very least above-average in skill.
With the privacy protection still in place, they would not be able to see her silhouette in the window. More than likely they left that one there to protect the secrecy of magic in the ensuing battle despite the fact it gave the defenders an advantage. There was only a metal screen in the window providing a physical barrier to the outside. Looking out into the backyard, she saw the aforementioned three magi open the back gate and begin to rush in.
Sakura smoothly nocked an arrow and Reinforced the equipment in her hands. A moment later, she fired it with the power and speed greater than a bullet from a submachine gun, easily piercing through the window screen and continuing on towards its target.
A magic circle appeared at the last moment.
Through the semi-transparent magic circle, Sakura was able to briefly see an expression of surprise on the magi. With her position now revealed, she refrained from attacking again and instead raced out of the room. As she entered the main hallway on the second floor, she heard something crash through the window of her bedroom.
"Blonde magi has an auto-defense."
"I recognize two in the front. Enforcers that I took down two years ago. One has an annoying glove."
That changed things.
When the Mage Association first declared a Sealing Designation on Sakura, she had instructed Rider to only maim as they fought various Enforcers and magi. A wise decision on her part, as that had been factored in when the Sealing Designation was overturned two weeks later. Clearly, though, some of them held grudges. Or maybe they just wanted to experiment upon her. After all, even without a Sealing Designation on a target, unscrupulous magi were still notorious for kidnapping test subjects.
In any case, these magi knew they were dealing with a Servant and had prepared for such.
Sakura incanted an aria. Her left sleeve morphed into shadow tentacles with red trimming down along her arm. Prana flooded her Circuits.
A sound came from her bedroom.
"At least one got in through my room. I'll handle him."
"I got this."
A batch of shadow tentacles grew in length from her left sleeve, coalescing into a humanoid figure of about eight feet in height before separating from her. Her spellwork completed just in time as the magus in her room stepped out into the hallway. In his hand was a metal rod with holes along the side. A flute?
Sakura whipped her left hand, tracing a purple ribbon of light that morphed into a black fire-like phenomena as it lashed forward. The spell flew past her shadow familiar towards the target. Unfortunately, the invader managed to dodge the supersonic attack.
During the milliseconds her attack was airborne, the shadow figure rushed at the magus at a superhuman velocity, matching that of a low level Servant. Before either human could do anything, it struck with a blindingly fast punch. A red semi-transparent shield suddenly appeared and intercepted the attack from her familiar. Sizzling sounds emanated from where the shadow touched the red shield.
The magus swiftly raised his instrument to his mouth. Definitely a flute.
Sakura reached her right hand onto the shadow material of her left sleeve and pulled out an arrow.
The shadow familiar launched a series of blows, steadily breaking apart the shield.
Two notes came from the flute.
She nocked the Arrow of Shadow and Evil and Sin.
Another note came from the flute.
A severe bout of dizziness suddenly overcame Sakura. The arrow fired prematurely and blindly.
She collapsed into unconsciousness.
- o -
"Rho Aias." The shield did an admirable job stopping the attacks.
"Shirou, explain," Saber said calmly. Clearly her former Master had expected such a retaliation.
"I read the history of her riding crop. I thought maybe she wanted to blackmail me for sexual favors like Luvia did."
"What?!" Rin shrieked with a mix of indignation, horror, and shock amongst a number of other unidentifiable emotions. "What did that blonde bimbo do? And since when were you two on a first name basis?"
"Master. Focus on the immediate threat, please," Saber commanded exasperatedly as twenty-four new blasts of prana homed in on them.
The attacks wove themselves into three miniature tornadoes, which began to drill into the shield. Shirou grunted in pain as the first petal shattered, leaving six layers of protection remaining.
Saber readied Excalibur.
Rin furiously tried to think of a way out of this mess.
Zelretch frowned in confusion, standing to the side of the chaos. "Okay, I'm lost. What does a riding crop have to do with sexual favors?"
Everyone gaped him in a mixture of shock and incredulity. Lorelei even ceased her spellcasting.
"What?" he asked, surprised at their expressions.
"Inconceivable. An old man who is not perverted," Saber whispered in utter astonishment. The previous tension melted quite a bit in light of this new discovery.
Due to his enhanced senses, the Dead Apostle Ancestor heard the soft spoken words. "Thank… you?"
"Strukturanalyse." Ever the opportunist, Rin read the history of the riding crop. Not as detailed as Shirou's ability, but she still caught bits and pieces. Huh, apparently Shirou's fears were not unfounded. She refrained from smiling or in any way revealing amusement. Regardless of whatever humor that could be found in the current situation, she was absolutely certain that teasing Lorelei Barthomeloi would be suicidal. Well, more suicidal than before.
"Ahem. I think this is where we all agree to pretend this never happened," Rin suggested diplomatically.
Everyone waited with bated breath for the Queen to make a decision. Eventually, she gave a huff of annoyance. "Very well," she conceded reluctantly as she lowered her hand bearing the Traced gauntlet.
Rho Aias was taken down. A stilting silence ensued.
"So…" Shirou began, attempting to salvage the dignity of the situation. "Just a few Noble Phantasms for study?"
Allowing herself to roll her eyes, knowing that such a gesture would not be used against her by the present company, Lorelei simply nodded.
"Trace. On." A scythe appeared. "This is Harpe. I used it on the last Dead Apostle hunt."
- o -
Sakura began to regain consciousness.
There was some minor pain in her head, but nothing severe.
She blinked her eyes open and shook her head.
That got her attention. "Rider?"
"Are you alright, Master?"
Finally achieving full consciousness, she looked around. Her shadow familiar hovered over her, but otherwise made no movements. Sakura then turned to Rider, who stood a healthy distance away. Strangely enough, the Servant was holding onto a large bowl filled with water.
"Did you just call me by my name?"
Rider hesitated before repeating her earlier inquiry. "Are you alright, Master?"
"Wait, you did call me by my name," Sakura declared as she sat up. She had been trying and failing to persuade Rider to address her in a more casual manner for the past two years. "That means you can't call me Master anymore!"
"I'm sure I have no idea what you are talking about, Master."
Sakura's response was a truly adorable pout.
Deciding that her Master was alright if she was capable of arguing, Rider changed the topic. "I took down five. Two of them are still alive. What happened here?"
Looking down the hall towards her bedroom, Sakura saw a severed or ripped off arm and a copious amount of blood on the floor. She saw no evidence of her Arrow of Shadow and Evil and Sin in the surroundings or on her familiar. It must have hit the target magus, then. After sending a tendril of magic to her familiar to confirm something, she sighed. "I got lucky." Standing up, she continued, "He had some sort of instrument Code that knocked me out. Sonic or invisible thaumaturgy, I'm not sure. My familiar finished him off while I was unconscious."
"Very lucky," the Servant said dryly.
Sakura furrowed her brow in confusion. "Why are you holding onto a bowl of water?"
"I was going to splash you to wake you up, but I was unsure if your familiar would consider that an attack."
A very legitimate concern. The shadow tendrils and familiars were quite effective against Servants summoned in the Grail War. This also explained Rider's respectable distance away from her Master. Dismissing her familiar, Sakura said, "You should avoid the upstairs for a while."
The Master looked at her Servant more closely. "What is wrong?"
Rider hesitated. After a moment, she sighed and reluctantly confessed, "I am injured."
Sakura's eyes widened. "How? Are you alright?"
The Servant turned around, showing a gaping wound on her back, above her combat outfit. Blood soaked the entire back of the dress. "One Enforcer had an anti-Spirit or anti-Servant artifact."
"What did it do?"
"It just sent a straightforward attack out." Rider turned her head slightly to the side in embarrassment. "I assumed it was normal thaumaturgy."
Sakura understood immediately. With her Rank B Magic Resistance, her Servant had become arrogant and took the hit, thinking it would be negligible in effect. She decided against admonishing Rider for the moment. Glancing at her left arm which was "clothed" with a long, black sleeve of shadow, she said, "Since I'm already like this…"
Closing her eyes, Sakura cast a healing spell.
- o -
"How many Noble Phantasms can you reproduce?" Zelretch asked.
"I'd rather not reveal the nature of my Mysteries," Shirou answered stiffly.
"How did you manage to retain the information of each for Projection? Unless you have the shield and that scythe both Internalized, there must be some other factor involved."
"I'd rather not reveal the nature of my Mysteries."
"As we had discussed earlier, for the most part only the original user of a Noble Phantasm can activate its ability. Did you manage to bypass this restriction? I'm quite certain you are not the reincarnation of Ajax or Perseus."
"I'd rather not reveal the nature of my Mysteries."
"I am afraid you will have to give us something here, Emiya," Lorelei finally interjected.
Shirou tried really hard not to sound indignant. "I am. This is Harpe. And part of its legend was that the gods gave it to Perseus, so he was not the original user. As a result, that means anyone can fully activate it."
The vice-director glanced at the weapon. "So you use this to hunt Dead Apostles?"
"Normally I use Black Keys," he answered more easily. This was a comfortable topic for him.
"We know," Lorelei stated. Her quick mind easily deduced the truth behind his facade the past few years. By using weapons of the Church, Emiya gave the false impression of having training as an Executor who happened to have Magic Circuits. As a result, this misled most of the magi in the Clock Tower in regards to his abilities and background.
It was a very clever ruse. After all, nobody would think that a magus could use thaumaturgy to recreate the Church's Conceptual Weapons. Lorelei would have been surprised as well had she not made today's discoveries. He can reproduce Crystallized Mysteries; of course he can reproduce Black Keys.
Shirou continued, "I only use Noble Phantasms if the target is particularly dangerous, or if the Keys don't fit my decided tactic."
"I assume, then, your last hunt was easy for you?"
"Sort of," he answered hesitantly. "It's more that the method I used happened to be the best one possible to take her down. I honestly don't know how strong she was."
"Elaborate," the vice-director commanded.
"The Enforcers had mentioned that whenever the target entered combat, she deployed an opaque Bounded Field that had a half kilometer radius. At the time, nobody knew what went on in there because anyone who has been inside has died. It's only afterwards when we got hold of her research that we knew what it entailed. Anyways, I planted a preset Mystery timed to distract her at the right moment. While her head was turned in another direction, I sniped her from a kilometer away."
Lorelei raised an eyebrow. "You can throw that a kilometer? Or is that the range of its ability?"
"No. Trace. On." The bow he inherited from Archer appeared in his left hand. "This bow is a Mystic Code which I used to fire the holy sword," he said, gesturing to each appropriately.
"That's not a sword," Zelretch remarked as he gestured to the scythe.
"Well, that's what the Greek gods called it," Shirou replied. Then he tilted his head in thought. "But you defeated Crimson Moon, so if you want to say that the gods are wrong, I won't argue with you."
The vampire decided not to press the rather insignificant issue. "Given that my knowledge of Noble Phantasms has been revealed to be somewhat inaccurate, please explain its power. No doubt my understanding of it is incomplete."
Shirou shrugged as he casually tossed it to the older man. While he described Harpe's ability and how he turned it into an arrow, he also recreated said arrow and politely handed that to the vice-director. The two wizard marshalls glanced at each other at the end of the explanation.
"Allow me to understand this," Lorelei said with a bit of forced patience as she stared at the large "arrow" in her hand. "You can shoot down targets from a kilometer away. With a Noble Phantasm. That is activated. That deals wounds that cannot be healed."
"The wounds can be healed, but only by the natural laws of the world." He deliberately omitted other facts and the real extent of his abilities. However, given the intelligence level of his audience, those may have been fruitless omissions.
"Really, now? Dead Apostles do not heal or regenerate according to natural laws. Does that mean this weapon deals irreparable damage to such… beings?" the vice-director asked.
"Correct," Shirou confirmed.
Lorelei eyed the only vampire in the room. "How extensively have you tested this?"
Before Shirou could respond, Rin interrupted. "We have not conducted any formalized testing, nor have we reached any concrete theories beyond what we can conjecture from experiences in battle." Shirou looked at her oddly but thankfully said nothing.
The Queen's lips curled slightly in amusement. Tohsaka had deftly evaded the trap. After all, research on Dead Apostles was prohibited.
Rin turned to her mentor pointedly while speaking to the vice-director. "Though, one could argue there is merit in determining the effectiveness of certain weapons against the more powerful Dead Apostles."
"Why don't you simply fire Black Keys?" Zelretch asked Shirou as he took a large step away from his fellow wizard marshall and his apprentice, deliberately ignoring the current thread of conversation. "Those prevent regeneration on Dead Apostles as well. I don't think this particular target was strong enough to resist the effects of the Keys. I imagine the prana investiture for Projecting those is cheaper than Noble Phantasms."
Shirou shrugged. "She did take down three Enforcers at once. I didn't want to underestimate her."
Lorelei turned to Saber. "Did you participate in the assault?"
"I was Plan B," the Servant replied simply.
"Well, that sounds like a ridiculously excessive plan of attack," Lorelei mused.
Shirou decided against revealing that he had planned to follow up his activated Harpe with a Broken Caladbolg II, if necessary.
- o -
"I'm sorry, Master, but could you repeat that?"
Sakura took a deep breath. "I think it would be best if we did not inform the others. I've already repaired my room and removed all evidence of the fight."
Breaker Gorgon did not prevent Rider from conveying an expression of utter disbelief. "We have five bodies to deal with."
"You turned them into stone. We could put them in the storage closet for now until we figure out what to do with them. The two live ones will last a while in their current state, right?"
"There's no need to bother them with something this trivial, right? We've taken care of the issue."
"Trivial?" the Servant repeated. "You consider Enforcer-level threats trivial?"
"I just do not want the others to worry over me," Sakura insisted. "It took forever to convince everyone to let me come here." Actually, she had not convinced them at all. But short of knocking her out, tying her down, and having Taiga sit on her, there was really no way to stop her from making her own decisions.
"Ah yes, I recall your arguments," Rider mused. "Because it has been two years since your Sealing Designation was revoked, there's less danger of magi attacking you."
Sakura coughed to the side in embarrassment at the irony of the situation. "I'll make you a deal. We don't tell them about the attack, and in turn I won't tell Saber you were injured."
Rider stilled for a moment. Her Master had turned the issue into one of pride. While Saber and Rider got along fairly well, they had a slight underlying rivalry. At the very least, they strived not to stumble when in the presence of the other.
After a half minute of silence, Sakura sighed as she made her confession. "I don't want to be left behind."
That was the crux of the matter. Rin studied at the Clock Tower in London. Shirou took missions across the world. Saber split her time between the aforementioned two, with prana being somewhat less of an issue with the creation of the Jeweled Sword of Tohsaka and frequent prana rituals with Shirou. Where did that leave Sakura? To wait at home in Fuyuki, like a housewife awaits a husband? In another time perhaps that would have been satisfactory. However, soon after Sakura and Rider had been (easily) convinced to join the polyamorous relationship, Rin had dropped a bombshell on her.
Archer. Unlimited Blade Works.
Thus, she had made a decision. She would not simply wait behind as Shirou threw himself recklessly at his lifelong mission. Saber could only do so much alone. Rider had put it best: it was an issue of protecting Shirou from his own self. So Sakura began training in hopes that she could-
"You are planning on gallivanting around the world with him, aren't you?" her Servant asked sharply.
"Yes," Sakura stated in terms that brooked no argument.
"This is also why you are enrolled in paramedic training."
"You're not ready."
"I know that. Which is why I'm taking small steps."
"Fighting Enforcers is not a small step."
"I thought simply coming here was a small step. I didn't expect to be attacked here. How did they even know I was in the country?"
"That would be a small part of the reason why we need to tell the others," Rider declared as she flipped open a mobile phone. "The largest part being the possibility the Association decided to Seal you again."
That thought stopped Sakura's arguments cold. Damn.
- o -
"Negotiations" were essentially over and terms were informally agreed to. It involved oblique references, unspoken subtexts, and liberal use of feminine body language. In other words, Shirou was really confused. But confusion never stopped him from moving forward, so he went with the flow. Soon enough, they sat at a table which had a box containing the Azoth dagger.
A genuine Noble Phantasm was a highly secured item, especially given how few the Mage Association possessed. Thus, they could not be taken out for private study. All research must be done at the storeroom location under witness. Bearing this in mind, the fact that Rin and Shirou lacked any form of paraphernalia, including pen and paper, was consequently quite unusual.
Furthermore, all Noble Phantasms had an aura of power by virtue of being a Crystallized Mystery. Merely being in its presence was enough to know that it was a priceless treasure. It did not go unnoticed that Rin and Shirou had more or less remained unaffected by this phenomenon, though given their peculiar circumstances that made a reasonable amount of sense.
As they had planned beforehand, Shirou pretended to go through the motions of spending as much time as Rin did analyzing the dagger. He fooled no one with his poor acting skills, including himself, but the two wizard marshalls were polite enough not to say anything.
A soft bell sound jarred the quiet atmosphere of study. "My apologies," Saber quietly stated as she pulled her phone out from her outfit. Before anyone really had a chance to comment, she spoke again as she started tapping keys on the device. "Master."
"Did the Association issue a Sealing Designation upon Sakura again?"
Rin and Shirou turned sharply. "What happened?"
"Enforcers attacked the London dwelling. Rider took care of them."
"Were they injured?" Shirou asked immediately.
Another bell sound.
"Both are fine. Two of the attackers are alive and captured."
Shirou immediately stood up and turned to leave. "I'm heading back," he announced unnecessarily.
"Wait!" Rin cried out as she quickly placed the Noble Phantasm back in its proper case. "You can't just walk out of here alone." He was not affiliated with the Mage Association. Without proper escort or paperwork, he could be considered a trespassing entity. And he was the son of the Magus Killer.
"I suggest you allow me to be present when you question them," Lorelei said.
It was not a suggestion.
All turned to her and, to varying degrees of success, understood the implications.
By stating that they may interrogate the captives, the vice-director was acknowledging that they had the right to do as they wish to the captives as per the custom of magi defending their workshops. This normally would have been a trivial point, but the fact was that the attackers were Enforcers. Hence, this also meant that Lorelei was declaring the Mage Association as a whole to be uninvolved with this assault.
The final implication behind Lorelei's statement was her interest in the entire affair. This could stem from any number of reasons. Perhaps she was concerned over a growing tension between the Association and a force that included Servants. Or maybe she was probing for another opportunity to exploit. Regardless, what mattered was that she had an interest in them and thus they will be under her scrutiny.
Not exactly the most comfortable place to be.
- o -
When five famous or infamous individuals march their way through the Clock Tower, people take notice. Their passage caused a flurry of rumors to circulate for the next several days, as it is not often such a combination of individuals was seen together. Most of the onlookers stood aside to let them by.
Luviagelita Edelfelt was never such a passive person.
As much as she wanted to deliver a snarky remark to Tohsaka, Luvia refrained from doing so since the Japanese magus was in the company of the Queen and Saber, and both had serious expressions. Actually, they all did aside from Zelretch.
So, she smoothly slipped into the tail end of the group next to old man.
"Good afternoon, Wizard Marshall Zelretch," she greeted politely, her mind racing for a tactic to discover what was going on.
"Edelfelt," he returned pleasantly as if her presence alone reminded him of something. "I have been meaning to speak to you."
"Oh?" Her surprise was not feigned.
"That was an interesting paper you submitted to the Department of Mineralogy two weeks ago." The elder man slowed to a standstill as he spoke.
Luvia hid an internal smile. Gaining the attention of such a prominent figure was quite an accomplishment. And while Zelretch had a notorious reputation when it came to his apprentices, Tohsaka seemed alright the past two years. If that inelegant cow could handle him, surely her esteemed self could handle a single conversation.
- o -
As the group separated from Zelretch and Luvia, Rin put thoughts of the blonde magus out of her mind. As much as she was reluctant to pass on a chance to one-up the harridan, an Enforcer attack on Sakura took precedence. This, however, brought her to the current problem.
Dealing with Lorelei Barthomeloi.
Earlier Rin had lost several exchanges in the verbal spars, and she was well aware that she should not be having verbal spars with the Queen. Unfortunately, the vice-director seemed intent on antagonizing them a bit.
And apparently "a bit" meant threatening them into submission.
The most difficult aspect of the interaction was the Queen's position in the pecking order of the Clock Tower. Essentially, as far as everyone there was concerned, she was the pecking order. This put Rin at a disadvantage from the start, regardless of her station as Zelretch's apprentice or her connection to Saber. Without a doubt, both of those points were incredibly big factors in her status and worked in her favor, but they did not overcome this major obstacle. So while Rin can reliably say she could physically survive whatever is thrown at her, Lorelei can nonetheless make anyone's life especially unpleasant.
And it was because of the Queen's virtual royal status that Rin was facing her next problem: transportation. Unlike Luvia, Rin did not commute to the Clock Tower every day in a fancy limousine. Thus, she could not offer Lorelei a suitable ride to her home. Regretfully, she saw no way around this without losing face.
As they approached the valet area, she tried to formulate a polite and elegant way to phrase the issue.
It is with some measure of embarrassment that we must admit to lacking adequate means of transportation for you, Vice-Director Barthomeloi.
Hmm… a little too gaudy and pretentious.
Unfortunately, we are unable to provide adequate transportation, Vice-Director Barthomeloi.
No. Too direct.
"Would you like to ride behind me on my motorcycle, Vice-Director Barthomeloi?"
Rin and Lorelei both blinked in surprise at Saber's unexpected offer. That was not what she had in mind because one simply does not make such an offer to the Queen. In an attempt to exert damage control, Rin interjected quickly, "Saber, that may not be an appropriate means of travel for the Vice-Director."
The Servant spared her Master a glance. "Rin, the Vice-Director's outfit is not for show. She is quite experienced on horseback."
"Oh?" Lorelei replied. "You do not strike me as the type who gossips. Or can you also read the history of my clothing?"
"Nothing so esoteric," Saber answered. "Equestrians have subtle tells in their gait and stance that reveal their experience. A trained eye can notice these details."
The vice-director allowed the comment to pass. "And you believe I would be willing to jaunt through London upon something so plebian?"
King Arthur narrowed her eyes. "You would do well to refrain from insulting a knight's mount."
Rin hitched her breath at the comment.
Before anyone else could respond, Saber continued onward. "As someone who has also engaged in horsemanship and mounted combat, I had thought you may appreciate the experience."
Lorelei's countenance was unreadable as she gazed back at the Heroic Spirit. "Very well. With an endorsement like that, how can I refuse?"
As Saber and Shirou left to fetch the vehicles, Rin stood with her eyes closed, steadying herself with a few discrete breaths. "You're going to take this all out on me, aren't you?"
"I did hear that attacking the Servant's Master is a viable strategy in the Grail Wars," Lorelei replied blandly.
- o -
"Master, I am returning now. I did not find anyone," Rider relayed mentally to Sakura. She had quickly gone around the surrounding area in her astralized form. This allowed her to move through any non-magical construct at will. Furthermore, if there actually were observers, they would not know that she had left the house.
"Alright," Sakura replied. She was unsure what to do at the moment. The Bounded Fields had been restored, and all damage in the house was repaired. Rider was certain there was another wave coming or some sort of additional layer to the plan. An attack of six magi, even at Enforcer level, could not possibly be the extent of the enemy's agenda. Nonetheless, Sakura could think of nothing further to do aside from patiently waiting for the others' return. Thus, she found herself preparing for the evening meal. She of course kept her bow on her body.
Hmmm… if they are making elemental Azoth daggers, would it be possible to make elemental Azoth arrows? Research was one thing, but if she planned to follow Shirou as he fulfilled his quest to be a hero, then this may be something to think about.
"I'm back," Rider stated, materializing in the living room.
"Welcome back," Sakura said from the kitchen.
Had Rider not been wearing Breaker Gorgon, one might have seen an eyebrow twitch. Walking into the kitchen, she observed her Master cutting up vegetables. "We are under assault by Enforcers, and you are cooking," she said dryly.
"There's not much else I can do, Rider."
"We could interrogate the captives."
"I have no idea how to run an interrogation. But you are welcome to if you wish."
Rider had considered doing just that. However, she wanted to be fully prepared if there was a followup attack. The others were returning anyways, so waiting another half hour or so would not harm anyone.
"I'll be on the roof."
Taking into account the time needed for post-battle business and Rider's patrol of the neighborhood, it was not too long before two motorcycles arrived, Shirou and Rin on one and Saber and Lorelei on the other. Saber had already informed Rider via text message that the vice-director and Kaleidoscope would be accompanying them, but there was no sign of the old man.
Whatever, not her problem.
- o -
For the first time in a very long time, Zelretch's eyebrow twitched.
"Seriously, they just left without me?"
- o -
The interrogation had passed disappointingly.
Upon awakening, the Enforcer had managed to immediately trigger a hidden suicide Mystic Code. Not only had his life ended, the poisoned gas that burst forth almost killed Rin. As a result, Rider had employed Gorgon Breaker on the other attacker in order to prevent another such occurrence. While versed in combat, this survivor did not have an Enforcer's mentality. Thus, it had been a relatively simple matter of using pleasure, torture, and tabooed delights to tempt and manipulate him into revealing the plan behind the attack.
They had honestly thought they could do it.
While it was commonly "known" that Servants were on a level that vastly exceeded modern human capabilities, most magi never actually dealt with one before. Seeing was believing. However, for many arrogant individuals, they confused the converse with the contrapositive: they believed only after seeing.
The only hitch had been the vice-director. After all, she had come all this way to witness the interrogation. Unfortunately, the usage of Gorgon Breaker had prevented that from happening. But given the likelihood of a suicidal trigger in the only survivor, Rider's method was the safest. On the the other hand, the vice-director was able to glean new information regarding Rider, and that may have been her purpose all along.
"Well, that was anticlimactic," Rin concluded with a sigh.
"It happens," Saber stated. "More than a few hot-blooded individuals felt they could match my knights despite being obviously outclassed. I imagine this phenomenon of overestimating one's self has occurred throughout history."
Rider said nothing as she internally agreed with that particular statement. When she had been alive and a monster, many individuals aiming for fame and glory had attempted to slay her. They had also failed miserably. Even Perseus had been outclassed; his victory had only come about due to his possession of the exact Noble Phantasm that could help him.
As for the two Enforcers on the team, their drive to overcome the humiliation from two years ago had overrode their common sense. Once they had acquired a leather glove Mystic Code which could harm Servants, they had leapt at the chance to attack. And, to be fair, they did manage to injure Rider. Said Servant was somewhat regretting that she did not do something more severe two years ago. Apparently maiming limbs was not sufficient enough of a message to these magi.
There was more to this attack, actually, but Rider planned to wait until they had more privacy.
- o -
Rin sipped her tea. Out of the corner of her vision, she took note of Lorelei's body language. Eyes closed, calm breathing, relaxed shoulders. Apparently she enjoyed the tea they had provided. So much so that she decided to stay for the upcoming dinner despite having no other apparent reason to be there.
Her hatred of vampires was infamous, so spending more time in the presence of Zelretch, who had arrived during the interrogation, was contradictory to her known nature. There was another layer to this encounter. Unfortunately, there were quite a few reasons for Lorelei to be interested in them.
Shirou better not have attracted another one.
"So, now I have a question," Rin said to the individuals sitting around the western style dinner table. "What is she doing here?" she demanded, pointing at one particular individual.
Luvia merely sniffed primly. "Such a gruff and blunt exterior. And you wonder why I categorize myself well above you."
Before Rin could retort, Zelretch gave the answer. "Well, seeing as how I was rudely left behind… by my apprentice no less… I was offered a ride here by Miss Edelfelt. As such, she is now here as my guest." Indeed, they had even brought gifts consisting of a few fancy cakes.
Rin gave her mentor an unimpressed expression. "And why would you need a ride when you can simply teleport here?"
Everyone noticed as Lorelei slowly placed her teacup down, now focusing on the conversation. Her eyes slid towards the other wizard marshall though she said nothing.
She did not have to.
"I guess I should not be surprised you have discovered that particular ability of mine. However, I'd prefer it if you do not reveal my Mysteries," Zelretch admonished. "Considering I've respected your secrets, I do not think it is unfair to expect a similar courtesy in return."
Rin frowned in confusion. "How is this a secret? It's obvious you can teleport anywhere."
Everyone turned to her in expectation.
"What?" she asked defensively. "He can exit and enter dimensions at will. Therefore, he should be able leave this dimension and reenter at a different location easily enough. Bounded Fields wouldn't be able to stop him unless they are a Mystery equal to or greater than the Multi-Dimensional Refraction Phenomenon or are designed somehow to interfere with the process in some way to make it impossible to enact safely."
Lorelei turned back and resumed staring at the old man.
"See, Rin? Right here," Zelretch said, gesturing at the vice-director, "not everyone is at your level of genius."
This statement, of course, did the exact opposite of lessening the intensity of Lorelei's stare. "Last year, the incident during the dinner party at the Sophia-Ri's estate. That was your doing."
"I'm sure I have no idea what you are talking about," he lied blatantly.
After a few moments, Lorelei resumed drinking. "We shall talk about this later."
Having politely waited for the vice-director to finish, Rin poured more tea for her before speaking again. "Before we move on," she said, giving her mentor an imperious look. "Are you saying you do acknowledge my genius, old man?"
Zelretch opened his mouth as he raised a finger… and then closed his mouth. After a moment, he narrowed his eyes at his apprentice. "Well played, Tohsaka. Well played."
The smug expression on the face of the Japanese magus said everything she wanted to say. At that moment, Shirou came out of the kitchen bearing table settings. As he approached the table, he glanced around the room. "Is anyone in need of anything?" he asked politely.
"No, thank you," the elder man replied with equal politeness. "We were merely discussing how Rin will be learning the Mystery of teleportation."
"Oh really?" Shirou asked in genuine surprise.
"Yes. Of course, she would need to use Kaleidostick Ruby to perform the spell."
"Wait, what?" Rin interjected. "I am not going to use that annoying piece of junk."
"I get no love," a voice sobbed from a room down the hallway.
"Oh, you will, my dear apprentice," Zelretch promised with a foreboding expression. "Yes, you will."
Shirou considered at the possibilities. "That would make attending your classes a lot more convenient."
Rin turned back to her boyfriend. "You're not seriously suggesting I use a True Magic to shave a half hour from my commute time?"
"Of course not. If you can teleport from here to the Clock Tower, then you can teleport to here from Japan everyday instead. It would definitely save on airfare."
"Shirou, I'm fairly certain there is a big difference between teleporting across a city versus across the planet."
"Ah, right, I didn't think of that."
"Oh ho." Luvia made her presence known. "Can it be the great Tohsaka missed the obvious?"
The supercilious expression on the blonde's face gave Rin the sudden urge to throttle the rich snob. "And what would that be?" she asked.
The blond idly twirled one of her hair coils. "The Earth is rotating at high speeds, orbits the sun at high speeds, rotates around the Milky Way bulge at high speeds, and our entire galaxy is moving away from the center of the universe at even greater speeds. Assuming teleportation has a non-zero execution time, the difference in distance from here to the Clock Tower and from here to Japan would be utterly negligible compared to the massive distance actually traversed."
Rin momentarily narrowed her eyes at the logical argument, but she then immediately relaxed her expression. "As usual, you cherry pick ideas to support your argument and ignore the facts that counteract your stance. Our magic is of this planet, so we would use Gaia as a frame of reference. There should be no need to worry about the rest of the universe."
Luvia raised an eyebrow. "How contradictory. You stated earlier that teleportation consists of leaving this dimension and reentering. Therefore, you would lose Gaia as a frame of reference."
The smile on Rin's expression was clearly patronizing. "And prior to reentry, all you would need to do is locate Gaia and re-establish it as a frame of reference. Are you so simpleminded that you cannot think of such an obvious solution?"
"And how would you locate Gaia from outside this dimension without taking into account the little astronomy lesson I just gave?"
"By simply creating a magical homing beacon right before exiting the dimension. Locating Gaia would be trivial then."
"That's ridiculous. By that logic, you could establish permanent teleportation beacons here and in Japan and simply teleport between the two. I highly doubt a such high level of magic can be performed so easily."
The vice-director watched as the two younger magi stared at each other for a few more seconds before they turned their heads towards Kaleidoscope for confirmation on their arguments. She felt oddly ignored. Usually magi would scramble to try to impress her, but it was clear these two rivals were more concerned with proving the other inferior. She turned to Saber. "Do they always squabble like this?"
That statement changed the atmosphere of the room. Rin and Luvia glanced at each other in realization that they may not have made the best of impressions upon the Queen.
Saber merely held a neutral expression. "To be truthful, this is a much more mature encounter when compared to previous ones. Less violence, for one thing."
The conversation halted as Sakura brought out dinner.
- o -
An unspoken truce had come about over the surprisingly delicious dinner, so the ambiance had become more relaxed by the time dessert was served. The fancy cakes brought by Luvia were predictably excellent, matching the quality of the meal. The tea served was the same as the one prior, and the blonde refrained from asking about the origin of the beverage. After all, she could not show weakness in front of her rival. Despite how delightful and magnificent it tasted.
On the other hand, Lorelei had no worries in that regard.
"Actually, it is a blend that Sakura concocted," Shirou answered. The young woman in question hesitated slightly in her mannerisms at the sudden attention. "We all had input for it, especially Saber."
Ah, that made sense. A drink fit for English royalty.
"In the future, you are welcome to come over for tea, if you wish, Vice-Director," Sakura invited.
That was a rather unusual offer. While she was the head of the Matou family, Sakura lacked any form of recognized nobility. Rin, at the very least, was a Second Owner and the apprentice of a high ranking individual. Aside from the distinguishable connection to a Servant, Sakura did not have such a comparable curriculum vitae. In fact, she was not even registered in the Mage Association. Thus, inviting the Queen of the Clock Tower for tea was quite presumptuous of her.
But Lorelei really liked the tea. Seriously, did they drug it or something?
- o -
Instead of having cake with his drink, Zelretch pulled out a lollipop, unwrapped it, and placed it in his mouth.
Naturally, everyone stared at him.
"It's a blood pop. It tastes like blood," the Dead Apostle Ancestor explained, answering the obvious question.
Lorelei refrained from sighing. "At the risk of lowering my respect for you even more, I am afraid I must ask. Did you invent those?"
"Of course not," Zelretch scoffed. "I have better things to do with my time. I merely picked these up from another dimension." Hmm, he only had about a decade's worth left. Well, whatever. He had a minion, so he could send her over to pick some up later.
Speaking of his minion… "Rin, I am a bit confused as to why you are putting so much effort into crafting better Azoth dagger Mystic Codes."
"We will be creating elemental versions of the daggers in order to perform more specialized Mysteries," she replied.
"But you already do that with your jewels," the old man pointed out.
"Yes..." Rin looked to the side, hesitating a bit.
However, it was Luvia who drew everyone's attention with a laugh of amusement. "Oh dear me. I had not realized you were in such straits, Tohsaka."
In response, the Japanese magus glared back but otherwise made no reply.
"Really, if you were in need of assistance, I could always hire you as a maid."
The glare intensified.
"Could you elaborate, Miss Edelfelt?" Zelretch asked.
Drawing herself up haughtily, Luvia explained, "As you had stated, Wizard Marshall, elemental Azoth daggers are redundant with jewel magecraft. And unless great advances are made in constructing them, the daggers would be inferior in all thaumaturgical ways as well. The only advantage the daggers would have is… price."
Rin tried to suppress her grimace. Her rival had deduced the truth. She, Sakura, and Shirou had no expectation that their resulting Mystic Codes would be on par with gems. This portion of the project was simply to help them save money because they literally could not afford to carelessly detonate jewels. While they were wealthy, they were not filthy rich like certain magi family lines.
Worse, Luvia exposed this embarrassing point in front of the Queen.
Taking a deeper breath than normal, Rin tried to salvage her dignity. "Some of us choose not to squander our resources so recklessly."
"Whatever helps you sleep at night, Tohsaka," Luvia retorted.
Refraining from arguing with her rival like before, Rin took a sip of tea to calm herself.
"Luviagelita Edelfelt, would you like to be my apprentice?" Zelretch asked.
Rin choked on her drink.
"Oh my, that would be wonderful," the Finn magus declared happily. And indeed she was happy despite the horror stories. If the barbaric Tohsaka could survive being his apprentice, then she could as well.
"Are you serious?" Rin demanded.
The elder gentleman merely raised an eyebrow. "She did manage to hold her own against you in the previous debate."
"Ah, so I was correct in my statements," Luvia concluded. Smugly.
"That, and your paper we talked about earlier," Zelretch confirmed. "As for the soundness of Rin's ideas, that depends on you two."
"Why, yes. Your next research project will be the creation of magical homing beacons that actualize the Multi-Dimensional Refraction Phenomenon. I imagine it would make teleporting within this dimension much easier than before. Those astronomy calculations were quite tedious."
"Pardon, Wizard Marshal," Luvia began, "but are you implying that this… individual actually theorized something new regarding the Kaleidoscope?"
Contrary to her rival, Rin asked a much more urgent question. "I have to actually work with her?"
"In answer to your question, Luvia, yes. Oh, I can call you that, right?" Without waiting for a response, Zelretch turned to his other apprentice. "And really, Rin, you should be happy to have such a talented teammate. At the very least, your workload would certainly be reduced. Your hypothesis does sound quite difficult to achieve."
"How hard can it be? You could just modify Ruby and Sapphire to act as beacons," the addressed magus replied without really thinking. Her mind was busy racing for an excuse to separate her future as an apprentice away from Edelfelt.
In response, the older man slowly crossed his arms as he looked down imperiously at younger woman. "So you do agree to use the Kaleidostick, then."
Rin opened her mouth as she raised a finger… and then closed her mouth. After a moment, she narrowed her eyes at her mentor. "Well played, old man. Well played."
The vampire tipped his cup of tea in acknowledgement.
Rin then turned to her new fellow apprentice. "Edelfelt. You shall call me 'senpai'," she declared.
Luvia's eyebrow twitched. "What?" she deadpanned.
"Hm, that is reasonable," Zelretch mused in a pretend-sage manner. "Very well, Luvia. You shall abide by Rin's request."
"Old man," Rider interrupted, halting Luvia's response. The fact that Rider had not spoken the entire meal was not lost on anyone, so all present immediately paid attention to her, forgetting the previous antics. The visitors were not fooled by her casual outfit of jeans and turtleneck, though it was the first time they had seen her without the strange blindfold.
"As your apprentice, would Edelfelt be under your protection?" Rider had received an interesting message from Saber earlier. One that she had yet to convey to her Master.
The vampire raised an eyebrow. "On the contrary. If she cannot take care of herself, then she does not deserve such a position."
Rider said no more. Instead, her lips quirked up slightly in amusement.
A very strong sense of foreboding overcame Luvia.
Putting down her teacup, Saber continued in place of Rider. "So you would have no qualms if we are to now address an issue regarding blackmail?"
"Ah, yes. That had been mentioned earlier, had it not? By all means, go ahead." Zelretch turned to his new apprentice. "Good luck, Luvia."
"Wait? What is this about?" the addressed magus asked in confusion.
"We are referring to how you had tried to blackmail Shirou," Saber answered bluntly.
"What? That is preposterous. I have done nothing of the sort."
Predictably, everyone else looked at Shirou expectantly. "Luvia, it was after I saved your life. Remember?"
Awkward silence permeated the room as everyone tried to digest what Shirou had just said. Eventually, the still confused Luvia asked, "You are referring to when Chauvel's familiar surprised us?"
The blonde magus frowned. "I offered you a reward! How was that blackmail?"
"Well, you threatened to inform the Association that I could Project Noble Phantasms if I didn't follow through with what you said."
"That wasn't blackmail!" Luvia exclaimed. "I was trying to encourage you to take my reward!"
"That sounds a lot like blackmail," Rin observed casually.
"It's called the carrot and the stick, Tohsaka. Merely a form of encouragement to take the carrot."
"'Take the carrot.' Is that the euphemism nowadays?" Zelretch interrupted.
Sakura's eyes narrowed slightly.
"The familiar was powerful?" Saber inquired, cutting into the argument.
"I don't know," Shirou answered honestly. "It surprised us and jumped Luvia. I panicked and shot it with a half dozen Noble Phantasms. There wasn't much left afterwards."
"Saber, focus," Sakura said with a well-hidden exasperation. "Shirou, what was the nature of this blackmail?"
Luvia sniffed. "I hardly think that is any of your busi- What are you doing?!"
She was, of course, panicking at the fact that Shirou was whispering in Sakura's ear.
Rider, who had enhanced hearing, listened in.
Zelretch, who had enhanced hearing, listened in.
Rin used Reinforcement on her ears to listen in.
Lorelei discreetly cast a Wind spell that carried the sound over the air currents to her ears.
Sakura's eyes narrowed even more.
Luvia blushed even more.
Saber sipped her tea calmly, thinking about how Shirou needed to work on his situational awareness. Panicking in such a fashion was not acceptable for her former Master. Perhaps she should enlist the help of Taiga in this endeavor.
He resumed whispering.
"There's no need to tell her that part as well!" Luvia all but shouted. However, it was at that moment a thought suddenly occurred to her. She whipped her head at the vice-director. "Wait, that means…"
- o -
"Oh, finally remembered I'm here?" Lorelei inquired in a very polite tone that very much did not hint at any form of annoyance whatsoever at having been forgotten yet again.
In truth, the Queen normally was not so petty as to become irritated at the lack of attention. However, the day had been a bit trying for her, as there had been a number of reasons that had cumulatively took their toll upon her. Zelretch. Emiya. Saber. In any case, it was time to reassert her dominance as the Very Important Person in the room. As Lorelei had just asked a question, sarcastic though it may have been, she nonetheless waited for a response. She found a small amount of amusement in observing Edelfelt piece together the current situation.
"Please forgive any discourtesy, Vice-Director." Simple and direct. Any attempt on Edelfelt's part to make a further excuse would have only exacerbated the situation. After all, Lorelei had actually been present the entire time, and thus pointing out the obvious would have been the same as saying that the vice-director missed the obvious.
These subtleties mattered.
"Did Emiya Project six separate Noble Phantasms or six instances of a single one?" she inquired.
"Six separate ones."
Lorelei merely continued looking at the blonde magus. The next question was quite self-evident, and it would be tasteless to make the Queen actually say it aloud.
"I only recognized one of them: Vajra. The others were three swords and two polearms," Edelfelt continued after her pause. "While my family had participated in the Grail Wars in the past, current priorities do not include the study of Noble Phantasms."
The Queen disregarded the reasoning for the ignorance. Instead, she considered the puzzle pieces in front of her. If one assumed Harpe to be amongst those used to save Edelfelt, then Emiya had at least six offensive Noble Phantasms and one defensive one. That was more than what most Servants possessed. But what was the actual number he had?
Taking into account the other clues available to her from both today and her prior research into this group, the conclusion that Lorelei was forming had staggering implications. After all, Emiya was able to reproduce her gauntlet despite the fact he never held onto it. All he did was perform Structural Grasp upon it.
"Emiya, would you be so kind as to Project the Azoth dagger?" the Queen politely asked.
She held no authority over him. She was a guest in his house. She had just been treated to a satisfying dinner. Yet all present understood she had made a demand, not a request. After all, she was who she was.
After a moment of hesitation, Emiya performed his ridiculously simple incantation and Projected five copies of the Azoth dagger, one for each magus at the table, excluding himself. How polite of him. The magi took a few moments to examine the copies of Noble Phantasms in front of them.
"This is-" Edelfelt uttered in disbelief.
"-a Noble Phantasm, yes," Lorelei interrupted. Remain silent while I speak, her tone implied.
Edelfelt remained silent.
"Can you reproduce any Noble Phantasm?" the vice-director inquired.
"No, just melee weapons," Emiya answered.
"How powerful? Can you replicate an anti-world Noble Phantasm?"
Pause. "No… does such a thing exist?"
"Gilgamesh's weapon. Red and black cylindrical sword with a golden handle," Saber interjected. All eyes turned to her.
"Oh, that? Wait, that's an anti-world Noble Phantasm?" Emiya asked in surprise.
"Yes," Saber confirmed. "Iskandar's herald had mentioned this."
"Herald?" Lorelei asked with a lilt of amusement in her voice. "You refer to El-Melloi in such a manner?"
King Arthur, however, answered the question seriously. "It was the last edict of the King of Conquerors. As a fellow monarch, I would naturally respect such an appointment."
The vice-director paused in thought. Was the Servant mocking her? She was quite certain that when Saber used the phrase "fellow monarch" it did not include the "Queen". While that alone did not offend Lorelei, she was unsure if it was a source of amusement for Saber.
"No, I cannot Project that weapon," Emiya said, interrupting her musings. "It's not part of this world, so I couldn't read it."
Lorelei raised an eyebrow at the slip. She turned to Tohsaka. "He is really bad at this."
The addressed individual sighed as she pinched the bridge of her nose. "Yes. Yes, he is."
Of course, Emiya was confused. "What did I say?"
Tohsaka spoke with her eyes closed. "It's not what you said. It's what you did not say but completely implied."
It was not part of this world, so he could not Project it. Therefore, if it was part of this world, he could Project it.
The expression on Emiya's face changed to a more neutral one as he realized the peril of the current situation. His eyes were serious as he gazed back at the vice-director.
Lorelei merely continued calmly. "Given the number of Noble Phantasms that El-Melloi reported Gilgamesh to have possessed, combined with how quickly you can perform your advanced form of Structural Grasp, I presume whatever method you have to retain their information has given you access to a plentiful number of them. Tell me, Emiya, how many Noble Phantasms are you capable of Projecting?"
The answer was as hard as his voice. This was no longer the Emiya that bumbled through conversations, offered to help repair Mystic Codes, or cooked dinner for guests. This was a survivor of the Holy Grail War.
And the number of Noble Phantasms he could Project was "enough".
"You can fire them simultaneously," Lorelei continued, her voice deceptively bland. After all, had he shot them one at a time at the familiar that attacked Edelfelt, he would have stopped well before "there wasn't much left". Forming conclusions from such evanescent details was second nature to her.
"From his bow?" Zelretch interjected, posing his question to his newly minted apprentice.
Edelfelt shook her head, still remaining silent.
The vice-director glared at the vampire's interruption, but he took the gaze stoically. She turned back to Emiya. "Perhaps I was a bit impetuous when I gave my word not to Seal you."
- o -
No one asked if Lorelei would keep her word as that would be an insult to her image. Besides, it would have been fruitless to do so. If she planned on breaking her promise, then she would obviously not admit it.
Nonetheless, Shirou very much preferred it if the vice-director's interest in Sealing him decreased. He decided upon downplaying his abilities. "If it makes you feel any better, Gilgamesh mainly used third rate Noble Phantasms against me."
"I am going to ignore the fact you used the phrase 'third rate' to describe Noble Phantasms," the Queen said with a bit of patience. "You fought a Servant?"
Shirou's countenance did not change. "It was the Holy Grail War."
Lorelei glanced at both Saber and Rider. "He can fight on par with Servants?"
The two Servants traded a glance. Rider gestured with her hand for Saber to answer. After all, the former was not the same copy as the one who had participated in the Heaven's Feel ritual. "Both Shirou and Rin did, actually. However, the Fifth Holy Grail War had many unusual circumstances surrounding it. While they deserve commendation for their efforts, the events at the time would not be a good frame of reference to judge their abilities."
Saber sipped some tea.
"But to give you a more pertinent answer, in a fair match against a weakly ranked Servant, Shirou would win about three out of ten times," Saber stated.
Lorelei exhaled in a manner that indicated she really wanted to sigh but refrained from doing so. "Shirou Emiya. Given that I have just lost two Enforcers, I am making you an offer to join their ranks."
Shirou betrayed no surprise on his face. He had expected such an offer earlier when Rin negotiated on his behalf back at the storage room in the Clock Tower. But it clearly benefited the vice-director more than him since it would place him under her command. While most magi would think twice before refusing the Queen, everyone there knew the proposal was too one-sided in nature to be reasonable.
Thus, no one was surprised when Lorelei added to her offer before Shirou responded. "You would be granted amnesty regarding your thaumaturgy."
That… was an interesting incentive. "What do you mean, exactly?"
"You would be protected from a Sealing Designation, and furthermore you would be considered a vassal of sorts under my House."
All things considered, it was not a bad offer. Shirou thought through the implications. He would be able to more freely use his Noble Phantasms, and the protection of House Barthomeloi would deter many magi from trying to kidnap and experiment upon him. True, there would always be those willing to brave the risks, but outliers always existed.
"And what in that amnesty would protect him from you?" Saber asked the vice-director.
Lorelei turned to King Arthur. "Nothing, but that is true in the current situation as well, is it not? Besides which, we have already reached an accord earlier."
"So," Shirou began, "this would cover any magecraft I practice?"
"It obviously would not cover anything strongly forbidden, such as research into Dead Apostles. But I hardly believe we need to belabor that point."
Shirou said nothing, simply maintaining a neutral expression.
"Naturally, this would include a workshop and associated trappings," Lorelei continued.
"And, in turn, you would have access to my research," Shirou said.
A few moments of silence passed before he finally gave his answer. "I must decline."
The vice-director narrowed her eyes. "I am unused to being so blatantly refused. You-" she suddenly cut herself off. She regarded the others briefly. Following her glances, Shirou's eyes quickly darted to each person. Zelretch and Luvia had expressions of interest. Everyone else, the ones who knew his abilities, had kept their faces neutral.
"Impressive, Emiya," Lorelei finally said with mild amusement. "You had the whole Clock Tower fooled with your apparent naivety. To think that you would engage in forbidden research."
Ignoring the obvious danger he was in, something about that statement bothered Shirou. It was a rare instance in which he picked up on a nuance. "Why do you know how the Clock Tower thinks about me? I'm a nobody as far as everyone there is concerned. So unless you are a gossip..."
Rin stated the answer. "Sakura and I have Servants. You do not. It's natural to view you as the weakest link."
In other words, prior to this eventful day, Lorelei had already begun probing for vulnerabilities in the group.
"Though," Rin continued, "the interest in you may have changed since she discovered your Tracing abilities."
The vice-director gave a minute nod, acknowledging both of Rin's deductions.
Shirou's mind worked in overdrive trying to find a way out of this situation. The Queen had sensed another weakness, and furthermore she had been reading him like an open book the entire day. At this point, the Enforcer offer was meaningless because she would now approach him from the forbidden research angle. He had to compromise somehow, or else she would make his life miserable in the foreseeable future.
"Just show her."
The statement was jarring, interrupting the subtly layered conversation. All eyes turned to Rider who had spoken. She kept her eyes focused on the vice-director. "Show her everything."
"Rider, that does not sound like a good idea," Sakura said.
"I must disagree with the suggestion as well," Rin concurred with her sister.
"It is a sound plan," Saber contradicted. This, of course, caused attention to be shifted upon her. "Vice-Director Barthomeloi has been systematically deducing Shirou's abilities. It is only a matter of time before she discovers everything. It would be best if it was done where we have some modicum of control."
"In other words," Lorelei said, maintaining a stare down with the Gorgon, "if I do not turn a blind eye to Emiya's research, you will kill me. Right here. Right now."
- o -
A silence permeated as everyone adjusted to the raised stakes in the ever changing game. Everyone there was a veteran of violence. But truthfully, nobody needed those experiences to perceive Rider's growing killing intent.
"Rider," Saber said. "Chivalry demands single combat. I shall leave this to you."
That statement raised a few eyebrows.
"I had not expected escalation on any of your parts," Lorelei commented offhandedly.
"We did not escalate the situation," Rider replied. She reached behind her back and tossed an item on the table.
A leather gauntlet. The one worn by the Enforcer. The one that damaged the Servant.
"You did," Rider stated.
"Oh? And how did you come to this conclusion?" Lorelei inquired calmly. "The interrogation?"
"Your scent is on it." Still watching the vice-director carefully, Rider said, "Shirou, read its history."
Nothing disturbed Lorelei's expression. But Rider had superhuman senses and perceived the slight change in prana flow within her body.
"Trace. On," Shirou incanted. A moment later, he turned to the vice-director. "You made this."
It was not an accusation. It was a fact.
Lorelei sighed. "Go ahead. Ask the question."
Did you order the attack on Sakura?
"There's no need," Shirou replied. "Four other individuals handled this Mystic Code between you and the Enforcer. All within the past two days. It left your hands several hours after Sakura arrived at the airport. Even if you did not outright order it, at the very least you enabled the attack to happen."
"Strukturanalyse," Rin incanted quietly. She frowned as she examined the Mystic Code. "Shirou, this is nowhere near as refined as it should be if it was constructed by Vice-Director Barthomeloi."
"It is a prototype," he explained.
"Ah." A few moments of thought passed. Eventually, comprehension dawned on Rin's face. "I see. That explains why the attack was so sloppily executed."
"Elaborate," Rider demanded, still staring at the Queen.
"This was a test," Rin answered. "Not on us, not really. Proper experimentation of Mystic Codes requires field testing and refinement based on results. This attack was never meant to succeed because that was not the intention. It was only done to determine the effectiveness of the weapon. And it was done with all of us in the same area to minimize the chance of someone dying. Because if someone did die, things would have escalated things beyond the point of no return."
"The reasoning has merit," Saber commented, "According to your interrogation, Rider, the Enforcers were informed of nothing beyond your arrival here and the nature of the Mystic Code. It follows that they were tempted into making a spontaneous and reckless decision to ambush you two."
The conclusion was sound. In order to ensure culpability remained only in their hands, the Enforcers were never commanded to attack, merely given the information to make the decision themselves. After all, if the assault had been more carefully planned, they would have at the very least waited until the Heroic Spirits were in separate countries.
"The Enforcers were knowingly sacrificed in the name of field testing a Mystic Code," Rider mused.
Zelretch leaned over to Shirou and stage whispered, "Just so you know, I think you totally made the right choice in not accepting the Enforcer posting."
Everyone ignored him in favor of watching the stare down between the Queen and the Gorgon. Eventually, Lorelei broke the silence.
"So? How effective was the Mystic Code?" she had the gall to ask. No one would ever claim Lorelei Barthomeloi lacked in bravery.
Rider's lips quirked ever so slightly. She reached over and picked up the glove. With a flick of her wrist, she tossed it casually onto the table in front of the vice-director. "Depending on your choice, you may have a chance to find out."
Everyone there grasped the situation. Lorelei had skirted the forbidden line ever so closely, but she never crossed over. The Enforcers had made the decision to attack, not her. But with the plan behind the attack exposed, Rider naturally desired to kill the magus for endangering Sakura.
So the Servant wanted an excuse. Just one reason to take things beyond the point of no return.
And she had literally thrown down the gauntlet.
No more subtleties. No more nuanced conversation. Just one immense gamble. Lorelei could take the opportunity to see Shirou Emiya's forbidden magecraft. Depending on her reaction, or more accurately the judgment of her reaction, either they would believe she would allow Shirou's freedom, or a duel would ensue.
A Heroic Spirit versus a hunter of Dead Apostle Ancestors.
Or Lorelei could turn down the chance and leave now. Terms were not discussed, but they were implied. Leave Shirou alone, and they would leave her alone. The status quo would return to the previous state of affairs. She would even get to keep the prototype since, due to Structural Grasp, they already knew everything it did and could do.
The ball was in her court.
Lorelei donned the leather glove on her unadorned hand. "Facile ground."
"Sun Tzu." Rider materialized her battle outfit. "The Nine Situations."
"On facile ground, halt not," Saber quoted as her armor and battle dress appeared.
- o -
Sakura stood with a polite smile, something quite out of place considering the killing intent in the room. "We will need some time to prepare. A half hour to an hour. Please forgive the wait."
"Hold on," Rin said to her sister. "Are you sure? You were attacked today. I can help Shirou instead."
"It's fine," the younger replied. "You would be the more appropriate host for our guests, and I do have some stress to relieve." She turned to Shirou. "Let's not keep our guests waiting too long."
"Wait," the man in question requested. "Don't I get a say as to whether or not I should reveal my secrets?"
Everyone stared at him incredulously. Was he really insane enough to try to stop this avalanche?
Four women suddenly realized they knew the answer to that question.
"Shirou, this is the best solution," Saber explained patiently. "The matter would be needlessly convoluted if we left this unresolved."
Rin went straight for the kill. "It's either this or the Vice-Director sacrifices more Enforcers until one or more of us is dead."
Shirou gave an exasperated sigh as he stood up. "Fine."
After the two had left the room, a comfortable pre-battle silence filled the ambiance. The conversations were done, the stare downs were over, and all that remained was to wait patiently for the final event to occur.
"Tohsaka," Luvia began. "What type of thaumaturgical preparations would help Matou relieve stress?" A question of honest curiosity. Most magic involved hard work and pain, especially given that overuse of Magic Circuits damaged the body.
Before Rin could tell her to mind her business, Zelretch interrupted. "Ah, Luvia, an excellent question! Allow me to give you your first lesson as my apprentice."
"Oh, thank you," Luvia replied enthusiastically..
Zelretch looked over at his latest apprentice with an unnerving smile. "Now, allow me to explain. You see, when a man meets a woman…"
Luvia was a lot less enthusiastic as the explanation continued.
- o -
Time Unknown, in an Unlimited Blade Works…
There were no bodies.
That was the very first thought that entered the minds of Lorelei, Luvia, and Zelretch. An image or tapestry depicting the aftermath of a battlefield often used weapons plunged in the ground as symbolism for grave markers. Here, corpses were not present, but it was wrong to say they were missing. They simply were not there yet.
After all, swords existed to kill.
Nobody said anything after the initial gasps. Several moments passed as the three newcomers visually explored the vista. It was after a full six minutes that the vice-director broke the silence.
Shirou did not need any clarification to know she was repeating her question from earlier. Expression serious, he answered honestly. "I'm not sure."
This garnered looks of surprise even from his companions.
"Imagine asking a magus how many spells he or she knows," he explained.
Immediately, Lorelei stated a number.
Zelretch stated a larger number.
Rin stated a smaller number.
Luvia stated a number slightly larger than Rin. And smiled.
Sakura merely shook her head and held her thumb and forefinger close to each other.
"Okay, that was a bad analogy," Shirou admitted. "Look, imagine you have a bag of marbles."
"I think we've heard this one," Zelretch muttered.
Ignoring the old man, Shirou continued. "As you go through life, you keep collecting marbles, continually putting them into the bag. After a while, you just stop counting and simply accept the fact that you have a lot of marbles."
Everyone stared at him a bit strangely. "What?" he asked somewhat defensively.
"That… was not the analogy we were expecting when you brought up a bag of marbles," Zelretch admitted.
Shirou maintained a serious expression. "What were you expecting?"
"The classic example of ninety-nine black marbles and one white marble."
"... I have no idea what you are talking about."
"Just… never mind," the vampire said with a resigned sigh.
The vice-director furrowed her brow in thought. "You survived a battle with Gilgamesh where he used all of these Noble Phantasms against you."
"Oh, no," Shirou replied. "I received only a few hundred Phantasms from him."
Lorelei's eye twitched in response to the word "only". "And the remaining ones?"
Shirou's expression hardened. "I'd rather not reveal the nature of my Mysteries."
"Shirou," Saber interjected. "The agreement was that you would reveal everything."
He glanced at Saber. Then at Rin. After a moment, he resigned himself to his fate. "In an alternate timeline, my future self made a deal with Alaya and became a Counter Guardian. After countless battles where he slaughtered the guilty and innocent alike for Humanity, he eventually gets summoned by Rin as Archer in our Fifth Holy Grail War."
"I… I need a moment," Luvia reluctantly admitted.
Lorelei said nothing, but it was clear she also was assimilating the onslaught of implications from the last ten minutes.
"Take your time, Vice-Director," Rin whispered in sympathy. "This happens to everyone."
Seeing his fellow Wizard Marshall quiet for the moment, Zelretch decided to take charge. "So what does it do?"
"Are you asking what it does internally, or what I can do after I deploy it?" Shirou replied.
"Yes," the vampire responded without missing a beat.
As a rather thorough description of Unlimited Blade Works ensued, Rider kept her focus on Lorelei Barthomeloi. Rin's suggestion was risky, as it acknowledged the vice-director's moment of weakness instead of simply ignoring it politely. On the other hand, it was also a wakeup call for Lorelei: do not be rash. And so Rider observed.
- o -
Four distinct tornadoes rotated around Lorelei, two clockwise and two counter. The base of each one had the size of a two car garage, and they were all over fifteen stories high. Dust clouds picked up everywhere except for the center where her magic kept the air clear. Her Mystic Eyes, amongst other abilities, allowed her to see as if the obscurement was nonexistent; they actualized the concept of "piercing the fog of war".
This simple tactic gave her a surprisingly effective advantage in combat. Not only was sight rendered useless for the enemy, the kicked up dust also interfered with smell. While Dead Apostles had heightened senses and could attack the general direction of what they hear, they still used sight as their primary means of perception since they did not habitually walk around with a blindfold on. Lowering the enemy's accuracy by five percent or increasing its reaction time by 0.2 seconds may seem slight, but these miniscule details mattered in high level combat. And, of course, there was the possibility of dust in the eye. Which actually happened once.
This advantage meant nothing against Rider.
The twisters each had picked up numerous Noble Phantasms, making Lorelei's formidable defense even deadlier. Within the center of her protected area, she pulsed prana into her mithril gauntlet to ensure she was anchored against the tremendous winds. The leather anti-Servant gauntlet was not used at the moment as she was currently clutching the healed laceration at her left side. Rider had managed to wound her before she set up her tornado defense. She had successfully cast a combat healing spell on it and thus was no longer bleeding, but it still stung fiercely.
With a slash of her hand, one of the four tornadoes left her orbit and raced towards the Heroic Servant.
As predicted, Rider moved towards the quickly closing hole left by the attacking tornado. Doing so required skirting quite a distance around the maelstrom of wind and swords, but the Servant of the Mount had the speed to do so. When Rider leapt to the air over a batch of Noble Phantasms on the ground, Lorelei grasped the opportunity quickly. With a simple gesture and a thrum of prana, an anti-Servant blast of thaumaturgy shot from the prototype, streaking towards Rider's landing area.
The Servant's nail and chain flung out and wrapped around a cutlass embedded in the ground. Yanking suddenly, Rider not only shifted her aerial course towards safety, but she also ripped the weapon out of the landscape. She flung it towards Lorelei, causing it to spin blade over handle.
The Queen made a negligent gesture with her metal gauntlet. A Rank A+ blast of red colored wind knocked the sword off course by twenty centimeters. Moreover, the red blast then changed its trajectory, still directed by Lorelei's hand motions.
Rider easily dodged the attack, but that was part of Lorelei's plan. It stalled the Servant long enough for one of the defensive tornadoes to begin covering the gap. With the first attacking twister still chasing Rider, her freedom of movement was sharply reduced. Move too much in the wrong direction, and the supersonic winds from the storms would fling her around like a rag doll. Furthermore, Lorelei pressed the offense. In that span of 1.6 seconds, Rider dodged a series of twelve air vacuum blades of Rank A++ traveling at Mach 3. Unfortunately, due to the limited space to maneuver, the thirteenth attack clipped her right arm. Though Rank B Magic Resistance reduced the damage somewhat, it was definitely a wound.
Rider then did the unexpected. She hurled her nail into one of the tornadoes. It was done using her Monstrous Strength and thus successfully pierced through the furious winds and tied itself on the desired target.
A heavy stone axe-sword.
Using the high momentum of Berserker's weapon, Rider wrenched herself from the ground and momentarily rode the furor of the winds, flinging herself to safety. Truly the power of Heroic Spirits surpassed human common sense.
- o -
"There is something that is bothering me," Luvia said.
"Hmm?" Zelretch replied. Using a magnifying glass, he was examining a Noble Phantasm sword plunged into the ground, ignoring the battle taking place a half kilometer away.
"I understand why a Reality Marble deser-" Luvia glanced at Shirou and corrected herself. "is awarded a Sealing Designation. However, I am somewhat confused as to why it is forbidden in the first place."
"Oh?" Rin interjected. "I had not expected you to admit your ignorance, Edelfelt."
"Do not get ahead of yourself, Tohsaka. It is because of the subject's forbidden nature that I, a proper magus, know little about it. Not all of us defy the Association as flagrantly as you do."
Before Rin could reply, Zelretch responded with his answer. "Magi tend to think of the notions of forbidden magic and Sealing Designations in tandem, but there is actually a difference. The end result is often the same, though, which is a big source of the confusion."
The vampire began jotting notes down into a small notebook. Everyone waited patiently for his explanation. "When someone researches forbidden magic, such as… Dead Apostle thaumaturgy, that person is immediately marked as a target for his crime. If Enforcers are sent out, death or capture is the result. Preferably capture. Waste not, want not, after all."
Nobody made a comment at the irony of his example. Zelretch picked up his magnifying glass again and reexamined the sword. "When someone is issued a Sealing Designation, that person is immediately marked as a target for his accomplishment. If Enforcers are sent out, death or capture is the result, blah blah blah."
He then tapped the blade of the sword a few times with the magnifying glass. "So while the actions taken by the Association may seem similar, they are in fact different issues. As for Reality Marbles, that topic happens to be both forbidden and valuable. Are you aware of the dangers involved with the magic?"
"It has a very high chance of driving the magus and those nearby insane, or maliciously crippling or altering them," Luvia recited. "I don't see why this would make the topic forbidden. There is plenty of research that risks the lives and souls of the researchers."
"Wrong angle," Rin interrupted.
Luvia huffed in impatience, but by the same token she refused to ask her rival for an answer.
"It overwrites reality," Zelretch answered. "If the process of overwriting reality is disrupted, what would happen?"
The blonde magus blinked at the answer before her face paled rapidly. She spun to Shirou, who was concentrating on the battle. "That means…"
"Yes," Rin said evenly. "Done incorrectly, permanent or semi-permanent effects on spatial reality may occur. Shirou can accidentally create dimensional tears in the fabric of our world."
Everyone turned to Saber who had spoken.
"What do you mean?" Shirou asked, appropriately curious.
Without removing her eyes from the battle, the Servant calmly gave her explanation. "Given the research I have done on the matter and the signs I saw back in my time period, I have concluded that Merlin had a Reality Marble. But unlike Shirou's, it did not overwrite spatial reality. Instead, it overwrote temporal reality."
"That… sounds incredibly terrifying," Luvia commented.
"It is what allowed him to live through our timeline in a two-dimensional manner, unlike normal humans who go through a timeline in a one-dimensional manner. The legends of him aging backwards stemmed from this, and this would explain my memories of our conversations having occasional anachronistic references to both the past and future of my time period." It certainly explained that period when he was fascinated by lying pastries… well, other than his suspected insanity, of course.
- o -
With a gesture, Lorelei again directed a tornado to maneuver towards Rider. Unlike last time, when this whirlwind neared, it exploded. Moreover, the burst was semi-controlled with much of its energy directed towards its target. The Noble Phantasms that had been swirling within the maelstrom made the attack even more vicious.
Streaking across the landscape, Rider knew she could not completely avoid the fury of the gale. At the last moment, she plunged a nail into the ground and wrapped some of the chain around her injured right arm. With the left arm, she gave herself plenty of slack with her weapon, akin to holding a ribbon or whip. She had no choice but to weather the bombardment. Her Magic Resistance meant that the battery of wind thaumaturgy could harm her but not kill her. The gale forces did force her off her feet, but her weapon held true as an anchor.
Then the barrage of Noble Phantasms arrived.
Accuracy. Speed. Number. All were below what Shirou was capable of within Unlimited Blade Works. Given that Rider had practiced against him before, she had an idea of what to expect. However, at the moment she was fluttering chaotically in the air like a torn kite and simultaneously receiving damage from the magical attack. Grunting in pain, she whipped her chain into a blur, deflecting as many Noble Phantasms as possible. Unfortunately, a javelin made it past her defenses and stabbed into her thigh. A moment later a short sword pierced her right lung.
The direction of her retreat had placed her outside of Lorelei's effective spellcasting range. A pause in the battle allowed Rider to assess the situation. She had refrained from using her Mystic Eyes and Noble Phantasms thus far. This was due to both a desire to hide her identity as well as a measure of pride. That being said, she was quite aware of the battle between Shirou and Gilgamesh and how arrogance was an incredibly large factor in that event.
Judging by the wounds from the winds and the two Noble Phantasms plunged into her body, perhaps it was playing a factor in this battle as well.
Given the prana investiture that must be required for the giant storms, Rider could easily make this a battle of attrition. However, she decided against it. That would make things boring, after all.
After pulling the short sword out of her chest, she coughed a bit a blood but nonetheless continued to address the other weapon. She pushed the javelin through her thigh to have it completely exit the other side. Grasping the Noble Phantasm that was now completely coated in her blood, she poured prana into the shaft. Scales also began forming on her arms as her hair began whipping wildly.
There was one other trick left before she would reveal her own trump cards.
- o -
The first exploding Noble Phantasm would have caused Lorelei's death had it hit. The javelin had landed three meters away due to her storm winds altering it off course. The explosion had fully knocked the vice-director down, and only her strong personal wind shield protected her from the detonation. A direct hit would probably have disrupted her defensive magic enough that she would no longer be anchored to the earth. While she could normally survive being sucked into one of her own tornadoes, the fact that they contained the world's most powerful debris changed things.
The following two Phantasms came closer to hitting her in the sense their trajectories were physically nearer; however, they passed by her completely and harmlessly. She had recognized Rider's new tactic for what it was: prana bombs. A bit crude in execution, but one could not doubt its effectiveness. She had no idea why the Heroic Spirit's appearance had begun to change, though. But the larger form and dark aura gave off an ominous vibe. Picking up a scimitar from the ground, Lorelei began flooding the object with prana.
Two could play at this game.
- o -
"This is the most banal use of a Reality Marble I have ever seen," Zelretch commented.
"Vice-Director Barthomeloi is attacking with swordnadoes, and Rider actually rode one, and now they are throwing exploding Noble Phantasms around. How is this possibly banal?" Shirou replied, standing between Saber and Sakura. Granted they were not at the same level as Broken Phantasms because Rider did not have the ability to activate them. Nonetheless, the bombs were still Crystallized Mysteries given physical form.
"Well, maybe you know what is happening over there. But all we see is a giant dust cloud," the vampire said with a gesture to the battle a half kilometer away. "Wait, did you just say swordnadoes?"
Everyone looked at Shirou somewhat oddly.
"Ahem," Zelretch coughed. "Anyways, while I acknowledge a field full of Noble Phantasms makes for a great sparring arena, how can any self-respecting magus not be studying and documenting everything here?"
"Give the Vice-Director a break," Rin replied. "Clearly, she needs to relieve some stress."
The vampire was about to retort with a statement containing the phrases "blackmail" and "sexual favors", but a millennium of wisdom prevented him from doing so. Sighing, he resumed examining a Noble Phantasm with his magnifying glass.
"Why are you using that?" his apprentice asked.
"I believe that should be fairly obvious."
"You already have superhuman vision. Why would you use a magnifying glass?"
"As if I would carry around something so mundane. This is a Mystic Code. It reveals information about what I am examining. For example, I know the exact weight and dimensions of this sword, along with the fact that it is holy. Had I not used this and touched the blade carelessly, its holiness may have damaged my heretic self."
"Strukturanalyse," Rin incanted. After a few moments, she resumed speaking. "Durandal, The Peerless Sword. Holy Sword given to King Charlemagne by an angel. Then given to Knight Roland. Contains three miracles that make it indestructible, amongst other abilities. Weight 1.623 kilograms, blade length 107.88 centimeters."
Zelretch looked at his apprentice. Then at his magnifying glass. Then back at his apprentice. Sighing, he tossed the Mystic Code behind him. "You will teach me that spell."
"In return, you will call me 'Sensei'," Rin retorted smugly.
"Only while you are teaching that spell," the old man negotiated swiftly.
"I accept your terms."
Luvia looked between the two. "This is not what I imagined an apprenticeship under the Wizard Marshall would be like. Your attitude is appalling, Tohsaka."
"Indeed," Zelretch agreed. "It is necessary to be a bit creative when punishing my wayward student."
"Oh?" Luvia asked, eyes widening in anticipation. "Could you give examples?"
"Of course. For example, most recently I am now forcing her to work with her bitter enemy."
The blonde magus blinked at the statement. Was he implying she was taken in not for her abilities but instead to simply spite Tohsaka? No, he did commend her on her paper before. Instead of saying the first thing that came to mind like a certain impulsive shrew, Luvia took a moment to form her thoughts.
This gave Shirou an opportunity to interject. "Wizard Marshall, you dropped your magnifying glass."
"Oh, I won't be needing that now that Sensei here will be teaching me Structural Grasp."
The younger man frowned. "Are… are you littering in my Reality Marble?"
- o -
Lorelei immediately dropped the arming sword she had picked up. Gasping at the pain, she closed her eyes and checked her internals. Something… foreign had attached itself to the Circuits on her hand and forearm. Furthermore, this invasive entity was spreading itself upwards along the limb. She immediately cut the prana flow to that section of her Magic Circuitry, isolating that region from the rest of the network. The invasion halted, but she could feel its malignance waiting for an opportunity to deal more damage.
Opening her eyes, she looked at the arming sword. It now had a sinister red glow along its length that pulsed rapidly, precisely matching her own heartbeat. The vice-director almost blasted the Noble Phantasm into oblivion but halted herself at the last moment. Despite the isolation, using magic may exacerbate the infection of her Circuitry. Raising her gaze, she saw that Rider had halted her attacks from outside the tornado defense.
Apparently her opponent deemed the sparring match over.
More importantly, Rider had her attention in another direction. Looking over, Lorelei saw Saber rapidly approaching with, strangely enough, a red spear. The purpose of the Noble Phantasm became quite clear when Saber charged through a tornado with the weapon thrust in front of her. Against all expectations, the portions of the storm in contact with the spear parted before Saber and closed behind her.
"Magic makes the curse worse," the King of Knights stated as she landed next to the Queen.
"I had presumed as much." After all, Lorelei still had to maintain her defensive spells to keep herself anchored against the maelstroms orbiting her. While she had Circuits that were not infected, she still felt pain in her very being when prana flowed through them. After taking a breath to calm herself, Lorelei asked, "Destroying the Noble Phantasm removes the curse, right?" A reasonable assumption, given what she had learned from El-Melloi II regarding the Fourth Holy Grail War.
"Not inside Unlimited Blade Works," Saber answered. She bent down with her back facing the vice-director. "Are you strong enough to hold on?"
Lorelei understood that Saber needed to wield the spear to leave the area. After all, canceling the tornadoes required her to use magic. That left either the Queen riding the back of the King or a more inelegant solution such as a fireman's carry. Preparing herself for the pain, she climbed onto Saber's back and used her healthy hand to bear most of the force.
"Wrap your legs around me," Saber directed. "You can drop your defensive spells."
After Lorelei complied, she felt wind thaumaturgy of a different sort envelop around her. Unable to keep her curiosity quiet, she said, "I assume that is Gáe Dearg. As for your Strike Air…?"
Saber used her left hand to support Lorelei's leg while she held the red spear ready. "Merlin cast Invisible Air upon Excalibur to prevent its recognition on the battlefield."
Wait a minute...
"Did he cast that spell on the swords of all your soldiers?"
"No. It is quite finite as a Mystery."
"Then it would have been obvious you had Excalibur if you were the only person with an invisible sword."
Saber grunted in a masculine fashion. "Merlin was not the sanest of individuals at the best of times."
- o -
When the three powerful ladies returned, Shirou had Rule Breaker ready. As the vice-director slid off of Saber's back, Shirou approached and said, "Please take off your shirt, Vice-Director Barthomeloi, and give me your hand."
Hanging onto the King of Knights for support, Lorelei eyed the ominous iridescent jagged dagger. She asked harshly, "And what are you planning on doing with that?"
"I'm going to stab you, and then you'll feel better."
"Senpai, you really need to work on your bedside manners," Sakura commented. Still in her dark form, she measured the vice-director's vital signs with her own version of Structural Grasp.
"Which Noble Phantasm is that one?" the Queen demanded.
Shirou took the thirty seconds to explain Rule Breaker's abilities.
In response, Lorelei pinched the bridge of her nose with her eyes closed. "Shirou Emiya. Would you please stop giving me reasons to regret passing on Sealing you?"
The redhead paused in surprise. "Sorry?"
Lorelei sighed as she took off her outer shirt with Saber's assistance, wincing as she did so. When she held her arm out, she noticed her forearm and hand were already a darker color than the rest of her limb. Shirou immediately held the arm and pricked it with Rule Breaker. She could feel something occur, though it was difficult to put into words what exactly she felt.
"Is that it?"
"No. Rule Breaker removed the sword's curse, which is good as it is the type that grows stronger over time. However, the curse created a… I guess the best way to describe it would be a magical disease. Rule Breaker did not get rid of that."
"What type of disease?"
Shirou took a breath before giving his explanation. "It infects your Magic Circuits, using the physical manifestation in your body to make its way into your soul. So even if you isolate the infection in your arm, it will still spread within your soul, eventually killing you."
"How delightful," Lorelei deadpanned. "What is the treatment? Stabbing me repeatedly with Gáe Dearg?"
Blinking in surprise and scrunching up his face in deep thought, Shirou said, "Actually, that is a possible cure. That would involve methodically piercing 108 acupuncture points with Gáe Dearg to isolate each Circuit and force the infection out, one Circuit at a time."
The vice-director's expression lost any form of sarcasm and turned deadly serious. "This is where you explain Plan B, Emiya."
"Ah, allow me," Zelretch interrupted. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a vial of shimmering, golden liquid. "This is a powerful healing potion. I believe it should fix you up."
"Which one is it?" Sakura asked out of professional curiosity.
"Nothing that exists in this dimension. The main ingredient is a rare plant from Assyria, the mimbulus mimbletonia. It has been extinct in this world for some time. Even in other dimensions, it is difficult to find."
Lorelei examined the potion in Zelretch's hand. It gave off a strong magical signature through the glass vial that could be sensed even at a distance. It was either that or an excruciatingly painful procedure that could barely be called surgery. Really, the choice was obvious.
She began taking off her undershirt.
The garment was completely off by the time everyone realized just how deep the Queen's hatred of Dead Apostles ran. She was in the process of unclasping her bra when Sakura hesitantly began speaking. "Vice-Director-"
Lorelei glared at the younger magus, daring her to suggest otherwise.
"Trace. On." Avalon's appearance drew everyone's attention.
When Lord El-Melloi II had revealed Saber's identity two years ago, there had been a flurry of research on Arthurian legends within the Mage Association. Thus, there was no doubt in the minds of those present that the magnificent scabbard was Avalon, the Ever Distant Utopia. Its sheer presence dwarfed the magic of the surrounding Crystallized Mysteries. It was at this moment that Lorelei understood why the phrase "third rate" could be used to describe certain Noble Phantasms.
"So, this is Plan A," Shirou declared. His cheeks suddenly reddened as he realized the state of undress of the rather attractive woman before him. Naturally, he turned his head aside and closed his eyes.
Heaving a deep breath in frustration, Lorelei slowly bit out each word. "Emiya. Why did you not say this earlier?"
In a voice tinged with confusion, he explained, "You asked about Gáe Dearg, so I answered you."
"I was being rhetorical!" she snapped, finally at the end of her rope. It was only because using magic worsened her condition that she did not carve him into shreds.
"Really? I thought you were serious," Shirou said honestly, his eyes still closed. "I figured as a magus you were curious even though you needed medical attention. You know, the whole path of magic thing."
Zelretch coughed to cover his amusement. Rin double facepalmed as she whimpered.
Deciding to take control of the situation, Saber reached over and took the copy of Avalon out of Shirou's hand. She transferred some of her prana into it. "This copy will last about two days. If the recovery time is longer, we will create a new one until you are healed."
Regaining her composure, Lorelei took a breath before replying. "And in return?"
Saber's face remained impassive. "Nothing."
"Nothing?" the Queen asked skeptically.
"An exploitation of someone cursed as you are is an affront upon chivalry," the King of Knights explained.
There was a moment of silence as the Queen and King stared at one another.
Saber handed Avalon over. "I surmise you are one of those who views chivalry as a weakness, a constriction due to limitations of honor. I assure you. It. Is. Not." Given that the legend of King Arthur was one of the most famous stories in history, it was hard to argue against her. Saber continued, "Though, we would appreciate it if you refrained from killing Shirou for his thoughtlessness."
"I make no guarantees," Lorelei said dryly.
- o -
Retcon: For those with incredible attention to detail or possess a marvelous memory, Chapter 2 of Crosswinds of Fate was modified such that it no longer states Saber's existence as a Servant was kept secret from the Mage Association.
Retcon: Removed Sakura's ability to use Gandr and Gandr arrow. Removed her yotsugake mystic code.
Retcon: Changed Rin's aria for Tracing to be a multi-line count instead of two words.
- o -
Disclaimer: Fate/stay night and other elements of the Nasuverse are owned by TYPE-MOON. Harry Potter and related elements are owned by J. K. Rowling.
Special thanx to Dignity and WhatWindDoes for idea bouncing, and ThirdFang for beta read.