"So, it's time then."

Rider leaned against the writing desk in Bazett's hotel room, foot tapping restlessly. He never seemed fully comfortable indoors, and tended to pace or fidget – and he was constantly glancing out of the windows. Not surprising, given how his fighting style was built around having the freedom to manoeuvre. If caught in a tight space by someone like Saber or Berserker, Rider would have nowhere to go and his relative fragility would decide things quickly.

In fact, it might have been one of those additional Servant Class-based tweaks that the Founding Families had put in – like Lancers being generally more agile on average than other Servants despite nothing about spear fighting actually making this necessary, or Archer class Servants getting a fondness for high places along with their boosted eyesight. Certainly it'd make sense, if creating a vessel with an affinity for wide open spaces and having the manoeuvrability advantage, to also make it subconsciously dislike having that taken away. That extra caution could mean the difference between victory and defeat, after all.

Or maybe she was just overthinking this, Bazett thought as she pulled her socks on and laced up her shoes. A sample size of four-and-a-bit really told you nothing. Maybe that was just how all Riders up until now had been, just by coincidence. It was like how everyone said that Saber was the best class, but Bazett had always thought that maybe it was just that all the Sabers in Holy Grail Wars one through four just happened to have been more powerful. (Of course, she may have been a little bit biased – Cu Chulainn would never be summoned as a Saber without significant cheating.)

Well, whatever.

Bazett stood from where she'd been sitting on the bed, and slipped her arms into her suit jacket. Through her blouse she could feel the runic arrays activate, tingly against her skin, making her all but bulletproof and strong as an ox. She smiled.

She always felt better when she was properly dressed.

"Aye, it's time. No more running around looking for trouble with mystery Servants – we've got a priest to kill, and he know where he's living. Best of all, we don't even have to involve innocents in all of this – we'd have come into conflict with the Tohsaka lass anyhow, may as well get her out of the picture along with Kirei while we're at it."

"Hm." Rider shifted position from one foot to the other, then frowned. "And you're sure it's a good idea? I don't know much about magi, but it seems like attacking one in their home territory's not gonna end well."

Bazett paused in the middle of putting on a glove, and looked at her Servant. He always looked intense, but now…

"Are you worried, Rider? If you've got issues, I'm all ears."

Rider scowled. "I'm not worried… just cautious. I got my ass kicked by Lancer last night, and it wasn't fun, I'll tell you that for free. Sorry if I'm not in a rush to attack another Servant on their home turf, when their own Master's had all the time in the world to put up God knows what defences. There's gotta be a smarter way of going about this, is all."

"Oh?" Bazett said. "Got any ideas?"

"…no. I wasn't… exactly the ideas guy in life. Had friends and superiors who were all tricky and sneaky, but I just did as I was told mostly and acted as their secret superweapon. Life as a soldier, you know? I was kinda hoping you'd have a plan – you're the expert, right?"

Bazett laughed, she couldn't help it. Rider could have been describing her life as an Enforcer. She shouldn't really have been surprised – she'd summoned Rider without a catalyst after all, no wonder they were so similar.

The amount of times she'd caused headaches for her superiors by just assuming she'd be able to smash her way out of any problem… she'd gotten a little bit canny over the years, but, well, everyone has a plan until they get an ancient death-curse to the face. Bazett had seen too many plans all go to hell – usually immediately after the enemy had anything to say about it – to bother making complicated schemes herself. Instead, she just relied on brute strength, resilience, and a thorough understanding of all the usual ways to make vampires, demons and rogue mages hurt.

She'd never actually led a team of Enforcers, either, despite her proficiency in combat and how long she'd been in the job. It was always someone else getting her the information, telling her who to punch and when, organising the transport there and back, smoothing things over with the local Second Owner and mundane authorities. Guess that was coming back to bite her now.

"Yeah, you and me both, kid," she said. "Christ, what a pair we make – two muscleheads who never learned how to plan a conflict, and only know how to smash stuff in front of them. Fortunately for us…" she slammed one gloved fist into the other, and a small shockwave made the lights flicker. "…we're both really good at it."

Rider grinned. "Sounds good to me. Just point me where I need to be and I'll wreck everything in your path, Master."

"That's the spirit. Honestly, though, you really don't need to worry. If we were going up against Caster or someone, yeah, you'd have a point, but don't forget, as a Rider you've got Magic Resistance. I'd be surprised if anything even the Tohsaka cooked up over the years managed to give you more than a nosebleed." Probably, anyway. But, well, she didn't actually have any better ideas, and it was always better to at least sound confident, even if she wasn't as certain as she sounded that assaulting the Tohsaka fortress was a good idea.

Rider tilted his head from side to side, as if to say yeah, you have a point.

"Also," Bazett continued, not quite sure whether she was trying to convince Rider or herself, "quite a few of those defences may well be tied to the building itself. Which is usually a pretty good way of doing it, because it reinforces things like bounded fields due to the permanent nature of the foundation, especially if the building doubles as a permanent residence like this does. In this case, however…"

"… knock down the building and the defences go with it," Rider finished. "Score one for the muscleheads, I guess."

"You're damn right. It's the old 'invincible door fallacy' again. You can reinforce your door all you like, but at the point where it starts being easier to just break through the walls… well, there's not much point. And, well, it's really easy for you to break through walls, being a giant and all, so hooray for Team Bazett."

"I feel like there was something wrong with your metaphor there, Master…"

Bazett's hotel was in the suburbs, a little place tucked away in the maze of back streets that made up that part of Fuyuki. Location-wise, it was close enough to the river to give it easy access to New Town, but also very much part of the charming old residential district. And, more importantly, not too far away from where the Tohsaka house waited, just under the eaves of the forest. Good thing too – Bazett didn't exactly have much in the way of transport, and while the bus service was… fine, it also cost money and the Association clerks were real assholes about expenses. So, the old two-pins express it was.

"'Oh, surely a combat magus like yourself doesn't need transport warrants, you can run faster than a car anyway, haha'… stupid pencil-pushers."

What was that, Master? came Rider's disembodied voice.

"Nothing." It was hard to remember that she wasn't on her own for this job. She'd sometimes worked as part of a team, but hardly ever with a proper partner the same way she and Rider were now. Talking to herself while wandering a foreign city was a habit she'd picked up at some point – it started as trying to keep her nerves down, and later kind of turned into something she just did.

When Rider was astralised like he was now, she felt as if she was on just another one of her Enforcer gigs – alone, trying to find out just what the crap was going on and how she was going to punch it in the face until it stopped threatening to expose the secret of magic. It wasn't fair to Rider, she knew that – he'd been nothing but courteous and helpful to her ever since he was summoned. But… well, he wasn't Cu Chulainn, and that was that.

Still. No use crying over spilt milk and all that.

And Rider had his uses. While Bazett wandered, looking like a tourist on a late-night stroll around town, her mind was elsewhere – watching through Rider's eyes as he flitted from building to building at an incredible pace. There wasn't a Servant better at covering ground than a Rider, and that was a fact.

And so it was that both of them noticed it at the same time.


I know, Bazett sent, all fanciful musing left behind. There was a job to do. Go. Investigate. I'll catch up.

Up ahead, hidden in an alley, a man lay dead.

Rider landed and materialised in the same motion, and crouched by the corpse. Whoever the victim had been, he hadn't died well – his torso bore massive ragged wounds, bits of his suit hanging off him where it'd been chopped through, and his chest was all but ripped open, his white shirt dyed red with blood.

Dead on arrival, Rider sent. But he's still warm, even on a night as cold as this. We were seconds too late… dammit. His hands tightened on the hilts of his swords, but after a moment he huffed in annoyance and stood. You're clear, by the way, Master. No Servants I can sense, no-one nearby.

Thank you. Bazett didn't run, even so. The poor guy wasn't getting any more dead, and the last thing she needed was for a nosy neighbour or some security camera to catch her running towards a crime scene without a good explanation. By the time she got there, Rider was leaning against a nearby wall. When he saw her, he jerked his thumb behind him.

"He's over there. I didn't touch him or move anything. Figured you'd be able to tell more from the body than I could – I'm no detective."

"Neither am I, really… but you're right, a dead man can tell you a whole lot if you know how to look. Keep an eye out while I play CSI, will you?"

Rider grunted in response, and disappeared upwards in a whirl of green and brown. Bazett knelt down next to the corpse.

She'd mostly seen what there was to see through Rider's eyes, of course, but it was always worth having a look yourself. Fortunately, years of experience as an Enforcer had basically killed any squeamishness she might have had. It was just a dead guy, after all – when you'd seen a child's internal organs grow spider legs and crawl out their owner's mouth, everything else was just kind of… whatever.

So Bazett took off her jacket, rolled her sleeves up, and examined the body. The wounds were, specifically, cuts, she saw – long and straight and deep. Sword wounds, if she was any judge. She couldn't tell what kind, though; that really was detective work, for a smarter woman than her.

Most of the damage was to the man's torso, stretching for shoulder waist. He'd damn near been cut in half, poor guy. However, there were cuts and bruises on his forearms and hands, and one of his knuckles looked to be broken. Defensive wounds. Whoever this guy had been, he'd put up a fight, for all the good it had done him.

More interestingly, the edges of the wounds had been cauterised, as though whatever weapon had done this had been red-hot. Or on fire. That was interesting… and familiar. Where had she come across something like that recently?

And finally… it hadn't really been clear, but the blood spatter wasn't random. It was all over the place, true, and it had been smeared and smudged – maybe by the killer, maybe by the victim's last struggles. But here and there were definite patterns. Bazett would have almost called them runes, except she was something of an expert in runes and these looked like nothing she'd ever seen. They were arranged in a rough circle, with the corpse at the centre.

On a hunch, Bazett lifted aside the man's shirt and jacket. On his chest, just over his heart, was another rune, clearly scratched into his flesh by some kind of claw or jagged knife. This one was made of one horizontal line, with two curved ones coming down from it to form a kind of archway shape, with a dot in the middle. It… sort of looked like a doorway. Or a gate of some kind.

Bazett had no idea what the hell any of this meant.

There were spells that could help with this kind of detective work, obviously – recreate the scene, peer into the past, access the man's dying thoughts to identify his killer – but Bazett was a combat mage, not a remembrancer. It couldn't be helped. That said, it was a simple enough thing to sense prana – with a little luck, she might be able to recognise the magical signature of the killer if she came across it again. At the very least, she should be able to tell what the runes did.

Bazett extended her sense for magic, and gave it her best shot… but came up empty. She'd never been especially sensitive at the best of times, and the corpse was leaking the remnants of whatever od it had held all over the place. Most of it would have vanished with the man's soul, but it retained just a little reactivity. It was how necromancy worked, after all. In this case, however, it was just getting in the way.

Any luck? Rider asked.

Well, a little. Looks like sword wounds, from a long blade with some kind of fire magic on it. From the look of the guy, the attacker was either very sloppy or just didn't care about how much noise and damage they made. Other than that, I can't tell – I tried to recognise the prana of the killer, see if it was one of the Servants we've come across, but nothing. The guy's got enough left that it's muddying the waters.

He's still got magical energy left? Weird.

How so?

Well, started Rider, a little hesitantly, not that I'm saying I'd do this – but if I, as a Servant, was going to the trouble to kill a guy anyway, I'd drain him for every drop he had first. Waste not, want not, you know? I can see other heroes not wanting to do that… but if that was the case they'd have found another way to deal with a witness or intruder or whatever the hell this poor bastard did. At least kill him cleanly, rather than hack him half to pieces like this.

Bazett could have kicked herself. The prana was still there – she should have damn well noticed that!

Good catch, Rider, she sent. You're right, I don't think this was a Servant attack at all. The wasted prana, the mess, these weird runes… no, this is something else.

Ah, crap, Rider sighed. You're telling me that as well as seven Servants running around, there's something completely unrelated preying on the people too? How unlucky can one city be?

Unrelated… I'm not so sure about that. I mean, yeah, there's all kinds of demons, spirits or weird spooky shit that can do this, sure. But for one of them to show up during the two weeks that the Holy Grail War's going on – nah, that's too much of a coincidence for me. Chances are, we can trace this back to the War somehow. Either a Master bringing in some kind of demonic retinue, or a Servant doing something similar on a grander scale.

That'll be Caster then, Rider said confidently.

Bazett opened her mouth to agree, then stopped. That feeling of familiarity was back – like when she'd seen the cauterised sword wounds. She'd seen something like that, recently, and now this…


Rider, she started. Do you remember when we fought Saber and Berserker? You were busy fighting that dragon and… whatever the shit Berserker called up, but while you were gone, Saber left a little something to keep me busy – some kind of knight-type demon with a flaming sword. Looking at it now… I'm sure this is Saber's work somehow.

The runes and spells were unfamiliar to Bazett, but then Saber could be anyone from history – using a style of magecraft that had fallen out of fashion or never been passed down. Off the top of her head, Cornelius Agrippa had been both a master fencer and accomplished magus. It didn't really fit with the large two-handed sword she'd seen Saber use, though. Either way, the runes around this victim didn't help to narrow down who Saber might be.

Didn't help to figure out how to stop him.

There hadn't been a lot of details to come out of the last War – but Waver had told her a little of what she was in for, once they'd learned Bazett was to be sent as the Association's representative. The expression on his face when he described the – there was no other word for it – depravities of the insane Caster Gilles de Rais would stick with Bazett.

If there was another Servant trafficking with demons, letting them prey on the Fuyuki populace… well. Last time it had ended with a demon god emerging from the river, and it had taken the King of Knights wielding the Sword of Promised Victory to put it down. This time?

Bazett wasn't so optimistic about the city's chances.

Rider, she began. We've got to stop Saber. By any means necessary. Rally the other Servants to the cause, tell everyone what's going on… even… Fuck. This was going to suck. …we may even need to get Kirei on side for this. Attempted murder or no, playing with the War or no, he needs to know about this. If anyone should understand how serious this could be, it's him.

It's your revenge, said Rider. If you want to postpone it, that's your right. But, uh, we tried to kill him already. I kind of doubt he's going to want to listen to anything we've got to say, and while he's holed up in the Tohsaka house he doesn't have to leave. We should just get over there and crush it as soon as possible. We can leave this guy for the milita- sorry, the police to clean up.

Tempting. If they caught the Tohsaka girl inside, it would be the easiest way of ending Saber permanently – and of course, if they got rid of Kirei at the same time, so much the better. Even if they didn't manage to kill either Master or Servant, taking away their home territory could only be a good move, as it would cut off the Tohsaka from a lot of their prepared spells and mystic codes, not to mention the jewels their magecraft was so dependent on.

And it would be so satisfying, wouldn't it, to just have Rider transform and knock down a building and smash Kirei and Tohsaka both. It would feel great. It would feel like she was making a difference.

But… much as she might like to, much as she could think of obvious reasons to… making sure Saber was dealt with was more important. There was no telling how much control Saber had over the demons he summoned. If provoked, he could whip them up into a frenzy before going down. Worse, he could use them as a kind of dead-man's-switch – maybe Saber's continued influence was all that was stopping his demons from going berserk.

Bazett just didn't know, and when the whole of Fuyuki was at stake, she couldn't leave it to chance.

No. A rogue Servant was putting the secret of magic at risk. There were procedures in place for dealing with this – and however much she hated Kirei for trying to kill her, he was the best shot at stopping Saber. He had the authority to organise an alliance of Servants – and against six Heroic Spirits even Saber didn't stand a chance at getting away, no matter how many demons he threw at the problem.

That said, Rider was right. She couldn't exactly walk up to the Tohsaka's front door and ask to speak to Kirei – that was a great way to get sniped by Archer, assuming the Tohsaka home defences didn't do her in first.

Bazett looked at the dead man, the seed of an idea forming. Leave him for the police, huh? Sure, she could do that. But instead…

Actually, Rider, she sent, her idea solidifying even as she made the decision. I think it's long past time we started trying to play this smart. Here's what we're going to do…

"Oi, Caster."

The Servant looked up from where he'd been leaning over Rin's writing desk, down in Rin's workshop. "Hm?"

"Explain your style of summoning to me again, would you?" Rin commanded. "It's not making any sense. Where's this 'oblivion' place your notes keep going on about? Sometimes it sounds like an actual place – like, with its own wildlife and everything – but other times it just seems like you're talking about the dimension itself. I don't get it."

Caster smiled, and turned around, leaning on the table and focusing fully on Rin. "Of course, Master. My apologies – as competent as you are, I sometimes forget that you weren't trained as a mage on my world. It's often hard to determine which of the basics I can and can't skip. But, yes, a thorough understanding of Oblivion is vital to achieving any results in the Conjuration school."

Rin put down the book she was reading – one of Caster's textbooks on Mundus-style magic that he'd somehow managed to find time to write for her – and leaned forward in her chair. It bothered her, a little, that she slipped so easily into a teacher-student dynamic with Caster, when she was supposed to be the Master; but then, when you got the opportunity to receive instruction from a heroic spirit raised to the Throne of Heroes for his skill with magic, you damn well put aside your pride and listened.

As for why she was at home rather than out patrolling – well, as she'd discussed with Emiya, she had no intention of venturing outside more than she absolutely had to. It was dangerous out there! There was a gang war, and everything. Emiya had told her so just today.

No, Rin would much rather stay indoors, behind generations' worth of magical defences and some surprisingly sturdy and well-reinforced walls, and let her Servant create enchanted items of shocking power while all the other Servants killed each other outside. She'd emerge in a couple of weeks, armed to the teeth with gems and festooned with Mundus-style enchanted jewellery, by which point the only Servants left would be the unstoppable Saber and the surprisingly stubborn Berserker, one of which she was already in an alliance with.

That sounded like a much more elegant way of fighting a War. She didn't know what all the fuss was about, honestly.

And in the meantime, Rin would milk the Servant of the Spell for all the magical knowledge he was worth.

"Essentially," Caster began, "Oblivion is, well, everything. All that is, is contained within Oblivion – or rather, within one of the planes of Oblivion. Mundus, my home universe, was one such, although it was exceptional for a number of different reasons, none of which are relevant here. However, surrounding Mundus – on its 'borders', if you like – there are many other planes of Oblivion.

"These consist of, essentially, separate dimensions, each a stable reality unto itself – with, yes, its own environment, ecosystem, wildlife, and inhabitants – but separated from the others, while still being contained within the totality that is Oblivion. Thus, while technically any part of anything that exists is 'Oblivion', the term is generally used to refer to any of the stable planes other than Mundus."

Rin nodded, to show she was listening. "Right… that pretty much ties in with Kaleidoscope theory, from what I can tell – with Oblivion, the whole thing, as the Root, and the different planes as the infinite parallel worlds that result."

"Hm. I'm not familiar with this Kaleidoscope theory… but it does sound similar. However, while in theory the planes of Oblivion are infinite in variety, in practice there are only a handful accessible from Mundus. That access, of course, is almost without exception via the school of Conjuration – this being, in essence, the art of transporting beings or objects from the nearer planes of Oblivion."

Caster gestured, and one of his familiar blue vortexes leading to nowhere appeared in his hand. When it faded, the ghostly dagger he'd used to… the ghostly dagger Rin had seen before was in his hand. With a wave, it vanished. With another wave, a burst of violet fire had Rin shielding her eyes, and when that faded, a skeleton stood in her workshop, clutching an ancient-looking axe in both hands.

Rin eyed the skeleton nervously. It didn't eye her back – not having eyes and all – but it looked eerily aware of its surroundings. With a worried glance towards Caster, Rin asked, "Um, this might be a silly question, but it is under your control, right? I assumed as much from when you've summoned your demons before, but…"

"Ah," said Caster, "the correct term is daedra, not demons. I suppose this is as good a time as any to teach you about them… specifically, daedra are any of the denizens of the planes of Oblivion. Their natures are variable, according to the character of their home plane – and ruling Daedric Prince, assuming that a separation can be made between the two – but most of the closest planes have something resembling civilisation, comprising many thousands of daedra. I've laid out the characteristics of the most commonly summoned beings in your notes; however, I'm sure you will get a chance to see how each performs for yourself over the course of the War.

"While many can be violent, and all have entirely alien mindsets, a daedra is not necessarily evil simply by virtue of being daedra. Although, to be entirely fair, most inhabitants of Coldharbour and the Deadlands probably do count as evil by our standards…" Caster trailed off, a faraway look in his eye. Rin decided she didn't want to know whatever he was reliving – although knowing her luck she'd be seeing in her dreams soon enough.

"To answer your question," Caster continued, "the standard summoning spells also overlay a compulsion on the summoned being to obey the summoner," Caster reassured her. He chuckled. "I imagine the art of summoning was somewhat more risky before that innovation was developed."

"Uh-huh. And how do you make it go away?"

"Most such conjurations are temporary," Caster said. "The length of the binding is dependent on the skill of the summoner, and any enchanted items used to enhance it. There are spells that summon something on a more permanent basis, and spells that deliberately leave out the binding, but these are not widely taught, and highly illegal, certainly across all of Tamriel. No-one wants unbound daedra wandering around. However, rest assured, Master – I never learned any such spells myself. Everything I have summoned since I came here has been under my strict control, and would not have lasted more than a matter of minutes in any case. And, failing that…"

The skeleton took a step towards Rin – then stopped, an icicle thrusting itself through its skull. With a guttural scream, the skeleton vanished. Behind it, Caster lowered his hand.

"If the summoned being takes enough damage to its corporeal form, it will discorporate, and be sent back to Oblivion. This doesn't work on unbound daedra, as these will have physically entered Mundus rather than being summoned, having found their way through the liminal barriers somehow – but fortunately anything that does enough damage to discorporate a summoned daedra will kill an unbound one, so really it's all the same in the end. Except you can harvest materials from the corpses of unbound daedra."

Rin gave Caster a hard look, and he returned it with a cheerful grin. With a sigh, Rin gave up. Fish would swim, birds would fly, and her Servant would be uncomfortably macabre at times.

Hm. It looked like whoever designed Caster's creepy-ass spells at least knew what they were doing. But then, Rin supposed it only had to take one demon going out of control for someone to decide they'd really rather it not happen again. If this Conjuration school was as widespread as Caster made it out to be, they pretty much would have had to have worked out all the kinks.

It was an uncomfortable thought that there were worlds full of demons just waiting a hair's breadth away, but maybe she was overreacting. The boundaries between the worlds couldn't be that easy to penetrate, or, well, the world would have been overrun by demons already. And even in the rare cases, like those Caster had mentioned, it sounded very much like the job of the Wizard Marshal – like, what was his role even for, if not to keep Earth safe from parallel dimensions?

In fact, by Earth standards, the whole of the school of Conjuration seemed to be very squarely in the realm of the Second Magic, and entirely out of reach for even someone as talented as Rin. But Caster didn't seem to think it was anything special, and was confident she could learn it without issue.

Fine by her. She couldn't wait to get started. Except…

"So, how do you actually go about punching through into Oblivion anyway? I mean, it obviously does work from here, or you wouldn't be able to do it, but what are you actually doing? How am I even supposed to get started?"

Caster shrugged. "It's… tough to explain. It's a spell, the completed recipe – you won't be able to 'get started' just by experimenting with your magicka, or mana as the case may be. Even if you did, we'd be starting right at the beginning of eons of development in the school, and we just don't have time."

"Yeah, you don't say. Again, what's the solution, Caster?" Obviously her Servant had some kind of solution, beyond 'just do it'. He wouldn't even have suggested this plan if he didn't.

In answer, Caster picked up an unfinished book from the writing desk, and showed it to Rin. To her magic senses, the thing was… odd. It definitely wasn't an enchanted object in the same way as the ring she still wore, and it wasn't itself a spell, but weirdly somewhere in-between. In appearance, it was just a notebook, bought from a stationery shop, but Caster had half-filled it with his crabbed handwriting, with diagrams filling every inch of empty space and magical-looking sigils adorning the cover.

"This is a spellbook," he said. "I could never create these in life – it took specialist knowledge to inscribe the method to a spell in paper and ink, knowledge I never bothered to learn. Now, however, I am a Caster-class Servant, and the Item Construction skill has more than closed the gap. These were the primary means of learning new spells in Skyrim when I lived. My hope is that, when complete, you will simply have to read this and the spell will take root in your mind. If not… then I will simply have to try something else." If Rin didn't know better, she would have said Caster looked uncomfortable. Actually, screw that, she did know better, and as much as he was trying to hide it, Caster definitely looked a little on edge.

"Caster? Tell me what you're planning."

Rin's Servant met her piercing gaze and grinned disarmingly. "Well, first, we'll try transferring my memories to you directly. We were going to need to do that anyway, to allow you to use the Thu'um as I do, we will simply need to expand the scope of the memories transferred to give you the sense of using magicka in the same way I do. If that also doesn't work – and I would be very surprised if it did not – then we will have to take slightly more drastic steps."

Oh god, what the hell was her Servant planning on doing now? "Caster, drastic is not a word I want to hear when it involves making changes to the way I do magic!" Rin's voice had risen to almost a shriek by the end – hardly dignified, but certainly justified, she thought.

"I promise, you will be perfectly safe," Caster said, raising both hands placatingly. "I really shouldn't have said anything – it almost certainly will not come to this. But, in the interests of full disclosure, the absolute last resort involves my taking you to a plane of Oblivion – a safe one," he put in, as Rin opened her mouth in outrage. "Apocrypha is one of the least dangerous of the known planes, and you shall be by my side the entire time. You can think of it as a library universe, and if there is an answer as to how to allow you to perform my style of magic anywhere, it is there."

Rin drew herself up, ready to launch into a furious tirade on just how terrible an idea that was and who did Caster even think he was to her into an unknown demon realm and why on Earth he thought she'd agree to this in the first place… but deflated with a sigh. There was no point. Right now all it would do was give her a headache and a sore throat, and not change Caster's mind one jot.

Until and unless his other options had failed, she'd drop the issue. Rin was… pretty sure Caster was genuine in his desire to pass on his magic – out of a sense of scientific curiosity if nothing else. And it wasn't like he had interest in her death. He was a Servant, after all, and would vanish if Rin died, so he probably would keep her safe in the event they did go to Oblivion. And if all else failed, and there really was no other way, and she still really, really didn't like the idea… she'd have to see.

"Whatever," she said out loud. "Let's go and see if that fake priest's available, we still need to talk to him about healing magic."

As it turned out, the fake priest was available. Rin knocked on his guest room door, because that was the polite thing to do, and then barged straight in anyway, because it was her damn house and she didn't actually care what Kirei thought.

Rin had given her guardian the pick of the guest rooms, and he'd chosen this one. It was towards the front of the house, and had a view out onto the street – probably Kirei had had security in mind when he picked it. It was cosy, luxurious like all the house but not large. Considering how Spartan Kirei's quarters in the church had been, Rin supposed he would find being in a big room like hers weird.

Well, not like she really cared.

Kirei was still awake, standing in the middle of the room doing seemingly nothing, the creep. He turned as Rin entered, Caster as her hulking shadow.

"Ah, Rin. To what do I owe this pleasure?"

"Healing spells. You're an expert, right?" Rin didn't have time for small talk – or rather, she did, she just wanted to spend as little time in Kirei's company as possible.

To his credit, not that Rin was particularly inclined to go around crediting anything to her guardian, Kirei took Rin's abrupt entry in stride. "I would not describe myself as an expert in any branch of magecraft… but yes, I have had considerable experience with healing magics. As you can imagine, they were invaluable in my work as an Executor." Kirei's face developed a teasing smirk. "Have you developed an interest, Rin? I had not thought it would suit someone of your… temperament. However, if you desire to learn, I shall gladly teach you."

Temperament? Temperament? Rin's eyebrow twitched. Was that jerk implying that Rin wasn't gentle enough to-

No, focus, Rin, don't let him piss you off this early into the conversation, Rin told herself. You are a pure and gentle soul, and if Kirei doesn't agree he can go fuck himself off Fuyuki bridge. Out loud, she said, "Nope, not interested in learning anything more from you. This is more to compare orthodox magecraft with where Caster's version is, in terms of efficiency, effectiveness, that sort of thing."

Because once Rin had an idea of just how much better Caster was at healing, she had an idea of how much Lancer really needed her services for his request. Taking a Servant effectively out of the War without having to fight was a massive, massive advantage – so Rin needed to have an idea of how likely it was that anyone else would be able to get it.

"Ah." Kirei seemed to straighten somehow, focusing on Caster. "In that case, I will be more than happy to answer your questions, in return for a demonstration. I confess, I am professionally interested in how the Servant of the Spell performs as well. Anything I can learn in that regard can only be for the benefit of the Church's cause."

Caster stepped forward, and cheerfully produced – or rather, Conjured – a ghostly dagger with a flourish. "Well, I don't know what you'll be able to learn just by watching, but by all means – feel free to observe all you wish." So saying, he thrust the knife straight through his opposite wrist, with hardly a grimace.

Like a magician showing off his empty sleeve, he turned his arm this way and that, showing how the dagger had lodged itself between the bones and stuck out the other side. A thin rivulet of bright red blood ran down Caster's massive forearm – which increased to a steady trickle when he snapped his fingers and let the dagger vanish.

Kirei stepped forward. "May I?" He took Caster's arm, and clinically examined the wound. "Hm. I would need more specialist tools to be sure, but I would estimate that besides the tissue damage, at least one major blood vessel has been severed, along with-" he prodded at Caster's massive fingers, "the ulnal nerve. You are at risk of bleeding out if the wound is not staunched, and on a human I would even recommend a tourniquet if medical aid was not received immediately. Past the immediate danger, nerve damage would persist, with severe difficulty in closing the fist for several years. A full recovery would be unlikely."

Rin raised an eyebrow. She hadn't realised Kirei was quite that good. Thinking about it… there was a lot she didn't know about the man, despite his raising her for ten years. Like, she'd never learned his favourite colour, or what his hobbies were, or even what he enjoyed doing apart from making her life miserable.

Personally, she blamed it on him being a shitty guardian. Still.

"So, how well could your magecraft heal an injury on this level?" Caster asked. He seemed not at all bothered by Kirei's assessment of the horrific damage he'd done himself.

"Not well," Kirei said immediately, "and not completely. I could stop the bleeding – that, I am sure of. Repairing the damage to the muscle would be trickier, but since this is the kind of injury best healed by time and rest, magecraft is especially good at dealing with it. For the severed nerve… the best I could manage is to ease the pain, and perhaps reroute something else so that partial functionality was regained in the hand. With an Origin or family crest geared more towards biological or surgical magecraft, more could be done – but there is a reason they are called mysteries, after all."

Caster nodded, calmly. "And how long would it take?"

"For the bleeding, immediate. For the muscle damage, a couple of hours at least to heal it back to full use. For the nerve damage, a treatment package of weeks or months of constant treatment. Again, a specialised healer would work faster."

"But you are the best healer in Fuyuki?"

"As far as I am aware, yes," answered Kirei. "Apart from yourself, I am guessing?"

At this, Caster grinned. "You guess right." Golden light flashed in his opposite hand, and spread to cover Caster in an incandescent glow. It faded in a couple of seconds, and Caster held up his wrist once more.

It was fully healed.

"Remarkable," Kirei said, peering closely. "There is no scar, no sign it was ever damaged. The blood spilt remains, so it cannot be a time-reversal curse such as those used by Dead Apostles, but in all other respects it is as if the wound was never inflicted at all."

"Yes," said Caster. "Restoration – that is the name of the school. Even masters are unable to say how it works, but work it does, and with great efficiency. I would have died many times over had I not had access to this on my travels. Though I was burned, impaled, crushed, bitten and stabbed, I held fast and traded magic to restore my body so I could fight on. For this, I value Restoration above all other schools of magic, save perhaps Alchemy."

"Fascinating," Kirei said. Every time Rin had heard him say it before, the word had always been laced with a tinge of sarcasm. Not now, though. If anything, he seemed almost eager. "Is healing wounds the extent of the school?"

"Certainly not. However, it cannot be used to cure illnesses, or to purge poison from a body. For that, alchemy is required – if one does not wish to turn to religion, of course. The other uses of Restoration are largely defensive in nature, and involve warding against hostile magic and combating the undead."

Kirei nodded. "As expected, the powers of the Servant of the Spell are entirely beyond the scope of modern magecraft. But I suspect you knew that, Rin – grateful as I am for Caster's insight into healing, why bring this to me?"

Rin tossed her hair. "Mostly to see Caster show you up, really." Despite her flippant words, though, she was considering. Should she tell Kirei about her deal with Lancer?

On the one hand, it wasn't really any of his business – Master/Servant pairs struck deals and made alliances all the time, and the moderator didn't have any authority over that. And, well, Rin was quite enjoying herself running her War without any interference from Kirei or anyone.

That said, Kirei would probably sulk if she did something like take Lancer out of the War and didn't inform him, especially since it was done in a weird, roundabout way rather than by, you know, killing Lancer or his Master, whoever that was. And, well, while he was technically neutral, the Kotomine-Tohsaka alliance had lasted pretty well into the last War, and keeping Kirei onside was probably worth it no matter how annoying he was.

Rin made her decision.

"Oh, fine. We've had a request from Lancer. To whoever can help him out with, and I quote, 'a little problem', he and his Master are willing to give an oath to give up the Grail and help out in the War. He specifically mentioned healing damaged internal organs, so we're guessing it has to do with that. Well, assuming it's not a trap, anyway."

Kirei blinked. After a moment, he said, "Is that so? I am sure you know what you are doing. I would say that if you require any aid, you have only to ask – but, as you have just demonstrated, Caster seems more than up to the task. Good luck."

Rin was immediately on edge. She'd expected some kind of reaction, but this was both more and less than Kirei usually displayed. She knew Kirei, and the probability he was up to something with that response was about a thousand percent. "What do you know? Wait, I bet you know who Lancer's Master is, don't you? Fake priest, if this is setting me up for a trap, you have to tell me-"

"As a matter of fact, I do not," Kirei put in smoothly. "To do so would be a blatant abuse of the trust placed in me as Moderator. Again, I am grateful to you for your hospitality, but that does not extend to my breaking the rules of the War for your sake." He met her furious gaze. "If you insist on testing me on this, I will simply take my leave. I hear the Einzbern castle is lovely this time of year."

Rin held up a hand, and Caster stepped up. "I feel like I could be a bit more persuasive than you think." That ghostly dagger was back, twirled between Caster's fingers. Caster hadn't dropped his casual demeanour, or his cheerful smile, but his eyes were cold as snow.

In answer, Kirei held up his own arm, and flared the Command Seal on it. "I feel like you are vastly overestimating your charms." Dammit. Rin had forgotten about those. With a final glare at Kirei, she dropped her hand. Caster's dagger vanished to wherever it went, and the tension in the room evaporated.

"Ugh, fine," she said. "I guess I'll just have to do it the hard way, if you insist on being a jerk about it."

"Excellent." Kirei didn't even have the good grace to look relieved, the dick. "Despite everything that happened here, I do feel a certain kinship with this house. I have many fond memories of your father here, for instance. In fact, with the church gone, this may be the place in Fuyuki I feel safest."

That was when the brick exploded through the window.

Although Rin considered herself a fairly together kind of person, not at all prone to panicking or getting in a flap, she wasn't ashamed to admit that bricks being thrown through her windows wasn't something she had mentally prepared for that day. As such, she thought she handled herself fairly well, all things considered.

"Aaah!" she shrieked, diving for cover and covering her head with her arms.

Kirei jerked backwards, serpent-quick, and flattened himself against a wall. Like a magic trick, a set of Black Keys had materialised in his hand.

Caster… banished the flying glass back out of the window with a lazy gesture, and plucked the brick out of the air in the same motion.

Well, now Rin just felt silly. Jerks.

Over by the window, Caster was looking outside. "Hm. Master, Moderator. You should probably see this."

Rin got to her feet and carefully made her way over to the window. The cold air blew her hair back, and she strained to see out into the dark.

When she saw it, she gasped and backed away into the room.

On the street below, tied to a lamppost, was a man. He had been positioned in such a way that it was facing the Tohsaka house, and one arm had been tied by wire so that he was pointing at the front door. At first, Rin wondered why he wasn't struggling – then she saw the blood, illuminated by the sickly yellow glow of the street light, and understood.

"Rin…" began Kirei, his voice uncharacteristically grim. "Is there anything you would like to tell me?"

"What? No! What are you-" Rin broke off, because she'd just seen what Kirei must have already noticed.

Daubed into the man's chest, painted on his shirt with his own blood, were two words.



Rin groaned out loud.

This was an accusation. Done in the most macabre way possible, someone was literally laying a death at her feet.

Which was totally unfair, because she hadn't even done anything. A vision of the man Caster had killed – was it just a few nights ago – swam in front of her eyes, but she pushed it away angrily. She'd dealt with that, dammit. This was new, and not her fucking fault.

"Caster," she began, voice miraculously steady. "Get that thing down from there."

"Unwise, Master."

"Unwise? Why the fuck would it be unwise to clear away a goddamn corpse pointing at my fucking house?" Rin spat. "You get down there right goddamn now or-"

"Listen," Kirei said.

Rin did, and after a moment, she heard it. Sirens, and getting closer.

A figure emerged from the shadows on the opposite side of the street. Bazett Fraga McRemitz stood in the circle of light, and looked directly at the window where Rin and Kirei stood. She held their gaze for a moment, then held up her hand to her ear in the gesture that even mages knew meant, call me. Then she turned, and stalked away out of sight.

Goddammit, she did not need this right in the middle of the War. Police scrutiny was hard to shift, even for her, even as both mage and Second Owner. She could lean on official investigations a little, hypnotise a couple of officers, but there was no getting rid of a fucking dead guy pointing at her house.

There were reasons that mages didn't get mundane authorities involved in their conflicts, and this was because when normal humanity got involved, everybody lost. You kept it quiet – you removed witnesses, altered memories, bribed officials, did anything you could to keep in in-house because the alternative was a big messy investigation, lots of good cops and innocent people dying, and usually the mage in question ending up fleeing the scene. The administrative machine just didn't stop – where an individual mage or rogue vampire might get the message and leave you alone, the faceless bureaucracy would just keep on sensing investigators and cops after you until something gave way.

Apart from anything else, the Association hated having to deal with things on a larger scale, and weren't above sticking a Sealing Designation on mages that pissed them off. If you were high up and in with the right people, it was totally possible to get your name taken off, say, an Interpol register. Most of the time, though, all you could look forward to was a visit from the Enforcers.

What the hell was the Fraga woman thinking?

Down in the street, the first cops were arriving on scene. One bent to speak into the radio on his shoulder, while the other read the words on the corpse's chest, followed the pointing arm – and looked straight at Rin's house.

"Dammit, dammit, dammit," she hissed. "Caster, I don't suppose you can deal with this somehow?"

"Unfortunately not, Master. If your guards are halfway competent, they will realise something has occurred – the bloodstains alone will alert them. And, of course, the Master of Rider will have taken steps to safeguard her attack on our integrity." He sighed. "Sadly, dealing with the town guard is often more trouble than it's worth. Although…" Caster trailed off, rubbing his beard in thought.

Rin perked up. "You have an idea?"

"Mmm, sort of," Caster hedged. "We are accused of ending this man's life. To clear our name, we should provide a culprit. I have what you might call a perfect disguise – I often found it useful whenever I wished to commit a crime in broad daylight without attracting a bounty from the local authorities. I could transform and call all attention towards this different monster rather than us. I would just need to make a scene in a public-"

"No," Rin said. "I already hate this plan. I'm vetoing any, any turning into monsters and rampaging, Caster, you hear? I feel like I shouldn't even have to say that." And if she did agree to any plan as attention-grabbing as that sounded, it sure as hell wouldn't be with the Moderator listening in.

Instead, she said, "Caster, astralise. Kirei, downstairs please. I think we're going to have to answer a lot of questions in the next few minutes…"