A tense silence fell over us. Nobody so much as twitched. The air in the room was suddenly electric, hot, stifling. The morning's peace had given way, and the Carpenter's kitchen had become a powder-keg, ready to blow.

"You're a Master... in the war," repeated Murphy, her gaze challenging, her tone hard and unamused. She bit the inside of her lip, confusion clear in her eyes – and her finger twitched unsteadily on the trigger of her service revolver.

"Indeed," replied Kuzuki, nodding stoically. "The Grail chooses those who are most in need of a miracle. I was one of the few chosen, much like Mister Dresden."

He laid his hands on the table, palms-down, and splayed his fingers apart. At the sight of his all-but-surrender, Murphy's hard expression faltered. She lowered her pistol to the table, and breathed a sharp sigh.

"Talk."

Kuzuki glanced down at the gun in Murphy's hand, his expression bored – and I was suddenly reminded of the way he snapped rifles in two with his bare hands, not so long ago. My hand tightened on the hilt of my blasting rod, concealed in the pocket of my duster.

"I am here at the behest of another," he stated. "Like you, they take issue with Nicodemus and his actions. I'm sure you understand what I'm referring to. Their goal – my goal – is to see the leader of the Denarians removed from play: his servant defeated, and his ashes scattered to the winds."

"And who's your employer?" Murphy asked, her baby-blues as cool as ice. "Someone we know?"

Kuzuki shook his head. "Regretfully, that information will remain confidential. It was one of the stipulations of our contract. I am sure you understand."

It went without saying that Nicodemus had many enemies. He'd managed to piss off the Sidhe Courts more than once, as well as the Church, certain members of the White Council, Gentleman Johnny Marcone, and probably a whole host of factions I still wasn't aware of. I wasn't surprised that one of them would end up involved in the war – after all, the promise of a wish ensured that anyone worth their salt would throw into the ring – but who could it be? I needed something more to work with.

"No. No, I don't," I said. "How can we trust a man who won't say who he's working for?"

"I am working for myself," Kuzuki replied, flatly, "and I have no interest in the Grail. I do not care who wins it, so long as my contract is fulfilled. I have no intentions of betraying you to acquire it, not for myself or for my employer. At the present time, my only goal is the elimination of Nicodemus."

"But you said the war chose those most in need," Murphy stated. She glanced in my direction, then back at Kuzuki.

"That is true," the Viper of Japan admitted. "As you know, the Grail possesses limited self-awareness desires to be used. Logic would dictate, then, that those it chooses as Masters would have the most desire to use it. This would ensure that only the most motivated candidates would be chosen, and only the strongest among them, the most committed, would emerge the victor."

"Then why don't you want the Grail?" I asked.

"Because what I seek is something that the Grail can't grant," he replied. After a moment, he glanced away, and his voice was much softer – and carried with it a faint hint of emotion, the first I'd heard out of him since we'd met. "I have lived long enough to understand that."

Saber leaned forward in her seat, and furrowed her brow. Beneath her bangs, her sea-green eyes shone with curiosity. "...So what is it you wish for, then?"

"It is something... personal. Something that cannot be conveyed with words, something that cannot be taken or given, only understood," he replied, dully. "At this point, sharing my desire with you serves no purpose, and so I will keep it private. You may rest assured it does not involve harming innocents or bringing destruction to your city."

Murphy and I exchanged a look. Between the two of us, we were pretty good at sorting out liars... and this guy didn't seem to be lying. That, or he was a sociopath, and didn't have any physical tells.

"I'm gonna go out on a limb, and say that you know what we can bring to the table," I said, returning my attention to our visitor. "Since you're a Wizard yourself, it's all but guaranteed that you know of my reputation, along with my relationship with the White Council and the Winter Court."

I folded my arms across my chest. It would have been an imposing look, but the bullet holes probably ruined the image of invincibility I was trying to give off.

"You're aware of some of Murphy's talents," I continued, "But she's come a long way in the last few decades. She's the closest thing humanity has to a demon-slayer. And as for Saber - she fended off Berserker in single combat, without activating her Noble Phantasm, and managed to kill Lancer last night in a straight-up fight."

If Kuzuki was surprised, he didn't show it. Instead, he steepled his hands, eyeing me expectantly. I gathered that he already knew – and that was probably why he'd approached us in the first place. The timing couldn't have been a coincidence.

"The way I see it, we hold the cards," I said, and rapped my knuckles on the kitchen table. "You've got a contract to fulfill, and I respect that, but what you're asking for, an alliance... that's a two way street. We need to know what you could offer us in return."

"Surely, committing to the defeat of Nicodemus is enough," Kuzuki replied. "Is that not your objective?"

"One of them," I said, nodding. "But we need specifics. You know we have the resources to do the job ourselves. Why should we team up with you? How do we know you aren't going to slow us down, or turn on us? How do we know this isn't a ploy to get us all killed?"

His flat grey eyes settled on me, evaluating me in a cold, detached sort of way. I suddenly felt like a bug beneath someone's microscope, and I barely resisted the urge to fidget. Instead, I furrowed my brow, and returned the look, focusing on the tip of his nose; something told me the last thing I wanted to do was soulgaze the guy.

"Maybe you could defeat Nicodemus, on your own," he replied, glancing away, "but he is a very tenacious man, and not without allies. Any victory you achieve will be tainted with sacrifice. I can take that burden from you."

"How?" I asked. The vague nature of his replies was making my palms itch.

"I possess information, the sort that would prove useful in this conflict," he stated, ignoring my razor-sharp glare. "Ley line locations, ideal for potential ritual sites. Logistics regarding Nicodemus and his assets that you may not have access to. Data on the Fomor – on their movements and migratory patterns. I also have the resources of my employer at my disposal, which are not inconsiderable."

I shrugged. "Since you won't tell us who your employer is, we don't actually have any clue what that means. As for information – we have our own sources already, magical and mundane. What can you tell us that we don't already know?"

"I'm sure you're aware, by this point, that Nicodemus is a Master in the war," Kuzuki said. At my nod, he continued. "What you may not be aware of is that he is not alone. As of this point, he is one of two masters in the Order of the Blackened Denarius."

"...Wait, what?" I asked, my stomach doing an impromptu backflip. My glare faltered, replaced by a look of confusion. The others didn't fare much better; Murphy bit back a curse, and Saber's gaze hardened, dropping to her blade.

"Indeed," Kuzuki murmured. "When the War was in its infancy, Nicodemus attempted to summon as many Servants as possible, in order to stack the deck in his favor. However, as the Grail is the manifestation of all human wishes, only humans can be chosen as masters; most of his brothers did not meet the criteria in order to summon a Servant, as they had been far too corrupted by their coins. Nicodemus himself maintains a partnership with his Fallen, but is not physically influenced by it. As such, he is one of few exceptions to the rule within their order."

He leaned forward in his seat, folding his hands politely on the table. "Following the death of Deirdre, the Order of the Blackened Denarius was fractured; many of his followers doubted his capacity as a leader, and began to question if he would sacrifice them as well in the pursuit of his aims. As a result, Nicodemus only commands a small following. Of those, most that did meet the requirements to summon a Servant were too powerful individually, and Nicodemus denied them the opportunity, fearing betrayal. Others were little more than pawns, unable to fully utilize the potential of a summoned Servant."

"...So, who did he choose?" I asked. A sudden suspicion, a grim hunch, was gnawing at my belly.

"In the wake of Deirdre's death, Polonius Lartessa – Nicodemus' wife – entered a mania so deep and profound that she has severed all ties with the Order," Kuzuki replied. As Tessa's name left his lips, I had to repress a shudder. "Enter Rosanna, her second. The two had always been close, and Rosanna was devastated by their severed bond. Believing that the Grail War represents an opportunity to bring back Dierdre, and therefore a chance at restoring Lartessa's sanity, Rosanna has submitted to Nicodemus' control in order to acquire summoner's rights."

"That must have been a pleasant experience," I said, grimacing. I did not want to know what Kuzuki meant by submit, but I was fairly sure it involved a lot of dark ju-ju. Nicodemus and his wife had always been rivals, and there was no way he'd hand over a Servant to his wife's second-in-command without taking something greater in return.

Kuzuki nodded, straight-faced as ever. Seriously, did nothing phase the guy? "Her magics are vastly inferior to those of Nicodemus. Despite her limitations, however, she does have enough power to summon a Servant, and enough intelligence to make use of it. Inevitably, she will turn on Nicodemus, as only one person's wish can be granted by the grail – but he likely has failsafes in place to deal with such a betrayal."

"And in the meantime, she's a threat," I finished, "a big one."

"Indeed." Kuzuki let out a slow breath, and closed his eyes. "Defeating a single Servant in combat is a difficult matter; two, on the other hand, is a near impossibility. You will need help, Mister Dresden, in order to achieve your aim."

I just had one question. "How do you know all this?" I asked, gesturing with a wave of my hand. "There's no way that you could know the inner workings of Nicklehead politics, not unless..."

Kuzuki fixed me with a look, one that shut me up completely.

"I can't reveal that without compromising my employer's identity, and compromising certain... assets." He stated, his voice as flat as the tile beneath his feet. "It is in your interests that you do not know."

A spy. They – Kuzuki and his employer - had someone inside the Order of the Blackened Denarius. That was huge. We had Nicodemus' blood on tap; we could learn of his plans, figure out where the missing kids were... I imagined we'd be doing most of the heavy-lifting, but this lead was no joke.

"Should you agree to an alliance, all you would need to do is ask, and I would attempt to accommodate you with further information, provided that it does not violate the secrecy of my employer or compromise our existing contract," Kuzuki explained. "In return, I would expect your aid in combating our mutual enemy, when the time arises for a decisive strike. Furthermore, a truce would be maintained between us; we would maintain this truce until the defeat of Nicodemus, and would enforce it with a geas."

He had me convinced. In the war to come, we'd need all the allies we could get, especially against a two-servant team. Not to mention, the information he'd just given me – free of charge – spoke for itself. Nicodemus needed to die, and he was willing to put in the work to see it done.

But this wasn't my decision to make – it was a team effort, as Murphy and Saber had just reminded me the night before. I couldn't come to a decision like this one on my own.

"Murph?" I asked, glancing to my left. "What do you think?"

My favorite blonde's arms were crossed beneath her chest, and her pistol was abandoned on the kitchen table; she was chewing the inside of her lip, lost in thought. Any harder, I thought, and she'd punch right through it.

"This sounds too good to be true," she admitted, "but..."

She shook her head. "I mentioned that we fought, back when I was breaking into the international Judo scene." She paused. "In those days, women weren't as accepted in the international circuit. I fought for over two years to break in, but it wasn't until I challenged Kuzuki that I got the chance."

Murphy leaned back her seat, and spoke in a respectful murmur. "He committed to the fight. Critics started hassling him for it, because accepting a challenge from a woman wasn't viewed as proper, but Kuzuki didn't back down, even though he lost sponsors."

Saber's gaze drifted between the two fighters, and a faint smile came to her lips. It was fitting; if anyone would know about trying to break into a man's world, it would be her. It had been over twelve hours since she'd dropped that bomb on me – that King Arthur was, in fact, a woman in disguise – and I was still processing it. Moments like these, though, helped solidify the picture that was forming in my head, and gave me a better understanding of her personality.

I glanced at Kuzuki, who responded to the blonde's claims with a mechanical shrug. "I had never heard of Karrin before the match, but the audacity of a western woman challenging me was... compelling. I wondered why she would do such a thing. So, I spoke with others in the women's circuit, and watched several of her fights. As I said, she was a prodigy; I could not deny such a serious competitor. I felt that, in fighting her, I might come to understand her motivations... and that I might also come to better understand my own."

A faint glimmer of that same emotion, the one from before, shone in his eyes – and for just a moment, he seemed more real, and less like the Terminator I'd made him out to be.

Murphy nodded, and folded her arms across her chest. "Dresden, the Souichirou Kuzuki I knew was serious about keeping his word, regardless of what anyone else thought. He was pragmatic, played a straight game, and stuck to his word, even when it wasn't convenient."

She bowed her head, and let out a slow breath. After a short moment of silence, she raised her head – and nodded, determination in her eyes. "He gave me a chance. I think we should give him one, too. As long as the contract checks out, we can expect him to abide by it, to the letter."

I glanced at Saber. The question went unspoken, but then, words weren't needed. Her sea-green eyes had been drawing a steady bead on our guest, engaged in silent evaluation.

She took a thoughtful sip of her tea, and shortly after, her lips twitched into a mild grimace. "Against the threat that Nicodemus represents, are we really in a position to turn away allies? Especially when they have so much to offer?"

The question lingered in the air like a bad hangover, and she let out a short sigh, setting down her cup with a soft clack. "I do not know Kuzuki as Karrin does," she admitted, "but she has proven herself wise about matters such as these. I trust her judgment. If she places faith in this alliance, I will do so as well."

Murphy looked at Saber, raising an eyebrow. Her gaze dipped lower, lingering on the nape of Saber's neck – and she pursed her lips. She looked grateful, but at the same time, there was something else in her expression. I got a feeling that she was confused, or troubled, about something.

What it was, exactly, I had no idea.

For the first time since entering the kitchen, I drew my attention away from my guest, and focused on the people beside me. As I did, I realized something – there was a strange sort of tension between the two of them, as obvious as it was strange. Though they were sitting beside one another, they weren't quite meeting each other's eyes.

Saber was as straight-forward as they came, but her praise was.. unusually blunt, and supportive, even for her. If she was truly basing her decision, her odds at securing the Grail, on Murphy's judgment... that wasn't a small thing to commit to. That spoke of a deep trust, or a desire to please.

Murphy, on the other hand, hated being praised – she usually took it as ass-kissing, and made a habit of calling out people for doing it – but here she was, taking a compliment without any back-talk. If anything, Saber's words had rattled her.

I'd been with one or both of them since Saber's accidental summoning. They'd barely interacted, aside from passing glances and shop talk. Did something happen between them after I'd fallen asleep? Had I missed something, something important?

Whatever it was – it wasn't my business. I trusted both of them with my life. If they felt like I should know, they'd fill me in. In the meantime, I had other things to worry about: namely, the man sitting before me, and the offer he was making.

I drew my duster about my shoulders, and furrowed my brow, reviewing the facts one last time. A odd silence fell about the room, and I realized that the others were waiting on my input.

"An alliance sounds... promising," I said, after a moment. "This could work. You provide logistics, we provide the muscle, and together, we wipe Nicodemus off the map."

My would-be ally nodded politely, making as if to stand – but I wasn't finished. I held up a hand, and he settled back into his seat. "I have two conditions, though... and if they aren't met, I'm not signing anything."

I lowered my hand back to the table, and fixed Kuzuki with a serious look. "The first: you and your Servant agree not to share any personal information of ours with your employer, or anyone else who isn't included in the geas. Not without mutual discussion, anyway. You might be bound to a truce, but no one else is, and I'm not about to team up with a mole."

Then, I leaned forward – and glared at him from beneath my brow, in the way that only a Wizard could. "And if you or your servant attempt to harm us, any civilian, ally, or innocent person, through malicious action or inaction, our truce is null and void, and I reserve the right to open up a can of whoop-ass. We clear?"

Kuzuki's eyes crinkled at the corners, and I got a faint sense of approval from him, though it was hard to tell; he was about as expressive as a brick wall. "That is... acceptable," he droned.

I let out a breath I didn't know I was holding.

"Alright then," I said. "Let's make it official."


As far as magical contracts went, it was fairly standard. I didn't consult Bob for it, but then, I didn't need to.

Being the Winter Knight came with its own share of perspective. Having dealt with the Sidhe before on numerous occasions, magically binding agreements were nothing new to me. Murphy's head for loopholes and technicalities was invaluable; between the two of us, we managed to cook up a fairly ironclad contract. If there were any loopholes that were easy to exploit, I couldn't see them. And, unlike the Sidhe, Kuzuki didn't seem interested in pushing for control; he pointed out loopholes in the contract, even ones that would have benefited him.

All he wanted was Nicodemus' head on a platter, and he was willing to work with us to get it done. He was straight-forward with us the entire time, a man of his priorities, who seemed genuine in his interests for an alliance. As creepy as his constant monotone was, he didn't seem like a half-bad guy.

Saber was content to listen in, sipping at her tea, giving advice when she felt it appropriate. However, she didn't have Murphy's head for legal work, nor my understanding of magic theory, so she was content to let the two of us deal with the heavy-lifting.

Once we'd finished writing it, the geas signing was a relatively simple affair.

Kuzuki provided the ritual parchment; I inspected it for foul play, and finding none, gave him the go-ahead. A drop of blood from each of us, a pulse of magic, and the contract was signed. The whole process took maybe five minutes, as each of us reviewed the final draft in turn. When it was finished, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief – all of us except for Kuzuki, who remained placid as always. Seriously, if the guy hadn't owned a set of Command Seals, I'd find it hard to believe that he was human in the first place.

As a group, we moved to the foyer. It felt strangely empty without the Carpenter's grandfather clock, but that had gotten pitched after I smashed through it. Still, the walls had at least been repaired, and you couldn't even smell the blood anymore. Michael did good work.

"What now?" Murphy asked, folding her arms over her chest. She glanced between the three of us, an eyebrow raised inquisitively. "We've got daylight to kill. What should we tackle next?"

I pursed my lips, glancing at the doorway. The promise I made to her came to mind – and abruptly, a small smile came to my lips. "I need to speak with a contact who might have some information for me, and I need to do it today. Murphy, you and I are heading out to do some digging."

A matching one came to her own, along with a look of triumph. She stepped over to the hallway closet and fished out a thick winter coat, drawing it about her shoulders. It was one of those bulky North Face designs, made for extremely cold climates, with black paneling and cream-colored highlights. It was a good look on her, I decided.

Then, she reached deep into the closet – and withdrew no less than three pistols and a sawed-off shotgun. I watched, filled with equal parts awe and unease, as she managed to conceal every single one of them on her person... in the time it took most people to tie their shoes.

"And what am I tasked with?" Saber asked, watching the same display I was, her eyebrows disappearing into her hairline. "If you're arming yourself this heavily, the danger must be great. Surely, I should accompany you into the field."

"This isn't that kind of confrontation," I replied, as tactfully as I could. These were unsteady waters, and the last thing I wanted to do was throw myself overboard. I reminded myself of that, even as an amused grin split my lips.

"Then... why is she..?"

"Because it's Tuesday," I said, dryly. At Saber's look of confusion, I chuckled. "Murphy likes her guns."

"Damned straight," Murphy added, as she secured the shotgun within her bulky coat and zipped it up to her neck. Then, she tucked her hands into her pockets, and straightened her back; if I didn't know I was looking for a concealed weapon, I wouldn't have noticed it.

"Oh," replied Saber, blinking owlishly. "I... I see."

Then, I turned to my Saber, and my expression sobered. "The Carpenters have been run ragged, and Sanya and Butters are on patrol right now. Maggie and little Harry will be home from school soon, and they'll need protection. I need someone to stay here and hold down the fort."

Saber's confusion faded, and was replaced by a look of disbelief. "Harry, I must respectfully protest against this course of action," she said, furrowing her brow. "How am I to protect you if we are separated?"

"You aren't," I said, shaking my head. "If both of us leave here, this home is left undefended - which mean the Carpenters, the kids, and Maggie will be at risk. Nicodemus isn't above attacking innocents to make a point, and he's already hit us once. If he sees an opportunity, he'll do it again."

"Then why not send me out in your stead?" Saber asked. She made a fist with her right hand, and held it over her heart - a gesture of respect and fealty. "I am your sword, and am much more prepared at dealing with the threat posed by other Servants in this war."

"That's true. Fighting Servants is your area of expertise, and you're much better at it than Murphy and I," I grunted, as I tugged on my stompy boots. "But we're protected by daylight, and this isn't combat, this is detective work. We should be fine. And if something happens, I have Command Seals that I can use. We talked about this, remember?"

"I suppose," she murmured, quietly. Saber pursed her lips, looking a little uneasy. "Still, letting you go on your own..."

I placed a hand on her shoulder. An electric tingle raced up my arm, raising the hairs on the back of my neck; I'd gotten used to the sensation, though, and it actually brought me a small measure of comfort.

"Saber," I said, "You're the strongest fighter here. There is no one else I'd rather have protecting my loved ones. Do you understand the weight of what I'm asking you?"

Saber glanced up at me, and then nodded. Though she clearly wasn't happy with my decision, her frown vanished, and was replaced by a look of stalwart discipline. She gave a formal bow. "Of course. I swear that I will keep the Carpenters safe, Harry. Your family is in good hands."

I glanced at Kuzuki, who had been standing near the doorway.

"I will be departing for now," he said, flatly. "I have other matters to attend to. Briefing my employer is chief among those."

He reached into the pocket of his jacket, and pulled out a business card. It was plain white, with no identifying features other than a cell phone number – a local number, too, judging by the area code. Given the man's insistence on secrecy, I imagined that it led to a burner phone or something similar, something that would be difficult to track, that could be discarded at a moment's notice. I took the card and passed it to Murphy, who accepted it with a gentle rolling of her eyes.

"Alright. Do you need a ride?" I asked, glancing over his shoulder at the snowy expanse outside. In some places, it had to be at least a foot deep; the roads were covered in ice and slush. "Not sure where you're heading, but the weather's pretty bad. No sense in walking."

Kuzuki eyed me for a moment, and then pulled out his cell phone. He dialed a number, and pressed the call button. Seconds later, I heard the roaring of a performance engine, taking on speed.

I stepped forward, opening the door, and glanced down the street – looking for the source.

A shape appeared far down the road – a foreign sports car, sleek and stylish with red paint and white pin-stripes... a sports car that was travelling far too fast for road conditions.

I held my breath as it ate up the pavement, doing at least seventy miles an hour in a residential neighborhood, its driver seemingly ignorant of the icy pavement and patches of snow. Somehow, it never lost traction, never lost speed, never even swerved.

Until it hit a patch of ice about five doors down.

The vehicle was suddenly thrown into a death-defying spin, rotating like a pair of helicopter blades, throwing up powder in its wake as it plowed down the street. My heart leapt into my chest and I let out a curse as it careened onwards, narrowly missing someone's mailbox and at least three parked cars. Things started looking even worse as it listed to one side of the road, towards a snow bank – a snow bank that I knew concealed a brick ledge.

Miraculously, the driver managed to avoid it entirely; the car's front bumper careened on by, missing brick by mere inches. A heartbeat passed, and the driver slammed onto the emergency brake, gunned the engine, and spun the wheel. Performance-grade treads suddenly regained their hold on the pavement, and the sound of squealing tires filled the air, along with the smell of burnt rubber. In a move straight out of Need for Speed: Tokyo Drift, it did a complete one-eighty, before skidding to a stop at the foot of the Carpenter residence, parallel parked between Saber's junker and the neighbor's SUV.

With less than a foot to spare on either side. Safe. Not a scratch on the paint.

"Merlin's... fuck," I gasped, my throat suddenly dry.

There was a choking sound beside me, and I realized I wasn't the only spectator.

"Holy shit," Murphy breathed. Her voice was faint, barely a whisper. "That – that was... is that...?"

The driver's side door opened, and a woman of indeterminate age emerged. She stood just under six feet tall, with strong features and pale skin, a strong nose and high cheekbones; her light blue hair was pulled up into into a bun beneath her chauffeur's hat, revealing a set of elongated ears, like those of the Sidhe.

She was wearing a purple coat, embroidered with golden buttons, and a crisp, black pencil skirt traveled down to about mid-thigh, along with a pair of leggings that bled into high-heeled boots. All in all, she projected the aura of a sophisticated woman, mature and refined in her tastes.

That illusion was broken entirely by the way she ran towards us. All but stumbling out of the car, she lugged through the snow, ignoring the recently-shoveled driveway entirely. Her approach was stilted and clumsy; she was tripping on snow as much as she was tripping over her own feet.

"You have got to be kidding me." Murphy's eyes widened, and her voice dropped low, as she entered the first stages of shock. Her lips twisted, and she looked like she'd swallowed a lemon. "There's no way she's..."

Kuzuki stepped around me, descending from the porch – only to be stopped by a head of sky-blue hair that crashed into his chest. The woman giggled excitedly, burrowing her face into the older man's shoulder. "Souichirou-sama! I'm here!"

Kuzuki blinked, before glancing down at the woman, raising a stoic eyebrow. "That was... unnecessary, Rider."

"Ah. Was it?" The aptly named Rider asked, blushing faintly. She averted her eyes, staring at her feet, in the way a scolded child might. "Apologies, Souichirou-sama! I just wanted to impress our new allies! I guess I went overboard again. Sorry, everyone!"

"Huh." I blinked, glancing between the two of them. "So, this is... Rider."

"Indeed," Kuzuki replied, glancing at me out of the corner of his eyes. There was a slightly crinkling of his eyes at the corners, and he spoke with the sort of familiarity that made his Servant's blush deepen. "As you can see, I am in good hands."

I glanced back at Murphy – noting her incredulous, open-mouthed stare – and snorted. "I guess so," I said. Then, a sudden impulse emerged within me – and a mischievous smirk split my lips. "Speaking of which... if it's not too much trouble, can you do us a favor?"

Kuzuki eyed me expectantly, and I laid it out my request. It took a minute to deliver, a minute I made sure to enjoy. As I continued speaking, Rider's grin widened, and Saber was staring at me like I'd grown a second head. Murphy, on the other hand, looked like she was going to have a conniption.

I finished making my request. Kuzuki furrowed his brow, and then checked his wristwatch; after a moment of indecision, he glanced up, and nodded. "We have time to spare, and it isn't far from our destination. Your proposition is... acceptable."

"Dresden, please tell me you're kidding," grunted Murphy.

"Nope."

"Have you seen her driving?"

"Have you seen her park?" I asked, raising an eyebrow. I gave the blonde beside me a knowing grin. "She's a natural, Murph. Servant classes are no joke."

Murphy scowled. "She broke half a dozen laws in the last ten minutes, and you want her to-"

"Yep," I replied, unphased.

Murphy sucked in a quick breath – and then sighed, hanging her head. "...Well, I suppose I'm not much better. Alright, I'll bite. But if we die, Dresden, I'm haunting your grave."

I stepped out into the snow, grinning slyly - and made my way to the car. "Well, there are worse fates."


[Author's Note – Fell the Tempest]

[Hey Guys]: Another chapter, polished and ready for you. Lots of little things happening here, character analysis and plot development taking the stage.

[Rider's Identity]: Those of you who are already fans of the Fate series know who Rider is. Her appearance is very distinct, so telling you her real name – and the power she possesses - isn't much of a spoiler, and doesn't reveal anything super-important about the plot that Dresden would directly come across. To that end, I'm going to post the Servant Stats for her in this chapter, so you understand the differences between this iteration of her and the canon version. Hopefully, it'll help cement this character in your minds and show justification for her behavior instead of coming across as OOC.


Servant Stats:

Servant: Rider
Master: Souichirou Kuzuki
Identity: Medea of Colchis
Title(s): "Princess of Colchis", "The Witch of Betrayal."
Alignment: True Neutral
Strength: D
Endurance: D
Agility: D
Mana: B
Luck: C
Noble Phantasm: EX

Skills:

Riding: Rank A++. Creatures on the level of Phantasmal Beast and Divine Beast can be used as mounts, including members of the Dragon Kind. All modern vehicles can be operated with proficiency bordering on precognition. It is as though Rider can 'feel' through any vehicle she operates, spiritually merging with it, putting it through its paces in ways that no mortal could ever possibly achieve.

Divinity: Rank C. Medea of Colchis was the granddaughter of Helios, the god of the sun in Greek mythology. Though not a goddess by any stretch of any imagination, Medea's blood was potent enough that she possessed the ability to call down and command her patron's chariot by sheer force of will.

Noble Phantasms:

The Golden Fleece / Flaming Chariot of the Sun God (Anti-Fortress, Anti-Terrain, Anti-Unit, Rank EX): In Greek Mythology, the Golden Fleece was the hidden treasure of Colchis. Medea, sent at the behest of Aphrodite to retrieve it for Jason in order to defeat King Aeetes, possessed it for a time, and is able to manifest it as a Noble Phantasm. Ordinarily, such an item would manifest as a 'skill', but Medea is able to actualize it as a Noble Phantasm in her capacity as Rider.

In manifesting it, it becomes a crystallization of her legend. When thrown to the earth, the Golden Fleece summons forth Apollo's flaming chariot, pulled by two dragons, each one representing the souls of her slain children. Summoning the chariot causes a solar eclipse, offers Medea a two-rank boost in all stats, and at great cost, can channel the Sun as a source of magic in order to devastate entire landscapes and fortresses.

However, in the Greek mythos, Medea only summoned Apollo's chariot while in the act of killing her husband and children. Stepping into the chariot represented her final step towards abandoning her sanity and humanity, turning her into the 'witch' that so many claimed her to be. As a result, using the this Chariot permanently shifts her alignment to Neutral Evil, and increases her Divinity by one rank. That is why the Golden Fleece has the additional classification of Anti-Unit.

Rule Breaker (Anti-Thaumaturgy, Rank C): A weapon that materializes the divinity of the witch of betrayal. It is an iridescent and jagged dagger that is thin, brittle, and blunt. Its effectively nonexistant capacity as a weapon is that of a regular at most, and would not be suitable for even killing a single person.

Greatly differing from other Noble Phantasms, its unique ability is that it is the ultimate anti-magic Noble Phantasm. It is capable of despelling and destroying any kind of spellwork, rendering contracts void, and severing magical bonds. It "transgresses" on all pierced spellcraft – including enchantments, connections through contracts, and so on, unmaking all affected magic into its base components and 'wiping the slate clean'.

There is a limit to what it is able to dispel, however, meaning that spellwork on or at the rank of Noble Phantasm will never be returned to their original state no matter how low they rank.

This iteration of Medea, summoned under the class of Rider, is a crystallization of Medea before she was betrayed by Jason. As a result, she is considered to be 'untainted by the evil of the final betrayal', and does not possess the knowledge to manifest or wield Rule Breaker.