Archer and Dian Cecht enjoyed each other's company, surprisingly so. Both of them were cynical, but knew to respect the other. They were masters of their field, but savant in others. Like emotions and whatnot.
Then they got into talking about cooking and medicine...
While it would be a while, this talk between the two about cooking and medicine would be the revolutionary revival of medicinal cooking from the Old World.
Also, Dian Cecht was eager exchange news with Archer regarding the current happenings of Orario.
Archer set the tea down with a smile. "Excellent tea, Chief Dian."
The Irish of Ireland lived in tribes and clans well into the medieval ages. In fact, this social structure was one that descended down to their descendants thousands of years later to the very day of the Apocalypse. It was natural for those of Irish roots to like being called by the titles of their clan. It was a form of respect known only to those who grew up within it, and foreigners hardly picked up such traits.
Dian smirked. "Of course. I made it."
Let it not be known that one of the most powerful Irish gods was known for his humility, because he definitely wasn't.
"What is your opinion regarding this city, Counter Guardian?"
Archer looked up. "Please. Call me Emiya."
Dian Cecht stared at the man for a while before shaking his head. "Sorry. Your presence screams of Alaya too much for me. I've also lost a fair share of followers and children to your kind."
"... Do you seek revenge?"
"No. I'm not that kind of god. I know for a fact that more than half of my children challenged your kin to prove themselves. Stupidity isn't something I encourage."
Archer bowed his head once. "Thank you for not holding a grudge upon us."
"You realize this doesn't mean I'm friendly with you, right?"
He nodded again.
"Good. I just wanted to see if you were decent. You may go."
Now, the fact that a Counter Guardian, former or not, was a member of the Emiya Familia was a gossip that exploded all over the city.
Most of the familia members did not know. The few who did were scared shitless.
The gods? They ... were experiencing a range of emotions. Some were apathetic like Dian Cecht. Some were curious.
Others were ...
Starking, frothing, jumping, roaring mad.
The angriest of them was Kali.
In the Second Age, her followers had suffered at the hands of the Counter Guardians the worst throughout all eras. She held a really big grudge. In her rage, she trashed her bedroom.
"Why, why, why?!" she roared. She grabbed the nearest furniture and tossed it to the other side of the room.
Despite her short stature, Kali was a god of destruction. Whenever destruction was involved, everything about her improved to ludicrous proportions, including strength.
Unlike Dian, who was apathetic, Kali was anything but. Even if she sometimes harmed her familia and children, she cared for them like a mother. This extended to those who were already dead, and at the hands of the Counter Guardians, too many of her children, her followers, and their families perished.
To her, a Counter Guardian was nothing but a target to kill, soul and all, so that there is nothing left of Alaya's pet attack dog.
Something grabbed her.
She whirled around, her fist raised up. But she froze when she saw who it was.
Or rather, what had happened to her.
Bache Caliph was one of the two captains of her familia. She was also the one who could be considered the "minder" for the entire familia due to her generally calm disposition and Level 6 status. In front of her goddess, though, she was still a child.
A child who was bleeding from her forehead, scratches that littered her body, and a swollen eye.
Kali froze as she took this in and looked around.
Her bedroom was trashed. Furnitures were broken. Her children were cowering behind her bedroom doors.
And Bache had walked into this maelstrom to calm her down, even if it meant getting hurt.
Kali grit her teeth and lowered her guard before she walked over to Bache. Kneeling down, she used her own life essence to heal the woman of her injuries.
"You okay?" she asked bluntly.
The warrior amazoness smiled. "Yes, my lady. I am now."
Kali sighed. "Let's leave the mess to the weaker shit. I need a bath."
Dionysus pondered regarding this Archer's status as former Counter Guardian. Being the god of wine and entertainment that he was, he rarely came to contact with any Counter Guardian. In fact, the only time he came in contact with one was when a Counter Guardian wanted to have a drink at his club in Athens (in the Second Age, of course) before he went to kill Ares's latest youngling -who had decided to sink Greece using his granduncle's magic.
The Counter Guardian in question had been reasonable, smooth, and kind.
For him, they were just another people, and he left it at that.
Now that they were here in Orario, though, things might change. With the extremely interconnected roles that gods had in human lives, he and his familia were sure to be affected by what was going to happen soon, whatever it may be.
Would it be prudent of him to declare himself neutral in all of this? There were sure to be others who were going to declare neutrality.
Freya was one such god. Unlike her "husband" Odin, anyone who left her and her advice were no longer considered her children, and as such, even if she did feel some grief with their death when Counter Guardians reaped them, she decided to remain neutral.
However, she was a bit worried about the Emiya Familia. After a taste of their supreme cuisine, she was hesitant to not help them; the loss of those cuisine would be most devastating to this world.
They were on par with the rare delicacies of the food gods, as rare as they were as well.
Perhaps if the Emiya Familia show even a small sign of winning over any of its competitors, she might throw her lot in with them.
Maybe grabbing a promise for daily dinner from them as well...
She wanted to drool, but that was not her image. Instead she blushed a little.
Within the Emiya Familia, the crowd was uneasy. They had heard the rumors floating around, and knew that Counter Guardians weren't exactly the friendliest neighbors of gods and goddesses. Considering that their Archer was once a Counter Guardian, they also knew that the Counter Guardian in the rumor was their Archer.
"How did he get so sloppy and let that information leak?!" Ilya growled in frustration. "Once he gets back, I'm going to make him my dress up doll for punishment!"
Shirou sweatdropped mentally as he pushed in front of his older (younger?) sister a plate of french fries. The girl immediately dismissed the situation at hand in favor of the food, leaving the rest of the familia members to talk without her raging rant and revenge plans.
Of course, this was also her way of removing herself from the spotlight of this meeting without being awkward; just because she didn't talk didn't mean that she wasn't listening.
"So, how big of a deal do you think this will be?" Shirou asked everyone present.
Archer was still out there, probably having gone back into the labyrinth. He was diligent like that.
Shirou would have done so as well had it not been for the others' insistence that at least one of the two Emiya(EMIYA) remain to cook for them.
"Probably nothing we can't handle," Iskander shrugged after he swallowed one of the sandwiches provided in the meeting. "We are the strongest 'familia' there is, and everyone knows it."
Shirou frowned. "But they can always take other actions to make our lives uncomfortable, can they not?"
"And how would they go about doing that?" Rin asked as she popped a cherry into her mouth. "So far as I've concluded, the familias here are regulated by the Guild itself, which sets up rules for exactly things of this nature; a familia earning the ire of others. The worst they can do is embargo the items we bring up from the labyrinth by not buying them from the Guild, but the Guild itself maintains anonymity of the items sold."
"And ...?" Rider asked. The idea that there was a higher authority regulating someone like him, a king, was not a happy thought.
"But if a familia finds that the grudge or issue is big enough, they can call for a War Game."
Rider liked the sound of that. "How is it operated?"
"Depends on how the challenger wants it. There's this weird rule about it, though: a familia cannot declare a War Game on another familia without significant asset tied to it. From what I was told, this was so that the familias in Orario won't be declaring War Game on each other for shits and giggles; a familia can lose their base of operations or even their members if they lose a War Game." Rin scoffed. "But I doubt anyone is stronger than our familia."
"You speak too casually of our strength," Gilgamesh grunted majestically. "We could be the kings of this world; we have merely chosen not too."
"Because I forbid it," Shirou replied immediately. "I don't want you going out on conquests and hurting innocents. Got it?"
Not too surprisingly, the class the day after the spread of the rumor saw a steep decline.
Rin frowned as she looked upon her students. Particularly, the seats that didn't have her students. She saw to her surprise though that most of the Loki Familia, Freya Familia, and civilians remained to learn.
"I'm surprised half of you are here," she commented nonchalantly. "Not after the rumor went about."
There was silence.
Then someone raised their hand.
It was a little girl. She was one of the civilian girls who was paying her way into this school with her precious mana. "T-Teacher Rin, can you tell us what a C-Counter Guardian is?"
"...Why do you want to know about it?" she asked the student.
"Because all of the gods and goddesses seemed uncomfortable with the word."
Rin sighed. So the dreaded question did pop up. Well, she was to blame as well; she did mention the rumor, so it was inevitable that the question was going to come up faster than expected.
"... To understand what a Counter Guardian is, you must first understand the situation of the era before this one, the Era of Humans," Rin said as she wrote the words 'Era of Humanity' on the board at the head of the small classroom. "This era came after the First Age of the Gods; the era you live in is the Second Age of the Gods." She then wrote down the words left and right of the 'Age of Man.'
"When the First Ages of God ended, a new entity rose to power to replace the gods and the world. This being's name was Alaya, the collective unconsciousness of all humans. This Alaya is the patron of the Counter Guardians and the enemy of Gaia, the very earth upon which you walk upon."
There was a pause as Rin let that sink in.
Then some of the older students began to pale, finally understanding some of the implied issues at hand. The younger ones had a harder time.
"T-Then humanity became the enemy of gods?" someone asked quietly.
Rin frowned. "No. Not exactly. In fact, humans can't be," she said as she wrote the words 'gods,' 'phantasmal beasts,' and 'magic.'
"You see, gods and goddesses came into being in the First Age of the Gods as a result of human belief in the deities in question, so in eseesnce, we humans created our own gods. What little that has been confirmed before my time here is that this formation of deities are caused by our own belief, and even curiosity. Because of this, humans couldn't be the enemies of gods and goddesses because the deities themselves are dependent on us for their power, and you dpened on their blessing."
This seemed to ease some of their worries.
"But our connection to the well spring of creation and the gods declined with the end of the First Age of Gods.
"Once the First Age of the Gods came to an end, these three-" she pointed to the four words she wrote. "-began a steady decline. During this decline, Alaya came to being with two purpose in its existence: survival and advancement of humanity. Gaia didn't take that very well, oh no.
"Humans would, some two thousand years after the start of the decline, became a ravaging force the destroyed the very world they lived in. They poisoned the seas, filled the air with toxic fumes, and waged war upon each other and the planet they lived on. All in the name of advancement.
"Gaia foresaw this and it was not going to take it laying down. In fact, she went and got help."
"From the gods, right?" someone interrupted.
"Sadly, no," Rin replied. "She got help from the moon."
Everyone turned quizzical.
The moon? How could it help? Rin could see that question written on their face. Some of her mentally faster students, however, were thinking. She let them think for a few more moments before she started again.
"Just as our world has the personification of Gaia, so too does the moon.
"Gaia, or the collective will of our planet, called to the moon for help, and brought upon itself an Ultimate One, the collective will of the moon. The exact details of this event are unknown except that it gave rise to a single race of phantasmal beings.
"These people, if you can call them that, were creatures of the moon. They had a thirst for human blood and in the early days of mankind, they were the greatest enemy of humanity.
"Alaya's response to them was the Counter Guardian."
There was silence.
"Dead Apostles were the unfortunate humans and other creatures given a new life by the blood of the Type Moon, the Ultimate One of the Moon, and Counter Guardians were those unfortunate enough to have risen to heroic status by borrowing power of the collective humanity.
"But a Counter Guardian's job doesn't simply end to keep humanity alive. No. Counter Guardians are also the war hounds of Alaya; they kill and destroy anything that gets in the way of human advancement, including gods, elementals, divine spirits, and yes... even the world itself if such an act is called for.
"It is for this reason that Counter Guardians are feared: they are the Beasts of Alaya, the ruthless will of Humanity."
Bell Cranel was nervous.
It was a core part of himself that sought to become a hero. In fact, that was why he even had a skill named Realis Phrase, or so he believed.
But now... he was uneasy. Why wouldn't he be? He just learned about one side of how terrible "heroism" can be.
War with the world? Borrowed powers? Enslaved for eternity?
Yeah, Bell was not into that.
He broached this with his goddess as well, and she was extremely unhappy that he had even learnt of the existence of Counter Guardians.
When he questioned his own desire to become a hero was put into context along side the Counter Guardians, the goddess reassured him that such a tragic thing will not happen to him.
He was blessed to have such a goddess.
Loki was once again struck with a headache.
This time, it came in the form of rumors and knowledge.
She had lost her share of children to them, especially as the decline of the First Age of the Gods began. None of them had died to this new Counter Guardian that was apparently the white haired man of the Emiya Familia nor did she feel the blood of her kin on him. For that, she cared little about his former status as Counter Guardian (and how did that work anyway? She had assumed that once a Counter Guardian, one was always a Counter Guardian. Perhaps it had to do with the loss of Alaya...).
There was someone extremely not happy, though.
Ares, the god of Ares Familia, the only nation-type familia in existence, was not happy at all.
Never mind the fact that he was a hot-tempered god, he had his fair share of troubles with Counter Guardians. As one of the last active Greek pantheon in the Age of Humanity, he had fought the Counter Guardians who sought to kill his children time and time again. And he had a bone to pick with any and all Counter Guardians.
His most favorite children, Deimos and Phobos, were slain by Counter Guardians in front of him, after all.
So he rung the bells of war.
Ares Familia was going to war.