"What do you mean we're moving?"
Sola's tone betrayed her inner surprise as she watched Kayneth wander around the room, gathering all of the magical artifacts that were laying around the room. Potions, tomes, even magical items that helped with enhancing the potency and efficiency of magical spells were being stashed away into a special suitcase. Kayneth, who had been spending most of his time putting traps around the premise, had begun deactivating them the second he returned, working through the night and into the early morning.
The entire area which he had proclaimed to be an impenetrable fortress had returned back to a normal hotel. This came as a shock for her, who could value the integrity and security the place provided. She would never admit it to his face, but Kayneth had indeed transformed the place into a powerful stronghold.
"It is as I say, Sola. We are leaving." Kayneth grumbled with annoyance in his tone. "This place can no longer suit our needs as adequately as I once thought."
"In what way? Defensively, we are pretty secure. No one can get us up here unless it was an archer-"
"The matter of defense is not what I was referring to," Kayneth cut in as he stuffed another bottle into the case. "Rather, it is a matter of offensive power."
"Offensive power? You proclaimed that Lancer was a powerful servant, and I have seen the stats and noble phantasms. What other servant can match such strength?"
There was a slight hint of mocking underneath those words, but it flew over Kayneth's head. He was too focused trying to pack all of his equipment to pay attention to the hidden messages that she was trying to send him.
"If I may, miss Sola." Lancer interjected, materializing out of spirit form by Kayneth's side. "It is indeed true that I am a powerful heroic spirit, but we have recently come across two other heroic spirits who are capable of matching my power. Coincidentally, the two of them are from my legend as well so I know firsthand just how strong each of them is."
Lancer paced over to the window, a frown marring her face. "I do not doubt my ability to face them. Rather, I doubt my ability to do so for extended periods. Even for our skirmish at the docks, I used up so much magical energy that lord Kayneth fainted from the drain. If the fight had not stopped, I fear I may end up killing the two of you by accident." She turned to look at Sola with a curious look. "Tell me, did you experience any lightheadedness at all? Any weak reactions?"
"Well... now that you mention it..."
Before they had arrived, she had felt her vision spiral out of control. Her legs became weak and her head became heavy as she fell back on the bed. It was like all of the muscles in her body just gave up supporting her and stopped working. It was a condition that would have sent normal humans into a panic, but she easily deduced the cause as a lack of magical energy.
During the summoning of Lancer, Kayneth had turned her into a prana battery of sorts. In order to fight on his own against the other masters, he proclaimed that he couldn't be hindered by his own servant. Thus, he wished for her to bear the burden of keeping Lancer in the world. She hated the idea, but there wasn't much she could do about it. Her free-will was nearly non-existent, and the pressuring of her family forced her hand.
But there was a slight miscalculation on Kayneth's part. Lancer was extraordinarily powerful. More powerful than either of them could imagine. The magical energy consumption, even to bring her up to full power, could not be satisfied by Sola alone. Thus, Kayneth was forced to bear the burden with her in order to efficiently give Lancer the energy needed to fight.
Yet... Lancer had nearly drained Kayneth of all his energy. She must not have been affected as much, due to not being close to the battlefield, but she was amazed that the support of two mages was not enough to keep Lancer at full strength for more than a few minutes.
Sola blinked. "I-I see... But what does that have to do with us changing locations?"
"The problem is in a simple lack of magical energy. Master Kayneth, deciding to focus more on offensive power rather than defense, has deemed it necessary to move us to a suitable leyline in order to solve this problem."
"Indeed," Kayneth nodded proudly, feeling a hint of pride return back to his voice. "As it stands now, we cannot afford to let our enemies come to us anymore. In terms of endurance, we are at a disadvantage. However, should we be able to take control of a leyline... we can easily get rid of this problem."
A leyline was a spot of earth where the concentration of mana was particularly prevalent. For a magus, such a good source of energy was highly sought after, leading to territory disputes as secret families fought proxy wars in order to take control of the land. High-quality lines have decreased over the years, which only served to increase the feud between magi.
It was no secret that the lines in Fuyuki were particularly well-kept. It was the site of the Holy Grail War, after all. The necessary mana needed for such a ritual would no doubt influence the land, leading to a great source of mana.
Despite that, no one has ever dared to attempt to travel to Fuyuki to siphon off those lines. The Holy Grail war was no secret after all, and nobody wanted to meet a fearsome servant face to face. Stories perpetuated about the dangerous ritual around the clock tower only served to keep everyone away.
And besides... the land was known for having a very attentive family watching over it.
"But isn't that a little risky? The Tohsakas... the family would be watching like a hawk. Surely they'd be alerted to our presence?"
"Reaction time is of no problem. I only need a few seconds to begin siphoning energy." Lancer declared, completely unconcerned. "Master Kayneth wants to move locations because he believes that I would leave you two too unguarded. Especially you, Miss Sola-ri. He was adamant that your safety is ensured."
Kayneth coughed, a very slight tint of red on his face as he turned his attention back to his case. "That is enough, Lancer. She gets the point. Just go back into spirit form and wait for more orders."
Lancer just smiled. "As you wish, master."
Disappearing back into spirit form, Kayneth released a sigh. Truth be told, he had no qualms with his servant. Lancer was everything he could have asked for. Attentive, powerful, and obedient. However, that being did have some snark from time to time. If Lancer wasn't so complacent and obedient, he would have rebuked his servant with harsh words.
How would that go? For a brief moment, that thought flashed through his mind. Lancer was a tool. Nothing more. Even Lancer didn't bother trying to correct him and seemingly agreed with that point. Lancer wasn't born a human. Therefore, it wasn't one. Shaped from clay and given human form, it could only imitate the emotions of humans. There was no way it could respond to him other than to follow his orders.
Or at least... that's what he thought.
"So this is where you've been hiding out?"
Shirou muttered as he stared out the window of a simple Japanese house. As far as looks went, the place was pretty ordinary. Nothing grand or luxurious about it. Gil would have hated the place.
"Y-yeah! Got a problem with it?" Waver glared with annoyance as he crossed his arms.
"No, not really. As far as locations go, this is a pretty good spot." Shirou replied as he glanced around the room. "It's a little bit secluded, and not many would think to try and start a fight here."
After Shirou and Ritsuka returned back to their room to check out, Waver had sent them a message through a familiar with the address to their location. Seeing as they were going to be allies for the remainder of the war, Iskander believed that they all should bunk together like comrades would.
The house they were staying at was in a tightly packed neighborhood. It served as a slight deterrent of sorts. Due to the close proximity of the other houses, no servant would even think of unleashing a noble phantasm here for fear of striking innocent bystanders if they had any honor. The only one who would attempt something like that would most likely be the Assassin class servant, but that wasn't much of a threat at this point.
"Oh." Waver deflated, obviously not expecting such a heartfelt word of praise from the hero.
"Ahahaha! Way to go boy! You've impressed our fine ally!" Rider roared with laughter as he slapped the boy on his back, forcefully knocking Waver onto the bed with a pained yelp.
Everyone stopped what they were doing and turned towards Ritsuka, who was nestled in a small beanbag chair that was tucked away in the corner. The boy had been quiet so far, barely drawing any attention to himself. Now, he rose a hand into the air.
"S-so what do we do now? About this war... I mean." Ritsuka asked nervously. He was still a little put off by how much taller everyone seemed to be compared to him. Even Waver, scrawny as he is, still stood taller than he did.
"My dear boy... The solution to your question is quite simple!" Rider declared with a smile. "We simply seek out the other servants and drive them underfoot! With our combined might, we shall conquer this grail war!"
Ritsuka blinked. "But... don't we need a plan? We can't just go charging in... right?"
"Finally! Someone gets it!" Waver threw his hands up in victory, finally finding at least SOMEONE who was sane. Before he could even get another two cents in, Shirou spoke up.
"Believe it or not, charging in would be one of the most optimal courses of action."
"Oh no, not you too!" Waver growled in annoyance as he pointed an accusing finger at Shirou. "Aren't you supposed to be a wise sage or something?! We can't go charging headfirst into battle with your brother and that plant monster!"
"Enkidu's... not a plant monster." Shirou frowned before shaking his head. "But anyways, I know what I'm talking about. It's not like we'll be able to pull off any fancy maneuvers against my brother or Enkidu. They'd rip us apart before we could try."
"B-but surely there's something better than facing them directly, right? Don't they have some sort of weakness?" Waver muttered meekly, feeling this situation grow hopeless with every passing second.
Shirou chuckled. "Young man, there are no physical weaknesses that we can exploit. They are simply that strong. No. What we must do is take advantage of their nature."
"Take advantage... of their nature?"
He nodded. "Indeed. My brother is quite arrogant; Half the time he won't take you seriously if you were to fight him. Enkidu, though more serene, is the same as well to some degree. If we were to challenge them face to face, I highly doubt they'd start off seriously due to their pride. If we were to attempt a sneak attack..."
"They'd reflexively use their full power!" Rider finished with a nod. "Indeed... such a tactic would only end up with our sound defeat! I applaud your straightforward thinking, Caster!"
"Your words humble me." Shirou chuckled.
"Then it's settled!" Rider declared as he stood up, nearly scraping his head against the ceiling. "We shall settle this war fair and square! I have always enjoyed a direct approach to my conquests! Prepare yourself, boy! You'll soon learn firsthand how the king of conquerors, Iskander, wages war!"
Waver groaned and slammed his head into the desk. "I can't take this. We're all going to be enemies sooner or later... why can't you two just be simple and fight each other?"
Shirou just laughed softly while Ritsuka tilted his head in a cute manner. He didn't really comprehend all of the details, but surely something big was going to happen in the near future.
Irisviel bit her lips nervously as she watched her husband work from the side. He had sat down at a pristine silver table with a laptop open in front of him, which his nose was practically buried in. Various images flashed across the screen, though she herself didn't know what to make of them. Thus, all she could do was remain silent.
They had gone to the Einzbern's Castle deep within the forest after the battle at the docks. It was an estate that the family built in order to always be close to the war, protected by numerous magical wards and was stocked full of magical resources. All in all, it was considered a perfect fortress.
Saber stood next to her, just as silent and attentive. However, Irisviel could detect the impatience radiating off of her even when she tried hard to suppress it. Her foot was tapping against the floor gently, but fast. Clearly, her mood was just as foul as Kiritsugu.
She knew since the beginning that neither of them liked each other. The second Kiritsugu had summoned her, he had made nearly zero attempts at acknowledging her existence. His cold nature, combined with his previous protests of having a knight for a servant, only served to keep him away. He had even callously claimed that it would have been easier for him to have an assassin rather than one of the most famous heroes to ever live.
Thus, she had to serve as the bridge between the two of them. Any orders Kiritsugu had for Saber were passed through her, and she in turn spoke for Saber's behalf. It felt like an impossible task, for it felt like they were two worlds apart even when they were in the same room.
Still, she knew she could not give up on them. For both of their dreams, she would have to support them.
"Kiritsugu..." She spoke out finally, filling in the void of silence. "What exactly are you doing?"
"Surveillance," Kiritsugu replied immediately, but robotically. She immediately noted how he had changed drastically from his time in the castle. "Maiya has already sent out most of our familiars to all key locations in the city. Thanks to that, I've narrowed down the possible locations of all masters." He leaned back in his chair. "With some luck, I can come up with a plan to take them out without having to fight them. However, it appears that we'll have to alter our strategy concerning the three strongest servants."
Saber tensed next to her, her foot tapping halted at those words. She opened her mouth to say something, but Irisviel quickly beat her to it.
"What is it that you have in mind?"
Kiritsugu's response was blunt and emotionless.
"Caster, Lancer, and Archer will inevitably fight to the death. It's only a matter of time. In the meantime, we'll try to defeat the other servants. The others won't interfere. They'll kill each other without any of us having to lift a finger. All we have to do... is simply wait."
It was a horrible method, but it was ultimately the best course of action for them in his mind. From what he had seen, those three heroic spirits wouldn't be satisfied with letting another servant kill them off. It was personal. After all, they were each from the same legend with bonds as close as can be. It was a matter of family pride.
This was the most effective method. Saber would no doubt be killed in a head to head battle with them, no matter how confident she was in her own abilities. He was not going to jeopardize his own chances at the grail because of her foolish desire for honorable battle. That's just how she was, and it was ultimately something he could not force her to do.
He subtly glanced at the knight, who looked to be holding herself back from calling him out on his cowardice. Luckily, it seemed as if she would play along for now. She could not use the honor excuse to rebuke him, as she seemingly agreed that it would be dishonorable of her to get involved with what most likely be a battle between family members. Saves him a headache of trying to talk around her.
Good thing he left out the fact that he'd try to kill their masters when he had a chance.
"Ah... It really is quite amazing how fate never ceases to amuse me."
Gilgamesh chuckled to himself as he lounged lazily on the red sofa in his casual attire. A glass of red wine in hand, he turned his red eyes upon the man who stood before him with a bowed head.
"A few hours ago I would not have even considered getting involved with such a petty squabble between children, but I suppose exceptions must be made." He swirled the cup slowly. "So rejoice, Tokiomi. You will bear witness to a sight none have seen since the dawn of mankind."
"I cannot wait, my king," Tokiomi replied humbly, keeping his head bowed. "I pray for your victory upon the battlefield."
"Hmph. Prayers mean nothing to one such as I. It is only natural that I shall be victorious." Gilgamesh declared before his eyes narrowed dangerously. "Though I must warn you Tokiomi, if you dare attempt to try and intervene in any way using your little pupil... I will kill you before you can even activate your command spells. Do you understand?"
Tokiomi inwardly grimaced. In truth, the thought such a threat would occur had passed his mind more than once. Using Kirei's Assassins to kill the unsuspecting masters while the servants were busy fighting would be efficient. There would be no greater time than that to unleash them while they still had the element of surprise. After all, the others had believed the servant to be dead. It would be child's play for the assassin to get the drop on them.
However, he knew just how volatile Gilgamesh's personality was. He'd most certainly follow through with his threat if he ever realized just what it was that he and Kotomine had planned. Luckily, the two of them had accounted for such a possibility.
For now, they'd let Archer, Lancer, and Caster duke it out. Let each other wear themselves down. Then, when both Lancer and Archer were too tired to act, Kirei would swoop in and assassinate Kayneth to further weaken Lancer. Archer would surely be beyond furious, but...
He subtly glanced at the command spells on his hand. By the time Archer realized what was happening, He'd be dead. All of the servants must be sacrificed in order to fulfill his own personal wish, after all. Six would be enough for a wish, but to open a hole to the wellspring of knowledge required all seven to die. In the meantime, Kirei would target the other masters.
Rider was a simple nuisance, but servant Saber under Kiritsugu Emiya was a very plausible threat. He knew of the terrible things the Magus Killer did. He was the boogeyman of the magical world, performing actions that would make even the most cold-hearted magus quake. Kirei seemed to have a morbid fascination with him, so he'd no doubt mind going after him first.
He had no doubt his student would succeed with his duties. He was dutiful and studious, displaying the hallmarks of a great student. There was no one else he trusted more than him.
So he simply remained calm in the face of Archer's threat, his shoulders unusually relaxed.
"I understand, my king."
Kirei quietly stalked through the streets, walking slowly and swiftly. He looked so normal that anyone would have been hard-pressed to believe that he was a certified killer. Dawn was starting to break in and people would start coming out in a few minutes. He'd need to take care of his errands before then.
He had spent the past half hour walking in circles as he tried to shake off his pursuer. While he gave no indication, he noted that several birds kept following him from one spot to another without pause. They perched on buildings far away, but whenever he turned the corner they'd fly after him silently. Someone was most certainly using them as familiars, attempting to keep an eye on his movements.
It was annoying. He wouldn't be able to get anything done like this.
"There appears to be a fly buzzing around. Handle it. Bring them in alive."
As the connection clicked off, he smirked with amusement. There was only one person who would try to stalk him like this, but he didn't think they'd be so callous enough to be this direct. It was probably a proxy of sorts. Normally he'd drop everything and confront this uninvited guest, but he had something more important to do right now.
He ducked into a narrow alleyway that was nestled in between two buildings, following it down until he came across a small pothole. Sniffing the air, he nodded in satisfaction.
The place smelt putrid. Not like the type of smell one would get from standing next to a dumpster, but a magically foul odor. No normal human would be able to differentiate it from the garbage lying around, but with his keen sense of smell he would not so easily be deceived.
He bent downwards to remove the lid, easily grasping the plate and pulling it up with one hand to reveal a ladder heading downwards into the sewer system. He reached out to grasp the metal, but suddenly froze as he felt a presence rise up behind him.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you."
Kariya Matou stepped out of the shadows, pale and thin with a sickly aura about him. Not even the dark hoodie he had up could hide the mangled skin underneath.
Despite that, his eyes glinted dangerously like a snake. Berserker was materialized next to him, gripping a lead pipe that was covered with his malicious dark aura. It was an odd sight, seeing a knight wield a pipe, but Kirei had no doubt that his head would be rolling would just one swing.
"Kariya Matou..." Kirei spoke, his voice even. "I have been looking for you."
"I can tell. Tohsaka's dog wouldn't be snooping around otherwise," Kariya growled, venom dripping from his lips at the mention of Tokiomi. "Give me a reason why I shouldn't have Berserker rip your head off your shoulders."
"Because I'm not here to fight. I'm here to discuss business," Kirei replied simply as he turned to face him. Berserker didn't even move, silent like a sentry. "As far as Tokiomi knows, I'm out to assassinate the other masters. Preferably the masters of Rider, Saber, and of course, Berserker. However, he never gave me explicit orders on how I could go about it."
Kariya narrowed his eyes. "And? You're here to kill me. That's more than enough reason for me to sic Berserker on you."
"But I'm here to offer another alternative," Kirei cut in quickly. "As it stands now, the servants of Archer, Lancer, and Caster are the biggest threats in the war. Still, the three of them will be too busy fighting amongst themselves to pose any trouble to us. Tokiomi wishes to cull the other servants before then, as he wants to make the process easier for himself."
"You mean you can't get that arrogant servant to kill the others, right?" Karia let out a hollow laugh upon that realization. Kirei just nodded, unbothered by it.
"Yes. Which is why I have come to you. Your Berserker would be perfect for sweeping up the rest of the competition. I'll supply you with anything you need... so long as you get the job done."
"Really? You expect me to help you on Tokiomi's orders?"
"All participants of the Holy Grail War are expected to kill each other off. I am offering to help you with simply being a step closer to your wish." Kirei replied simply. "And if it makes you really feel better, Tokiomi has no idea of this meeting. When this is all over, you can settle your score with him as you like."
Kariya was silent at that. The priest seemed oddly sincere about his message, almost as if he didn't exactly care about what happened to that blasted Tokiomi. Well, it's not like that mattered. If he was really willing to supply him in exchange for killing the other servants, he'd gladly do it.
Then afterward... he would deal with Tokiomi. He'd make him rue the day he was ever born.
"I have one condition." He declared, but Kirei wasn't even fazed.
"There's a girl who lives in the Matou household... her name is Sakura. She was originally a Tohsaka, but Tokiomi sold her off after that demon Zouken asked for her."
Kirei raised an eyebrow. "Ah, I see. I heard about that from him. He hopes that Sakura will unlock the full potential of her magical abilities under the tutelage of Zouken."
Kariya hissed. "Full potential? She would never reach it with him. Tokiomi was too stupid and foolish for believing in that old worm. Every day and night, he violates her with his crest worms in order for her to 'Succeed as a mage'." He shook his head. "I cannot rebel against Zouken myself. I'm already under his thrall as his worms crawl through my body. If you can save Sakura for me... I will gladly slaughter any opponent for you... so long as you give me a piece of Tokiomi."
Such a sad story, but he truly couldn't bring himself to care. He just came here to strike a deal and he succeeded. Tokiomi would surely not be pleased, but what he didn't know wouldn't hurt him. Still, it'd be amusing for Tokiomi to suffer because of this half-broken man.
He pushed such thoughts to the side. It didn't matter now. He'd grab that girl and leave with her. This Zouken Matou was an interesting fellow indeed if he was willing to put the master of berserker through the wringer, so he could only imagine just what kind of state this girl was in.
"You have my word. Sakura will be safe... and you'll get to meet Tokiomi."
Maiya Hisau narrowed her eyes in annoyance as she kept track of Kotomine Kirei through her familiars. He had abruptly left the church and struck out on his own for some unknown reason. She didn't have any more cameras to put on her familiars to send data to Kiritsugu in real time, so she was forced to keep an eye on him personally.
She was situated in a small room in an abandoned motel, stealthily positioning her familiars and looking through their eyes. Kirei was seemingly wandering around aimlessly, turning from one corner to the next. She'd have believed it if he had gone out for a bite to eat, but he was just wandering. It warranted immediate attention.
Kiritsugu had warned her of him and she had spent hours going over everything they could dig up on him. A high-end executor of the church... a man who excelled in nearly everything he did, but stopped before reaching the end. As far as Kiritsugu was concerned, he was the greatest threat to them. The other masters were people that they could predict, but the man known as Kotomine Kirei was an enigma. Someone like that could royally screw up their chances at the grail.
The thought to kill him had crossed her mind twice before, but she held herself back. This man was an executor of the church, not like the other pompous magi she and Kiritsugu killed. The usual tricks would not work on him, especially considering his track record. Perhaps if she were to rig a building to explode with c4 it'd do the trick, but she doubted she could lure him into one. Blowing up the church was also out of the question, as it will inevitably lead to penalties.
Besides... Assassin would no doubt be nearby.
She inwardly sighed. This was just so tiring, even for her. With so much on the line... she'd be lying if she said she didn't feel an ounce of pressure on her back. Perhaps she should just call it a day and return back to the castle. There was no use in monitoring him when-
It was at this moment that Kirei suddenly ducked into a nearby ally. Narrowing her eyes, she immediately brought her familiars closer in order to follow him in.
She suddenly shot up with a pistol in hand as the sound of creaking floorboards reached her ears. Turning around, she steadied her breathing and slowly began to move toward the nearest exit.
"Well, well, well..."
Her hand moved without thinking, years of experience rising to the surface as she turned towards a dark figure on the other side of the room. She pressed the trigger, setting off several loud explosions as her gun unleashed several balls of lead...
...Only for the figure to raise its hand and grab the projectiles out of the air.
"Found you, found you! Your skills are good, but we are better!"
The skull mask rattled and hissed with glee as it stepped towards her, a dark blade in hand.
Maiya cursed in her head. So she really had been noticed after all. Kiritsugu was right, Kirei was more than he let out on.
She kept her gun trained on the presence, but she knew the gesture to be futile. Modern weapons could do nothing more than tickle a servant, even for one as physically weak as an Assassin.
And Assassin knew it.
If it was actually physically possible for a mask to emote, she had no doubt Assassin was wearing a shit-eating grin.
"Master would want you back alive... alive and well. Please don't make this hard! My hand might just slip on accident~" The assassin proclaimed in a sing-song tone as the dark blade danced dangerously in his grip. He inched towards her and she inched backward, following his movement as she moved towards the nearest door.
She'd be safe if she could just get to a public street. Assassin class servant or not, they wouldn't attempt to kill her in full view of others. The nearest street was just a little ways away. All she had to do was exit the room through the door and jump out the window in the hallway.
However, such a simple plan was never meant to be.
The second her hand touched the knob, the door was flung open abruptly with incredible force. The edge smacked into the back of her head with a sickening crack, causing her to fall limply to the ground like a ragdoll as her consciousness immediately vanished.
At this sudden development, the Assassin felt the excitement leave his body and attempted to give a scowl towards the larger copy standing in the doorway.
"Really, must you be such a spoilsport, Gozul?"
The larger persona just grunted as it bent down and grabbed the unconscious girl before casually walking back out from whence he came, not making any noise despite his size.
Makul the Quick just shook his head at his counterpart and followed after him, silently grumbling on how he got partnered with the second most serious of the personas.
"What is it, master?"
Ritsuka fidgeted nervously, a little bit put off with hearing Shirou's voice echo around him but not actually seeing him. The servant had returned back into spirit form, claiming that Ritsuka deserved a little rest from supplying him of mana. His presence was still with him, but it unnerved him greatly. He truly felt like a ghost at that moment.
Waver had left to go downstairs with Iskander, leaving the two of them alone to sit and talk. Until night came around, most of the servants would be on a ceasefire. There was nothing to do other than simply ponder on what they had talked about earlier.
"Is it true what Waver said? That we'd just be enemies later?"
"...That is certainly true."
Ritsuka raised his head, a curious look on his features. "So why are we allying? I mean, Mr. Iskander is cool and all... but if we're just going to fight in the end..."
He trailed off, looking down. A temporary alliance where they'd be forced to kill each other after... he was too young to truly comprehend such a thing. An alliance... was like a form of friendship, right? Who in their right mind would kill their friends?
"We're allied because it's advantageous for us," Shirou replied simply, but smoothly. "In war, the enemy of my enemy is my friend as the saying goes. Iskander is a powerful ally to have. He's also the safest. I have full confidence in his honor to not stab you in the back."
"But... the two of you will kill each other anyway. Isn't that wrong?" Ritsuka protested.
"Of course it is. It is very much wrong. Those who make pacts to be allies should never harm one another. However, you are trying to comprehend our situation using the usual definition of morality and reasoning," A soft chuckle. "We are dead heroes from a time long since passed. Logic and reasoning no longer apply here in common sense. It is true that if it is fated, Iskander and I shall surely fight to the death. However, neither of us will hate each other for it."
Ritsuka trembled. "But... I don't want you two to kill each other..."
"Did I not tell you that we would be trampling over the lives of others for the sake of obtaining a miracle?"
The boy fell back into silence, remembering those words. Back then it had been incredibly scary to think about. Now though... it was utterly terrifying.
"No wonder Mister Waver was upset..." He muttered, looking down.
"I wouldn't pay attention to him too much. As much as he likes to talk, I can see that he was never ready to fight a war like this, nor had he thought of the possibility of an alliance. I'm sure Iskander can see that as well," He sighed. "And I suppose it was presumptuous of me to believe that you wouldn't be unshaken from this path. You are still a child, after all."
"I.. I just-"
"Do not speak anymore," Shirou said softly as he materialized next to him, gently putting a hand on his head. "I know this is tough for you. I do not blame you for feeling this way. But I must warn you, you must make a choice sooner or later. Will you forfeit your chance at the grail? Or will you continue down this path for your wish?"
"F-forfeit? But that'd mean that you'd have to die! I can't... I can't ask for that!"
"I am a servant, Ritsuka. No matter what you ask of me, I shall do it. That is the oath I swore when I contracted with you," Shirou said with a smile. "This is a choice you must make. But know that no matter whatever you pick, I'll be behind you all the way."
Ritsuka was silent for a moment, seemingly mulling over those words before speaking.
"...What is your wish?"
"Hm?" Shirou was taken aback by the sudden reversal, but he nevertheless took it in stride. "Truthfully, my wish has already been filled. I wanted to meet my family again, even if it was for a brief moment. My new wish... would be for your happiness, Master."
"My happiness..." Ritsuka muttered before his eyes brightened. "Then... I want you to stay with me."
Shirou's eyes widened in surprise at that sudden declaration. "But what of your parents, Master? Did you not wish to see them again?"
"I-it's true that I do miss them. And... and... it's not the same without them..." Ritsuka was downtrodden for a minute before perking back up again. "But you're with me! I'll never be lonely with you! And I think, no, I know, that my parents would never wish for me to get in the way of someone else's wish just for them! papa always told me to live for others and not just myself, after all!"
His sudden happy nature was truly a surprise that took him off guard. For a minute, Shirou wanted to spit out the cold truth. Six servants had to die for the grail to be used as a wish-granting machine. Without his death, no one else could use the grail. It was a simple lack of raw mana that would prevent it.
A simple lack of mana...
Lack of mana...
He inwardly smiled as a realization came over him. Yes. If it was a lack of mana, then there was something he could do. Something that'd just work.
"Very well then," He nodded down at the boy. "Then as you wish, I shall stay by your side forever."
The smile Ritsuka gave him warmed his heart, and it was at that moment he truly swore that he would protect that innocence... for as long as he possibly could.
"Enkidu... Gilgamesh... do bear with me. I shall be getting serious from now on."