The First Attempt


"Here we are." Bazett announced, stopping the car at a fair distance away from the field where Shirou had found the nest of the criminal Magi the previous day. "Nice and easy. I followed the exact same route as yesterday. If they didn't see us then, they won't have seen us now."

"Very good, Bazett." Lord El-Melloi nodded, looking out of the window at the cars that had been following them since Frankfurt, which had also just stopped a few metres behind theirs. Enforcers came pouring out of those cars a second later, and they rapidly established a perimeter around their position, using all kinds of tricks and short-cuts to begin establishing several Bounded Fields in a short time.

Shirou was fascinated by the Mystic Codes they used. Those particular Mystic Codes, shaped like black pyramids, had pre-prepared Bounded Fields installed in them, allowing the wielder to drastically shorten the time needed to set said Field up. He studied the pyramid-shaped constructs as well as he could, storing whatever information he managed to discern safely in his mind.

Then he followed the Enforcers' example, opening the door to step out of the car, intent on helping them set up their fields quickly so they could begin the attack already.

It was the day after the evening at Frankfurt, and just as Lord El-Melloi had arranged, the seven of them, that being Shirou, Svin, Flat, Grey, Bazett, Caren, and the lord himself, had arrived at the field near Lykershausen to storm the base of criminal Magi, along with the Enforcers as reinforcements and their main spearhead.

As the group had left the hotel at nine in the morning, it was still quite early, though since it was summer, the sun was already high up in the sky.

The atmosphere around the group was tense, as for most of them, it would be the first time that they'd ever participated in, or even been close to the storming of a base of enemy Magi.

Bazett was of course mostly calm, and was mainly concerned with protecting her charges instead of the upcoming attack, but she was very much the exception.

Even Shirou, who had experience with storming fortresses, was anxious, though in his case, it wasn't because of the upcoming assault, but rather because of what would come after.

As soon as this matter was over, once the base had been destroyed and the enemy Magi were either dead or captured, he would be heading to the Einzbern castle for the first time, to finally take a look at his sister's prison with his own eyes.

He'd planned to do so last night, once Lord El-Melloi had fallen asleep, but with his characteristic intelligence and ability of deduction, the lord had somehow realised Shirou was up to something and had extracted a promise from him not to go anywhere that night. It was a promise Shirou had felt obliged to keep.

Shirou had only made the promise though because the lord had guaranteed that he would be allowed to do as he pleased after the nest had been taken down. As such, he was in quite a hurry to start the attack already. Every second wasted in this field was a second that he couldn't spend on scouting the Einzbern castle.

Still, despite the setback of not being able to head to the Einzbern-castle yet, it could be said that the previous night had largely been successful for Shirou. Not only had he managed to track down all nine Enforcers within the span of two hours, but he'd also convinced them to let him join in on the attack.

There wasn't really a specific reason he wanted to be a part of the main force, Shirou just liked to be part of the action rather than stand back and watch –and spend his time brooding over Illya— not to mention he was curious whether there would be something he could learn from these experienced Enforcers. Something that might help him later down the line. Last but not least, he wanted to join in to help the victims that were no doubt suffering inside that nest at that very moment.

His gut was telling him it was a good idea to watch the Enforcers closely and learn from them, and Shirou knew well enough by now that his gut was usually right.

Finding the Enforcers wasn't the only thing he'd done the previous evening however. He'd also found a lot of souvenirs for Ayako, Sakura, and Rin, as well as a few for Fuji-Nee, and even two presents for Issei. It was the least he could do after being gone for a full two months. Shirou hadn't held back with the purchases, and there were a great many presents now safely stored in his Vault, to be handed over to the recipients once he was back in Fuyuki.

Lastly, there had also been the business with miss Ortensia and the robbers, but Shirou preferred not to think about that too much.

Not only because of miss Ortensia hugging him after he'd beaten down her assailants, and her outrageous statements about him being some kind of agent of God, which her entire group had seemingly accepted at face value, but also because the local newspapers had run away with the story and made it possibly even more embarrassing than it already was.

No matter how old he might become, Shirou would never forget the moment when Flat came up to him that morning, just before they'd left the hotel, holding a copy of 'The Frankfurter Allgemeine' and asking him with glee whether he was the 'super-jacked Asian' who had saved a tour-group from a violent robbery that night, while shouting 'In the name of God' all the while.

In hindsight, he shouldn't have reacted as he did, ripping the paper out of Flat's hands to read the article for himself, as that had only confirmed to the frail teen that Shirou was indeed this 'super-jacked Asian'. Needless to say, a storm of jokes had followed.

Even now, Flat was rubbing his hands in glee, still holding on to that newspaper, ever watching for a moment in which he could crack another joke at Shirou's expense, and the redhead could only be grateful he had been able to avoid having his name be in the article as well.

There was no way he wanted it to be known that 'Shirou Fujimaru' was the 'Hero of Frankfurt' now, as that would likely trigger a storm of attention and publicity that would make Flat's harassment seem like a moment of light teasing.

And yes, such a storm would be triggered, even in the Clocktower, as The Frankfurter Allgemeine was widely considered the best newspaper of Europe and was read in almost every European country, even by many Magi.

Compared to that, Flat's jests were nothing.

"Yes, Shirou. You should join them at once." Flat nodded once he saw that Shirou was planning on heading towards the Enforcers. "They would get nowhere if they didn't have your super-jackedness to do the work for them."

Had Shirou already mentioned Flat's jokes weren't even that good…?

"We must sally forth, in the name of God." Flat continued, striking a cross with his hands, and Shirou groaned in exasperation.

Lord El-Melloi, normally the only one who was capable of controlling Flat, was of no help here. He was having a whispered discussion with Bazett, not paying much attention to what was going on in the rest of the car. Grey watched them with sharp eyes, determined not to miss anything of importance, also ignoring Flat's words.

Svin, in a rare show of solidarity with Flat, clearly considered the whole matter to be extremely entertaining, smiling widely as he kept reading the specific article mentioning Shirou, or at least, mentioning the 'super-jacked Asian', time and again, giggling under his breath all the while.

"Hehehe. 'He came by prayer to lay a divine smack-down on those evil men.' How hilarious." The handsome teen's eyes sparkled in immense amusement, and he had to bite his lip not to burst out in laughter.

Though he hadn't made any jokes at Shirou's expense yet, he was obviously not going to be of any help either. To the contrary, he had found great hilarity in Flat's jokes so far, even the particularly bad ones, and Shirou feared it was only a matter of time before he would try his hand at a few jests himself.

Strangely enough however, and completely against Shirou's expectations, miss Ortensia hadn't teased him even once about the incident. Even though she'd been present at the event itself, and thus had first-hand knowledge of it, she had chosen not to make any comments about it.

She was normally such a devious woman, always happy to taunt someone or make a fool out of them. Shirou should know, he'd been a constant victim of hers over the past days –he wasn't sure whether that meant she liked or disliked him— but on this matter, she seemed oddly subdued.

She hadn't mentioned the incident at all that morning, or even just said anything more than three-word sentences at most. Rather, she seemed preoccupied with something else, as her eyes were glazed, showing she was deep in thought.

While it would normally be a cause for alarm to have that conniving woman be deep in thought, as it surely meant she was putting together her next tease, Shirou wasn't sure this time what she was thinking. The nun's oddly distracted behaviour had thrown his impression of her into disarray.

But there would be plenty of time to think about that later. For now, he had a hide-out to storm and a bunch of criminal Magi to deal with.

Again.

"I don't think this will take long." Shirou told Lord El-Melloi in lieu of a goodbye, and after receiving a nod of acknowledgement in return, left the car, completely missing how Caren Ortensia promptly zoned back in the moment he left her sight, smirked widely, and reached for a bag under her chair, a bag that still held the cheerleader outfit that Shirou had Projected the day before.

Once out of the car, Shirou made a beeline for Gideon, the 'leader' of the team of Enforcers.

The reason for the quotation marks was that Lord El-Melloi was the actual leader of the trip, being the one who had hired them and who paid their salary, and that it was actually Bazett who stood directly below him as field-leader.

Nevertheless, with Lord El-Melloi categorically refusing to step onto the battlefield if it wasn't absolutely necessary –which was a wise decision, as he would likely only get in the way—and Bazett sticking close to him to provide protection, the Enforcers had needed another de facto leader on the field, one who would actually take part in the operation and who was able to direct the action.

This leader was Gideon. An easy-going black-haired man with a kind smile, blue eyes that seemed to sparkle when in the light of the sun, and with a lean body that was geared more towards endurance than sheer power.

Shirou had seen the man in the plane, during their journey from London to Frankfurt, but they hadn't properly introduced themselves to each other until their meeting in a bar in Frankfurt the previous evening. It had been a short meeting, but it had left the redhead with a favourable impression of the black-haired Enforcer.

Shirou had honestly only been there to inform the other man about Lord El-Melloi's proposed schedule for the day of the attack, and to ask if he could participate in the attack on the hide-out, but after having received a positive answer to both the message and the request, Gideon had introduced himself and invited Shirou to share a drink with him.

Gideon had been enjoying a pint of ale at the time, with one arm around a blonde woman who Shirou recognised as another Enforcer in Lord El-Melloi's employ, who was also drinking beer, and it was clear that both had been a little drunk already.

Shirou had seen no reason to refuse, and had joined them for a short drink, before setting off to find the rest of the Enforcer-team to inform them about the schedule as well.

That was why, when Shirou came within earshot of the team, he was able to address the leader by name.

"Sir Gideon." The redhead greeted the Enforcer. "How are you today?"

"I am well, mister Fujimaru." Gideon replied, getting up from where he'd been installing a pre-prepared Bounded Field that was meant to ward off all sounds. He was clearly still in the middle of the process, but he abandoned the work for the moment in favour of speaking with Shirou, and the blonde woman promptly took over for him. "And how are you on this fine, sunny day?"

"I am well too." Shirou nodded at him, giving the man a strained smile, feeling impatience bubbling up inside of him. "When are we going to attack?"

"Soon." Far from being put off or annoyed by Shirou's obvious impatience, Gideon merely smiled benignly. "When the Bounded Fields are up and we can be sure we won't be disturbed and there will be no trespassers, we will begin the attack."

"Right. What are the Bounded Fields for?"

"This one I was working on is meant for blocking out sound. Once it is set up, we could theoretically throw a nuclear warhead on top of the nest and no one in the area would be any the wiser." Gideon boasted, and though Shirou was tempted to ask how the man knew about nuclear warheads, he kept his silence in the end. Enforcers were often more in tune with the Mundane World than your average Magus after all. "And we have some other Fields too. One that locks all traces of Magecraft inside of it, one that ensures no one outside will see anything strange here, and one that will ensure our targets can't easily flee the perimeter, or at least not before lady McRemitz can neutralise them."

"Excellent." Shirou nodded in approval. Three Bounded Fields to ensure no one who was uninvolved with the matter would notice anything amiss, and one to keep the targets sealed up. That was proper prioritisation, as far as he was concerned. "How long will they take to complete, approximately?"

"Around three to four hours." Gideon stated, beaming proudly.

"Three to four hours?!" Shirou spluttered, almost rearing back in shock. That was incredibly long! He barely needed half an hour to install Bounded Fields far more numerous and far more powerful than what they were creating here.

"I know, impressively quick, isn't it?" Gideon grinned, interpreting Shirou's shock completely incorrectly. "I wish I could say it's our massive talent and skill, but regrettably, it is not. The reason we can do it so fast is because we took pre-prepared Bounded Fields sealed in Mystic Codes with us. Those things are really convenient. You just take them along in a bag, and once we arrive at the desired location, they make the process of setting up Bounded Fields much easier. I wish they didn't break after using them once, but I guess that's just how it is."

Right, those Mystic Codes. Shirou had seen them already, and he had correctly spotted that they served to decrease the time it took to set up a Bounded Field, but he'd apparently made a critical error when considering the time scale involved. He had expected the Mystic Codes to make it possible to finish the process in minutes, not hours.

The redhead could be forgiven for thinking that –as he himself could create Bounded Fields at an insane speed that could be counted in minutes—but he was terribly mistaken nonetheless to believe others could do the same.

"Of course, the Bounded Fields cannot be too elaborate or powerful. To the best of my knowledge, there are no Mystic Codes in existence that allow for the acceleration of the setup of strong Fields, never mind those of the Ultimate class. Fortunately, we don't need elaborate or powerful Fields here." Gideon continued his explanation, before wiping some imaginary sweat off his brow as he gave Shirou a lopsided grin. "But man, am I glad the Vice-Director agreed to foot the bill for this. Those pre-prepared Bounded Fields are insanely expensive, to the point she wouldn't allow us to buy more than four. Not that there were many more to buy in the first place, as they are insanely popular and are usually bought one-sixteenth of a nanosecond after one comes onto the market, but still."

Shirou had to forcibly suppress the urge to frown when Gideon suddenly lied to him, but he managed to disguise it as a sudden coughing fit, doing it convincingly enough that none of the Enforcers showed any sign of suspicion.

Now, to be fair to Gideon, the black-haired Enforcer hadn't lied directly, but there definitely were untruths hidden in his words.

If Shirou had to guess, he would say that Gideon's team hadn't actually bought those Mystic Codes, like he claimed, but rather had created them and then only pretended to buy them for appearance's sake.

Which was in accordance with the fact that Shirou had already seen and smelled that the Mystic Codes had been made by one of the team's members. His Tracing had pointed that out clearly enough, and it had even told him precisely which one of them was responsible for the creation of the little, black pyramids.

It was the cloaked, hooded fellow that was hanging around in the back, pretending not to listen to Gideon's and Shirou's conversation as he strutted around to and from the people who were setting up the Bounded Fields, acting like he was just walking around impatiently, while actually checking up on how his inventions were doing.

Shirou was going to keep quiet about the matter, of course. Not only did he have absolutely no reason at all to reveal anything, but he could also definitely sympathise with someone who kept their abilities a secret to avoid being handed a Sealing Designation.

It was slightly more problematic that it also meant that they had ripped Lady Barthomeloi off, asking her for money to buy things they already had in their possession, but Shirou wasn't going to be difficult about that either. It wasn't his problem, and it wasn't something he wanted to be involved in.

Still, he did understand what Gideon had tried to tell him with that little anecdote, even if he hadn't been entirely honest. These Mystic Codes were expensive to the point where Lady Barthomeloi put a hard limit on how many of them people could buy with her money, and that more than anything indicated just how priceless they had to be.

Naturally, Shirou had already Traced them, and he was quite sure he could Project his own without effort, so that wouldn't be a problem for him. Perhaps it could be another source of easy cash, should he ever find himself in need of it. It could possibly even be something to trade with a Magus who wasn't interested in money.

But Shirou and Gideon were digressing from the matter at hand. They had been discussing how long it would take for the Bounded Fields to be installed, and the answer Shirou had received had been entirely unsatisfactory. Three to four hours was simply too much time.

It was already well past ten in the morning. At this rate, it would take until two or three in the afternoon to even just get started on the attack, and who could tell how long that would take?

He had more to do today, and he would like to study the Einzbern's castle by daylight if at all possible.

Spurred on by his ever-increasing impatience and the need to finally do something useful in his quest to save Illya, Shirou decided to throw caution in the wind and take matters into his own hands.

"I am something of an expert in Bounded Fields myself." He told Gideon, and without waiting for a reply or asking for permission, the redhead marched over to the four Enforcers working on the Fields, practically pushed them aside, and took over the work.

Gideon made to protest, holding out a hand to pull Shirou away, but he stopped dead once he noticed just how much Shirou was accelerating the process. Of course, the teen did take care not to make it freakishly fast, so while he could have been done in no more than two minutes, he dragged it out to half an hour instead.

For him, an unforgivably long time to install some third rate Bounded Fields, but apparently a prodigiously short time for basically everyone else.

For a moment, just one short moment, Shirou wondered whether his apparent talent in Magecraft might be enough to offset his lacking mindset and make him a First-Rate Magus after all.

But then he shook his mind free of such inane matters again.


The Archibald weren't rich anymore.

They weren't exactly poor, not after Lord El-Melloi had taken over their debts and restored order to the family again, enabling them to make a small comeback as a middle-rank family, but they certainly didn't possess the fabled riches of before.

Even Gideon and his team, small-time as they were, knew about that. The downfall of the Archibald hadn't been a secret by any meaning of the word. To the contrary, it had been a very juicy story at the time, the kind you told in bars to have a good laugh with your friends, or to gossip about in the cafeteria.

Just like any big players, the Archibald hadn't been short on enemies and people wishing them ill, so when they'd suffered their downfall, a lot of people, not just the aforementioned enemies but also many people who hated the ruling families in general, had taken the opportunity to have a laugh at their expense.

There was less laughter now that the family was slowly climbing up again and might even be on their way to reclaiming their old positions, but that was going to take a few decades at least, meaning that quite a lot of people still felt secure mocking them.

Even with their recent success, they just weren't anywhere near to the level of wealth and power they'd possessed before.

So when Lord El-Melloi had decided to hire several Enforcers to help him in hunting Sealing Designees, now several years ago, he couldn't afford to hire any from the top of the pile.

The top-Enforcers, the best of the best, were in high demand in the Magus Association, and as such, could ask any price they wanted for their services. Prices that were far too high for the impoverished lord to afford.

So Lord El-Melloi had gone searching for the best that he could afford, and it had eventually brought him to Gideon and his team. It was quite a step down from the top, and most people had shaken their heads at how destitute the Archibald still had to be if that team was the best they could afford now.

It was an uncharitable opinion, but one that was shared among most of the ruling class, and even Lord El-Melloi had been displeased to have to settle for them.

The lord of the Archibald had not made a secret of his displeasure –to do so would be very much out of character for the proud and honest man— and while some had expected Gideon and his team to become upset with him in response, they never did.

Lord El-Melloi's displeasure was entirely understandable after all.

Gideon loved his team, it was safe to say he saw them as his family after all those years of working together, but that didn't mean he couldn't acknowledge that they didn't seem like much at first sight.

They were a group of nine individuals working together, and each and every one of them was an outcast in some way, a pariah in the Clocktower and beyond.

They'd all started out well enough in life, as members of quite prestigious families –Gideon himself was, or rather had been, an Eulyphis—and most of them were even quite talented at what they did. By all accounts, most of them should have gone on to lead happy, successful lives as Magi.

But none of them had managed to succeed. They all had failed in some unforgivable way, and it had destroyed their reputations. Some of them were considered total failures, others were known for their regular use of excessive violence, again others were seen as insane liabilities, and Gideon himself was just plain looked down upon by everyone who knew him.

In a way, it was perhaps only to be expected that the nine of them would gravitate towards each other over the years, and though they all had different backgrounds and purposes in life, they had decided to band together and become an Enforcer-team.

Their reasoning for becoming an Enforcer-team was quite complicated, but it essentially came down to the fact that Enforcer-teams were generally left to their own devices and could be as strange and eccentric as they wanted, within the law of course, without ruffling too many feathers.

It had simply been the best option available to them.

Becoming an Enforcer-team also required them to pick a leader however.

Enter Gideon. He wasn't the strongest of them, or the smartest, or the wisest. He wasn't the most magically gifted, nor did he have many important connections in the Clocktower.

Nevertheless, he was the leader, and he was the leader because he had the best organising skills. He was a natural at putting together plans that took every strength and weakness of the team into account. He had taken nine individuals, all of them incredibly different in personality, fighting style, goals, and background, and had forged them into a well-functioning unit.

Thanks to Gideon, this team was more than just the sum of its parts and could thus punch far above its supposed weight class, which was perhaps best signified by the fact that they'd never lost a member in their seven years of active service.

It had all been somewhat shaky in the beginning, as they all had to get used to each other and they'd all been through too much to trust easily, but with Gideon's guidance and with some patience and understanding, they'd become a unit they were all proud to be a part of. A unit with a near-spotless record and a success rate of a hundred percent.

Except that last bit was not quite true. Their official success rate was a hundred percent, but they themselves knew that their last mission had been a failure, even if everyone else thought it a success.

That last mission had been given to them by Lord El-Melloi.

It had now been four years since Gideon had accepted an offer of employment from Lord El-Melloi, to hunt down the Sealing Designee Vincent Balefor. It had been the first time that Gideon had met the illustrious lord of the Archibald, and they'd had a relationship of mutual respect since then.

It was just a pity that the job itself had gone so awry. They'd searched for Vincent Balefor for years, and in the end, they'd only succeeded because of Shirou Fujimaru, Lord El-Melloi's new apprentice, doing all the work for them.

They'd still been paid, and it had been marked down as a success on their record, but Gideon felt, and his teammates agreed, that it had been a loss on their part.

That was why they had eagerly accepted when Lord El-Melloi had approached them again to hunt more criminal Magi and had even lowered their rates for him. It was an opportunity to wipe the slate clean, so to speak.

Gideon hadn't expected to be shown up by Fujimaru yet again though.

The black-haired Enforcer watched with eyes wide as saucers as Fujimaru took a mere thirty minutes to singlehandedly complete a task that should have taken four men at least six times as long.

It wasn't the first time Gideon had seen a prodigy apply their craft –he might have told Fujimaru that they had bought the Mystic Codes that held pre-prepared Bounded Fields, but in truth, it had been Khamul, a member of Gideon's team, who had developed and created them himself—but it remained quite a wondrous achievement nonetheless.

It wasn't quite worthy of a Sealing Designation as far as Gideon could tell, as Fujimaru had probably made extensive use of Khamul's pre-prepared Bounded Fields, but it was certainly an amazing feat.

No wonder the Clocktower had been so abuzz about him over the past week if showings like this were commonplace with him.

Despite his surprise however, Gideon was still a professional, so he shook off his shock over Fujimaru's feat and quickly altered his attack-plan, moving the timeline up three hours.

It was quite a boon, all things considered. The shorter they had to spend on building those Fields, the smaller the chance was that one of their marks happened to notice them while they were doing so. In battles, time was of the utmost importance, and that was especially true for operations such as this, in which it was vital that the enemies were neutralised quickly and important assets were secured with as little damage as possible.

Being too slow could very well mean that some of their targets could escape, or that they would destroy the valuable assets in their base out of spite, so if Fujimaru had abilities that could increase their speed and save them some time, Gideon wasn't going to complain or ask any difficult questions. He would just profit from it.

"Alright, everyone, gather 'round." He called his team, and Fujimaru, together, to give them an outline of the plan. He'd actually wanted to do that somewhere in the three hours he would have had at his disposal during the installation of the Bounded Fields, but… well, then Fujimaru came along, and now he had to improvise. "In this operation, speed will be of the absolute essence. Our task is not just to capture or neutralise the Magi before they can further harm their captives, but we must also secure as much evidence about their crimes and accomplices as we can."

Gideon had been briefed extensively on the purpose of this hunt. It wasn't just to remove a nest of monstrous Magi that had committed horrific acts for far too long –though that was a large part of it nonetheless—but also to obtain enough evidence that any possible accomplices could be tracked down and dealt with as well.

Lord El-Melloi had been tight-lipped about who those accomplices could be, and Gideon hadn't asked him about it. That information was probably on a need-to-know basis, and, considering the fact Lady Barthomeloi was involved, way above his paygrade.

Gideon generally tried not to make a habit out of poking his nose in things that could very well blow up in his face. Life was safer that way, for him and for his team-mates.

"Since there will be captives and fragile evidence present, we cannot use large-scale destructive magic, either to force our way in or to neutralise our opponents." Gideon continued his speech, giving both Ruti and Theodora an imploring look. "Use spells with great precision only, and if possible, keep yourself confined to physical attacks, with fists or melee weapons. Of course, if you find yourself or another team member in a pinch, do what you need to do to survive, but not if it isn't absolutely necessary. I want no fire, no floods, no scorching beams of light, no acid, and above all, no explosions."

Ruti seemed particularly disappointed at the last rule, but Gideon ignored her for now.

"That we need to move quickly and carefully does not mean we must be careless however. It is important that we provide cover for each other at all times, and that we always remember that no price is worth our lives." Gideon cast his look around the group, weighing several possibilities in his head, before he pointed at two of his team members as well as Fujimaru. "Rit, Suladan, and mister Fujimaru, you will be our spearhead team. You will go on ahead, while the rest of us will provide cover for you as you break into the hide-out."

Rit, Gideon's beautiful, blonde girlfriend, and somewhat of a battle junkie, grinned widely at being assigned to the frontline. Suladan, a perpetually grim-looking, bald Egyptian, nodded solemnly. Fujimaru just inclined his head with a neutral expression.

"Break down the defences. Neutralise every single Magus present. Take whatever booty you can find. Leave nothing behind in there. Once we're done, and we have everything we need, we'll burn that place down as thoroughly as possible." He spurred them on with some encouraging words, before holding up a cautioning finger. "Don't stay behind without telling me, or you'll be in serious trouble when the place starts burning."

Not that he thought anyone would be that stupid, but better safe than sorry.

Gideon laid out a few more details of his plan, and once he was certain everyone had understood every facet of it, and that no one had any questions, he set things into motion.

"Khamul." He spoke, looking at the cloaked man, whose face was shrouded in the shadows of his hood, as it always was. "Neutralise the Bounded Fields around the hide-out. Make sure our marks inside won't get a warning until it is too late."

The hood went up and down, and Khamul moved towards the fence to which the Bounded Fields of their targets were anchored.

Fujimaru was quick to follow him there.

"You have a way of disabling Bounded Fields that does not alert the casters of the fact that they have been broken?" The redhead sounded extremely interested, and Gideon supposed it was a prodigy's nature to seek more knowledge about their preferred field. "How do you do that?"

"…I do not disable them, at least not directly." Khamul's voice, soft and scratchy, came from within the shadows of the hood, answering Fujimaru's question readily enough. "If the Bounded Fields are sufficiently weak and sufficiently simple, and these are both, then one might 'disrupt' them, temporarily making them unable to fulfil their function without having to destroy them directly. If you can successfully do so, then you safely pass through the Bounded Field without alerting the casters."

"Wow." Fujimaru breathed in wonder, and Gideon had to agree with his assessment. He too considered it an amazing trick. "Why don't more people use that technique?"

"The Bounded Field in question must be weak and simple." Khamul explained again, his hands moving in patterns just above the fence. "In order to disrupt it, you must first study it for a long time, to truly understand it. Then you must place your own power into it, to effectively block several of its properties. Compare it, if you will, to chemistry. You must first understand the material's properties before you can use it in deliberate reactions. Just improvising will destroy your materials and leave you with nothing useful."

"I suppose this technique doesn't allow for mistakes then?" Fujimaru asked, sounding like he already knew the answer.

"No. Making a mistake will inevitably trigger the Field and alert the casters. This is a very delicate procedure. At least, that was how it was explained to me."

"I understand." Fujimaru nodded, seemingly satisfied with that explanation, and he fell silent again, watching closely how Khamul worked.

Behind the redhead, and out of his sight, Gideon let out a deep breath of relief. Fortunately, Fujimaru had accepted Khamul's words, and hadn't wondered about the obvious holes in the hooded man's story.

Even if the technique of disrupting Bounded Fields was limited to weak and simple Bounded Fields only, it should still be wildly popular, both for application and for research. The only reason that it wasn't was because Khamul himself had been the one who developed said technique. A technique he hadn't shared with anyone except the team yet.

Khamul had a once-in-a-century talent in manipulating Bounded Fields. He was a true savant, who had the potential to progress the field by decades. However, with the possibility of a Sealing Designation hanging over him like the Sword of Damocles, he kept most of his inventions to himself, and had no intention of sharing them until after his death and the cremation of his body, when no one would be able to hurt him anymore.

But they couldn't tell Fujimaru that. The boy wouldn't understand. He wouldn't see why Khamul was so desperate to keep his talents and inventions a secret. The redhead would have no idea how it was to live in fear of being Sealed once people found out what you could do.

"We are quite lucky. As I said, this Field is weak and simple." Khamul let out a breathless laugh, one that sounded more like he was choking. "I will be done soon."

"Would you mind it terribly if I took over?" Fujimaru suddenly requested, and, after the hood turned towards the redhead in a clear motion of surprise, Khamul indicated he could go ahead. The robed man had no pride that could persuade him to refuse Fujimaru after all. "Thank you."

For a few seconds, the redhead studied the Bounded Field, peering at it with eyes that Gideon swore were almost glowing. Then he snapped his fingers.

"The Bounded Field has been successfully disrupted." Khamul announced immediately, the faintest inflection of surprise in the scratchy voice. "The way is free, and our marks are yet unaware of us."

Gideon wasted not a second on surprise. He could think about what Fujimaru had just done after the battle was over.

"Fujimaru, Rit, Suladan." He called out to the vanguard, before pointing towards the tree under which the entrance to the hide-out was located. "Attack!"

None of the three wasted a moment to follow his orders. They stormed forward, Fujimaru in the lead, Rit behind him, and Suladan closing the line.

Rit was the fastest of their team, though Suladan wasn't much slower, yet neither of them could keep up with Fujimaru, who quickly distanced himself from them as he became a veritable blur in his rush towards the target.

Though that didn't stop Gideon from noticing he'd suddenly donned a beautiful set of armour that shone marvellously and held a small weapon of some kind in his hand.

Then the rest of the group started moving, and with a last look at Lord El-Melloi –who was standing a fair distance away with the rest of his students, looking on as the attack began—Gideon stormed towards the hide-out as well.


Disrupting Bounded Fields.

A technique that could render Bounded Fields unable to perform their functions without having to destroy those Bounded Fields and thus alert their casters of the fact that you were coming for them.

Shirou had never known such a technique existed. He hadn't even thought it was possible. Maybe it could be done in theory, if all conditions were perfectly met, but in practice, it should be unfeasible to play around with something that complex without messing something up long before you were done.

Kiritsugu had never mentioned the technique of disrupting Bounded Fields either. It was clearly an amazingly useful tool for an assassin, but Shirou's old man had never even tried learning it. In other words, he had to have been unaware of its very existence, unaware of the fact that it was even possible, or he would surely have told Shirou about it at the first opportunity.

All of that could only lead to one conclusion.

This Khamul was a genius. A prodigy who had not only developed Mystic Codes that held pre-prepared Bounded Fields that could easily (relatively speaking) be activated, but had also developed a technique to stealthily disrupt Bounded Fields.

Sure, the shrouded man's explanation of the matter had made it sound like disrupting Bounded Fields was a well-known technique, or at least, well-known among a certain crowd. And sure, he'd given several valid-sounding reasons as to why more people didn't use it and why Shirou had never heard of it, such as the difficulty of the technique, its small applicability, and its limits in only being of use on weak, simple Bounded Fields.

But Shirou wasn't fooled. He had noticed that the man was lying through his teeth while saying all that, though, really, even if Shirou hadn't noticed the lying, then Kiritsugu not knowing that the technique existed was a sure sign nonetheless.

A sure sign that Khamul had developed the concept of disrupting Bounded Fields by himself.

It was a feat worthy of celebration and laudation, and it could have gotten the hooded man an immense amount of praise and money if he went public with it, but Shirou understood completely why Khamul had kept silent about it instead. If he made it known that he'd developed such a technique, he would be placed in the spotlights immediately. His name would become famous everywhere, and his anonymity would be lost forever.

Some might consider that fame a blessing, and it would be, in an ideal world, but in the actual world, both Moonlit and Mundane, it would be nothing but a curse upon poor Khamul.

While there were plenty of people who would love his invention, there would be just as many who would curse his name for it. Not to mention the fact that many people would also realise that, if the hooded man had made one such discovery, he could easily make many more in the future.

Khamul would be given his money and shallow praise, but it would be coupled with numerous assassination attempts, scorn, hatred, and jealousy.

And that was only if he wasn't immediately Sealed and kept at some Department forever to keep creating more amazing spells for the rest of his life and beyond.

It really was much wiser and much better for Khamul's health and general well-being to keep it a secret. Khamul knew it, his team knew it, and Shirou knew it now too. As such, the redhead's mouth was sealed. There was no use in betraying other people's secrets.

Shirou was astounded though that Khamul had been so open about his spell to him. It made sense that he had told his team, the people whom he regularly trusted with his life and had likely known for many years, but he didn't know Shirou at all, yet he had still patiently explained the whole principle of his invention to him.

Even if the hooded man had pretended the concept of disrupting Bounded Fields was well-known among Enforcers, that had still been a large risk to take.

Shirou could only guess at his motives, and he'd never know the truth of it without asking the man directly, which he couldn't do because he had pretended to believe the lie that everyone knew about the concept already.

In the end, there wasn't much he could do, so instead of worrying about it, Shirou let the matter of who had invented the technique drop and just memorised said technique for future use. It would be of immense help in scouting out and eventually entering the Einzbern-castle without alerting its inhabitants.

But that was something for later. Right now, he needed all his attention to successfully deal with the nest. Not just to neutralise the Magi inside, but also to rescue their victims and to obtain the information that Lady Barthomeloi had asked for.

A tall order, considering he was going in practically blind, but it wouldn't be the first time he had done so, so Shirou buckled up and got to work. The moment Gideon gave the order, he was already sprinting down the field, Rit and Suladan hot on his heels.

Shirou deployed his armour immediately and summoned Mjolnir to his hand. As he said before, he was going in blind, and thus wanted to optimise his defensive and offensive power.

As he was the only one who knew precisely where the entrance of the hide-out was located, Shirou took point in the attack, creating some distance between him and the other two, to gain himself time to deal with any possible Magical defences.

He rushed towards the hatch that he had pinpointed the day before, finding it exactly where he thought it would be, between the roots of the great oak tree.

Once there, he quickly checked it for any protective Enchantments, and, when he had established it was nothing his Magic Resistance couldn't deal with, smashed his fist down on the hatch to break said Enchantments.

They crumbled into useless bits of raw Magical Energy under his blow, and Shirou then ripped off the hatch, exposing the entrance of the lair.

It was a tunnel going directly down, now exposed to the outside world. The tunnel had a diameter of about twice the width of Shirou's shoulders, meaning everyone but the fattest of people should be able to fit through it easily.

There was a ladder installed against the side, but Shirou ignored it. The drop was only seven metres at most, a fall he could have dealt with even before Mjolnir had arrived.

Shirou jumped down the hatch, fell for less than a second, and landed smoothly on the ground...

"Curse you!"

…Before immediately using Mjolnir to parry a spell fired at him from the left.

Turning towards the origin of the spell, Shirou cast a quick look around the room he was in, establishing that it was nothing but a round, empty space, being perhaps four metres in diameter. Beside the ladder and a door deeper inside, there was nothing else in the room, leaving Shirou free to focus on his assailant, who had just come through the aforementioned door, which she had closed again behind her.

She was an older lady, with brownish hair that was starting to grey, a few wrinkles, and a cane in her hand. Not quite as old as Lady Montmorency, but far older than Lady Barthomeloi or Bazett.

Shirou had stood still for about half a second to take in the room and the elderly lady, more than enough time for an experienced warrior to take action and launch another attack, but the woman just gaped at him, utterly floored by how easily he'd parried her spell.

She was probably not an experienced combatant then, something that was confirmed when Shirou rushed her and easily knocked her out, without the woman even trying to evade or block his attack.

Hearing the quiet thump of another person dropping themselves into the hide-out, Shirou cast a glance back and saw that Rit had followed him in, holding a knife in each hand. The blonde girl first zeroed in on the unconscious woman and then gave him a big, approving smile, getting out of the way just before Suladan came down as well, holding a bastard sword.

Continuing the assault into the deeper parts of the base, Shirou kicked in the door through which the elderly lady had come in, the metal it had been made of crumbling easily under the force and blasting off into the room beyond. He stormed through the opening and…

…He froze.

For beyond that door lay a nightmare.

It was a laboratory, or at least an imitation of one. It fulfilled the basic requirements that most people would think of when trying to imagine a laboratory, but as there probably hadn't been any professionals involved in its building-process, it was doubtful any real scientist would have considered it a good working space.

It was rather large, especially for an underground room. Shirou's house could probably have fit in it with a bit of room to spare. The walls, floor and ceiling were made out of stainless steel and painted white, and light was provided by massive electrical lamps that had been embedded in the ceiling.

The room was stuffed to the brim. Workbenches and tables were everywhere, chairs were scattered around between them, whiteboards and chalkboards were placed at strategic locations, and there were plenty of trash bins available.

There was no shortage of people inside either. Over a dozen people were present in the room, all of them wearing lab coats or other protective clothing, and all of them in various states of surprise and shock. A quick glance around at a deeper level of reality indicated none of them had much combat ability, if they had any at all.

At the other end of the room from where Shirou was standing, there was another door, which led further into the facility, towards rooms that looked much like the one he was standing in now.

By which he meant that they looked absolutely nightmarish.

This was no standard, normal laboratory like the ones you could find in every university in the Western World and the developed parts of the Far East. This was no place of honourable research meant to further develop mankind's knowledge.

This was a laboratory straight out of a torture-porn horror flick.

It. Was. Awful!

Shirou had been immune to horrid and terrible sights since the Fire, so while he was momentarily shocked and horrified by what he saw, he didn't faint, puke, or gag.

A normal person would have done all three.

Rit gasped in shock when she entered the room, and Suladan loudly ground his teeth in anger when he beheld the foul scene. They too had been thoroughly desensitized to horrid scenes, in their case by years of experience as Enforcers, but what they saw here went too far even for them.

Dead bodies and crudely severed body parts were strewn around everywhere, in numbers greater than Shirou had ever seen, most of them having been cut or even partially flayed.

Numerous still-living people were chained and bound to the walls and the tables, by shackles and ropes or by Magecraft, all of them subjected to indescribable torture, made even worse by the fact that they were rendered unable to struggle or even scream.

Blood covered every table and every knife in sight, litres and litres of it, so much that a fair-sized swimming pool could have been filled by it.

Shirou could see it all. Worse, he could even feel the pain and suffering that permeated the air, hear the unending screaming that had sounded in here, and sense the utter despair that the victims had felt before they died horrible deaths or the despair that they still felt as they were meticulously kept alive to suffer more.

Never had Shirou seen anything like this. Not with the Dead Apostle. Not with the Phantasmal Beast. Not with Oni. Not even with Vincent Balefor and his ilk.

The people, no, the monsters in this hide-out easily surpassed everyone and everything Shirou had come across before in cruelty and viciousness. Their faces, so normal looking, were just masks hiding abominable creatures that had no business walking free.

So when Rit threw one of her knives into a Magus' eye, piercing his brain and killing him instantly, and Suladan used his sword to bisect another Magus, setting off pandemonium in the room, Shirou didn't feel at all inclined to stop or reprimand them.

Warrior's Madness rose to the surface ever so slightly, and Shirou embraced it, charging forward and breaking bones left and right, for once uncaring about any fatalities as he avenged the people who had met a horrible end in his hellhole.


'There hadn't been a single warning.'

That was all Head Professor Edokas could think as a massive crash sounded from the entrance of their base, quickly followed by another crash, and then yet another. The screaming, muffled from where he sat but still clearly audible, started seconds later.

Edokas had lived long enough and had sufficient life-experience to realise what those sounds meant. One didn't survive for years on the streets of Honduras if one didn't learn to recognise trouble at the faintest sign.

The base was under attack. It was under attack, and based on the crashes and screams of panic, Edokas could confidently say the assailants had broken through the hatch and the first door, and were now in the process of beating the ever-living daylights out of his followers.

But that was impossible! People couldn't get close to the base unnoticed, and there hadn't been a single warning.

That was what the Bounded Fields on the fence were for. They were meant to warn the people inside the base, and him in particular, if someone approached, long before that someone could begin an attack.

The Bounded Fields couldn't be avoided if one wanted to get to the oak tree, and even if someone had destroyed them, Edokas should have known about that the moment it happened.

Yet there hadn't been a single warning. Not even a peep. It was as if the attackers had teleported inside, something that was supposed to be impossible.

Sitting in his office in the deepest part of the base, previously occupied with writing several reports on the general progress of his team, Edokas was furthest removed from the action that took place at the entrance, yet the head professor didn't feel relieved for even a second.

That the enemy combatants had to go through every other member of his team first to get to him didn't mean much when no one in his team could even remotely be considered a warrior of any kind. They were just researchers, and any Enforcer or mercenary who knew what they were doing would cut through the lot of them like carving a cake.

Worse than that was the fact that there was no way for Edokas to escape the base once the entrance had been taken by enemy forces, meaning he was completely stuck. The enemy could capture him at their leisure now.

Edokas vaguely registered those two facts, but those actually weren't even the main reasons he was worried. What he was most worried about was the fact that Lars was working in one of the labs closer to the entrance, meaning the assailants would likely be upon him very soon, and the fact that he'd forgotten the Meluastea's thrice-be-damned file in the third laboratory.

Edokas could kick himself. That file, that accursed file that was full of information about the Meluastea's entire operation, was still lying on one of his workbenches in the third lab. He had placed it there because it was too heavy to carry all the time, and then he'd forgotten it when he'd returned to his office.

If it hadn't been for the fact that hurting himself was a terrible idea in the light of the situation, Edokas would have smashed his head on his desk. He had promised Lars that he would always keep the file with him, he had sworn it, yet at this crucial juncture, he had failed. He had left it behind on the day that the attackers came, and if they got their hands on it, it would spell the end of the Meluastea.

So instead of holing up in his office to escape the attackers for as long as he could or trying to hide in a secret room to sneak away later, as he normally would have done, Edokas grabbed everything he could find in his office that could serve some purpose in combat and rushed out, determined to not fail Lars or his masters again.

As he left the office however, Edokas also made a list of priorities for himself.

The most important thing was to get himself and Lars out of there. Whether it was by fighting themselves a way out or by negotiating a surrender didn't matter. As long as he and Lars survived, he could deal with everything else.

If possible, he'd also take care of that file, destroy it as well as he could, but that was only secondary. Screw the Meluastea and their wishes, Lars was far more important.

Edokas did not spend a single thought on his research, or on his other acolytes. Edokas only thought about Lars.

About his son.


Shirou knew that Lady Barthomeloi had sent him to this nest in order to show him how vile and evil the Meluastea-family and their cronies were, so that he would agree to join her in her crusade against them, but now he wondered whether the lady had had any idea of just how ugly the nest truly was.

She'd probably had her suspicions about what they'd find, experienced as she was with Sealing Designees, Dead Apostles, and other monsters, but Shirou liked to think that if she'd really known what was going on inside this place, she'd have destroyed it herself already.

Shirou had only been inside the hide-out for several minutes, but he'd already found countless projects that effortlessly eclipsed everything Vincent Balefor had done in his miserable life in terms of vileness and evil.

He'd found some kind of devices that seemed to serve only for horrifically torturing people, some of them laid out on a workbench, but most of them embedded in the bodies of the poor victims, most of whom had gone mad from the pain.

He'd discovered prosthetic limbs that seemed to eat themselves into the flesh of their wearers, and continued eating after they were in place, quickly killing whoever they had attached themselves to.

There were people who had been infected with some kind of supercharged cancer cells, of whom the flesh was literally rotting and melting off their bones. There was acid being developed that worked excruciatingly slowly on human skin and flesh. There were plants that clearly longed for human meat.

The sight of animals and humans being combined into Chimeras was a nasty reminder of Vincent Balefor, but when Shirou looked closer, he saw that this was even worse than what Balefor had gotten up to.

Subtract Balefor's natural talent and years of training and add massive cruelty instead. That was what Shirou saw before him when he looked at the Chimeras here.

All of it was near-cartoonish in its evil.

Shirou had no way of knowing that this nest was the place where the Meluastea stored the people and projects that even they considered 'a bit much'. He could only feel astounded at what he saw, what the Meluastea apparently did and approved of.

The redhead was glad to see however that both Rit and Suladan also seemed utterly baffled and disgusted by what they saw, and viciously attacked everyone in sight, intent on avenging the poor victims and making sure the perpetrators could never harm anyone again.

At first, they had mercilessly slaughtered everyone they came across, but by now, they had remembered that they wanted prisoners too.

As Shirou looked on, Suladan savagely sliced off limbs, gouged out eyes, cut deep into bones and tendons, and more than once used the hilt of his sword to bash people over the head. At the other side of the room, Rit sliced and cut herself a way across the Magi too, and eventually kicked a male Magus so hard between his legs that Shirou could almost hear the man's testicles pop.

As for the redhead himself, he had spent the first few minutes of the battle partially held in Warrior's Madness, but with the looming threat of immense exhaustion hanging over his head, and with the knowledge that he needed clarity of mind to achieve his objective, he'd eventually managed to calm himself down again.

Now he mostly followed his true and tried method of tapping people on the head to carefully knock them out, though he often added a broken bone here and there as well.

He avoided killing as much as he could however. They needed people to interrogate, and furthermore, he had no doubt that the fate the Clocktower had in store for them was much, much worse than any method of killing that he could envision.

One could ask themselves at this point why Shirou even bothered keeping his 'no killing' rule in place if he was just going to let his victims be executed anyway, but that actually touched upon an issue Shirou had been pondering himself.

Originally, he had adopted his no-killing rule because he was fighting mundane criminals, crooks who had largely never killed anyone before, and at most, had made themselves guilty of theft, robbery, scamming, and occasionally assault. Not crimes that one deserved to die for.

It was Shirou's way of at least somewhat keeping in line with the law, to prevent himself from following his father's path in killing at the drop of a hat because it might save people down the line.

Now that he was in the Moonlit World however, where the crimes were generally far worse and the very culture and laws were harsher and more brutal, his reasoning didn't work as well anymore.

Perhaps it was in fact time that he abandoned his no-killing rule. He didn't want to go Kiritsugu's way, but killing people, actually evil people, in battle was hardly the same as cold-bloodedly killing whoever was convenient to kill.

Shirou should not go around slaughtering people for the heck of it, but perhaps he could stop being so prudent about not killing people at all, and just strike when the situation called for it.

Not here though, at this day in this hide-out. As Shirou had said before, they wanted to take as many prisoners as they could, so he restricted himself to merely knocking them out. He didn't have to worry about them escaping their just punishment, as the Clocktower would undoubtedly be dishing out more than their fair share of that once he handed them over for interrogation.

Shirou hoped the Clocktower would have enough personnel and resources at hand to take in all these Magi though. So far, Rit, Suladan, and Shirou had fought their way through two laboratories and had taken more than two dozen captives already. It was a large number, and from what Shirou could see from his position, there would be another three laboratories to cross before they would arrive at the end.

The number of captives could easily surpass fifty if they continued like they had. That many Magi would be hard to keep under control, and would be basically impossible to transport to London, since they could hardly take them on a commercial flight.

He hoped that the Enforcers would have their ways, but if not…

Well, then perhaps Shirou would rent a boat or something. That would be easier than getting onboard a plane.

Shirou chewed lightly on the inside of his cheek as he pondered the matter. Safe to say, he wasn't paying much attention to the battle anymore. Not that he had to. The Magi were all rushing around like chickens without heads, none of them moving to harm the prisoners or burn papers and files, so there was little need to remain focused all the time. Things were going well so far.

Knock on wood.

"We're moving to the third laboratory!" Rit cried after she slammed the last Magus down to the ground, in a movement that had most likely broken his spine. "Fujimaru, do your thing!"

"Understood." Shirou called back after he zoned back in, before he held out his hand and started gathering Healing Power on it, forcing it to manifest and shape itself into an orb.

Normally, when he used his Healing Power, he just placed a hand on the injured person's body and transmitted the golden energy like that, pushing it out from within himself and towards the person in need of healing. If the injured person was not within reach, he could shoot the golden energy from a distance, like a beam of golden light.

For these laboratories however, filled with many people in need of his aid, one more horrifically injured than the other, transmitting the golden energy by touch or shooting straight beams at them would take too long. There were too many people over a too large area, and Shirou needed to press the attack.

As such, he gathered the energy on his palm, where it shaped itself into a golden orb. That golden orb he then threw towards the middle of the room.

When the orb hit the ground, it exploded in a burst of Healing Power that saturated the entire room at once. It kept shining for several seconds after the explosion, transmitting the benign power to all the people in the laboratory.

It was essentially a move that sacrificed efficiency and thoroughness for speed. It would not be able to completely heal everyone, but it would take away the worst of the pain and the injuries that the victims were suffering from, and it would allow them to survive until he returned to truly Heal them.

It had been a spur-of-the-moment decision for Shirou to create such a golden orb. In fact, that day had been the first time he'd ever used such a technique. He'd done it on an impulse, after the first laboratory had been cleared, and it had been extremely effective at removing the worst of the wounds from the poor victims.

Of course, Rit and Suladan had gotten the shock of their lives when Shirou had suddenly set off a giant, golden explosion. Suladan had jumped a metre into the air, and Rit had let out an extremely high-pitched scream, one that sounded suspiciously like the word 'Gideon'.

Looking back, perhaps they wouldn't have been so angry at Shirou for that if he hadn't laughed at them.

Something to remember for the future perhaps.

Fortunately, they'd quickly realised the use of his new technique, and now, instead of jumping or screaming in fright, they stood still to bask in the golden rays, which erased their fatigue and recharged them for the next battle.

Then they continued.


Edokas sprinted through the fifth laboratory as fast as his rather obese body allowed him to. He had not a second to waste, so he forced his legs to move, putting the one in front of the other, time and again, despite every cell and fibre in his body screaming at him to stop and rest.

Just like Lord El-Melloi and Flat, though the former was likely in part due to his smoking, Edokas was not in very good physical shape, to put it extremely mildly. It wasn't entirely his fault though, as he had been cooped up in the underground hide-out for years now, in which most of the rooms barely had the space to let you turn around without bumping into something, let alone do some exercise.

Then again, Edokas had only exacerbated the issue by regularly stuffing himself with unhealthy food, gorging himself on whatever he fancied on a particular day, feeling no need to limit himself. He'd been hungry for most of his early life, and he wasn't ever going to be hungry again.

He'd been enjoying the good life a little too much though, and on this day, when his running-abilities suddenly were of vital importance, he fell short of what was needed.

By the time he had crossed he fifth and the fourth laboratories, completely ignoring the people there, who begged him for help and desperately tried to ask him for solutions, and arrived at the third, where Lars and the file were supposed to be, he found himself eye to eye with the first assailant, who had fought himself a way through the first and second labs already.

It was like a thunderstorm had entered the laboratory, no, a hurricane.

Edokas stood in the door opening between the fourth and the third laboratory, and he wanted to press on, but the sheer power that now filled the space almost forced him to his knees.

The assailant, a redheaded youth wearing a splendid set of armour and holding a hammer, stood on the other side of the lab, in the door opening between the second and the third. His baleful golden eyes glared at Edokas with a barely contained fury, and the Head Professor almost fainted when he made eye-contact.

It was only through supreme willpower that he managed to tear his eyes away from that horrid gaze and look through the rest of the room instead.

Lars and the file were both located right in the middle of the laboratory, at an equal distance from Edokas and the assailant. There was no one else present in the room, all Magi who had been present before having fled further into the base already.

"Professor Edokas!" Lars called out, his voice full of fear as he held out a hand towards his father figure, his legs shaking too much for him to try and run away.

Edokas' mind raced as he desperately tried to think of something to save Lars. He had no illusions about being able to reach the boy before the assailant. He was old and fat, while the redheaded youth was young, slim, and fit, with powerful legs that no doubt allowed him to run at incredible speed whenever he wanted to. Not to mention he possessed an indomitable presence that would easily force Edokas to his knees if the youth applied himself a bit more.

If Edokas wanted to reach Lars before the assailant did, if he wanted the merest chance of surviving the next few seconds, he needed a distraction, something to divert attention away from his acolyte.

Fortunately, he had just the thing.

"Intruder! Listen to me! That file contains a treasure trove of information." He called out, pointing at said file, hope filling his breast as the assailant's eyes flickered towards the bundle of papers instead of Lars and him. "It's from the Meluastea! It holds all their secrets, their plans, their illegal operations, everything they don't want outsiders to know! With that file, you have them by the balls. You can get everything you want from them!"

In truth, Edokas had no idea what the assailant wanted exactly, but he figured no one would be able to refuse a bounty like that file.

If the assailant used the file to blackmail the Meluastea, he could get everything he desired. Fabled riches or treasures. Enough political influence to crush his enemies. All the fame he needed to have the entire Moonlit World know his name. All the beautiful women he could ever wish for to fulfil his every need. His every dream could become reality.

Lars, bless that boy, immediately understood what Edokas was trying to do, and without a second of hesitation, he grabbed the file from the desk and threw it in the general direction of the assailant. A beautiful distraction that would force the redheaded youth to focus on the file and disregard Lars and Edokas for a few precious seconds.

Edokas began moving, lifting his right foot to start running again, at the same time that Lars began turning to him, his legs no longer shaking as badly now that an actual plan had been set into motion.

Then the assailant moved, becoming a veritable blur as he crossed the distance in less than a second and snatched the file out of the air before it had even reached the apex of its flight.

He now stood right behind Lars, but instead of striking the boy, as Edokas had feared he would, he chose to take a step back, protectively hugging the file to his chest, having no doubt seen the worth of it.

The redhead watched with piercing eyes as Edokas ran up to Lars, and cocked his head to the side when the head professor protectively placed himself in front of his favourite acolyte.

"Assailant." Edokas barked, puffing up his chest and trying to look self-confident, desperately attempting to dig up the lessons he'd learned on the streets of Honduras, fighting against his own instincts, which screamed at him to fall to his knees. "I wish to negotiate our surrender."

The assailant seemed taken aback by Edokas' words, but then he leaned forward slightly, looking vaguely interested. The power that saturated the air also lessened, and Edokas found he could breathe more freely again.

"Just you two or everyone in the base?" The redheaded boy asked in a youthful, strong voice, one that almost made Edokas' bones rattle from its intensity.

"Just us two. I don't speak for the others." He responded, deciding it was wiser not to mention that he was supposed to be the one in charge of the base. "Just my acolyte, Lars, and me, Edokas. W-We're no one special here, and we don't want to give our lives for this nonsense. E-Everyone here is crazy anyway. Please, consider letting us go."

"I see." It seemed like the assailant believed him, as he made no further threatening motions and instead stayed back, still looking vaguely interested. Emboldened by this, Edokas continued.

"I don't expect you to indulge us for free of course. I can make it worth your while. I know a lot of secrets, you see. Even more than in that file, from many more families than just the Meluastea. If you spare us, I will gladly tell you all about them."

Edokas had absolutely no qualms about throwing other Magi under the bus, even if they had been his allies. He owed them nothing, and they would instantly do the same if they found themselves in his position. He did what he had to in order to survive. That was how things worked in the Moonlit World.

"An interesting offer." The assailant gave them a beautiful smile, yet Edokas could not feel relieved in the slightest, as the assailant's eyes remained so cold that they could have refrozen the Arctic. "You can present it to Lady Barthomeloi, once I have delivered you to her."

"No, please!" Lars cried, while Edokas' body stiffened in fear of the mention of that hated name, but before either of them could do anything more, the assailant crossed the distance between them in the blink of an eye.

The last thing Edokas saw was a fist flying at his face.

Then there was nothing.


Gideon both despised and loved missions like this.

It shouldn't be hard to see why he despised them. He might be a Magus and an Enforcer, which were jobs that required a strong stomach to say the least, but that didn't mean he was completely desensitised to scenes like the one he found in the German hide-out.

He liked to think he still had some scraps of decency left in his body, and those scraps of decency made it very difficult to unflinchingly bear the sight of a veritable sea of blood and body parts. It was awful to behold, especially since nearly all of it was from innocent non-combatants.

Seeing such cruelty never got easier, no matter how often you saw it, and poor Angy had to take a moment to step outside when she'd laid her eyes on a particularly gruesome scene hidden in a side-room.

On the other hand, he loved these missions, because completing them meant that he and his team had put a stop to the monstrosities that had been happening and had made the world a slightly better place, a slightly safer place.

It was horrible to see, yes, but closing your eyes to it wouldn't make it go away. Better to buckle up and deal with it as fast as possible, instead of letting it fester.

No matter what had happened in this hide-out in the past, today had been the last day of its existence. No one else would ever suffer here again, Gideon and his team would make sure of that.

The black-haired Enforcer was currently standing in the first laboratory of the hide-out, in the room right behind the entrance, looking at the huge mess that had been made only minutes before by Fujimaru, Suladan, and Rit.

The trio had not been gentle during the storming of this place, and it showed in the massive amounts of property damage and the horribly injured and mutilated Magi that had been strewn around and left to die.

The trio responsible for the mess had already charged deeper into the hide-out, followed closely behind by Ruti, Mai, and Theodora, who provided them with ranged support, leaving him with Khamul, Kyra, and Angy to take the role of rear guard and clean-up crew.

As the very nature of the mission, as well as the surrounding area and Bazett's presence outside, made it extremely unlikely that there would be an attack from behind, Khamul, Kyra, Angy, and Gideon were mainly working on the clean-up right now, and not so much on the rear guard part.

And there definitely was a lot to be cleaned up.

To start with, the Magi themselves. They might have been taken down with extreme prejudice and were now neutralised, but that didn't mean they could just leave them lying around.

Okay, they might get away with that with the dead Magi, but there were plenty of them left who were alive and needed to be restrained before they woke up. Most of them also needed some kind of medical treatment, to ensure they wouldn't die prematurely, before they could be interrogated.

Kyra and Angy had made a game out of collecting the unconscious Magi together and listing their various injuries, seeing just how many different types of injuries they could discover.

It was a rather morbid game, though the fact that these people had committed monstrous acts for years made it difficult to feel bad about using their pain as a source of amusement.

There were plenty of broken bones and severed limbs, as well as stabs, burn wounds, bludgeoning damage, electrocution-damage, and even several cases of Magi having been partially liquified internally by having been punched particularly hard. Which, honestly, intimidated Gideon a bit, since he knew his team weren't really ones to fight like that. Really, that Fujimaru kid was effective.

Aside from securing the Magi, they also needed to gather every piece of information that seemed potentially useful to their operation. Gideon and his team weren't going to touch the research-projects if they didn't have to –way too much risk of being cursed in some way—but administrative documents were fair play after they had been screened a bit for Enchantments and Curses.

Lastly, there were the victims of the criminal Magi who needed to be freed from their bounds, healed, and then Hypnotised as quickly as possible to remove and replace all memories of what had transpired. Partially because of the laws that demanded mundane people be kept in the dark about the Moonlit World, and partially because it would help mitigate the trauma that they would keep from their experiences down here.

Normally, tending to the victims was a horrible task. The injuries on themselves were bad enough, but the screaming, crying, insanity, and sometimes even hero-worship of the saviours that came with them made it even worse.

In this particular case however, when the victims were freed, they barely needed any healing at all. Sure, there were small injuries, as well as scars, and some people had nasty devices embedded under their skin or had pins in their skulls, but there were no life-threatening wounds, and all possible spells on them had already been neutralised.

Gideon had noticed the golden explosion that Fujimaru had triggered, and he had been able to analyse it enough to know it had healing and Curse-breaking effects, but until now, he hadn't properly appreciated just how effective those golden rays truly were.

They had healed the most grievous of wounds, cured the nastiest afflictions, removed Curses, Enchantments, and other spells, and had even put every single victim in a dreamless, undisturbed sleep, making Hypnotising them much easier.

All of that with one spell that had taken a few seconds to cast.

Fujimaru was even more impressive than Gideon had realised at first, and the black-haired Enforcer felt much less bad about losing out to him on the matter of Vincent Balefor now.

That boy was clearly a prodigy, who might one day reach the level of Lorelei Barthomeloi herself.

Okay, that was an exaggeration, but he could perhaps come close enough.

"Penny for your thoughts, Gideon?"

The question was asked by Angy, who had just come up to him after she finished Hypnotising yet another victim. The tiny, though well-developed and mature woman had been forced to take a short break after seeing too many horrendous things in quick succession, but she was back with a vengeance now.

"Just thinking about Fujimaru's spell." Gideon replied shortly, giving her a calm smile.

"Yes, so am I, but I don't stand around looking stupid." Angy lightly scolded him, frowning up at her much taller boss. "There is much work to be done, even after Fujimaru's spell. It was far from perfect, and there's plenty for you to do."

Contrary to her words, Angy looked rather happy herself. Not to the point where there was a skip in her step or something, but there was a lightness to her that wouldn't have been there if Fujimaru hadn't already done most of the healing for them.

"Of course." Gideon nevertheless accepted her chiding words. "I shall get started on-"

Then they went around a corner, and Gideon's stomach lurched, forcing him to close his mouth lest his breakfast came up again.

Next to him, Angy turned a pasty white, and she quickly averted her eyes.

Even among the horrors of this laboratory, what they had laid their eyes upon at that moment was particularly bad in a way that made Gideon momentarily lose faith in the good of humanity altogether.

It was an abominable, accursed construction of seven human heads linked together by steel wires, connected to some kind of mainframe, the eyes gouged out, the skin partially flayed, and pins and needles having been inserted everywhere.

What was particularly horrid however, and what had made Gideon's stomach rebel, was the fact that there were at least two heads in the mix that had belonged to children below the age of ten.

The heads were clearly dead now, but Gideon was willing to bet a lot of money on them having been alive right up to the point where Fujimaru's spell had found them and had decided there was nothing it could do except mercy-killing them.

"Flagrante!" Angy spat out the short chant, and the next moment, the construction was consumed in magical flames that burned as hot as the sun, and kept burning until nothing but ashes remained. "Sorry, Gideon, I-"

"Don't apologise." Gideon cut her off, not about to let her demean herself over losing control. "You did very well. Now, take a moment to rest, and then get back to work."

It seemed harsh to keep her on the job, but it was much better if she kept herself busy, too busy to think about what she'd just seen.

Gideon just hoped that there wouldn't be many more awful surprises like that waiting for them in the rest of the base, though he didn't dare being optimistic about that.

He also hoped that the one responsible for this travesty was still alive. Lady Barthomeloi and her people would make them pay for this in ways Gideon could probably not even imagine, and at this moment, that seemed like a wonderful prospect.

But he couldn't be consumed by thoughts of revenge now, he had a mission to wrap up. Angy had already left, and the nearest person was…

"Kyra." Gideon called out to the team's administrator, a tall, buxom woman with dark-purple hair that seemed to shine every time light fell on it. She was standing next to a table in the middle of the room, bent over several papers, and Gideon moved to join her. "What have you found so far?"

Kyra looked up from the documents she'd been studying, giving him a lazy, closed-eyed smile, one that would have sent many a man's heart into racing-mode. It would have sent Gideon's heart racing too, if it hadn't already been filled to the brim with his feelings for Rit.

"I have actually found quite a bit so far." The purple-haired woman replied, turning away from him for a second to give a grateful nod to Khamul, who'd just placed another stack of papers on her table. "Most of this is just their research, which is… distasteful, to say the least, but there are some pieces of information hidden here and there that indicate clearly that they had help from other people. People from outside this base."

"That sounds promising." Gideon placed a hand on his chin in thought, peering at the papers with focused eyes. "Is there anything that Lord El-Melloi can use to find these accomplices?"

"I am sorry, but no." Kyra looked sad at the admission, her large, dewy eyes looking so miserable that nearly every man and woman who saw them would have been desperate to cheer her up again. "It only proves there are accomplices, not who they are."

"Ah, that's a pity." Gideon crossed his arms in contemplation. He was almost tempted to take a look at the documents himself, but that would serve no purpose. Kyra had a much finer eye for detail than he, so if she hadn't found anything, he wouldn't either. "Keep looking though."

"Of course." Kyra nodded, before turning back to her paperwork, which was as clear a dismissal as he would ever get from the woman.

Just in time too, for the next matter to deal with presented itself only moments after Gideon had left Kyra and her documents behind.

"Gideon!" Khamul's scratchy voice sounded from near the door that led deeper into the base, and Gideon found the hooded man standing next to the door opening. "They have cleared the second laboratory as well."

"Already?" Gideon blinked in surprise, and Khamul nodded silently. "Alright. Then before we move on to this second laboratory, tell me, how are things here, Khamul? Is everything done in the first laboratory?"

"It is." The hood went up and down in a nod. "The Magi have been restrained, the victims helped as much as possible, and the evidence has been secured."

"Excellent. We can move on to the second lab then. Take Angy and go ahead." Gideon ordered, seeing that the small woman had already moved towards Khamul. "Same procedure. Restrain the Magi, help the victims, collect the evidence. Kyra and I will follow in a few minutes."

"Yes sir." Angy and Khamul both gave sharp nods, before they left for the second laboratory.

They made for a strange duo, Angy, the tiny, pink-haired woman –who was rumoured to have a leprechaun somewhere in her family tree—and Khamul, the tall, perpetually-cloaked man, but they worked well together despite their seeming differences.

Gideon supposed he should just be glad about that.

The black-haired Enforcer then made one more round through the first laboratory, ensuring they hadn't forgotten or overseen anything of importance, and then helped Kyra collect and carry her documents as they followed behind Angy and Khamul.

In the distance, he could hear the sounds of fighting, and he wondered for a moment how many laboratories there actually were in this massive complex.

Hopefully not too many.


"I wonder if they're done yet."

The remark was made by Flat, who was sitting with his back up against a tree-trunk, with his hands folded behind his head and his legs crossed. He was clearly bored out of his mind, and was listlessly gazing around, searching for someone to argue with.

"Why don't you go take a look if you're curious?" Svin replied somewhat acidly, as Flat had made that remark at least a dozen times already. The Norse boy was sitting cross-legged on the ground, listlessly pulling out blades of grass, just as bored as Flat but determined not to make an issue out of it. He had been sucked into an argument with the frail boy too often to fall for his tricks anymore. "Go take a look around and come back to report to us."

Flat merely held up his hands in a gesture of surrender however, quickly refusing Svin's challenge. Not that anyone had expected him to accept of course.

Still, Svin's challenge did reverberate with someone else in the group.

"I could follow them to see how far they've gotten." Grey proposed, half to Lord El-Melloi, who was leaning against the car while smoking a cigar, and half to Svin, in the hopes of finally endearing him to her somehow.

"No."

Svin's prompt refusal made her flinch back however, and she let head hang in the knowledge that he still grievously disliked her, even as Svin also winced at how harsh that had come out.

Had she been too pushy? She only wanted to help.

Had he been too hard on her? He only wanted to keep her safe.

"I'm beginning to get quite bored with the whole matter myself." Lord El-Melloi spoke up, shaking his head at his apprentices being fools again. "We'll give it a few more minutes, then we'll follow them in."

"Shouldn't we have someone stay behind to watch the cars?" Svin wanted to know, looking with some concern at the vehicles they had used to drive to their current location. "You know, so no one steals them?"

"Normally, that would indeed be wise." Lord El-Melloi nodded, before he gestured upwards. "But you might recall that the Enforcers have erected Bounded Fields around this area that will keep any trespassers out, so it isn't necessary this time."

"Ah, right." Svin nodded quickly. "I'm sorry, I forgot all about the Bounded Fields."

"Try to keep your mind in the game, Svin." Lord El-Melloi accepted the boy's apology, before turning towards Bazett. "Will you take point when we enter the hide-out?"

"Of course, as long as Grey is willing to cover me." The redheaded Enforcer nodded, before both she and Lord El-Melloi turned slightly to look at Grey in askance.

"A-Ah! Y-Yes, I will cover you." Snapping out of her funk, Grey nodded quickly, a small smile on her face, as she was happy to be of some use again.

"Will we all be going in? Please say yes, I don't want to be left behind here." Flat asked, sounding uncharacteristically eager to storm into an enemy base, already pulling his legs in to push himself up against the tree.

The boredom was probably getting to him if he was so willing to put himself in any kind of danger.

"Yes, we will all go in." Lord El-Melloi nodded, casting a grave look around the group. "I believe it may be a good learning experience for some of you to see what goes on inside such a place."

His students were of course aware of what monstrous acts Magi could commit if they were properly motivated, but knowing something was one thing, actually experiencing it was another thing entirely.

He wouldn't say that they were completely inexperienced, but Svin, Flat, and Grey hadn't yet encountered a situation in which they were directly exposed to the cruelties that were committed so often in the Moonlit World.

But they would have to learn at some point, and now he had a good opportunity even if it was a somewhat cold thing for him to do. He'd get them something after as a sort of apology. Or try to at least.

He didn't know how experienced Caren Ortensia was with such matters, but when they started moving towards the oak tree a few minutes later, she voluntarily joined them, her characteristic smile in place and her eyes holding a faint note of anticipation.

If she wanted to join, Waver wasn't going to stop her, nor could he work up the energy to ask her about the bag that she was carrying along with her.

When it came to that nun, it was much easier to just look away and hope that whatever she was planning, it wouldn't impact him too much.


"W-Wait! I-I surrender!" A tall, handsome Magus cried as Suladan advanced on him. "I-I c-can make you rich! L-Listen to m- ARGH!"

"C-Come now." Another Magus spluttered when Rit turned towards him. "T-There is no need for a girl as pretty as you to- IIIEEEH!"

"You-" A third Magus couldn't get more than one syllable out before Shirou backhanded her into a wall.

They were currently in the fifth and last laboratory of the base, and all that was left now were the pathetic cowards who had fled to the deepest part of their hide-out when it became clear they were under attack.

Every Magus with the faintest spark of resistance or pride had remained in the previous labs. Those Magi had resisted until the bitter end, and several of them had even spat into their attackers' faces as they were cut down, standing defiant until the end.

Shirou was loath to give these monsters any credit, but standing defiant was at least a better look than cowering and fleeing.

Which was what these spineless wretches were doing.

Not a single attempt at resistance was made. Courage and valour had long abandoned these people. All they did was run around the lab in an attempt to avoid Shirou, Rit, and Suladan, and whenever one was cornered, they threw themselves on the ground to beg for their lives.

Several of them had even tried to circle around the three of them to flee back to the upper laboratories, but they had run straight into Theodora, Ruti, and Mai. Safe to say, those Magi were no longer an issue.

Shirou had been taken aback when several of the Magi started crying in despair, but considering what they had been getting up to in here, he found it difficult to feel any sympathy.

It was, in one word, pitiful.

It wasn't long before the last of the criminals fell to the ground, felled by a bash of Suladan's sword. The handsome Egyptian gave the Magus a last kick, before he stepped back and made eye-contact with Shirou and Rit.

The laboratories had been cleared, the office behind the fifth laboratory was empty of any human presences, and all who remained of the Magi were a few more people in the living quarters, who were now also running around or trying to hide in their rooms.

"There are a few more people left in the living quarters." Shirou told the other two when he had pinpointed the precise locations. "I suggest we take them down quickly, before they have time to prepare."

"How many?" Rit asked, looking up from cleaning her blade with a piece of cloth she'd ripped from a Magus' dress.

"Six."

"You and Suladan can handle them. I'll go back to help Gideon with the clean-up." The blonde girl replied, sheathing her blades again. "I'll take Theodora, Ruti, and Mai with me. We still have to restrain the living Magi and help the victims. There will be plenty to do."

"At least you don't have to search for evidence anymore." Suladan gave a grin, which Rit readily returned.

"True, true. We have the file now after all."

Ah yes. That file.

Yet another happy 'coincidence' on an already massive list of them.

Shirou had no idea who had thought that it was a good idea to combine that much secret information in one file, but whoever it was, he hoped they remained in a position of authority within the Meluastea for a long time, at least until Lady Barthomeloi brought them down.

It was just such a stupid plan. Combining all information into one file was nothing but a massive security risk, no matter from what angle you looked at it. Especially if you gave it to someone who had absolutely no qualms about trying to use it to negotiate for his freedom.

Correction, for his and his acolytes' freedom.

Not that that attempt had availed him. Shirou had no reason to accept his attempt at negotiation, especially since they'd already given him the file before trying to negotiate. Really, everyone knew you were supposed to hold onto your bargaining chips before bargaining, that was obvious.

The white-haired Magus had offered the file, but that was practically already Shirou's anyway.

He had also offered more secrets, but Lady Montmorency would easily get those out of him once he delivered that man to her.

Nothing he could offer was something Shirou wouldn't also be able to get as well without his help.

Though really, even if there had been something that the Magus could have offered him, Shirou still wouldn't have accepted. He wasn't in the habit of negotiating with criminals, especially those who had committed beastly crimes.

As such, Shirou had knocked the man and his apprentice unconscious. They would be handed over to Lady Barthomeloi, along with the rest of the Magi.

After that, he had taken a look at the file, along with Rit and Suladan.

It had taken them less than a minute of paging through the bundle of papers to realise they were looking at the metaphorical jackpot.

Everything they needed was in there. It told them who the accomplices and the sponsors of the base were, what the Magi in the base had done, were doing, and would do, whose orders they followed, who else was involved, and who stood at the head of the operation.

It was everything they'd hoped for, and more. Lord El-Melloi would be delighted, and Lady Barthomeloi just as much.

Finding that file had been a massive windfall, and it had turned the rest of the attack into nothing more than mobbing up the remaining resistance.

So with that in mind, Shirou made for the living quarters of the base to strike down the last of the Magi...

"Ahem!"

Only to stop when Rit suddenly cleared her throat. He turned back to the blond girl, and saw that she was holding out her hand, giving him an expectant smile.

Shirou huffed in amusement, and then he placed the file in her hand.

Undoubtedly, she intended to present it to Gideon, perhaps coupled with a story about how hard she'd had to fight for it, and then demand his praise in return. And, perhaps, a bit more than just praise.

"Do you know where the living quarters are?" Suladan interrupted his contemplations, and Shirou nodded in response. "Then lead the way."


When Rit found the rest of her team and presented the file to them, she was met with… mixed reactions.

"So I did all of this work for nothing?" Kyra gave an outraged pout when Rit presented them with the file, casting all the evidence she'd been painstakingly collecting over the past hour to the side, before throwing her arms up in a huff, which did very interesting things with her boobs that Gideon definitely wasn't looking at and that Ruti definitely was looking at. "Couldn't you have told me sooner, Rit?"

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry." Rit apologised profusely, bowing over and over again as Kyra's pout proved amazingly effective against her, as it always did. "W-We were just pressing the attack, and then we found the file, but we had to continue or…"

"Rit, she's just messing with you." Gideon stepped in before it could go too far, placing a comforting hand on his girlfriend's head and giving the tall, mature woman a chiding look. "Kyra, stop being mean to Rit."

"Haha, I cannot help it. She's just too adorable." Kyra's pout disappeared like snow under a warm sun, and she gave Rit a blinding smile. "Well done, Rit."

"Indeed. Well done." Gideon agreed.

Being praised by her boyfriend, as well as by the woman who she had a not-so-subtle crush on, did wonders for Rit's mood, and the blonde girl bounced back, her lips shaping themselves into a happy grin.

The sight made Gideon conclude that Kyra was entirely correct. Rit was indeed adorable. Not that he didn't already know that, though.

"So can we consider this as mission accomplished?" A high-pitched voice fell in, and Gideon turned to Angy and Khamul, who were working as hard as ever on healing the poor victims. "Because if so, then please give us a hand here."

"Of course." Gideon nodded, before addressing Rit and Kyra again. "Kyra, please help them with healing and hypnotising the victims. Ruti, search the laboratories for any living Magi, and Rit, tell me where everyone currently is."

The tall woman immediately left to help Angy and Khamul, her staff in hand and healing spells on her lips, while Ruti began combing through the lab and Rit began ticking things off on her fingers.

"Fujimaru and Suladan are in the base's living quarters, fighting the last remaining Magi." Those were two fingers going up. "You are here, and I am here, and Angy, Khamul, Ruti, and Kyra are over there." An additional six fingers went up. "Theodora and Mai are in the fifth laboratory, taking care of the most pressing matters over there." Another two fingers made ten fingers in total. "As for Lord El-Melloi and his apprentices…"

"They should still be outside." Gideon nodded.

"Eh, no. They are right behind you." Rit corrected him meekly.

And indeed, when Gideon turned around, there they were. Lord El-Melloi, miss Bazett, and the lord's apprentices, coming through the door leading to the second laboratory.

Gideon was glad they'd already cleaned up the worst of what they'd found in the labs. If they hadn't, then the three teenagers might really have fainted, as pale and clammy as they already looked.

The nun had her eyes closed, and her lips moved in what Gideon presumed to be a prayer to the Lord. Whether it was for protection, for the sake of the souls who had needlessly died here, or to ask for retribution against the guilty parties wasn't clear, but all three would be fine with him.

Miss Bazett, who was guiding the little nun by the shoulder, looked perfectly fine. Her mouth was pulled into an enraged scowl, but physically, she was in perfect health.

Lord El-Melloi had his poker face in place, but cracks were showing, and the immense sadness was visible as day for anyone who paid attention.

"Mister Gideon." Lord El-Melloi greeted him, the grief on his face intensifying as he cast his eyes around the third laboratory. "Your report?"

"Lord El-Melloi." Gideon nodded in acknowledgement, before gesturing at Rit, who repeated her earlier statements, informing the lord about everyone's locations and activities.

"So you have successfully neutralised the Magi and captured many of them for interrogation. You have also managed to free and heal the victims that could be helped and… 'released' those that were too far gone?" Lord El-Melloi rubbed his chin in thought when Gideon and Rit nodded. "Have you found information on possible accomplices?"

This was the point where Gideon couldn't keep a small grin of his face, which was mirrored by Rit's own grin, and he lifted the file to around chest height, so he could best present it.

"Behold, my lord, your evidence." Gideon held the file out to his employer, who took it with a curious expression. "None of us have any idea how this got here, or why it even exists, but you will find it is a godsend nonetheless."

"Is it?" Lord El-Melloi mused, opening the file to begin flicking through the pages, before his eyes lit up in triumph. "It is!"

"So it's good?" Bazett, who was still holding on to the praying nun, asked hopefully. "We can be out of here soon? This place is depressing."

"It's perfect." The grin on the lord's face could almost be described as feral. "This is everything we need. If we get the victims and our prisoners out, we can burn this place down and be done with it."

"We'll get them out as soon as possible." Gideon nodded. "Fujimaru and Suladan are still in the living quarters, but knowing those two, they won't be long."

"Excellent."

"So, Lord El-Melloi, now that you have found the evidence you need to track down those accomplices, will you be increasing the length of our contract?" Rit asked, eager to continue with hunting down monstrous Magi. "We would be glad to deal with the people behind all this. Just say the word."

"You'll have to discuss that with Lady Barthomeloi." Lord El-Melloi quickly deflected the matter however. "She will take things over from here. I was only charged with taking down this base. Dealing with their accomplices, and if I'm correct in my suspicions, their masters, will be taken care of by the vice-director herself. As such, she will also be in charge of hiring and directing personnel."

"I see." Rit's voice became a bit more contemplative, but she bounced back easily enough. "Not a problem! Lorelei and I are old buds! She'll be sure to give us the mission if I ask nicely."

"Please don't talk like that!" Gideon said promptly, giving Rit a chop on the head, before he turned to Lord El-Melloi. "Understood, my lord. We'll discuss things with the vice-director. For now, please stay safe until we have wrapped this matter up completely."

"Is there anything we can do to help?" One of the apprentices, an outrageously handsome fellow, suddenly stepped forward with a determined look in his eyes, quickly followed by the hooded girl. The frail one seemed content to stay back and do nothing though.

"If you want to help, please take a look around for things you can do." Gideon gave Lord El-Melloi a questioning look, and when the lord shrugged his shoulders, began giving out tasks. "Focus mainly on securing the still-living Magi, helping the victims, and destroying the foulest and most dangerous things in here."

"Understood." The handsome teen nodded sharply. "I can do securing and destroying."

"I will do what I can." The hooded girl –good grief, she was almost like a mini-Khamul—clenched her fists.

"I know some rudimentary healing techniques." The nun, who had at some point stopped praying, piped up, already looking around for people to help. "I'll get to it."

"Do you want me to come with you?" Bazett asked, looking concerned about the nun wandering off alone. "It might be dangerous."

"It might be, but I have God as my protector." The little nun's smile was blinding in its intensity and confidence, and Bazett was unable to go against it.

Gideon himself was pretty sure that God didn't work like that, but who was he to go against a nun on God-related matters?

"Let her be, Bazett." Lord El-Melloi sighed, before turning back to the rest of the group. "Alright, let's get to work. The sooner we are done, the sooner we can get out of here."

""Yessir!""


"There are two more Magi in this room. Those will be the last of them." Shirou informed Suladan when they arrived at the last door in the hall of the living quarters. "I don't think they are planning to resist. I don't sense any Magecraft being used."

"That is hardly surprising." The Egyptian man grumbled, contemplatively tapping a finger against his sword, probably wondering whether he even needed to keep it in hand. "None of them have resisted so far."

They had been going around the living quarters for a while now, and much the same applied for the Magi here as for the Magi in the fifth laboratory.

These were the people who had fled at the first sign of trouble, the ones who hoped that the braver, more defiant Magi would deal with the problem for them. They had no spine and no pride, and often didn't even try to fight when Shirou and Suladan appeared before them. They just threw themselves on the ground to beg for mercy, to which Shirou's response was always the same.

He knocked them unconscious.

Suladan hadn't had to use his sword even once, and now that they stood before the last door, with the last remaining Magi inside, Suladan decided to just sheath it and keep his hands free.

"Let's see what they have to say for themselves." The redheaded Magus suggested, and when Suladan nodded, he tore the door off its hinges.

"Kyaah! P-Please don't hurt us!"

"Have mercy!"

Apparently, they had nothing particularly unique or special to say. Just more pathetic grovelling.

It was a bit harsh for Shirou to think such a thing, but it irritated him beyond bounds that people who had committed such cruel acts without a shred of hesitation began begging for mercy once events turned against them.

It was cowardly and spineless in the extreme. Pure, distilled hypocrisy. Everyone who did such a thing was wretched in Shirou's eyes.

And these two brunette girls were no exception.

"Please! We didn't even want to be here!" One of them pleaded, having fallen to her knees. "W-We were forced to be here! I swear! O-Our families made us come here! T-They wanted to get rid of us, so t-they banished us to this terrible place!"

"Y-Yes!" The other girl agreed, nodding so quickly her neck gave an audible crack. "I-I am Cindy Brishisan, a-and she is Lilith Trambelio. I-If you let us live, o-our families will compensate you. They'll pay you a lot!"

"We never wanted to hurt anyone! They made us!" The first girl continued again, tears of fear now streaming over her cheeks. "W-We couldn't say no! Ch-Charlotte said no and they killed her! We had to do research for Head Professor Edokas!"

"W-We can give you the research." The other girl, Cindy, took the word again, crawling closer to Shirou and Suladan on her hands and knees. "I-I promise y-you won't be disappointed by it!"

So, they were forced by their loveless families to come here, 'banished from their homes', but those very same families would pay a lot of money for their return?

And these girls had only participated in the atrocities under threat, but their research was amazing?

They couldn't even keep their stories straight. Though even if they had been able to do so, then the fact that Shirou could tell they were lying through their teeth, and could even see the metaphorical blood on their hands, was enough of a clue that they were talking nonsense.

The redhead made eye-contact with Suladan, and the Egyptian, seeing that Shirou was just as unconvinced by the pleading as he, huffed, before stepping forward and kicking first Cindy Brishisan and then Lillith Trambelio in the face, sending them to dreamland.

"They weren't even trying." The grim man sneered down at the girls. "Do they think this is all a game? That crying loudly and shouting about their families will make every bad thing go away? Pathetic!"

"Quite so." Shirou nodded. "Quite so."

"Hm. Give me a hand securing them, would you?"

"Of course." Shirou nodded, Projecting a length of rope, before using it to bind their prisoners. He then loaded the two of them onto the trolley he had Projected earlier, together with the other unconscious Magi they had found in the living quarters.

They now had everyone, but when they were about to leave to re-join the others, Shirou suddenly saw something that made him pause.

"Is there something wrong?" Suladan asked, seeing that Shirou had stopped. The Egyptian sounded cautious, but as Shirou didn't look scared or like he was preparing for battle, he didn't draw his sword yet.

"...No, there's nothing wrong." The redhead shook his head after a few moments, biting his lip, before he came to a decision. "Go on ahead, I wish to search the rooms some more."

"Suit yourself. I'll tell Gideon not to start burning this place down until you're back."

"Much appreciated."

The Egyptian man then walked away, pushing the trolley out ahead of him, leaving Shirou to his self-appointed job of searching the rooms of the living quarters.

Shirou hadn't been really looking before, which was why he had largely missed them, but now that he was focusing, it was easy to locate all the hidden panels, secret rooms, and holes under floorboards that were spread around through the living quarters.

Almost every single room had its own secret hiding place, some of them even had two, and they weren't just for show either. Most of them had been filled with something or the other, and now that their owners had died or had been arrested, it was free for Shirou to take.

The redheaded teen was able to quickly collect a nice pile of money and other valuables from the secret hiding places, to be shared with everyone who had taken part in the operation.

Naturally, he burned every bit of Magecraft-research he found. He didn't want that to continue existing in any way or capacity.

The real treasure though, and the actual reason he'd stayed behind, was the artwork that kept popping up everywhere. The artwork that Shirou could confirm was very much authentic.

Not only were there numerous paintings scattered around that had been made by old masters such as Monet, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Rafael, Kahlo, Delacroix, and many more, there were also statues, drawings, poems, letters, and even personal possessions of famous people throughout history.

In other words, things of great cultural and historical value that shouldn't be left to burn along with the rest of the base. They belonged in a museum, where all of mankind would be able to view them.

As said before, Shirou would share the money and valuables he had found with everyone else, but the art would be kept in his Vault until he could find a suitable museum to donate it to.

Once he had scoured every room and secured everything valuable, Shirou decided it was time to go before they burned the place down with him inside. He was reasonably fireproof, but he'd rather not test his luck against Magical fire.

He'd had enough of that for the rest of his life.

Before he could leave the living quarters however, he suddenly found his way blocked by an unexpected person appearing in his way.

"Miss Ortensia?" He asked in surprise when the white-haired nun suddenly stepped out of a side-room, her customary wide smile on her face, wearing a large, brown coat that reached almost to her ankles. "What are you doing here? And why are you wearing that?"

"I'm here because of your challenge." She explained, though it didn't really explain anything, before she took his hand. "Please follow me into this room for a moment, mister Fujimaru."

Lifting an eyebrow, Shirou did as he was asked and followed the nun into the room where she'd just come out from. It was a standard dormitory, with a bed, a table, a chair, and a door leading to the bathroom.

Alarm bells started to go off inside his head when he saw miss Ortensia's robes lying on the bed, but he, foolishly, took just two seconds too long to realise what that meant, and then miss Ortensia had already taken off the coat…

"M-Miss Orten-!"

…To reveal that she was wearing a red-and-gold coloured cheerleader outfit underneath, complete with pompoms.

"-sia…? Wait, is that outfit-?"

"The one you Projected for me and challenged me to wear? Indeed." The white-haired nun nodded enthusiastically, giving him a smile that was much more energetic than her usual one. "I accepted that challenge, if you recall, and I'm here to make good on my word."

"But that was a joke!" Shirou spluttered in protest, unsure what to think about the extremely brief skirt and the very tight shirt that went with it, both of them created by him and now being worn by a very attractive girl who was only a few years older than him. "I was just joking!"

"I wasn't." The minx grinned, narrowing her eyes to slits, making her look like a cat on the prowl. "Now, let's see what I can remember from watching those cute cheerleaders at the football-matches."

Miss Ortensia lifted her pompoms, placed her feet down like a dancer, bent her knees ever so slightly, and then began her routine.

"Shirou, Shirou, he's our man, if he can't do it, no one can!" She sang the classic cheerleader-lines in a sweet, clear voice, hopping in place as she enthusiastically swung the pompoms up and down, before she leapt high up in the air and did a perfect backflip from a standing position.

"Go Shirou, Go Shirou. What do we do? We'll say it loud, because we're proud, S-H-I-R-O-U!"

She wasn't nearly done yet however, and also performed several somersaults, a three-sixty twist in the air, a handstand, and a few other elaborate cheerleading moves that normally took years of training to master to such a degree.

While she was doing this, Shirou realised two things.

One; despite her appearance of a small, frail nun who had probably never really exercised in her life and would be exhausted after ten metres of running, Caren Ortensia turned out to be an incredibly athletic woman who wasn't even breathing hard after performing an extensive and elaborate cheerleader routine.

Two; that skirt she wore, the skirt Shirou had Projected for her as a joke, was so short and granted him so many panty shots during her show that she might as well not have worn it at all. The redhead could only be grateful that she had apparently decided to wear conservative, white underwear that day.

That didn't stop every drop of blood in his veins from rushing to his face though, and his entire body twitched as his proper Japanese upbringing, that demanded he look away from the nun with a nosebleed or pass out from the stimulation, warred with his increasingly Asgardian side, which roared in approval and ordered him to keep looking and enjoy the show.

For a while, the Asgardian side was in control, but in a blistering counterattack, the Japanese side won out in the end.

"M-M-Miss Ortensia!" Shirou screamed in a voice that he wasn't too proud to admit was outright shrill, scrambling backwards in shock. "Please stop that!"

"Ha?" The devilish minx cocked her head to the side as she came to a halt, landing gracefully on the ground, allowing gravity to pull her skirt down enough to make her somewhat decent again. "Stop? But it was just going so nicely. D-Did I make a mistake? D-Do you not like what you see?"

She knew perfectly well of course what was bothering Shirou, as the twitching corners of her lips clearly indicated, but she nevertheless pretended not to, giving him a look that would have been perfectly confused if it hadn't been for the aforementioned twitching.

"That skirt is entirely inappropriate!" Shirou hissed back, his blush lessening now that her decency had been somewhat restored.

"But you created it for me." She struck right at Shirou's weak spot in the matter, making use of the fact that he had been the one to create the outfit, even if he'd never thought she'd actually wear it.

As such, Shirou didn't bother giving her an answer, as it would only provide her with more ammunition to use against him. Instead, he grabbed the long overcoat she'd taken off earlier and wordlessly handed it back to her.

Miss Ortensia seemed taken aback for a split second, before she smiled wryly.

"Ah, mister Fujimaru. Couldn't you have let me enjoy this for a few moments longer?" She sighed, before obediently putting on the coat. "I was going to do the whole 'Oh, if you don't like the skirt, I'll take it off'-routine, and then indeed take it off, but now I can't anymore."

Shirou flinched again, as his proper Japanese upbringing, which rejoiced in euphoria about the nun's lithe body being covered by a coat now, again fought with his Asgardian side, which grieved at the lost opportunity of seeing more of those smooth white thighs.

…He'd been away from his girlfriends for too long, he was getting inappropriate thoughts about strange women. He clearly needed to increase his mental discipline at once.

"Does this mean I have won the bet though?" The nun asked innocently.

"Yes, sure." Shirou agreed immediately, too embarrassed and distracted to really think about what he'd just said.

"Great. I'll be calling in my favour soon."

It was a sentence Shirou probably would have responded to a bit stronger if he'd been entirely present of mind, but his healthy appreciation for a lithe, female body, as well as the guilt and concern about said appreciation, made it difficult for the redhead to really think straight at that moment.

What a conniving woman, that Caren Ortensia. The only solace was that her favour would be something that Shirou would have agreed to even if he hadn't owed her anything.

But that was a story for a different time.


"Urgh, this thing is way too heavy!"

Mitsuzuri Chiaki, wife of Mitsuzuri Ryozo and mother of Mitsuzuri Ayako and Mitsuzuri Minori, elegantly rolled her beautiful eyes when she heard her husband complain yet again, and sighed out loud when her son let out a whining groan in agreement with his father.

They were lifting a large suitcase together, trying to carry it from the living room to the car, and they were struggling mightily with it, to the point where their faces were turning bright red from exertion.

Granted, it was full of clothes and other personal articles, which weren't exactly light, and neither Ryozo nor Minori were particularly strong men, nor did they claim to be, but Chiaki still thought they could at least make an attempt to man up and not complain every few seconds.

Ryozo was fortunate that he was sweet, reliable, competent, romantic, and a great father, for his body was nothing special among men. No, it definitely wasn't his (non-existing) muscle mass that had attracted Chiaki all those years ago.

Not even being able to lift one suitcase… Come on now.

"UUUrrggghhh!"

That sound came from both her husband and son, as they let out a mighty roar together while lifting the suitcase into the trunk of the car at last, before stepping back and theatrically rubbing their backs, as if they'd spontaneously developed hernias.

Really, Chiaki loved them, more than anything else in life, but sometimes, she just wanted to smack them over the head. Not very hard, just hard enough to make them stop acting like drama queens every time she had them do something that required the slightest bit of physical exertion.

Not that Chiaki wanted to suggest she could do it any better herself!

By no means, there was a reason she had the men carry the suitcase, and it wasn't because she could have carried it herself if she felt so inclined. She too was not exactly blessed with an overabundance of physical strength.

With two parents who were both not very strong, it was no wonder Minori had ended up being on the weaker side himself. There was no shame in that though. Being weak was not at all a detriment anymore in modern times, not to mention it was perfectly understandable, since, again, he had weak parents.

If anything, Ayako was the weird one, being the only one in their family of four who could be described as physically strong. Embarrassing as it was for the men to admit, she was generally the one who carried the suitcases, on her own, often twice as fast as the men had managed now.

But alas, the fourth member of the Mitsuzuri-family wasn't present at the moment, or perhaps it was more accurate to say she hadn't been present for quite a while now.

Ayako had already been spending less time at home in the months before the summer holiday, but now that said holiday had started, the Mitsuzuris were lucky to see her once or twice a week.

She wasn't staying away because of any arguments or fights or something like that, perish the thought. Ayako's relationship with her family was as good as ever. It was just that she was hanging out with her 'best friend' these days and often 'forgot' to return home.

Or at least, that was what Ryozo and Minori believed.

Of course, Chiaki knew perfectly well what was actually going on. She knew that 'best friend' was Ayako's euphemism for 'girlfriend', and that 'forgot to return home' meant 'I like snuggling with Sakura too much to leave'.

Chiaki hadn't said anything to her husband and son, as she had promised to Sakura and Ayako she wouldn't tell anyone about their relationship, but it was getting harder and harder to keep them satisfied with lacking explanations.

It was only because Shirou was away for the summer holiday that Ryozo and Minori weren't beginning to seriously suspect that there were improper things taking place inside the Emiya-estate, improper things their daughter-slash-sister was involved in. For now though, with the redhead in England, they still believed everything was innocent enough.

As far as they knew, Ayako was just keeping her lonely friend company, at least until said friend's housemate was back.

They had no idea that Shirou, Sakura, and Ayako were in a three-way relationship, and that even with Shirou being away, Sakura and Ayako were likely doing things together that went a bit further than stuff that 'just friends' would do.

And if it was up to Chiaki, then Ryozo and Minori would remain clueless about that for a long time to come, at least until Shirou was back.

Fortunately, the girls themselves understood that perfectly well too, and were taking great care to not do anything romantic while the men were present.

It was a load off her shoulders. She really didn't feel up to explaining matters to them just yet.

As she said before, it was better to wait until Shirou was back. What they would do at that point would have to be discussed between the four of them.

"Come on, son! Lift!"

"I am lifting, father!"

The renewed cries of her husband and son broke Chiaki out of her contemplative state, and she watched as the men carried the second suitcase to the car.

She tried to give them an encouraging look, but her sadistic side was definitely being tickled by the knowledge that she had been able to fill four suitcases in total, which all had to be loaded into the car. In other words, Ryozo and Minori weren't even halfway done yet.

"Why does Nee-san have so much stuff anyway?" Minori whined after the second suitcase had been transferred safely. "And why do we have to move it?"

"We told you already, Minori. We are bringing all this 'stuff' to Ayako, so she doesn't have to wear the same two outfits all the time." Chiaki explained again, giving her son a patient smile. "That matters to girls, you know?"

"Then why can't she come home more often to change?"

"Because she's keeping Sakura company while Shirou is away." Ryozo replied, shaking his arms to restore the blood flow that had been cut off by the weight of the suitcase. "After what happened, we can hardly leave her alone all the time."

Yes, that was the excuse Chiaki and Ayako had gone with. Shirou was gone, so Sakura was sitting alone at the Emiya-estate.

And since it wasn't wise for a girl to live alone, and since it was twice as bad for Sakura, who still had nightmares and panic attacks after what she'd gone through at the hands of her grandfather, Ayako had decided to stay over as much as she could.

Of course, the part about the nightmares and panic attacks had been completely made up, but it had been good enough a reason to get Ryozo and Minori to nod and accept the fact that Ayako was spending the holiday somewhere else.

Until now, apparently, as Minori began asking difficult questions again.

"If Sakura needs someone to stay with her, I could do that." Minori suggested eagerly, missing how his parents winced at his suggestion. "Then Ayako can come home, and Sakura is still not alone. She'll have me."

"No, Minori." Ryozo was prompt to forbid it. "I can accept it if two girls stay together unsupervised, but I will not have a girl and a boy under one roof without any adults present."

"But-"

"No buts!"

"…Yes, father." Minori grumbled, accepting his father's rebuke. "At least that bastard won't be with Sakura-chan either."

The last sentence had been too soft for Ryozo to hear, but Chiaki did pick up on it, and she tiredly rubbed her face with her hand.

Her son had still not let go of his crush on Sakura. Another source of trouble, and another thing to deal with once Shirou was back. They'd have to bring the news to Minori very gently, because no boy liked to hear that he had been beaten in matters of love not only by his rival, but also by his own sister.

It took several more minutes to load the other two suitcases into the trunk, but once that was done and the men had recovered a bit from the exertion, they jumped into the car and drove straight to the Emiya-estate.

They arrived perfectly on time, and found Sakura already waiting for them in front of the house. The purple-haired girl gave them a bright smile, before guiding them into the estate's garage.

"Good morning, Ryozo-san, Chiaki-san, Minori-kun." She greeted them one by one in her characteristically sweet voice once the car had been parked and they had stepped out. "How are you today?"

"We are well, Sakura-chan." Chiaki grinned at the plum-haired girl, who had become much like a second daughter to her over the past months. "What about you?"

"I am well too." The smile impossibly became ever more blinding, before Sakura looked in askance at the trunk of the car. "Did you bring suitcases?"

"They got Ayako's stuff in them." Ryozo explained shortly, his eye twitching when he realised he had to carry them inside now. "We thought that she might appreciate it if we brought it over, considering she's staying here and all."

"Oh!?" Sakura's eyes shone in delight, and Chiaki, who hadn't been prepared for it, was almost blown away by the 'good-daughter-energy' that was emitting from the girl. "That is so kind of you."

"It was no problem at all, Sakura-chan." Minori quickly piped up, stepping forward while flexing his right arm. "Dad and I carried all the suitcases to the car. It was really heavy, but we didn't drop them even once."

"That is really impressive, Minori-kun." The purple-haired girl praised Chiaki's son, somehow appearing years his senior even though they were the same age. "Then you are probably very hungry now. I have cake, if you want?"

"I-I'd love to!" Minori jumped at the chance of eating something prepared by his crush, eager like a puppy. "I'd eat anything you made for me."

"Haha, that's nice of you to say."

Chiaki pursed her lips at the by-play. Sakura was only being nice to Minori, but it seemed the boy was taking it far too seriously. Not that that was new or anything. Just about every interaction they had went exactly like that, with Sakura being extremely kind and Minori taking that as her returning his interest in her.

It was probably the main reason that he still harboured a crush on her.

"Cake, you say? I would very much like a slice as well." Ryozo laughed, though it was slightly forced, as he had mixed feelings about the little scene as well. The man might not know yet that Sakura, Ayako, and Shirou were an item, but he did know that his son had a crush on the purple-haired girl and that she didn't return his feelings in the slightest. "But first, there is a lot of carrying to be done. Minori, get over here and help me."

"Hah?" Minori ripped his gaze from Sakura, seeing how his father opened the trunk again. "Do I have to? I wanted to go with Sakura."

"Of course. You are such a strong man after all." Ryozo huffed with a smirk. "Or was that just grandstanding?"

"What? You old-"

"Ah, please allow me." Sakura interrupted quickly before the situation could devolve into an argument. "You must be tired, so I'll carry the suitcases."

"What?" Ryozo frowned at the offer, and Minori looked aghast that his crush was now offering to do his job, making him look very uncool.

Sakura ignored both of them however, and she rolled up her sleeves and stepped towards the open trunk, reaching out to grab the bottom suitcase.

Was she planning on lifting them all at once? If so, then she'd be unpleasantly surprised in a moment.

Minori clearly agreed, for he immediately took a step forward to try and dissuade her.

"Sakura-chan, wait! Those are too heavy to-"

"And hup!"

"-Liiiiiiiift…"

Minori trailed off when Sakura grabbed the bottom suitcase, slightly bent her legs, and then lifted all four suitcases at once!

"So." The plum-haired nodded happily once she had steadied herself, before turning to look at the Mitsuzuris again, not a single sign of strain present anywhere on her face or body. "Please follow me. Ayako is waiting in the living room with tea, cookies, and cakes."

Then she walked away, leaving Chiaki, Ryozo, and Minori behind in the garage, gaping at her back and unable to produce a sound.

"…Did she just…?" Ryozo wheezed after several seconds, being the first to find his voice again. "Did she just lift...?"

"Yeah." Chiaki nodded, utterly dumbstruck herself, still staring at the place where Sakura had disappeared from her sight.

"S-Sakura-chan." Minori whined, looking both surprised and deeply depressed by what he had just seen.

…Had Chiaki actually been supportive of her son's efforts to conquer Sakura's heart, this might have been the moment she would have taken the purple-haired girl aside to explain that men liked to feel cool, and that showing off her amazing strength might not be the best idea if she wanted to land herself a man.

But she wasn't supportive of her son's efforts, and she had no doubt that, no matter how impressive Sakura was, Shirou was still stronger, so she wouldn't be saying anything.

After another few moments, Chiaki managed to shake the shock off enough for her to start moving again, and followed Sakura into the Emiya-estate, dragging her husband and her son along with her.

"Heya, mom!" Ayako greeted her happily once she entered the house proper. "Hey dad, hey little bro. How are you doing?"

Ayako was sitting in the living room, as Sakura had said, in one of the sofas that had been placed there, right next to a large couch and right behind a sizeable, knee-high table that had numerous plates stacked on top of it, holding cookies, cakes, and other delicacies.

The inhabitants of the Emiya-estate sure knew how to spoil their guests.

"We're doing well, my dearest Ayako." Chiaki smiled as she dragged the other two with her to the couch, first throwing them down before taking place on it herself. "Tell me, did you see Sakura walk past just now?"

"Yes, she was carrying suitcases. She said she would put them away in my room, and that she would join us in a minute or so." The brunette girl nodded, before lifting her arms in a macho position. "She is really strong, isn't she?"

"Very much so." Chiaki nodded emphatically. "Does she often do things like that? Carrying heavy objects like it's nothing?"

"Now and then. We don't move a lot of heavy objects around on a normal day, but when we do, Sakura and Shirou always just handle them like they're feathers or something." Ayako huffed, lowering her arms again as she shook her head in consternation. "It's enough to make a tomboy like me jealous."

"W-Well, that is quite convenient, isn't it?" Ryozo asked, having recovered enough to make an attempt at joining the conversation. "To have three strong people in the house. You never have to hire someone to move your things."

"Oh, it is nice indeed, until you tease them a bit too much and they suddenly lift you into the air, above their heads, and don't let you down until you apologise." Ayako pouted at the memory, and pouted harder when Chiaki giggled at the mental image of Sakura holding Ayako above her head like a WWE-fighter. "But enough about Sakura's muscles. How are you all? Minori, why haven't you said anything yet?"

"Ugh." Minori didn't reply though, as he was still moping with his head held low, cursing fate for making his crush so much stronger than him.

"…Alright, I'll leave you be." Ayako held up her hands in surrender after a few seconds of tense silence, leaning away from her little brother with a perturbed expression.

"Ignore him, Ayako. We're all fine, Minori included." Ryozo replied in lieu of his son, reaching out to ruffle his daughter's hair. "It's the holiday, so we hang around the house mostly, not doing much. It's quite relaxing really, and I've been reading a lot of books that have been on my list for a while."

"Oh? Say, dad, didn't you have a lot of deadlines you have to meet before the end of the holiday? For all your side-jobs?" Ayako asked suspiciously, narrowing her eyes at her father. "I know I haven't been home much, but I know what you're like, and I know that it is very unlike you to finish them so early."

"So little trust!" Ryozo reared back as if Ayako had stabbed him through the heart, and he fell to his knees, pressing his hands against his chest. "Why is there no one who trusts that I know what I am doing?"

"Because every year, you end up stressing yourself to death in the last weeks of the holiday, trying to finish your work in time." Chiaki snipped, giving her husband a kick in the side. "It's the same every single time, without exception."

During those weeks, Ryozo would work pretty much around the clock, only sleeping four hours a day and only pausing to eat. He would become completely unavailable for anything else, and though his side-jobs netted him a massive salary, one that Chiaki was only too happy to spend, she did feel he shouldn't continue with his current trend for too long.

"You always only make it just in time, dad." Ayako supported her mother, giving her father a glare that was so much like Chiaki's that Ryozo had to blink twice to make sure there wasn't a time-travelling, younger Chiaki sitting in front of him. "One day, the consequences will catch up to you."

"But they haven't so far, and that is probably the reason I keep doing it this way." Ryozo laughed, actually not offended in the slightest by his daughter's and wife's hard words.

"Keep doing what this way?"

"Ah, Sakura, you're back." Minori perked up when his crush walked into the room again, and he eagerly scooted to one side, creating enough room for the slender girl to sit down next to him.

His expression fell however when she walked past him and sat down in one of the sofas, seemingly without even having noticed his efforts to make room for her.

"Nothing, nothing. Just my job." Ryozo quickly waved the matter away, not in the mood to discuss work with his daughter's friend, and he sat back down on the couch. "That's not why we are here. We're here to talk and eat cake."

"Please have some cake then." Sakura beamed, gesturing towards the numerous platters and plates that had been laid out before them. "Or perhaps a cookie? Take whatever you like."

"Thank you for the food!" Minori bowed his head, before immediately diving at the nearest cake, grabbing himself a slice and a fork, before he began eating it. "Hm! This is delicious!"

"I am glad to hear it." Sakura nodded, watching with pride as Minori demolished the slice of cake in mere seconds.

"Hm, normally I would say something about table manners," Chiaki frowned at her son, before she took a slice of cake herself. "But I'll make an exception this time because Sakura's food is so good."

"Hehe." Sakura's smile became even more self-confident, and Ayako patted her on the back with an approving expression.

After all the time that the purple-haired girl had been down and self-hating, it was truly beautiful to see her with a confident smile.

For a while, there was only the sound of eating at the people present enjoyed the fruits of Sakura's work, but that couldn't last forever.

"Awight, lewt's gwet to bufiness." Ryozo eventually began with a mouthful of cake, before flinching and swallowing when his wife gave him a piercing look. "Sorry, dear. Ahem, as I was saying, time for serious business."

Sakura curiously cocked her head to the side, while Ayako put down her plate, sensing this wasn't the time to be eating.

"Ayako, seeing that you have been spending more time here at the Emiya-estate than at home, we decided to bring your stuff over." Ryozo began. "We brought most of your summer clothes, the toiletries you hadn't taken with you yet, your stuffed animals, and everything else we thought you'd need."

"Really?" Ayako's eyes went wide at her father's words, as if he'd said something completely unexpected.

"Well, yes. If you're going to stay here, you'll need your things." Ryozo nodded, not paying much mind to his daughter's surprise. "I believe Sakura already brought the suitcases to your room, so you can unpack them later. Although, please don't unpack anything you won't need, because you'll have to pack it all up again when Shirou returns home."

"Oh you!" Chiaki sniffed at her husband's choice of words. "Men! Don't listen to him, Ayako. Feel free to unpack everything in those suitcases, even if you're never going to use it. Unpacked suitcases are such an eyesore after all."

"Indeed, indeed." Ayako nodded happily, the frown she'd developed on her face as her father spoke now having disappeared. "So that is what this meeting is all about! You came to bring my stuff over."

"Well, yes, though that is only part of it." Chiaki nodded, crossing her arms. "There are multiple details to discuss."

"I'm all ears!" Ayako professed, and Sakura leaned forward in interest as well.

"First of all, food. Do you have enough of it?"

"We do, Chiaki-san." Sakura nodded, glancing at the kitchen for a moment. "We have plenty of food already, and more than enough money to buy more once we are through our current supplies."

"Alright, then what about gas, water, and electricity?"

"The bills for this month have been paid and the money for the coming six months has already been set aside."

"Okay, then lastly, your laundry. Ayako, do you have any laundry I need to take with me?" Chiaki finished her list with the one item she wasn't sure about. She had never doubted that they had enough food and other necessities, but laundry was something else entirely. "I believe it is quite normal that youngsters who have just moved out still rely on their parents for the laundry."

At least, that was what Chiaki's older friends had told her. The boys especially tended to continue relying on their parents for the laundry for a long time, at least until they'd found themselves steady girlfriends or even wives.

"Oh, there's no need, mom. Sakura always takes care of that." Ayako refused the offer though, giving a glance at the plum-haired girl next to her. "She's amazing, you know."

"…Yes, I suppose she is."

Of course, how could Chiaki forget? Sakura was basically the ideal housewife, who wouldn't have any trouble doing the laundry for two.

Ayako had basically skipped past the phase of sending laundry home to be washed and had gone straight to the steady girlfriend phase.

'S-Sniff'

"M-Mom!? W-What's wrong?" Ayako cried out in a panic when Chiaki started crying.

"N-Nothing, don't mind me." Chiaki hastily shook her head to Ayako's question. "Just… reflecting on life a bit, and how fast they grow up."

"They?"

"As I said, don't mind me." Chiaki repeated, leaving Ayako, Sakura, and Minori confused. Ryozo wasn't confused though, no, certainly not, he had misty eyes himself for much the same reason as Chiaki.

Their daughter had grown up so fast, and they had barely noticed.

"Riiiiight." Ayako mumbled, before pointedly looking away from her crazy parents and focusing on her little brother instead. "Eh, how have you been, Minori?"

"Well enough, I suppose." He replied, also looking away from their weird parents to focus on the girls instead, though mainly on Sakura. "Finished my exams, and I've been chilling since, hanging with the lads and all. You?"

"We have been well too." Sakura gave him an adorable thumbs up, while Ayako silently mouthed the words 'hanging with the lads' with a baffled look in her eyes. "We miss Senpai of course, but we manage to get by pretty well."

"Right, Emiya-teme is gone. T-That is, Emiya-kun." Minori began speaking with a frown, before hastily correcting himself when Ayako gave him a glare. "Ahahaha, a-any idea how long he'll stay away?"

"Until the end of the holiday." Sakura replied promptly, the corners of her mouth turning down as she spoke, until she was outright pouting. "For four more weeks."

"So long!?" Minori was genuinely surprised by the answer, rearing back in shock. "W-What's he doing then?"

"He's in London. He got a really good offer from a university there, for some kind of arrangement over the summer. He's following their classes now." Ayako replied, giving the standard excuse they'd prepared for people who were not in the know about the Moonlit World. "Really heavy stuff. He's been working day and night since he got there."

"That guy is way too hardcore!" Minori spluttered, feeling the gap between himself and his rival widening by the second. "S-Studying over the summer? You'd have to be mad."

"It will provide great opportunities for later." Sakura protested, frowning when Minori called her Senpai 'mad'. "And summer holidays are only for students anyway. It is normal to work in the summer as well when you have a job. Senpai is just preparing for that."

"That we won't have a summer holiday when we finish studying is exactly why we have to enjoy the summer holiday while we still can." Minori bristled at the thought of already giving up his student-life. "And for the record, I think Emiya will do just fine in life even without 'great opportunities later'. There was no need for him to give up his holiday."

"Probably." Ayako agreed with a careless shrug. "But that's no reason not to aim higher."

"Senpai is amazing after all." Sakura nodded with a calm and loving smile.

"Ugh." Minori discretely pulled a face at Sakura's obvious admiration for his rival, but he refused to throw in the towel yet. He had several weeks now to try and woo his crush, several weeks before his fearsome rival returned, and he had to make the most of them. "S-Sakura-chan, i-if you feel lonely at any time, y-you can always call me, you know?"

The sudden shift in topic confused the plum-haired girl for a second, but once she'd caught up again, she was quick to smile at him as she tried to let him down gently.

"Oh, that's kind of you, Minori-kun, but there is no need. I have Ayako and Fujimura-Sensei, and I also have Ne- Eh! I mean, Neko, so you can just spend your time with your friends. You don't have to worry about me."

Sakura had almost let it slip that Rin often came over as well, but she'd been able to swap her name for the nickname of the daughter of the owner of the Copenhagen at the last second.

No one outside of their little family knew that Rin was her elder sister, and it was probably best to keep it that way. That information getting out would lead to difficult questions that they had no way to answer yet.

"NO! I-I mean, no, you don't have to worry! I'd be glad to spend time with you, the guys will understand." Minori rambled, seeing his chance to get ahead of Emiya slip through his fingers. "J-Just name your time!"

Sakura blinked twice, taken aback by his vehemence, while Ayako frowned at her little brother's suspicious behaviour.

"Oh, well, sure, I guess. I'll let you know." Sakura eventually replied, causing Minori to let out a whoop of joy.

"Will you really?" Ayako mumbled under her breath, to which Sakura gave a pained smile.

"But, now that we are here anyway," Ryozo suddenly spoke up again, as he and Chiaki had finally gotten over their sudden bout of depression. "Where has Shirou actually gone off to? I mean, London, that much I know, but what is he doing there exactly?"

"Studying and preparing for his future." Sakura replied, before giving the man a repeat of what they'd told Minori earlier, and Ryozo nodded with a very impressed expression on his face.

"That boy is going to go very far." He concluded, before reaching out and patting Minori on his back. "But don't you worry, son. I don't think any less of you because you don't have a university-arrangement in London. If you just finish school and university with good grades and get yourself a well-paying job, I'll be a happy father."

"That much I should be able to do." Minori huffed.

Chiaki beamed at the interaction between father and son, before she cast a glance at Ayako and Sakura.

"Say girls, do you have any plans for the future?" The brown-haired woman asked curiously. "I don't need a fully detailed schedule, but, have you put some thought in at least?"

"O-Oh, I think I'll go for stability." Sakura replied, rubbing the back of her head. "Nothing too difficult, just a steady job where I can earn money."

"Like working at the Copenhagen in a more professional capacity?"

"Sure, I guess. I-It isn't much of a plan, but-"

"Don't worry, Sakura, it's not like my plan for the future is any better." Ayako laughed, leaning back into her sofa. "I suppose I'll have to finish school first, and then discover where my interests lie."

"Can you not become a stay-at-home wife?" Sakura asked, smiling impishly, to which the brunette gave a hearty laugh.

"No way! That's your thing. As a tomboy, I have to get a job to earn money for the household, while you can tend to the house and the children."

The remark seemed innocent enough, but for someone in the know, like Chiaki, it was almost a blatant admission of their relationship. Ryozo and Minori didn't even blink at Ayako's words though.

"There is nothing wrong with tending to the house and the children!" Minori was quick to say, smiling reassuringly at Sakura. "I-I think there are many men who would really like to marry a woman like that."

"I suppose. This is Japan after all." Sakura's smile gained a brittle edge, and Chiaki let out a sniff of derision as well.

It just so happened that Chiaki was a working woman herself, and that Ryozo had never made the slightest issue out of that, but that was by no means normal in Japan. Most of the time, women who had married were pressured out of their job, by their husbands or by society, and those who didn't leave employment were seen as greedy or uncaring about family.

All of Chiaki's old friends had lost their jobs once they got married. For most of them, it was voluntary, but some of them had confessed to her that they'd rather still have continued, and that it had been their husbands, or their fathers, or even their bosses who had forced them out.

In light of that, Minori's remark was rather insensitive, something the boy himself now also realised, as he winced in embarrassment and regret.

Neither Sakura nor Chiaki blamed the boy though. He had meant no harm. All he had wanted to do was reassure Sakura, nothing else.

"Well, anyway." Ayako said loudly, clapping her hands to drive out the uncomfortable atmosphere. "I was actually thinking of getting a job myself."

"At the Copenhagen?"

"Ah, no. Sorry, Sakura, but working in a café is not for me. I was actually thinking more about tutoring other students."

"Tutoring?" Chiaki was honestly surprised. Her tomboy-daughter wanted to teach other people?

"Well, my grades have massively improved over the last months, and I feel that I also know why they have improved. I think I can teach my new knowledge and work-ethic to other people as well."

"Wouldn't Shirou be a better tutor though?" Ryozo asked, bringing to mind the fact that Shirou never scored below perfect in any and every test he took.

"No, absolutely not!" Ayako's voice was firm as she rejected her father's words. "Shirou is one of those types who immediately understand everything. He cannot empathise with people who are not as smart as he is. He won't understand why other people don't understand things that are so easy to him. For that, you need someone who is not that clever, but just clever enough to have worked her way through the lessons and can now explain that process to other people."

"Makes sense." Ryozo nodded, not even bothering to argue against his daughter's words. He had no arguments anyway.

"I think Homurahara has a system in place through which failing students can find peers who are willing to tutor them." Chiaki mused, before holding up her hands. "Those are only rumours though, I haven't looked into that school quite enough yet."

"Oh, maybe we can ask Issei-kun?" Sakura suggested, bringing up the bespectacled boy who had been friends with Shirou for almost as long as she. "He wants to become the president of the school council. He'll probably have studied every single one of Homurahara's programs and systems quite extensively already."

"Oh, that's a good idea! Let's visit him as soon as we can!"

With that plan made, Ayako enthusiastically explained just how she was going to tutor her peers, which was followed by Minori suggesting that she should ask a lot of money if she was going to put in that much work, something Sakura wholeheartedly agreed with.

From there on, the conversation continued, and the five of them covered a variety of subjects, ranging from extracurricular activities and teachers to the local news and the latest gossip in town.

It was a nice afternoon for all involved, and when the Mitsuzuri-family left again, now without the four suitcases in the trunk, Chiaki heaved a breath of relief.

The men still hadn't a clue about the 'unusual' relationship going on in that house.

At the same time, Ryozo clacked his tongue once, thinking deeply on his next course of action even as he kept an eye on the road.

He was of course happy that his daughter had found two people she was so deeply happy with, but he wasn't sure how to feel about the whole polyamorous relationship-thing they obviously had going on.

Oh, they thought they'd hidden it, and Chiaki thought she was the only one who knew, but Ryozo wasn't blind. He had seen through their front easily enough.

The question now was what he was going to do about it.

One thing was certain however. Once Shirou returned from London, Ryozo would have to put him through the trials that any father would put the boyfriend of their daughter through.

And in this case, the trials would have to be twice as difficult, symbolising the two girls he was in a relationship with.


He was finally here!

Finally, after years and years of preparation both with and without his father, after countless hours of almost biting off his own fingers in frustration, after a very long, very complicated road, Shirou was now finally looking straight at the Einzbern castle.

From a safe distance of course, he didn't feel like being caught now, at the last leg of his quest, by being careless.

He was floating in the air, several kilometres above the ground. The Einzbern castle was about a kilometre ahead of him, so he was sufficiently far away that even the sharpest eyes, even Mystic Eyes below the Jewel or Rainbow rank, would not perceive him.

The dense cloud he had shaped around him also helped with that, as did the fact that it was a very cloudy day, making it rather dark outside, despite it being the middle of the afternoon.

Deep, dark rain clouds were hanging above the Einzbern-castle, casting it in darkness and reducing visibility, as well as providing convenient camouflage for Shirou's own cloud. The redhead hadn't been responsible for those clouds, they'd been there already since he'd arrived, now about half-an-hour ago.

It was three in the afternoon, several hours after Shirou and the Enforcers had finished clearing out the nest, and about one hour since they had burned it to the ground.

It was safe to say that the mission had been a massive success.

The eventual haul from the nest in terms of captives, information, and freed prisoners had been amazing. There was no other way to express it, even Lord El-Melloi had almost been beaming when Gideon had reported the eventual results.

Shirou himself was especially glad they'd been able to save more than thirty people from that place. His Healing had ensured they were completely fine, and the Hypnosis would ensure there would be no memories and no trauma.

After the healing and hypnosis, the victims had been delivered to the largest police precinct in Frankfurt. The German authorities would deal with it from there on. Those people were safe now.

There were many, many more who hadn't survived, unfortunately, but Shirou was not going to let that hang above him like a dark cloud. He'd done what he could, and now he had to focus on the next thing he could do. Raising the dead was not within his capabilities.

The bodies of the deceased victims had been burned along with the rest of the base. No one had felt particularly enthused about taking body parts and mangled corpses with them, and they wouldn't know where to bring them anyway.

Delivering living abduction-victims to a precinct was a good thing. Delivering body parts was nothing but harassment and possibly even a dire threat.

They'd been able to capture most of the Magi alive and in relatively good conditions. 'Relatively good conditions' meaning in this case that they had no lethal wounds. Shirou gave no guarantees beyond that, as it was entirely possible that they had numerous broken bones, bruises, cuts, and lacerations. Naturally, he hadn't Healed them any more than was absolutely necessary to keep them alive.

The final tally stood at thirty-seven Magi captured, and around thirteen dead. That was a good score, especially since the head of the base was among those captured alive. Shirou had no doubt Lady Montmorency and Lady Barthomeloi would have many pointed questions to ask him.

There had been a short argument about how they were going to transport so many prisoners, but in the end, Suladan had been tasked with going back to Frankfurt to rent a large van. That pretty much solved the issue.

As for the information about the Meluastea they'd been ordered to obtain, well, they had the file. That was all that needed to be said.

With all that over with and with the nest having been thoroughly searched several times, they had set the base aflame. Shirou had considered offering his services again, as he was rather good at burning things, but it had turned out he wasn't needed for that.

Ruti had taken a step forward, raised her hands, and had cast a spell that had triggered a massive explosion that had not only burned everything in range but had also collapsed the very roof of the base.

It was an explosion that even Shirou would definitely be feeling the next day if he ever got hit with it, and he doubted he could have done it any better with his Runes.

They had all stayed for a while to ensure the base was really burned to nothing but ash, and once that was ascertained, the rest of the group had returned to Frankfurt, while Shirou had gone off on his own.

Naturally, he had been asked what he was going to do, but with Lord El-Melloi's help, he'd been able to dodge all those questions and had left quickly.

Now he was here, only a few short kilometres away from the Einzbern-castle, taking his first proper look at it.

It was large.

That was the first thing he'd noticed, and it was still the first thing that came to mind when looking at it. It was very large, larger than any castle Shirou had ever seen before, in real life or in images. It was not a castle as much as it was a castle town, easily big enough to get lost in if you didn't know what you were doing.

It was almost like a mini-Clocktower, now that Shirou was taking a good look at it.

It was also beautiful.

As much as he hated giving the Einzbern any credit, and no matter how well he knew what foulness was present behind the exterior, he couldn't deny that the castle was extremely pretty.

Built out of high-quality stones, with grand arches, smooth corners, intimidating battlements, and large windows, the castle looked like a children's version of the home of a legendary princess.

Shirou almost wanted to take it for himself.

He could also see many people milling about in and around the castle. Most of them were Homunculi working on their respective tasks, yet there were also normal Magi present everywhere. There were too many of them to all be of the Einzbern-family, so there had to be a significant number of guests present as well.

The Magical Defences made the people seem insignificant however.

Ancient, extremely powerful Bounded Fields surrounded the castle on all sides. Multiple layers of Wards had been installed everywhere, and many nasty traps awaited any intruder who thought himself safely beyond the outer defences.

It was far better defended than the Matou-estate, to the point where comparing the two seemed ridiculous. If the Shirou who had broken into the Matou-estate that fateful night were to try and break into the Einzbern castle, he would almost certainly fail. Only if Mjolnir lent a hand might he actually succeed.

He would have to avoid both the people and those Magical Defences, for being caught, or even just being seen, would spell the end of the entire operation.

If the alarm was sounded before he could make it to Illya, the mission was a failure. The Einzbern would move to transport Illya somewhere safe, or, in the absolute worst-case scenario, would kill her to deny him his goal.

Fortunately, he knew what to do. He had grown far beyond what he'd been several months ago, when he'd stormed the Matou-estate. His powers had more than doubled, he knew many new techniques and spells, and most importantly, he had met Khamul.

These Bounded Fields could no longer stop him.

Shirou had already extensively studied them, and while they were far superior to the Bounded Fields of the nest, the redhead was confident he could still disrupt them, at least enough for his entrance to go unnoticed.

Shirou had already planned where to make said entrance. As he had said before, the castle was big. It was wide, it was long, and it was high. Yet, as if that height wasn't impressive enough yet, there were also several towers, jutting high above the rest. These towers had windows at the top, and it was through one of those windows that he would enter.

Shirou would create a distraction to the North, then he would disrupt the Bounded Fields, and he would fly straight for the window of the left tower.

If all went well, he would be inside with no one the wiser, and then all he had to do was avoid the inhabitants and find Illya.

Considering the size of the castle, it might take a while, but at least he had a good idea of what she looked like.

Kiritsugu had described her as a girl of about ten to twelve years old. She was precocious, curious, and passionate. She was also a Homunculus, and as such had the defining characteristics of one.

She would have red eyes, pale skin, and hair as white as Caren Ortensia's.

With all that, recognising her shouldn't be too difficult. She would be the only Homunculus-like person who looked like a child after all.

It was time to begin.

Shirou, still suspended in the air and hidden in a cloud, raised his hammer and pointed it to the North.

There, at a great distance from the Einzbern-castle, the Ozone-layer deformed at his command and scattered the light of the sun.

It resulted in an incredible spectacle of Arctic Light.

It was sufficiently far away from the castle that even the most paranoid Einzbern wouldn't see it as an attack, yet it was also attention-grabbing enough that just about everyone turned to look at it.

Then Shirou acted.

With three quick spells, the Bounded Fields were disrupted, and he swooped down like a hawk, reaching more than two-hundred kilometres an hour as he raced to the tower's window.

He passed the Bounded Fields successfully, and at the last possible second, slowed down enough to grab the head of the window and flip himself into the room behind it, before he landed in a crouch, having successfully entered the castle.

The cry of surprise from the person inside was expected. He had already accounted for the fact that there might be people in the room. He would just take them down quickly and continue the search. It was only one person after all.

He looked up, rising from his crouch and lifting his hand to deal a quick blow, before he froze.

At the same time, the person across from him, who'd been about to cast a spell, froze as well.

Shirou looked, and she looked back.

She was a Homunculus. White hair, pale skin, and red eyes. She looked like a child of perhaps ten to twelve years old. She wore purple clothing, and her hair had been treated well enough to make it look like silk. She had a typical Homunculus-face, but if one looked better, there were slight traces, in the eyebrows and along the jawline, of the man Shirou called his father.

Could it be…

"Illyasviel von Einzbern?" Shirou asked. "Daughter of Emiya Kiritsugu and Irisviel von Einzbern?"

"That's me." The girl nodded, curtsying lightly. "Emiya Shirou? Son of Emiya Kiritsugu?"

"A pleasure to make your acquaintance." Shirou bowed in greeting.

"Are you really here?"

"I am indeed."

"This is not a dream?"

"No, it is not."

There were a few seconds of silence.

Then Illya smiled.

She smiled so widely her face almost tore in two, and happy tears began leaking out of her eyes, which she tried in vain to wipe away, as they kept coming and coming.

"I-I knew y-you'd come." She spoke through her tears, her voice so happy as to sound delirious. "I knew you'd come, big brother."

"…Of course." Shirou firmly shoved his surprise at the situation away and took a step forward, gently placing his hand on Illya's- on his little sister's head. "That is what big brothers do for their little sisters."

"Uwaaaa!" Illya now really burst into tears, and she threw herself at him for a hug. "Uwaaaa!"

Shirou accepted the hug, and he gently embraced her back with one arm, using the other to pat her head.

They remained like that for a good minute or so, with Illya crying into his chest and he trying to be as supportive as he could be.

He had no idea how she'd recognised him, no idea why she trusted him, and no idea why she wasn't angry.

But for once, he didn't let his ignorance bother him.

He was just glad. Glad that things had apparently worked out so well.

When Illya had calmed down a bit, Shirou spoke up again.

"Let's go home, Illya."

The small, doll-like body stilled, and the little girl took a step back, looking at him with eyes wide as saucers.

Then she smiled again, and Shirou suddenly understood why the media always made such a big thing of the protective instincts of big brothers.

Those instincts were strong as hell!

"Y-Yes! P-Please, take me home!"


Hahaha! You thought it was going to be difficult, but Shirou finds Illya the moment he first steps foot into that castle. That's his luck for ya, it's amazing!

Alright, for the Enforcers, I'm pretty sure most of you should know who Gideon, Rit, Theodora, and Ruti are, and where they are from (if not, find out immediately), but I wonder if any of you know where I got Suladan and Khamul from. Tip, the number of Enforcers in that team is a strong hint as to who they are and where I got them from. Nine Enforcers. The Nine.

The nest is easily taken down, in part thanks to Khamul's knowledge. In canon, it is said that there are people who hide their knowledge from the Clocktower so not to get a Sealing Designation, but we never really get examples outside of the main characters.

Khamul is one such a person. One I developed for the occasion.

Why does he share his knowledge with Shirou? Well, he didn't, really. Khamul wanted to get a move on with the mission, and judged Shirou trustworthy enough to tell about his technique. Or at least, to tell him some bits and pieces. Shirou figured most of the rest out himself. Furthermore, now that he knows and has shown himself capable of using Khamul's techniques, he is just as much at risk of a Sealing Designation as the rest of them. Mutual Assured Destruction and all that.

Also, I based that trick largely off what Caster Medea did in Fate/Stay Night. When she broke into Shirou's house, she basically 'told' his Bounded Fields to ignore her, and thus didn't trigger them. Khamul isn't quite at that level, but he does do something similar.

For the rest of the storming of the base, I don't have much to say. It's done now, they have the file, and the Meluastea's days are numbered.

Ayako and Sakura get a visit from the rest of the Mitsuzuris, mainly to show how they feel about Ayako being at the Emiya-estate all the time. Also, surprise surprise, daddy isn't dumb! He doesn't quite know how to feel about what's going on, but he isn't actively against it either, so that's something at least.

Next chapter, we get the escape from the Einzbern-castle. Perhaps there will be some other scenes as well.

My thanks to Cali and Lukesky yet again.

And to my brother my gratitude for coming up with the next chapter's name.

Stay primed for chapter thirty-six, 'Grand Theft Imouto'. But since I'm going to be busy over the coming weeks, that chapter might not appear for a while. I do apologise, but you'll have to wait for an undetermined period of time.

Alright, Ted out.