Shirou and Marisbury had quickly returned to Rin's estate. The red devil had been sipping on a cup of tea prepared by Archer before they burst through the front door dripping with sweat.
Needless to say, she had been quite surprised by the sight. As per her character, she gave them a proper chastising on how rude it was to drip their fluids all over her fifty-four thousand yen rug but thankfully kept it to a minimum, seeing how shaken they were.
So between panting breaths, they explained the situation to her at the living room table. The state of the Matou manor, the abnormal existence inhabiting Sakura, and the appearance of that golden servant, all of it was explained in grave detail. By the end of their tirade, a deadly silence hung in the air as Rin processed what they had just told her.
A concerned look had begun to appear on her face at the mention of Sakura's face, but she seemed to remain mostly composed. Regardless, she seemed particularly affected by that piece of information. Was it because Sakura was an underclassmen? Perhaps, but Shirou got the feeling there was something more there. The two didn't interact much as far as he could tell.
Regardless, he didn't press the issue. At this point, there was no way to approach the topic tactfully.
"So that's the situation," Marisbury finished, idly sipping his cup of tea which he had already prepared for himself. "Knowing all of this... what do you plan on doing?"
"What do you think?" Rin snapped with frustration. "As hectic as the information is, if what you said is true, then I have no choice but to deal with the matter before it gets out of hand."
She stood up and began pacing around the room, biting her thumb as she mulled over what she should do.
"A demonic possession... by Sakura no less. If it's strong enough to transform the entire Matou manor into another world, then the Holy Grail War will be the least of our worries... especially if the Church catches wind of this."
Marisbury nodded. "Indeed. Sadly, we may not have a choice in the matter. If we seek to defeat this threat before it gains too much power, we may require the assistance of professional exorcists."
"Wait, the Church has professional exorcists for these kinds of situations?" Shirou questioned, surprised that such an organization actually had people trained for such things. To be honest, the concept of demonic possession had never really crossed his mind before.
"Of course they do. There have even been public documents about such events occurring," Marisbury explained, an amused smile crossing his face. "Why it was quite shocking to us mages for them to keep records of such a display of mystery, but so long as the public doesn't think much of it then we'll be happy to leave the matter alone."
"Regardless, don't think these exorcists are kind folk," Rin warned, glaring at Shirou to ram the point home. "They're all freaks who train their bodies to go beyond normal limits and have no regard for the demon's host or bystanders. To them, preventing demons from entering this world is their number one priority that supersedes anything else."
At that description, Shirou found himself tensing.
"So you're saying that they'd destroy Sakura without a second thought if it meant stopping the demon?"
"Of course. Their fanaticism is that deep, though I cannot say I blame them," Marisbury hummed, noticing the look Shirou had and deducing what his inner thoughts must have been. "After all, one possessed by a demon is no longer human, and if they became a threat to thousands, it'd be better to sacrifice one life in their place."
It was a logical conclusion. The lives of a thousand mathematically outweigh the lives of a hundred. To eliminate a threat that could potentially become large enough to end the world, it was only natural for exorcists to employ any method they could think of to annihilate the threat. Most demons, no matter how powerful, required a living host to interact with the world. That was their only limit, and as beings who existed beyond ordinary reason, humans had to take advantage of that fact to combat them.
But regardless, Shirou couldn't fully accept such an outcome. He understood the logic and the principle behind it, but he couldn't stoop to such a tactic if he didn't try saving Sakura first. She deserved better than that, and he felt as if...
...As if she wouldn't be in this position if he had just seen the signs before.
A sword should only be drawn when you are prepared to kill somebody. That was the creed he lived by. But if he were to point that blade of his against a friend... could he honestly go through with such a task?
The old him would have protested. He'd have foolishly said no all the way to the bitter end, even if it cost the lives of thousands. Now, ever since he merged with Sengo Muramasa, his thoughts felt more calm and rational. The old man was perhaps the opposite of him in many key factors, but their personalities seemed to mesh oddly enough, subtly influencing his ego.
So he'd do everything he can. Only when every option was exhausted would he pull the trigger.
It was his duty. He would not let anyone else bear this burden. If the demon declared that he was the closest to her heart, then it was only right that he'd be the one to set things right.
"Then what should we do?" Shirou asked. "Do we contact the Church? Tell them what's happening here?"
"Unfortunately, I doubt the two of us have any means of getting in touch with them," Marisbury helpfully pointed out as usual. "Mages and the Church don't exactly get along. I never had any need or reason to contact them. I heard that the Tohsakas are on good terms with them, though..."
"I'm in the same boat as you," Rin sighed, rubbing her temples. "My father was the one who had favorable connections, but they only went to low-ranking members who had no hand in the executive decisions. They wouldn't have been able to help us."
She closed her eyes for a second, seemingly thinking about something and not particularly liking whatever she was coming up with.
"There is an alternative, however," She began as she opened her eyes. "We can ask Kotomine Kirei for help... though I'm not sure how reliable that shady priest would be."
Marisbury nodded. "A good idea and I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments. The priest is certainly an interesting individual."
Shirou knew that better than anyone. While he didn't hold any ill will towards the man, he could tell that something was off with the priest. Whether that made him dangerous or not was left up for debate, but it remained with certainty that the man's presence made everyone uncomfortable.
But at this point... who else could they go to? Besides, this was supposed to be part of his duties. If there was something that threatened the integrity of the Grail War, it'd be his job to take care of it.
"Then it's settled," Rin declared as she sat back down. "We'll go see the fake priest in the morning and ask him for help."
"Wait," Shirou began, confused. "Why can't we just go now?"
Rin rolled her eyes, giving him a look saying 'are you stupid?' "You and Marisbury are too damn tired to attempt negotiations with Kotomine. You need to be one-hundred percent focused if you plan on making a deal with the devil, so shut up and get some rest. I'm not going to face that creepy man alone, you hear me?!"
Shirou raised his hands in surrender while Marisbury chuckled. It was pointless to argue with her now, not when she had a very good point. The adrenaline which had kept them on their feet had long since faded, leaving him with a sense of fatigue and aching muscles. More than anything, he wanted a soft, comfy mattress to lay down on.
He forced himself to his feet and trudged like a zombie towards the nearest bedroom while Marisbury simply leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. Rin eyed the two with a scrutinizing look before she got up and retreated into the hallway, finding the home phone set up on the wall. Picking it up, she dialed the necessary numbers before waiting a couple of seconds.
Soon, the line clicked, and a voice dripping with amusement reached her ears.
"It is the late hours of the night. For what reason are you calling me?"
"Because we've got a problem. I'll be seeing you in the morning, fake priest. Just thought I'd be generous and call in advance," Rin replied in a no-nonsense tone. She had no patience for this right now. "And when we get there... you better help us out, got that? This may be bigger than the damn war."
The priest was silent, and she thought that she must have surprised him for a moment, but his voice soon returned with an amused chuckle.
"Very well. It is rare for you to make such a serious request. Rest assured, I will treat you with the utmost... hospitality."
She rolled her eyes and slammed the receiver down, ending the call.
"Hospitality my ass..." She grumbled before she headed back to her room for a quick nap.
As he watched his master leave, Archer materialized silently in the hallway. He narrowed his eyes at the receiver, definitely not looking forward to meeting the priest on the other end again. Regardless, the man was perhaps their only available ally. Even if he was perhaps one of the scummiest human beings on earth, there was no doubt that he was a man of many talents.
Besides, if he was working alongside them, it'd be easier to keep an eye on him. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer as the saying goes.
Regardless, the priest didn't hold the answers to what he sought. Only someone else could enlighten him.
Moving through the manor, he tracked the familiar presence of Caster. The task proved to be an easy one, as it was practically impossible to miss the large amount of magical energy that radiated off of that servant. It was as if his presence was like a sun, sending a beacon for everyone to see. The amount was abnormal by servant standards, but he had his suspicions as to why.
He found the mage sitting quietly in the upper levels by the window, unmoving as he stared through the glass and towards the moon.
"Caster, we have to talk."
The white-haired man turned his head and regarded him without a change in his usual expression, but the light in his eye was different. He looked... troubled.
"What is your question?" Caster asked, his voice robotic. "Perhaps... in regards to what the host of Saber and my master encountered?"
He nodded and slowly stepped closer until they were at a comfortable distance.
"Yes," He admitted. "In regards to what your master and that boy experienced... it's not some ordinary demon, correct?"
A brief change of emotion flickered on Caster's face. He slowly nodded in confirmation.
"Indeed. How did you arrive at that conclusion?"
"Let's just say that I've experienced certain signatures like your own and what that entails for the future."
The two shared a look and Caster's eyes dawned in realization. The mage stood up and looked him up from top to bottom, catching every detail with his observational eyes.
"I see..." He muttered, his eyes narrowed as he processed this new information. "You aren't a normal heroic spirit, are you?"
Archer shook his head. "No, I am not."
"A Counter Guardian?"
Caster turned away, his hand under his chin as his expression turned grave. "Then the situation is as I feared... A great calamity is about to fall upon this world and the birthplace will be here in the midst of this Grail War."
"Indeed," Archer nodded. "But I wasn't summoned here in order to deal with that demon you encountered. I had no idea something like her would even manifest."
"What?" Caster turned back to him with wide eyes. "Then... there is something else as well?"
"My mission in regards to participating in the Fuyuki Grail War is the elimination of the Grail itself," Archer revealed, surprising Caster. "The reason is that the device is corrupted by a certain troublesome servant. If it were to be summoned into this world, it'll release a torrent of curses that will drown the world and extinguish humanity. My job is to destroy it the second it does so."
"Cursed..." The mage muttered. "Then you mean to say that this whole thing is a farce? No matter who wins the Grail... the end result will be the same?"
"Unless you are able to exorcise a billion curses, then yes," Archer said, shaking his head. "King of Magicians you may be, I doubt even you'd be able to do that. Perhaps it is fortunate that you weren't able to place the last sigil and summon it so early, especially with that other monster running around."
But that certainly made his life a whole lot harder. It would have been so easy to snipe the Grail with Caladabolg and stop the full effects of the curse from spreading. Sadly, life never was so easy for him even after death.
Caster was quiet as he processed this new piece of information. He participated in this war because he was called, and he knew that Marisbury had staked everything on his victory in the war. It was why he poured many resources to recover his ring and use it as a means of summoning him. If he were to realize that the grail wouldn't grant him a wish, but instead unleash a terrible curse upon the world...
He shook his head. Marisbury will just have to live with it and entrust the future to his daughter. They had more pressing matters to address.
"The being that you encountered... it must be an enemy of humanity, correct?" Archer asked, cutting into his thoughts.
Caster nodded. "Yes, though it must be an infant. For as powerful as it was, it seemed to be... contained. My container isn't in its higher capacity, so it's safe to assume the World hasn't identified it as a true threat."
The system put in place to defend the World was certainly effective in crushing threats that have manifested, but it suffered serious setbacks in the form of its own strict guidelines. If certain criteria weren't met even a little bit then the Counter Force will not be able to act. Those blindspots were being exploited by that demon in order to amass enough power without drawing the attention of the defense system.
It was certainly crafty. If it wasn't recognized as a threat, then its natural enemies wouldn't appear until it was too late.
"Then there is only one thing left to do."
Archer raised an eyebrow in curiosity as the mage shut his eyes, but his breath suddenly hitched as the air around them suddenly changed. In that instant, Caster's entire demeanor changed as he reopened his eyes, a soft hue surrounding his irises.
"I had put off on using these eyes of mine, for the visions I have seen are mostly that of grief and suffering," Caster began, and Archer felt as if his focus wasn't really on him. In fact, it felt as if he were looking right through him. "However, I shall perceive that which cannot normally be seen. What secrets that lie in the dark will be brought to the light before my eyes that see through all."
As soon as the sun began to appear over the horizon, the group had begun their trip to the church. Despite the morning glow illuminating their surroundings, the church was still as creepy as ever.
Rin glanced at Shirou and Marisbury, satisfied knowing that they seemed to be wide awake. At least she wouldn't have to face Kotomine Kirei alone.
"Be on your guard," She warned as they passed the silent stone statue and ascended the steps towards the doors. "There's no telling what that priest has in store for us. Whether he helps us or not is a coin toss, but he'll no doubt be troublesome either way."
Marisbury nodded. "Do not worry about me. Let us focus on what we can accomplish here."
Shirou fidgeted. "I'll just leave the talking to you two."
All he was good for was swinging a sword around. Talking and navigating negotiations was a task that was beyond him and better left for someone else. If his social skills were any indication, the seasoned mages would be miles better than he was at talking.
"Alright, just keep your eyes on him and make sure he doesn't try anything suspicious," Rin ordered him before turning to Marisbury. "Archer will remain in spirit form outside. What about Caster?"
"I believe Caster is accompanying Archer," Marisbury put a hand to his chin in thought. "He doesn't wish to be taken by surprise in close quarters, you see. Despite your servant's oddities, there is no denying that he will serve as an effective neutralizer of physical threats."
Caster had been acting strange recently, which is to say that he was finally starting to show some semblance of an emotional spectrum. Regardless, when Marisbury briefly questioned him, the mage had told him not to worry about it and that he's just using his magecraft to keep an eye on the house.
Marisbury had suspected there was more to it, but he let it go. After all, his servant never gave him any trouble before.
"Then we're all set to go," Rin turned towards the door and raised a hand, knocking on the wood and causing the hinges to groan. "Oi, priest! We're here!"
They didn't have to wait for even a second to hear the sound of the lock clicking. The door was slowly forced open and the elderly priest greeted them with his signature smile devoid of warmth.
Shivers went down Rin and Shirou's backs, but Marisbury just brushed it off with a smile.
"When we last met, it was just you two," He addressed Shirou and Rin before turning towards Marisbury. "Yet it seems as if you've picked up quite the ally. How could this have happened, master of Caster?"
Marisbury simply smiled back. "Because they are interesting and times are quite dire, I'm afraid."
Kirei chuckled, seemingly finding that quip funnier than it should have been.
"On that, we can agree," The priest pried the door open and gestured for them to enter. "Come, let us talk about your worries."
The trio entered the church and Kirei shut the door behind them. The sunlight dimly lit up the room through the stain glass windows, but it felt as if this place was devoid of God despite being a place of worship. Shirou took a seat in one of the pews, setting his katana comfortably on his lap. His face was composed, but he fidgeted slightly in this unfamiliar atmosphere. Rin and Marisbury seemed to be unaffected, perhaps because they were used to a field of battle where words were used instead of weapons.
Kirei stood before the altar and turned towards them. "Now... what is it that plagues you all? Do you wish to retire from the Grail War?" A coy smile formed on his face. "If that's the case, I will gladly take those command seals off your hands."
"This is no time for jokes, Kirei!" Rin exclaimed with anger, though it served nothing more than to make the priest's smile grow wider. "We have a serious problem on our hands, and you, as the overseer, have a responsibility to get rid of it!"
"Now, now, Lady Tohsaka," Marisbury placated the red devil with a comforting pat on the back before turning towards the priest. "There's been some unforeseen developments... something none of us could have foreseen."
Kirei remained silent, and Marisbury began to explain everything to him. The Matou Manor, the creation of an unknown reality, and the appearance of a god-like being who seemed to have nefarious plans. All of it was laid to bare, painting a grim picture for the future.
When he was done, Kirei did seem to understand the gravity of the situation if his neutral expression was anything to go by.
He placed his hands behind his back and gained a thoughtful look. "If what you're saying is to be believed, then I will have to inform the church immediately. The executioners will have jurisdiction over this territory and I'm afraid we won't be able to do anything else," He then smirked. "But will they be able to arrive in time?"
Marisbury shook his head. "We cannot say for certain, but it is wise that we act quickly. If left alone, it will only continue to grow more powerful... and I doubt that the Counter Force will leave it alone."
"Counter Force?" Shirou echoed, feeling a tad left out at the moment. Seriously, what were these terms being thrown about?
Luckily, Marisbury seemed to be willing to explain. "It's a system put in place designed to protect humanity. You could say that it was born from humanity's subconscious desire to survive," He held a finger up in a lecturing pose. "It's an invisible force that can take action during certain cataclysmic events. Mages have theorized that the destruction of Pompeii or even the sinking of Atlantis occurred because of the Counter Force."
Rin brought her thumb up and chewed on the nail nervously. "If the Counter Force were to respond... We can't be certain of what sort of action it may take. For all we know, it could destroy the entire city in order to wipe out the threat if nothing is done."
Shirou paled. Destroy a whole city? Just to wipe out a threat?
Kirei nodded. "Indeed. That would be quite an unfortunate outcome. Hmph. How cruel humanity is towards their own..."
"So we have no choice but to act, got it? This is no time to be focusing on the Grail," Rin's hand clenched on the pew in front of her. "So you need to use your authority as the overseer, got it? Not just for calling the executioners, but for the other servants as well."
"The other servants?" Kirei's eyes narrowed before he realized what she was referring to. "Ah, I see. Yes, I understand. You want me to enforce an alliance."
"You're the only one who can enforce an alliance," Marisbury explained. "With your authority as the overseer, we can ensure cooperation from the other servants. I seem to recall that your father did a similar thing in the 4th Holy Grail War."
"Hm... I suppose you are right," Kirei smiled, but it didn't quite reach his eyes. "Very well, I shall do what is required of my position. Have you spoken of this with the other masters?"
"The master of Berserker doesn't know, but we can go and inform her," Rin frowned. "But even though we've met lancer, none of us have met his master. We also haven't made contact with the Rider-class servant either, nor the Assassin-class servant."
Huh. That's right. Thinking back on it, Shirou didn't remember ever meeting Rider or Assassin. Perhaps they were already dead?
Kirei hummed. "Well, it matters little. The Rider-class servant belongs to a member of the Matou family. She won't be able to help you." He ran his fingers across the altar. "As for Assassin... I do not know. Neither the master nor the servant have registered."
"Then we're short one servant... though I suppose we should be grateful it is the Assassin-class," Marisbury chuckled humorlessly.
Rin shot him an annoyed look, but she could understand where he was coming from. Most Assassins didn't excel in fighting direct conflicts and were tailored more towards killing masters. If they were fighting a demon, it would require as much brute force as possible in order to vanquish the threat. An Assassin's tricks would have no use for them here.
"As for Lancer," Kirei trailed off. "Well, that will not be difficult. Leave him to me."
Shirou felt that there was something more to that statement, but he decided not to question it. The less he knew, the better.
Looking at them, Kirei nodded once he realized that there was nothing left to discuss. "Then I shall call for a ceasefire and a temporary alliance until the issue is solved. Starting now, the Grail War is on hold until the threat is neutralz-"
The priest was suddenly cut off as the front door was blown open and Archer ran inside. Shirou quickly stood up and both Rin and Marisbury spun in surprise. The servant's expression was panicked, immediately alerting everyone that something was horribly wrong.
"Master! Get down!"
Then the wall behind the altar exploded, with purple mist beginning to seep into the room.
Caster quickly appeared and held out his hand, stopping the rubble from smashing into those present. Kotomine quickly backed up to stand alongside Shirou, who stood up and quickly unsheathed his sword.
Archer quickly projected his twin swords and stood in front of Rin protectively, his look far more serious than anything she had ever seen before.
"Archer..." She muttered in shock. "How did you know?"
"Caster's premonition," Archer spoke, not taking his eyes off the smoke cloud in front of him. "His eyes gave him a vision of what was to come. Luckily, it came fast enough that we were able to react."
Clairvoyance EX, a skill by itself meant that one would be able to view the past and future through visions. They could show events from around a couple of minutes in the future to a few years. One couldn't always control when or what they saw, nor could it show the path that would lead to a certain event. Regardless, it was an ability given to only the most supreme. One wouldn't be able to call themselves someone who stood at the top of all magi unless they held this ability.
Still, Caster saw it as both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes he saw events of humanity's greatest triumphs... other times he'd watch their potential downfall. Yet, because of his station, he was always forced to act as a bystander and a guide rather than directly intervene in most affairs. Only by the will of God would he take action.
More machine than man as they'd say.
It was fortunate that his eyes allowed him to bear witness to their imminent danger. Otherwise, they may not have had the chance to respond in time.
"Stay behind us," Caster spoke as he floated alongside Archer. He clenched his fist and the rubble disintegrated, scattering into the air. "This is no ordinary threat. Make no mistake, this danger is related to that which comes from the Matou household."
That explained the purple mist. The quality and quantity wasn't the same as when they had stepped into the alien realm, but it was enough to put everyone on edge. The purple haze clung to the floor in wispy tendrils, eerily spreading across the room as if to assimilate everything here.
The sound of footsteps could be heard from the hole in the wall, and a man soon stepped through.
"So you were able to react fast enough. As expected from those who have earned their spot in the Throne of Heroes."
A man stepped through the hole and planted his feet firmly on the ground. He was dressed in what appeared to be an old-school suit from the victorian era. A blue tie hung around his neck, kept in place by a messy collar. His blue hair was unkempt and messily made, swaying in the breeze and oddly reminding Shirou of seaweed. His red eyes were narrowed into slits, similar to that of a vicious viper ready to strike.
For some reason... it felt as if he'd seen him before. Or at least, something quite similar to this man.
Gah! It was on the tip of his tongue, but he knew the answer was there! What was it?!
"It is a shame. For all of you to have gathered together in one place like this... and in such a secluded area at that... It'll make the hunt far too short for me to enjoy this," The man raised his fist and clenched it, letting the fabric squeeze through his finger as he sighed. "It doesn't matter. Sooner or later, you will be exterminated. The goddess has deemed your lives as forfeit. I am here to carry out her will."
Rin bristled at that and glared at the man, her fear quickly shaken off and forgotten. "And who are you?! A servant?"
"I'm a magus," The man replied gruffly, his tone holding no hint of a lie. "Just like you and that child over there... I am someone who walks forward in order to advance my own self-interests."
Marisbury frowned, realizing that the man wasn't addressing Shirou like he had initially thought. "Child? I beg your pardon my mysterious friend, but I am no child. I am a lord of the Clocktower."
"Yes, yes, the lord who presides over the Astrology department," The man's nose wrinkled. "I met your ancestors before you were born, do not think I wouldn't recognize your father's likeness."
The man's declaration made Marisbury freeze. This man knew his ancestors? Then he must have been older than his appearance suggested. It wasn't rare for a mage to utilize magecraft to extend their lives and youth, but there were very few who could actually perform such a ritual correctly without destroying their body or ego. What stood before them must have been a superb mage, but if he had not said so then he could have mistaken him for a servant. The magical energy he was radiating was beyond the purity and quantity of a modern mage.
"Ah, I see," Kirei hummed, though his face actually twitched somewhat in distaste. "I didn't recognize you at first. Your appearance is different, not to mention that smell of yours is masked somewhat, but traces of who you once were is unmistakable to me."
"What? You know this guy, Kirei?" Rin blinked in surprise.
Kirei chuckled dryly in response. "You know him as well, Rin. Look closely and observe. Who does he most remind you of? Personality aside, there is only one person you can compare him to, no?"
Rin frowned and stared at the mage for a handful of seconds before her eyes widened in realization. "W-wait a minute... that can't be!"
Shirou glanced at her in concern as her mouth slowly opened in shock and disbelief. "Rin?"
"This is impossible... How can 'that' turn into this?!" Rin babbled, looking visibly stressed.
The man's face twitched in amusement over her reaction. "I can understand your confusion, but there is a clear explanation for all this," He spread his arms wide dramatically. "It is a gift imparted onto me by that goddess... the one who resides within my home. I'd be thankful... if it didn't mean I was shackled to her like a damn pup," His gaze resembled something slightly apologetic. Slightly. "So hold a grudge, if you must, but know that this isn't personal. I have been called here to dispose of you."
He held out his hand and revealed a full set of command seals, twisted in a way that it resembled what appeared to be a snake with a pair of wings. The mark pulsed red with power, signifying the authority it had over the strongest of familiars.
"Brought back to my prime, there is no need to hide this farce any longer. I cast away the title of Matou, and reclaim my true identity!"
The earth began to shake and Shirou's hair began to stand on end. His grip tightened on his sword, and he realized that everyone else was getting ready for a fight as well. Rin's hands now held several jewels between her fingers, and Kotomine Kirei had drawn several blades, holding them in the same manner. Marisbury's mouth was moving, muttering what he could only guess were spells under his breath.
"Now!" The man roared. "I, Makiri Zolgen, summon you, monster from the Shapeless Isle! Appear before us and devour our goddesses's enemies!"
Before anyone could react, the ground exploded. Soon, a gaping hole was beginning to form, revealing the basement beneath.
Shirou quickly scrambled to the side and dove onto stable ground, Kotomine jumping beside him. Unfortunately, Rin and Marisbury had been too close to the opening and couldn't react in time. The masters and servants were sent falling into the darkness below, Rin's shrill screaming accompanying them.
Makiri Zolgen's red eyes turned towards them, a small smile forming on his face. "Kotomine Kirei... If I recall, my old self was quite cautious of you. He feared that you may have exercised his weaken soul and put him down before he could achieve his wish."
"I will not deny that I was quite tempted to," Kirei replied cooly as he reached into his sleeve. To Shirou's surprise, the priest flicked his wrist and three blades seemingly materialized from the spaces between his hands. "You were always slithering where you didn't belong."
"Hm... Perhaps the same could be said for you," Zolgen murmured as he stepped forward, tendrils of magical energy visible within the palm of his hand. "You remind me of Rasputin. Outward appearance aside, you are nearly identical in personality. It's disgusting."
Kirei remained silent and instead turned towards Shirou, beckoning him to stand. "Raise your blade, boy. He may not be a servant, but he is a mage who has left his mark in the moonlit world. Do not underestimate him under any circumstances."
"I know," Shirou grumbled as he stood up. "You should focus more on yourself."
Zolgen eyed him curiously as he raised his sword, studying the blade with a critical eye.
"How interesting... the fusion of a heroic spirit and a human has led to something quite interesting," Zolgen said, voice dripping with barely restrained curiosity. "I wonder what sort of data I could obtain just by studying you..."
"That won't be happening," Shirou barked, fighting off the shiver that went down his back. The prospect of ending up as this man's plaything didn't sit well with him.
Zolgen's smile was utterly predatory.
"We shall see."
"Archer!" Rin let out a screech as panic began to take over and she started to flail her arms like they were a set of wings. Unfortunately, she was no bird.
Luckily, Archer easily responded to her call despite the sudden change of events. Bringing himself closer to her, he drew her into his arms and braced for impact as the ground quickly approached. His ankles absorbed the shock as they slammed into the floor below, leaving Rin unharmed other than having her breath briefly knocked out of her.
"Uwah..." Rin groaned as Archer gently let her down. She stood on shaky legs and took a deep breath to compose herself. "That was the worst..."
"Do not lower your guard, Tohsaka," Marisbury warned as he and Caster floated down to land next to them. "The enemy is all around us."
"It is the Rider servant," Caster declared as he stood beside Archer, his brow furrowed slightly as if he were disturbed. "But there is something wrong... I'm detecting an abnormal shift in the air. It is as if the presence is... undergoing some sort of change."
As soon as he said that, something shot out of the shadows at a breakneck speed. Caster teleported himself and Marisbury out of the way, leaving Archer to defend himself through physical means. He stepped in front of Rin and quickly raised his swords, defending against a kick that would have sent his master flying into the wall.
Archer's swords were quickly smashed as his opponent quickly brought the other leg around with an astonishing display of physical strength. Before another attack could come, Caster quickly shot a fireball towards the mysterious attacker, forcing them to back off.
Taking the chance to catch his breath, Archer found himself taking in just who his opponent was, and it was someone he definitely recognized from his past life.
But everything was just so... wrong.
Rider, the purple-haired beauty who had been summoned by Sakura and served Shinji, stood before him. Her figure was just like how he remembered. A highly trained body with exceptionally powerful legs that could easily smash steel. A purple blindfold covered her eyes, preventing those who looked upon her from instantly turning to stone. Two iron nails were grasped in each hand, connected by a thin chain worn with rust.
But the major difference she had now was that there was one golden wing jutting from her back. It gave her a fallen angel look, which was fitting considering Zolgen had referred to her as the monster from the Shapeless Isle.
When she opened her mouth to speak, it was far more malevolent and monstrous than he remembered.
"What quick reflexes," She crooned, her once monotone voice carrying a hint of mocking amusement. "A shame... if I hadn't been ordered to kill you, I would have kept you around as my little pet. You aren't like the those feeble men who showed up on my shore many eons ago," Her gaze turned towards Caster. "And you... you smell like a king, but not like any I've seen."
Caster remained silent, not dignifying that statement with a response. Rider's face twitched and she turned towards him.
"My goddess was worried about you. I do not understand why, but I shall take care of you here and now!"
With explosive speed, she lunged forward. The distance between them had been crossed so quickly that even Archer's eyes weren't able to fully track her. If it had been any normal heroic spirit, that strike would have meant certain death.
But Caster simply raised his hand in response, forming a barrier between them. Rider's strike was blocked, releasing a shockwave which sent cracks up the wall around them. Rider snarled and stabbed forward once again, but the barrier still held strong.
Marisbury smiled. "Do not underestimate my servant. The King of Magecraft stands before you. His spells are more than enough to deal with a monster from the Age of the Gods."
"Amazing," Rin muttered in awe as she stood behind the protective barrier. She had heard the tales of Solomon before, the one who laid the foundations for modern magecraft, but she never imagined just how powerful he'd be in person. A hastily erected barrier was able to stop a strike from one of the most famous heroic spirits in the world.
The monster of the Shapeless Isle... that could only reference Medusa the Gorgon. That blindfold around her eyes only sealed the deal.
Rider hissed. "Do not think this barrier will save you. Even if my strikes cannot reach you, my gaze will!"
"Rin, Marisbury, look away!" Archer ordered.
The two masters quickly shut their eyes and averted their gaze as Rider let the blindfold fall from her eyes. Her purple eyes gazed upon them, square pupils burning holes into their very being. Archer gritted his teeth as he began to feel the very cells in his body solidify slowly. His magic resistance simply wasn't strong enough to hold back the mystery of petrification.
Luckily, he had a top tier mage on his side. By simply waving his hand, Archer felt the petrification beginning to slow down. A white hue had enveloped his entire body, which he realized to be a protective barrier which served to ward off lethal magecraft.
"Damn you!" Rider howled as her eyes narrowed into slits. "Do not think this barrier will hold up against my full might!"
As she said that, another golden wing sprouted from her back. Her physical form began to grow taller, and her purple hair grew darker and longer. Scales began to grow alongside her feet and a tail slowly sprouted behind her, coiling on the ground and causing her feet to leave the ground as she rose up.
Her black dress ripped at the seams as her form grew larger. It soon burst completely, revealing her naked form with only several black scales serving to cover her private regions.
"Her container is changing at an increased rate," Caster announced, his eyes glowing. "It isn't something that should be found in the Grail War... It is something from the Extra classes, not included in the original seven containers meant to battle each other. This one is full of rage at humanity, anger so great that it threatens to destroy those who get close without discrimination. She is... an Avenger class."
Archer cursed. "Avenger? How is that possible?"
"It seems her skill of Innocent Monster brought out this side of her. Overuse began to revert her to the ancient monster known as the 'Gorgon'."
"Archer!" Rin squeaked, her eyes still completely shut. "Destroy her! Do whatever you have to do! I don't know what the hell is going on, but you have to take care of her now!"
"Back him up, Caster," Marisbury ordered. "I'll provide you with magical energy. Do what needs to be done."
Archer and Caster nodded, preparing themselves as Rider- no, Gorgon, turned her eyes back on them once more. She bared her teeth, revealing fangs that could easily rip a demonic beast in half.
"I've devoured countless heroes like you two," Gorgon snarled, voice literally dripping with venom. "You will fall like the rest. If you will not succumb to petrification, then I will simply do things the old fashioned way!"
With a mighty roar, she charged forward, revealing just why she was one of the most famous monsters in all of human history.