Harry glared at the pavement, running a hand through his hair in agitation.
When he had originally set out on his quest to find Rider, he'd thought he would be done before daylight even thought about crossing the horizon. Unfortunately for him, his initial estimate had been way off. It was now closer to noon than dawn and he hadn't found a single clue as to the violet Servant's whereabouts.
It was starting to drive the fictional hero barmy.
After leaving Sakura and the Matou household, he had made a beeline for the now damaged Homurabara Gakuen. Hoping that the pair had returned to the scene of their crime, he had no such luck. Police tape enclosed the institute on all sides, while temporary lighting revealed the true extent of the damage rendered by Berserker, Rider, Saber and himself. Shuffling through the wreckage, all he found were the broken remnants of his phoenix feather wand, which he pocketed for safe keeping.
The obvious next step had been to use his long range scanning technique – feeling for known magic in the environment around him. That got him absolutely no where. As a matter of fact, the only Servants he had been able to identify were Archer – whom at the beginning had been somewhere in the western housing district but as the night became day, began moving; combing the city much like he himself was doing, his location constantly changing in an extremely dizzying crisscross pattern – and Saber, who was stationary somewhere in the Japanese housing district. Everyone else had vanished. Trying to find their Master's resulted in the same thing.
He could account for Rin and Shirou – barely – but no one else.
That was, until he happened upon a bounded field that covered the entirety of a forest. It was located on the outskirts of Shinto and was the primary reason he hadn't been able to track Illya or Berserker in the first place. Upon this discovery – and it hadn't been until he crossed the boundary that he realised just who resided within – he had beat a hasty retreat. He was no coward, but he wasn't stupid. He had no reason to start such a fight on an opponent's home field, not when they weren't even his targets to begin with.
At least he knew now where they stationed themselves for future reference.
The rest of the early morning had played out in a similar fashion, until he felt like ripping handfuls of hair out in frustration.
It was time for a break.
He slowed before coming to a complete stop, looking out over the water of the Miyamachou River. He was halfway across the Fuyuki Bridge, having doubled back with intentions of checking out the Matou household once more. Perhaps they had returned? Probably not, but he was running out of ideas.
Leaning against the rustic red railing, he took a moment to admire the view... before sighing in annoyance.
"What do you want?" he asked, seemingly talking to nothing but air. A mocking chuckle answered him from above.
"Aren't we in a bad mood today?" the unmistakable voice of Archer questioned. The wizard looked up, spying the tall Servant amongst the support beam girders. He was seated casually, one leg dangling freely as he leaned back against one of the many steal columns. As was typical, he looked entirely too smug for Harry's liking. Briefly, he imagined Draco Malfoy in place of the crimson knight. That brought a rather amused smirk to his face, causing Archer to narrow his eyes. "What's so funny?"
"Oh, nothing," Harry waved him off, turning against the railing so his back was facing the water, elbows propped against it. "Looking for someone?" he inquired, shooting him a knowing look.
"You could say that," Archer replied. "Same as you, I suspect."
They became silent, eying each other as cars rumbled by.
"I'm surprised Caster lets you out as much as she does," Archer admitted, smiling wickedly. "Dogs normally stay close to their masters."
Harry snorted, tempted to give him the two-finger salute.
"Tried to kill any of your allies lately?" he quipped instead.
"He is no ally of mine."
Harry hummed. "I see. Rin must find her Servant very troublesome. Such insolence."
"Like you're much better, wizard. I see the conflict inside you even now." Archer shook his head slowly, eyes cold. "No wonder she keeps you in the dark about her activities. She's worried that her dog will bite the hand that feeds him."
Harry glared. "What the hell are you talking about?"
But he knew exactly what he was getting at. He remembered Rin's words clear as day and the conviction in her voice as she said them. The power build-up on the temple grounds only encouraged such theories.
"Playing stupid doesn't suit you," Archer was now standing but he still remained unarmed – for the moment. "How long will you continue to overlook what she is doing? From what I know about you, your behaviour is highly irregular."
Harry wanted to snap at him, wanted to ask how he knew anything about him at all – but that was a rather stupid question, wasn't it? Pick up a few books and everything was there, laid bare for the world to see. Instead, he turned away, facing the water and glancing out over the far off horizon.
"Why did you try to kill Shirou?" he asked out of the blue.
"Why do you care?"
"You are avoiding the question."
"So I am."
Harry rolled his eyes but didn't bother pressing the issue. It really wasn't all that important, even if he was curious about the bow-wielding knight and his motives. He was quite the enigma. What had Shirou done to earn the heroes spite? From what he knew, Shirou was quite likable. There was more to it than that.
"Whatever," he called out, stepping away from the railing and beginning to leave. "Send Rider my regards if you find her."
Dark eyes followed the fake hero until he vanished from even their considerable range, before vanishing themselves.
The waters behind Ryuudou Temple reminded Harry of the Black Lake at Hogwarts. They were nothing alike, of course – the Black Lake had been gigantic in size and volume, filled with all manner of animal; magical or otherwise. Harry doubted very much that the lake he was currently seated by had a giant squid waiting beneath its depths, waiting for a generous student to toss it some scraps, nor was it home to a colony of mermaid occupying the murky lakebed.
But the way the water gently lapped at the embankment, the setting sun casting impressive colours of orange and red across the surface like small, glimmering jewels...
...he felt like he was home, if only for a moment.
He closed his eyes, breathing deeply as he imagined the amazing Scotland landscape; the green grass of rolling hills, the mountainous snow-capped peaks in the distance, the dense ticket of trees that made up the ancient, dreadful forbidden forest. Then he thought about the stone walls of the castle itself, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy – tested by time, its beauty only increasing as the years went by. He remembered the first time he gazed upon the glorious structure, gathering for the boat ride across the mirror-like lake. The clear black sky had created the perfect backdrop, the glinting lights of the school wreathing the immense structure in a halo of light.
He had been awestruck, breathless, and he hadn't been alone.
He wanted that now, to immerse himself in that feeling. He reached for it, trying to grasp it tightly and never let go. He felt something stirring inside him, something warm blooming in his chest as he stretched with all his might.
Rin's words sounded in his head, followed by Archer's.
His eyes opened.
He sighed, idly skipping a stone across the tranquil lake. That wasn't his life anymore – never had been. He often wondered why he had never fought the idea that he wasn't real, that he was created by someone. This whole war could have been a trick, an enemy trying to unravel him piece by piece. Sure, the Grail had given him evidence, information – but that could have been a lie. It could all have been a lie.
But he knew it wasn't, had known right from the start. He couldn't explain it, exactly – but he would put it down to instinct, if nothing else. Maybe something more.
The dictionary defined fiction as thus: something feigned, invented, or imagined; a made-up story. The act of feigning, inventing, or imagining. Yes, Harry thought, this defined him nicely.
But he had very real problems. Rider was still out there, for one – probably attempting to set up another one of her dangerous bounded fields. Then there was his Master, the original Caster – stealing the life-force of others, harming innocent people who had nothing to do with this war for her own gain. She was no better than the Servant he had been sent out to eliminate. He wasn't sure of the full details. He wasn't sure if he could trust Archer, trust Rin – but it did make sense. Where else was all this mana coming from? Even now, he could feel it pulsating under him, the air growing thicker by the day.
Maybe there were other explanations, but he wasn't so sure about that.
And then there were his memories.
He and Caster needed to talk.
She'd been busy when he returned, agitated about something. Kuzuki was the reason. They'd been talking about something and it had displeased his Master. He hadn't been able to overhear their discussion and thought better of trying to eavesdrop. He'd be caught within a second. That had been hours ago.
Perhaps now she would be in a better mood. A good enough mood to field some questions, at least.
He found her in the main prayer chamber, devoid of all other life, the monks unsurprisingly absent. She stood alone, the purple folds of her robe encasing her like a protective barrier. Harry approached cautiously, coming to a stop several feet away – yet she made no indication that she was aware of his presence. Shoulders hunched, her gloved hands were cradling something to her chest. He caught sight of something multicoloured and jagged. He didn't know what to make of it.
"Master," he called softly. She visibly tensed at the sound of his voice, fabric rustling as the object she had previously been inspecting vanished within various layers of cloth. "I wish to talk."
"..." Caster turned slowly, pale blue hair brushing against her soft skin. Again she was without her hood, attractive face and strange pointed ears revealed to him. "...do you now?"
Her voice was blank, neither angry nor sad, nor happy. Robotic, emotionless – she stared back at him neutrally. If anything could make such an attractive woman look ordinary, dull, it was the look on her face.
"Rider isn't dead," she commented before he could begin. Harry nodded slowly, anticipating punishment.
It never came.
"What is it?" she asked blandly. "What is it that you wish to discuss?"
The wizard gathered his thoughts. What should he ask, he wondered, where should he start? There were several things he wished to know, but perhaps he should start with himself.
"What am I?"
A tense silence followed the odd question. Caster blinked, tilting her head. It was the only hint that she'd processed what he'd asked.
He grew impatient. "Well?"
Caster nodded, a soft sigh escaping her lips. "Figured it out, have you?"
Harry shot her a puzzled look. "Figured what out?"
"You are Harry Potter," she explained. Her next words made something slide into place inside his mind. "But that isn't all you are."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
Caster smiled. It was small, barely a quirk of her lips – and it was decidedly scary. "In simple terms... you are the embodiment of Harry Potter,"
"Not the person," she continued, knowing her words only confused him more. The following felt like a punch in the gut. "But the worlds... essence, I suppose, is the word I'm looking for."
"What?" a feeling of dread settled over him. "I still don't understand."
"You are the combined form of your world. The collective thoughts, wishes and emotions of what makes Harry Potter what it is. You are everything that pieces that world together. Everything."
Mind blank, he stared at his Master – trying, failing, and trying again to comprehend just what she was telling him. Caster stared back, meeting his eyes and holding them. She nodded again, seemingly pleased by what she saw. He opened his mouth but nothing came out, so he shut it and tried again with similar results.
"How?" he finally got out, voice somewhat hoarse. "I mean," he reiterated. "Did you intend this?"
"No. The specifics elude even me," she began, a small frown gracing her fair features as she admitted such. "But I'm certain it has something to do with how your story – your legend – is viewed by humanity as a whole. For some, their views are meaningless, but for others..." her expression became dark, sinister. "It means everything."
Harry swallowed. There was a story there, he knew – but he had more pressing matters at hand. Curiosity took a backseat. "Is that why I'm having dreams... of things I shouldn't have witnessed?"
"Indeed. They are a part of the books in which your story is told, so now they are a part of you."
He felt like sitting down, perhaps making a cup of tea, to keep his hands busy – but he was rooted to the spot, unmoving. He didn't bother asking how she knew his dreams were connected with his world and not this one. "Then why am I... Harry?" he felt weird, saying that. Why am I myself? It wouldn't make sense under any other circumstances. "Couldn't I have been anyone else?" he thought of the two most powerful wizards he ever encountered, the greatest magic users of his age. "Albus... Riddle?"
"That's simple," Caster chided. "Because no matter how many different people you could have turned out to be, the books – and thus the world – are all about Harry Potter. They are only there to help tell the story of Harry Potter. Harry is the centre piece, the focus – if there is anyone that represents that world perfectly, it is him... you."
Harry stared at his hands, clenching and unclenching his fingers, tracing the age lines with his eyes. For a stone that absorbed light, the Resurrection Stone glinted ominously from its place on his hand. Caster's eyes were drawn to the ring for a moment, before she fixed him with an intense stare.
"That isn't all."
Harry tilted his head. There was more? He wasn't sure he could handle more.
"Pull out your wand."
Harry followed her instructions, even if they were oddly random. Caster inspected the polished wood for a moment.
"That is the Deathstick, correct?"
He nodded. That was one of its many names. He didn't care much for Deathstick nor Wand of Destiny, personally – he rather liked Elder Wand. It was a simple name, for such an extraordinary tool.
"Where is your other one?"
"Rider snapped it," he explained pulling out the broken pieces of his original wand. The red and gold feather stuck out at an odd angle, the wood splintered on either side. It was completely useless as it was, but then he remembered that this wasn't the first time such an act had befallen his wand. The last time he had mended it with the Elder Wand with a simple repairing spell, something that should have been impossible.
Mind set, he began waving the Elder Wand above the splintered pieces before the voice of his Master stopped him cold.
"I want you to destroy it."
Harry looked up at her in surprise. "What?"
"You heard me," she said. "Don't fix it. Destroy it."
Jaw clenched, he looked into Casters eyes, trying to work out why she would ask this of him. They remained in tense silence for a bit, before reluctantly, he waved the Elder Wand in a circle, a ball of white hot flame incinerating what was left. Shaking his hand of the ashes, he glared at the blunette.
Caster hummed. "How badly do you want your wand back?"
Harry frowned. "But you just-"
She interrupted calmly. "Reach into your pocket and pull it out. It's that simple, if you want it bad enough."
He was starting to consider the real possibility that his Master was completely around the bend, but after hesitating for only a moment, he followed her words regardless – his free hand delving into the deep pockets of his wizarding robes. He wasn't sure what he was supposed to do after that, his pocket was empty. He couldn't even find any lint, let alone eleven inches of holly, containing the single feather of a phoenix-
He almost jumped.
Hesitant fingers run over smooth wood, the familiar grains unforgettable even to his overworked mind. A rush of warmth run through him as he grasped the handle and pulled it free, blue and gold sparks erupting from the end in a fountain of light. He couldn't help but stare at the previously broken wand stupidly, disbelief etched on his face.
"What the hell is this?" he questioned. Rider had broken it and he had destroyed it utterly. It shouldn't have been possible.
"Haven't I already explained it enough?" Caster asked, clearly amused at his shock.
In simple terms... you are the embodiment of Harry Potter...
You are the combined form of your world. The collective thoughts, wishes and emotions of what makes Harry Potter what it is. You are everything that pieces that world together. Everything...
"Then I can..." he trailed off, the Elder Wand and his original holly wand fading away at his mental command. Surely that didn't mean he could...
He thought of another wand, one he was intimately familiar with – but in a different way.
Thirteen and a half inches, made from yew. Phoenix feather core.
The wand of Lord Voldemort.
It felt strangely good, holding the wand of his nemesis. There was no surge of warmth, but a different sensation – a cold, creeping power that swept through him, like ice in his veins. He knew then that this wand would work just as well as his original. He was its master.
"How come I didn't notice this before?" he asked.
"You were doing it subconsciously. You expected to have those items on you, so you didn't question it. And as you can tell, their creation uses no mana."
She was right. There had been no tug on his reserves of mana. The only item he could remember that used any of his power regardless was the Cloak of Invisibility, but that was because it was always active – you could not turn it off, no matter how you wished it.
Harry vanished the wand and thought of something else, something simple but magical. He was giddy with anticipation, the dread he felt over the subject fading at this new revelation.
The Remembrall that appeared in his hand was a perfect replica of the one owned by one of his friends – Neville Longbottom. He caressed the smooth surface, watching as the white smoke churned inside and turned scarlet, leeching miniature amounts of mana. He had forgotten something.
He wondered how to breach this particular topic, but then decided that beating around the bush would do no good. Blunt, to the point – the time for pussyfooting was over. It had worked for the previous topic, so...
"This power gathering at the temple," he began, dismissing the orb of churning smoke. "It's the life force of people in town, isn't it?"
Caster quirked an eyebrow, adopting a rather aloof stance – but Harry saw the way her shouldered tensed ever so slightly.
"And where has this come from, I wonder?" she asked, tapping her chin with a finger thoughtfully.
"So it is true," he sounded disappointed. "You are harming innocent people."
Caster frowned then, the first solid emotion he had gotten out of her since the conversation had begun.
"Are you judging me?" she sounded dangerous and Harry fought the urge to step back. "I have no magus for a Master, so I need to find energy elsewhere – just as you have. Are our methods so different?"
"I take from the dead," he admitted, glancing down at the ring on his finger. "But it does no harm, for they would have told me themselves. In fact, they rather like being called upon. But you... you are harming people that have nothing to do with this war. How can you sit here so calmly and tak-"
That was as far as he got before he collapsed, body twitching as his chest exploded in a shower of blood. Harry gasped, crimson pooling in his mouth as he struggled for breath, and if he were to look down, he would see his ribcage torn open, jagged bone reaching for the sky. Through the pain, he struggled up, vision blurry as he pulled himself into a seated position.
"I won't be lectured by the likes of you," Caster shouted, face twisted in anger. Sneering at him in disgust, she swiped her hand through the air and as if nothing had happened, the wound was gone, blood and all. Even the pain had disappeared completely, leaving the fake wizard to recover his wits. He felt weak, drained, as if she had sucked all the energy out of him. He wasn't far wrong, for he could feel his now dangerously low mana pool. He was in no danger of disappearing, but spell casting would be severly limited.
"Now I have work to do," she spoke coolly, glaring at him. "Get back to your gate."
And with a whirl of purple, she vanished.
It was a well known fact among the magically-inclined that humans could not compare to Servants.
They were outstripped in every possible way, from speed to strength, to endurance and beyond; a human attempting to defeat a Servant in battle was suicide, all without even mentioning their Noble Phantasms. Only the brave or stupid would try – or stupidly brave – and Saber thought the end result would be the same every time, no matter what.
And then she met Kuzuki Souichirou.
He attacked unlike any opponent she had ever encountered before, his lightning fast, looping strikes confusing her, penetrating her guard without warning. He was inhumanly swift and as strong as an ox, the first few blows almost-but-not-quite putting the servant of the sword down, ending the fight prematurely. She tried to defend herself, to get her invisible blade between them, but every time she tried, he was one step ahead. He reminded her of a snake, the element of surprise on his side, striking from impossible angles with his strange style that she could not counter, his whipping movements much too strange to predict as she was.
She couldn't believe it, didn't want to believe it, but she was losing.
To a human.
The petite knight grunted as she was hit once more, being forced back as he continued his unrelenting assault. A clumsy swing on her part opened up her futile guard and she was struck several more times, each punch harder than the last. If she weren't a Servant, she knew she'd have been finished, for surely no ordinary person could take such punishment.
He was a monster.
"Saber!" Shirou called out, worried. Saber hoped he wouldn't try anything stupid and get between them.
"Kukuku," Caster chortled in delight, maintaining the reinforcement magic cast on her Master. She had arrived just in time, their trap having lured out three little mice. She hadn't approved of the method, had been unhappy and felt that Souichirou-sama had been in undue danger by being the bait, but had relented to his plan in the end. It had been risky and she had almost been too late to cast the necessary magics due to her own Servants interruption, but it had worked out, and now she had her sights set on Saber.
Rin had tried to help but with Caster's arrival, whatever help she could provide had been countered, her grasp of magecraft much to advanced. Now it was only a matter of time until Saber was defeated, and then...
...and then not death, but enslavement awaited the blonde-haired knight.
Caster knew she could not win this war alone. Even with her exceptionally skilled Master and her odd Servant, they didn't have the firepower needed to take down the one true threat, the one Servant who could crush all their hard work under his bulk like they weren't even there.
She knew who he was. Hercules, son of Zeus; a demi-god, one who ascended to full godhood after his death. She had a good idea on what his Noble Phantasm was, an idea that was seemingly confirmed with each encounter she witnessed through her various familiars spread around the city. Even the impressive Noble Phantasm of Lancer – or rather, Cú Chulainn – failed to even wound the brute.
It would take everything she had and then some. That is where Saber came in.
While she was still unsure what hero – or heroine, as the case was – Saber represented, it mattered little. Caster needed all the help she could get before tackling Berserker and having witnessed the two Servants locking blades earlier in the war, she knew without a doubt that with a better Master, someone who could provide her with sufficient mana, Saber would be a force to be reckoned with.
The fight didn't last much longer, the noble Servant dropped by a surgical strike to the base of the neck. Caster watched in satisfaction as Saber fell, her Master victorious.
Shirou shot forward like a bullet, magic circuits screaming as he created familiar twin swords from memory. Caster blinked, surprised and somewhat thrown off. Shirou put everything he could behind his swings, but all for naught, the blades shattering against Kuzuki's powerful fists. His former teacher then lashed out, the red-head doubling over as he was pounded in the stomach by what felt like a sledgehammer, lifting him off his feet.
He landed in a heap, gasping and spitting blood.
Caster stared down at the struggling teen, a frown marring her hidden face.
"You remind me o-"
She never finished, raising her hands quickly and summoning a shield of amethyst energy to surround Kuzuki. Moments later, a shower of steel crashed against the dome, attempting to penetrate to no effect. The blades all exploded upon impact, shattered from the sheer force of their collision. It only lasted a few more seconds before tampering off, revealing the perpetrator.
Caster had forgotten that she was in the presence of two Master's not including her own, but only one Servant. She had completely forgotten about the Servant of Rin.
"Archer," she hissed, enraged at the attack against her Master.
The crimson knight crouched lazily atop a nearby roof, a cocky smirk on his face. "Caster,"
Pointing her hand, a foreign dialect spilled from her lips that even the translation magic of the grail failed to capture, a beam of purple light rocketing from her fingertips towards the annoying interloper. Archer swore, realising he couldn't evade in time and summoned his twin swords, Kanshou and Bakuya, holding them in a cross guard as the spell struck. The swords held true, but the sheer kinetic force blew the silver-haired hero from the roof and out of sight, crashing through a wooden fence in the process.
"That arrogant man is starting to get on my nerves," Caster muttered, moving towards Saber. From within her robes, she pulled a peculiar dagger, thin, brittle and jagged, the blade a hue of different colours. Rule Breaker was its name, the ultimate anti-magic Noble Phantasm. It was capable of dispelling and destroying all manner of magecraft, including the contracts set down by the Holy Grail between Master and Servant. It was with this weapon that she sought to obtain Saber once and for all.
"I don't think so," Archer said from behind, drawing back for the killing blow. Caster's eyes widened in shock, how had he moved so fas-
Black and white blades moved, arcing towards one another, aiming for Caster's slender neck. Time felt like it crawled, the swords ever so slowly coming together, ready and willing to end her life in a shower of blood. But then, without warning, they stopped, moments before the end. Caster smiled.
Kuzuki stood between them, powerful hands wrapped around the wrists of Archer, stopping him cold. Archer grunted in irritation, launching a kick that was blocked with a knee, and then the man retaliated with a looping, whip-like strike that forced Archer back and away, immediately put on the defensive. Kuzuki continued forward, fists blurring as he fought his second heroic spirit of the night.
Archer tried to create some distance between them but the man followed, his odd movements making him hard to predict. However, Archer's style of fighting wasn't exactly normal either, his swords almost finding purchase multiple times as they exchanged blows. Archer was clearly faster, stronger, yet style was everything in this fight. He wasn't allowed to get comfortable and set himself, wasn't allowed to use his abilities to the fullest.
It was time for something else.
Several swords materialized above them, falling from the heavens like divine punishment. Kuzuki abandoned pressing forward and moved to the side, a large broadsword burying itself in the ground to the hilt, punching through asphalt like it didn't exist. The school teacher was forced to weave in and out, blades of all different makes and sizes attempting to turn him into a pincushion without success. They came faster and faster, zipping through the air with such velocity that the wind howled in their wake, yet the man escaped every time. He looked like he was dancing, his footwork impeccable.
Archer turned towards Shirou...
...and watched in shock as Caster drove the jagged, multi-hued dagger through Saber's breastplate and into her chest.
AN: Okay, what can I say? At first, I was only taking a small break to rest the mind and recharge the batteries, and then real life got in the way. It's been a pretty busy year. Most of this chapter has been completed for months, yet I could never find the time – or the will – to finish it to my liking. I re-wrote it entirely – twice – and eventually, finally, this is what I have to show for it.
I still don't like it, but I feel this is the best I can do with it without doing a third re-write. I really can't be arsed doing that.
In saying that, this might the last update for awhile. My world is about to get a whole lot busier for certain reasons and I don't really know when I'll have access to a computer full time again. It could be a month or a year, I have no idea.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it. Oh, and for the people who think Harry is a ladies man, he really, truly isn't. Not even close. Hopefully I can show why, at some point.