-3 Weeks Ago-
"Akiha-sama, you should really eat something."
The only thing that was breaking the silence of the common room was Hisui's soft and worried voice. Akiha had been like this for the past few days. When they brought her food she would try to eat, but lose her appetite after a few bites. She could feel the hunger, but she couldn't bring herself to care about it.
She hadn't even asked Kohaku for energy in that time.
She felt no demon clawing at the back of her mind, so it seemed Kohaku was but a simple maid now.
Akiha was relieved at that, the last remnants of that past would finally be erased, but it still didn't change the fact that Shiki was dead. She felt it too... she felt more alive, more full of energy, less susceptible to her mind breaking power.
That was all the proof she needed to know that Shiki was gone.
She would gladly welcome that weight back, sustaining his life force for the rest of her life, but it was simply... gone.
"I'm alright," she said softly, forcing a smile.
She could see Kohaku peeking around the door behind Hisui, face etched with worry. Kohaku had never been worried before.
She tried to put on a strong face, "I'll be okay. I just haven't felt very hungry."
Without waiting for an answer from Hisui, Akiha stood and took a deep breath, "I guess I'll go for a walk. Some fresh air would be good right now."
The courtyard was eerily quiet in the afternoon, the garden even moreso. She didn't know why she was going back there, but the impulse to do so was strong. Trying to ignore it would have done her no good.
She could still faintly smell the blood in the air.
The garden seemed larger than usual, more secluded and forboding, and when she made it to that clearing she stopped as if she had hit a brick wall.
Even under the brightness of the sun the place seemed desolate.
There were no birds, there was no wind... just silence.
Then she took a deep breath and started walking again.
She had to do this.
Her mind was clear and focused... until she felt her foot hit something solid.
Looking down, her eyes widened. She fell to her knees and grasped the object in her hands as if it were a lifeline.
The one thing he had left from his real family.
She held it tightly and closed her eyes, concentrating deeply.
Then she felt it...
A single heartbeat.
Slow, rythmic things.
Deep and strong.
Stubborn like a bull.
All the tears she had held back came pouring forth, "Nii-san," she whispered with a smile.
He was alive.
"Why a church?" asked Akiha.
Hisui looked between the two women, wondering what was happening.
Ciel smiled and pushed her glasses up on her nose. The church yard was desolate. Just by breathing the air there Akiha could tell that blood had been spilled. "A lot of bad things happened at this church," said Ciel, "The supervisor of the Holy Grail War was not doing his job properly it seems."
Night was coming.
The remnants of the sun turned the sky above the courtyard red.
"So where's Nii-san?"
"He's not here. He's at a friend's house. I brought you here for a selfish reason I guess. I'm investigating."
"The agency I worked for seems to have gone rogue. This presents a lot of problems. They tried to take Shiki, and they got their hands on his glasses."
"You let them?" she shouted.
Akiha could feel her blood stir in anger.
What use was this girl if she couldn't even protect someone?
"I would calm down if I were you. If it wasn't for me Shiki would be getting experimented on by the church. I care about him too!"
"You... you healed him didn't you?"
Ciel nodded, "That I did. In retrospect, you and I put Shiki in more danger than his enemies ever could. To compensate for that I've decided to protect him. I didn't want to get you involved, but I figured you would be stubborn about it so I won't say no."
"What do you need me for?"
"We're already formidable as it is, but I have a REALLY bad feeling about what could be coming up. There's no use in turning away allies. Besides, he's fully recovered, so it should be safe for you two to interact again."
"Has he been alright?"
"Aside from the hole in his chest."
Akiha glared, "That's not what I meant. I was talking about his anemia!"
"I haven't noticed anything. Near as I can figure he's fine now that his connection to Roa and SHIKI have been cut. However, there's still the eyes, his life span will be, at best, half of normal."
"That's good enough for me. I was just afraid because I couldn't feel the weight of his life anymore, but when I picked up his knife it turned out the connection was still there."
Ciel nodded, "It makes sense. Even if you don't have to carry his life force anymore, it wouldn't make any sense if the connection itself was just gone. Anyways, we've already dug up all we can from this place, but there's a specific reason I wanted to come back."
"And what's that?"
"The priest here was a very interesting man. I've met some nasty people in my time with the church, and I count myself lucky this guy wasn't one of them."
"Um... excuse me Akiha-sama, Miss Ciel." Hisui raised her hand, frowning.
Ciel turned to Hisui, looking confused, almost as if the girl had appeared from thin air. Then the ex-agent smiled and laughed sheepishly, "Oh Jeez I'm sorry, I completely forgot you were there! Hisui-san, was it?"
Hisui nodded, "It's not an issue. I was just wondering about what you said, with Akiha-sama no longer needing to support Shiki-sama."
"That's right," said Ciel, "The connection is there, it's just not needed anymore."
"Akiha-sama, if I may..."
Akiha looked confused for a moment, then her eyes widened in realization, "Yes! Yes, please. Tell her I said we should be ready to check out of the hotel."
Hisui bowed with a smile, "Yes," then departed.
"What was that about?" asked Ciel.
"A family matter, nothing you need to worry about. So, let's get what we came here for."
Day 8: The Association
"Lorri... what are you up to?"
Lorelei Barthomeloi grinned at her friend and brought a single finger to her lips. Down the extravagant hall was their teacher's quarters, and she seemed to be heading there. Despite recently turning only thirteen, Lillian had a mind as to what her friend was up to...
And she wanted in.
"I'll come with you Lorri, I promise I won't make a peep."
Lorelei sighed and shook her head, "Fine," she whispered, "But don't mess this up for me."
Lillian's eyes snapped open and she was greeted by a still unfamiliar ceiling. Her small room in the Emiya household was an extreme comfort, and was a life saver in the situation they were in at that moment.
Honestly, she didn't know what to do.
Still staring at the dark ceiling, her thoughts began to run away on her. The Burial Agents clearly had a goal, and they were driven and determined to see it through to the end, so much so that they had sacrificed two of their number already.
It unnerved her, whatever it was it couldn't have been any good.
"Having trouble sleeping?"
Lillian's eyes fell on the door of her guest room.
Leaning against the wall was Rin Tohsaka, a frown on her face, "Believe me," she said, "You're not the only one."
Lillian let out a sigh, "When I made it onto the council I thought I might be able to make a difference."
"What I heard from my dad... it seems difficult."
Lillian let out a harsh laugh, "It feels like I'm one woman against the entire world. The council wants to pretend my opinions don't exist, and the directors might as well completely ignore me for all they do. I thought it would be different, but I'm only one woman, and I can only do so much."
"You sound like you have a plan that's not quite working in your favor. What went wrong?"
"My best friend," said Lillian, letting out a long sigh. "Long story short, she isn't interested in change anymore."
"She became so obsessed with the cause the association taught her that she sought little else. Needless to say we had a... falling out."
"What kind of falling out?"
"The kind where we haven't spoken in three years."
"I miss her Rin... so much. She was the main reason I am where I am now, and she isn't even here to fight alongside me."
"Maybe you should talk to her again."
"I can't. Every time I try she just ignores me. Silly isn't it? Like two children that fought on a playground and refuse to speak to each other."
Rin let out a sigh, "I can relate, I used to be like that myself. My sister Sakura... I always tried my damndest to ignore her, but it wore me out too much, and eventually I just had to break my little rule and open up to her. Honestly, I think people can be retarded sometimes, especially my boyfriend, but..."
"But that doesn't mean they don't have good intentions."
And with that, Rin left Lillian to her thoughts, closing the sliding door behind her silently.
The next day went about as normal as it could have. Shirou went through his school day taking notes and trying not to let the events at his house bother him too much. He spent lunch with Rin, and met her at the shoe lockers so they could walk home together.
It was about as normal as it could have been...
That is until they arrived home to the sight of yet another person in Shioru's house.
Luckily the scene wasn't too awkward. Merem and Arcuied were out doing God knows what, Lillian was nowhere to be found, and Sakura was in the kitchen cooking what seemed to be dinner.
On the other hand Shinji sat at the west side of the table, and Shiki and the new guest sat next to each other, with Ciel sitting at the head of the table.
"Okay," said Shirou, "This is getting crazy, my house can only hold so many people, who is this?"
Shiki rubbed his forehead and sighed, "This is Akiha Tohno."
"A pleasure to meet you, Shirou Emiya, was it?"
Shirou sat next to Shinji, who looked about as out of place as he possibly could at that moment.
After what seemed like forever in silence Shinji scoffed, "Screw this, I'm outta here. you can hold all the secret meetings you want Emiya."
Sakura turned and frowned, "Nii-san."
"It's fine. I'll be back in an hour when Emiya isn't busy saving the damn world again."
Sakura hesitated, then nodded softly, turning back around to resume cooking.
"So," said Shirou, taking the spot that Shinji had left, "You're this guy's sister, huh?"
Akiha glanced at Shiki, who still had the blindfold on, and they both sunk into an awkward silence, "Well... not by blood."
Shirou chuckled, "Right."
Akiha cleared her throat, "Anyways, Ciel-san brought me here after explaining the situation to me, and I think it's best if we cooperate, especially considering the fact that theses Burial Agents have stolen Nii-san's glasses."
"Well, there's a few guest rooms left. I don't think the house has ever been as full as it is now."
"I don't mind," said Sakura from the kitchen, "Cooking may take a bit longer, but it's nice."
Shirou sighed, "Nice wasn't the word I was looking for."
"So what's the plan?" asked Shiki.
"Well," said Ciel, "Merem is out chasing down contacts to try and figure out what our former team is planning. Lillian and the vampire are chasing down Merem's last lead, hoping to find Shiki's glasses."
"And meanwhile, I'm stuck here," grumbled Shiki, "Completely helpless."
"Well, not completely," said Ciel with a giggle, "We're all here, and if worse comes to worse you could just take off the blindfold and put it back on when you're done."
"I guess that's true."
Shirou nodded, then something occured to him, "Where is Rin?"
Ciel frowned, "No idea, she said something about the ley lines in Fuyuki and then disappeared."
It was nothing to worry about really, she was probably off doing mage stuff. Still... Shirou stood from the table and gave Sakura a smile, "Don't wait up, I'm gonna go look for Rin."
Sakura frowned, "I'll leave your dinner in the fridge."
"Thanks Sakura-chan, I'll be back as soon as I can."
"Be careful," she said softly, "And make sure Nee-san doesn't do anything stupid, that goes for you too."
Rin Tohsaka shuffled through her old room in complete silence. The place reminded her heavily of Shirou, as it should have; it was where she summoned him after all. She hadn't been to this house in the time since the last Holy Grail War unless it had been on business, so the room itself was rather messy.
Books were scattered about on the floor, the bed wasn't even close to made, and all her jewels had been cleaned out.
'Sorry Dad', she thought, 'I'll clean up before the trip to London.'
She was there for a book that had been written by a prestigious magus when she was still a small child; the book itself was about the regions, their various ley lines, and their ability to support certain types of magics.
It didn't take her long to find the book, but it was thickly bound and rather heavy.
Still, it wasn't that long of a walk back to Shirou's place, so she set out.
Book under her arm, she exited her large 'home' once more...
And stopped dead in her tracks when she saw a tall man standing at the end of her walkway.
Rin dropped the book to the ground and took a fighting stance.
The man was not only tall, but he held the composure of a CEO in charge of a large company, with the suit to match. His hair was black to the point of being reflective, his eyes cold and calculating, and in his left hand he held a cane that was more for show than walking assistance.
His cane itself was embroidered with golden flames down the oak shaft, and at thew tip... a dragon's head, poised as if about to breathe fire.
"Who are you?"
He smiled, "My name is of no importance. You should be more worried about my orders little Average."
Rin gritted her teeth and set her strong foot further back.
"Kenpo is it? Did your father teach you? Rest assure there will be no physical blows thrown in this battle. I will simply kill you where you stand, and then be on my way."
Sweat began to bead on Rin's forehead.
The situation was bad, and she had a strong feeling that this man could tear her apart with a flick of his wrist.
She couldn't fight alone like this.
"Unless..." He continued, the smile never showing any sign of leaving his features, "You hand over Shiki Tohno and the defector."
Rin gritted her teeth, "Rot in hell."
"Tsk tsk tsk, your loyalty and compassion will be the death of you Tohsaka."
The man began to walk towards her...
An abandoned mall complex was the last place Arcuied had in mind when Merem told them to look for Tohno's glasses, but there they were. When Fuyuki's mall was first opened it was a desperate move to bolster sales and businesses, after its success it was too small to renovate and too expensive to demolish.
The city abandoned the first mall and built another.
"This is the place Merem was talking about," mumbled Lillian.
"Isn't this a weird place to hide something?" asked Arcuied, "I mean..."
Lillian nodded, "You would think so wouldn't you? Merem was part of the Burial Agency, and apparently this was a meeting place. That's not what's odd about this though."
"Then what is?"
"Fuyuki has very thick ley lines. I understand the Burial Agency needing to establish here to keep an eye on the Holy Grail War, but the extent to which the church has dispatched them is ridiculous. Normally they'd avoid an area with thick magic like this."
The pair walked towards the boarded up double doors to the mall, and with a few words Lillian had frozen and shattered them.
A strong kick from Arcuied sent the door flying open.
"Bloody hell it must be handy being a vampire."
Arcuied grinned, "It has its moments."
Inside the mall it was almost pitch black. Lillian sighed and shook her head, "Should have brought a damn flashlight." After a moment she uttered something under her breath and held up her right hand, which was now emanating a small amount of light. "We should search fast and dispatch any security as quickly as possible."
"Shouldn't be a problem."
As they walked they could see the little details that had once made this place a mall. Past all the cobwebs and layers of dust were gated stores and a large circular plaza in the center, now abandoned and devoid of all decorations.
Then Arcuied saw it, "Look."
Just past the center walkway of the plaza was what used to be a rather large store with the gate open and light coming from it. Lillian closed her hand, extinguishing the small amount of magic and trading it for a few blue jewels from her pocket.
Lillian moved to enter the store, but was stopped by Arcuied holding a hand out in front of her, "Wait... I smell blood."
"Someone has been here... and recently. Whoever was guarding something here is dead, which means what we're looking for is probably gone."
"Shouldn't we check anyways?"
"Not until we've dealt with the person who was here before us."
"Very astute of you... Vampire."
Lillian's eyes widened, and the duo turned to be greeted by the sight of a woman.
The woman stood in the center of the plaza and was no taller than Arcuied, but the way she stood was imposing. On her right hand was a steel gauntlet, and in her left she held what appeared to be a riding crop. Her attire was simple and allowed for ample movement; a white dust coat, red pants, and brown combat boots.
The woman smiled, "Hello again Grey, it's been quite a long time... hasn't it?"
Barthomeloi Lorelei glared daggers at the old nickname, "If you call me that again I will be sure that you don't leave here alive."
"Friend of yours?" asked Arcuied.
Lillian frowned, "She used to be."
Arcuied looked contemplative for a moment, then rubbed the back of her neck and laughed sheepishly, "Jeez, at this rate I'll never get to go all-out against our enemies."
Arcuied grinned at Lillian, "Well I can't just go killing somebody's old friend... ya know?"
"Touching," snapped Lorelei, "But unnecessary, you will both die here."
"You ARE aware that I'm a True Ancestor right? If it wasn't for Lillian here then I would be tearing you limb from limb right about now."
Lorelei smirked, "And that is why you will die Vampire. Compassion is ill suited for battle."
Arcuied let out a low whistle, "Man, I've run into your types before, but you are REALLY dedicated Lady. Even the Burial Agency knows not to mess with a True Ancestor."
"I consider it a hobby of mine."
With the crack of a whip Lillian let out a small scream and stumbled back, clutching her face.
Arcuied was by her side in an instant, helping her to stand straight with a worried frown, "Lillian?"
Lillian laughed under her breath and glared at Lorelei, dropping her hand from her freshly bleeding cheek "Pretty good reach for a riding crop..."
"The riding crop doesn't have to physically hit you," said Lorelei.
Arcuied's eyes narrowed, "She's a top class mage isn't she?"
"Second best in the Clock Tower," said Lillain.
"So who's the best?"
"Well... a lot of people say it's some old fart who's lived for a couple thousand years, but I like to think..."
Lorelei's grip on the riding crop tightened.
Lillian smirked, her right hand clutching the three blue jewels from earlier, "That it's ME instead!"
They were thirteen years old...
The garden was beautiful that day, that was what Lillian remember the most.
Lorelei, heir to the Barthomeloi line, sat at a small white stone table, surrounded by beautiful flowers and greenery. She was passing the time by folding little origami cranes with the spare paper from her father's study.
Lillian walked from the house to the center of the garden and sat at the table with her.
Without a word, Lillian began to help her.
After a few cranes Lillian made eye contact with Lorelei and let a small giggle slip past her lips.
Lorelei's mouth stretched into a smile.
Another moment passed and the girl's erupted into a fit of laughter.
It seemed like forever until they had both calmed down.
"What are you doing out here all alone Lorri?"
"I needed a break."
"Wow, the great Barthomeloi Lorelei needing a break, God forbid the head of the house knows, your father would skin you and roast you over an open flame."
Lorelei let out another laugh, "Well, I'm sure the mansion won't fall apart if I'm not training for an hour."
Ice... that was all Lorelei could see for a fraction of a second.
Magi often referred to Lorelei as the Queen of the Clock Tower, and with good reason.
Lillian knew that without Arcuied there to back her up it more than likely would have been a short fight.
To Lillian's knowledge, even the great Queen had yet to face a True Ancestor.
Lorelei was upon the duo in seconds, jumping side to side to avoid the ice shards bursting from the ground.
With a swift kick Lillian was sent flying back.
Arcuied moved next, forgoing strength for speed, intending to incapacitate and not kill her target.
Lorelei moved swiftly, dodging the blows as if they were thrown by a lumbering giant.
Arcuied's eyes narrowed... more speed.
Self inflicted limitations weren't exactly her forte.
Lorelei gained some distance and let loose a spin kick...
Only for her leg to be grabbed by a grinning Arcuied, "Please play again," she said cheerfully, grabbing Lorelei's thigh with her free hand and twisting.
Lorelei was sent spinning into the air, and landed on the ground with a dull thud.
Her vision flashed white.
They were seventeen...
The garden again, at the same stone table they usually sat, "I wonder why father let's us see each other," mumbled Lorelei.
"For all the posturing and red tape the Barthomeloi family doesn't seem too bad," said Lillian, "I mean, when I first met him I expected a bunch of stuck up people living in a big house with lots of fancy magic lineage."
Lorelei laughed, "That's not too far from the truth."
"Well, you told me before how you're not allowed to go out in public until your magic is perfected and you're ready to take the position of Director, but he let's me come over. Seems like he knew you needed a friend to be there for you, especially when things get rough."
Lorelei sighed, "You're completely right... as always." Lillian grinned before her friend continued, "I know my father loves me, it's just... he's always away hunting some vampire, and when we get to see each other it seems like it's always only for business reasons."
"Yeah... on the other hand, he never forgets your birthday, or Christmas, or any other holiday... and I don't know how the hell he does it but he always knows what you want."
Lorelei giggled, "That's true also. I guess I should stop being so spoiled. I AM his only daughter after all."
"Pride cometh before the fall Lorri."
"Hahaha, shut up you. Still..."
"I don't really want to be a Director. I'm kind of envious of you sometimes Lillian."
Their small time together was interrupted by a maid rushing into the garden, "My Lady! Come quickly, something terrible has happened!"
"What is it Marian?"
"It's your father... he's... he's..."
The maid began to cry, and Lorelei's eyes widened.
Lorelei coughed, trying to catch her breath after having it knocked out of her.
Arcuied was on her in an instant, but this time she was ready.
Lorelei rolled to the side and Arcuied's fist collided with the ground, leaving a small crack.
Lillain joined the fray next, the ice mage had removed her high heels in favor of being barefoot.
Lorelei's eyes narrowed, "Getting serious Grey?"
Lillian growled, "STOP calling me that!"
Lillian charged her oldest friend, who was standing at the ready with the riding crop.
Arcuied moved in from the other side.
Lorelei ducked Arcuied's blow and drove a fist into the vampire's stomach. The blow itself wasn't enough to do any harm, but after muttering a small incantation Arcuied was sent flying back, her feet scrapping the ground as she tried to maintain her balance.
Lillian wasn't far behind...
Lorelei swung her riding crop, and her eyes widened when Lillian caught her wrist.
"I thought I told you not to ignore your hand to hand training Lorri!"
Lillian pulled down hard, causing Lorelei to lose some of her balance.
She let go of Lorelei's hand and swept out with her right foot, causing the Vice Director to stumble face first into the ground.
"Think again!" growled Lorelei, grabbing Lillian by the ankle and pulling as hard as she could.
Lorelei straddled Lillian in the space of a second, and smirked. "DIE!" She mumbled an incantation and clutched her right hand into a fist. The gauntlet on her hand turned red, and she brought it down upon Lillian.
The garden was quiet that day.
Lorelei sat, contemplating, at the stone table.
Lillian hesitantly sat down across from her, just like they used to.
"Don't call me that!" snapped Lorelei.
Lillian flinched, "Wha..."
"That name is a label, Barthomeloi is my true name now."
"C'mon... stop joking around, you're gonna be late for the service."
"I'm not going..."
"What? But it's your father, he would have wanted..."
"Don't claim to know what he wanted."
"What's gotten into you?"
Lorelei sighed and shook her head, "I finally realized what a fool I've been. I have to be a Director, I have to lead the Clock Tower. I have no choice in the matter, because if I don't then who will?"
"Someone else who's fit for the position."
"No one else is. My father died doing what he had to do, and my destiny is the same."
"Leave the mansion, and don't come back."
Lorelei's words were cold, but when Lillian looked into her eyes, she saw tears building.
They never fell, but they were there.
Lorelei's fist froze mid strike.
Lillian was pinned, on the verge of death, and tears were falling down her cheeks. Those tears were not for herself, "Lorri, please..."
Lorelei growled, grabbing Lillian's collar and bringing her gauntlet back in preparation to strike again, "Why did you betray the Clock Tower!"
"Don't lie to me!"
Arcuied fell out of her fighting stance and crossed her arms with a frown, leaning against a dilapidated bench in the plaza.
"Lorri, how many years has it been since your father died? Three? You've been doing nothing but training and hunting vampires ever since. You completely ignore your duties as Vice Director."
Lillian brought a hand up and cupped her friend's cheek, "Let it go," she said softly.
"It's not about that! This is my destiny as a Barthomeloi!"
"Do you really want to be Director?"
"Then why aren't you focusing on that? Even with all his time spent hunting your father still had enough to spare to run the Clock Tower and occasionally spend time with you."
Lorelei's hand fell, "I..." For the first time in three years, Lorelei Barthomeloi was unsure of herself.
"Lorri... why did you make me part of the Council?"
Lorelei looked away and bit her bottom lip, "I don't..."
"If you wanted my help, why didn't you ask?"
"Enough... stop this game."
Lillian grabbed Lorelei's collar and pulled herself up, forcing Lorelei into a hug, "Shouldn't you take a break?" she asked softly, burying her head in Lorelei's shoulder, "Let's go fold some origami or something... okay?"
Without a single word, Lorelei Barthomeloi fell apart and returned the hug.
"I'm sorry Lorri."
"... Me too."
Rin Tohsaka was frozen to the spot, unsure of whether she should run for Emiya's house, or stand her ground at the mansion walkway and fight.
"Well Tohsaka... it looks like it's just you and me."
The man across from Rin began to twirl his cane and whistle a merry tune.
With no warning, a large steel sword was impaled in the ground not but a foot in front of the man.
Rin and the man looked up.
Rin smiled, "Took you long enough idiot."
Shirou stood atop the mansion, arms crossed, a smirk on his face, "The hero always comes in at the last minute, right?"