Chapter 32: Positioning
I do not own Fate/Stay Night and stuffs:
o. o. o.
"Why did you call me, Zouken?"
His irritated tone was understandable given whom he was dealing with. The fact that he was following the old worm user down into the Makiri catacombs didn't help with his mood either. Anyone with a rational mind would be a bit on edge if they had to go down to that hell hole for any reason.
The only reason why he was going now was simply because the master of the household had called him over, and seeing as their secret partnership was a few months old at best it was best to keep things… cordial if nothing else.
The sound of his guide's decaying laugh made his hairs stand on end; however, he didn't make any outward reactions to it.
"Mhmhmhm. Come now, Emiya. It's not right for one your age to be so uptight. We are allied after all. I have need of your services. Have I not been a suitable partner? You don't think I allow just anyone to access my tomes and resources do you?"
"You didn't answer my question. Why am I here?"
The old man didn't say anything at first before letting out a dramatic sigh. "I will be honest with you Emiya. I am somewhat fond of you. You, unlike my incompetent dead grandson, have a good deal of potential in many areas. Given the nature of my family's condition, what we have set up is virtually a godsend for me… so tonight I am showing you the truth."
"The truth?" Shirou parroted. He was getting mixed feelings at the moment. On the one hand Zouken seemed to sound truly honest and sincere about whatever he was talking about… that he actually cared about him…
On the other, the Emiya's instincts were screaming at him that whatever he was walking to was wrong in every way imaginable.
Given that said instincts had acted up on his past two Apostle Hunts and had effectively saved his live, he was going to go with the latter feelings.
"I'm giving you the option to back out of the deal. No strings attached," Zouken replied, not showing any hesitation or distaste to the sickeningly sweet cloying smell that emanated from the basement.
The teen paused on the step he landed on for a second before continuing on forward. Whatever he had been expecting, this was certainly not it. "Care to explain why now and why I had to come over to have this conversation instead of over the phone? I know you're not against using them. You have parent teacher conversations over them."
"Hmm. Resourceful too. Another commendable trait. I guess you could say that I've developed some compassion. What you have with my granddaughter is something that has warmed even my withered heart. So much so that I am unable to deal with the guilt unless I make you fully aware of what our agreement entails."
The younger male's instincts were screaming louder now. They were almost at the catacombs and he could hear the sound of countless tiny bodies moving among themselves unconditionally. His senses were telling him that whatever was down there would not please him in the slightest; however, he could not act now. "You are not making sense. Our deal was simple. I provide Prana to Sakura over the next few years and win the Grail for you in the oncoming War, and in return Sakura is no longer obligated to undergo the Matou Family's magecraft and has the worms removed from…"
He paused in mid-sentence as he realized why Zouken had brought him here to the basement, why the sound of worms were coming from his destination, and why Sakura had not answered his arrival like she normally did whenever he came over.
That sick diseased conniving twisted mother fucking…
"It seems as if you have finally realized what the topic of our conversation will be." The five hundred year old monster in human skin chuckled dryly as they finally appeared into the main catacombs, walls filled with corpses, floor flooded with crest worms…
… And Sakura lying naked in the middle of it all with a blank look on her face staring at the ceiling.
"This is what you have set yourself to save, boy." The contorted example of a human stated without mercy as they looked at the girl twitch and twist as worms entered and exited her body. "This is what you lay with. A beautiful, but none the less defiled child that undergoes this before each and every time you aid her."
Despite managing to maintain his composure during his multiple dealings with Zouken, Shirou couldn't help but stumble back with a look of pure horror on his face. He had read about this from his father's notes. He had KNOWN that this was what had been done to one of the people he had dedicated his entire being to for nearly her entire life.
But to see it in person. To just stand there…
"You see why I have called you?" The elderly man didn't look at the stunned Emiya. "This is the truth I spoke of. I could not in good conscience let this partnership continue without you knowing firsthand of what the nature of my family's mysteries are, of what you are involving yourself with."
Had Zouken turned around, he would have seen possibly the most murderous glare anyone had ever given him in the past three hundred years.
"Calm yourself boy. You are well aware that this is not a new occurrence to Sakura, isn't that right, granddaughter?"
"Grand… father?" The girl's faded consciousness momentarily surfaced, allowing her to look at the speaker, and then subsequently look at the borderline paralyzed Emiya leaning against the wall behind him. The sight of the unexpected guest further pulled the girl to reality, albeit not pleasantly. "Shi-rou?"
If Shirou had thought the situation couldn't have gotten any more terrifying and sickening than it already was, he had been wrong as Sakura became aware of his presence. Instead of the nearly doll like emotionless expression on the girl's face, it now had her looking directly at him with a combination of shock, embarrassment, unmatched shame, sorrow, disbelief, and fear.
He wouldn't be surprised if he was wearing the same thing on his face.
"I give you a choice, Emiya." Zouken slowly fell apart into countless worms that mixed into the pit. "You can either stay, and watch this entire session of training that my Granddaughter undergoes and stay to the deal, or you may leave and null our agreement. I will not hold your decision against you.However, should you chose the latter I will turn to another male to serve the purpose of keeping my successor… healthy."
"… Ah. Yes, before I forget. My apologies, but regardless of what you decide, Sakura will require your particular aid after her training tonight. I'm sure you understand…"
The great fire in Fuyuki broke him and made him who he was. It was the event that gave birth to the broken being that was Shirou Emiya before Shirou Emiya.
However, even that traumatic experience had been dampened by the confusion of an unknowing and innocent mind, focused only on survival and blinded by the pain assaulting his very being. His very memories of the event had been shattered by the experience, exemplifying, yet at the same time diminishing its effect on him. The event had torn apart his previous self, not who he was now.
In the catacombs under the Matou home, Shirou watched one of the people he had dedicated himself to suffer her conditioning, while she stared back at him with the same expression he probably had, but for different reasons.
For three hours he had watched her writhe in the pit, constantly being violated in every sickening way possible as she was unable to reign in her mind, unable to calm and protect herself due to his presence.
She had tried to stay as far away from him as possible when it was done, too ashamed of herself to even hope that the boy who had sworn to save her would even consider making the effort for a disgusting thing like herself. She had tried to push him away, convinced that he was only now with her out of pity and the natural good nature that he possessed. And yet…
And yet after all of that… he had taken her shivering body into his arms, both crying. One was tears of shame, the other was tears acceptance and rage. It was almost a mystery in of itself that they had managed to perform a tantric condition in their fractured mental states.
Shirou Emiya was naturally broken. Born from the Fuyuki Fire, he had been traumatized from the start in a modern hell that swallowed everything…
However, this incident had scarred him in ways even the fire had not touched.
It assaulted the very foundation and pillars that gave his existence purpose, and he had all but been forced to let it happen right in front of him.
He remembered everything about it as his mind and body were not touched. However, the ideals and anchors that his life was given purpose to had been marred and played with in ways that would forever give him nightmares as it would the girl's…
It was unforgiveable. It was a blight on existence. It was something that had to be addressed by any means necessary.
That night Shirou Emiya for the first time resolved to kill someone in cold blood without any hesitation or remorse. Kirei Kotomine was a target simply out of logical precaution due to what he could and probably would do during the Grail War, but Zouken…
Zouken would die for personal reasons even if he didn't do anything during the War or afterwards, and the Emiya would feel genuinely happy when it happened.
… Two years later, neither the decision nor the feelings with it had changed in the slightest.
Only the number of plans of the Second Magus Killer had made.
o. o. o.
At the Church:
"Hoh? This is quite unexpected." Kirei blinked as he took in the sight in front of him. The aggressive Shirou Emiya was standing in front of him with the Servants of the mount and sword behind him…
And the Matou Master was unconscious and being held by the former Servant.
"I take it that you are ready to enact whatever event you alluded to earlier Emiya," the priest mused. "Please, by all means proceed. I must admit that I am curious as to what you have planned. Given your relationship with Miss Matou it is surprising that her condition would be willingly part of your plot." He shrugged. "Then again, if this is a spur of the moment visit, I must remind you that the services I can provide you are quite limited given our relationship with the War still in full swing. If Miss Matou's condition is a result of battling in the War, then I am obligated as the impartial judge to this event to leave her be, unless she surrenders her Command seals and her position in the conflict."
"I am well aware of the rules of the War, Priest." Shirou frowned, his shroud over his face and his eyes never leaving the man. Even if Gilgamesh wasn't here and he had two servants supporting him, Kirei Kotomine's presence always put him on edge. "And I believe that tonight will prove to be quite eventful for you."
The last human that the first Magus Killer truly feared gazed upon his rival's son with a piercing yet relaxed look. A single glance told him that the boy was not lying, even if he was making a rather amusing attempt to hide his tells with the shroud he generously gave him. Whether the girl's current condition was intentionally part of tonight's events he didn't know, but the Emiya was going through with it regardless.
Still it was somewhat odd. Kirei had expected whatever the redhead was planning would involve him after a couple of the other Servants had been killed. However none have perished yet, which likely meant that his plan had a high chance of not involving the War at all, or at least not in a way that would directly interfere with the other Masters and Servants. Most likely the latter, else he wouldn't have considered risking this during such a chaotic time in the first place.
Ah. Now he saw it. "I assume that our future topic of conversation will have something to do with Miss Matou in particular. Given how little you trust me, I highly doubt you would bring her to this meeting in her current condition unless it was significantly relevant to the subject at hand."
He turned to look at the two Servants behind the boy. Another curiosity. The boy had refrained from bringing or revealing them last time, but clearly this time was not the case. Had he been looser of the tongue, he would have made a comment about the boy's choice of keeping company of the appealing opposite sex; however that would be beneath him.
Besides, it would be of better effect to speak of such things while Rin was around. Despite her claim that she detested everything about him, that girl was quite talented at spreading pain and misery without repercussions if she put her mind to it.
It was a nostalgic feeling looking upon the Saber that was King Arthur once more. True he had never seen her in person, only through the eyes of his Servants, but even so he could not help but reminisce about his times in the Fourth Grail War. The event to him was not so much appealing as it was a major turning point in his life, and as such it would be a foolish thing to do to forget or ignore the individuals that contributed to the event.
The nostalgia however did not blind him to the unnerving fact that Gilgamesh was lounging in the back of the church and had most certainly sensed the presence of the two approaching Servants. He most certainly hoped that the King of Heroes would reign in his impulsiveness and not approach the woman of his current desires. Kirei was quite curious as to what the boy had planned, and he hoped that the Golden Servant's curiosity would be enough to keep him in line for the time being.
"Given how you are willing to bring your Servants inside this time, I assume that you plan to be here for quite some time… no, you plan for Miss Matou to be in this location for that time. My question then would be why? She does not appear to be grievously injured or in any sort of peril. No curse or other thaumaturgical anomaly seems to be present either."
"I want you to take the Matou crest worms out of Sakura," Shirou stated calmly without any hesitation.
The somewhat pleasant look on the elder male's face dropped instantly. "… That is an interesting thing to ask of me, Emiya, one that cannot be taken lightly. I am familiar with a good deal of the Matou family's mysteries. The crest worms implanted into their bodies can be considered the equivalent of the family crest of other families. What you ask can be considered… no, it is a great insult to the Matou family in its entirety."
"Funny. I didn't think that a member of the Church would be so considerate of a Magus' family or their feelings," Shirou dryly retorted.
"I am obligated to give out advice to whoever requests my aid, even if he is my inherent enemy," the elder lectured as if talking to a child. "Even so, I am unique in that I have been trained in the mystic arts in the past, as you well know from Rin. No doubt your faith in my ability in the healing arts must be significant if you would come to me of all people for this. However that does not change the nature of your request. I hold no love to the Matou, but I find what you ask to be concerning. This does not fall under the rules of the War. I do not have any reason to not accept your request; by the same token I have no reason to follow it either. No, you could say that I have a good reason not to…"
"Zouken made a second Grail."
Shirou dropped the bomb without any hesitation or emotion, not breaking eye contact with the judge of the War.
The Priest's eyes widened in surprise and disbelief as he digested what the teen just said. The sheer absurdity of what the child had imparted upon him was matched only with how suddenly it came. Whatever he had been expecting from the Emiya, THIS was certainly not what he had been expecting… and yet now that he had heard it he could not dismiss the very real possibility that it was indeed true.
Kirei was not the only one who was surprised though. Had he bothered to pay attention to the Servants in front of him, he would have seen the normally stoic Rider flinch momentarily with the unconscious girl in her arms… and Saber remain as impassive as ever.
"Being the Judge of the Grail War, I believe you are now more inclined to consider what I have to say…"
o. o. o.
The streets of Fuyuki Residential District:
Taiga Fujimura walked around aimlessly in a daze. Unlike most nights she's out late for more… personal and private reasons, she didn't seem to have anything in mind.
She wasn't getting drunk with friends. She wasn't talking to her grandfather's men about the mysterious things going around town. She wasn't sneaking in something of questionable origins into the city for her own personal projects.
"Ah. Man. Even with all this crap I'm dressed in I'm freezing my butt off." She grumbled while looking up at the February sky. Through the sparse clouds in the sky she could see the mostly full moon shining brightly, lighting up the ground enough that she didn't fall flat on her face in her mindless meanderings. "Why did I even bother going outside tonight?"
Really she would have preferred to just sleep. She's been exhausting herself so much lately that she's been taking cat naps whenever she could. She did it during the periods of High School that she wasn't teaching. She did it sometimes during lunch. She did it between the time school ended and when she went to Shirou's for food…
"Ah, fancy seeing you here Taiga-san."
The teacher blinked and turned around to see the silver haired girl that she and Kuzuki had met a couple days back standing alone just a few dozen feet away.
"WHO CALLED ME…?! Er. Oh! Uh. Illiam-… Ixlia… Jessic…"
"Illya! Fancy meeting you here!" The elder female greeted the younger before pausing as though she just realized something. "Hey wait a sec. What the heck is a kid like you doing here in the middle of the night!? Don't you know there's a curfew? It's not safe!"
"Oh? If it's so dangerous then why are you out, Sensei?" The girl asked with a sly knowing grin on her face.
"Urk!" The immature woman flinched as if caught with her hand in the cookie jar. She couldn't say that she had no idea why she was outside: she embarrassed herself enough as it was with Shirou. She couldn't lose face with a middle schooler of all things! "Ah well… you know. Just walking around to see if I can help out some friends with… stuff…"
"Stuff?" The girl curiously asked, tilted her head to the side innocently.
"Grownup stuff." Taiga nodded violently while going on with the ruse. "Things kids like you shouldn't bother yourselves with."
"Really? You mean like the time I once went to see mommy and daddy in their room and they were naked and…"
"Wahh! Different stuff! Different stuff! I'm not that kind of woman!" The yakuza princess frantically waved her arms around in an attempt to stop the child from going any further with her story.
"That kind of woman?" Illya didn't even try to hide the amused smirk on her face this time.
"Erk!" The Fujimura was really starting to hate her mouth now. She hadn't been this put on the spot since she started to babysit Shirou when Kiritsugu left on his trips. "Why… why don't we just talk about something else shall we?" She paused. "Hey wait a second, you didn't answer my question! Why the heck is a kid like you out so late!?"
The Einzburn paused as if caught in the middle of a lie before putting on an innocent and vulnerable look. "Well… I might have gone out by myself earlier, and I might not really know where I am at the moment…"
"You're lost," the woman summed up her situation in two words.
"N-nooo." The German evasively looked away. "I just need a bit more time to figure out where to go and how to get there."
"Aww. You're so cute that I'm going to ignore the fact that you're trying to lie to me." Let it be known that Taiga Fujimura was not a stupid woman. She was just very selective on what she decided to pay attention to. "Do you want me to help you out? I can take you to my place so you can call up someone to take you home."
"Really?" Illya asked hopefully. "You'll do that for me?"
"Of course!" The proud woman laughed haughtily. "It's my job as a Sensei to help the misguided youth of this era when they travel cluelessly forward! Hahahaha!"
"Eheheh. Yeah." The girl laughed unconvinced before her stomach rumbled. "Um. I'm hungry."
"So you are young one. So you are." The still proud woman nodded knowingly. "Quite a situation we are in. No one is open this late."
"What about that student you talked about earlier?" Illya asked with her red eyes making direct contact with Taiga. "Shirou, right?"
"Well…" The teacher hesitated for good reason. As much as she mooched off of her little brother figure, she did have standards and never tried to do so after a certain time… unless she was really drunk and forgot what time it was. And even then she's never brought strangers over to his place before, but then again she's never had an adorable foreign lost girl on her hands before either. She was just so small and helpless, a little princess doll in distress. Perfect to tickle his old fancy of being a super hero. "I guess we can go to him for help. He normally gets angry when I come this late, but he'll probably make an exception this time."
"Yay!" The fairy cheered, acting her physical age as she jumped up and down happily.
"Come on. It's freaking cold out here and you shouldn't be out more than you have to be." Taiga sighed as she began to walk back to the area where she and Shirou lived. By her estimates it wouldn't take more than about fifteen to twenty minutes to get there at a decent pace.
"Hey hey! This Shirou person. What's he like?" Illya asked excitedly as she followed her elder.
"Shirou?" The teacher frowned and crossed her arms in thought. "Well, he's a pretty dry person all things considered. Not very exciting to be honest. But he's very dependable, nice, and great with tools and in a kitchen. Always willing to go out of his way to help people if they ask him. Hah. They actually call him the fake janitor at the school because he keeps on fixing broken machinery inside the building." She snickered. "I heard there was a secret study done by the teachers and some students, and they found out that he's saved the school nearly a million yen in free repairs and equipment since freshman year. Good thing he doesn't really have that many close friends or else he probably would be spending most of his time running errands instead of playing with his projects in his shed."
"Wow." The girl swooned with stars in her eyes. "He sounds really helpful. I bet his family is really proud of him."
The woman flinched. "Ah well… he kinda lives alone. He was adopted by my neighbor Kiritsugu a while back, but he died a few years ago and so it's just been Shirou by himself ever since. I mean I am technically his guardian but most of the time it's like he takes care of me more than the other way around." She paused. "Don't you dare tell him I said that!"
"I won't! I won't!" The Einzburn waved her hands in defense and shook her head innocently while at the same time mentally holding back Berserker from killing the woman making violent gestures at her.
"Good. We can't have his Onee-chan look bad in front of him can we? That would be embarrassing." The woman crossed her arms and nodded to herself sagely, completely missing the flinch and momentarily dark look her friend had given her.
"… Yeah…" She muttered unconvincingly while looking away before returning to her innocent persona. "It sounds like you were close to his dad. What was he like?"
"Kiristugu?" The woman blinked in surprise before smiling sadly. "Ah. Well. First of all, when I first met him, even though I was a loud kid he always seemed to tolerate me. I kinda had a crush on him for a while to be honest." She laughed while shaking her head. "Kiritsugu… well he had this air around him that I couldn't really describe. He was a bit clumsy at times. Soft spoken. Mature. Was a worse cook than me. But he was… wise."
"Wise?" The silver haired child blinked, not expecting that answer. "You mean like a doctor?"
"No. He was smart, but not in that way." The woman replied. "I mean… it was like he had experienced the world dozens of times over and bore it on his back, giving him this old wise man aura around him… but at the same time it always gave him this depressing aura around him. He always seemed to be tired. No matter what questions I asked him, he always seemed to know what to say to me that put my nerves to rest. Hah. Now that I think about it, the only time he seemed to lighten up or actually be happy was whenever Shirou was around."
"He sounds like he had been through a lot," the Einzburn commented while looking away disinterestedly. "Doesn't really sound like father material to me."
"No. Shirou and Kiritsugu loved each other like nothing else." Taiga shook her head. She didn't know why she was talking so much about Kiritsugu to this strange girl, but she couldn't find herself a reason to not really talk about it. "It was hard to tell that Shirou was adopted at times." She paused as something came to mind. "But then again, sometimes it was a bit hard to believe it whenever Kiritsugu went on his trips."
"Trips?" Illya blinked in confusion. "You mean like vacations?"
"I honestly don't know." Taiga shrugged. "Every once in a while Kiritsugu would just pack up and then disappear for months at a time to who knows where. Once he was gone for half a year without telling anyone where he was. I almost thought he had gotten lost in the wilderness at a few points if it weren't for the occasional short letter he sent Shirou. As for Shirou… I dunno, he must have found something out at some point about what his dad was doing because he simply stopped letting it bother him after the first few times. It might have been around when Sirius and Waver-kun started to come around and occasionally visit him."
"Is that so?" The girl was a bit confused. According to what she had been told Kiritsugu had dropped off the face of the earth after the fourth War. He didn't take any more contracts as far as the Einzburns knew of, and his body was supposedly in a condition that killing anyone would be impossible for him. That begged the question then of what exactly was the man doing on these trips? "Hmm. I guess it takes a special person to be close to a father like that then huh?"
"I guess." The woman smiled weakly before turning away. "… Shirou was with him when he died though. Apparently he had some long lasting disease that slowly ate away at his body and didn't tell anyone. I don't know the details, but Shirou definitely took it really hard. I remember he locked himself in his shed for three days after they took the body away, probably working on whatever projects he had in there to take his mind off of things. Even after that he changed. He was more serious and focused on whatever his secret projects were and going to England more often. I mean he was always a bit tweaked before, but after Kiritsugu died…"
"Tweaked? I thought Shirou was boring?"
Taiga snorted. "Hah! Now he is. Little runt was a handful when I first met him. Always talking about being a hero of justice and saving people just like his dad. He used to get into fights with bullies and the such back in school regardless of how badly outnumbered he was…" She paused. "Come to think of it, I think that's how he originally met Sakura…"
"Sakura?" Illya frowned. If she recalled correctly, Sakura was the name of the current Matou heir. If Shirou and Sakura had a relationship in the public eye, then it was very likely that the magus and the person the teacher was talking about were one in the same.
"Right! How could I have forgotten?!" Taiga's sudden shout caused the true child of Kiritsugu to jump in surprise. "Illya!"
"What!?" The inexperienced girl looked around frantically. "What is it!?"
"I have forgotten something extremely important about Shirou that you must absolutely remember before going to his place!"
"Really?!" Completely off guard and still rather unaware of her brother's habits, the holder of the Grail listened intently, eager for any additional hint that might help her kill her brother easier when the time was right. "What?! What is it!?"
"You must be very careful around Shirou Emiya." The woman frowned ominously. "For I fear he is secretly gathering young beautiful women and playing with their hearts."
"The School Idol. The Foreign Beauty. The Overly Attached Underclassman. Shirou Emiya has wooed and claimed the heart of these trademark stereotypes in the school he is at, and now with that Saber girl that's staying at his home as another Foreign Beauty, albeit less developed, it makes four, and I fear what he could do with you who can easily represent the adorable little sister arctype," Taiga Fujimura stated seriously. "I so far have managed to remain immune from his wiles and not fill in the spot of the loving mature elder sister; however, I am not so sure about that Bazett woman that sometimes comes over to visit." She paused before looking to the side in thought. "In fact, if those rumors about Ryudou-kun are true… oh dear lord if they are then he has a class president as well!"
"I-is that so?" Illya laughed nervously. For some reason she seriously doubted the woman's claims regardless of how close she claimed to be to her target.
"Beware his subtle charm, my child, for it is one that even he is unaware of. Beware and prepare," the woman continued, not at all backing down from her claims.
"I'm afraid! I'm afraid!" The girl nodded frantically, though she was talking more about the person she was with more than the subject they were talking about at the moment. Why was it that the things that scared her the most since coming to Fuyuki have not been related to the War in the slightest?
"Good! Then I have done my job!" The teacher stood up tall proudly before noticing where they were. "Ah! Perfect timing! Here we are!"
Illya knew instantly that something was off as they approached the doors. She didn't sense any Masters or Servants nearby, the latter of which she could detect due to her status as the Grail's carrier. By all means, that should indicate that Shirou was not home.
The bounded fields around the house seemed to be working fine from what she could tell, and had she not come under the intent of only merely screwing with her brother's head and talking to him, she was certain that she would have tripped the security fields there that would…
… Wait. No she wouldn't have. The fields were there, but the link between the intent security field and all of the other bounded fields that it stet off has been for lack of a better term been cut off for the time being. In fact the detecting field didn't seem to do anything if it was triggered. The fact that both fields were in pristine condition as well indicated that this could have only been done by someone who knew the fields inside and out...
But that didn't make any sense at all… unless…
"Oi! Shirou! I'm coming in!" Taiga yelled as she used her keys to unlock the main doors, threw them wide open…
… And passed out as she made eye contact with a hairless tiny old man standing on the other side almost instantly.
Before the teacher had hit the ground, Berserker had materialized next to his Master's side, ready to tear apart any and everything in his path. True he was still short a few lives still, but all in all it was more than enough to handle an enemy Servant or two, let alone a lone old man.
"Calm yourself, Einzburn," Zouken grunted as he glanced down at the woman. "I am of no threat to you. You have already probably guessed that Emiya and my granddaughter are not here."
The Homunculus frowned at the old man, recognizing him instantly. "Zouken Makiri. I admit, I am quite surprised to see the head of one of the three Households here."
"What is there to be surprised about?" The old man laughed dryly, looking at the girl with amusement and a hint of something else. Recognition? Familiarity? "My home has burned down, so I am residing at the residence of my ally for the time being." He glanced at Berserker's tremendous frame. "My my, your family has certainly outdone themselves this time. To summon such a powerful Servant, and to be able to handle him with such ease. It seems they have been able to accomplish and prepare much in merely ten years."
"Thank you for your compliments." Illya curtseyed, utilizing the etiquette that had been hammered into her during said time. "Berserker is the strongest. No doubt he will win the War for me with ease."
"Hmmm. Yes, I have little doubt that your Servant is the most powerful in this War. However whether it is enough to win has yet to be determined. In fact many of the other Masters have focused their attention elsewhere towards what they deem to be a greater threat at the moment, and not without reason." The old man grinned knowingly.
The girl scoffed, insulted of the mere idea that her brother would consider another member of the War to be a greater threat than her after she nearly killed him a week ago. He merely survived on a technicality. "You have a poor sense of humor, Makiri. Indulge me. Who has captured Shirou's attention so much that he would ignore the great Heracles coming after his head?"
"Hmhm. Interesting. Your fixation on my ally is quite interesting…" The worm user grinned before turning to the Ryudou Temple. "Caster has set herself up at the Ryudou Temple Leyline and has been tapping it for extra power. No doubt she will find the Greater Grail there if she hasn't already and will start to tinker with it if left alone. By itself it is of no concern as most of the Masters or Servants could overpower her if planned correctly; on the other hand she has somehow managed to enlist the aid of Assassin."
"Caster and Assassin?" The girl laughed mockingly, as if hearing a bad joke. "You truly expect me to believe that the two weakest Servant classes together are a greater threat than my Berserker?"
The old man's face dropped its mirth. "I speak no lies, Homunculus. The Assassin of this War is different than in others and far more dangerous because of it. In fact it is likely that you are the last of the participants in this War that is aware of this. Emiya is focused taking out Assassin and routing out Caster before anyone else. Given the damage Caster can do if left alone, he believes that this is the wisest decision available to him."
"And yet you have just informed an enemy Master of this." The girl frowned.
"You were curious." Zouken smirked in a way that said far more than his mouth did. "Warning you of the Servants on the mountain will increase the odds of you going after them yourself. As the representative of one of the three founding families, no, simply being what you are, you are obligated to address the potential tampering of the Greater Grail. As for me, I admittedly have a bit of a vendetta against those Servants in particular you see, so increasing the odds of their disposal will lighten a good load off of these old shoulders. If your Servant is as strong as you say, then your managing of those two will be most pleasing to me. If not, then I don't have to worry about the bastard child of Zeus ruining my chances of getting the Grail."
The girl clicked her tongue as she realized that she had become a pawn for the man simply by talking to him. She could try to kill him now, but there was no point, and the feeling she was getting from him was disturbing. As much as she didn't want to admit it, she did not believe that Berserker was capable of putting down this seemingly frail and helpless creature.
"I feel that I have overstayed my welcome. One last question before I leave though." The girl frowned at the thing before her. She didn't know why she bothered, but the question had been nagging her ever since she found out about Shirou's teaming with the Makiri. "Why did Emiya ever agree to partner up with you?"
The old man blinked, clearly not expecting the question before chuckling with his trademark nauseating voice. "Hahahah. Curious are we? Well it is not my place to divulge such information to others, but since I have been breaking that rule frequently with you so far, I do not see the harm in one more slip. You see, young Einzburn, Emiya is most dissatisfied with the way my family mysteries work and how they are… taught to my lovely granddaughter, so he and I struck a deal. He wins me the Grail… and I free my granddaughter from her obligations."
Illya went stock still, not believing what she was hearing. "Free her from her… obligations?"
"Meaning she will no longer be taught my craft is she does not desire so. She will bear the Matou name and perhaps the property when she comes of age, but no more of its secrets or its craft. From his perspective, he foolishly believes that he is saving the girl." Zouken shook his head in disappointment. "A shame that I will have to give up on the finest heir I've had in generations… yet, receiving the Grail in exchange will be well worth the trade should it come to it. Wouldn't you agree?"
The homunculus only half heard what Zouken said as her somewhat simmering hatred for her brother suddenly boiled up with vengeance.
SAVE HER he said?!
When he was already teamed up with this parasite to save another girl? How on earth could that fool save both of them when he needed to kill one to provide the other with this so called salvation?! This agreement had probably been set up for years from the way this old bastard was talking, and yet in that time she had been left alone to suffer in that damn frozen castle with nothing!
Wasn't he the Magus Killer? Didn't he have the direct ear of the Vice President of the Clocktower?! One of the most powerful and influential people on the planet?! Even her grandfather backed down from that woman's wrath should she turn her attention that way! He claims to want to help her, but instead has clearly been focusing all of his time on some pointless girl that happened to be conveniently right in front of his face!
Yes. He and Kiritsugu were just like one another. Always lying to others in order to get what they desired in the end. Hypocrites.
Sensing its Master's increasing anger, Berserker began to growl and loom over the lone magus and the unconscious woman much to the former's irritation.
"We're leaving, Berserker," the girl muttered out darkly before turning around. "I trust you will not do anything questionable to the woman, Matou."
"Of course not," the man replied as if insulted before manifesting his familiars underneath her body to transport her inside. Thankfully she was unconscious or else she most certainly would have been freaking out. "She is my daughter's favorite teacher. It would break her heart should anything happen to her. Besides she has provided me with the most interesting parent teacher conversations I've had in quite a while. Hmhmhm."
Not bothering to comment on what he just said, the Einzbern walked away into the night with the black giant following her dutifully. She had originally intended to meet her so called brother at his home as a sort of surprise, but now she didn't feel like talking to him anymore. She didn't care what he had to say now.
Instead she would meet him on the battlefield while he was preoccupied with his next target and catch him unawares. So long as that annoying vampire didn't interfere again, she had nothing to worry about. Berserker would be at full strength by then, and he was the strongest.
Caster and Assassin? What a joke. If such a pairing of Servants worried the Magus Killer so much when he had help, then she had vastly overestimated both him and this War.
Yes. She would bide her time, and then in one fell swoop she would take out all four Servants and their Masters without mercy.
o. o. o.
Souichirou Kuzuki was as close to frustrated for a non-student related reason as he had been in a long time.
The former assassin had been walking around the building for what he had assumed to be five hours given from what his watch told him; however, to him it had only been three.
Four separate times he had blanked out in his excursions around the building without any memory of where he had lost focus, and each time he had appeared elsewhere with no recollection of what he had been doing until he had noticed the colored dot under his watch once more.
Initially he had been doing this as a mere request for Emiya and Edelfelt. His students had asked him for his aid and so he was obligated as their teacher to aid them. However now this was something that even he could not ignore. He lived at the Temple, and enough had happened to it over the past week that he decided that doing something to end the chain of events would be in his best interests.
In addition to that, he had had the oppressive feeling and desire to go to bed for the past hour or so, and it was only due to the training self control he had received as a child that enabled him to resist the impulses. A brief look around showed that absolutely no one else that lived in the temple was up either, meaning that they most likely experienced and succumbed to the unnatural phenomena some time ago.
Breathing as if he was in battle to maintain control over himself, the teacher made a mental checklist of all the places of the temple he had been in. The main courtyard, the graveyard, the area around the reflection pool, the dining area, and main ceremony rooms had been checked out and as far as he could tell there was nothing abnormal about them…
Well, as much as they could. Since walking into the temple grounds, the ink that Emiya had put on his wrist had been a distinct yellow almost bordering on orange, indicating that whatever it was measuring was exceptionally high throughout the area.
He recalled going into the guest living areas as well for the most part, but that still left the main living areas, the storage areas, the main offices, the record storage rooms, the special guest quarters, and the dozen miscellaneous rooms that were in the two buildings between them that he had never truly bothered learning about.
It wasn't because he had once again encountered Caster's bounded field that diverts anyone from coming near the set of rooms that she had used to conduct her experiments. Nor was it because he had finally succumbed to the wide ranged spell that prompted the residents of the temple to fall into a deep sleep after ten…
It was because he saw someone that he had never seen before, standing in a place that had just moments earlier been devoid of life. The cloaked man was clearly not someone that belonged in the temple with his ratty out of place clothes, and even if that wasn't the case, the fact that the cloak covered his head was enough to raise a good deal of suspicion…
The teacher took in the sight of the individual with some concern. While he had not been asked to deal with any suspicious individuals, experience told him at once that the person in front of him was just like him.
Someone with experience.
The two stared at one another silently, not needing to or bothering with conversation. It was pointless for men like them. A single hint of weakness or distraction could set them off at one another out of sheer necessity and habit. Professional killers were considered as such due to two aspects about them: they could kill without hesitation, and they left no witnesses whenever possible.
The mystery man made the first move. Without turning away he slowly lifted out his right hand to the side in a non threatening gesture and pointed to one of the buildings that held mostly office equipment and ceremony props for the Temple. "He'll figure it out from there."
The teacher's expression didn't change. This person obviously knew about his relationship with Emiya and why he was exploring the area. The fact that he had not killed him and revealed himself instead indicated that either he was an ally, or he was laying a trap for later…
No, if he was laying a trap it would have been more efficient to kill him here and make Emiya wander around without any information at all.
"Hurry. She'll notice you if you stay out much longer."
The human of the pair nodded shallowly before backing up to where his room was. This stranger may be a possible ally; however, that did not mean that he would expose his back to him. "I will tell him of you."
The equally reticent individual didn't seem to react to the Kuzuki's statement for several moments before deciding on what to say. "It will change nothing."
The Servant faded away in front of the man without a further word.
Kuzuki frowned at irregular phenomena. He knew what he saw, and he knew that it shouldn't be possible, yet it none the less occurred.The fact that the stranger simply rendered himself invisible made him a far more dangerous individual than he had anticipated and thus made him uncomfortable.
Knowing that the conversation was over, the teacher made way to his room. Should Emiya not provide an explanation about the going ons of the temple the next day, he would have to make plans to live outside this land for the next few weeks until things calm down.
o. o. o.
The head of the Matou family frowned from the doorway of his room at his host, clearly not pleased with the news. "You had two Servants with you. How could you possibly be so incompetent as to manage that?"
"A Servant took us from behind, knocked out Sakura, and took her away before we could respond quickly. Given from how fast it was, odds are it was Assassin," Shirou explained darkly.
A half truth.
"He did reveal the ability to increase his mobility without warning during our last encounter. If he is still working with Caster, then it is likely that he took her in the hopes of controlling two more Servants by using her as a hostage. It is a risky move considering it would have been safer to just kill us both with the opening he had; however, it might have been the smarter one as well. Seeing as he technically did not attack us, it didn't interfere with his Presence Concealment and enabled him to get so close without detection."
"Then what are you doing here? You know full well where Assassin is located," [t]he worm user lectured. "I thought you were more competent than that. I do not need to be informed of every minute detail child."
The Emiya let the insult pass by. "Rider's connection with Sakura is pointing out otherwise. According to her she isn't even close to the Temple, more towards the city, however she cannot sense it exactly for some reason."
Another half truth.
"I have Rider and Saber in the area to look out for her, but so far I have not heard from them. She is still alive, but at this rate I will need additional help."
"Humph. I had thought you better than that, Emiya." Zouken grimaced as he walked out of his room slowly. "The legendary Magus Killer, feared among Dead Apostles and Sealing Designates can't even hold onto or find a single girl. Feh. Laughable."
"Forgive me if I do not have the means or desire to infest those close to me with worms." The Emiya dryly retorted. "Regardless of what you say, I have nonetheless made progress on my targets. Assassin and Caster should be dealt with within the next couple of days."
"Progress does not equate to results boy. I will consider giving you praise when you deliver on your promise." The old man snorted as he walked into the back yard. He would need some space to make a formalcraft circle for this particular job as he was running low on worms and did not wish to use up the few resources and prana he had left. "You are sworn to ensure that the Makiri win the War and protect my Granddaughter and so far I have seen you fail at both. Now if you are a competent magus, bring out some seal inscribing materials. To find my familiars from this distance accurately, I'm going to need a medium sized solution. Three liters of Ether. Twenty grams silver. Five copper. Ten carbon soot, and of course a knife to pour some blood into."
Shirou flinched at the twenty grams of silver. Queen's lackey and noble color or not, he did not run on a large budget for most of his experiments. The Hayabusa for the most part had been a gift, and even the gems that he used for his jewelcraft (If he could call it that… Rin certainly had a hard time doing so) had been essentially made from scratch by him and thus were technically cheap material as far as he was concerned. "… Fine. I'll be right back."
"Best you hurry, Emiya. We both know that Sakura is a rather gifted child. Who knows what uncouth things another talented Magus would do to her should they come across her nature or the family secrets I have engraved into her."
The teen held his tongue. Magi. So long as it furthered their research and sick curiosities, they would have no issues with sloppy seconds of any sort. It was the ones of this variety that he hated most and unfortunately looked over by the majority of the Clocktower…
Fortunately for him though…
He wouldn't have to deal with them at home anymore.
Standing in the middle of his back yard, Zouken gasped for air as he looked down to see the black veined falchion tip sticking out from his stomach, covered in the blood of the body he had stolen, twisted, and possessed this time.
Behind him, holding the grip of the blade and looking down at his shorter target impassively, Kirei Kotomine stood.
o. o. o.
"Given how he's broken the rules of the War and that he's not actually a participant, I believe that it would be prudent for Zouken to be dealt with as soon as possible," Shirou spoke in a tone almost as condescending at the stunned priest's normally was.
o. o. o.
The moment the blade had penetrated the body, the curse of Angra Mainyu took effect along with the binding properties of Kiritsugu's bones, extending throughout Zouken's corpse of an existence and latching onto every spiritual existence with a malicious grip and twisting it all together with no hope of release. The physical body fared no better as every organism inside was all but melded to its shocked host with no hope of freedom.
"I must admit." The holy man mused as he gripped the back of his target's head tightly with one hand before hammering it into the earth without mercy, causing blood to splatter in all directions before raising the body up once more to reveal the face he had mangled. "I had always planned to address you at some point, Zouken; however, I did not anticipate it would be in this manner or location. Indeed it is quite peculiar and unexpected, and yet surprisingly appropriate once one thinks of the details?"
o. o. o.
"… Even if I do find evidence in the girl and remove her worms, killing Zouken will not be a simple task Emiya." Kirei frowned after managing to regain his composure. It was not often that he was hit with a bomb like that but it was too late to act otherwise. "He is remarkably powerful and cunning for a magus, not to mention elusive. Spending as much time in his home must have shown you that much."
"I've already addressed those problems." Shirou held out his right hand and projected a copy of Maiya. "I know where he is, and if he's stabbed with this, he won't be able to split himself up or switch to another one of his familiars. I've tested it out on other puppeteers before, and the results were… promising. As for Zouken, he still believes that he has me on a leash."
"No doubt made of the worms in the girl's body." The Priest mused as he looked at his soon-to-be newest patient. So long as the operation and the girl remained in the Church, Zouken should remain blind to their actions. It was a fairly good plan all things considered… however… "Why recruit me though? If you have the means to kill the man, why not do so already and then deliver the child to me?"
"Zouken's magic is too unpredictable." Shirou admitted. "I can't be sure that simply killing him with the blade in him would truly finish him off, and if that's the case he would just use Sakura against me in the aftermath. The sword is effective on him, but I want to ensure that he dies in more than just the body, and to do that I need…"
o. o. o.
"I will kill. I will let live. I will harm and heal. None will escape me. None will escape my sight."
The Baptism Rite.
It is the sole magical mystery that is permitted to be learned in the Church. The teachings of God are considered to be the greatest weapon against spirits within the systematic basis of their magecraft, so the chant is a key of providence that eliminates wondering souls with the holy words of the Bible. It is the purification and elevating of a wayward soul through the teachings of the Lord by sending a ghost to its "throne".
It's a simple ten-count ritual that is instantly effective once completed. It doesn't have much effect upon the physical world; however, that was not its intended use in the first place. It was intended for spiritual bodies, and as such has near absolute power over them.
The ritual in itself would be exceptionally damaging to Zouken as he is in essence a spiritual existence that uses worms to anchor himself to the world; however, for it to be fatal to him it would normally have to be used on his "real" body.
Said real body was the worm right next to Sakura's heart, which Kirei had been unable to remove in his surgery along with the worm wrapped around the nerves in her spine.
"I welcome those who have grown old and those who have lost."
Shirou was well aware of this as it had been one of the things he had focused on in his father's notes. He knew well enough that the odds of Zouken willingly leaving Sakura's body while she was still alive were slim to none, but his desire to save her was unyielding.
The answer came with Maiya and his occasional fights with puppet users over the past few years.
While he was well aware of how well the two got along, Shirou had been pleasantly and disturbingly surprised when he realized that a fully possessed puppet stabbed by Maiya more or less contained its master's soul. Even more interesting was that should the puppet be destroyed with the soul in it, the soul would be forced out of the fake body so violently that it would essentially be unable to return to its original body.
He had, much to his silent shame, played with this theory several times on a good number of apostles and unruly sealing designates.
And it just so happened that Zouken's public face was nothing but one big walking puppet target with his full consciousness inside.
However as far as he was concerned, this was not enough for Zouken, even if he did die from it.
"Devote yourself to me, learn from me, and obey me."
So Shirou decided to take it further and convince Kirei to help out up front. It was something that even Kiritsugu didn't suggest on the count that he didn't know of Maiya's effectiveness on familiar users, and that he did know that the Baptism Rite would only provide a temporary solution if used by itself.
"Rest. Do not forget song, do not forget prayer, and do not forget me."
Shirou was considered a moderately proficient Magus at best, but by his estimates, the results of this experiment, where the vast majority of the subject's consciousness and soul were locked into his current writhing body while simultaneously forced out and dispersed in every direction…
… Would do nothing short of absolutely shred apart the mind and soul of the stain of an existence known as Zouken Makiri.
And Shirou had a feeling that the old bastard would figure this out as well before the deed was done.
Zouken struggled against both the physical and magical bindings that had claimed his body. He could not summon his insects. He could not split himself apart. He could not transfer his consciousness. He could not mutate the insects in him…
He could not call Sakura…
It was only when he had attempted to undo whatever mystery the sword was enacting upon him that he realized the sheer irony of the situation… and for the first time in a centuries grew truly fearful.
"Th-this magic? This curse?!" The shriveled body rasped in surprise. "Binding?!"
Oh look. He figured it out. About time considering the theme of his mysteries was "binding onto oneself." One would think that he would recognize another binding mystery faster, especially since it was being used on him.
Even if a fraction of the blight's soul remained within the worms inside Sakura, it would VERY likely be only be enough to keep the things alive in their primal states as the Church's standard defenses would prevent any dregs from getting close to her. And from what he could remember, soul fragments without hosts could not last long by themselves... and Zouken's soul was nowhere near in decent shape.
"I am light and relieve you of all your burdens."
As for dealing with the remaining worms inside Sakura? A simple combination of Structural Grasping, Avalon, Rule Breaker, and some minor decomposing based reverse Reinforcement were all he needed to get rid of the things. All in all he just needed Kirei to get rid of the bulk of them in her body and provide a place to hide Sakura until Zouken was dealt with.
This was the general plan designed, set up, and executed, by the Second Magus Killer to destroy the five hundred year old Russian Magus known as Matou Zouken.
And he didn't even have to raise a single finger against his target in the end.
"Do not pretend. Retribution for forgiveness, betrayal for trust, despair for hope, darkness for light, dark death for the living."
"Emiya! What are you doing?!" The old demon shouted frantically through the pain, finally finding his stolen lungs.
Another great thing about Maya and familiar users was that once stabbed the victim was locked with whatever they had under their direct control. What they had was what they had, no more no less.
"Getting you supplies for the ritual," the teen responded with a hint of dry amusement in it not unlike the one the priest he so disliked utilized.
"Stop joking and kill the man!" Clearly the eldest one there did not share his sense of humor.
"Relief is in my hands. I will add oil to your sins and leave a mark."
"Sorry, but I can't do that. It would go against the deal we set up." For the first time ever, a genuine smile appeared on the teen's face while in Zouken's presence.
"Zouken Makiri," Kirei broke out of his aria with an authoritative if not smug tone. "You have been found guilty of tampering with the mechanics of the Fifth Fuyuki Grail War ritual by means of illegally fabricating a second lesser Grail without informing the required parties. As the Judge of this event, I sentence you to death."
"YOU!" Spit flew everywhere as the hate filled word left the man's decaying mouth. "YOU ARE TO BLAME FOR THIS! YOU LED HIM HERE!"
Shirou shrugged as if listening to the answer to a simple inconsequential problem. "My hands are tied. I'm obligated to fight in the War to win the Grail for the Matou family, and to protect Sakura. Killing the priest or helping you now would no doubt result in my expulsion from the War."
"Eternal life is given through death."
"Don't worry, I'll still keep my end of the deal. If I win the War I'll still hand the Grail over to Sakura. That way the Matou still win the War."
"EEEEEMMMMIIIYAAAAAAAA!" The old man's pierced lungs gave out a rather loud and impressive blood curling roar of absolute rage. Had the teen not had his bounded fields up, it would have no doubt attracted the attention of his neighbors.
"— Ask for forgiveness here. I, the incarnation, will swear.
A flash of light erupted in the skull between Kirei's hands quickly accompanied by a golden rune in the center before the world returned to night.
o. o. o.
At the Church:
Shirou's brief message echoed through Rider's head with finality, and prompted the stoic gorgon to smirk faintly before moving to the unconscious Sakura silently lying on the couch behind her.
According to the priest, the girl's operation had been for the most part a success. He had removed most of the worms from her body; however, as expected there were some that he could not work on without killing her including ones around her nerves and heart. There were some other worms that he claimed he could not touch either to Shirou's minor surprise, but not enough that the boy couldn't handle himself.
As expected, the judge had ordered them to allow the girl to rest in the building for the night to recover from the operation, which under most circumstances was the right thing to do. The girl had just undergone a rather invasive procedure and moving her right after it would be a foolish thing to do. While Shirou and the others did not like the idea of that, especially with the chance that Gilgamesh could show up at any time, they had agreed that it was for the best.
Of course now that Zouken was dealt with and no one was paying attention…
With a bit of focus, Rider placed her hands on her chest and slowly pulled out the copy of the golden sheath that her second Master had bestowed upon her just for this moment and with similar effort dissolved it into the body of her original Master.
Saber was standing guard just outside the door, partially to do that and partially so that Gilgamesh would have less of a reason to look inside the room. Nonetheless, she was close enough that the fake sheath instantly had an effect on the recovering girl, causing her pale complexion to color rather quickly.
Wasting no time, the woman carefully and gently picked up the girl and walked to the door before knocking on it three times.
Saber got the message instantly and opened it for her. The two Servants looked at one another for only a brief moment before walking silently to the entrance of the building. Had they ran, they would only pique Gilgamesh's interest even further and prompt him to expose himself, no doubt spouting false concern about Sakura's condition and Kirei's instructions to leave her there.
However, the King of Heroes didn't interfere as they left the building and politely closed the door behind them.
Originally they had planned for Rider to take Sakura out by herself through the window and leave Saber as the decoy to ensure that Gilgamesh wouldn't follow, but that plan was scrapped due to the fact that Avalon needed to be nearby in order to work properly, and they couldn't risk the girl's health anymore than they were right now, so they had to take the risk.
Off into the night the two bolted, as fast as possible and as smoothly as possible for the third member of their group. With their eyes focused, they navigated through the streets with expert ease, heading in some seemingly random direction until they found what they were looking for.
Fuyuki business stay hotel.
Taking a note out of his father's book, Shirou had ensured that should his house be unsafe to stay in, he would have backup locations set up to be his temporary bases of operations. As such he had three hotel rooms in three different complexes around the city booked in three different names for a month each spanning the time he estimated that the War would take place, give or take.
None of the locations were rather elaborate, but they would serve their purposes, and were so standard and in such crowded areas that it would be highly unlikely for any master to guess he would stay in there while in hiding.
Or, say if he wanted to temporarily hide someone or something important but not at his house.
It was not difficult for the two women to get in. Saber had her casual clothes and the key that Shirou had given her, and it was so late at night that even the people that frequently go out drinking were already asleep and unable to see Rider, dressed as she was, carry Sakura with her to the specified room.
Lying down the girl onto one of the semi adequate beds, the two Servants looked at one another once again before nodding. The bounded field that Shirou had set up in the room was only meant for privacy and cloaking, meaning that all three of them should be safe and undisturbed for the time being.
For now though… all they could do now was wait and hope that their Master was not so unfortunate enough as to get into any trouble before returning to them…
o. o. o.
The priest apparently held no remorse for the dead as he crushed Zouken's skull against the ground, visibly deforming the head and body with his bare hands. No doubt he was making certain that the old bastard was dead.
"Did you have to do that here?" Shirou wearily asked, not at all bothered by the display of brutality. "Now I have to clean all of it up when you leave."
"Had he somehow circumvented my ritual, time would be of the essence," the man factually replied as if not just desecrated an old man's body. "I trust you have some practice in subtly cleaning up a scene."
"Wouldn't be much of a hunter for Barthomelloi if I didn't after two years." The Emiya shrugged. "It's just harder for me than most."
"My condolences." The man took out a cloth from somewhere on his person and began cleaning his hands, still not taking his eyes off of the body.
"If he's set anything up, it's not in the body." Shirou's eyes flashed silver. The carcass that had once been a container for Zouken Makiri was dead in all senses of the word. Nothing that made it up had even the slightest hint of life or possession in it. The few bits of soul that remained in the body were what were locked into place by his sword, and they were in no condition to maintain anything that resembled a mind or consciousness. At most they could make something in the body twitch in some random directions.
He briefly glanced at the room where Zouken had been living in for the entirety of six hours and saw that much to his disbelief the old bastard had kept his word and only used the bare minimum of bounded fields on it. Still he'd be on the safe side and scan his entire house later to see if anything was altered.
Five identical runed long swords embedded themselves point first into the ground equidistant from one another around the corpse. The second they had settled a bounded field had been made using them as the boundaries.
"Set Echo Resonance."
The corpse and anything inside the confines of the blades that carried prana instantly went up in blue fire. Among the tools that Shirou had copied from Louvre's collection during their fight, this particular sword was rather useful in cleaning up thaumaturgical evidence while leaving everything else untouched. Since the flames fed on the prana it burned, it cost Shirou almost nothing to enact.
"An interesting application of mystic codes," Kirei mused.
Shirou didn't bother saying that he was still working on this particular trick. Setting things on fire with it was pretty much the only thing he could do with it for the time being, but he knew well that he'd be able to do so much more as soon as he ironed out the kinks in it. "… Thanks for your help."
"I'm confident you don't mean that given your opinion of me. Still, I shall accept it nonetheless." The elder looked at the teen. "It was not necessary. Executing one who interferes with the War is one of my duties as a judge after all… well it is if the combatants are unable to perform the deed themselves."
"And now the deed is done." The Emiya didn't bother responding to the glancing insults. As infuriating as he was, the priest did speak the truth.
"Quite," the priest agreed. "… Still, I believe that a reward is in order for your services. Had you not exposed Zouken's plot, I shudder to imagine what might have occurred."
Yeah. You'd probably be jealous that you didn't have a hand in it. "Save it. You got rid of the worms in Sakura and helped me kill Zouken. That's all I wanted from you." Shirou didn't blink or turn away as the blue fire in front of him began to die down, taking the last scraps of Zouken's stolen body with it.
"I am merely performing my duties as the judge presiding over the War Emiya. I suggest you be a bit more considerate as to what I am offering." Kirei frowned. "It is rare enough that a situation would warrant such an action from one in my position."
The man's tone caught Shirou's attention and prompted him to turn away from the dying flames. "What are you talking about, Kotomine?"
The elder initially did not say anything as he rolled up the sleeve on his right arm to expose a large and intricate but mostly faded tattoo. "As compensation for your actions, I as overseer of this War am rewarding you with an additional Command Seal for your actions. Hold out your hand."
That had surprised the teen. He was vaguely aware that the judges of the church had the ability to bestow additional seals to participants should the situation call for it such as when Caster got too out of control in the previous War, but he had never assumed that Kirei Kotomine of all people would do this.
For a moment Shirou had half a mind to turn down the Command seal anyways. He still had all three of his and he didn't want to become indebted to the man more than he already was… however, he had long since had practiced swallowing his pride in order to think of the bigger picture.
He had done so when dealing with Zouken with regards to Sakura.
He had done so when working at the Clocktower and not killing the Nobles that were nothing short of monsters in human form.
He had done so when talking about the War for months on end with those closest to him and not saying anything about its true nature.
He didn't know how, but the seal could potentially be a godsend in the future. Any extra resource helped in this War and it was still far from over.
The process was surprisingly brief. With a quick muttering of some page from the Bible, one of the lines from Kirei's arm disappeared and a new addition to the design showed up on Shirou's hand.
Now in addition to the pommel, guard and blade that designed the back of his hand, what could be interpreted as a moderately intricate glow of light surrounded the "blade".
"Seeing as you are never comfortable in my presence and our business is concluded, I shall take my leave," the priest stated calmly. "I shall inform you when Matou's condition improves."
"Yeah." Shirou didn't bother telling him that Rider and Saber had already taken her out of the Church. If confronted about it later, he'd just tell the man that his Servants were acting independently and informed him of it later.
Before exiting through the back gate, the man paused. "I must admit, you interest me, Emiya. The Grail Wars have always invited chaotic and unpredictable events; however, even I would not anticipate Zouken's actions, nor how efficiently you addressed them. You remind me much of your father in that regard."
The mentioning of Kiritsugu instantly pressed a nerve on the teen but he held his reaction in. "What are you getting at?"
"I am aware that your Kiritsugu Emiya's wish for the Grail was World Peace before he decided to destroy his prize at the last moment for whatever reason." The man made eye contact with him. "You've had this plan to kill Zouken set up for quite some time given how smoothly you acted once he had appeared… meaning you never truly intended to give him the Grail in the first place."
"So my question is, what is your intention for it?"
"I don't have one." Shirou replied almost instantly and reflexively. "I'm just keeping to the deal and preventing the collateral from getting out of hand. I won't let something like the fire happen again."
A spark of amusement flashed upon Kirie's face. No doubt finding the irony entertaining seeing as it was Kiritsugu who had unintentionally started it in the first place. "Somehow I find that hard to believe. Had you truly been only fighting for the Matou, you would have been their representative instead of Sakura. Instead you both were, meaning that you must have some sort of desire that the Grail can fulfill."
"Speaking from personal experience?" Shirou didn't know why he said it, but he felt as if that was the most appropriate thing to say given from what he knew of the man.
The normally stoic man paused for a moment and looked away as if remembering unwanted events before returning to normal. "Somewhat. Enough to know that what I speak of is indeed the truth."
Shirou closed his eyes as he digested the man's comments. "Then be satisfied that what I speak of is also the truth. A Servant can only be fought with by another Servant. Should any of the other Masters go out of control, I would require the correct resources to combat him with. It could be seen that my desire to stop things from getting out of control was enough to satisfy the Grail's conditions."
Kirei looked at him emotionlessly without any tell to show if he believed the teen or not… though it was likely the latter. "And should your Servants die? Would you continue to fight to mitigate the damage that any potential wild Master of Servant would do?"
The teen snorted. "I'm the Queen's Silver Dog and the Second Magus Killer. Even if I didn't plan to, Barthomelloi would have ordered me to do something worthy of my position regardless."
"Ah yes. I have heard that the Queen of the Clocktower was rather unyielding and demanding. My condolences for having such a supervisor. No doubt being around one of her reputation can be rather trying for someone like you."
The Emiya paused at the comment. Had the man been referring to his semi-vampiric condition or was he merely talking about his genealogy and lack of background? Feeling his temper starting to act up again he decided that the man had overstayed his welcome. "If you don't mind, I would appreciate it if you left. I still have to ensure that Zouken didn't leave me any unwanted parting gifts in my home."
"Of course. My apologies."
Shirou watched him depart. He was very tempted to end the man with his back turned, but it would only lead to more trouble. He doubted that he'd be able to kill Kirei that easily, even though he was fairly confident that his combat ability was enough to take the man down in a direct fight, let alone in his territory.
No, once more it was the storm that was Gilgamesh that stayed his hand. So long as the priest prevented him from going out on his own, Shirou still had enough time to gather more allies. Even just one more Servant working with him could greatly increase his odds against the man and prevent excess damage from happening.
Of course, it also ran the risk of Kirei guiding Gilgamesh to perform more pinpoint and damaging attacks if he left them alone for too long. It was a risk he had to take for the time being though. Only Luvia and Bazett were forewarned about the oncoming Servant, and they were still technically working by themselves at the moment…
But now that Zouken was out of the picture, Shirou was free to capitalize on this in ways he could not before.
He looked down at what was left of Zouken's body, just as the last embers of blue ate away at it…
And slowly… he began to laugh as the first few tears fell from his eyes, his calm controlled demeanor finally breaking and he didn't know why.
He had done it. He had killed Zouken… no… that wasn't why he was like this… he wanted to kill the old bastard for years out of sheer reflex. Doing so had merely lifted a great weight off of his shoulders but nothing along the lines of overwhelming emotion.
His voice was getting louder now. When was the last time he had laughed this much?
He had saved Sakura… no… closer but that wasn't it either… he cared about her dearly; however, he always knew that he would manage to rescue her from her fate at some point or another. That was just who or what he was.
His ribs were starting to hurt now as he collapsed to his knees, but his joy fueled laughter was only louder because of it.
His planning was coming to fruition, and he was getting results… no… he almost had it, but that wasn't the reason why. It was a good feeling to be sure that his efforts for dealing with the War were so far proving to be effective, but it was still early in the game and much could go wrong.
Come to think of it, when was the last time he had cried this hard for a reason other than Sakura? He didn't even recall being this bad at Kiritsugu's funeral…
That's why he was like this.
He was closer to realizing his father's dreams.
The one thing that Kiritsugu strived to be while remaining human. It wasn't Shirou's life goal anymore. Not really. He wanted to be one certainly, that would never change, but it wasn't his driving force anymore. The ones he had dedicated himself to took the place of it now…
But even so, realizing that he was becoming one, saving his loved ones, actually making progress in his strive to save the world, realizing the dream and goal of the person that he looked up to more than anyone else in his life even after he no longer lived for it…
It was like hearing the funniest bad joke in his entire life.
So he laughed.
o. o. o.
Thanks Wayfarer2000 for betaing.
I pulled this shit off in a week. BOOYA!
Not much to say. Shirou's a badass. Zouken's dead. Illya's going to go on a murderous rampage…
And Kirei has already started to work some of his trolltastic magic. Heh.
I really don't know what else to say really. That's about it.
REVIEW! WORSHIP THE LOG! THE FIRST KILL OF THE WAR DID NOT IN FACT HAVE AN EPIC FIGHT IN IT KINDA BECAUSE ZOUKEN WASN'T REALLY A MASTER SO I DON'T KNOW IF HE COUNTS OR NOT! AND REVIEW AGAIN!