Chapter 34: Bypass

I do not own Fate/Stay Night and stuffs:

o. o. o.

Tohsaka Residence:

In the kitchen of her home, Rin remained quiet as she poured tea for Luvia and herself. She wasn't in the mood to talk just yet. She would inevitably need to address the events which had happened no less than an hour ago, but the magus wanted her head as cleared as possible before embarking on that particular endeavor. Undoubtedly her rival was of a similar mindset as Luvia had not uttered a single word since they had silently entered the mansion.

There were no witty comments. No thinly veiled insults. Not even a glare between them.

Behind Luvia, Caster mutely glowered in spiritual form. While she had somehow managed to sustain little damage, she had utilized a good deal of her prana during that night and was a bit exhausted. Her mood didn't help things either…

As for Archer…

o. o. o.

Flashback:

Everyone stood in confusion as they found themselves back at the main entrance to the Ryudou Temple, albeit slightly displaced to mimic their previous setup inside the Reality Marble. The Witch, Bazett, Lancer, and the identified Assassin were standing in front of the main gates while Rin, Luvia, Archer and the Princess were located before the flames to their side.

"What the…" the Edelfelt muttered in confusion as she looked and saw the small distorted piece of stone where Assassin was pointing his gun at. "The Reality Marble is gone? Tohsaka?"

Everyone turned to the Master of Archer to see her panting with wide eyes and holding her hand out. The mark on the back of it showed that one of her Command Seals had been used up.

"We have to run. Now."

Luvia had known Rin for months now, and due to the frequency they clashed and spent time within each other's company, she could confidently say that she knew the girl better than most. They had similar personalities, temperaments, hell even their mysteries were similar.

However, not once did she ever hear her rival speak with so much fear in her voice.

Assassin, no, Kiritsugu Emiya, was in terrible shape. One of his arms was burnt in addition to pointing in an odd direction, and the large gash that Lancer gave him that spanned from shoulder to hip didn't look like it was going to go anytime soon.

Lancer, still more than able to fight despite looking as if he had just been through a war already, was more preoccupied with keeping his possessed Master alive. Said Master happened to be lying on the ground without legs behind those two odd girls, who, if the Witch could be believed, were actually Banshees.

On the other hand, the mentioned Servant was still in prime condition and the biggest problem at the moment. Rin had been confident that once Unlimited Blade Works was fully deployed the Witch would be easy to take down even with the absurd number of high level spells that was thrown about, but now…

The red and black Servant had made no allies with his attempted stunt. Even if he cared about that, he was clearly in no mental condition to keep on fighting, as his disbelieving gaze had not left his now identified father. Furthermore, utilizing his Reality Marble even for a short amount of time had consumed a significant amount of prana, leaving him in an even worse situation.

The Princess was not much better. True, she was not as stunned as everyone else about Assassin's identity, but she was still far from happy with the current circumstances. On top of that, she had exhausted more prana than anyone else in the battle with the numerous bulls she had summoned and enchanted.

"You…" Archer whispered, ignorant of everything else around him to focus on the Servant that had been giving virtually everyone in the War a headache since he had appeared his appearance. "You actually…"

Whatever he was going to say was cut off as the Witch burst out laughing hysterically. "Hahahahahahahaha! How absurd! How magnificently absurd! Never would I have expected to come across such a trove in a night! Another Servant, two fae, and I find that my original slave is not so worthless after all!"

FWWWWWOOOOOOSSSSHHH!

The sound of the woman's hysterics was drowned out as a wall of fire engulfed the area between the two parties. Its sudden appearance snapped both sides out of whatever shock they were experiencing.

"MOVE!" the Princess shouted as she grabbed her Master's waist and shouted some unpronounceable spell to launch both of them away from the temple at speeds that even Lancer would be hard pressed to catch.

Archer, finally snapping out of his delirium, got with the program and mimicked Caster's actions a moment later, grabbing Rin and tossing her over his shoulder before bolting. Unfortunately, he was limited to the path down the stairs with the fire that the Princess had made earlier still going strong. This fact soon became more than apparent as the Witch began to launch a salvo of prana blasts down upon them from behind.

As fast as a Servant was, EMIYA was still boxed in when the first few beams of light reached his position. Keeping his senses as open as possible he managed to avoid the first few attacks before realizing he could not keep Rin safe simply by dodging in this limited space.

Acting fast as another beam closed down upon them, the Servant conjured up a sloppy broken copy of Kanchou in his free hand and tossed it into the way of the attack. The unstable weapon barely even touched the oncoming blast before it exploded, setting off the offending concentration of raw power in the process.

"Gah!" Rin winced on top of her Servant's shoulder as she attempted to shield her head from the flying prana.

Realizing that his Master was not going to make it if he kept on going in a straight line, Archer decided to take a gamble and withdrew White Hilt from his Reality Marble.

One of the thirteen treasures of Britain from the fifteenth century, White Hilt was otherwise known as the sword of Rydderch Hael. The sword would set aflame anyone unworthy that grabbed it. On the other hand, it would not only alight when held by a worthy owner, but also protect the user from fire based Thaumaturgy up to B rank.

Since he wasn't on fire, it was safe to assume that the weapon didn't have any problems being in his proximity.

He wasn't sure if it would protect anyone the user was carrying, but at the moment he didn't have many options. Just as the next blinding light fell upon them, the Servant quickly changed directions and ran straight into the burning inferno to his right much to Rin's surprise.

It was a unique sensation, running through an immense blaze yet not feeling any heat. The intense shifting of air pressure pushed against his body as firmly as any person could. True, it was consuming all the oxygen around them, but he wasn't human anymore and at the rate he was going, Rin would only suffer from some minor smoke inhalation and oxygen deprivation before they escaped, so long as she didn't burn.

Given that her body was quivering and curled up as if she was suffocating instead of thrashing about as if she was on fire, he was guessing that his gambit had paid off.

Normally the light given off by the flames would be too intense for people to navigate accurately; however, EMIYA had long since mastered his reinforcement ability enough to negate such a minor hazard. Even so, it was a rather peculiar sight to once more witness an inferno from the inside. The sight was so unnatural in many ways that it could almost be compared to a Reality Marble. The trees that were still somehow standing were pitch black when compared to the bright flames, making them appear almost corrupted in this oppressive new world.

It helped in that he had less to distract him from the Witch's more erratic beams of death heading in his general direction. Apparently she possessed sufficient sensory abilities to determine his general location.

Thankfully, he didn't need outstanding sensory abilities to determine the trajectories of those massive beacons of destructive energy.

Just as quickly as they had dove into the sea of flames, the crimson Master and Servant burst back into the natural world of Gaia once more and wasted no time rushing to the nearest alleyway to hide their escape.

Four blocks into the City, the Princess and Luvia cut them off.

"While we may be enemies, I don't believe now would be the best time for us to fight, Caster." EMIYA frowned as he made note of his current situation. He was still in reasonable enough condition to fight, but he had been shaken up with Assassin's identity. Another issue was that unlike his foe, his Master was still preoccupied with regaining use of her lungs if her rampant coughing behind his back was any indication.

"We didn't come for you, scum." The Princess looked down upon him with disdain, although it paled in comparison with what the Counter Guardian knew Gilgamesh could do. "We wish to speak to your Master. It is more than evident that we cannot trust the word of one of you."

Archer's eyes narrowed in minor irritation, but he did not say anything. Arguing would be pointless, and all things considered he was damn well interested in having some questions answered as well.

Slowly so as to not arise any suspicion, the Servant lowered his Master to the ground, but did not let up his guard around her. He was after all responsible for keeping her alive during the War.

"You can take off that helmet, Emiya," Luvia ordered as she stepped forward. "We know it's you."

"Your Servant is next to you, Edlefelt," EMIYA dryly replied. "I don't follow your orders."

"Shirou!" Rin hacked out his name as she leaned up against a nearby building and took in several strained deep breaths. "Shut up. I'm in no mood for your sarcasm now."

"It appears that Emiya has developed an uncouth personality in the time between now and his demise," Luvia observed distastefully. "Then again, given what I have learned recently, perhaps that was simply his disposition in the first place."

"If there is a point to this, get to it," the Counter Guardian grunted, losing what little patience he had left. Normally such small talk didn't affect him in the slightest, but after seeing Assassin… "We have better things to do than to listen to you complain about what I apparently have or haven't done."

"Boy or Man, you are still an infuriating individual." The Princess glared at him loathingly.

"If you must know, I wish to speak to Tohsaka about the situation of the War." Luvia glanced at the two with a disapproving leer. "This includes the current condition of the Grail."

"Current condition?" Rin blinked in confusion before coughing a few more times. "What on earth are you talking about?"

"Hoh? How odd. I'm surprised you don't know, seeing as the one that informed us of it was none other than Emiya himself." The Princess' eyes shot a triumphant glance at the other Servant, who was glaring at her accusingly. "You mean to tell us that you aren't aware that the Greater Grail has been corrupted since the third War? Or that the Archer from the previous War is still very much alive? Certainly letting her know that the King of Heroes still being here would be something in your best interest if you desired to keep her alive."

"King of Heroes?" Rin's eyes dilated as she recognized the moniker of her Father's Servant before turning to Archer accusingly.

He didn't say anything, and his body posture didn't defy anything either. Unfortunately for him there had been far too many slip ups for his Master to allow him to convince anyone of being ignorant.

"Let me guess, you didn't remember," the Tohsaka dryly stated.

"Rin, I…"

"Forget it." Rin's patience with him had reached its limit, but she was so tired after what happened that she couldn't muster anymore energy into her voice. "Unless you have something important to say or I ask something, don't say anything anymore. I'll use a Command Seal if I have to."

o. o. o.

Luvia didn't express her surprise at just how fast Rin had isolated her Servant; however, if this version of Shirou had been anywhere as frustrating as the human one they had been dealing with lately, then it probably wasn't as hard to believe as it should.

Regardless, as it stood, it was for the best for everyone if the shunned Servant was kept outside on guard duty on the Tohsaka roof while they talked. He didn't seem to be in the mood to talk either considering he seemed as surprised as everyone else by Assassin's identity.

"So Emiya has a Reality Marble," Luvia mused as she drank some tea. Archer had not prepared it, but no one seemed to care by this point. "That certainly explains a few things."

"Apparently not as much as I had thought," Rin snorted as she drank from her own cup.

"So you knew of it then. I'm surprised he managed to hide it from the Queen all this time," the blonde stated.

"Everyone here knows of it. El Melloi and the old drunk too." Rin rolled her eyes. "That bitch vampire practically shouted it so loud the entire city heard it when she bit him. The only person that doesn't know it here is the priest and even that's debatable."

"He was bitten?" Luvia blinked in surprise. "The Louvre incident. But… he's not turned, is he?"

""My body is made of blades." Remember?" Rin's cup went down on the table softly. "Her teeth barely made it past the skin before her mouth was torn apart."

"I see… so he's been working on it for some time…" Luvia's mind went back to her conversation with Shirou and his mentioning of his possible means of defeating Gilgamesh. "… Why did you use a Seal to cancel the Reality Marble?"

The Tohsaka's mouth twitched in bitter amusement. "… I see that despite your constant badgering, Shirou still didn't trust you with some things about Kiritsugu. Not that I blame him."

"If you don't mind, we would prefer it if you didn't beat around the bush," the Princess evenly demanded as she materialized once more. Without EMIYA or Shirou around, her temper was much more manageable. Still, she was not in the most ideal of moods at the moment.

Rin glanced at the spirit before sighing. "Early in his career, Kiritsugu Emiya had the top rib on either side of his chest extracted, powdered into dust, and put into sixty six bullets. That gun you saw him shoot at the end of the fight was his main means of firing them off, and his only personal mystic code. I've actually used it myself during the Louvre incident. The gun itself is modified to naturally be much stronger than most if not all single hand guns. I'm not familiar with firearms, but I'm fairly certain that most hand guns don't have enough power to shatter multiple bones in my wrist by just firing it. Needless to say, it has enough punch behind its normal bullets to blast through most on the spot modern spells and has been used frequently to do just that."

That much was obvious to the two Masters, given the fact that the gun itself was classified as an anti-unit and anti-barrier Noble Phantasm…

"The bullets with his bone in them though, the Origin Bullets…"

Luvia and Caster looked at one another warily as they noticed the Japanese shiver in discomfort. They had a sneaking suspicion that they were related to the sword that they had inspected for the Einzbern Master. "Go on."

Rin licked her lips dryly. "Kiritsugu Emiya had a dual origin. Severing and Binding. They were actually what he was named after if you look at the Kanji in his first name. Combined they could represent irreversible change. Long story short if they hit an opponent's mystery, the bullet would cut up and then tie together the user's circuits, ruining and short circuiting them in the process. The stronger the mystery used at the time, the more power they put behind it… the more damage their circuits would deal them from the inside. Had one of those bullets hit the Reality Marble…"

"It would have killed Archer instantly." Luvia's eyes widened in surprise and horror. She had heard of some targets of Kiritsugu having wrecked circuits, but the general assumption by everyone was that they had overstepped their magecraft in an attempt to stay alive against their killer. To realize that he had such a weapon in his arsenal all that time and no one knew the better…

"Thankfully he doesn't have an unlimited number of them." The Tohsaka laughed in bitter relief and went over the information granted to her as a Master and what she had gained from being familiar with the Servant's weapon. "He was only summoned with six bullets. One for each enemy Servant, or Master, in a normal War. Technically, that's all he should need at most, given his style."

"So given that he likely used one tonight, he only has five left at most," Caster reasoned.

"Forgive me if I do not cry tears of joy, Caster," Luvia dryly muttered before drinking some more tea. "Some people don't rely on the ancient language to enact their mysteries and thus are immune to the bullets."

"You called him the Hero of Sacrifice." Rin glanced at the Servant. "I wasn't aware that he was significant enough to possess such a title, fitting as it is."

The Princess frowned and closed her eyes. "He's obviously among the lesser known spirits that have made it to the Throne, especially in this point in time. So much so that he is just shy of being a wraith. However his legend is rather unusual compared to the standard. Willingly sacrificing loved ones for one reason or another is not uncommon, but rarely have any of us ever undergone it so frequently for the betterment of others without outside influences such as religion, culture, occupation, money, or gods." She looked at Rin. "You said that his Origin represented irreversible change. What could reflect that more than the action of ultimate sacrifice itself?"

"And yet he still cared about humanity and those he let near him, even though he knew he risked harming them as well in his futile quest to change, to irreversibly change the world…" Luvia mused as she echoed what Shirou had told her about the man, looking at her reflection in her drink.

She wasn't surprised that she couldn't tell what expression her image was making. She wasn't sure exactly what she felt herself.

"What a pitiful person. To fight fate to such an extent when humanity is so weak in this era… one could even interpret his true goal to say that it was to alter the very nature of Alaya." The Servant shook her head. "Still to manage to make it to the Throne under such conditions is just as absurd."

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but if memory serves that pitiful person has wrecked at least half of the Servants in this war so far, by himself I might add, and would have killed them had he not clearly wished to do so. Including you." Rin mildly leered at the eldest female there. "Taking the moral high ground on his past sounds nice, but I doubt it will do anything with dealing with him in the future."

Medea had enough sense to not argue against the enemy Master and embarrass herself further.

"Honestly. And here I thought that with his Reality Marble I had the War set." Rin laughed bitterly. "Really. Why on earth I let a limitless number of Noble Phantasms get to my head…"

"So he really can replicate any Noble Phantasm he sees." Luvia frowned, recalling how easily he conjured up a copy of Rule Breaker in front of her when he admitted his guilt. "With a power like that he can pose a genuine threat to Servants if they don't pay any attention to him unlike other Masters."

"He's certainly suicidal enough to try it if he thinks it would work," Rin muttered under her breath dryly. "He wouldn't have it if he wasn't."

"Suicidal?" The other human in the room blinked in surprise. "I know that one has to have an altered perception of reality to have such a power, but suicidal?"

"I believe she is merely stating that his alteration results in self destructive habits." Caster summarized.

"That's close enough of an explanation as any to describe it when he does something stupid." Rin sighed as she drank some more tea and recalled the sight of him holding his sword to his neck those years ago. "The word we use most often to nail down his mental state is distorted. His priorities in life or death situations are completely messed up."

"Given that you are so familiar with his thought process, I'm surprised that you had so much trouble controlling him earlier tonight," Caster mused.

The Tohsaka frowned as she looked at her off color reflection in her drink. "… To be honest, I'm as surprised by his actions as you are. Seeing him actually use his Reality Marble and targeting Bazett was one of the last things I'd ever see him do, even if she was an enemy in the War."

"Well clearly you didn't know him as well as you did," Luvia snorted dryly.

"I know him enough to know that his Reality Marble now doesn't look anything like what we saw." Rin frowned. "He hasn't actualized it, but he's close enough to know what it looks like. Save for the hill and the swords everywhere, it was completely different from what he's told everyone in the know on multiple occasions."

Rin's declaration gave the other two there pause. "It was different?" Caster hesitantly repeated. "The difference was that significant?"

"He has not once mentioned smog, massive gears, or that stagnant air." The Japanese shivered as she recalled the oppressive atmosphere. It was not a world that she had any part of, and certainly not one that she could potentially serve as a sheathe. "Just the opposite. The sky was clear with both the moon and sun visible on the horizon, and stars in the sky."

She closed her eyes. "When Archer used Unlimited Blade Works, it was almost as if I was looking at the world of someone else entirely…"

"But he was no doubt Shirou." Luvia had to confirm her suspicions.

"His whiting hair and tanning skin was a result of constant use of tracing," Rin elaborated. "He's still wearing the Shroud of Martin. His face matches up. He impulsively does housework without me asking. He knows my habits and my kitchen. He's familiar with the area and people we know at school… if Archer's an imitator I'd be willing to use a command seal to find out how he pulled it off."

"I sense a "but" coming." The blonde frowned.

"He… he's made odd comments, and he's forgotten things that should be obvious. Recently he made a comment about Sakura's brother, who has been dead for two years. Hard to control or not, that's not something even he would do on purpose. He claims he doesn't remember what happened around the time of the War and blames it on a failsafe the founders built into the system, but I can tell he hasn't been entirely truthful," Rin admitted reluctantly. "I've asked him about the other Servants before, and I've had mixed reactions depending on who he was talking about, and that was only after he encountered them. I had to push him to tell me about Saber and Lancer. He claimed ignorance on Rider. But he honestly seemed a bit confused when he learned that there were two Casters and more so when it came to Assassin… and well… you saw his reaction when we saw who he was."

Luvia and Caster looked at one another warily. Indeed, Archer's reaction to his father was without a doubt not faked or staged in any way. This was quite both concerning and disconcerting, as it indicated that this future Shirou Emiya for some reason did not know that Kiritsugu had been summoned as Assassin. Given how their Shirou had proven himself to be the most informed Master in the war, and that his Servant self was clearly far older than his current self, the possibility of him not finding out about Assassin's identity was unrealistically low.

Then there was the fact that, from what Shirou admitted to Luvia, he seemed to be unaware of both Assassin's and Archer's identities, with the former being someone completely different than who he had been expecting. Had they been a part of his grand plan, everyone would not be having such a difficult time dealing with the Witch on the Mountain…

And if Luvia were to be honest with herself, she would admit that the idea of Shirou willingly allowing his father to be controlled by the wild Servant was incredibly outlandish, current situation pending.

Not to mention suicidal. Despite every advantage she pointed out that Shirou had over Kiritsugu, the former firmly believed that he would lose against the latter had they been tasked to kill one another.

Given how badly Assassin had been routing all of the other Servants in the War so far, including a future version of Shirou, she was more than willing to take his side on the argument.

The question at hand now wasn't who Archer was. Despite the inconsistencies, he was without a doubt Shirou Emiya.

It was: could this altered version of him be trusted?

"Sounds like I'm not the only one that's been having a rough time with Emiya." Luvia sighed as she leaned back in her seat, feeling the impending headache coming and knowing that it would only get worse from there.

Rin eyed the other master skeptically. "Yes, I was wondering about that recently. You have been acting rather peculiar. Why would he be talking to you about the War? I thought he was only allied with Sakura. Teaming up with any more Masters is just begging to get stabbed in the back at one point or another."

"Who said he was the one being stabbed?" Caster frowned. "We heard it just a few hours ago, did we not? That a Master addressed a threat to the war?"

Rin's stomach dropped as she quickly pieced together what she had suspected ever since Kirei called her the previous night. "… So it's true then. Shirou actually managed to kill Zouken."

"All things considered, I doubt that anyone will shed tears for him. Not if even half of what Emiya said is true." Luvia mused with a look of discontent on her face.

The host remained quiet as she digested the information with a grain of salt. If Shirou wanted to kill Zouken so badly, then the only reason why he waited so long to do so was because he needed something to do so… meaning that it came with the War… and the only things he could get were either Servants or their Noble Phantasms…

But there lay the absurd question of how he knew what would be available. Other than his own Servant, he should have no control over what Servants would be summoned, and his Servant was King Arthur as Saber. A powerful Servant to be sure, but not one with the technical abilities that would no doubt be needed to permanently put down Zouken for good.

"What aren't you telling me Edelfelt?" She looked up at her rival dangerously. Rin disliked many things, but not knowing something everyone else did was among the top of her list.

The blonde remained quiet as she contemplated what to say. She did not want to admit that she had been used before the war had even begun. That her sister had betrayed her. That Shirou had been training for the war since the start of his Magus life. That he had information about the war from alternate potential futures. That he had essentially been using everyone, and had been attempting to manipulate the entire War to save the world three times over and keep his loved ones alive…

And that he had… more or less… actually been pulling it off successfully.

Then again, he couldn't hide it forever. And it was only going to be so long until he messed up. And who knows? Maybe by the time Rin actually got her hands on Shirou her anger would have abated enough that she wouldn't kill him in the end…

Then again, her Servant was a future version of Shirou. She couldn't rule out a chance that Rin would murder him instead.

… Screw it. Shirou would suffer in one way or another by the end of the War. She might as well be the cause of some of it.

o. o. o.

Ryudou Temple:

The Witch hummed contently to herself as she inspected the container which held her Master.

The night had been a bit more than hectic, what with having virtually the entire front of the mountain set ablaze to such intensity that there was no feasible way that she could regrow it without gaining unneeded ire from the Church. Nonetheless, the night had been extremely productive.

She had gained control over both Lancer and his Master, and unexpectedly two powerful Fae as a bonus.

The little Banshees, possibly the greatest prize of the night under better conditions, unfortunately wouldn't follow her direct orders. They had already been imprinted to their "mother" and no amount of prana or archaic thaumaturgy would change that… safely at least. Even during her time, the Fae were unknown entities of unsurpassed power and mystery. The Servant was skilled and knowledgeable in her craft, but even she knew that there were things which were better off not messed with, and the inner workings of the Fae was one of them.

That at least had not changed over the centuries. Medea did not know if any of the others there had seen what the adolescent girls had actually done in order to prevent everyone from being skewered by the rain of Noble Phantasms, but she certainly did. For a moment.

No doubt everyone else there would suspect that the girls merely created a shockwave that deflected the oncoming attack… idiots. As if a mere disruption of air pressure could stop such an onslaught.

No, what the children had really done was something far more unique and valuable… a pity both of them were needed to enact the mystery. Had it not been the case, she would have no doubt turned one into a personal mystic code by now.

She couldn't mess with how their powers worked directly, but she was good enough to harness it in another way if needed…

Then again, turning Lancer's Master into a code was an enticing idea as well. Who would have suspected that one with such a useful and potent lineage still existed in this day and age? Why the thought of turning the bound girl into a device that produced an endless supply of that useful Noble Phantasm was almost too good to pass up…

… However the Witch had to stay her hand from that path as well at the moment. The Fae children were dependent on the Fraga to survive and were proving to be a large annoyance whenever she got too close to the woman. She didn't want to have to go through the trouble of healing her ear drums again after the last time she tried to do something. Plus, she needed to get close to the woman in order to use Rule Breaker if she wanted to gain direct command over Lancer…

… Which was another reason why she didn't go through with that course of action. She had enough of a headache with her mental connection to Assassin. She didn't want the loud dog barking in her skull to add onto that misery.

So she did the next best thing. She'd use Lancer and his puppet Master to enact her will across town and gather more information for her during the day, and add to her defenses during the night.

As for Assassin, who was currently in spiritual form and recovering from the thrashing he had received during the night… she would let him be for the time being.

Kiritsugu Emiya. The Hero of Sacrifice working under the Witch of Betrayal. It was almost fitting in an ironic way… oh she certainly knew of him. Actually she knew of his legend better than most Heroic Spirits.

Among the theoretically infinite number of beings that made it to the Throne of Heroes, the Witch of Betrayal had spent her timeless existence, among other things, looking at the tales of those that she believed had experienced the true nature of the world that had suffered like she had.

It wasn't that surprising really, since looking up the legends of other spirits was one of the few things that Heroic Spirits could freely and consciously do while in the Throne of Heroes when they weren't influencing events down on earth.

Oh she had heard of the more notable legends like King Arthur and the like. It was hard not to. However, the stories of Anti-heroes and villains in general appealed to her more…

It was much like going to a library for eternity. True, at some point a person could have read through all the contents, and subsequently forget all of it at some time as well, but people tended to have favorite sections that they recalled the contents of easier than others.

Kiritsugu Emiya, as an anti-hero, was one of the ones that stuck out the most to her.

Throughout her life, Medea had been betrayed more times than she dared to count. Every instance she had achieved what she had originally wanted, a nice, happy quiet domestic life with a man she thought she could trust, she had been betrayed and rejected in one way or another. The Argonauts. Jason. Heracles.

Kiritsugu Emiya's story was, to her at least, an interesting inversion of her own tale.

Oh he may be the culprit of all his misdeeds, and he put saving others ahead of wanting a happy life, but once those minor details were put aside the parallels between their tales were rather high. Every time the man attempted to be happy, he was forced into a situation sooner or later where he had to choose between the loved one and a large number of innocents.

His father vs. the research that doomed an island.

His adopted mother vs. the plane full of ghouls about to land into one of the most populated cities on the planet.

His wife vs. a wish that could possibly grant world peace.

His daughter vs. the realization that the aforementioned object would bring naught but destruction.

His son vs. his dream…

Oh she would be lying if she said that she actually liked Assassin. There was no love lost between them. Regardless, Medea couldn't help but feel a certain connection to him. A kinship of sorts. It was not often that she could communicate with another who had been as tormented in life as she was for such similar reasons.

"You know Assassin…" she mused out loud as she slowly tapped the concentrated prana around her motionless Master. "While the two of us clearly do not see eye to eye, I find it rather ironic that we have ended up with one another… now that I finally know who you are at least."

The spiritual existence behind her didn't bother to say anything. She didn't expect him to.

"We should at least make more of an effort to cooperate. We aren't that different after all." She continued as she tweaked a few factors in her enchantments to ensure that there was no risk of anything destabilizing. "Fate has not been kind to either of us, nor our kin. We both abhor the standard heroes that the world worships the names of, blinding the world to the reality that pervades realms that their idols could not fathom to understand. Both of us have experienced great loss for unjust causes…"

"Hmhm." The woman's speech was interrupted by a brief dry laugh. Not one of amusement, but of pity.

The Witch frowned and glanced back at her Servant, not at all caring that this was as close to a conversation as they had ever had. "And why don't you believe so? Your legend has done you a disservice. I know enough of your story to know now that the Grail in this War is not what it seems. Now that I have more information, it is only a matter of time before I emerge victorious and my wish is granted. Actually the alteration to the prize only makes it even more enticing to me. Do you not desire to possibly have your own wishes fulfilled as well?"

Kiritsugu remained emotionless. "If you know my story as well as you say, then you already know the answer to that."

"Humph." The Witch turned back to her work. "How dull. A self sacrificing anti-hero even after death." They remained quiet for a few more moments. "What of your son? Certainly you must hold some feelings for him? Unless you wish to pawn him off for some greater deed like all the others you've mingled with."

A hint of killing intent coalesced behind her. Ah, so there was a person behind that façade after all.

"Ironic, coming from the woman who slaughtered her own."

The room echoed with Prana as the woman turned around with several balls of raw power thrumming above her. "Careful, Assassin. My need for your services is not as dire as it once was."

"Then kill me or let me go," Assassin continued emotionlessly, knowing that she would not do either. He had proven himself too good at his task for her to put down just yet.

"Humph. We both know that the time for that has yet to come." The woman snorted in dry amusement. "So eager to approach your son again even after you almost killed him? Or perhaps you wish to ensure that your daughter follows her mother's steps?"

Another subtle wave of killing intent filled the room. "How annoying. You are desperate for someone as pathetic as you are."

Caster's previous good mood was quickly ebbing away. "Desperate? I have been called many unsightly things, but that is certainly a new one. I find myself not partial to it."

"Few are when faced with the truth. Humans have a tendency of not liking what they see in the mirror after all. They also have a habit of pretending that they are not related to things they are against."

"True words. However they do not apply to me. I am fully aware of what looks back in my reflections. I have done too much to ignore that." The Witch frowned. "If we are so different, then tell me who I am most like? Tell me, Servant."

Assassin paused for a moment as he fought the urge of the Command Seal. "… Saber…"

The woman blinked in surprise, not expecting her main target to be the answer. "Her? The proud, elegant, noble woman? Do explain. I am eager how you concocted that comparison."

"I am talking about the Saber I summoned as a Master." Kiritsugu's head rose, staring at her with empty eyes. "… You both accepted the roles the world set out for you blindly. You both became what humanity believed you to be and threw your past selves away. Like puppets you played your parts. Hero. Villain. King. Witch. Such positions were needed, and by happenstance you found yourselves with one foot in them. Yet when faced with the decision to back away, both of you blindly put the other foot in without thinking of the consequences for one reason or another."

The Witch said nothing as she listened to her Servant speak more than the rest of the time they had "conversed" combined. Whether it was because she was interested in hearing what he had to say, because his words struck something unnaturally sensitive inside of her, or because she was mute with increasing anger was anyone's guess.

"People like you annoy me. You possess the ability to influence so many lives so easily, yet you don't even bother seeing what is truly wrong about the nature of the roles you play to the fullest. You have given yourselves in the unrealistic parts you play to the point that it is impossible to see you apart from those inhuman expectations. Sooner or later, your tales always end up the same. Humans in general do not tolerate that which it cannot see as its own, especially when it possesses power that mankind generally does not. Eventually they will always react poorly to it. You and Saber are no exception to the rule. You both gave up on yourselves without even knowing it… and as a result the world sooner or later acted in kind with neither of you accurately comprehending why it came to be."

"You have the gall to claim that I chose to live like I have?" the Witch growled, very much considering the idea of killing him there in retaliation for his sharp words. She liked him better when he was a mute. "Do you think that I did not know that I had been forced to love that imbecile Jason? He spoke pretty words and was an adequate errand boy, but the fool rarely had a thought that was truly his own, and was not much of a lover either, always trying to brute force everything. He would not have even made it to my home had it not been for the competency of the Argonauts, even if most of them shunned me in the end."

"Not without good reason," Assassin thought dryly as he let the woman continue with her rant.

"At least the idiot stuck with me for that, not that it lasted much longer than that once we were in Coronith. The gods made me a tool for him to use at his whim, blind with emotion and adoration for the witless oaf, but not so much that I was unaware of my situation. Alone. A kinslayer. Unaware of the world outside of the land that my blood held. A practitioner of the mystic arts, both dark and light mind you. Of course I clung onto the only individual that valued my words and life. Anyone in my position would have. Death and slavery were my only other options, and that was if I was lucky enough to not starve or be tortured for my heritage in the process."

"I highly doubt that all the actions you have done in your life were spurred by Aphrodite's influence." Assassin spoke offhandedly, subtly spurring her to continue talking. Past or present, it seemed to be a universal rule that women with egos loved to talk about themselves.

He had no sympathy for her. Regardless of how sad her past was, it didn't change what she was doing now without regrets.

"Of course not. Her influence ended the moment Jason and my children abandoned me for that trollop Glauce," Caster snorted before glancing at her trapped Master. "Truth be told, she resembled this dear girl here. Fortunately, I had the fortune to be summoned by the slightly more competent of the two."

A slight tilt of Kiritsugu's head caught her attention.

"Oh?" she sarcastically drawled. "Did that not make it into my story? How shocking. Surely you knew that I had six children in my decade in Coronith? Five young healthy boys and my darling little girl. Mermeros, Pheres, and Thessalus were all rather sharp for their ages, as they should have. They all took after me you see, though Thessalus was just three when things fell apart. Eriopes was just as smart and had the potential to be even greater than me at my craft."

Despite being hooded, Kiritsugu saw Caster look into space with a look that he often saw on Iri's face when she was thinking of Illya. Whatever blight on earth this woman was, he could say for a fact that she was still a mother at heart.

Also she seemed to be a gloater at heart as well, so he didn't say anything. The more she talked, the more he could use against her if given an opportunity.

"… In fact they helped me brainstorm my little revenge on Jason's wedding. Mermeros and Pheres had even concocted up this ingenious little scheme to send over a poisoned crown and dress to the tart, which were enchanted to compel any blood relative nearby to help them in distress? At nine and seven they came up with such a plan. How could I not be proud of my brilliant children?"

A sick and twisted mother true, but still a mother. It's not like he could complain given how Illya's life turned out.

"Still, in the end I felt a more direct approach was in order to prove to my former husband that I could operate in a more direct manner if I so desired. As for my infamous slaying of Tisander and Alcimines?" Her mood dropped and she snorted. "Those two always took after their father. Greedy little cretins, the both of them. Always bullying others and trying to get their way. I tried to put some sense into them on multiple occasions, but they never listened. When they heard that their father was going to marry royalty and live in the castle, they were ecstatic. They didn't care that their mother would be exiled. All they wanted was more food, toys, servants…"

She spat to the side in disgust. "Those two were the ones that informed the locals of what I had done and where the rest of their siblings and I were hiding. The villagers had waited for me to leave to get more ingredients before they stormed my home and murdered Mermeros and Pheres. In fact[,] those little blights even helped kill their own siblings simply because they were on my side. After that, Tisander and Alcimines took little Thessalus away, as he was just a boy and even the civilians weren't daft enough to place blame on an infant. They said that Thessalus "escaped" from me. Feh. I saved him from those two degenerates, or at least from their corpses when I had finally caught up with those brats. Unfortunately I could not take care of him and escape with my life, so I gave him as many enchantments and protections as I could before leaving him the care of one of the few villagers that knew better than to believe what the masses had claimed. As for Eriopes…"

The temperature in the prana rich room fell by a few dozen degrees. "… Well, when I finally did find my darling little girl, there was only one thing I could give her at that point. If anything, my deed that night should have been hailed as an action of love, not scorn."

"My condolences." Kiritsugu certainly didn't sound apologetic, but the fact that he said anything at all was worth noting.

"Humph. As if they are worth anything." The woman shook her head. "As for what happened after that, well, there was that short amount of time I spent with Heracles. Not much of a talker that one, and he had a bit of a temper, but anyone that talked to him for more than a few sentences could tell that there was more than muscle in that head of his. We got along quite well actually despite our differences and past with the other Argonauts. Plus we both had a bit of a grudge with that hag Hera. We got along too well in fact. We knew almost instantly that we'd end up killing one another if we spent any more time together than we already did." She sighed whimsically. "I don't know what's more depressing. That I'll have to kill him, or that that wretched girl of yours has reduced him to such a pathetic state."

The father let the comment slide. Even he would admit that keeping Heracles of all Servants on such a tight leash in that state was a rather inhuman thing to do from multiple perspectives.

"Then of course, everyone knows about my time with Aegeus in Athens. How I tried to kill my stepson Theseus so that my darling boy Medus could inherit his father's throne. He was such a good boy. He wasn't overly imaginative or skilled with the mystic arts like his siblings were, but he was the sort that you could not be angry at for long. He inherited it from his father. Trusting and kind… though not so much that he was foolish enough to throw himself over a cliff in a fit of misled despair."

Kiritsugu took a moment to recall that Aegeus died not by Medea's hands, but several years after she left. Actually his demise was rather infamous for being dark ending to Theseus' encounter with the Minotaur of Crete. Theseus, in his eager to get back home, had forgotten to change the sails on his boat from black to white. Black sails meant his failure while white his victory. Aegeus had been so distraught over his firstborn's supposed end that he had drowned himself in what would later be known as the Aegean Sea.

"I'm surprised you didn't kill him yourself when he sent you away." He mused out loud.

"Humph. The thought had crossed my mind. However I decided against it." Caster whimsically brushed his comment aside. "Aegeus was a good man despite what had happened. I had made the first move after all, so the fault of the incident could be blamed on me."

Kiritsugu stared at her emotionlessly, clearly expressing his disbelief that she had let go of her nature so easily.

A dry smirk made its way onto her face. "Well… there was that, and I may have scried the man's future at some point before I had left. Then I may or may not have cast a small spell on Theseus to make him somewhat… forgetful about a few specific things should he have survived his ordeal in Crete… but his demise occurred years after I had departed."

There we go.

"As for after that, well…" She took out Rule Breaker and played with it fondly. "I finally decided to go back home and beg my father for forgiveness you see. I had grown weary of men, the world, and travelling, and with little Medus with me I thought I might have the best opportunity to mend bridges with the only living adult male that I still trusted with my life. When I arrived though, I found that my uncle Perses had imprisoned my father to take over my home. Soon after that he managed to find out about my son and imprisoned him too out of fear that his position would be usurped. So, still in hiding, I did what any mother would do…"

"That's the dagger you used to kill Perses with while disguised as a priestess." Kiritsugu eyed the Noble Phantasm with some interest. "You claimed that a plague was coming and asked for your son as a human sacrifice to appease the gods and keep it away. Then you killed your uncle when his guard was down. Your son became King after that."

"Indeed." Medea beamed as she looked over the dagger some more. "My father was a master of the mystic arts. Almost as good as I in my prime. He could not be killed so easily. However my uncle was also of grandfather Helios' blood, and had inherited a more… physical representation of his lineage. Normal weapons would not do against such a body, so my ever so useful Rule Breaker was made to get past his protections.

"The enchantments were supposed to be temporary; however, grandfather's blood was potent in uncle. The combination of my deeds and magic, with my uncle's blood twisted the knife into what you see here. It was only later that I remembered that I had used this very same blade to exact my revenge on the blights that I had once called my children. The fact that it had stayed with me for all this time was merely a pleasant coincidence."

Kiritsugu remained quiet. All things considered, the Witch in front of him was more of a mixed bag as far as Servants were concerned. She was certainly saner and more reasonable than the fourth War's Caster; however, her priorities weren't hard to discern. If you got in the way of her desires, primarily the stability of her life, she would end you in one way or another.

Still, given her behavior, what he knew from his visions, and what she had said, it was difficult to determine what her current wish was. Had she fallen in love again, it would no doubt have been to spend more time with said infatuation, but even he had his limits. Without an individual for her to focus her desires onto though…

"Hmm." The Witch turned around and lazily gazed upon her Master's prone form. "I suppose when one looks upon my actions, after that fool Jason at least, the image of me willingly falling into my role does not seem rather profound. Family does make one do irrational things after all. Then again, you are the ideal exception to that rule, aren't you, Kiritsugu Emiya?"

The Servant didn't say anything; however, his thoughts on the matter were sarcastic enough to be clearly seen through his emotionless gaze.

"Tell me. Were your final days like mine?" she mused as she turned to her work again. "Working tirelessly for your son's future regardless of how the world saw or didn't see you? Long? Care free? Seemingly endless until the world cut you off at the knees when you weren't looking?"

Assassin paused for a moment. Medea's various legends tend to get vague after her son reaches the throne. In some accounts, Helios spirits her off somewhere on a chariot driven by dragons. In others she had actually moved with Medos to the Middle East. None of them say specifically how she died.

"Of course you wouldn't know," she sighed, already accurately understanding what he was thinking. "Why should you, when the story of my over glorified filicide is so much more interesting to record for the masses? It is far more worth recalling compared to the slow uneventful ending with no blind heroes to trick or deal with because the gods were too lazy to do it themselves. Unless you die in a mighty blaze of glory, the world tends to ignore you once your roles and adventures are over."

Kiritsugu had to agree with her on that. Heroic spirits didn't frequently make it to the Throne with boring stories. It was difficult to have your tale passed around the world when no one could stay awake to the end.

"No one cares or remembers that the mother of the King spent the next decade or so working in the shadows to protect him. Slaying his unimportant conspirators and leading him through political traps, one by one, day in and day out, as they attempted to subvert his rule for petty reasons. Listening to politics of mortal men is far less interesting when there are no tremendous battles or bastards of gods coming in and out every year or so."

Caster casually played with a strand of hair that wasn't covered from her rather large hood. "Well… not that I minded doing all of that. My home was a pleasant place to live, but rather boring without anything… productive to do once my child had grown enough. So I killed two birds with one stone and aided him from less visible positions."

Kiritsugu was fairly certain that Medea would have made a solid Assassin given the opportunity. Then again from the sounds of things, she could have been a powerful Rider as well. Having a chariot driven by Dragons of all things would have even put the previous Rider's mount to shame.

"He even conquered a nearby meaningless land and named it after me." Caster went on, not bothering to notice or care that Assassin wasn't paying attention. She was too lost in her memories to care. "Such a loving boy my Medos was…"

A pity he was restricted by her orders, else he would have shot her right then and there.

"Then of course, a few months after the victory celebrations, I was sacrificed by that very son in order to placate the angry plebeians who had been led to believe that I was the cause of the rather poor crops the land had been growing recently. Her son betrayed her for his people. For peace."

She snorted dryly, glaring at the intangible man behind her, not missing the irony. "At very least he regretted what happened of me, unlike all those other pieces of trash that threw me away to suit their needs. Oh how he wept and grieved as my own dagger was used to stab my heart. How could I not forgive a face like that?"

She turned around completely to face the man in front of her. "While we are on the subject, I have always been curious as to what my youngest was feeling at the time in detail. I have forsaken others for my own sake on many occasions, but never for others and never those that still held a place in my heart. Tell me Assassin, what does it actually feel like to sacrifice one close to you for the sake of many? How did it feel to murder your mother in cold blood, knowing that countless others would never know or appreciate what you had done? Did you feel as if you had made any progress in the slightest once the dust had settled?"

The Servant glared at her with dead eyes. Once more he was compelled to answer her question against his will. The best he could do was put his twist on it. "What I felt was irrelevant."

"Hmm. I suppose I asked too much of you." Her amused smirk seemed to glow through the shadows her hood made. "Then again, knowing how our kind behave, it was probably the point that initially pushed you over the edge. Overcome with so much emotion of murdering your loved one for your goals that you had no choice but to shut down."

Almost lovingly, the woman reached forward and allowed her magic to tap into the conduit that her Master had become.

"Yes, that sounds fitting enough. Our experiences and memories are after all what shape us in the end."

The prana in the room grew immensely as the chamber holding the girl hummed with power. Inside the devise, the semiconscious girl writhed slowly in obvious discomfort. The fact that she had not moved at all since he had laid eyes on her could only mean that the girl was in far more pain than what she could express in her current condition.

"They shape our dreams. Our goals. Our lives…"

A sick grin made its way onto the woman's face.

"Our wishes…"

o. o. o.

With Shirou:

"And that's the last of it." The Emiya sighed as he moved in the last of the boxes related to the information that Kiritsugu had given him to the safe he had hidden into the floor of his workshop, more specifically right under the circle that he had used to summon Saber with.

It had taken them nearly all night to do so despite the seemingly small number of boxes there. Most of the time had been spent looking for anything that might hint of his future knowledge that his father had given him. "Thanks for your help everyone."

"It was only proper for me to aid you in your tasks, Shirou," Saber dutifully stated.

"After everything you've done for me, how could I not help out as well?" Sakura smiled genuinely. While her body was still a bit unstable from the operations, she had been adamant on supporting Shirou in any way she could.

And she had certainly expressed that decision for the majority of the previous day.

"A question," Rider spoke up, wearing jeans and a black sweater that they had picked out for her earlier that day so she could move in the open, at least during the evening. She still got stares due to the fact that she retained Breaker Gorgon, but the explanation of her "eye condition" was enough to deter most people. At least the ones that were around at that part of the day. "Why are you going through such an effort to hide your information now?"

Shirou sighed and brushed his hands on his pants. "I'm going to be more active after tonight. Just in case I have to change locations again, I don't want anyone to get in here and find out what I know just yet. It could lead to too many problems if that kind of information was revealed. Thankfully I memorized most of it so there shouldn't be much need to take it out in the future unless I need to make references."

"So we are going after Caster tonight." Saber nodded in understanding, recalling the massive fire that had been on the news all day with each station grasping at straws, trying to find out what had caused the blaze. The last they had checked, the flames had still yet to be put out. In addition to that, all the schools in the city had been closed until further notice. All in all, the entire city was completely on edge after this latest snafu caused by the War. "I assume we are attacking earlier than normal."

"Tools of the Trade won't restock until midnight, and Luvia started her attack a bit after one last night." Shirou nodded. "With most of his traps and explosives gone, he'll be forced to rely on just his guns and grenades in a wide open space where he can't route the enemy. It's the worst type of battlefield for him. At the very worst, he'll try to hold up by the temple arch, and doing that will make it easy to defend from his attacks as we would know where he is fighting from."

"He could still hide on the buildings and try to snipe us," Sakura noted. "Remember, he has no issues with placing his traps on them."

"Maybe if he was working under better conditions or under another Master, but I doubt that's the case." Shirou shook his head. "Caster's tasked him to prevent anyone from entering her workshop. While sniping the enemy from behind is a solid strategy, it's not ideal for defending a target that's in the opposite direction. Should there be multiple enemies heading to the temple like when Rider and Archer tried to go in, he would be hard pressed to get them both before at least one got inside and possibly take out Caster."

"I see." Saber mused as she went over the facts. "Caster is not foolish enough to look this over, and values her safety over his. She will most likely have him at the entrance again despite it not being to his strength this time. Still, I believe it would be best to make sure that he has not set up any traps in the city to be safe. Any surprises by those two in particular could instantly mean our defeat should we not prepare."

Shirou nodded while making his eyes flash silver in the process. "I never said I was not going to do so. Better safe than dead after all."

"Are you sure that's safe?" Sakura asked with concern. "You told us that if you accidentally take in too much information it could knock you out or worse, and with a wide view like on top of a building…"

"I'll be fine." He smiled genuinely. "I'm good enough that so long as I have no distractions, there should be no problems when I use my eyes."

"That's a big if." The youngest one there crossed her arms sternly.

"Don't make it sound like I don't know what I'm doing, Sakura. This isn't the first time I've done something like this you know." Shirou shook his head.

"Shirou's guidance has done us well so far." Saber pointed out factually. "It would lead us nowhere to start questioning it now over such small trivialities."

"… Fine," the girl relented reluctantly.

"I take it you have a plan of attack," Rider spoke up.

Shirou nodded as he walked across the yard. "Several, but I want to make sure of something first."

"And what's that?" Saber asked curiously before absently catching a shinai that her Master had tossed her.

"When we've sparred so far, we have been fine tuning my technique and style more than anything else," Shirou stated calmly as he materialized shorter versions of the practice weapons in his own hands. "But now that I don't have to pour all of my prana between both you and Rider, I can take things up a notch and show you how I fight with my magic. This time, Saber, I'm going to go at you with everything I have in terms of physical augmentation. I doubt I'll be able to even hit you, but I want to know what your impression is regardless. My plans for tonight depend on how you rate my ability."

The blonde hesitated for a moment before her face fell into its usual impassive state. "If that is what you wish. It is fortunate that you have Avalon inside of you, else you may not have recovered in time to enact your plans for tonight."

The teen winced and laughed dryly as he adopted his stance. "Ouch. Cut me some slack, Saber. I'm not that helpless."

A faint twitch was seen on Saber's lips as she readied her guard. "Your sword work says otherwise."

"That so?" He sighed as two guns in his skull cocked their hammers.

Trace. On.

The first one slammed down, filling the imperfections within his body with prana. His self reinforcement was as close to being classified as "perfect" as he could get it under ideal circumstances, but he wasn't aiming for that. Instead, he was improving his body in a more rushed manner, much like how he would do so in a fierce fight.

Even so, his body was tough enough now to take a fairly serious beating without worry of anything serious happening. He had seen the proof during one Apostle hunt when he had been thrown through a solid rock wall. It only resulted in a few broken bones and a minor concussion.

The Apostle on the other hand, wound up with a severe case of sword arrows in the head after all its limbs were cut off.

And with his tougher body…

Time alter…

He could push a few other things to higher levels as well…

Square Accel.

Faster than most humans could follow, Shirou bolted at Saber with everything he had. His skills in self reinforcement were already higher than most magi could accomplish, but with his crest multiplying his already heightened state by four…

Fwip! Swoosh! Swoosh! Crack! Swoosh! Crack! Pow!

He still got his ass handed to him by Saber and was sent flying in the opposite direction in less than five seconds.

The Emiya crashed back to the earth with a heavy thud and a loud gasp from the feedback of his mysteries compounded with the swift but heavy beating that his Servant had delivered to him. Thankfully his body was still reinforced, so the worst of Gaia's correcting influences didn't quite tear him apart from the inside. However it was still a painful experience. Had he not had Avalon in his body, he probably would be lying on the ground for a few minutes or so before feeling comfortable enough to try standing again.

"Shirou!" Sakura ran to his side. "Are you ok? Saber didn't go overboard did she?"

"Oooowww," the only male there intelligently answered as he held his chest in obvious discomfort.

"Please do not underestimate my control, Sakura," Saber stated with what was similar to a pout but certainly was not. Kings did not pout after all. "While my counter may have appeared excessive, I assure you that it was well within Shirou's range of tolerance."

Truth be told, she had gone slightly overboard with her counterattack. To be sure, she had expected Shirou to come at her with heightened abilities, but she may have slightly underestimated how fast he would be. No need to let anyone know about that though.

"Considering the fact that she's been painting the floor of my dojo with my blood, sweat, and tears whenever we spar, I wouldn't put her estimation into question. It's safer that way." Shirou coughed feebly as he felt Avalon work its magic. While his body was already in better shape, he couldn't shake off the ghost pains of what he went through just yet. "So what did you think?"

"It was impressive… for a human," Rider stated with a twitch of amusement on her lips. "Certainly not something expected from one of this era."

"I agree." Saber nodded. "Your technique is still unrefined, but you did move just now with the speed of a Servant, albeit the slowest ones. From what we've seen though, it would not be worth much in a battle against another one of us by itself. Should you do that during a conflict or against another Servant, you would likely manage to catch them off guard to hide yourself or gather reinforcements."

"But good enough to get out of the way if another Servant tries to focus on me as a distraction, right?" he asked as he picked himself up with some help.

The two Servants looked at one another skeptically before nodding. "So long as there is enough space between you two, you should be able to buy enough time running for us to reengage the enemy," Rider supplied.

"Good." The Emiya smiled earnestly. "Then as it stands I can act as a solid support for you two now in fights… well, most of them anyways. I won't be able to keep up if things wind up like at the Matou residence again."

"Is that really necessary?" Sakura frowned. "Masters should be focusing on fighting Masters, not other Servants. Your Reality Marble is powerful and useful in this war, Shirou, but wouldn't it be of more use against enemies you can fight on more even ground?"

Sakura did have a point. Under most circumstances, the best a Master could do for their Servant in a fight was heal their injuries, provide prana, cast supporting spells, or take out the enemy Master. Most magi in this era did not have the capability or means to harm other Servants effectively without significant preparation, so they forwent that path of attack altogether in most cases.

Unfortunately, those simpler means of support were complicated by the situation at hand…

"In this case, it is. Sorry," Shirou relented with a guilty smile. "Don't worry. I'll be keeping my distance from the enemy and attacking from afar to help Saber and Rider out. With any luck they shouldn't have much issue. But… in the mean time, I'm going to need you to do a favor for me."

The last Makiri tilted her head to the side in confusion. "A favor? Sure, but what could I possibly help you out with in this war? You've been on top of everything and practically steering the entire war since the very beginning fairly well on your own so far."

The other Master grimaced at her statement, knowing its veracity despite the admitted unpleasantness. This made him feel like Kirei every time he considered it. "That may have been the case before, but with Luvia forcing my hand and the priest knowing I'm up to something, I'm going to have to kick things up a notch in order to keep it that way. I'm not so foolish to believe I can do all of this alone, no matter how much trouble everyone says I get myself into."

"Irregular events such as this occur that often around you? I suspected no such thing," Saber lazily leered at her Master. "Rider. Do you believe this outlandish tale?"

Rider's lips twitched again in amusement. "It is not my place to judge Saber. I will simply provide my aid in any way I can."

"Ha ha. Very funny you two. Laugh it up," the Emiya deadpanned before regaining composure and turning to Sakura. "To be blunt Sakura, you're really not going to like it, and that's understating it. Unfortunately I really can't think of anyone else better for the job than you and I need your help on this one."

The Matou frowned for a moment before letting out a brief laugh of amusement. "Shirou, after all you've just done for me. After everything you've put yourself through for my sake, do you really think that I would deny aiding you with this War?"

"You shouldn't have had to go through with it in the first place Sakura. All I did was-"

"Save me when no one else would," she interrupted him with a firmer tone. "Like it or not, Shirou Emiya, you deserve more than you give yourself credit for, and as the one you have saved I am obligated to determine how much you may or may not deserve as the delivering party. Is that understood?"

"Yes ma'am." Shirou shivered and nodded his head. He could never win against Rin or Sakura in arguments like this whenever they put their feet down. With other people he was always able to muster up at least some steel in his spine to put up a strong argument, but never with those two.

"It's hard to tell who our real Master is at times." Both Rider and Saber mused as they watched the pair interact.

"Now then. Since we have come to an agreement, please continue on with what you require of me." Sakura smiled proudly at her victory.

Shirou sobered instantly, and looked away with a grimace. "Don't say I didn't warn you... while the rest of us are fighting tonight, you are going to…"

Brrring. Brrring.

The instructions were interrupted by the cell phone that was in Shirou's pocket. The device was only recently starting to become mainstream due to its relatively high prices and relatively poor reception (not that he had to deal with the latter thanks to Sirius' modifications), but the one Shirou had was strictly for "work" purposes. Only people he trusted with his "work" knew its number.

The problem was that the only people that knew said number also knew he was fighting in the War. That being the case, no one should be calling it unless it was damn important and related to what he was doing.

Grimacing at the unknown factor, but knowing that it could be something extremely important, the teen took the device out of his pocket and put it to his ear. "Hello?"

"I take it you've seen my work on the news," Luvia's voice casually asked from the other side.

Sighing in relief, Shirou allowed himself to relax. If he had been called up by Barthomelloi for another job now of all times he would have had a panic attack. "You underestimate yourself, Luvia. I saw the fire and smoke from here just fine. If anything I'd like to say you two overdid it, but given our targets I can't say that for certain."

"Humph. Even after all the effort I went through last night for your sake you are still uncertain of your plans? How you managed to last this long as Barthomelloi's dog I will never know," the foreigner mocked with a hint of pity.

"No plan survives the enemy, Luvia." The Emiya sighed, still seeing that his former friend was still in a poor mood.

"Well you certainly fooled me with the way this War has been going." He could practically feel her sarcasm.

There was a brief pause as Shirou gathered his thoughts and pretended to ignore the eyes on him. "… Why did you call me? It wasn't to simply confirm the obvious. Whatever your feelings for me are right now, you know I'm not sloppy or careless when it comes to things like this."

There was a brief pause on the other side. "… Why haven't you brought Tohsaka into this debacle of yours? Or at least that Enforcer woman? I know you are trying to maintain your illusion of abiding by the rules, but even you can't deny that the Priest is aware that you are up to something now after his announcement last night.

"If you delay any further, that irrational girl may do something foolish out of spite. You know better than I what she is like when people withhold too much from her without a suitable reason. Even worse, what would happen if she suspects that you are up to something on her own. She would no doubt act on her partial assumptions and disrupt everything you've worked on."

Shirou grimaced at Luvia's question and admitted she had a point. Keeping secrets from Rin was one of the fastest ways to get on her shit list, and boy was he ever holding back from her this time.

"You don't have to remind me of that. Remember, until recently I had to keep this from everyone until Zouken was dealt with. You got involved out of sheer happenstance, and even then I had to take precautions to ensure that no one suspected it. As for right now, I don't want to risk prompting everyone to move against me at once, or you for that matter. Two Servants working together at once is believable, but three for an extended period of time will raise red flags everywhere. That's why I didn't participate in last night's events. It would have drawn unwanted extra attention to the both of us."

Luvia conceded to that. A formation of Saber, Rider, and her Caster would certainly cause most if not all of the other participants in the War to focus on them in particular. Their varied skills combined would make them horrifically effective at all ranges of combat, and would no doubt cause others to act in ways that would not benefit anyone in the long run. True they may have been able to take out the pair on the mountain that way, but then they would be stuck dealing with everyone else being wary of them and slowing down their attempts to team up for the real enemy.

He sighed and ran his free hand through his hair. "But you're right about Rin and Bazett-nee. I really should tell them about this before things have a chance to get out of hand again. I'll do it tomorrow regardless of what happens. Hopefully Rin won't curse the hell out of me if I speak fast enough."

"Somehow I doubt that's possible," Luvia dryly retorted, recalling how close she was to doing that exact action when she found out about the Emiya's machinations, before she paused to think of something. "You really don't trust her Servant do you?"

"He's the biggest unknown to me in this War other than Assassin," Shirou blankly stated. "I've gathered enough info to confirm he's the one that dad foresaw, and I think that he's told Saber who he is in the letter he made for her. Unfortunately for some reason, she won't say anything yet, but I can tell she's as wary of him as I am."

"Your Servant knows who Archer is but she hasn't told you?" the blonde asked incredulously.

"Yeah. Don't ask why cause I don't. Even she isn't too sure what to do about it. What dad said though, about him being my greatest ally or enemy really has me spooked. He wouldn't say something like that unless he was certain about it, and that means that Archer's either very powerful or he's better at getting what he wants than most think. Regardless, at this point I don't want to deal with any unknown factors if I have the option to avoid them. Not when there's so little time to work with…"

"So you really are going tonight," the blonde on the other end stated almost gravely.

"I promised you I would. It is my fault that things have come to this after all," he said simply. "It's only natural that I fix the problems that I made."

There was a brief sound made that he couldn't make out exactly before Luvia spoke again. "… Idiot. Just make sure that Marjatta gets back alive. In one piece is debatable, since she is as much to blame as you for not reigning in that annoyance of a Servant."

Shirou couldn't help but laugh dryly at her statement. "I'll see what I can do. I'm still a bit inexperienced to the whole rescue business if you haven't noticed."

"Be that as it may, your track record is so far one for one. Do keep that impeccable efficiency, will you?"

"Yes ma'am. If that's all…"

"… Shirou." Luvia spoke up just as he was about to turn the phone off.

"Hm? Yes? What is it?"

There was a moment of hesitation before the European decided on what to say. "… Be careful. There was some commotion on the Mountain that wasn't caused by my Caster last night. Assassin didn't blow up the top of another building last night because of me. There haven't been any reports of any of the other Servant's dying, and if Assassin was supposedly in such a dire position as you claim he should be after I set fire to the mountain…"

Other than being the moderator of the War and masking any evidence of it, the Moderator had several other responsibilities as well. One of which was to announce the demise of any of the Servants to the other participants within a reasonable timeframe to prevent unnecessary collateral from taking place. The Tohsaka family had to rebuild their house after the second war due to that overlooked mistake. Normally such information would be declared by the following morning of the event.

As of the moment, it was close to noon.

"… I thought things were going too well," Shirou spoke in a significantly colder tone, piecing together why Luvia brought up his lack of communication with the other Masters. "Any idea who it was?"

"I left when I thought enough damage had been done. With you and me out of the way, that only leaves Archer, Lancer or Berserker as the culprits." The blonde replied. "It could have been any one of the three… four if you count that leftover from the last war that you are so terrified of."

"Not Berserker," the Emiya stated right off the bat. "He's too wild and powerful to go there without someone getting killed, especially after you cleaned up the battlefield. Assassin's good, but his style wouldn't delay Berserker long enough to let Caster use Rule Breaker on him or Illya. Gilgamesh would be the same. That just leaves Archer and Lancer…"

"There is a chance that whoever attacked escaped afterwards." It was possible after all. They were talking about Servants after all, and the battleground was far from ideal for anyone to fight in save for the Princess and maybe Berserker.

"Maybe… but in order to stage a solid attack on either Assassin or Caster after the fire started, they would have to at least get to the entrance itself if not inside Caster's workshop. If that's the case, the likelihood of both sides coming out alive afterwards is not good, but that's what apparently happened…" The situation was starting to get grimmer from the Emiya's perspective. "I don't like this. Have you heard from Rin or Bazett-nee today?"

"Oh certainly." Luvia's sarcastic tone was not comforting. "Why what else would I do with my enemies in this sham of a war in between battles other than casually talk about ambiguous topics?"

"A simple no would have sufficed." Shirou pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling a headache come to join the aching his body still had from Saber trashing it. "Damn it. Lancer's good enough to fight on par with Saber if he goes all out, and Archer's still a wild card…"

"Having second thoughts about tonight already?" Luvia skeptically asked.

"No. If anything, tonight might be the best shot we have to turn the situation. I'll try to see if I can find them and in the mean time plan for a worst case scenario. How good is the Princess' sensory capabilities?"

"Good enough that we might as well have had a front row seat of your encounter with Berserker," Luvia dryly answered. "Unfortunately her counterpart has already erected a bounded field that prevents my Servant from looking into her operations."

"I thought as much. I need you on hand when I make my move. I made a mistake of assuming that no one would try to capitalize on the opening you made before me. I need to make sure that doesn't happen again tonight and get the drop on everyone."

"I suppose I could do you with this one last favor." Luvia sighed aridly as if she was the one with the power.

"Thank you. Please let me know if anything comes up. I'll call tonight before we start."

"Of course you will. It is only sensible considering the circumstances," the blonde mused, though Shirou could tell that it was a half hearted comment at best. "… Do try not to get yourself killed, Emiya. I'm not the only one you have to answer to when everything is set and done."

"Hmph. No need to tell me that. My brilliant plans have always ended with me in a seiza begging everyone for forgiveness," Shirou laughed dryly.

"Oh I think you'll have to do better than that this time Emiya." Luvia's tone regained some of the mirth it had been missing ever since Shirou had revealed his machinations. "Until then."

Shirou looked at the disconnected phone with a dry smile as he took it away from his head. Even though he had not known Luvia as long as Rin or Sakura, he still liked to believe that they could trust one another. Hopefully when everything was set and done they could return to the way things were, but a feeling in his stomach made him feel that it wasn't likely.

"I take it things will not go as smoothly as we had hoped," Saber dryly stated, her face an emotionless mask much like Rider's.

"And thus it should be completely within our expectations." Her Master turned around, his face even and calm. "Our approach will be different, but ultimately the same."

"So my supposed task has not changed then." Sakura frowned slightly.

"If anything, its significance has only become greater." Shirou held out his hand and instantly pulled out a piece from his ever growing library. "And this is the tool that will help you survive it."

o. o. o.

Edlefelt Mannor:

"So then, I suppose that is enough suitable proof to support my claims." The European sighed as she put away the phone in front of Rin.

"I still find it hard to believe that he managed to hide this from everyone." The Tohsaka scowled as she contemplated what she just learned. "This is the same Shirou that can't lie his way out of a paper bag for heaven's sake."

"One does not have to lie about a subject so long as it does not come up in the first place," Caster pointed out the obvious. "It was not as though either of you were aware of the War's coming for long."

"Yes, but he did. And he didn't even bother asking us for help!" Rin snapped. "We could have avoided so much if he just bothered to let something slip conveniently!"

"A fool's errand." Luvia would have rolled her eyes, but her self-control prevented it at the last moment. "I had laid eyes on Zouken but once, and that was enough to determine that raising his suspicions would be akin to suicide. Gaining the priest's attention would fare just as poorly."

"Humph. Out of all the things you've told me, Kirei's part in everything is the thing I have the least trouble believing."

"For once I cannot disagree with you." Luvia stared at her decorated ceiling, clearly comprehending something else. "He certainly is a fool."

"That's what I've been telling you since we met," Rin snorted. "Only Shirou would try to do something as absurd like this by himself."

"He won't take Assassin's identity very well."

"Which is why we conveniently didn't tell him. It would make him be too soft handed if he knew beforehand. Shirou knows enough about how he fights that our oversight won't impact how he approaches things, and hopefully by then the Witch will be dealt with. Assassin is injured regardless, so the bitch will be forced to come out and handle things herself."

"And the Origin Bullets?" Luvia frowned.

Rin paused at that before shaking her head. "He'd use normal guns against Shirou. The Origin Bullets are best used against opponents using as much power at once and with big targets. Shirou can't use his Reality Marble completely, so it would be hard to force him to do something that would be an easy target when the normal guns are faster and more efficient."

Slam!

Luvia hammered a hand onto the table in frustration. "Are you even concerned at all about what is going to happen!? What this war has dissolved into and what should become of everyone should Emiya not succeed tonight?!"

Rin's frowned but did not lose her composure. "Of course I am. I'm pissed as hell that he's doing all of this behind my back, but I at least understand his reasons and why he's being an idiot about it. I've known him long enough to figure out how his mind works to a certain extent. I also know firsthand how capable he can be if his anger is triggered. No. I'm certain he will survive, even if you didn't slip that Lancer is now under Caster's command in your conversation."

Luvia didn't bother to point out that her sister's life was on the line. Despite her grievances, she was not so foolish as to risk her family's life on some petty grudge.

An image of a man impaled by countless weapons on a hill flashed through Rin's mind. His small but genuinely happy smile nearly caused her stomach to rebel on itself.

"When he does survive, and he tells me everything himself, I will go to his house. I will knock on his door. I will make him confirm everything he has said to my face. And then I will beat the living shit out of him until he will swear to me that he will NEVER do something so asinine like this without my help EVER AGAIN."

Caster silently contemplated the ferocity of the girl's statement. She was certainly angry yes, but the Servant couldn't help but notice a spark of fear in her speech as well. She was clearly afraid of something regarding the boy. Whether it was fear of him, or fear of what he could do she was not certain, but the Princess did not dwell on it. It was not her issue.

"And what of your own Servant?" Luvia mused. "What of the Shirou that we have on hand already? If Kiritsugu did indeed witness the Heroic Spirit Shirou Emiya summoned by you, that begs the question, why the warnings? Certainly having a more experienced version of himself would be a boon to clearing up this debacle…"

"However the Senior clearly stated that he would be the boy's potential greatest ally or enemy." Caster closed her eyes in thought. "Perhaps Archer had performed some action in the past that he desires his former self to not accomplish?"

"If that was the case, why not simply tell us?" Rin rubbed her temples in frustration. "It has to be more serious than that or Kiritsugu would not have put so much effort into the warning."

Luvia turned to her Servant. "Caster. What can you tell us about Emiya's legend? Perhaps we can get a clue from that."

The Greek sighed and was about to speak… before she paused and frowned.

"Well?" Rin rose an eyebrow. "I am aware that he is not the most appealing individual to us at the moment…"

"That's not it." Caster narrowed her eyes in concentration. "I… I don't seem to recall ever coming across Emiya's legend in the Throne."

Luvia blinked in confusion. "Never coming across his legend? But how? Even if you've forgotten his exploits, all Servants should at least be familiar with the names of all other Heroic spirits. It would be all but impossible for a Servant to be unidentifiable once their name is known."

"It is as I claim Master." Caster sorted through the countless names that she knew had made it to the Throne. "Shirou Emiya… does not possess a legend."

"Of course it wouldn't be that easy," Rin muttered under her breath before thinking of another approach. "Ok then. What about Kiritsugu's? You confirmed that he does have a legend, right? Then what does it say about his son?"

The Servant paused before reciting what was generally known about the Magus Killer. "After his painful ordeals and realizing the ultimate folly of his path, the Hero of Sacrifice was left broken in both mind and body. His only saving grace was the broken boy he had both damned and rescued from his greatest mistake…"

Luvia pretended that she was not leaning forward in interest. "Go on."

"The boy he took in had significant potential to do a great many things, or be nothing at all. Despite what his savior had done though, the boy had agreed to inherit the man's dreams on his deathbed." The Servant paused hesitantly. "In doing so, unknowingly condemning the selfless child to his impossible ideal of providing salvation to as many as possible… travelling farther down the road of self damnation in the guise of martyrdom than even his father dared to go… which he adhered to even beyond death…"

Luvia barely noted her own unnerved appearance as she took in the unstable appearance of her Servant and Rin. "Caster? What is it? What did you figure out?"

"A heroic spirit with no Legend, and eternally works for the salvation of as many as possible…" Caster gravely mused as she realized what Archer was. "Even after all he has done, even I would not condemn him to such a fate…"

"No…" Rin held her arms as she too figured out what her Servant was. The gentle smile of a dead man echoed fiercely in her skull. "No. No. No. No. No. No. He can't be. He shouldn't be. I… I should have been able to stop him… I swore that I would keep him down before he would do something that ridiculous… but… but this?! He went that far?! How?! How did it happen?!"

Two words rang through Rin's head. Two words that identified and condemned her Servant. Two words that would no doubt haunt her mind long after the talking would finish.

Counter Guardian.

o. o. o.

Omake:

Kirei's various excuses for the fire on the Mountain:

Shirou walked into the living room and yawned. "Man, and here I thought Sakura would be less in heat after the worms were gone."

Walking to the couch, he picked up the remote. "Well, lets see how Luvia did…"

Bzzt.

"We are still waiting for more information about the rogue meteor that hit Mount Enzou…"

Bzzt.

"No terrorist cell has yet to take credit for the tremendous fire that-"

Bzzt.

"Authorities believe that a massive natural gas pocket-"

Bzzt.

"Who would cross the bridge of death must answer me these questions three. Dare the other side he see."

"Uh oh."

"What is your name?"

Bzzt.

"Hope Saber didn't see that."

"We believe that the fire was started by an undetonated bomb from World War Two…"

Bzzt.

"We believe the cause of the fire was a discarded bag of Mapou Tofu…"

"The hell?"

Bzzt.

"Ninjas."

Bzzt.

"A mad streaking pyromaniac has been sighted…"

Bzzt.

"It's a war man! With like, heroes summoned from the dead that would totally *beep* us all if they wanted to!"

"Didn't think the priest also used refuge in audacity."

"And this has been the morning news on Fox."

"… Damn he's good. Wait, since when did Fox cover local Japanese news?"

"I see that Caster has done as you have requested." Rider spoke from behind Shirou, having snuck… walked, yes, walked over there when he was focused on the television.

"Gah!" The Emiya jumped around to face his other servant. "Rider! Don't do that!"

The beautiful servant looked around her Master to see the television. "May I?"

The incarnation blinked in confusion a few times before realizing what she was asking. "Oh uh… sure. Go ahead."

Bzzt.

"What is the average high speed velocity of a swallow?"

"… You did that on purpose."

o. o. o.

A/N:

I'm ALIIIIIVVVVEEEE!

So a brief list of what I've been through since the last chapter:

I've moved to florida.

Started my job.

Looked for apartments.

Looked at more apartments.

Moved again.

Put my two dollar bedframe together.

Raged because one of the main parts of the bedframe among the things lost by the moving company.

Studied my ass off.

Did midterms (and homework).

Had my car shipped here.

Got lost several times around Jacksonville (Largest city in terms of land space in the U.S.)

Met up with CodenameBolt, who ensured that I would get less lost here. Cool guy.

Had half my stuff shipped here.

Still looking for the other half of my stuff that the moving company lost… Assholes.

Got my games.

Saw the Lego Movie.

Got bravely default.

Got Dark Souls 2.

AND typed this chapter, which I might add has been fighting me the entire way.

So yeah. Kinda tired.

Thanks Wayfarer for editing and putting up with this thing.

There were a ton of ways this chapter could have turned out given how the last one ended. The problem was that since Rin lived and was bombarded with new information, writing out ANY scene with her was going to be a PAIN since she is SMART, and as such could figure out a good deal more from what she had learned.

The problem was that she had learned SO much that deciding on what to focus on in conversation without making the story repeat on itself for the hundredth time is damn near impossible, so I had to be careful with her scenes.

I'm just saying it now. I don't like this chapter. It leads to many things that I am VERY eager to get to, but this chapter in particular is like that disliked family member that pops up at reunions to me. You have to tolerate him.

I'm definitely going to be faster with the next chap since I know exactly (for the most part) what's going to happen, and it shall be glorious.

What else… oh yeah. SOPA.

So here's the thing. Normally, I just sit back on things like this. Sure they are a big deal to us, and I do add my name, but in the end I try to avoid political subjects in RL. Too many people are sensitive, and my views are… well I tend to insult a lot of people when it comes to these things with the blunt way I talk. I'm not exactly politically correct on a lot of things.

Reasonable? Yes. Logical? Yes. Good at explaining it in a fluid and soft on the ego manner? Fuck. No.

Back to SOPA though. Like I said, normally I'd just sign it and be done, but since I've gotten so many PM's begging me to add my voice to the damn thing I'll just say it.

SOPA bad. Congress retarded. Fanfic writers unite. Sign the petition. Don't do drugs. Canada was right after all.

About what I don't know, but you know they were right about something important.

So that's it folks. I'm gonna play… and die… some more on Dark Souls 2.

SO REVIEW! WORSHIP THE LOG! RAGE AGAINST THOSE BASTARDS THAT CAN BEAT THE FIRST DARK SOULS IN UNDER AN HOUR! AND REVIEW AGAIN!