Chapter 44: Inconsistencies

I do not own Fate/Stay Night and stuffs.

o. o. o.

"Odd, I thought he would have recovered by now." Merem tilted his head to the side curiously as he watched Shirou sleep deeply. Saber knelt patiently at her Master's side.

The boy was worlds better than he had been when the sun had set, but he was by no means healed. Other than his still missing arm, Shirou was no longer full of holes, bleeding uncontrollably, or lacking chunks of flesh. However, the holes were not fully closed, muscles were visible, skin raw, and most notably, his left cheek was not reformed, showing his still mangled jaw and fractured teeth.

"Avalon cannot restore missing limbs. Repair destroyed organs and bones, yes, but a severed arm is gone unless reattached," Saber evenly explained. "The repercussions of his time mysteries have acted up several times over the night due to overuse. I suspect they are interfering with his recovery."

The Vampire nodded in understanding. "Makes sense. Have you fed him any of your blood?"

Saber's face briefly flickered to what could at best be a mix of distaste and annoyance, but there could be multiple reasons for the reaction. "Avalon by itself should adequately do the job. Shirou has more than once expressed his aversion to relying on his less desirable natures."

Merem couldn't help but shake his head and sigh in mild frustration. "Hah. I should have expected as much from him. He's a rather stubborn child, isn't he? Quite astonishing how sometimes one's most endearing trait can be the most annoying one."

"I know how you feel far too well." Several faces and names flashed through her mind. People and histories long since past. "What is your purpose in Fuyuki, vampire? Your real reason for this?"

An amused smile flickered on his face. He should have expected the King of Knights to suspect more from him. She may have died young, but her legacy was not only dealing with warriors and battles, but in politics and kingdoms as well. He would have been disappointed if she didn't suspect as much from a being that was alive when she was.

"Who said I only had to have one?" He toyed with her, more for his own amusement than anything else, but still more than genial in behavior. Truth be told, he didn't fancy his odds against the King of Knights. Her Excalibur was more than powerful enough to take out all of his limbs at once, a feat that few things on the planet could replicate.

The petite blonde frowned, clearly not willing to be patient. "You have my gratitude for your assistance behind the scenes. I will not deny you this. However, unlike Shirou, you still do not have my trust. I have been betrayed more than enough times to know when other games are being played in my presence, and I will not blindly allow my Master to be subject to them."

Merem's smile only grew. "To have earned such fierce loyalty from the King of Knights herself so quickly. Even I could not have imagined a better partner for you if I had tried, Shirou. No wonder you emerged victorious. Your compatibility is astounding."

Saber grew even more annoyed and frustrated at the fact that her questions had been ignored. His voice had contained nothing but pride and approval, as if he was praising his own child or a beloved younger sibling. She didn't know what to make of it.

"I am interested in Shirou's growth, to the point of being personally invested in it. It is more than I had initially anticipated to be, but that is neither here or there." He didn't take his eyes off of the boy. "It is also true that I was curious how the War would play out. I am a collector of artifacts, and seeing all sorts of mysteries and items that have not seen light nor air nor eyes since even my time is quite tempting. I was obligated to be the Overseer with Kirei's passing, but I had halfway anticipated doing as much when it was clear that he was one of Shirou's targets. It didn't amount to much. Likewise, the Grail itself, and the ritual matter little to me. I am already capable of enacting Miracles by myself. I do not need such crude brute force thaumaturgy to get what I desire."

"Then what is it you desire?" Saber got to the point. Judging from the way he spoke, it was almost as clear as day that while Merem was interested in Shirou, there was something else that had his eye in Fuyuki.

The Vampire's amusement faded to something brief and scarce, almost as if he did not know why he was smiling nor the meaning behind it. "Hmm. I'm not too sure myself to be honest. But the more I try figure it out, the more enticing it is. I am finding that the process of determining its value to me to be almost as invigorating as gaining it in the first place."

"Your answer makes little sense."

"Now you know how I feel about it." Saber couldn't tell if Merem was more amused or frustrated by the fact.

Before the conversation could continue however, a faint and periodic buzzing caught their attention. It took them a moment to realize that it was coming from one of Shirou's intact pockets.

Not trusting Merem just yet, Saber reached down and took out a buzzing cell phone, the screen displaying Rin's name on the front.

"Huh. McGinty is more capable than I thought. Or is this mere convenience?" Merem tilted his head to the side in curiosity, surprised that the device had managed to remain intact, let alone functional after the battle that its owner had just been through.

Saber ignored him in favor of opening up the device and pressing the green button that would open the call. "Rin? Is this you?"

A faint, yet clearly distinct sigh of relief could be heard on the other side of the phone. "Yes. It's me, Saber. Judging from your tone, I'm guessing that everyone's still alive?"

"More or less. How did you know that we were attacked?" the blonde asked.

"Caster sicced Rider and Assassin on us. She wouldn't have made such a brazen move that left her open unless something was occupying Shirou so she wouldn't be blindsided," Rin coolly reasoned. "Luvia's butler was killed and her house was wrecked. We moved to my house as it's the next most fortified location in the city. Since you are the one that answered the phone, I can only guess that Shirou is unconscious again for one reason or another."

She tried to play it off as if it was a minor issue, but Saber could tell that the girl was barely managing to hide her concern. "He is not in any immediate danger, but it will take him longer to recover than normal. He… took several unprecedented risks during the battle, and is now bearing the consequences of his actions."

"Yeah, that sounds like him all right. He isn't Shirou if he didn't do something like that." There was a bitter acceptance in her words, as if the girl didn't want to admit that they were true. She probably knew that he was more hurt than Saber implied, but didn't want to know just how bad it was. "So, what's the bottom line? Bad news first if possible."

Saber shifted uncomfortably. The "bottom line" was a long one, and not entirely pleasant. "We managed to defeat Gilgamesh. However due to trickery and our being distracted by him, Kirei and Caster independently slipped through our guard. The priest is dead as well, but Caster now has his command Seals. The Vampire has also appeared and has taken the Kotomine's place as Overseer. Sakura and Illyasviel are alive, but Illya's maids were also killed in the confusion."

She held off on informing Rin about Sakura's condition after absorbing Gilgamesh's soul. Odds are likely that Shirou would have the issue settled as soon as he woke up.

"So Caster has nearly full control over the Servants again. She could probably use the Seals to relocate them for a tactical advantage if things got dicey. She has the advantage in terms of maneuverability and real time coordination like this." Rin tried to see the big picture, though it could also be a way to distract herself from Kirei's death. "… Damn it. It's late and we're too tired for this. Caster could use her Command Seals to attack us now if she wanted."

Saber thought otherwise. "No. She wouldn't waste the seals so quickly and so early. Not when she and her Servants are exhausted. Caster knows about the Vampire and is reasonably wary of him. He's an unknown that knows too much. She'll be spending more time shoring up her defenses and resources for a final battle."

"You don't trust him either." The girl's dry remark made the eavesdropping Apostle Ancestor smile in amusement.

"He has proven to be helpful, if difficult at times," Saber admitted, not taking her eyes off of the young looking immortal. "He clearly wants something, but I don't know what. It isn't the Grail from what I can tell."

"If he wants Shirou, tell him to wait his damn turn. The idiot owes me some face time and I'm going to collect one way or another."

"Duly noted." Merem slowly backed away from the phone. While he had never been in a romantic relationship before, he had long since learned to keep his distance from a scorned woman.

Saber ignored his reaction. "I'll be sure to pass the message. We shall leave for your home in the morning. It sounds as though we all need rest."

"Sure. Sleep. That will be easy." Rin's bitter sarcasm could have stemmed from several sources, but concluded with a defeated sigh. "Be honest Saber, how does the situation look like from your eyes?"

The King of Knights pressed her lips together firmly. "... The conditions are not favorable. We had a clear advantage in terms of war potential, but Caster's is more versatile and has a prime defensive position. The conditions for the oncoming battle are also against us. It will take some work and luck to get the results that we desire. Even if Caster has more Command Seals, her back is against the wall and she knows it."

"Yeah, I was hoping you wouldn't say that." Clearly Rin had come to the same conclusion that Saber did, much to their chagrin. "Hopefully we'll manage to figure out something by the time we meet up. That or Shirou wakes up and pulls another insane plan from his ass. He seems to have been full of them recently."

"I won't argue against that." Saber's lips twitched in amusement.

"What are the odds that whatever he plans will have him in the middle of the fighting?"

"High enough that you shouldn't bother asking."

"Of course." More energy seemed to leave the girl's voice. "… Just, just try to keep him alive. Protect him from himself. Please?"

Saber couldn't help but pity the girl. She clearly cared greatly for Shirou and it was probably torture for her to constantly hear and see him in situations like this. "I owe him far too much for me not to do at least that much Rin. You have my word."

"I don't see what you're so worried about." Merem tilted his head in confusion. "Shirou may be weaker than us Servants and Apostles, but his ability to endure and survive is one of his most notable traits. He gets hurt, but surely you've noticed the steps he takes to ensure his life by now."

Saber shot him a dirty look. "I'll let him know you called when he wakes up. We will meet soon regardless."

"Yeah. Of course. Do you remember where I live?" The Tohsaka was clearly grateful for the change in conversation.

"Finding you will pose no issue. Do you have enough room for all of us?"

"I'll make some if needed. Archer can make himself a doghouse if push comes to… shove." The girl had intended to be funny, but she had realized too late of another issue that would need to be dealt with. Shirou still didn't know of Archer's identity or his origins.

"The need to inform him would have arisen sooner or later." Saber grimaced. From what she had read and what Illya had told her, she had a bad suspicion that Shirou wouldn't take too kindly to Archer's presence, to put things lightly.

"I hoped "never", if only to save everyone the headache." Rin's voice clearly indicated she was of similar mind. When she first summoned him, she had assumed that their meeting would be hilarious to say the least, but now she knew better.

"There is no use avoiding it. I will tell him about it when he gets up to save time. Best you prepare Archer for the same." The Servant sighed, not looking towards the event either.

"Mmm. I'll do that. Don't be alarmed if you feel some heavy duty mysteries getting near my place. Luvia's Caster is beefing up the security around my home and the local area so we don't get blindsided like today. Night, Saber." Rin cut off the line before the Servant could reply. Not that anyone could blame her. She was probably as exhausted as everyone else right now.

"Is she done talking yet?"

Saber blinked in surprise and turned to see Illyasviel in a nightgown at entrance to the room. "Illya? I thought you were asleep?"

"Couldn't." The albino was clearly tired if her half-conscious demeanor was any indication. "I want to sleep with Onii-chan."

That certainly caught Merem and Saber by surprise. The girl had been growing warmer to her brother, but this was certainly a large development for her.

"Ah. I'll just leave. This is clearly not a situation for outsiders." The vampire smiled politely before walking out of the room. "Before we go tomorrow, it would be best if we all gathered in the remains of the main hallway."

Before either woman could ask what he meant by that, the one armed boy had already made way down the hallway. No one had missed the brief glance he had given the girl as he passed.

"… He's annoying." Illya grunted with a childish pout.

"He's helping us. Be nice," Saber countered while not denying the original statement.

"Hai." The girl walked to her sleeping brother's bed and looked at his peaceful face. Saber and Merem had changed most of his clothes and cleaned his wounds, but even with Avalon he was still notably injured on various portions of his body. Noble Phantasms had pierced and grazed him, weapons of lore, magic, and power. Their marks would not go away easily. His cheek and teeth were still exposed, forcing Saber to keep his face still wrapped in his holy cloth for the time being.

"He's doing better," Saber answered the unasked question. "The time magic that your father passed down to him is a harsh craft with ramifications. It is stalling his progress. I can only assume that it will pass. When, I do not know."

The Servant was not understating it either. Even a few hours after the battle, she was still feeling the lingering effects from the brief spell that Shirou had used on her that guaranteed their win. While it had been useful, it had only further confused Saber as to why on earth anyone would dedicate their lives, let alone entire generations to the dangerous and suicidal craft of Thaumaturgy.

Illya didn't turn away, and instead gently brushed a hand against her brother's face before climbing into his bed next to him. "He won't leave me, will he? He won't go away like the others?"

Her expression turned impassive. "Your brother is one of the most capable people I have ever had the honor of knowing, Illyasviel. More than even some of my Knights, and as vicious as my enemies when need be. And he has dedicated that strength to you, and Sakura, and Rin. I pity the reckless fool that tries to separate any of you."

She had not told the whole truth, but she had not lied either. Saber did not have the heart to tell the girl that it was impossible to guarantee that he wouldn't leave at one point or another. Then again, Illyasviel was smarter than she looked. She probably knew what the answer to her question was.

The girl had been left behind by too many. By her mother who knew she was going to die. By her father in order to save the world. By her family, more dedicated to the Grail than their kin. And then by her attendants, who valued her live above their own.

She had Berserker, but Heracles was a Servant. The odds were high that he would have to go sooner or later.

Illya held onto her brother's left side and held it gently like a delicate body pillow, taking care not to agitate his wounds. "Mmm. Onii-chan's strong. Like Berserker. He won't lose to anyone. He won't go away. He's too stupid to die."

Saber couldn't help but allow herself to smile at that last statement. "Don't be mean to your brother, Illya."

"Hai." The girl yawned, falling asleep fast as she finally found comfort for the first time since the fighting ended. "I miss Sella and Leysritt."

"I know. We'll make sure that they are taken care of before we leave."

"They were the first people that were nice to me since Mama and Papa left. And I treated them like dirt. I'm a terrible person. They must have hated me."

"From what I was told, they went above and beyond to help you against Kirei. They would want you to be happy and live on. If what I recall from the Einzberns is still accurate, it would not be off to assume that they'd desire you to have the life you deserve and they always hoped of obtaining."

"They deserved it too. More than me." Illya's eyes began to droop, sleep finally starting to come to her. "Ne. Saber. Can you tell me about Mama? Was she happy when she was with Papa?"

Saber's smile was faint as she recalled the Fourth War and what she considered some of her greatest failures. "… You look and act so much like Irisviel it's unnerving at times, but your ruthlessness is all your father. Had I not known your parentage I would have assumed that you were just a clone from the same source as her."

She paused before continuing on. "You both are like fae, innocent and childlike in so many ways. The first day we were here, Irisviel dragged me along to shop with her. That night we went to the beach, and even though it was winter at night, she still ran into the ocean with her shoes off and played in the water, marveling at how cold it was."

"Heheh. Mama was silly." The girl giggled softly, her consciousness waning.

"She loved your father. She knew him like no one else did, like no one else ever wanted to. Even himself. That was unquestionable." Saber's smile now was one of pity. "Kiritsugu and I never got along, but your mother, she was no doubt the one that he had entrusted his humanity to. When Kirei… when Iri was taken, your father completely shut down and threw himself completely into the War. I don't think he had slept for several days by the end of it. It was hard for most to tell, but after leading men into war for many years, it was clear as day to me. He… regardless of what others thought or said, your father loved her, and you, more than anything else in the world."

A tear fell down the girl's cheek as she hugged Shirou tighter. "I miss them. I miss Mama and Papa."

"I miss them too." Saber gently brushed some of the silver white hair out of Illya's face.

"Liar." Illya yawned, her words slow now. "You hated Papa."

The King of Knights couldn't help but let out a small laugh at her faux pas. Even if it had been accidental and a small one at that, it had been a very long time since she had been caught lying, or had even lied at all. "My apologies, Illyasviel. I'll be sure not to do it again."

"I'm tired." The girl mumbled, barely awake now. "Of people lying. Onii-chan… never lied. Not. Once."

Saber sighed as the girl finally fell asleep. Her small frame completely lax beside her Master's frame. On a closer look, it appeared as though Shirou had relaxed somewhat ever since Illya climbed into bed with him. "We certainly have peculiar Masters, don't we, Berserker?"

Behind her, the titanic frame of Heracles hunched over so that he could fit in the room, his yellow and crimson eyes never looking away from his charge.

"CHILDREN… SHOULDN'T… FIGHT."

She nodded, only slightly surprised that the giant had managed to dredge up enough rationality to speak those three words. His voice was forcefully low and soft to ensure that he didn't interrupt his Master's rest, but it still held the a deep power and coarseness that matched his image. "They shouldn't, but we both know that sometimes they must regardless of our wishes. Until then, we will serve our duties with all our might. We are Legends, Heracles, and it is time the world remembers what it means to be one."

She got a small breath of hot and harsh air down her spine as a reply, and the King of Knights couldn't agree more.

o. o. o.

He sat at his desk as he did every morning, reading reports on experiments or income or politics.

It was a rather dull and repetitive task, but one that he had been doing for well over a century, ever since he took the mantle as the head of the Einzbern family.

As they were technically not part of the Magus Association and lived out in isolation, the number of things they could and couldn't do were different than the normal established family… legally at least.

For example, resources and contacts within the Association came at a higher price than if they were members, but in contrast, their Alchemic and Homonculi services could be increased by as much or even more. As a family that stood among the world's elite in those fields, such an arrangement was worth the extra effort and paperwork.

Likewise, rules that would have restricted their movements and research were no longer an issue. There were of course the obvious ones that any and every individual in the moonlit world followed for their own safety, but outside of those, the German family could do pretty much whatever they wanted with little worry of repercussions so long as they didn't risk exposing the existence of thaumaturgy or tell anyone of what they were actually doing.

Yes, it was all for the best that they interacted with as little of the outside world as possible. The less interference they had in their search for Heaven's Feel and the Root, the better.

He took another paper and momentarily grimaced. It was not the message that bothered him, he hadn't looked at it yet, but the paper and print.

Despite what many would have guessed ten years ago, he hadn't destroyed the infernal device that Kiritsugu Emiya had installed into castle during his stay. While he certainly had a distaste for modern technology even he could not deny that it had its uses.

From what he understood, the computer was rather old and antiquated by modern standards, but it didn't change the fact that the item was incredibly useful for documenting reports and research. Obviously, things such as handwritten notes, circles, runes, and drawings were better on scrap paper, but errant reports and notes were just words and easily stored on the device.

It had been in such high demand by the younger generation of the family after everyone realized how convenient it was that he had been forced to get one for nearly the entire family five years ago. Of course, next to no one knew how to type proficiently at that point, but that problem was easily addressed by tweaking a few of the lesser used Homonculi to essentially become high functioning secretaries. The artificial humans were easily able to type as fast as their masters could talk.

The space that he and other members had saved from not using the extra paper was a blessing. There was actually room to put more books and notebooks in the labs again, and the frequency of the younger ones accidentally burning or destroying all of their research had dropped by thirty percent!

It didn't change the fact that the turn of events had been something that originated from the Traitor.

Printed paper. Printed ink. Mass produced novelties that were as cheap as their market value. No mysteries or research of their doing had gone into fabricating it. Only modern technology. Humanity's ingenuity was astounding and creative to be sure, to accomplish so much without the arcane, but it in turn lessened the world. That which had been a boon to his species would be its downfall. He could easily see it now, and more evidence was in his hands.

The Holy Grail War. Their finest achievement outside of Heaven's Feel. The ritual itself was nothing spectacular from a cursory glance. Get the Servants. Kill the Servants. Gather the Spirits on a leyline. Use the pre-established system to process and run off the power to enact Heaven's Feel or reach Akasha, or whatever the user felt like accomplishing using Alchemy. Simple.

But, it wasn't that simple. Alchemy in principle was a rather basic art to comprehend. Throw enough power into a spell and it would work eventually. It was horribly inefficient compared to more refined mysteries, but vastly more flexible and versatile.

But if it was that simple, then anyone could have accomplished it. Anyone could have researched it further. Anyone could have had a similar idea as the Grail War on a leyline to accomplish a wish or reach Akasha.

But it wasn't. Accumulating that much raw power in one place was dangerous no matter what anyone said or theorize. Actually using that much power for a single purpose or mystery was even more foolish.

Having a system that was robust and versatile enough to be able to process any wish almost without fail? Even a Sorcery like Heaven's Feel?

No. Simply researching for generations, for centuries even, would not be enough to yield the ability to accomplish such a thing.

Oh, a dedicated group of magi could come close. That much was certain. Servants. The Grail. Akasha. Those were very possible, but for the Einzbern, who valued the acquisition of Heaven's Feel above all else, the flexibility and sturdiness of the "wish granting" alchemic themed mystery at the end of the process was paramount.

When they sent out rumors during the first War, during the first ritual, they had not lied. A single, limitless, unrestricted wish for the victor. The fools of the world had no idea just how heavy and magnificent such a claim truly was.

If only the Tohsaka and the Matou, no, the Clocktower knew what they had done to prepare for the ritual in the first place, the true value of what they sacrificed for that system. The concessions and lengths they went to ensure that what they would achieve their goals.

In order to achieve a miracle, one would need to seek out a miracle.

Even if it came from the devil himself.

They had been so close. Just a few words and maybe a command, and Heaven's Feel would have once more been the crowning achievement of the Einzbern. Instead that foreign bastard threw the miracle in everyone's face. Tainted? Cursed? How short sighted. Even if it was true, it didn't amount to much. So long as the device functioned, that was all that should have mattered.

He was interrupted from his musings when one of the dolls knocked politely on the door. "Lord Jubstacheit, a message from the Association and the Church."

"Has the War concluded?" He looked up and frowned, giving the impression that he had actually been reading and not lost in his thoughts. There were other questions at the tip of his tongue as well, but the one he asked took priority.

"No. It appears that a multitude of unforeseen issues have taken place." Walking forward, the red eyed maid placed the five page report on his desk before silently backing up several paces and stopped. She would not move without a further command or prompt, as she was designed to.

He withheld any comments, but it was obvious that he was displeased with the news. The Fuyuki ritual had been a mistake to begin with. It had been good on paper no doubt, but human incompetence was an unmatched mystery that no one could ever solve. Tohsaka. Makiri. The Association. All worthless.

His predecessors should have known better than to proceed with a project that Zelretch endorsed and supported without complaint. Anything the man touched became a headache sooner or later.

If there was any fine lining, it was that the Einzberns had managed to obtain enough samples to be able to achieve Heaven's Feel in the first place. They were the ones that constructed the Grail. They were the ones that created Justeaze Lizrich von Einzbern, who had later converted herself into the core of the Grail. They were the ones that had researched beyond what was permitted and…

… and…

His face remained stern, but his ash grey complexion steadily turned white.

His eyes focused not on a fact, Noble Phantasm, event, or report.

It seems as if today was fated to dredge up the ghosts of the past.

o. o. o.

"Did we have to wake up so early?" Illya yawned widely as she rubbed her eyes and stood in the middle of what remained of the main hallway. If she wasn't so tired she would have marveled that half the room was still standing with holes and gouges everywhere, not to mention the massive slice in the side of the building that gored out a third of it from when Saber used Excalibur.

"I figured the sooner we had this done, the better." Merem shrugged, sitting on a large rock that had once been part of the main stairway. "Just because Caster hasn't done anything since last night doesn't mean that you shouldn't take the priority to get things done."

"And what exactly are we supposed to be doing here?" Sakura looked around curiously. She had of course known that the War would be intense. More so in a fight against Gilgamesh, but even she couldn't imagine just how insane the events that took place in this room a half a day earlier must have been.

She winced as her circuits pulsed with power and her body contracted. She still possessed Gilgamesh's soul, and while she was doing well so far in pretending it wasn't bothering her, the fact of the matter was that she was still incredibly dizzy at the moment. Merem's interference last night had helped her regain control over her body and magic, but it didn't change the fact that she was carrying an absurd amount of power right now. "I don't think we have enough time to clean all this up."

"Haha. No no. Nothing like that. Although, to be honest, I do think that Shirou would be more than up for the task once everything is set and done." The Vampire chucked in good nature, recalling his friend's near impulsive habit for home maintenance. "We're here to help Shirou get his arm back."

"Huh?" Saber, Illya and Sakura blinked in surprise.

In response to their confusion, the child immortal reached back with his only arm and gently brushed his fingers against the air. As if it was a membrane reacting to being poked, the entire expanse behind him rippled like water before slowly steadying itself. "While the mystery itself is unpowered and inactive, the bounded field, and in turn the materials Shirou used to establish it last night are still here. Of course, that isn't to say the entire arm is available. It was used to fabricate the mystery in question, so what remains can be considered mere ashes or dregs of what once was, but it is enough to start with. I managed to preserve the field with my own brand of mysteries, but I estimate that only about a tenth of what was used remains, if that, scattered like dust behind me."

"A tenth? That is not enough to make a limb, Vampire." Saber looked warily back to the cleared out space where she had placed Shirou. Despite what she and the others had hoped, he had not woken up from his injuries just yet, nor had his wounds fully healed. In fact he was currently in the middle of another temporal lapse that slowed down his bodily functions.

"Couldn't you make one for him? Like you said you did with Bazett-san?" Sakura tilted her head to the side confused.

Merem couldn't help but laugh. "Hah! Oh no no no! I couldn't do that! I mean, I'm capable of it yes, but can you imagine what Barthomelloi's reaction would be when, and I do mean when, she'd find out? She'd tear him apart on principle for letting me heal him, let alone for science!"

The girls winced. If there were two things that they knew about Barthomelloi, it was that Shirou was absolutely terrified of her, and that she loathed Vampires.

"So what are you going to do then?" Illya pressed.

"Me? Nothing." His grin widened. "You three are the ones that are going to reconstruct his arm."

"Us?" They asked in unison.

"Matou is capable of using her family's craft to draw in every speck of Shirou that's still here. Einzbern has more than enough power to use her Alchemy to put them back into place and repurpose them into their previous state as "Shirou's arm". During which, Saber will be providing Shirou with her blood to ensure he has enough energy to regenerate what is missing with Avalon." Merem listed out their tasks as if reading instructions from a book. "It's pretty simple if you ask me."

"How!? How is any of this simple?!" Illya shouted incredulously. "Accumulation of sporadic and irregular body fragments!? Incomplete reformation and stabilization of a genetic body with little to no base?! And you want to do this on the fly?! An operation like this would take months to plan out, let alone enact!"

"Really? But I thought that the Einzbern brand of Alchemy was all about the enactment of a result through the application of raw power." Merem scratched his head.

"I'm more suited to accumulating spiritual bodies and prana, to myself, not others." Sakura hesitantly rose her hand apologetically. "I might be able to do what you're suggesting, but this task is more… Grandfather's specialty."

"But you'll try." Merem rose a skeptical eyebrow, his carefree tone making it difficult to tell if he was asking, telling, or merely stating what was going to happen.

Sakura paused for a few moments, her face scrunched in deep thought, before turning to Shirou. "Mm. I'll try."

Illya huffed and almost chided Sakura before also looking back at Shirou's unconscious form and letting the words die in her throat. Really, who was she to argue about terrible odds of success after what happened last night?

"How long would it take?" Saber interjected. "From what I've observed, the gaps between his temporal episodes span between fifteen minutes to three hours. If we aren't careful and another one takes place, we could do irreparable harm to him."

"I could gather what's here preemptively." Sakura suggested. "That could save us time."

"I... don't know. I've never done anything like this before. In theory it's as simple as piecing together a puzzle, but not everything is there and some pieces will be by themselves and isolated. It will be hard to tell where everything goes, let alone keep them in place for Avalon to heal." Illya hesitated. She was already going through possible alternative methods in her mind to organize the parts of the arm more efficiently. "If I put enough power in it though, I might have everything roughly in place in ten minutes… but if it's not exact, it could lead to problems. Crossed nerves. Irregular bone structure and muscles. He could have his arm back, but it would be completely useless, or do nothing but cause him immense pain."

"Shouldn't be that big of a problem if it happens. Just cut if off and put it on again later fixed up. At least then you'd have a complete limb to work with." Merem blinked as the girls looked at him incredulously. "What? Isn't that an approach Magi would consider?"

"I. You. Maybe?" Sakura fumbled over her words, trying to figure out if what the vampire said was actually viable or not. She turned to Illya for help regarding the subject, the albino technically being her senior in the matter. Ethics aside, what Merem suggested was a possible route they could take, even if it did abhor all three of them.

The smallest girl there frowned and didn't say anything for almost half a minute before sighing deeply. "As barbaric as it sounds, what he suggested is viable. Worst case scenario is that we have to rely on Tohsaka and her resources to get everything in line again since like it or not, she is the only person left in Fuyuki on our side with a fully stocked and functional workshop. Especially after last night. Matou's was burnt down over a week ago, Edelfelt's was only designed to aid in the War itself since she was only going to be here temporarily, Onii-chan's thaumaturgy is overspecialized so I don't expect his workshop to be helpful in that regard, and as for mine…"

Part of the castle decided to groan loudly, and a part of what remained of the second floor balcony crashed to the ground.

"On a side note, might I point out that if we do not go through with this option before we leave there would be a good chance that the building and frame for the bounded field would collapse, preventing us from doing it at a later time?" Merem added helpfully.

All three girls glared at him.

"You're enjoying this far too much than you should be," Sakura stated evenly.

"You have no idea how dull being an immortal can be once you get the hang of not being killed by mystical hunters, absurdly powerful sociopaths that conveniently no one has ever heard of until they do show up, and other rival immortals for a few centuries," the vampire cheerfully elaborated. "Watching Shirou's adventures has been the most fun I've had since the World Wars."

The three looked at one another warily before all sighing in resignation. As things stood, so long as they didn't accidentally kill the redhead in the process, Merem's plan was for the best. Having Shirou with two arms was better than one once he woke up, if only so he could better protect himself in the chaos to come.

"Saber, move him to the bounded field and stay next to him. Matou, do what you can to pull in as much of the fragments of his arm, and ONLY the fragments, as possible. I'll get ready and prepare for putting everything in place." Illya took charge and walked forward. "Saber, how is the wound on his arm? Is the stump fully healed over?"

"No, it's scabbed and would have needed treatment regardless, but the wound is still far from healed. I am unfamiliar with healing magecraft, but we will likely need to reopen it for the operation." Saber bent over to pick Shirou up. The entertaining image of her small frame holding his significantly larger one up bridal style was not something the others would forget anytime soon.

"It is a bit late, but I'll help you with the shaping of Shirou's arm." Merem stepped next to Illya. "You'll still be the one performing the procedure, but I can at least give you some aid with the forming and aligning of the components. Modeling and making missing limbs is something I'm rather familiar with after all."

"I'll have to be in contact with Shirou and the field to make this work. This isn't something I'm used to doing." Sakura hesitantly walked forward. "If we had more time and I did some research, we could probably do this with more accuracy and less risk, but…"

"That's fine. Just go at your own pace. It's better to go slowly and leave some parts out than rush things and put in something that doesn't belong." Merem comforted the girl before pausing.

The reason for his stall was due to Saber placing Shirou at the base of the bounded field, causing it for just a moment shimmer and expose the illusion of a world that didn't exist.

"Was that?" Sakura blinked in surprise.

"It looked like it." Illya stood still, also caught off guard by the image. She had recalled the sight from Berserker's eyes last night, but seeing it without the threat on her life present was a completely different experience.

"A full moon, as white as snow. And a fading sun with light crimson." Merem smiled, as if appraising a work of art that had touched him in a way he had long forgotten. Slowly, he reached out and had his hand pass through the space where the portal once was, as if doing so would grant him another peek. "No wonder you are so dedicated to your father's memory. If that is the image you hold in your heart… yes, there should be no question why so many are drawn to you and why you go forward with such dedication. It must be absolutely maddening to be perpetually be with it. I'm envious."

He would have to take great care to never let his oldest friend, Gransurg Blackmore, the Sixteenth Apostle Ancestor, know of Shirou's world. The Black Winged Lord worshipped Crimson Moon Brunstud as an absolute God, and allowing any of the other Apostle Ancestors to have a Reality Marble with a moon that didn't represent him would no doubt send the ancient vampire into a vicious rage.

Shirou may have potential and a knack for surviving things he really shouldn't, but even Merem doubted that the boy would be able to come out against a battle against Blackmore intact. The Sixteenth Apostle Ancestor's Reality Marble, Nevermore, was viciously effective against other Apostles in particular.

Much like Shirou, Gransurg got his position as the Sixteenth by killing the one who held the title before him.

Unlike Shirou, Gransurg had also wiped out his predecessor's entire clan of a hundred Ancestors that very same night at the same time.

In their well defended and fortified castle.

Without damaging the building or spilling a single drop of blood in the process.

Really, it was for the best that the Black Winged Lord was, much like other Ancestors, a bit peculiar and didn't care much for politics, power, or humanity. The power vacuum and distortions he'd make if he did give a damn would only cause the problems that already existed among the magical world powers to spiral out of control.

"Sakura. Illya. Shirou should come out of his lapse soon." Saber snapped the girls out of their moment of shock. "We best hurry so we can leave at a prompt time. There is much to do."

The three didn't bother to hide their glares. It was blatantly clear that today was going to be one of those days.

o. o. o.

The Witch was incredibly tempted to act at the moment.

With her familiar flying over the vehicle containing the boy and his group, she had a perfect opportunity to get the drop over her largest threats. All she'd need to do was use two command Seals and Assassin and Rider would be right on top of the vehicle before anyone knew better. Berserker would probably act fast enough to take out one of the assailants, but the ensuing destruction would all but ensure the death of at least one of the occupants in the vehicle. Possibly more if Rider managed to get lucky with her eyes and turn the humans to stone…

… No. Better not risk it. Saber and Berserker would still come out relatively unscathed. Rider and Assassin were too fragile to put up against them, even in a surprise attack. The odds were too heavy against them. Should even one of the Masters come out alive from the attack, the Servants would still be able to survive for a final encounter.

It didn't take much to anticipate where they were headed. Caster had already located her counterpart's group, and with so many key locations in the town reduced to rubble, there were only a handful of viable dwellings for any Master to stay at now without drawing attention to themselves, let alone five of them. Two places, really.

The home of Archer's Master, and the boy's home.

At first glance, it would seem obvious to go to the property of the one that had essentially been manipulating the entirety of the Grail War since before it even started.

From a Magus' perspective though, the choice was blatant. The difference between the two locations in terms of thaumaturgy and defensive potential was like night and day.

If the Emiya residence could be considered a reasonably fortified base, the Tohsaka home was a fortress. And that was before the Princess had put her own touches to the defenses there. Not as elaborate or sturdy as the castle in the forest that Saber and Berserker were leaving, but solid none the less.

That wasn't even throwing in the fact that the building was on top of one of the key leyline points in the city, much like the temple. It didn't have an absurdly convenient natural bounded field like said temple, but that didn't really matter considering what the Princess could accomplish with her potent Territory Creation ability. The building was already as well defended as the Edelfelt's earlier that night, and it would only be even more insufferably secure by the time her enemies gathered.

Really, the only reason why her counterpart stayed at the Edelfelt building in the first place was because her counterpart had already set up her defenses there, and due to the presence of the observatory room they had set up before she betrayed them all. That sort of information gathering potential was simply too valuable to pass up.

She clicked her teeth in annoyance. The boy was still unconscious from what she had seen, and Saber was busy driving the vehicle, occupying at least some of her attention. It was also mid-morning, so the Vampire would be at his weakest, if he was even in the vehicle to begin with. Hell, they were still driving through the forest. Now was literally the perfect time to attack.

But she hesitated.

Fear. Uncertainty molested her thoughts and her decision making abilities. It wasn't unwarranted or unreasonable, but infuriating none the less.

The risk of failure was high, too high, and she honestly had no idea what would happen after the event. The enemy was recovering yes, but so was she. She could push hard yes, but nowhere near as her opponents…

… And they still had Saber. They still had Excalibur.

"I know of Fragarach. There are ways around it."

It was something she had no defense against. If she really did go overboard and push the boy into a corner, she knew that he would use it.

The others probably thought it was a bluff. She wouldn't be surprised if he thought so too. But that tone. Those eyes. No, she had worked in politics before. She had lived and thrived among the depraved, the desperate, the cunning, the liars, the fools, the thieves, the mad, the wealthy, the royal, and noble, and the gods.

He was not bluffing. The boy really would destroy the city and all its inhabitants to protect those under his charge. With no hesitation at all.

The boy was without question as mad as she was.

Unless she could kill him and Saber with absolute certainty, she could not risk pushing them into a corner…

… Much like they could not do the same with her, lest she destabilize her Master's chamber on purpose and destroy the temple, the mountain, and the Greater Grail itself in the process.

Unless an opportunity presented itself, she was better off setting up a solid defense for the final fight.

Her biggest problem was still Saber and Berserker rushing through the front doors. Lancer was unbearably durable, and annoying, but even he would not be able to stand his own against those two by himself for more than a few seconds. Really, those two combined were more than enough to match an entire… army.

Her mind froze, and a small smile reached her lips.

Well, that was one problem solved.

Legends and stories were rather interesting things in this war. Once they were known, they were double edged swords. Still liable to kill the owner yes, but it didn't change the fact that the side against the enemy was just as sharp.

She chuckled to herself lightly, and then returned to her original task of examining her other prize from the previous night.

Fascinating.

o. o. o.

"He's still not up yet? It's almost noon." Rin blinked incredulously as Saber carried Shirou through the front door on her back.

"It shouldn't be long now. His mind has been stirring for the last portion of the drive and his temporal feedbacks have been less frequent," the Servant replied, looking around the room with mild curiosity.

"Caster can probably do something about those issues," Luvia suggested, leaning against a wall in the back with her arms crossed. "I doubt she would be particularly pleased to do so though."

Saber nodded. "That is understandable. You have our thanks. And thank you for your hospitality. We are in your debt."

"After everything that's happened, that goes without saying." Clearly Rin didn't feel the gratitude or thrill of generosity at the moment.

"I suppose it will have to do." Illya looked at the inside of the building unimpressed. It clearly lacked the grandeur that her castle had, even destroyed, and while she wouldn't admit it, it was nowhere near as homey and welcoming as Shirou's place.

"I'm sorry for my place not being up to your standards, Einzbern. Castles tend to be in short supply in Japan." Rin didn't appreciate the lack of humility if her sarcasm was any indication.

"Obviously. That's why the Einzbern moved mine to this remote country in the first place when the wars first started." The albino shrugged, not taking Rin's attitude to heart.

Rin grit her teeth and held up a fist in annoyance, desperately pretending to ignore Luvia chuckle lightly at the snub. If there was one thing that always got underneath her skin, it was her financial status compared to her peers. Granted, she wouldn't have been rolling in cash had Kirei not gutted her legacy over the past decade, but she would have at least been somewhat immune to the comments she got. She had regained some ground with Shirou's help in the gem manufacturing business, but she still had a ways to go. Hell even Sakura was better off than she was.

Financially, that was.

The only reason why Shirou was exempt from this rule was because he wasn't noble or expected to be loaded in the first place. Insulting him about his wealth was like insulting a billionaire's pool boy for not having a mansion. It only made the offender look like an idiot in the process.

"Where should I place Shirou?" Saber looked around curiously. "Is there a bedroom we can use?"

"Use the couch in the living room for now. If he's still recovering, he's still bleeding. I don't have that many beds to spare, and sheets are in short supply." Rin waved her hand as if shooing away a minor problem.

"How inconsiderate. No wonder you rarely have guests over and have little contact with your peers. You are a terrible host." Luvia smirked.

"Excuse me for having the class to not slap people in the face with wads of cash wherever I go. Besides, it's not like he'd mind."

"Really? We step in the door and we already have to deal with you two in a pissing contest?"

Oddly enough, the person who managed to shut the girls up was Sakura, who just entered the building, cradling her head and a bit paler than normal.

"Sakura. Are you ok?" Rin blinked and got a good look at her sister, completely off guard by her sister's attitude. While Sakura did occasionally have a temper, she was usually less blunt about it.

The youngest girl in the building momentarily glared at her sister before catching herself and sighing in resignation. "No. I'm not. Lesser Grail, remember? Gilgamesh's soul had to go somewhere."

She had thought she had prepared herself for the stress and pain that would come from her condition once everything was spelled out, but she had woefully underestimated just how agonizing taking in a potent spirit like Gilgamesh's would be. She had barely gotten any sleep last night as she felt her powers and her connection to the Greater Grail press against her very mind. The sensation of being perpetually bloated and starving to her limits didn't help either. The entire car ride made her feel sick and exhausted.

"Once Onii-chan wakes up, he can make a copy of Rule Breaker and Gae Dearg to deal with the problem." Illya casually waved the issue away as if it wasn't a problem. Rule Breaker was for the connection to Angra Mainyu, but because Sakura had yet to actually activate the system itself, Gilgamesh's spirit was still inside of her. It would probably take a while for the Noble Phantasm to disperse the power of it, but it was a possible solution.

"Mmm. That may be a viable approach for your condition." Luvia admitted as she eyed the unconscious headache skeptically. "I suppose there is a reason why you bothered to wrap half his head in the shroud as if he were on a mission."

Saber had the decency to frown. "He was wounded in several places during the fight. Once he finally stopped bleeding, we wrapped him up so the healing process would speed up."

"Finally stopped bleeding?" Rin forced herself to keep calm. "And when was that? Is something wrong with Avalon?"

"Sometime last night. Shortly before the last of his broken teeth fell out." Illya shrugged. She had gone to bed shortly after that. Much to Saber's secret relief, the small girl was trained in enough thaumaturgy to empty out his mouth without resorting to something as distasteful or disgusting as actually putting her hands in his mouth.

"Teeth?" Luvia paled a bit further.

"Mmm. Don't worry, he's mostly healed from that now." The albino walked to her brother and reached for his cloth without hesitation. "Its other parts of his recovery that are worrying."

"It was a bit difficult to clean the shroud this morning though," Sakura added offhandedly.

Really, it was. Getting blood stains out of satin cloth was a nightmare. It was just so hard to see if there was any bodily fluids in the material once most of it was out.

The Shroud of Martin was pulled down to reveal Shirou's slumbering face.

For the most part, he looked fine. His image wasn't twisted or warped significantly. His facial structure was the same, as was his coloring, for the most part.

The difference was the left side of his face.

It was still swollen from where it was shorn off by a nameless Noble Phantasm from jaw to just above his cheekbone, not unlike if someone had managed to land a lucky blow in a fist fight. The skin itself held a reddish tint compared to the tan that occupied the rest of his body and was slightly bloated, but it was clear as day that it would end up a paler hue than the rest of his skin, like scar tissue.

The biggest difference though was his skin. Namely the fact that it wasn't one consistent layer of flesh, but layered and segmented into small, harmless plates a centimeter at most in width and length…

… or Scales.

"What in the world?" Rin blinked in surprise as she leaned forward and got a better look at the aberration. Brushing her fingers gently against the irregular flesh, she noted that despite their resemblance to reptilian hide, what she felt was still very much human skin. Slightly thicker due to it being scar tissue, but unmistakably skin none the less. In fact, once the swelling went down, a person would probably need to look carefully to see where one "scale" ended and another began.

Testing her luck, she brushed her finger up against the folds of the ridges and momentarily flinched and withdrew her hand. Flesh it may be, but the things were still incredibly sharp and enough to at least give her a papercut.

"I, might be at fault for this turn of events." Saber admitted with some shame. "When we attempted to heal some of his more notable injuries this morning, I fed Shirou a good deal of my blood to accelerate the process with Avalon. Given his peculiar condition and my own heritage, we might have triggered a slight mutation in his recovery."

"You're kidding. You mean to say that he's part dragon now?" Luvia threw the Servant a dirty look that dared her to say yes.

"No." Saber shook her head. "At best the change in his image only shows that he's been exposed to prana from a dragon at an internal level and adapted to it. Much like receiving a burn from being exposed to fire, or corrupted flesh from a curse."

"Great. We constantly ripped on him for wrapping his head up in that thing like a bad comic book hero, and now he actually has a reason to do it other than to hide his identity. At the very least, it won't be hard to hide those things with some makeup or a quick spell. The ridges are thin enough that it feels like normal skin on the way down." Rin pinched the bridge of her nose and breathed deeply. "Now before I get my hopes up, because I know that this can't be the worst of it, what was this grievous injury you mentioned earlier?"

Illya didn't hold any punches. "Gilgamesh blew off his right arm. Then Onii-chan used it to make a portal to his Reality Marble during the fight. Then this morning, Saber, Sakura and I used what was left in the bounded field and Avalon to make a half assed reconstruction of it."

The room was silent for several long moments.

"… Are you certain that Emiya hasn't woken up yet, because that sounds oddly like something he'd come up with," Luvia probed skeptically.

"Blame the vampire." Saber, Illya and Sakura said at the same time with the same dead tone. Clearly they had no issue with throwing Merem under the bus.

"I'm more surprised that it worked." Rin looked at said reconstructed arm, or at least, what appeared to be it seeing as it was covered by his long sleeved shirt and some medical tape. Normally she would have absolutely raged about how absurd and reckless the procedure must have been. But given what had happened recently, she decided to bless herself with that headache for a time when she actually knew the specifics. "… It worked, right?"

"… Yes?" Illya hesitated as if trying out the word for the first time. "Nothing went wrong as far as any of us can tell. His circuits are fine, the arm is the same shape as before and nothing's warped. He isn't bleeding internally and if something went wrong with his nerves he would have woken up by now in pain. The skin on it is like what happened to his face, but other than that it looks pretty normal. We won't know for sure until he wakes up and tells us how it is."

"Against my better judgement, I believe it would be best if Caster oversaw the follow up examination just to be sure." Luvia sighed, knowing her Servant was not going to enjoy tending to the boy.

"Where are your Servants anyway?" Sakura asked curiously.

Rin and Luvia had the sense and decency to pretend as if they had nothing to hide. It would be best to keep Archer away from some of the newcomers until they could do introductions in a controlled setting. "On the roof and around the property, keeping guard just in case. It wouldn't have been surprising if Caster sent her forces after you in transit."

That was an understatement if any of them had anything to say about it.

"How are we going to wake him up? He's still pretty beaten up. I don't think smacking him around or jumping on him would be a good idea." Illya looked at her brother with some concern.

"Why would you ever think that's a good idea?" Sakura looked at her incredulously.

"I'm his adorable little sister. That's what little sisters do to their older brothers to wake them up when they sleep in in this country. I've seen it on [TV] and in comics." The girl puffed her cheeks out and huffed childishly.

Younger sister my ass. You're older than all of us. The other Masters in the room leered at her in annoyance.

"Hnng," Shirou grunted uncomfortably and shifted on the couch to a slightly better position, breaking the tension in the room.

"We're getting nowhere like this. Sakura, do you want to do the honors or should I do it?" Rin turned to her sister with a tired smirk.

Sakura matched it with one of her own. "Oh, be my guest. You deserve this and far more by this point."

"Honors? What are you two talking about?" Luvia rose an eyebrow.

"Really, you've known Shirou for years and you haven't figured it out yet." The Tohsaka shook her head before turning to Shirou, breathed in deeply, put her hands on her hips, and smirked. "Shirou! Wake up! You slept in and Fujimura-sensei's here!"

His reaction was instantaneous. His eyes shot wide open and he sat up so quickly that it almost hurt to watch. "Shit! Not again! Sakura! Stall Fuji-nee! Rin! Set up the stove and help take stock on what we have to work with!"

What little respect Luvia had left for Shirou took a near fatal hit that moment.

Illya on the other hand, remembered that part of having family meant that you had to admit that you were actually related to them.

Saber employed a impassive demeanor, something she had practiced for years while surrounded by many hot blooded warriors with a tendency to get hammered every now and then by cheap ale.

Rin and Sakura on the other hand just smirked and looked at one another sheepishly.

"Wait…" Shirou looked around in confusion before turning to Rin. "Rin, this is your house. You're in charge of cooking for Nee-san if she comes here for food. You know that."

WHAM!

"You just wake up after being half torn apart and fighting the strongest Servant ever and THAT'S the first thing that comes to mind after looking around you?! Dumbass!" Rin took full advantage of her close proximity to Shirou and hammered his head with a fist before anyone had an opportunity to react.

"Well, at least we knew he was fine before she hit him." Sakura sighed. "Not sure about now though."

"If she actually killed him with that hit, I won't be surprised. I'm not sure why." Illya matched Sakura's expression. She wasn't irritated at all that Shirou called someone else his sister. Nope. Not in the slightest.

"I don't know why I still have expectations of him by this point. I really don't." Luvia shook her head and looked away for her own sake.

Saber merely remained quiet and in the back, her face completely unreadable.

"Ow! Rin! Watch it! I sssss?!" Shirou reached for his head with both arms, but nearly bit off his tongue as his body seized up and lurched over. "What the hell? My arm… wait, my arm?"

Illya stepped up. "Long story short, we remade your arm using half-assed methods while you were out and we aren't sure just how good of a job we did. I'm guessing nerve problems?"

Shirou scrunched his face in pain. "Remade? Never mind. It feels like I have pieces of glass everywhere in it. Moving it makes it feel like tearing apart my muscles from the inside with a dozen razor blades."

"Glass? That doesn't sound like nerve damage. If there was, you'd be numb or feel something akin to needles or fire." Rin frowned and leaned forward, trying to grab the limb that he was cradling. "Shirou, let me see it. Stop being a baby. Don't even try to grasp your arm. You're not allowed to use any mysteries until we say so."

He grit his teeth, but slowly began to unwind his body slowly. "Damn it. This is like when we were kids all over again."

"Oh no. This time it's all your fault. Don't go blaming this one on me." Rin carefully pulled out his arm so that she wouldn't cause any extra damage or harm to him while at the same time rolling up his sleeve.

"Bet you still have the binder." He laughed tightly.

"Binder?" Illya and Luvia echoed confused.

"Rin keeps a binder that listed all the experiments she did with Shirou when they were younger." Sakura smiled knowingly, as if talking about her sister's diary. "It also includes all the injuries and resulting observations he's had as well. It's quite a read."

"I thought you swore never to show it to anyone!" he hissed, more than a bit embarrassed if his red face was any indication, his mood doing a complete one eighty. When he mentioned it, he assumed it would only be interpreted as an inside joke.

"I didn't! She found it by accident when I left her alone in my workshop for five minutes." Rin clearly hadn't expected to have the secret exposed any more than he did seeing as it was as crimson as his.

"She still has the pictures in it too. They're adorable." Sakura slyly grinned, enjoying the minor discourse she was sowing. It was like going through a "my first mad scientist and human experiment" journal, with several images of a half-naked preteen Shirou on a table and him glaring adorably at the camera, or its owner to be more specific.

"Do tell," Luvia probed, not at all hiding her interest in the blackmail material.

"Huh. So instead of playing dressup or having tea parties like normal kids, Rin experimented on Onii-chan when they were little?" Illya concluded skeptically.

"And here I thought there wouldn't be any interesting research in this hovel." The blonde smirked.

"Glad to be of some use." Shirou shot Luvia a dirty look before wincing as Rin unwound the bandages around his arm. "I'm surprised. I thought I used up my entire arm to make the bounded field. There shouldn't have been much left, let alone enough to make a… new… one."

His failure of words was warranted as the bandage exposed a pale, copper toned limb. Instead of normal, seamless flesh though, faint ridges repeated endlessly up until just below his shoulder, like mesh, or scales.

"It's the same on the left side of your face, and everywhere else Gilgamesh wounded you," Illya pointed out as if talking about what was on TV that day. "Your arm has it the most prominently. You were still recovering and suffering from temporal feedbacks so we couldn't risk examining it further until we were at a better location."

"A better location." He looked around as if remembering where he was. "We all made it safely? Where's Merem?"

"He claims that he has some other tasks to attend to. He should arrive again tonight." Saber informed them.

Shirou looked around again. "… Well, at the very least, Caster doesn't know how to strategize for shit."

"What makes you say that?" Sakura frowned.

"Because we're all here alive." He shrugged, and then winced as he jolted his arm. Rin gave him an annoyed look but didn't say anything.

"Shirou. We may have been weakened, but even so, Berserker and I are more than capable of fending off…" Saber started, a bit offended at her Master's supposed lack of confidence.

"Remote controlled bombs, under the street manholes, at the major intersections leading to the front of this house. Last I checked, there were six prime spots that were around the property that couldn't all be avoided if travelling by car and are easily overlooked," the professional hitman stated in an exceptionally dry and bored tone. He turned to Luvia and shot her an expecting look.

The blonde, much like everyone else in the room, had turned ash white at the implication. Had Caster actually used Assassin effectively, they would have been screwed. Even more embarrassingly, was that Luvia had done enough research on Kiritsugu's tactics to have expected, or at least predicted for it to happen.

"I-I'll just go and tell Caster to widen her territory's range now." And with that, the Edelfelt slipped out of the room.

Rin gripped Shirou's hand tightly, causing him to flinch. "As much as I enjoy my first guest having her pride ran through, can you please leave behind the assassin crap for now? I have a vast range of reasons for having a headache at the moment and I'd love for it to not get any larger."

"Noted." He tried not to squeak. He really did.

"So it's been quiet so far today?" Sakura looked around her original home with an unreadable expression. Rin had brought her inside on multiple occasions before, but she never was comfortable being here again.

"Until you lot showed up, yeah. Luvia and I spend most of the day setting up defenses and her room." Rin focused on Shirou's arm, channeling prana into it at a slow and steady pace. She had found that she was more adept at Structural Grasping if she was in physical contact with the objects she was observing a while back. Shriou was a prodigy in its use for combat, but she used it primarily for research.

She kept an even face as she delved into his limb. His analogy of it feeling as if it was full of glass shards was not inaccurate.

The only thing he had off was that it wasn't glass embedded in his flesh, but pieces of metal. Fragments of swords.

A loud thump was heard outside as Berserker unloaded what was essentially all of the luggage that had been inside the trunk of the limo right on Rin's doorstep. Thankfully, her only real neighbors had been the Matou's, so there was no risk of the Servant being seen.

What had been unloaded was mostly clothes belonging to Illya. Shirou and Sakura had packed lightly, and most of what they had brought to the castle was either destroyed or no longer needed seeing as Gilgamesh was now dead.

The largest parcel among the lot was an enchanted container, big enough to ensure that fragile equipment could be transferred safely, and more importantly, so no one would be able to see or touch the contents.

Rin didn't turn around to look at the disruption, and instead reached up Shirou's arm and pressed down on a specific spot that was just above one of the sword fragments. As expected, where she should have felt only flesh, warped and peculiar as it was, she had detected something hard and sturdy that was not bone. "Saber, Sakura, Illya, can you deal with the luggage? This might take a while."

Saber frowned. "If you are going to heal Shirou, then perhaps it's best if I stay, just in case."

"Don't worry about. You're close enough that if something does happen it won't take you a second to get back." Shirou looked back at his Servant with a tired smile. "Besides, it would take forever if we just left it to Sakura and Illya."

"Actually. If Rin is going to play with Shirou's body again…" Sakura skeptically looked to the side.

"Oh no. Don't mind me. Do finish that sentence Sakura. I think we're all interested in what you have to say." And there was Rin's patented oh I do hope you keep talking smile.

Now Illya really had to see what was in that binder. "Come on, Sakura. Let's get our rooms set up for now. You can help guide me around the building. If something goes wrong, we'd probably be close enough to hear the screams."

"That's not exactly comforting." Sakura surrendered and followed Illya outside to their luggage, followed by Saber.

If Rin and Shirou focused, they'd still be able to hear the girls move and talk. The living room was adjacent to the hallway between the front door and the stairs, so it wasn't as if the distance between the two groups was anything significant.

"I don't know what's more ridiculous, the fact that I haven't had this many people over my house at once since my Father was alive, the people in question I'm hosting, or your… everything." Rin grumbled irritably like a child, her demeanor loosening up a few degrees.

"Out of concern for my well-being, I'll abstain from making a final judgement," Shirou unwisely voiced his thoughts, only for Rin to squeeze his arm tightly. "Ow! What the hell Rin?!"

"After all the shit you've put me through, that's the least you should deal with." Her cold glare bore into his silver eyes.

"I thought you were supposed to be helping me fix my arm, not make it worse."

"There's nothing wrong with it in the first place." Her words pierced through his irritation and straight to his brain.

"What?"

"It's your arm." She sighed and leaned back into the couch and looked up at the ceiling. "The nerves are all in place. Bones. Muscles. Tendons. Skin. Cartilage. Everything that was your arm before is there now in their proper places. I briefly looked at the rest of your body, and other than your circuits being so overused that I'm honestly astonished that they haven't fried themselves to oblivion, everything seems to be in order. That being said, I'm ordering you to not use any spells for at least a day. Avalon or not, permanent damage can't be healed."

The bit about his circuits was expected. If Avalon didn't have such broken healing properties, he wouldn't have been surprised if he had permanently crippled himself with his magic during the fight. As things stood, it would do more harm than good to use any of his circuits or spells for at least another half a day at least. "Then why is my arm messed up then? I felt that lump that you pressed against earlier."

Rin looked down at him with an unreadable expression. "My body is made of blades. Does that ring any bells?"

Shirou blinked three times before he finally got the hint. "Wait. You mean…"

"It's still your arm, but it was remade in a messed up way. It wouldn't be surprising if it was unstable as a result." Rin shrugged, poking again at another part of his limb where the shard of some weapon was just below the surface of the skin.

He clenched his teeth. Wonderful. His Reality Marble was beginning to manifest on his body subconciously.

He had read enough of its manifestations in Kiritsugu's notes to know full well that Rin was telling the truth. Mesh skin that could defend him from Rider's blows and nail. Irregular spawning of blades from his very flesh to hold him together like jigsaw pieces. Having shards of his world's contents exist in his flesh was very much in the realm of possibility.

Merem had told him of some of the other Apostle Ancestors that had Reality Marbles that suffered from similar symptoms. Nero Chaos, the 10th Ancestor before Louvre, had had his perpetually active for so long that by the time of his death it had nearly consumed him. The beasts within had as much dominance over his body as his own consciousness to the point that the only thing remotely human about him in the end was his head. The rest of his body consisted of nothing more than the "chaos" that propagated his powers and world.

He truly hoped that he would not have to deal with such extreme issues in the future. They were more annoying to deal with than a boon.

Slowly, he lifted his arm and looked at it skeptically. It appeared different, that was obvious, but he instinctively knew that it was his arm. The arm he had given up to kill Gilgamesh. The arm that he had wielded like a club, channeling weapons from his world without projection. The arm that was made of blades, no matter what form it took, no matter what form it had.

Rin watched in fascination as his skin slowly began to smoothen, losing the scale like appearance and returning to a more human like texture. There wasn't any sound or channeling in prana to accompany the metamorphosis. Instead it was more akin to the limb remembering the shape it had taken before, and slowly making the shift as if it had been more comfortable as it was earlier.

The change only took a few seconds, but that didn't make it any less significant to either of them.

"… And after all that shit we went through to try and give you sword claws when we were kids." The first words out of her mouth made him laugh.

"Heh. I forgot how many fingernails I lost thanks to that." Shirou grinned before lifting up his uninjured left arm and focusing again. A moment later, the tips of his undamaged fingers elongated slightly, took on sharp points, and had a slight red hue. "It looks impressive, but this is honestly the best I can do without meditating for half an hour. Overall, next to useless compared to actually have a sword in my hand."

"Stop showing off. If you hurt yourself again I won't bail your ass out." She frowned. "So your arm is different?"

His smile dropped and his face grew contemplative. "You're right. It's my arm. In every way, shape, form, and interpretation, its mine. Even the old history is there. Only now it's also… different. Like I am able to tell and determine its actions in more ways. Like an extra invisible joint. It's hard to describe. The best way I can put it is as if you look at your hand and see your skin is peach colored, but you know that it is and can be purple at the same time. Even if the colors change, it isn't abnormal or unnatural for it to be that way."

"Crude, but your description was good enough for me to get an idea of what you're getting at." Rin contemplated what he said. "Do you see your other arm in this "color?""

He paused and glanced at his normal limb for a moment, flexing his hand for a moment. "Yes and no. I can tell that it is the same, but at the same time it's different. I… it's hard to put into words. The best way I can put it is that my right arm is… unstable? Flexible? Less obligated to my human blueprint? Take your pick."

She sighed, knowing that theoretics was not Shirou's best field of study. "I'll make some sense of it after I have time to study the thing. Such as when we aren't occupied by a potential Armageddon. Can you do the same thing for your face and, wherever else you decided to get new body parts? Make your skin smooth and human like?"

"Right thigh, left calf, stomach and back. Hold on." He absently listed off the parts of his body that had been hit the night before, not noticing Rin flinch at the list. He closed his eyes in concentration, and soon enough his skin cleared up. The coloring of his flesh was still a bit off, but it no longer held the scale like patterns from before.

"Is it permanent or do you have to pay attention to keep it up?" She probed.

"The latter, but it's not too difficult to maintain. If I had a few days to practice I can probably keep it up unconsciously." His eyes opened. Silver peered into aqua.

Her gaze softened. "I'm more annoyed that you are able to use it so easily. After all that crap we did when we were younger to see what you could do with little to show for it, having you do all this without much effort is a bit of a downer."

"Any day that you don't bring out that blasted binder is a good one." Shirou grunted. He really hated that thing. Nothing good ever happened when he saw it. "Why do you think my skin turned out the way it did? I've been injured before, but I've come out perfectly fine."

"Who knows? Your Apostle nature. Avalon. Your Reality Marble. Saber's Dragon blood. Getting hit by Noble Phantasms instead of normal weapons. A mix. All of the above. Take your pick. You're a melting pot of rare to literally unique mysteries in this era. You'd be slapped with a sealing designation instantly for having just half of that list if anyone found out." Rin shrugged helplessly, letting her body sag in frustration. "The fact that you're still alive, let alone fully functional with your body intact, is enough of a mystery by itself."

"I'll just chalk it up to my dumb luck and be done with it then." He grinned. "This mess is almost over, so there's no point worrying about it."

Apparently that was the wrong thing to say. "No point? Shirou, have you seen yourself in a mirror lately? You've changed so much since last week. Your eyes are silver. Your hair is whiter than ever. Your skin's a darker tan. Don't even try to hide the fact that the teeth you regrew are now half fanged. Your heart's an eldritch abomination. At least an eighth of your skin is scaled if you lose focus. Your circuits should have been fried by now, and you've drained yourself dry sustaining two Servants for half the bloody war. Am I missing anything on my list of horrible injuries and alterations that you've inflicted on yourself these past two weeks?"

He swallowed heavily. Rin was trying not to be emotional, but she had started to tear up as she went through the list, leaning in closer to the point that when she was done she had a good portion of the front of his shirt in each hand. She tried to shake him forcefully, but her usual strength was lacking. Her complexion was pale and there were bags under her eyes from stress and lack of sleep. It was clear that she did not have a peaceful night's rest in some time. "I… um, might have also suffered a couple of aneurisms."

The muscles on her neck stressed, reveling her inner thoughts quite clearly. "How many?"

"Two?" He hesitated. The only ones he remembered clearly were when he scanned the air of Caster's Temple from the outside, and when he was essentially force fed Ig Alma's blueprints through his eyes.

"Are you asking me or telling me?"

"I don't know? At least? It was hard to count anything when fighting Gilgamesh."

"How many Noble Phantasms did you copy from that fight?"

A number fired off in his head instantly. "Nine thousand three hundred and seventy four. Sixteen thousand plus weapons if you count the non-Noble… Damn it Rin, that doesn't count and you know it."

Instead of instantly shooting back at him, Rin instead dropped her head in exasperation into her hands. "I'm stuck between making a snarky reply to your paltry excuse and still being stunned at the number you just gave me."

"I'm, sorry?" He honestly didn't know what to say in this situation. With her hands off his shirt once more, he let himself sag back into the couch.

"… No. That's just it, Shirou. You shouldn't be sorry. You're too messed up to be sorry. You've put yourself through too much for our benefit to be sorry. This entire situation was too screwed over before you even knew what was happening to be sorry. There is literally no reason why you should be forced to take responsibility for what's happened." She didn't look up, talking more into her hands than to him.

He frowned. This wasn't like her. "That's not right. I didn't tell you about what I was doing. I didn't tell anyone. I was too occupied with my plans to-"

"Don't," she interrupted with a hint of viciousness. "Just, just don't. The more I think about it, the more I have to agree with what you said before. If you had told me about, about any of this earlier, I would have tried something as soon as I summoned Archer. I would have given something away and messed everything up for you and ruined your plans. That, that bastard priest killed my dad, his teacher. He raised me as some sort of cruel ironic joke. He crippled my legacy. And Zouken was constantly torturing my sister all this time while I just pretended that everything was fine. I'm a lot of things Shirou, but YOU are the assassin. You are the one that knows how to deal with these sick fucks, not me. But because I'm oh so competent Rin Tohsaka, that fact wouldn't have registered with me until I fucked something up royally and screwed everyone over. I would have just gotten in the way."

"Hey, you don't mean that and you know it." He didn't like the tone she had. It was growing weaker by the moment and devolving into something that wasn't like the Rin he knew. "Come on. You're the best Magus in Fuyuki, if not this part of Japan."

"You can only say that because you killed Zouken," she countered. She did have a point. As good as she was, her potential wasn't fully realized yet. In comparison, there weren't many magi out there that had as much firsthand experience as the five hundred year old worm.

"Yes, but that doesn't make it any less true does it? You make it sound like that's a bad thing."

She let out a brief and bitter laugh. She couldn't argue against that logic.

He went on. "Sakura, me, Illya, none of us hold a candle to you in terms of ability. I'm just a two trick pony that's good at fighting. A sword brained idiot. Outside of this mess, outside of killing and driving people mad, I'm a hopeless scrub that can't get anywhere without help. I'd probably be long dead if you weren't around to bail my ass out of trouble or smack me upside the head when I do something stupid. Unlike me, you're reliable. I'm the fool that didn't ask for your help earlier."

"Reliable my ass. I haven't done anything productive in the whole damn war. The most I've done is destroy Bazett's clothes, and that was after she destroyed me three times straight," she sulked.

"Don't sound so ashamed of yourself. We both know that Bazett-nee is crazy strong. In a straight up fight she'd easily beat me into the ground hands… what was that about her clothes again?"

"I'm not repeating myself."

The look he got was more than enough to know better than to press the subject. "Er, right. Regardless, you teamed up with Luvia, and you stayed alive despite all the shit that's happened. That's more than what most people could say in this fucked up situation that I've landed us in. Without knowing about anything that was going on, you still managed to stay above ground and keep a cool head and now we're all together," he pressed, trying to get her hopes up. It was unnerving him to be honest. Rarely if ever did he see her get this down.

"And what will that accomplish? You need Luvia and Caster more than me and Archer right now. At best, I was there to make sure they were still around. Once the fighting starts again, we'll just be backup. With Saber and Berserker, you could probably handle Caster with just three Servants. And don't get me started on just how bad it is to deal with Archer…"

"What if I said that I still had a few surprises left that you will actually like for once? Surprises that would balance things out in your favor?"

She looked up from her hands, eyes redder and slightly swollen from the crying she clearly did not do. "Then I'd very politely inquire as to why you didn't open your fat mouth sooner."

Good. Rude and irritated Rin was far better than weak and self-dejecting Rin. "It was useless information alone. This trick needed Illya's help to do. And while I'm not a genius like you, I'm pretty sure this will make up for most of the pain I owe you… plus interest."

"That's a dangerous word you're throwing around me, Shirou Emiya. I hope you know that."

"Five generations' worth." His smile grew.

"Five generations?" She frowned at the odd hint. It rang a bell in her mind but she was too worked up to figure it out at the moment.

"Don't worry about it for now." He shook his head and leaned back into the sofa with a long sigh and looked up at nothing. "How annoying. And here I thought it would all be done with once Zouken, Gilgamesh, and Kirei were dealt with."

"Idiot. That's what you get for getting your hopes up." Rin mimicked his action, with the exception that in doing so she was leaning on his arm, her head on his shoulder.

Despite the sudden show of affection, he took things in stride. "Don't remind me. You sound like every teacher I've had."

"So I sound like myself." She allowed herself to smile deviously.

"I fear for the future of humanity if you actually do chose education as your final profession." He shivered, only to wince as she elbowed him none too gently at the jab.

"Watch it, bub. You're still on thin ice with me."

"Yes, Sensei," he muttered petulantly.

The two enjoyed one another's company in silence for a few more moments.

"Hey," she mumbled.

"Yeah?"

"… Be careful when you meet Archer. You're not going to like him."

"Really? I find that hard to believe. I like to think I'm not judgmental person."

"Shirou, please. Just promise me you won't do anything stupid when you meet him."

He looked at her warily for a moment. It wasn't like her to ask something like this. Whoever her Servant is must really have a terrible personality. "Fine. I promise I'll keep my thoughts to myself."

"One of you has to," she muttered, rubbing her head on his arm to get more comfortable.

More seconds passed quietly.

"Hey."

"Yeah?"

"You're scheming the attack on Caster right now, aren't you?"

"I had set up the base plans before Gilgamesh came. Now that he's dead, I'm just adding factors and trying to iron out details."

"Does it have to be now? You just woke up. It's not healthy."

"I'm just glossing over everything. Too tired to go all out. It's like a game if you look at it from a certain perspective. Rules. Places. Strengths. Weaknesses. All that stuff. Just one, big, crappy game called life."

"How poetic." She snorted. "So how much have you set up already without anyone else knowing?"

"A few things." He couldn't help but smile a bit, knowing that his admittance would annoy the girl. It always got under Rin's skin whenever he managed to pull off something actually cunning without her knowledge. "Not much by themselves, but I think I can hash out a good use for them that will help in the endgame."

"Great. Now I'm gonna be up all day trying to figure out your master plan." She pouted, annoyed. "You did that on purpose."

"Maybe."

"Tell me."

"Later. It'll take too long to go into details. I'm still wiped from Gilgamesh."

"… You know that once Sakura and I have some time alone, I'm going to grill her on how good you are in bed. After two years of sex, you should be passable by now."

His eyes shot open. Great. Now he wasn't going to get sleep either. "… You are the devil."

"You haven't seen anything yet mortal. Hopefully you'll prove to be at least be up to my minimum standards." She shifted, pushing her body further up against his, a soft grin on her face.

"Slave driver."

"Stupid dog."

"…"

"… Shirou. Thank you. For everything. Really. You really don't know how much you've done for us."

"There's nothing to thank Rin. There's no way I could have just watched what was happening and do nothing."

She smiled bitterly. "You really don't know how few people would do the same Shirou. Idiot."

No further words were exchanged as the pair comfortably rested on the couch, oblivious to the world…

And oblivious to Illya, standing in the main doorway with puffed out cheeks. The Homunculus was clearly not irritated or jealous of the scene in front of her. "Onii-chan. Did you tell Rin that Kiritsugu sabotaged the leylines in Fuyuki so they'd collapse in a few decades yet?"

"Say what now about my leylines?" Rin was now fully awake.

Shirou didn't say anything. Instead he was silently lamenting the fact that he was likely going to die in this house, long before the final battle with Caster.

o. o. o.

Waver blinked in mild curiosity as Lorelei walked into the room and none too kindly tossed a report on the table in front of him.

Read. The unspoken command was deafening to anyone with half a brain cell.

He was curious and, while he didn't show it, apprehensive. Obviously something had happened in the short time since they had last spoken. Well, something new in Japan at least.

Over here in the Clocktower, things were getting a tad bit interesting as well, with all the groups of students chanting and shouting in protest for his release in front of the main administration building.

Lorelei may have administrative power, but he sure as hell had the most sway over the hearts of the masses. He had never really given merit to how much influence he had over the student body before since he started teaching, but considering the fact that more than half of the most notable prodigies from the institution in the past decade had been taught personally by him in his spare time in one way or another. Many even claimed that this generation was the most promising in the past few decades.

It did not take him long to actually notice that he did hold some power over this untapped resource.

Some of his oldest students had even taken his case, using their family resources and experience to bend things to his favor. Oh he was most certainly guilty of a few things that he'd be put on trial for, but now he had enough weight, money, and evidence behind him to throw off the paltry additions that would be tacked onto the case at the very least.

That wasn't even including the games that were being played before the trial took place. Judges. Jury. Research. Money. Favors. False evidence. Real evidence. Circumstantial evidence. Witnesses. The Clocktower was a cesspool of back deal games where the rules were ever changing before the show even started.

As stated before, he had trained some of the best magi the Clocktower had produced in decades. And they sure as hell were living up to that praise.

However, the Archibald family was still getting on its legs after Kayneth's death. They owed Waver a great deal for their recovery. And in that time, many other families grew in power. Families that Waver has done service to. Families whose heirs are particularly fond of him.

No one really knew who it was that discovered Waver's situation first. A student. A teacher. Sirius. The reasons for his incarceration were supposed to be kept mum.

What he did know was that word got out and spread like wildfire, and oh was it burning.

His situation though, was not the topic of this meeting.

He scanned the report on the latest situation in Fuyuki. Of Shirou's exploits. Of the battles that went far beyond what most magi could comprehend. Of…

"So you weren't completely foolish." The Queen leered at his rapidly paling face as he focused more on the report.

"You give me too much credit. I have involved myself in two Holy Grail Wars. From firsthand experience, I can assure you that I am certain I am at the height of idiocy," he muttered as he committed every detail to memory. "While I do consider myself capable and well connected in certain fields, I never expected myself to be involved with the Ancestors after Louvre. Not willingly at least."

"Willingly?" she probed.

"I am a magus with a flexible mentality that enjoys playing video games, and Zelretch is Zelretch," he summed up his excuse nicely.

"Mmm." She couldn't argue against that. No one was truly capable of controlling Kaleidoscope if he decided to act on a whim.

Waver swallowed heavily. This was bad. Lorelei had no doubt been preparing for when Shirou's true motivations and plans came out so that she'd take most of the credit for what happened. The planning. The Servants…

But Merem's mere presence threw things for a major loop. His aid was welcome, militarily speaking. The Apostle Ancestor was a tremendous force to be reckoned with and would hasten the end of the debacle in Fuyuki.

The problem was that he was an Apostle to begin with. If Lorelei was to be believed to have managed the whole thing from the get-go behind the scenes, then there would have been no way that she'd ask for his help in particular. Her hatred for vampires was legendary. No one would believe her if she claimed that she did get his help, which she wouldn't.

Had he not been a vampire, she could have claimed that she and Shirou contracted him personally without notifying the Church, but that wasn't the case. That being said, she was incapable of finding a passable reason for him being there without looking like a fool.

Even if someone else claimed to be responsible for Merem's involvement, the job that she was taking credit for was so small and undercover that there would be no way for anyone to believe that she didn't know his inclusion if people pressed for answers.

Blaming the Church was out. Other than Merem being a member, there was no evidence that they had done anything wrong. Hell, they weren't even interested in the fake grail, only concerned of what would happen if some idiot got their hands on that much power. Besides, she was one of the few Magi in the Association that supported their current mutual ceasefire, if only because it gave her more time to go Apostle hunting.

Their only real out was the slim possibility that he really was there on a whim. The Vampire was an Apostle Ancestor after all. Not even the Church could control his movements all the time, and they were the ones holding his metaphorical leash. The problem was that if they went with that story, and it wasn't true, then Lorelei's reputation would be smeared beyond repair.

She'd still be scary, powerful, and influential as hell, but she'd be a Barthomelloi with a tarnished record and a very big black mark.

The woman really would rather die than suffer such indignation. Or, in place of that, make any and every person responsible for it suffer in her place.

He clicked his tongue in annoyance. So that was the reason why she came to him so soon. She wanted to see if he had a way of contacting Merem or possessed some extra knowledge that would get her out of the sticky situation she had landed herself in.

Three days. His hearing was within that time, and so that was the duration they had to fix this mess.

The idea of holding this above her head never crossed his mind. He wasn't stupid enough to try and blackmail one of the most powerful magi on the planet when she was literally in arms reach of him.

They couldn't have just asked the Church to see if Merem really was in Fuyuki on a whim to see the war. Not too overtly or subtly at least. Members would be suspicious in either case and spread rumors that would eventually make their way back to the Association. That or they would have held it above Lorelei's head as blackmail for political favors.

The easiest thing to do was call Shirou or Merem directly, but those held their own complications. Merem, because he answered to the Church first, and if he was asked questions and forced to pick sides, he wouldn't give things a second thought. That and the only way to contact him at the moment was through the Church's communication system in Fuyuki, something that no one assumed was secure.

Shirou was another issue, because while he answered to the Queen herself, he would be questioned in time for Waver's trial, and possibly his own…

… And Shirou was a terrible liar.

He looked ridiculous wearing that holy shroud around his head all the time at the Clocktower. Most people assumed it was to hide his identity or a mystery or a disfiguring scar. Even the boy might have assumed as much at first. In reality, she had forced him to do it whenever he was at the tower just to hide the fact that his poker face was all but nonexistent during conversation.

He could misdirect for a while, omit facts and details with some ease, even twist perspectives with a few choice words to some degree, but that was only if he had enough time to prepare. Anyone that knew him was well aware that he wouldn't last long under a professional inquiry and had to make something up on the fly. There was a reason why she was somewhat relieved that he lived literally on the other side of the planet in a location with few magi, let alone people that knew of thaumaturgy.

Lorelei had made a point to be in charge of his questioning if he was brought up. No one would question her motivations so long as she maintained her image and asked the right questions. He was her dog after all. It would be foolish for him to answer to anyone but her.

Outside of risking exposing the fact that she didn't know anything and get caught trying to contact Shirou now, her best option was to claim that she had given the boy the carte blanche with the mission and to do whatever the hell he wanted. That came with its own risks in the short term and could easily make her appear like a fool in the short term, but the bulk of the blame for everything else would then be laid squarely on the boy's shoulders.

In contrast though, should everything turn out favorably, then bulk of the praise and recognition would be his as well.

The problem with that approach was that she didn't give out blank checks. EVER. People knew it and would tell something was off almost instantly.

Waver shook his head and leaned back in his chair, enjoying the pops in his spine as he pressed it against the back. "What a mess."

"Speak something productive, or you'll find yourself part of the mess as well instead of the group cleaning it." Lorelei didn't hold any punches in her tone or in her threat. She had long since lost the patience for it.

"I don't have enough to be either at the moment." He glanced at the table. "I didn't know Solomon was even in Asia, let alone Fuyuki. Whether or not Shirou actually did rope him into this is beyond me. You'll have to ask him."

A cold glare and slightly narrowed eyes gave him an ultimatum. Keep talking or suffer.

Waver sighed. This was what he got for dealing with the Grail War again. Gilgamesh and Lorelei. Goody.

His eyes darted to the only door in the room, then to certain parts of the room that looked not out of the ordinary.

"The only ones listening are ones that know better than to speak without my permission," she ground out dangerously. Did he really think that she'd attempt to have a "private" conversation with him and not take such measures? She'd punish him for such an insult if she didn't value his input.

It took all his self-control to not show amusement at her irritation. Truth be told, he didn't even know why he was amused by it in the first place. The almost perpetual isolation for several days must be working him more than he thought. "… Sirius has a way to get to Shirou without the rest of the Association knowing. Untraceable. Undetectable. And no one important even knows it exists. Tell the drunk that the golden king is dead, and… the golden shit's hit the fan. His words, not mine."

She had of course pressed the old bastard for information earlier, but he had been the same as always. Despite being perpetually childish and surly, the drunk was incredibly difficult to read and crack. Stubborn and frustrating in a way that only the true Irish could manifest. Granted, she didn't cover nearly as much about the Grail War as she did with Waver, but the fact that the Irishman had gotten one up on her wasn't pleasing.

That was enough. She could easily grill the man for more information, but odds were likely doing so would cause more problems and headaches than not. She turned around to leave.

"A word of advice."

She paused. There was an edge to the man's voice that wasn't there before.

"Simply encountering Gilgamesh is an experience that changes people. Fighting him and surviving, more so," Waver mused, clearly speaking from his own personal experiences. "Shirou… that boy, more than anyone else on the planet, would grow and benefit from it. The fact that he managed killed the King of Heroes is something that can't be ignored."

"My dog has already bared his fangs at me once. I am not foolish enough to think he is incapable of doing so again." She didn't turn around.

"Mm. But, how many fangs and claws does he have now? And how honed have they become?" he pressed casually. "Most would assume that he used Saber to combat Gilgamesh directly, and I would not bother to argue against it, but we know better. We know that Shirou was the one that killed Gilgamesh. Stared him dead in the eyes and everything. Saber may have helped, but the deed was his."

"Are you claiming my dog is a threat?"

"I'm claiming no such thing." He shook his head, cool as can be. "He is a kind kid. Too kind for the shit he's dealing with. To the point of being a flat out fool. He isn't unreasonable and likes to help people if they ask for help without expecting anything in return. It's more than I can say for the vast majority of the world's population. And honest to a fault. That's just the person he is. We both know this."

The Lord sat straight in his chair and glared at the woman. "Make no mistake though. He does have his priorities, as skewed as they are. Priorities that he would go to the end of the world and spit in the face of Gods, Demons, Dragons, Vampires, even you, to achieve. They are not unreasonable, immoral, or unrealistic goals either. On the contrary, they are probably the most demure things you would ever expect from a person with as much potential as him. This hasn't changed the fact though, that he has entered a war of Legends, manipulated the entire thing from years ahead, friends, family, and enemies alike, and faced possibly the strongest Servant possible at his own personal risk just to ensure that these priorities, these goals, are upheld. And he won."

She glanced back at him with irritation, but unlike most magi in the Association, he didn't back down.

"Don't push the boy, Barthomelloi. For all our sakes. You still have his respect and loyalty, and he is not some headstrong fool that assumes that he can do whatever he wants when he wants without consequences. You know him well enough to know what will set him off and what won't. He knows he's done you wrong and is more than willing to make it up simply because it's the right thing to do, no matter how long it would take. But, make no mistake, he's no longer going to be another yes man like the majority of the fools here that can's see anything past their research to see the threats around them. If you press the wrong buttons he will push back. After Gilgamesh, we should both know that now he can push VERY hard if he chose to. Servant or not. Right now you control whether he becomes a very valuable asset or a very dangerous enemy to the Tower in the future."

"I don't see why you are so alarmed about his possible reaction. He's an honest fool. Simple, in your own words," she countered.

Waver stayed his ground. "Exactly. And how much experience does anyone in the Association have dealing with those, let alone ones that have managed to obtain real power but don't care about it?"

Lorelei didn't say anything for several seconds before turning around. "Why are you so dedicated to the boy? Whenever you speak of him, you do little to hold yourself back from protecting him. Even your prized students here do not receive similar treatment. Isn't he just a tool to defeat the Archer that killed your Rider?"

The imprisoned man blinked in surprise, not expecting the question or her comments on his behavior. To be honest, he never noticed it in the first place, but the instant she mentioned it, he could not deny what was said.

"Heh. Is that so? I guess the kid's really grown on me. Maybe its pride since he's my first student. Or I didn't want his potential to go to waste?" He looked up at the ceiling and allowed his mind to fade.

For a brief moment, the image of a large man occupied his thoughts. A crimson cape hanging over the shoulders of a muscled and tanned body. Power. Authority. Conviction. It was the back of a person that he'd follow to the ends of a dream, and beyond.

The back of a man that knew how small he really was in the grand scheme of things, but pushed forward regardless as if it was only natural to do so.

"Mmm. I guess, I'm just curious if I'd be able to see something like that again. Nostalgia. How stupid. I haven't changed a bit since then." He let out a deep sigh, as if relieved, amused, and disappointed with the conclusion he had come to.

"What insanity are you blathering on about?"

Waver shook his head, a bitter smile on his face. "Unfortunately, there's no point in telling you, my Lady. Putting it in words is already something impossible for me to achieve. Someone in your position wouldn't understand even if I did manage to tell you. Just summarize it as a selfish, meaningless, and childish whim of a person that doesn't know better and leave it at that."

o. o. o.

"So here we are."

Around the table sat Rin, Illya, Sakura, Luvia, Saber and Shirou. The latter of which was holding an ice bag to his swollen right cheek and pouting sullenly.

"Here we are." Sakura nodded in agreement, looking at who was there. She doubted that even half of the people she was looking at would have expected this scene to be possible two, no, even a week ago. Herself included.

No one was smiling. The haphazard, dare they say carefree attitude and atmosphere that had pervaded the building when the latest group arrived was absent.

"This is quite the gathering." Luvia looked around the table unperturbed. "Einzbern. Matou. Tohsaka. The three head families all together to clean up the mess that their ritual has started. Then there's Emiya, the one who simultaneously made things worse and yet was the one trying to fix things longer than anyone else. I must admit, I feel a bit out of place."

"No one is asking you to stay, Edelfelt." Illya glanced at the blonde. Her tone and posture displayed no animosity, but her words were sharp enough to get the point across.

"I am. We need her and Caster to prevent the mountain from going off," Shirou corrected his sister. "They're just as important, if not more, than the rest of us for the fight ahead."

"And once we filled our role?" Caster materialized herself behind her Master, her face impassive and unreadable. "What then boy? Your history for using others is not commendable."

He shrugged. "That depends on you. Once things calm down, you can do whatever you want so long as it's within your ability. Your actions, and the consequences that accompany them will be your own. I'll have nothing to do with either so long as no one drags me into them. I cannot speak for the Association though. It is likely that they will pressure Luvia for your services. The Age of Gods is long past, but the Magi of this era are still thirsty and gluttonous for mysteries that transcend their reach."

"So you claim that you will not rope us into any further project, or clean up loose ends once the debacle here is managed?" Luvia looked him dead in the eyes, demanding an answer.

Shirou met the stare for several seconds. "I never intended for you to be involved in the first place, Luvia. Nor your sister. You can ask me a million times that and my answer would not deviate in the slightest. Regardless of what you think of me now, I do consider you a reliable and close friend. One of the few that I have and trust."

"Why do you trust her?" Illya interrupted. "She took a contract to kill you. She's still obligated to do so."

"I didn't have a choice." The blonde didn't bother to glare at Illya's naive counterargument. "My family is influential, wealthy, and powerful, but the- my contractors, are far higher up the ladder. Before they came, I actually did turn down several other contracts on your head, Emiya. Enemies and victims of your father, and a handful of jealous enforcers who were more than put out by your sudden jump from backwater nobody to the Queen's Dog. Some of the contracts were very lucrative, to put it lightly. I was pulled aside several times for my constant refusals."

"And then came someone that you literally couldn't turn away." Rin's eyes bored into her rival's with an unreadable expression. The Clocktower was a place of mystery, science, and politics. While it had been set up with the former two in mind, more often than not, the latter was what dictated the rules of those inside.

If the family that came to Luvia was big enough, turning them down would not have merely slandered the Edelfelt name, but potentially ruined them for generations to come. Less jobs. Less income. Scorned opportunities. Rejected apprenticeships. Canceled financial deals. Misappropriated funds and research. A single bad decision could run a family into the ground in the right conditions.

And for what? For a mysterious friend that she only spoke to a few times a year that she had never seen the face of? One that she owed no debt or favor to?

A family. Her flesh and blood and wealth and history and everything. A family that she loved with all hear heart.

Or her mutual friend that she may or may not have some additional feelings for.

It was a hard decision that weighed heavily on a person's heart, but it was an obvious decision as well. One that could easily be made within a few moments for a magus.

Decisions like this were far too common in the world they were in.

"Wait. You mentioned something about a Standard Contract before." Sakura turned to Shirou. "That she could cancel it whenever she wanted to."

"Wait. What?" Rin blinked in surprise.

"It's a lesser known way for mercenaries to piss in the face of the higher ups when we get poor deals." Shirou shrugged. "Most of the time it isn't used simply because the mercs don't want the bad reputation that comes with actually using it, or they believe they can still pull the job off, or the payout is just too good."

"I see. She couldn't just use it as soon as the war commenced." Saber nodded in understanding. "She'd have to be put in a situation where proceeding with the contract would not be in her favor in any way, or until certain specific conditions were met. That way, even if it did anger and surprise the other family, there would be little they could do or say about it publically lest they appear to be the fools."

"And what would you have done with my Master had she not been able to incorporate this loophole?" Caster probed skeptically. "She would have been forced to continue her task even after this Grail debacle was resolved."

Shirou shrugged and materialized a copy of Rule Breaker.

Many of the people in the room resisted the urge to face palm at the obvious solution.

"… Have I told you how much I hate the fact that despite your supposed borderline crippling thaumaturgical limitations, you seem to always have the answers to the most frustrating situations hidden in that messed up world of yours?" Rin's eyebrow twitched. "You're a walking thaumaturgical swiss-army-knife."

"Have I told you that most of the weapons that I have in my messed up world were used against me first?" he met her back flatly.

Considering the fact that he had just fought Gilgamesh last night, he likely wasn't stretching the truth.

"Point made."

Illya didn't turn away from Luvia. "How can you cancel your contract? Can you do it now?"

"I can. However there is the matter of timing. If I do it too soon, it would leave me in an unnecessary situation once this is all done," Luvia confirmed.

Shirou took out a piece of paper and handed it to the surprised girl. "You can do it now. Merem announced to the Church and the Association the situation regarding the grail last night. The whole thing is called off until Caster is dealt with and further investigations are done on the Greater Grail by both parties. They are also requesting a meeting with the three families since you three are the ones technically in charge of it. It's a bit of a mess, but I'm unofficially recognized as Barthomelloi's operative and personal representative for the exchanges."

Everyone blinked in surprise and stared at him, save for Luvia who was all but enraptured by the paper she was reading.

"How did you get your hands on that message? I enchanted my temple to prevent Rats and other beasts not tied to me from entering." Caster looked at him warily.

Shirou shrugged. "Walked outside the front door, then down the street and out of your bounded field. Whistled a few times and then the bird carrying it landed on my shoulder and delivered it."

Thankfully it didn't crap on him this time. The birds that Merem used on occasion were good at deliveries, but they were still wild by nature.

"Archer. Why didn't you tell me that he walked out the house?" Rin mentally growled at her Servant.

"Because there weren't any enemy Servants nearby and he came back inside almost instantly afterwards. Besides, after your spectacular episode earlier involving your leylines, I deemed it wise not to bring up my counterpart in your presence, or talk to you in general, unless absolutely needed." The Servant carelessly excused his actions. "I don't remember everything, but I do recall that nasty left hook of yours. And neither will he from the looks of things."

Shirou looked around warily. "… Why is everyone glaring at me like that?"

"Words cannot come close to how frustrating you are, boy. And that does include the Divine Language." Caster glared at him with venom, her eyebrow now twitching.

"I thought that the Vampire controlled rats, not birds." Illya pouted slightly. Really, why couldn't the Vampire have spied on her with birds? She liked birds. Birds were pretty and weren't gross like rats were.

"He can talk to animals in general. He just prefers to use rats for spying since they can hide pretty much anywhere. Birds are more for sending messages." Shirou shook his head, knowing a futile battle when he saw one.

"You are oddly used to his methods, Shirou." Saber's tone was perfectly calm and even, but he could tell easily that she was accusing him of something. "I would have suspected one as persistent for cleanliness and order as you would have issues with being around such creatures so frequently."

"I did. I just instructed him to keep his messengers and friends to places that I would rarely touch in the first place should he need to contact me."

He also may have hinted to using Kiritsugu in mass droves against the Vampire if he even heard a rat's squeak in his kitchen or saw tiny scratches where they shouldn't be, but there was no point in telling others that.

"He just, walked outside and a bird just… why? We shouldn't be surprised by this by now. Why?" Rin dropped her head and clenched a fist, clearly restraining herself from walking over to him and making the left side of his face match his right.

"Before we fall further into the nonsense that tends to manifest when my Master does something peculiar, may I suggest that we ask Luvia if she is capable of cancelling her contract?" Saber interjected.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Shirou grumbled petulantly and glaring at his Servant, who in turn pretended that he didn't exist for the time being. No one bothered to answer him.

"Yes. Yes, this is good. If word of nearly everything has gotten out and the vampire has done as he has said, then I can certainly use this to back out of the contract without risking my family." Luvia nodded, going over the report before handing it to Rin. "Tohsaka, can you confirm that this is authentic?"

Rin took the paper and gave it a customary glance. "Without reading any of the details yes. My family's been a part of the Church for generations. There's certain things to look for to tell if it's really from them. Even Caster wouldn't be able to replicate these traits. This is genuine. The Association and the Church are aware of Caster and the Grail's corruption. Shirou's no longer under suspicion and is free to do as he wants, but his actions will be under scrutiny for investigation later."

"Nothing unexpected then." Illya nodded before turning to Luvia. "Well?"

She didn't say anything for several moments before sighing and began to channel some prana. "Minum nimeni Luviagelita Eldelfelt…"

The rest of those in the room waited patiently as the Finnish woman chanted in her native language for about a minute. By their estimation, what she spoke was roughly the equivalent of an eight count aria. No one assumed that the spell itself was that miraculous, rather, it was more likely that it had to be shaped or phrased in a particular way in order to work. Much like a key to a specific lock.

"Done. Rejoice. I no longer have to kill you." Luvia sagged in her seat and gave him a wry look.

"Out of curiosity, what were the conditions for the unraveling?" Shirou probed.

"Oh, nothing special. Just admittance that going after you would likely kill my sister and I, which would in turn cause irreparable harm to my family name and assets. That and acknowledgement that the Edelfelt name has more to gain, both long term and short term, from keeping you alive than completing the contract with the Archibalds."

"Archibalds? Don't they dedicate themselves to Barthomelloi? Why would they do something as stupid as go after you?" Sakura blinked in confusion, recognizing one of the few names in the Clocktower that she actually remembered.

"Dad wasted their previous heir and their crest, almost ruining them. Then I came along and became the Queen's pet mutt. Odds are they don't like me that much. Not too surprising really." Shirou shrugged. "Explains why Waver-nii was so involved in helping you out. He didn't have a choice either."

"Yes, and look where that landed me. Poor Lord El-Melloi." Luvia gave him a dry look.

"If the Archibalds get too desperate, they might go after him instead of you whether or not they have proof that he was involved. So yeah, poor him." Shirou uncharacteristically glared back at her.

"We can worry about Waver later. We have to stop getting distracted," Rin interrupted before things got heated. "We have to lay everything out on the table now. There's no time to keep on hiding secrets anymore."

He sighed and leaned back in his chair, shaking his head. "You're right. Sorry, Rin."

"Are you ok, Shirou?" Saber glanced at him. She could tell that something was bothering him. He was slightly quick to anger at the moment, and he had been rubbing his head occasionally since they entered the room.

"Mmm. I'll be fine. I've just gotten a headache since I woke up." He waved her off. "It's gotten worse, but nothing I can't manage. It'll go away eventually."

Saber, Illya, Rin, Luvia and Caster all exchanged looks, leaving Sakura confused. Shirou on the other hand missed the exchange completely.

"Shirou, I think we should start off by showing our Servants." Rin started off carefully.

"Oh. Right. Archer." He blinked as if just remembering he existed. "You said something about me not liking him. And Dad always warned me about being near him too for some reason even though he didn't say why. He can't be all that bad though. You were pretty confident about his power when this all started, and he's kept you safe so far. Besides, you summoned him. There's no way you of all people would get a weak Servant."

"I… well…" she hesitated, pretending not to blush faintly from the compliments he threw her way. "Just, don't say I didn't warn you, ok?"

"Fine. Still, I don't see what you're so… worried… about."

"Sh-Shirou?" Sakura blinked in disbelief as EMIYA materialized behind his Master, seemingly ignoring the looks that he was getting.

"Laying it a bit thick on the compliments, don't you think?" The Counter Guardian sighed, more voicing his own opinions out loud than talking to Shirou directly.

"Archer." Saber nodded shallowly.

"Saber. It's been a while, though that amounts to little since I don't remember much. My apologies for leaving you with my former self without help," he matched her greeting.

"You. You feel different. You're Onii-chan, but you aren't." Illya didn't blink, almost as if inspecting him under a microscope. It was his eyes that was the biggest tell. Sharp and clear, like a hawks, but steel colored instead of silver. An easily overlooked detail, but there none the less.

Most notably though was how blank his stare was. It wasn't empty or emotionless, but it was almost as if the man was talking to complete strangers that he felt no opinions for. It was something even she would have trouble achieving if she was talking to someone new.

"I'll consider it a compliment." He shrugged, letting her observation pass right through him.

"He-he's actually a heroic spirit?" Sakura looked at him with what could be considered awe, ignoring the reactions of everyone else there. "Amazing. Shirou, you're actually strong and capable enough to be a Heroic Spirit! You're so lucky, Rin!"

Her compliment was like twisting a knife in Rin's stomach. "Yeah well, it's not as astounding as you'd think, Sakura. Archer's a bigger ass than Shirou is, believe it or not."

"Taller too. What did you eat after the War to get that big?" Illya inspected the Servant curiously.

"Doesn't that just mean he's actually speaking his mind more often? We bug him about that all the time. The only time he does it now is when he's too exhausted to filter them." The younger sibling tilted her head in confusion.

"No wonder you were never that surprised by my comments and jumped straight to hitting me. Such a violent Master I have." Archer smirked smugly and shook his head as if there was nothing he could do about the situation.

"No. He's definitely a bigger ass than our Shirou." Luvia didn't hold back her punches, causing the Servant in red to definitely not pout. She didn't argue against his statement, but at the moment given a choice between insulting Archer and insulting Rin, she'd go for the former.

"And you call me blunt." EMIYA muttered. "You have my condolences if this is how they treat… you?"

In confusion, everyone in the room turned their attention to the only person who had yet to speak since Archer's reveal.

His skin was ash white and he was sweating through every pore in his body. His face was impassive, his body was upright, and his hands were on the table, fists clenched and shaking, but not a word was uttered. In fact he seemed to be absolutely frozen in place, unable to move under his own violation.

Most prominently though, was the horror in his dilated eyes and the marred skin on his face slowly reverting to its scale like pattern. His body twitched in erratic places and patterns as if he was experiencing and witnessing an unmatched abomination and he was unable to look away regardless of how badly he wanted to.

"Shirou?" Sakura herself paled, as did many others that were not expecting his reaction. "Shirou? What's wrong?"

Despite her question, he didn't respond to her. Instead he remained frozen in place, staring dead straight at Archer, who in turn glared back at him in confusion and curiosity.

"Archer. What did you do?" Caster turned to the other Servant with some irritation. They didn't have time for this, and as much as she disliked the boy, he was still their greatest asset at the moment.

"Nothing, believe it or not. I'm as confused as you are. I've never seen him react like this to me before. Splitting headaches and bleeding of experience are supposed to be the worst he should be getting." He frowned, filing this information away for later. He briefly structurally grasped the kid, and other than his body being a disorganized mess resulting from Apostle, Fairy, Dragon, Holy, and Sword based mysteries, there wasn't anything actually wrong with him. Physically at least.

"Shirou. Shirou please answer me. Tell me what's-grrk." Saber flinched.

"What happened?" Illya probed.

"His mind. I tried to connect to him through our link, but his thoughts are a mess and racing faster than I was prepared for. It's like he can't even control what he's thinking." Saber grimaced.

"Archer. Turn spiritual. Get out of his eyesight. You're affecting him somehow." Luvia may still harbor conflicting feelings towards Shirou, but the seizure like symptoms he was displaying went well and beyond what she felt he deserved.

"Again. I didn't expect this." The Servant faded away from view, his face a mix of confusion and concern. However it became clear that even though he was gone, Shirou was still stuck in his paralyzed state.

"… Wait. Oh no," Rin finally spoke up. She had been stunned quiet at Shirou's reaction, but also hit by a case of déjà vu. It had taken her this much time to remember from when and where she had seen this before. "Saber, shake him! Jolt him out of his shock!"

"What did you figure out?" Illya snapped, a bit more harshly than she intended.

"He's unintentionally processing Archer's history." Rin grimaced. "He had the same reaction two years ago when he first saw the swords that Kiritsugu made for him. He's trapped in his head with information he can't look away from."

"Swords that Assassin made?" Caster pressed. "Why is that significant?"

"Because Natalia, Maya, and Kiritsugu were all forged using the remains of Kiritsugu Emiya's corpse," Sakura answered before Rin could, her face pale and contorted to one of horror. "Sh-Shirou records the history and materials of any weapon in his mind with a glance. The second he saw those weapons, he witnessed and experienced, and comprehended the curse that murdered his father in full."

"Wait. WHAT?!" Archer shouted uncharacteristically in surprise, which she ignored.

"He had the same reaction back then. It was right before our fight against Louvre and we needed the extra firepower. They were hidden in the house and weren't supposed to be shown until a few months before the War," Rin elaborated. "We have to be careful. I had to literally shake him to break him out of it last time, but even after that he was completely hysterical and almost inconsolable. I've never seen him like that before or after that one time and I never want to again."

"Normally scanning another person wouldn't be a problem, but if it was Archer, with his past and the obvious synergy and compatibility they'd have…" Illya quickly came to a conclusion before she was interrupted by a lout thump.

Saber had had to shove her Master off of his chair to jolt him out of his stupor, but it was clear that he was far from all right. His shallow breathing had turned into deep gasps, and his eyes were seeing something that no one else could.

"It was me. All this time… It was me."

"Shirou? What do you mean? What was you?" Illya tried to walk to her brother, but the moment she touched him he recoiled and backed away from her shakily as if his life was on the line.

His body was breaking out into a cold sweat, his face was even paler than it was before to the point of being bone white, and his eyes were darting about almost uncontrollably.

"It was me. I… It was me. I can't- I can't… Ugh…"

A tear was heard as he crawled backwards. The fabric of his shirt ripped apart on his right arm, snagged and shorn across the dozens of protrusions that were emerging from it. What was once smooth skin or seamless scale like layers of flesh were now thorns of blades sticking out at odd angles like broken bone, reflecting light off of the metal and blood that covered their surfaces.

He barely seemed to notice. He didn't seem to notice anything.

It was a sickening and horrifying sight for the occupants in the room. Shirou Emiya, the person who had all but orchestrated the events of the Grail War, the person who had managed to render low the King of Heroes himself not even twenty four hours ago, was reduced to a helpless mess that could barely complete a three word sentence.

Even Caster, who held the least amount of pity for the boy and had nothing but animocity to him was disturbed and worried.

What had the boy seen that reduced him to this pitiful state?

It was Rin that had moved ahead of everyone. Ignoring their and his protests, she marched up to the delirious young man and grabbed his left shoulder tightly so he wouldn't escape. Kneeling down almost instantly, she forced his head to face her and dominated his line of sight.

His breathing was uneven. His pupils expanding and contracting so fast she could barely keep up. The side of his face that had been regenerated was resembling his new arm, with small blade like protrusions sticking out of it. He was in a state of shock and confusion that didn't belong on someone as strong as him.

He was completely helpless, and the sight of it hurt her more than anything else he or the War had thrown her way.

"It was me. All this time, it was me…" he repeated, more to himself as if validating a horrible truth that he didn't want to know but couldn't escape from.

"Shhhhh. Shhhh. It's ok. It's ok Shirou." She cradled him gently, pretending not to notice him flinch and struggle under her grip. "I'm here now. Nothing's going to happen. You're safe. Nothing bad can get to you. Whatever it is, it's not your fault."

He still struggled, cutting her accidentally with his warped skin in the process, but she didn't let go. "Wrong. Wrong. This is wrong. I'm wrong. I was wrong. The entire time."

She held him tighter. He was stronger than her. Faster. Had better training. Had he been in his right mind, he could have easily broken out of her grip by now. "Then we'll fix it. You can still be right. Just calm down Shirou. Please. You're scaring us. You're scaring Illya."

The mention of his sister's name seemed to send a shock down his spine and force him at least a hair towards rationality again. "I-Illya?"

"Mmm. I'm here Onii-chan." The small girl somehow managed to speak clearly despite being just as shocked as everyone else in the room. "I'm not going anywhere. You're all I have left. Remember?"

He was horrified with himself. That much was certain. Why? No one had any idea. It was even harder to guess since he was broken to begin with, and the fact that he was always hiding something from people made it worse.

"You. I. Dad. D-Dad was. Dad was…" Shirou fumbled with his words, finally more focused on what to say than trying to escape Rin's grasp.

"Papa's not here anymore Onii-chan." She smiled sadly, walking up to him before kneeling right next to Rin. She reached out to pet his head, stopping only momentarily as he flinched at the contact. "There, there. You'll be ok. Calm down. Please?"

His breathing settled from alarmingly irregular to merely unstable and erratic. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry. I didn't know. I didn't know."

He didn't try to escape, but was still pushing away, as if he was trying to run from the world in shame. Rin didn't let go at all.

"It's ok. I forgive you. Just rest, ok? We still need you. Things aren't safe still." His sister comforted him, never letting her hand stop petting his head as if he was a pet or a small child.

"Not safe. No. Dad knew. He knew the entire time. He, he was… and I. No wonder why he did this. All my fault. So stupid. My fault."

Rin sighed as Shirou trembled in her arms. It was blatantly clear that they'd have to wait before getting a straight answer out of him. "Honestly. You finally wake up and this happens. You really are a handful, you know that?"

"Rin." Saber frowned, about to chide the girl, only to stop when she noticed the tears going down the girl's face.

"After all the crazy shit you've done for us without telling anyone, after all the time I was preparing to ream you a new one, and you have to fall apart like this? It's not fair. Idiot. Why do you have to be such a broken idiot?" She held him closer to her chest, though it was clear that he barely seemed to notice. She didn't seem to care that she was being watched for that matter.

"Onii-chan… he really isn't ok, is he?" Illya turned to the rest of the people there, her expression unreadable.

"I don't think so." Luvia grimaced. Caster settled for looking away and keeping quiet.

"Shirou is, Shirou. For better or for worse." Sakura couldn't find better words to say.

"No. He's not." Saber shook her head. "We all knew it. We just made the mistake of pretending we understood what that entailed."

Illya turned back to Shirou and watched him for several more moments in silence. "… Papa was right. He really will get himself killed if we leave him alone."

EMIYA didn't say anything. He just watched, even though his head felt like splitting in two.

o. o. o.

Omake: Why Illya didn't spend much time with Shirou when arriving.

Saber closed the trunk of the limo. Thankfully, the garage was barely touched in the fighting yesterday. It had taken some effort to get it to a part of the driveway without any rubble, but it didn't take long. "That appears to be everything."

"Final check. Did we forget anything?" Sakura looked around curiously.

"Anything intact? No. Onii-chan is sleeping in the back seat and most of my stuff is ruined anyways." Illya shrugged.

"I'll catch up to you later." Merem shrugged. The rest of the girls silently sighed in relief.

"I have a grievance, but it can wait." Saber looked away petulantly, much to the other's relief. "Although… I can't help but feel that I've forgotten something important…"

BOOOM!

Everyone jumped as the front of Illya's castle literally exploded, collapsing the front of the building right in front of them.

"Uh… Saber. Those wouldn't have happened to have been the bombs Shirou planted earlier, were they?" Sakura laughed nervously.

"Oh. Right. They were never utilized in the fight." Saber pounded a fist into her open hand as if having a casual epiphany.

Illya on the other hand was understandably upset.

"WHAT DO YOU MEAN FORGOT ABOUT THE BOMBS!?"

o. o. o.

Omake: Why Saber didn't feel like talking much after leaving the Castle.

Inside the wrecked castle's garage, in the far corner, a Suzuki Hayabusa sat.

On the seat was a note.

By Royal Decree, this is the Mount of King Arthur of Britain. Touch at risk of painful torture and degrading execution by means of African Swallows. Thou has been warned.

o. o. o.

A/N:

Again, thanks Wayfarer for the betainginging.

I dare someone to try and make a scene where Illya is yelling at Saber for forgetting about bombs in a believable situation. Really.

Haha! Done! Finally! Good! Next chapter shouldn't take nearly as…

(Looks down at Zero Time Dilemma and remembers about Monster Hunter Generations).

FUCK!

Ok. So, lots of nothing happened, and lots of reasons for Type Moon purists to bitch at me, but I Kiritsugu was verified as a heroic spirit so fuck you guys, my pants are still as unholy as satan and I am loving it.

First of all, Shirou's arm. It's unstable. It can turn into blade like mesh shenanigans like a third of the Shirou's out there in fanfiction. And that's it. No power boost. No better tracing. It's essentially a very limited amount of living sword clay.

Dragon shirou… no. Never happening. Just exemplifying Saber's nature and how Shirou's getting more and more messed up as time goes on. Really, the scales could and probably would manifest like that without the dragon bit.

Shirou's freakout… ok. Here's the thing. I have yet to see a fic where something bad happens as a direct result of EMIYA's identity being revealed. More so, I have yet to see a story where Shirou in particular takes it badly. Now that is understandable given how passive as hell Canon Shirou is and how EMIYA's ID is normally figured out over time and how there are more important things to deal with, but that still doesn't change the fact that I have yet to see anyone actually use it to their advantage.

I will say this right now, FFD Shirou will never, NEVER get along with EMIYA. If you thought that UBW and EMIYA didn't like one another… well, just wait for the next chapter. I'm bringing things to a new level. In terms of compatibility, FFD Shirou is about 1.5 to 2x as incompatible with EMIYA as HF Shirou was.

I wanted to do a scene with Merem in this chapter as well, but it was longer than I expected, so I'll push it to the next one.

As for Rin, this chapter was roughly half of her pseudo redemption with Shirou. She's yet to talk things over with him, but after finally talking and meeting up again, she realizes that despite how messed up physically and mentally he is, he's still the same Shirou as always. Her eyes have just been opened to how capable he is when he's set off.

Seeing him has put things in perspective for her and made her realize all the "I could have" and "I should have's" she thought of would have probably made an incredibly delicate situation worse. It was the fact that everyone always felt like they were taking advantage of Shirou in the first place without repercussions or issue was the reason why he did so well. No one expected him to do what he did or act on his own.

… Anyways, I'll get the next chapter out sooner. Going to visit family soon. Anime North in Canada was fun. I got a sunburn. That's an oxymoron if I've ever heard one.

So that's it for now.

REVIEW! WORSHIP THE LOG! THE HAYABUSA SHALL RETURN TO SMITE THE UNWORTHY! AND REVIEW AGAIN!