Chapter 47: Set Up

I do not own Fate/Stay Night and stuffs.

o. o. o.

Shirou's focus on cleaning up the plan of attacking Caster was interrupted by a knock on the door.

"… It's two in the morning." Rin glared at the clock, her anger stemming from a combination of how late it was and the fact that there shouldn't be someone attempting to come in this late unless it was an enemy.

His expression matched hers for a moment, but for other reasons. He got up. "Saber, can you come with me for a moment? It shouldn't take long."

Looking up from her papers, Saber merely looked at him for the briefest of moments in concern before complying, leaving what she was practicing on behind.

Neither of the two said anything mentally or aloud to one another as they made their way to the front door, where a polite, yet firm set of knocks repeated itself. Without hesitation, Shirou opened the door. "Yes? Who is it?"

In front of him stood two people. One familiar, another a stranger.

"Excuse me, but I found this woman approaching your home. She claims you called her." The police officer looked at Shirou with a mild look of annoyance. He was a Japanese man in standard attire. Black hair. Black eyes. Average height and weight. Really there was nothing outstanding about him.

"I'm sowwwwyyyyy," Taiga Fujimura wept childishly right next to her accoster.

"Yes, I did call her over. I have a bit of an emergency inside the building and she's one of the owners of the property." Shirou bowed apologetically, not paying attention to his sister figure. "I'm sorry if I caused a disturbance. I know there's a curfew out with all the chaos going around town, but this really couldn't wait."

To her credit, Taiga only twitched slightly at Shirou's comments, and more importantly what he didn't say.

The officer frowned but didn't make any accusations. Instead he merely looked around as if examining the property. "This is a big place, but you are the one that answered the door. Are your parents around?"

"I'm adopted and my parents died years ago. My wellbeing is entrusted to my neighbors who I trust with my life." Shirou's tone was dead even, clearly giving the impression that the topic of conversation was one best alone.

Again, he didn't lie, but some truth was omitted from the conversation.

The cop seemed to understand, thankfully. "Well, clearly it must have been an emergency if you risked this woman's safety. She could have been hurt or be suspected as a perpetrator for what's been happening lately. I'll look over it this time, but don't expect any second chances."

The three of them nodded as Taiga sullenly walked into the building, haven been given the ok to go.

"Saber, please escort her to the living room. We'll talk in a bit." It would be bad if the woman came across Caster, or saw Rin without context.

The Servant gave him an unreadable look before nodding and guided the still distraught Fujimura inside, leaving Shirou with the cop alone.

The two looked at one another for several moments before the elder broke the silence. "Is there something you want to tell me?"

"Are you an idiot? Or is your master just so overconfident that he doesn't give a damn?"

Shirou's tone was as cold as his glare.

To his credit, the officer seemed to look nothing but confused. "Excuse me? What are you talking about kid?"

"Don't even try to play clueless. I could make a whole list of reasons why I know you're one of Fina's slaves, but that's not the point. Caster is inside my property and it's a miracle she didn't sensed something wrong if she hasn't already. If I could tell that you aren't normal at a glance, she sure as hell would too, and I'm not in the mood to answer even more unnecessary questions. I've had a long day. I'm tired. And the last thing I need is right now is to deal with another Apostle Ancestor's childish curiosity getting the better of them." The boy didn't pull any punches, tearing the man down with harshly. "Now unless White Knight has something important to tell me, I expect you, and those snipers you have set up watching our conversation back there to leave by the time I'm a meter back in my home."

Since Shirou was essentially an unofficial part of Raiga Fujimura's Yakuza group, he was almost on a first name basis with the cops that was on their payroll, which happened to be the cops that were in charge of this part of town, since this was where Raiga lived.

The only other cops that would dare come this this area for patrol were the ones snuck in by the Association to cover up any and all forms of thaumaturgy for the War. Those agents knew who lived where, so if this idiot had been one of those agents, he would have known that he was dealing with Barthomelloi's prized minion by now.

Three blocks away on one of the taller buildings in the residential area, the sniper and spotter watching and reading the lips of the conversation stilled.

They really should have choose a different spot to spy on the main entrance to the building. Picking the ideal place to view everything just screamed amateur. Shirou had found them out shortly after getting out of the car. The only reason why he didn't say anything was because the Servants there would be able to deal with the sniper shots easily and he didn't want to raise any more suspicions than needed.

Instead of panicking or getting angry though, the cop smirked. "Oh? So Lord Solomon told you of the deal already?"

"If he didn't, I would have killed you, raised the alarm, and had half the Servants here after your Master's head before Merem would know anything." The teen remained impassive. "Or, even worse, I might have called Barthomelloi."

The smirk vanished. Apparently even this stooge knew better than to play with that forbidden fruit. "Careful boy. You don't want to start something you can't finish."

"Try me. After what I've been through these past two weeks? I am more than capable of finishing this squabble if needed. I could always go for another notch in my belt while I'm at it." Shirou took a step forward, causing the cop to instinctively take one back. "You on the other hand, are not even worth remembering."

"You wouldn't dare." The slave attempted to up the ante. "Solomon trusts you. He wants this to go through as much as my Commander. You would dare anger two Ancestors in a childish tantrum?"

The boy wasn't moved, and instead stepped closer to the unfortunate man. "They have no one to blame but themselves for having the brilliant idea to conduct it on the grounds of a War with Heroic Spirits. This is my territory. I was made the overseer of this pointless deal of theirs, against my will. I am the one calling the shots until then, and I am reaching the limit of my patience dealing with you monsters barging into my life and assuming that no repercussions will come from it."

It was his eyes that really drove home just how pissed the teen was. Their metallic shine seemed to shift and flow like liquid molten metal, filled with an unreadable nature that was as alien as an Apostle Ancestor's. The cop was hypnotized by their glare and boy they belonged to.

"Tell this to your vaunted Master if he's not listening already. He is not going to interact with anyone involved in the War outside of the bare minimum. He is not going to interact with the War itself, the participants, or anyone related to any of us in the slightest. He is not going to attempt to start anything in Fuyuki, expose himself, or do anything that could risk the deal and himself being known to anyone that doesn't need to know. If he doesn't so help me I will inform Barthomelloi and the Tower as a whole and rain hell on his sorry pirate ass so hard even Rita Rozay-en and Van-Fem will feel sorry for him. The deal and Solomon be damned. Am I understood?"

The unfortunate minion of Fina swallowed heavily. He had come across many terrifying individuals since joining the Parade, but this boy was different. He had learned to not underestimate children, not after seeing Merem Solomon and Altrouge Brunstud in action, but this kid was different. He wasn't an immortal monster like them. He was human… but not. The more they talked, the more the man felt like a blade was being pressed at every major artery and vital he had.

This brat. This unstable little psycho, he really was willing to anger two Apostle Ancestors if Fina didn't go with what he wanted.

His Adam's apple went up and down once. "Crystal."

"If he follows those rules, then I will uphold my part to the best of this charade without complaint. No one will know. And no one ever will." Shirou let his gaze linger on the man for a good ten seconds before turning around and going back into his home. "I have said my piece. I better not see you again. Leave."

The cop was anchored in place for almost a minute after the door closed in front of him before he managed to snap out of it.

Walking briskly away from the building, he turned on his radio. "I'm here. Contact was made."

"Well?" Fina asked from the other side. "Tell us about the boy."

The cop paused, trying to find the right words to say.

"Barthomelloi a bigger bitch than we thought. Only she can get away with calling a bloody wolf a pet dog."

o. o. o.

"I'm sowwwwyyyyy."

"For the last time, it's ok Fuji-nee." Shirou sighed as he gave the crying woman a cup of tea. "These things happen. It's not your fault."

"But, but there've been a bunch of officers hanging around the area for the past few days. Even though nothing's happened in this part of town." The woman sniffed. "Gramps tried to make them go away but they just won't listen."

Rin and Saber didn't miss the brief flash of some emotion pass Shirou's eyes before he consoled the woman. "It's fine. They'll be gone once things calm down again. You know how the police tend to always lean on the families for help and information whenever something big happens."

"Yeah. You're right." There was an unspoken agreement between most police and the major mobs in bigger cities not just in Japan but all over Asia. It was a setup that had been in place for decades that wasn't going to go away any time soon. The Yakuza kept the local riff raff in line and turf wars to a tame level, and the cops dealt with the major crime issues like murders and the like. So long as they didn't cause major problems, they often turned a blind eye to the other's actions to make the jobs for the other easier.

Contrary to popular belief, the Yakuza preferred if the general public was happy and weren't miserable. A satisfied populace meant a working economy, which meant more money for them. They didn't bleed their people dry for laughs. More like… they asked for an occasional minor donation. It was only when idiots started turf wars or discontent was everywhere that things got messy.

"It is partially my fault though. I shouldn't have called you so late and there is a curfew in effect." Shirou shook his head.

"You wouldn't have called if you didn't need me, Shirou. You'd never ask anyone to do something that you'd do yourself if you could help it." Taiga smiled weakly.

"Yeah well, I seem to be doing nothing but asking people to do things they don't want to do these days." He sighed.

The woman gave him an unreadable look. "So you are involved with what's going on after all."

Both teens froze.

"Don't act surprised. Neither of you probably remembered, but this is ten years ago all over again." The older woman declared with more maturity than what she normally portrayed. "Disappearances. Places all over town falling apart, exploding or catching on fire. The police not saying anything helpful and doing even less. Hell, half the boys working for Gramps are already guessing the same thing."

She gave them both a focused look. "And in the middle of it all Kiritsugu showed up, followed by you, Shirou. If memory serves, your parents both had their unfortunate accidents around that time too, Rin."

"Shirou…" Rin was about to say something, only for the addressed to shoot out a hand and cut her off.

The room was tense as the young man and woman stared at one another, reading everything from their respective body languages.

"Why are you doing this, Shirou? I thought you understood that Kiritsugu didn't want you to follow his footsteps."

He figured out that Taiga knew more than she had let on years ago. She didn't know everything, at least, he hoped she didn't, but she had enough dots to connect to see a picture. She had known that the senior Emiya was a former assassin from her Grandfather. She had figured out that he was involved in something similar to ten years ago. She had probably also suspected that his long periods away from home were very similar to when Kiritsugu used to leave for "business trips" too.

"I'm not following Dad's path. I promised him I wouldn't." He looked down at the tea in his hands. "I'm just… Dad gave up everything to save as many people as he could ten years ago. You could say that I'm making sure that the same mistakes aren't repeated this time… and that there won't be a next."

"I see." Taiga gave him an almost deadpan stare. "So how many of those fires around town were your fault?"

He allowed himself to look embarrassed and looked away. Technically he had only set the mountain on fire once. But then there was the fight with the Casters. And the time he told Luvia to torch the forest. And then there was the huge swath of forest that Saber cut down with Excalibur during the fight with Gilgamesh… "Personally… one… indirectly… at least three."

"Three?"

"Technically."

"Shirouuuu. Did you burn down Sakura's house?"

"Actually, that was one of the few times I was on the receiving end of things." He failed spectacularly to look innocent.

"Sensei. As much as he deserves it, Shirou really has been working in everyone's interests." Rin stepped in seeing as the owner of the house was shrinking from the woman's wrath. Personally she wanted to throw Luvia under the bus seeing as she was the one that burned Sakura's house down, but it wasn't worth the headache… yet.

"Whether we wanted it or not." Was left unsaid.

"And what could warrant setting the town on fire at least three times?" the woman growled.

Shirou looked at her dead in the eyes with conviction. "Do you remember how Dad found me? That mess was the result of him stopping the worst case scenario."

Even after ten years, the Great Fuyuki Fire's mark was left on those that had been around to see it themselves. To see it and to hear it were completely different things.

Taiga reigned in her aggression back, not to one of fear, but a poker face. It was an almost alien look on the normally emotional woman.

"And why are you the one stopping it in particular? This isn't the sort of thing that a kid…no, children should be involving themselves with." Taiga stressed the word while looking at Rin accusingly.

Shirou smiled wryly, as if thinking of a bad joke. "Why? A whole bunch of twisted reasons. Too many to count, but… to give you an idea of how messed up this all is… that girl you met, Illya? She's Kiritsugu's biological daughter."

The woman's eyes dilated to mere dots, her breathing hitched, and her face turned pale. "She's… but that… she's involved in this too."

"There are few things we can say. And an overwhelming amount that I can't. I'm not going to bother with either." Shirou's expression darkened, eye never leaving the woman that half raised him. "I'm asking you for help Fuji-nee. Not for the town. Not for the people here that neither of us know. Not to end the violence here. I'm asking you if you're willing to help me finish what Kiritsugu started, and to help his daughter."

"Heh." The woman laughed. It was the sort of brief chuckle that a person did when they were left with no choice, but was amused by the situation regardless.

She looked at him with cold brown eyes. "You're a real piece of work Shirou. I thought that you were done with that whole superhero thing."

The teen grinned grimly. "I'm not a hero, Nee-san. I'm just a very well trained dog."

o. o. o.

"Saber. Might I have a moment of your time?"

Arturia looked up from her project to see Medea by the door to the guestroom she was in. She had moved there when they had learned that Taiga was coming over so that there weren't any distractions. "Of course. Is something amiss?"

The Princess seemed unsure of something for a moment before proceeding forward and sat down. "Forgive me for being rude, but may I inquire what your wish was for the Grail?"

Saber blinked in surprise. Whatever she had expected the woman to ask, her wish was not one of them.

It was generally considered an unspoken rule that the wishes of Servants should be kept private out of common decency. It was something private and personal, something that should be considered sacrosanct among other Heroic Spirits, as said desire was their reason for coming back from the Throne itself to obtain. Of course, depending on the wish and the individual, it could also be another weakness to be exploited in one way or another, but that much was a given.

"May I ask why you would inquire about it? The Grail here is tainted and impure. There is no scenario I see where I would use it."

Medea avoided eye contact. "I, I desire to compare the wish of a significant legend such as yourself to mine. I wanted to see the drive of King Arthur himself and see what I lacked as a Heroic Spirit."

The King of Knights blinked, once again caught off guard by the topic. Her drive? Comparing the two? The blonde honestly didn't know how to respond to the peculiar topic.

She had opened her mouth to inquire more when her mind went back to a conversation nearly a week ago.

"Who said that you were the only one that regretted this failure? That lamented what had become of your proud home to their very souls?"

"If you are not human because of the path you took then I sure as hell am not either, but you won't see me trying to change that if things go bad!"

"Your knights were dedicated to both you and your country. Do you think that they did not also suffer as you did in the end or believe that it was also in some way their fault? That shame that they could not uphold their duties to come home, Lord, and Kinsmen? The despair in their hearts that they had when they spilled one another's blood for one reason or another? You are not the only Knight of the Round Table that made it to the Throne, Saber. Far from it, and yet despite the fact that many of them were famous, dedicated, powerful, and committed to your kingdom just as much if not more than you, not ONE of them has done what you are currently doing. Should they be summoned in this war, I doubt that a single one would attempt to change the past despite how much they were committed to their land and you. Do you not care for them at all?"

To be honest, she had yet to make a final judgement from the conversation. It was an eye opening ordeal, yes, but one's beliefs rarely changed from just a single argument.

Her wish was still to save her kingdom, but whether she would still go through with it, should go through with it, tainted grail or not was in debate.

"I don't understand. Your worth as a Heroic Spirit? What brought this about?" Saber latched onto the one part of Caster's request that could buy her time. It was a reasonable question, seeing as there shouldn't be a reason for the Princess to doubt herself to this end.

Caster took a moment to pick the right words. "I am Medea of Colchis, but who I am, and the person most of my legend belongs to are different individuals. Most of the ordeals attributed to me, in my timeline at least, are not mine but another's. A capable girl that Jason met shortly after we parted ways that he passed on as myself in order to increase his fame and notoriety. You could say that I am a person that accidentally made it to the Throne through another's effort."

Saber nodded slowly, starting to get an idea of where the woman was going. "You are debating whether or not you should have become a Heroic Spirit."

"Archer… said that I had as much purpose in this War as he did. That we were similar," the Servant admitted.

The King held back a scowl. She had read all about EMIYA's acerbic tongue, but she had hoped he would keep it to himself, or at least not use it to make things more difficult than it already was. "And what brought this about in the first place? As frustrating as it is to deal with him, he isn't the sort to randomly antagonize others."

"… I don't trust them. Either of them." Caster worked herself up to admit her issues, leaning against the doorframe and grabbing her elbows in a loose stance. "The boy. The Servant. Every time one of them appears, they either use or attack my Master and I. They remind me too much of Jason, even if the latter was an incompetent and selfish twat that relied more on others than his own merits. Always using others to further their own goals. But… they also remind me of what I could have become. Of the reason why I fell so far to begin with."

"The Witch of Betrayal." Saber nodded in comprehension. "Be that as it may, you should already be aware that Shirou's goals coincide with our own. His methods are unsavory at times, but not unreasonable, not considering what we were up against at least. I too have had to make difficult decisions in my time as King, where the feelings and lives of my people were put directly at risk in order to maintain and protect the Kingdom. The scale is vastly different, but the underlying issues are the same. It is not his fault that the War is not as we intended. As for Archer… he does have his own agenda, but you aren't a part of it. If anything, he doesn't have one here."

"He called me spoiled." The Princess laughed bitterly. "When I left Jason and stayed with my Aunt, I did so on my own violation. I couldn't stay with that man or his compatriots for a second longer after my Aunt had cleansed me of Aphrodite's influence and I regained my senses, but I had nowhere else to go. I betrayed my family. I had nothing to offer except my tainted blood and accursed craft. So, I stayed with Circe, drowned myself in the only skills I had that were worth anything, and hid from the world until I died as another lived with my name."

Spoiled. Coward. Shameless. Pitiful. There were many things those with strong enough wills to become Legends could call the woman. One unfit to be a Heroic Spirit in the first place. Saber was one of them. However in the end, the King of Knights could not help but conclude that the woman in front of her was simply a victim. The Princess of Colchis was simply in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and born to the wrong people. She had been a pawn in every sense of the word.

And yet… the story of a girl being led to an undesirable future for the sake of people she didn't know was all too familiar to the King.

"I wanted to use my wish to go back home, if only for a short time. I wanted to apologize for everything. To tell father the truth. When I told everyone this, that blasted Archer cut down my reason for being here, my very existence. He had the nerve to say I was like him."

"Mmm." Saber was starting to see where Archer was going with this and the real damage done. "You desired to know what I wanted from the Grail as a comparison, no, as proof to see that you weren't like Archer."

"Can you blame me? The idea that I am of the same mold as that man makes me weak in the stomach." Caster shook her head.

"He's not the most likeable individual." She closed her eyes, pondering on the situation. She could give her input now, but then again, perhaps there was more they both could gain from the conversation if she asked some questions of her own. "Why not wish for another chance at life? Not to be like your counterpart, but to go down a third route? To be the Princess, possibly even Queen of your homeland? With your current skills, it would not be difficult to resist the Gods' influence."

Much to the King's surprise, the Princess barked out a quick and bitter laugh. "A similar realm. Identical even, but it's another time. Another world. It would not change what I have done and the victims of my actions. The sins I have committed and the people I abandoned would remain the same. It would only be a childish attempt to replace them with strangers that look and act parallel to those that I abandoned and threw away. No. I may not have been the Princess they deserved or earned, but I still have enough in me to admit to being the one they had."

Saber didn't visibly react to Caster's words, but on the inside her stomach clenched tightly. "Even if your actions doomed them in the end? Even if your homeland could have been an ideal place had you remained?"

"Perhaps such a world in another time did exist. A pity mine was not it. I would have loved to see my home flourish in such a way." The woman smiled sadly. "But that is not my world. That is not where my mistakes are. Simply going back and making another choice will not make what I have done go away or fix anything."

"You do not wish to correct your mistakes? For your brother? Your people?"

"Of course I do. Any person that cares would. But I have made peace with my actions. I admit to being used like a tool for the gods, that I butchered my brother, that I ran away from my people and hid like a coward. What I cannot tolerate is being placed in that situation again. And what I want is… is the closure that my home knew the truth about me. That those I knew in my childhood remembered me in the end as I them. A selfish and pitiful desire, but it is mine regardless."

Memories flashed past Saber's mind. Of stares and whispers. Of accusing looks and discontent people. Of her knights turning their backs on her and country.

She had always done her best to be the ideal king. To make the proper judgements. To uphold the law.

But… the truth about her…

"The King does not understand his people."

Her gender aside, what had they known about her? Her judgements and skill were unmatched, divine even. But…

Endless crowds looked upon her with wonder and curiosity. Respect and servitude.

Fear and uncertainty.

The King may not have understood his people… but was the reverse the same? Did the people ever know their King? Did her knights?

"A king must be greedier, laugh louder, and be more furious than anyone else. He must exemplify the extremes of all things including good and evil. That is exactly why his subjects envy and adore him. And why the flame of wanting to be like the king can burn in the hearts of every civilian."

The King of Conqueror's heavy words rang through her mind from a time long past, and she could not help but let out a brief laugh of self-pity.

Berserker's twisted eyes stared into her own. Pitiful words escaped both their lips as he fell to her blade.

It had hurt her more than being stabbed to see her knights leave her. To abandon towns of her subjects for a tactical advantage. To constantly receive word on who had died this week and have them listed as numbers. For Gwen's and Lancelot's actions to reach her. To decide to execute her wife. To learn of Mordred's betrayal.

But she had remained impassive. Stern. Almost detached from everything. She always had to keep going, for if she didn't, who would?

"A pity. You would have made a good Queen." The words escaped Saber's lips, long before she had even realized she had even spoke them.

That had been her mistake. She had been too detached from her people. She had attempted to be something far greater than the position of King, the position designed and made for humans. Her decisions themselves were right, she and her people knew that, but the way she made them unsettled everyone with enough time.

Humans were selfish, skittish creatures. Despite what they preached, they had trouble themselves, let alone non-humans. Even if she was on their side and did her best, it would have only been a matter of time until that distrust reached a breaking point. Mordred merely exploited what was already there.

She had forgotten that vital part of human nature far too long ago in her efforts to become something else.

Caster wasn't the ideal image of a ruler, but she would have been a good one.

In contrast, Mordred was… well, a clone of Arturia, only with more faults and inexperience in politics. She admittedly might have proven to be a capable King in time with enough training, but even then, Saber's expectations for her nonexistent replacement were so unreasonably high that she now doubted that anyone would have met her standards.

On the other hand, Gilgamesh and Alexander were tyrants. She did not approve of the way they ruled or how they conducted themselves, but they did do at least one thing right where she had failed. The two had exemplified their human nature to the fullest, if in different ways. As a result, their charisma and their people's respect for them were unparalleled.

Had those two been tamer in their temperament… had they not been as violent and reckless in their actions… their legacy very likely would have eclipsed what they had now in grandeur...

… And in duration.

"A Queen?" Caster blinked in surprise with a hint of a blush on her cheeks, not expecting Saber to say that. "I, that's very flattering, but I've no interest in that now. I've spent more time as a caretaker than royalty. My brother is, was to inherit the crown anyways. Not I."

"Hm. A pity." Saber meant it too. "My wish, no, with recent events the way they have been, I am left reexamining it. I'm afraid it would do no good for either of us if I told you what it was. It may remain the same, it may change. Until then I cannot satisfy your curiosity. My apologies."

"I see." The Princess looked away dejected. "I suppose that given what has happened it is only natural that even someone like you would need a moment to step back and review."

"It is required from time to time. I have no shame in admitting it." The blonde firmly backed her decision. "As for Archer… I assume that he has noticed your distrust and desired that you address it before it becomes a problem. As tactless as he is, he does have a point. We must have faith in one another if we are to be victorious. From what I understand, you are going to play several difficult and intensive roles in our attack. Out of all of us, you are the one that we can least afford to be distracted."

"I know, but it doesn't change the fact that I am uncomfortable near them. And Archer shares such sentiments."

Saber gave the disheartened woman a firm look for several long moments. "And?"

"And?" Caster echoed, confused. "And… what?"

"If you are concerned about your worth as a Heroic Spirit, your purpose here, and the trust of Archer, then the answer is simple. Simply go through with tomorrow's fight to the best of your abilities." A small, yet confident and knowing smile etched itself on the King's face. "Does this situation not already resemble the trials of our peers? If so, then there is only one thing for a Heroic Spirit to do. Show you resolve and walk forward towards the den of hell itself without wavering for a moment lest the world around us collapse alongside your comrades."

"That would be a suitable solution had it not be for the issue of me being comfortable calling Archer a 'comrade' in the first place." Caster shook her head in resignation. "I am a Princess. A spellcaster and caretaker of phantasmal races. I am not a knight."

"And you think I got along with all of those I worked with too? That all those I bled with stayed at my side, let alone protected it?" A slim eyebrow arched skeptically.

The Princess faltered. The Legend of King Arthur was full of betrayals. Lancelot. Gwenevere. Mordred. Count Angres of Windsor. Morgana…

And that wasn't even including the countless unsavory individuals she had had to work with in her youth before even taking the crown. There was a bloody reason why her dagger of invisibility, Carnwennan, was a pivotal part of her early life.

Saber went on. "Just because I fight alongside someone does not mean that I explicitly trust them. The same goes for any experienced warrior on the battlefield moving with strangers. What you feel does not make you the minority, but the standard."

The Princess shook her head. "I wish I shared your confidence, but I'd rather falter from inexperience than being stabbed in the back by one that I suspect will. At least the former I can blame on a trait I lack rather than due to willful ignorance."

The King maintained her silence before relenting. "I cannot change what you two believe in or how you see one another. I know enough about Archer to believe that he wouldn't bring up his concerns unless he thought it was a problem. Your self-confidence is one thing, but your acceptance of who you are working with is another entirely. That being said, I do believe that his comments on your character were unwarranted. I'll speak to him about that, and it may make things somewhat easier, but the rest will be up to you."

Caster's shoulders sagged. She didn't know exactly what she had been expecting from talking to Saber about her problems but she had hoped that she'd get more… something, than this. Still, this was better than nothing. "Thank you. I'm sorry for wasting your time with my problems."

Saber smiled and put a hand on her shoulder. "Think nothing of it Caster. If one of us falls, all of us will. I am only doing what a good comrade would and should do. Don't let Archer's words get sting too harshly. I meant what I said. You would have made a good Queen. The people would have adored you."

"Mmm. Again, you have my thanks. I'll think on your words while we wait." Some of the energy and poise lost earlier returned to the exiled princess as she made her way to leave the room, only for her to stop for a moment, as if just remembering something.

"Yes? Is something else on your mind?"

Caster hesitated once more, but her body language indicated that what held her back this time was different than before. "Saber, about the boy… do you think he meant what he said earlier? About faking his death? I still have misgivings about him, but you seem to have the utmost faith in him for some reason."

Saber blinked in surprise, not expecting the conversation to change so quickly. She couldn't help but assume there was more to the question than the woman was insinuating. "Faking one's death is a cowardly and dishonorable thing to do, especially for a leader of any sort. It is a cruel trick. But… a necessary evil as well. I will admit that I have had to hide away some allies and informants at times for their sakes as well as others. The world is not as forgiving as we would like."

"You couldn't take them under your protection without sacrifices." The Greek understood how politics were. Regardless of what era it was, the irrational greed of rulers was always consistent.

"In some cases, doing so would have resulted in pointless war. Sometimes it's best to lie in order to keep everyone happy as distasteful as it sounds." Saber looked to the side in mixed shame and annoyance. "In this era, with magi running rampant, and Shirou's peculiar condition, I admit, I struggle to see a way for him and those under his care to thrive, let alone live, once enough information is spread. From what I understand, his current sponsor is viciously opposed to Dead Apostles to the point of irrationality. No one I spoke to can honestly see things ending peacefully once she realizes what he is. The Queen of the Clocktower is reputed to be a well-established and formidable individual. Enough so that even Shirou is averse to confronting her in any way if possible."

"Even my Master is wary when speaking of that woman. She must be quite capable if she evokes that sort of reaction from the boy." Caster closed her eyes. "So does that mean he's informed you of his plans in detail, or are you as aware as the rest of us?"

Saber shook her head. "No. Today was the first I've heard of it, but it makes sense that he's played with the idea. I think the changes his body has gone through recently have made him panic, even if he doesn't show it. It's unexpected, and he's the sort of person that would assume and prepare for a worst case scenario from the start just to be careful. Had he not been so involved with the Clocktower and this Barthomelloi woman, I doubt he would be this rash."

"Rash. Yes, that is a good way to put it."

"Is something the matter? Why are you so focused on that subject?" Saber looked at Caster with interest, as if trying to figure something else.

The Princess decided not to look back at her inquirer. "… I'm just recalling what happened to myself. After staying in exile and being replaced in Jason, I guess you could claim that I had also faked my death to the world. Though in my case I suppose you could say it was for purely selfish reasons."

"You need to be selfish to do something so significant as to abandon the life you've had. It is a move of the desperate. The only variables between cases are the source of that desperation and what is obtained in the end." Saber crossed her arms.

"I see. That makes sense." Caster turned around, her voice and face unreadable as she did so. "Thank you for your words, Saber. You've given me much to dwell upon."

She began to vanish, turning spiritual so she could move through the house uninterrupted.

"A word of warning to the boy, though. Prepared or not, the pain of abandoning everything is not to be taken lightly. Starting a new life means killing the old. I wonder if he can handle dying a second time."

o. o. o.

The roof shook as Berserker landed on it, the height he leapt an easy task for the grandson of a titan.

"And just as I was finally managing to enjoy the peace and quiet." Archer sighed, not bothering to look back at the visitors. "I apologize. I don't have any snacks on hand."

"At first I thought that your attitude was simply an attempt to push others away so they don't try to get close to you." Illya observed as her Servant gently lowered her down. "Now I'm concerned that you really are that rude."

"It happens given enough time. You'd be surprised how many elderly people lack a filter." Archer shrugged.

"It certainly would explain your mind going." The albino showed no trepidation or fear as she casually walked to the Counter Guardian.

"And here I thought my hair going white was from my magic. Thanks for enlightening me." He didn't seem to care that she was approaching him from behind.

All things considered, he'd prefer it if she didn't get close to him at all. Just hearing her voice address him with such familiarity brought up old memories that he really did wish had remained lost in a botched summoning… or in madness.

"It's a pretty view, but I doubt it's that interesting." If she had figured out he didn't want her there, she gave it no mind as she looked around him to see the bulk of Fuyuki in the distance, complete with the river, bridge and city on the other side.

"You've never been on a stakeout. It's supposed to be boring," he chided, still not moving. "The only thing they ever show in the movies and TV shows is the last minute when something does happen. Most of the time these things can take days. But if you miss anything important…"

"All of it is wasted." She stopped next to him, her voice softer.

The two watched the city in silence for several long and awkward moments.

"Why are you here?" He broke it first, a rarity for him.

"What other time did I have? Do you think Shirou would let me anywhere near you alone if he could help it?" She had a point. Given how violently the teen acted around his older counterpart, it was almost a miracle that he allowed himself to be comfortable with the Servant still being with Rin.

"True, but that didn't answer my question."

"What makes you think there's more than one reason?" She turned to look at him with an unreadable expression. "I want you to do something. I want to talk to you. I want to know more about you myself instead of reading what papa wrote down. I even want to help you if I somehow can."

Archer let out a bitter snort. "You certainly are being greedy tonight."

She put her hands on her hips and pouted. "I'm your adorable little sister. It's my job to be unreasonably greedy when it comes to you."

"Unreasonable. Yeah, that word sums up this entire War pretty nicely." He sighed, not falling into her pace or even bothering to argue against being her brother.

"You aren't making this easy. How do you think I feel about all this?" Illya frowned for just a moment before letting all the air in her small chest escape in dejection before slowly becoming impassive. "I want you to make the jeweled sword."

That had the Servant's attention. "Really?"

She shot him a cold look with her red eyes. "Do you really think Shirou would be in any condition to fight soon if he made it the way he is now? We both know he's stubborn enough to push ahead with whatever stupid plan he's made up, and like I said earlier, there's no way he'll let us near one another if he can help it, let alone give you access to my head."

She was right and they both knew it. The Jeweled Sword of Zelretch was a beast of a thing to project in ideal conditions. Even as a Servant, Archer would be left a bit dazed for a few hours after the deed was done. If Shirou attempted it in his current condition, there would be no way he'd be able to recover fully in time for the fight against Caster, Avalon or not.

Accelerated healing tended to do little when it came to the mind warping after-effects of the Kaleidoscope.

"I knew we'd see some of that stubborn stupidity at some point." He shook his head, already agreeing with her assessment. If they didn't act now, then there was no way that the two of them would be able to make the projection without his younger self being a pain in the ass.

"You almost sounded happy there." She accused.

"Just imagining the fallout when he realizes what we did. Should be interesting." He shrugged, as if it wasn't his problem. "If he starts to point fingers, I'm throwing you under the bus."

"That won't work on him and you know it." Despite the fact that she's only known him for a short time, Illya was fairly confident in her assessment of her brother's personality and how he thought. His actions combined with Kiritsugu's notes painted a fairly detailed picture.

She couldn't always tell how he would react to things, but this scenario was pretty straightforward all things considered. Speaking of which…

"True. Logic rarely works on the stupid," the Servant merely replied, as if what was to transpire was not his problem before she could speak.

"He's not stupid and you know it. Irrational at times, yes, but definitely not to the extremes you're used to," she pointed out.

"Mmm. You're right. Not by much, but I can't argue against what you said," he relented.

Her fists tightened. She didn't like it, this apathetic way he was treating her with. Wasn't she his sister? "Ar… Onii-chan, what did you see in him? I know you don't get along with your younger selves, but why is our Shirou so hell bent against you?"

"I already told everyone, I don't know." He sighed. "When we looked at one another directly, the bleeding effect reached its peak from both of us being 'Shirou Emiya', but some of the things that went between us didn't… fit, for lack of a better term. Those things we had clashed with the other. I found it annoying and stupid, but apparently the effect was more pronounced with him. I have no way of telling what it was that's got him so riled up though. It doesn't work like that."

"Could it be because you're a Heroic Spirit, or a Counter Guardian?" she probed.

He shook his head. "No. If that was the case then nearly every other Shirou Emiya I've encountered would have been killed or driven insane just by looking at me as well."

"Then what did you get from him that didn't make sense?" She all but threw her hands up in frustration.

"He gave up being a hero," he answered flatly, though his fists clenched in annoyance. "He gave it up and just did whatever dad asked him to do. Dad. Dad. Dad. That man was always in the back if the idiot's thoughts. It's honestly ridiculous. That man's practically the source of a good third of the problems we have. I don't understand why the hell he worships Kiritsugu so much."

"He saved you," Illya answered as if it was obvious. "Doesn't that count for anything?"

"He saved me from a mistake he made in the first place. You're speaking of the actions of a mistaken man trying to redeem himself for his own actions. They were good deeds, but ultimately selfish and pointless. It would have been better if I had died then."

They were harsh words. More cruel than he had spoken to anyone since being summoned. As such, they could be the considered the most sincere things he has said.

The homunculus simply stared at him with pain in her eyes. "… Do you remember anything good about Kiritsugu? About Papa?"

About his father. About the man that raised him as his own. About the person named Kiritsugu Emiya who was family.

The Servant breathed in deeply and looked up to the moon. "… I remember the night he saved me. I remember him looking so happy and wondering if I could ever be like that. I also remember the night he died. Sitting on the porch talking about meaningless things, and me stupidly deciding to accomplish his dream. A dream he had already managed. Honestly, I wonder who the bigger idiot was then."

Illya didn't say anything for several long moments before shaking her head. "I, I think I have a better idea as to why Shirou can't stand you."

"I thought that was obvious. I'm a Counter Guardian and a fool that sold everything just to kill people for eternity."

"No."

Her cold and firm word caught him by surprise, making him turn to look at her for the first time that night.

Her eyes were sunk in, as if she had been awake for far too long and holding back a good deal of stress. Yet despite that she was glaring at him with a mix of pity and disappointment. As if he was a child that had messed up immensely, yet she recognized that he probably would never understand the gravity of his sin.

"What you suspected was completely stupid and careless. Anyone would agree to that, but at best it would only annoy Onii-chan. You could kill half the world's population and he'd probably only be horrified with your actions, but still not consider you an enemy if you didn't act as one. No, he wants to kill you for another mistake you made. Something that's almost trivial to you, to most, but to him it's akin to sacrilege. Something that he'd never allow or imagine himself to commit no matter how much time has passed. The fact that you exist at all, that a version of himself actually did what you did, makes you a mistake of reality in his eyes. As far as he's concerned, you being recognized as him is the biggest insult imagined because it means that we recognize the possibility that he could do the same thing you did in the future."

There was certainty in her voice and steel in her eyes. She meant everything she said.

"And what was it that I did that was so horrifying to him?" Honestly, he was curious. There were only a handful of Shirou Emiya that he had encountered that actually went out of their way to try and kill him for the sake of killing him. Normally it was due to a clash of ideals or he had done something to annoy his younger other self. It wasn't often that he was on the receiving end of things.

She looked at him in pity.

"… No. There's no point in telling you. You wouldn't understand even if I did, and would just probably bring it up in front of Shirou just to gauge his reaction or set him off if it suited you."

He didn't know what hurt worse, the look that she was giving him or the lack of trust in her words.

Out of all the people in the fifth grail war, Illyasviel was the only one that he had never harmed in any way outside of not being proactive and actually trying to save her from bad situations that he knew were coming. He had admittedly betrayed Rin and Saber every now and then, but they were strong. He could always count on them to figure out a way out of most bad situations more or less intact.

Illya though… he had failed her. He had sworn to protect her, and yet she died right in front of him. Painfully. Slowly, over the course of a year. And when she did go, she didn't even hold his failure against him.

Among the few memories he recalled from when he was alive, that was one of the ones that stood out most vividly.

Come to think of it, most of his remaining memories weren't that endearing. The Fire. Kiritsugu's death. Illya's death. His death…

The only significant one that wasn't saturated in pain and loss was that one moment where Saber was standing over him, asking if he was her Master.

"Hmm. You're probably right." He didn't argue. He wasn't up to it, and all things considered he didn't think it was worth the effort. Honestly he was so mentally exhausted from this war that he had lost the motivation to do almost anything now.

His unmotivated reply only seemed to concern Illya even more as she took a step to him and held his calloused hand with her small white one. She could feel the small scars and thick patches of skin all over his fingers and palms, results of countless hours of training and battle. "I'm not your Illya, but I have a feeling she'd wouldn't want to see you like this."

"I know. But this is all I am now. Even the Grail can't change that." His hand tightened slightly around hers, his thumb rubbing her skin as if memorizing every sensation and detail there was.

"You'll find a way. A way that isn't stupid. A way that works." She held his grip with both hands now. "You're strong Shirou. A bit stupid at times, but that works for you. You'll find something. Just… don't forget anymore. Please."

"Forget?" He had been asked to do many things over his endless iterations in the war, but this one was probably a first.

"Us. Fuyuki. Papa. Life…. Yourself." It was that last word that seemed to carry the most weight, even if he didn't understand what she meant by it.

"Illya, I didn't forget myself. I threw it away," he tried to point out the flaw in her statement.

"No, you didn't. You just don't want to deal with it because it hurts to remember. It hurts to recall that Shirou Emiya failed us. Just like it hurts for me to remember Kiritsugu and Mama." Her grip tightened. It was nothing to the heroic spirit, but even he could tell that she was trying hard to make it at least uncomfortable for him.

It was only then that he realized that she was trying not to cry.

"I don't want to be forgotten anymore. I don't want to be thrown away. Not by Shirou or you. And I don't want you to be forgotten either."

Archer didn't say anything. He didn't trust himself to make things worse if he opened his mouth again. All he did was simply let the girl get closer to him and absently rub the top of her head with his free arm.

He vaguely recalled the image of doing something similar in the process. In a life far too long ago in a world that was a vaguer dream than the one he had abandoned.

o. o. o.

His body may be resting in the car being driven back to Rin's place, but his mind was elsewhere.

He sat on the hill of blades, looking down at the endless lands where weapons stood on end reflecting crimson light from the setting sun.

There had always been swords as far as the eye could see here. Each with their own tale and life, but even someone who wasn't overtly familiar with it could tell that much had changed.

And that didn't include the giant monolith of a stone slab impaled into the ground a short distance away that towered over even the hill he was on. For some absurd reason, the monstrosity was far larger here than it had been during the fight against Gilgamesh.

There were more weapons of note now. Standing up and radiating with power. Some so much that they distorted the crimson light they reflected just enough to appear a different hue.

The terrain was slightly different as well. His hill was now almost akin to a small mountain, peaking above nearly all else there as the sole violator to the otherwise endless plains.

The grass on the lands were still there and strong, but the earth occasionally parted and dipped and cracked, as if a large battle had taken place recently that disturbed the monotony of the lands themselves. Nothing significant, but nothing that could be ignored either. The world was more irregular and dangerous because of them, but also gave the overall image an extra texture that seemed to make it more alive in the process.

The Reality Marble was no more or less "complete" than it had been before, yet at the same time it could be said that there was certainly "more" to it than there had been earlier.

Nonetheless, it was without a doubt a peaceful place, and Shirou took full advantage of it as he sat at the peak of his hill, back against the flat of Excalibur with Kiritsugu, Maya, and Natalia just within arm's reach.

"I'm almost done, Dad. It's almost over," he said to the swords next to him, almost as if they really did enable him to speak to his father.

Just one more fight. Just one more and then… and then he'd have to deal with the rest of the world…

… But that was fine. He didn't care about the world. Or humanity. He didn't have any real lasting attachment to either even if abandoning both did leave a bad taste in his mouth.

The War and everyone and everything involved in it was his legacy. His responsibility. His promise. Everything else was a footnote to him.

Reaching out with a hand, countless weapons and tools blinked in and out of position at his fingertips. To anyone else, the tools would have vanished too quickly to see, let alone analyze and examine. But to Shirou a flicker of time was all he needed to know all he needed and make a judgement.

Over a hundred weapons flashed past his inspection in less than fifteen seconds and yet they all didn't meet his requirements.

A deep sigh left his lips. He wasn't getting anywhere like this.

He needed something special for Caster. As a human, the amount of power he had and what he could use at once was limited. Something with an absurd output and cost like Excalibur would kill him if he tried to use it to its full potential, and most of the other Noble Phantasms he had seen were of the same kind.

Gae Dearg was a godsend, there was no question about it, but he needed something else just in case. Caster already knew about it having been speared through the damn thing twice already and she probably had a good idea what it could do by now, meaning she could probably counter it, meaning she could kill him before he could do anything about it.

So he needed a new secret weapon.

The problem was, he needed something he was actually able to use for long periods of time without worry.

Passive mysteries or abilities that were triggered with a minimum cost were the minimum requirement. Next came the abilities themselves and how relevant they were to the situation at hand.

Just those two landmarks alone rendered nearly all of his unique library useless. There were a few tools that had come close, but they also happened to be cursed to high holy hell. Unless he felt like giving up a part of his soul or a portion of his arm or be possessed, they were completely unusable as anything other than projectiles.

Still, even with the filtering process, he still had a good thousand or so weapons to go through that might have a hope of being useful, not that he had his hopes up.

He didn't even know what he was looking for if he was honest. All he did know was that he needed a new and reliable trick, one that he could actually use.

Until he knew that, he had to go through what was left of the filtering process one by one.

Right now the best options he had come up with were a tie between Gae Bolg and Arondight. The former because he actually had enough prana to use it a couple of times if needed, and the latter because the boost he got from just wielding it combined with Reinforcement and his time magecraft could probably enable him to actually fight on par with most Servants. Physically at least. For a little while.

Sadly, everyone in the War and their mother knew what Gae Bolg did at this point, and while Arondight upped his physical abilities, it didn't grant him any other property that would be of particular help in the long run.

Plus, both weapons were so cursed that he was uncomfortable thinking about holding them.

That, and he had a feeling that Saber wouldn't take too kindly to him using Lancelot's weapon, good cause or not.

Durandal came in as a close third, being indestructible and possessing three miracles and all that, but much like Arondight it was pretty limited in its long term usage and lacked overall versatility. Also, it was just a tad bit too heavy for him to use comfortably, and it was a copy from the gate of Babylon, so it didn't have a history with Roland to draw upon to make it easier to use.

"And here we thought that I'd never have to worry about looking for a mystery or special weapon again after I fought Gilgamesh." He sighed, flickering through another few dozen or so weapons before allowing himself a quick break.

On a whim, a hundred nameless blades began to float off the ground before dancing in elaborate patterns above him. It was more of a mental exercise than anything, a way to manage large numbers of objects at once with certainty.

Lots of other magi employed similar exercises with their mysteries to further their control of their mysteries or perform multiple tasks at once, though obviously not in this particular fashion. Overall, it was a pointless thing to do, but it enabled him to focus on something else for a time and hopefully clear his head a bit.

Ironically, it was because he was absently pulling up whatever tool there was around him that he felt a tug on something that belonged in the land, but was different at the same time. It was… different.

He turned his attention away from the floating show, almost instantly dismissing them from where they were and returning them to the silent lands below.

His eyes went down to where the abnormality was now sitting right next to him, as if it had been there from the beginning. It took him a few moments to recognize what he was seeing, and a few more to register its potential.

His hand reached out to pick up the weapon and swung it about a few times, allowing its purpose and properties to flow into his mind.

Shirou couldn't help but smile in both relief and amusement at the irony of what he had.

This… this he could work with.

o. o. o.

Taiga held back a yawn as she looked up the stairs that led to Ryudou temple. Her gaze then drifted left and right to where the forest had been burnt down less than a week ago. Not that she couldn't tell considering the fact that a person could still smell the burnt wood and ash from almost a mile into the city.

"It's too early for this." She grumbled, shifting the box full of papers and random school supplies in her arms. She was by no means out of shape, but even she didn't endear the idea of carrying all this crap up all those stairs. Normally if a person had a delivery they'd just drive everything up to the back entrance, but the monks there were pretty strict about what warranted people coming through the private entrance to the Temple.

By the time she had made it to the main gates, the woman was sweating a fair amount, and breathing somewhat heavily. "Damn you, Kizuki. How do you manage to carry all your stuff up this monster every day?"

"It helps that I leave most of my things in my office and only pack essentials in my briefcase." The assassin turned teacher replied from just inside the grounds, shocking the woman thoroughly.

"Wha?! Whoahtototototoaaahhhhhh!" The Tiger of Fuyuki almost lost her balance on the top of the stairs, flailed about wildly, and then barely managed to regain her footing again, breathing far heavier than she did before. "SAFE!"

"You should be more careful. It's dangerous up here."

"AND WHOSE FAULT WAS THAT IN THE FIRST PLACE?! HUH?!" the woman snapped at him irately. "DIDN'T ANYONE TELL YOU NOT TO SURPRISE PEOPLE CARRYING HEAVY LOADS AT THE TOP OF TEN FLIGHTS OF STAIRS!?"

"I believe there are only seven flights." The man's face was just as impassive as his tone.

He was technically true. There were seven flights of stairs up the mountain, but they equated to roughly eighteen flights if put aside your everyday office building.

"THAT DOESN'T MAKE ME FEEL BETTER!" The tiger roared before marching up to him and forcefully handing him the box. "YOU'RE TAKING THIS JUNK THE REST OF THE WAY!"

The man made no efforts to argue with her as he automatically took the box and waited for his co-worker to calm down. She wasn't the first person to have a near accident at the top of the stairs and she wouldn't be the last.

It took her a minute or two to finally get her pulse under control, but soon enough Taiga was back under control. "Geez, I manage to get all the way up here without slipping on all that ash, and I almost get done in because you're quiet as hell. They should really put a bell on you."

"I'll try to rectify that. Shall we?" Without waiting for her reply, he turned and walked inside.

"Yeah. Yeah. Let's go, Sensei." The woman followed him without a care in the world, not at all worried that she was apparently walking into the territory of some psychotic bitch that was using the temple as their hideout and was apparently holding several people, including Bazett hostage.

To be honest, Taiga didn't really like Bazett that much. The young woman had too much of an inferiority complex for her liking except when, surprise surprise, Shirou was around. The girl seemed to take pride in the fact that she was his martial arts teacher, not that Taiga could blame her.

The two women had duked it out once when they had said a few too many things to one another when he wasn't around. Fist to blade. Taiga had gone in assuming that she'd have… not an easy win, but a solid one. Anyone that had Shirou's seal of approval shouldn't be considered a lightweight, but there was a reason why many martial artists claimed that a pugilists had to be roughly three times as skilled as a sword user in order to pull off a solid win and Taiga was a five dan in kendo. There were not a lot of people that managed to get to that level of skill, let alone by her age.

Still, Taiga didn't expect to have her ass handed to her on a silver platter.

It took three more rounds before the woman was forced to admit that Bazett really was that good and took it to heart.

But that only meant that whoever did manage to capture the Irishwoman was a genuine monster.

They managed to get to Kizuki's room with no issue. Taiga was slightly put out that Reikan wasn't around seeing as he was currently conducting business with other Temples, but it passed soon enough.

"So this is the material you mentioned earlier?" The man looked at the contents and pulled out what appeared to be a random piece of homework.

"Mmm. With all this chaos going around town, I kinda forgot to get some of the grading done." She smiled apologetically before clapping her hands together and bowing her head. "I know I'm being selfish, but you're always so reliable so I thought you could help me out a bit! I'll make it up to you! I'll cover lunch! No! Lunch AND Dinner!"

Kizuki, as stoic as always, merely blinked before turning back to the paper in his hand and pulling out a pen. "A word of advice Fujimura-sensei. When bartering for favors, it's always best to see what the other person thinks of the subject at hand before making offers and raising the stakes."

"Eh?" The woman looked up in confusion before realizing what he had just said. "Wait, you mean you'll do this for free?"

"I would have had you not already decided for me." He didn't bother to look up.

The room was filled with the faint whimpering of an immature woman for a good fifteen minutes after that.

Come lunch time three hours later, the pair went out into the city, leaving the room empty save for the papers strewn across the table.

"Well?" Caster's voice demanded as Assassin materialized into the room and began inspecting the papers.

"English and History. This is all school work. They are teachers." Kiritsugu muttered softly, rifling through the sheets. "There does not appear to be any code. If there is I don't see it."

"Perhaps there is a device or a spell they used." The witch suggested.

"If there was you'd have detected it. Or are you suggesting someone from this era actually managed to get something past your bounded fields?"

He could practically hear her grind her teeth in annoyance. "And the box? Its contents?"

A quick look in it and the contents was all he needed. "Nothing unexpected. More papers and school reports. If there was anything out of the ordinary we would have seen it. If the woman was a spy, she likely would have told the man whatever the message was when they went out."

"Then what are you waiting for? Why aren't you trailing them?" She all but hissed.

"You told me to go through the papers and the box." His words were blank and emotionless, but even that couldn't hide the very slightest hint of satisfaction on his face as he felt the bitch barely reign in her frustration.

"I know what I told you now I'm telling you to go after those two! Now!" With the last word, he felt the first Command Seal she used on him in the War urge him to do just that as the woman's connection with him cut off. No doubt she did not have the patience to babysit him and watch over his every move when she no doubt had more important projects to work on.

Which was a shame too. Because if she had decided to watch his every move, she would have noticed him take out the small cardboard box that had lined the bottom of the big one that was used to carry everything else and slip it inside his coat.

Air tight. Compact. Seamless. Completely inconspicuous unless someone purposefully looked at the bottom of the original container, and leaving the Servant completely unable to determine what the contents were.

Technically.

He didn't lie to Caster. There really hadn't been anything unexpected inside the box. Not for him at least.

And taking it didn't go against any orders she had made.

o. o. o.

"We're being watched."

"I'd be surprised if we weren't." Caster sighed as she worked on the latest glyph for Bloodfort Andromeda. It was the third one she was addressing in fifteen minutes and they had only just started. Apparently her counterpart was trying to make the trap as potent as possible as fast as possible.

"Is it a familiar or Assassin?" Luvia questioned, looking around warily.

"Probably both." Rin sighed, rubbing the bridge of her nose. Neither girl got much sleep the previous night. Despite suggestions from several people they still decided to go with their Servants for their daily crippling of the Noble Phantasm. "Hopefully she doesn't do anything stupid while we're out here."

"You have no right to complain," Merem grumbled uncharacteristically as he looked at the surrounding buildings from the rooftop they were on. "You're not the one that literally falls apart during the day."

"Caster's protected you with a bounded field. You're in no danger of anything right now," Luvia argued with a bit more heat than she intended. Ever since the previous night she had been on edge though few people knew why. She expressed no desire to answer when asked.

"How do you people deal with everything being so bright, let alone function?" the vampire complained, shielding his eyes from the glare of light reflecting off of the windows.

"We could say the same about your lot and how dark it is at night. Stop complaining." Rin rolled her eyes. "Archer, where are they?"

"The building with the cracker billboard on it. Fourth level from the top. Fifth window over… at least that's where he was." The Servant droned as he lazily watched Assassin vanish into the building, having already noting that he had been discovered.

"Of course he'd move. We weren't being subtle after we all turned in his direction." Luvia sighed. Only an idiot would stay in place after being singled out like that. "Anything else?"

Archer briefly looked up at something that was either too small or too far to see before wordlessly manifesting a sword above his head and firing it off like Gilgamesh. "… Not for now."

"This is the third day of doing this and it isn't less stressful in the slightest." Rin shook her head.

"Done." Caster stood up and looked around for the next closest sigil. It was a good way to distract her from her thoughts. It only took her a few moments to find her next target. "Archer, is there anything to worry about from that building?"

He looked at the structure she was referring to and quickly did a structural grasping on it. "Nothing of particular note on the top four floors. If Assassin or Caster did something any lower than that, either you'd notice it by now or we can get everyone off the roof before it reaches us."

Nodding once, the Servants and Vampire jumped over the rooftops to the new location a hundred meters away while carrying the humans.

"Out of curiosity, are there any other bounded fields or changes made to this one?" Merem asked.

"Even if there was, do you think it would be wise to mention it while we are being watched?" Luvia interjected before her Servant could.

"Point." He yawned.

"Why did you follow us again?" Rin leered at the half awake immortal.

"Because it'll annoy what's-her-name on the mountain and stop her from getting any ideas while you lot work," he mumbled. "I'm not helping. I'm just watching as a third party. That is, unless she does something stupid. Then I'm on your side and conveniently on her doorstep."

"How wonderful," the Princess muttered as she closed in on the next sigil.

"It was Shirou's idea." Merem had no issue throwing the teen under the bus. He liked the idea on paper, but he was not a day person.

"Of course it was," the rest of the group grumbled all at the same time.

"Still, I'm somewhat surprised that all these sigils are on the rooftops." The oldest one looked around curiously at where they had been.

He wasn't wrong. Since the very beginning, all of the markers they found to set up Bloodfort Andromeda were on the tops of the buildings in the area.

"There's bound to be more than a few at ground level. Actually, the more important ones that serve as the foundation to the field are likely to be there," the Princess elaborated. "But this field is exceptionally large. More sigils are needed to cover such a space. Setting up the markers on the roofs is easier and more efficient for expanding the reach of the field."

"That and the core sigils you mentioned are probably surrounded by Assassin's traps." Merem yawned again.

"Wouldn't that mean you're merely crippling the size of the Noble Phantasm and not the overall potency of it?" Archer frowned.

"Don't worry. Every time I disrupt a sigil, I also made a feedback into the system, weakening it overall and giving me an idea where the next closest ones are. I can't destroy the field entirely with my other supporting it, but I can cripple its development. I'm more adept at bounded fields and territories than she is."

"Any chance of being able to turn the field against her in some way?" Rin probed.

"There's a limit to what I can do, child. This is not a normal bounded field, but a Noble Phantasm anchored to Rider's psyche and history. Even if I was summoned at my full ability, the time it would take to alter this mystery to my advantage would be unreasonable."

"It was worth a shot." Archer shrugged, though given his tone it was clear that he didn't have faith that Caster would have been able to pull it off in the first place.

"Not a very though out one," a disembodied voice droned, causing them all to stand on edge.

"Archer," Rin warned.

"I see him." The Servant positioned himself between the group and Assassin, who had hidden himself in a different building than the one he had been seen in earlier. He wasn't stupid enough to allow the Witch's words to distract him from a threat that hasn't gone away yet.

"Mmmm. As if my head wasn't killing me enough, now I have to listen to this one talk again." Merem groaned under his breath sullenly.

"Why have you graced us with your attention, Caster?" Luvia asked loudly. "Surely you have faith in Assassin."

"I have faith that he will do all that he can to countermand my orders." The Servant's reply was bitter. "It appears we all have learned that Servants that bear the name Emiya are rather arduous to control."

"We also apparently have a tendency to get frequently summoned by irrational women," Archer added his two cents to the conversation, not caring about the dirty looks he got doing so.

The Witch didn't grace the red knight with a response. "I wish to discuss some things with my counterpart."

"There is nothing to discuss. We both know what the Grail is and what its use will lead to, yet you persist on completing it. Worse, you have resorted to using your own Master to accomplish your goals. You've lived up to your title," the Princess firmly rebuffed her counterpart's request.

"Then I will speak while you continue to run away and hide like you have always done." The enemy's tone dropped more than a few degrees, her words causing the Princess to flinch. "Since we share the same origins, I am somewhat sympathetic to your ordeals. Out of respect for that, I will grant you this one chance to run."

"To where? Once the Grail is used there will be no place safe for anyone. Your promise is an empty one." The Princess straightened her posture.

"You have no purpose here. You are no warrior. You are no savior. You are no hero. You are a coward who inherited a cursed name that you do not deserve. You have merely been fooled and dragged into this nightmare much like when Jason arrived. It is no different from then. This is as much your fight as Jason's task was ours. Accept my mercy and flee. I will not offer this a third time." They could tell that she was speaking the truth, if only from the annoyance and frustration in her voice.

Her words rung true to the Princess. She was not a hero. She had no obligation to help the people here. She was just another fool that had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. It really was just like with Jason all over again. She'd be used, and it would only end when she was either thrown away or escaped on her own merit. It never ended.

"Humph."

Her thoughts, much like everyone else's, were interrupted by Archer's single brief chuckle of amusement.

"You are entertained by this, Archer?"

The Counter Guardian shrugged, never looking up or away from where his father was hiding. "Somewhat. I just find it ironic how you're lambasting your other on being a coward when you're the one sounding rather desperate to get her to agree to that subpar deal of yours. Really it sounds like you're more afraid of this whole situation than she is. The Princess here is a spoiled brat compared to the rest of us, but at least she isn't pretending to lord over everyone while clearly being a beggar."

The killing intent in the air was palpable. He had clearly struck a nerve.

"… A beggar?"

"Archer." The Princess didn't know what to make of the Counter Guardian's actions.

"You sound so surprised. It's a role you're intimately familiar with, isn't it? Taking that which isn't yours. Stealing scraps. Running from place to place with no home to speak of. Holding whatever possessions you had left in a deathgrip that would rival that of a swordmaster and their blade. Anyone that knows the story of the Witch of Betrayal is familiar with it." Archer shrugged as if his words held no consequence. "I admit, you've proven to be quite apt at the practice."

"… Assassin."

The speed of the bullet that targeted Archer's head was only matched by the target's tracing abilities. The sound of the projectile being reflected off of Kanchou was clear for everyone to hear, as was the small pulse in the air that accompanied it.

Kiritsugu may excel in stealth kills, but his effectiveness was significantly hampered against a Servant who outstripped him in terms of ranged combat. More so when said opponent could easily trace his every move at said ranges.

Prana spiked. Words were spoken. Everyone was ready to move at a moment's notice.

"Am I to interpret your actions as a sign that hostilities have resumed, Caster?" Merem asked curiously, more annoyed than on guard. "Your sense of timing has much to be desired."

For a moment, those there had genuinely thought that the Witch would break the ceasefire right then and there.

"… I have not heard you answer, Princess. Will you stay with these fools? Will you be used again for reasons and goals that are not your own?"

The Princess of Colchis stared at Archer with an unreadable gaze for several long moments before turning up to the sky with her answer. "Yes. I ran from the man who ruined my life and brought a veil that would taint my view of the world as it did yours. I chose to run then, and I'm choosing not to now. The decision has always been mine, no, ours. What came with them is our punishment for making it, but that is something I will accept without hesitation…

"I will accept the fact that I ran away. Just as you should accept the fact that you didn't."

"Heh." Archer allowed himself to briefly laugh once more.

"You…" The hatred in the disembodied voice sent chills up the Master's spines. It was as if the Servant had put power into that one insignificant word to turn it into a genuine curse. "I tried to be polite and respect you as another version of myself, and you threw my offer in my face. This is what I get for attempting to reason with a coward. Fine. So be it. You will die with the rest of the fools and this city soon enough. Then my wish will finally come to pass."

"You still want to use that cursed thing for your wish?" Rin all but yelled.

"Silly girl. It's because the system is cursed that I am certain it will surpass my expectations. I couldn't have constructed a more appropriate setup to fulfil my desires even if I had decades to prepare." The rage in the Witch's voice had been fed to the savage malice that she was exemplifying now.

"… How annoying. She wants the world to burn in the process of fulfilling her wish." Archer frowned.

"She's gone mad. There's no other way to explain it." Luvia couldn't help but shiver. The idea of an insane Servant with near unlimited power could chill the blood of anyone.

"Well if there wasn't a reason to kill her off for good before, we have one now." Merem noted, his expression and tone completely unreadable.

"Ah yes. That reminds me. The boy. He will no doubt attempt to keep casualties to a minimum. It's in his nature given who I have under my command." They could practically hear the bitch's smile.

"I don't like the sound of that." Rin braced herself for anything.

"… Rider. I command you with this seal. Should anyone approach you with Rule Breaker, kill yourself."

Those listening couldn't help but go pale at the declaration.

"Assassin. I command you with this seal. Should anyone approach you with Rule Breaker, kill yourself."

"Shirou's not going to like this." Merem frowned.

"You bitch…" Luvia growled, hands clenched so tightly her nails cut into her palms.

"Send the boy a message." Caster's smug voice rang through their ears.

"Even if he somehow grasps victory from me, he will not save anyone. I will make certain of that."

o. o. o.

"Well?" Shirou asked as they all gathered in Rin's living room late that afternoon. Dusk was less than an hour away.

"She used her Command Seals to have Rider and Assassin kill themselves if we try to free them to get under our skin." Rin scowled as she sat down.

"She actually went through with it, even if it did give us the potential option of exploiting it for an advantage." Illya looked at her brother. "I know you said that we should be prepared for the Witch to use the Command Seals against us for a psychological advantage, but still…"

"She wanted to rattle us. A display of power. A mental advantage. A boast. It's something that magi do all the time and she's no different. The dirtier the better. You either steel yourself for the worst or predict what they're likely to do beforehand." Luvia sunk into her seat, exhausted. She knew that the Witch could have done this the moment word went around that she stole the Command Seals, but actually witnessing it in action was another thing entirely.

"None of you have tried to hide the fact that you'd rather avoid killing the other Servants if you could help it. She merely used that to try to gain an advantage. It's clear that she's grasping at straws for any additional inch she can get," Archer stated from the far corner of the room. This was probably the only time Shirou would tolerate being in the same room as him. Especially after they had almost come to blows again earlier when the boy had found out about his and Illya's stunt producing another Jeweled Sword.

No one bothered to point out that he spoke to everyone there as though he was different. They knew it was true.

"Not Lancer as well?" Shirou pushed, ignoring what everyone else said on the matter.

"No." Luvia shook her head. "She likely guessed that she'd be in a poor position if we exploited her commands to our benefit. We don't have nearly a strong a connection with him as we do with the others. She can't risk losing him for just a mental advantage."

"Leaving him out of the commands pretty much confirmed everything we assumed he was going to do." Rin surmised.

"I could not tell what exactly was set up from where we were, but there was without a doubt a dormant mystery around the entrance to the Temple, and that Lancer was linked to it." Caster added, knowing that she'd be asked soon enough. "It appears your assumption of the modified Gaelic Curse being used was correct."

"She reminds me of Morgana. Cruel and vicious to a fault, but one that thinks ahead," Saber stated factually.

"And she didn't catch onto the changes you made?" He didn't turn away from Caster.

The Servant shook her head. "No. I made sure my mysteries were difficult to notice and woven into Rider's Noble Phantasm. The changes were minimal to begin with, and it would take far too much effort to find them without knowing what to look for. Rider would probably be able to tell what I did, but it is unlikely she'll cooperate with my other and not say anything."

"Good."

"Speaking of preparations, has Saber finished practicing for her part?" Luvia asked.

"She's learned to perform it consistently and reliably. Enough for tonight at least." Sakura nodded. "She's surprisingly talented and a quick learner for a beginner."

"I said I didn't practice the craft. I never said I didn't know a few things about it," the King defended herself sternly.

"If that's true… then outside of the last few tweaks we talked about in the plan, and Caster's support spells and moving to fight, everything's in place." Rin warily looked around.

The room was ominously silent.

"I'm sorry."

Everyone turned to Shirou.

"I don't know if I'll ever be able to say it enough times to get across just how I feel for involving everyone in this. I've made mistakes. I should have told people what I was doing. I should have warned you that something was off. I should have done so many things, but I didn't. The best I can do now is move forward and try my hardest to make sure everyone gets out of this mess in one piece. I can't guarantee anything. Not your lives nor mine. Not when so many things can still go wrong, but I just want everyone to know that I intend to throw everything into this. If-"

"Shirou. Shut up." Rin cut him off without any shame.

"Rin?" Sakura turned to him in surprise, as did everyone else.

"This whole thing is fucked up," the Tohsaka flatly stated. "But it wasn't your fault. The Grail chose us as Masters, and three of us were guaranteed to be involved unless we died beforehand since we're founding family members. The Einzberns summoned Avenger and messed up the system. Archer's an idiot. The vampire does whatever he wants for no reason without telling anyone and puts rats in peoples' homes."

"Hey," Merem pouted. Everyone ignored him.

"Kirei's a twisted bastard. Gilgamesh is an overpowered pompous git. The Witch is a self-centered bitch. And the less said about Zouken the better. As far as I'm concerned, the only thing you're guilty of is trying to solve every problem by yourself, not telling anyone anything, and shouldering the blame, but even THEN you have the passible excuse of being under Zouken's watch for two years." She finished her lambasting of every annoyance they've encountered so far. "Have I missed anyone?"

"You're a terrible host with poor taste in decor," Luvia broke the silence with a small forced grin.

"Right. And Luvia backstabs friends and clients when she isn't useless," said host finished her rant without hesitation. "The point is, Shirou, somehow, whether it was because of your stubbornness, skills, patience, insanity, or sheer stupid luck, we are still here despite everything that could have wiped us out before we could even have a hope of learning what was going on. Alive. Intact. Pissed off, yes, but we are still able to do something about it. And I will be the first person to say that there is no way in hell I would have been able to pull off half as much even if I had as much time to prepare and plan as you did."

"I wouldn't have been able to do anything. Not with what Grandfather did to me," Sakura agreed.

"This was originally a War designed for Magi. When that fundamental premise was changed, it should have been obvious that a Magi would and should not be the victor. Even if the rules are no longer followed, that fact still remains. Once the Masters were chosen, it was only natural that you would be victorious." Luvia gave Rin a dirty look for her early comment and not because she didn't want to make eye contact with him.

"Even if I won I still would have died in the end." Illya smiled weakly. "I know what we are going to do was technically Dad's idea, but you were the one that did all the hard work. It'll be nice to have family around again. Sella and Leysritt would have wanted the same."

"… As enraged as I am at being used against my will, again, I will concede that you are nowhere near as thoughtless and foolish as Jason or the others of my era. So long as this is the last time I will be forced to deal with your plans, I'll follow your lead. Do not make me regret my decision." Caster gave him an unreadable look.

"I swore on my blade to aid you in your trials, and I will not go back on it now." Saber stated proudly. "You have long since proven yourself. I am honored to walk next to you for this."

Archer didn't say anything. He simply remained in the back of the room and listened to the others support his counterpart.

Thankfully, Berserker didn't say or do anything as well, and was still in spiritual form. He wouldn't have been able to fit in the room easily.

"If you still feel like apologizing, or bringing up any other problems that we'll probably have to deal with after Caster is finished, do it later." Rin met Shirou's eyes and dared him to look away. "We have a War to win. Magus Killer."

The room was silent as everyone focused on Shirou.

Five seconds.

Ten.

At fifteen, the young man allowed himself to let out a small, but dry laugh. Almost akin to a bark.

He dropped his head, shaking in bitter amusement as if barely understanding why he was entertained at all in the first place.

Moments later, the red shroud that he always had on him snaked up and around his head, concealing his appearance from the world.

The only part of his face that anyone saw when he looked up again were his molten silver eyes. They were not warm. They were not kind. They were not forgiving.

"Finish any and all preparations you have left. Pack light. Eat light. Tonight, we burn a Witch."

Merem couldn't help but smile at his friend's behavior. He had missed the battle against Gilgamesh, but there was no way he would miss this.

Not even for the world.

o. o. o.

The Witch of Betrayal smirked as she looked at her handiwork.

This, she could work with.

This, she could control.

This… the boy wouldn't be able to predict.

o. o. o.

Omake: What Shirou really snuck into the Temple:

Caster was panicking.

*Shuffle shuffle.*

She had turned her eyes off of Assassin for just one moment after ordering him to go after the teachers and then… nothing.

*Shuffle shuffle.*

Her Servant had completely disappeared from her range of detection almost instantly. No mental connection. No prana. Heck, she couldn't even tell if he left her bounded fields or not.

She had checked the room where the teachers had been in earlier to find nothing but random papers and school implements strewn all over the room as if they had been dumped out of a container.

*Shuffle shuffle.*

He had found a way to escape her control and now she was trapped here with him. Somewhere. She could feel it. His cold dead eyes were upon her.

*Shuffle shuffle.*

She had to find a way to kill or find him quickly. It shouldn't be hard. He was a man from this era! Less than a novice in the ways of thaumaturgy! Surely with her wide array of spells, notes and tools that surrounded her in her workshop she could easily rectify the situation!

*Shuffle shuffle.*

… Wait. Since when did she have a cardboard box in her workshop of ancient and timeless-!

Assassin looked down at the body of his former Master as it vanished.

Noble Phantasms and limitless magic be damned. Give him a cardboard box any day of the week.

o. o. o.

Omake: Magic + Box = bullshit

Kiritsugu stood in front of Caster and held the parcel in front of her. "This was hidden inside the teacher's package."

"That stupid boy. He should have known better than to try and sneak something past me." The Witch attempted to set it on fire, only for her spell to be completely unresponsive to her spellcrafting. "What?"

"Allow me." Assassin whipped out a hunting knife and plunged it into the container... or he would have if it had not been clearly stopped less than a centimeter down by the contents.

"▄▄▄▄▄▄."

The two weakest Servants slowly looked up at one another from the box, which was now growling in a familiar and terrifying way.

"… I love my kids," Assassin stated with no emotion in his voice but with tears of pride in his eyes.

"… I hate your kids," Caster stated bluntly.

"████████████████!"

Apparently, Berserker took great offence to being stabbed with ineffective knives, as he burst out of his tiny container and proceeded to destroy literally anything and everything there.

Caster didn't even bother to try and fight back. She just didn't want to deal with this bullshit anymore.

o. o. o.

A/N:

As always, thanks Wayfarer for betaing.

So much moe in this chapter. So much.

I can't believe I didn't think of the MGS references for the cardboard boxes during the last chapter. So much wasted potential.

A shorter chapter than normal, but that's to be expected since I wanted to get it out of the way. Personally I wanted to have a scene in this where Rin essentially says "Fuck it" and… well… fucks Shirou before the final fight, but it just didn't fit anywhere. Eh, I can just relocate it to later.

Ok, so, everyone bitching about Luvia and the hit contract and all that bull. Just stop it. I already explained why she did it, and the circumstances, and all that. It makes sense. It's in character. It makes Luvia not some lovesick puppy that is completely incompetent when put in a rough situation. Quit your moaning and reread Chapters 40+. I'm not justifying it any more than I already have.

So… I know I have a 6 month pattern of FFD and TTRT… buuuuuut…

Yep. 1 more FFD chapter. You guys are getting the special treatment. Final epic fight, filled with shenanigans, ass pulls, and whiplashes everywhere.

Worship me for my generosity you ungrateful masses!

And yes, I am sliiiiightly bending one or two Nasuverse rules in the next chap, again, but you know what? Fuck it! If you guys have stuck for this long, you should expect as much by now!

In real world news… the world is falling apart. And people wonder why the nerds, religious fanatics, and smart people don't want to deal with politics and the real world? There are simply too many idiots out there trying to kill everyone. Maybe it's a good thing I'm working on the next chapter while I have time left…

Oh. Right. So.

A very good friend of mine recently wrote a story and posted it on Kindle. It's called "The Laws of Dis." Please, if you have the time, support him, buy it, and read it. It's a solid story and only costs 3 bucks. He's worked a long time on it and it would be nice to see his work spread out a bit.

So that's about it. Work's work. Good games are coming out again. Thanksgiving is coming about. And America is looking dumber by the second. Thankfully I'm right on the border to Canada.

SO REVIEW! WORSHIP THE LOG! TEH NEXT CHAPTER IS GONNA BE AWESOMEZ! AND REVIEW AGAIN!