Chapter 54: Discrepancy

I do not own Fate/Stay Night and stuffs.

o. o. o.

"So we're all in agreement then." Rin looked at everyone sitting at the table seriously. "If Shirou appears to be on top of everything and competent to the point that he's being a jackass, he's hiding something important that is likely overwhelmingly stupid or dangerous that he shouldn't be dealing with in the first place. Or at least, on his own."

"I'm sitting right here Rin," the accused deadpanned, ignored by everyone else in the room who nodded as one.

"Um. What about Archer?" Sakura lifted a hand with some trepidation.

"What about him?"

"Isn't he um, like that all the time?"

"My point exactly."

Archer rolled his eyes, but didn't protest. He knew a lost battle when he saw one.

"Please don't compare me to that guy in any way. I'm pretty sure I made that clear to everyone already."

"You haven't been around Archer much, have you kid? Give it time. It'll sink in. Like looking at a mirror." Lancer smirked, ignoring Shirou's slowly growing irritation. "You're like that when you're pushed into a corner. Archer on the other hand only stops being an ass when he has to."

"Considering the reception I've had recently, it makes the charade surprisingly easy to pull off." Archer shrugged nonchalantly, playing along solely to piss off his younger counterpart.

"See what I mean?" Lancer snorted. "He doesn't stop."

"I fail to see how I deserve this treatment." At this point, Shirou wasn't even trying to hide his thoughts anymore. "If anyone can please explain it to me, it would be greatly appreciated."

"In hindsight, it does describe his behavior at the Clocktower. All the time in fact." Luvia playfully hummed to herself, ignoring Shirou's request.

"Somehow, that doesn't surprise me in the slightest," Rin deadpanned. "He bullshitted his way through half the War. It makes sense that he got practice doing it through the Tower all these years."

"This is my home. What happened to respecting the host?"

"That does not even come close to what he has accomplished." Bazett smirked, pretending to ignore Shirou's distress. "You should have seen it. He's actually run off some of the people that have tried to pick fights with him just by keeping quiet and pretending to ignore them. Most people thought that he was giving them the Barthomelloi treatment, but in reality he had no idea what the hell to say to them to make them go away in the first place. That whole scarf mask façade has saved him in more ways than he probably even knows."

Shirou's eyebrow was twitching now. "And here I thought that the reason Luvia tried to be at the Tower whenever I was around was because she was stalking me."

"Ack?!" Luvia flinched at the potentially true accusation.

Likewise, she pretended to ignore the various interested stares that she was now getting from around the table.

"Oh look, everyone heard that. What are the odds?"

"Okay everyone, I think we've all had enough fun mocking Shirou," Saber tried to placate the others.

"No. Keep it up. I want to see where this goes." Lancer laughed.

"Did I ever tell anyone about the time Fuji-nee forced Bazett-nee to go clothes shopping because she only ever packs business suits when she came to visit?" Shirou's eyes were starting to glow with a peculiar tinge of vengeance.

Judging from the peculiar shade of white the Fraga had taken, it was a story that she was not keen on reminiscing anytime soon.

Merem had trouble holding back his laughter. As someone that had long taken pleasure in pressing Shirou's buttons when presented the opportunity, he knew quite well just how vindictive and petty the boy could be when irritated.

"Ahem." The King of Rats shared his master's thoughts if his poorly hidden smile was any indication. "Before we get too distracted, does anyone have any idea what Lord El Melloi II's plans are for his current situation? The sudden request for a recess was rather peculiar given the circumstances."

"No. Waver-nii never told me what his overall strategy was if it came to this." Shirou let out a heavy sigh. "Though, to be frank, I'm not terribly worried. As far as his raw potential as a Magus goes, he's as bad as me in various ways. But, his mind is among the best when it comes to dealing with other Magi and politics. He wouldn't have stayed alive as one of the Lords there otherwise."

Truth be told, Waver was one of the few people in the Clocktower that Shirou was uncertain he could maneuver around if in the most bizarre case scenario that they did become enemies. The man had helped train him for years, and was one of the few people that knew most of his tricks and tactics well enough to predict his moves in the first place. Not all of them, but enough to be a real problem.

"I share similar thoughts," Luvia agreed. "Lord El Melloi II has had a hand in resolving several events around the Tower over the past few years. He is lacking when it comes to being a Magus from a traditional perspective. However, he is exceptional when it comes to his connections and unraveling the basic foundations behind the mysteries of others. It's earned him the support and spite of quite a number of his peers. To some, his name holds more weight than the Archibald's."

"Hooh? I knew that he was a lord, but to think that man held that much influence despite his limitations." Rin's eyes glimmered with curiosity.

"Humph. If you were not aware of even that much, I don't see you having an easy time entering the Tower, Tohsaka." Luvia didn't waste an opportunity to rub Rin's nose into the ground.


"Before you two start cursing one another, again, Luvia has a point Rin." Shirou cut in. "This is our senior year. We're going to be applying to the Tower soon, and as Asians we're already at a disadvantage there. Knowing who's who there is practically expected of us if we want to get anything done. Simply being invited in and having the support of someone big isn't enough."

"And that's coming from you." Bazett grimaced, knowing what Shirou was getting at.

"Care to clarify what you mean by that?" Lancer asked skeptically.

"Shirou's sponsor in the Clocktower is the Vice Director. Lorelei Barthomelloi. You saw her in the trial," Sakura explained. "From what I've been told, she's a very influential and intense person. One of the biggest."

"You forgot terrifying and powerful," Shirou added dryly.

"Hoh? Those are notable words coming from you boy," Caster spoke what was on everyone's minds. Those that didn't know the situation already at least.

"I can say for a fact that she's one of the few humans on the planet that can fight on par with a Servant at will," Shirou admitted without shame. "Even I need the right conditions set up to have a hope of pulling something like that off."

"I second that statement." Merem nodded. "The current head of the Barthomelloi is responsible for the deaths of three Apostle Ancestors. None of the more notable ones, but still a number that few of any species have ever accomplished."

"And," Luvia interjected with a neutral tone. "She is well known for her borderline zealot hatred of Vampires."

It took a few moments for her words to sink in before all eyes turned to Shirou.

"I'll say it first. How the hell did you hide it from her for so long, and what ridiculous stunt are you going to do later to keep yourself alive?" Lancer asked bluntly, getting several nods of agreement from those that weren't already in the know.

Shirou sighed tiredly, having already had this conversation before. "I'm not a normal vampire. I never died when I got blood in my system, and it was a watered down process at that. I don't even need to drink blood to live or keep myself together. Until the war exasperated my condition, I could pass off what minor changes I did have as curse residue from fighting the vampire that turned me in the first place. As for the near future, I'm probably just going to fake my death at some point. Already have several safe houses all around the world setup just in case."

Assassin nodded, agreeing that his plan was the most likely one to succeed. In this era, it was standard practice to have such a scenario planned.

Bazett, on the other hand, was less composed.

"Seriously Shirou? That's your plan? To run away? I know you're not that foolish to think that would be the end of it. What about us? If word ever gets out about what you are, or that you are actually alive, Barthomelloi won't stop at you…"

"Which is why I have a backup plan set just for that occasion." Shirou's expression turned flat and hard, a tell that he was slipping back into his "work" persona. "Don't assume I haven't thought this through. I've known things would turn out like this eventually the moment Barthomelloi strong armed me into her services. As far as Magi go, she might as well be a Caster class Servant with the support of a major power of the moonlit world behind her, but that doesn't mean she is without flaws to exploit. The last thing I will ever try to do is underestimate that woman."

There was a subtle chill that ran through the room. A reminder to every being there as to what Shirou was capable of and willing to do to get the results he desired when he felt it necessary.

"Hahahaha." Merem, unsurprisingly, was more amused by the declaration than anything. The Ancestor looked equally bemused and disappointed in himself. "Of course. Of course you'd have had planned for this eventuality. I should have assumed as much by this point. How ironic, that you of all people are probably the most likely person on the planet to cow that mad beast Barthomelloi."

"Merem." Shirou glared at his guest, his tone holding a clear warning.

Said guest lifted his lone hand up in surrender. "Don't worry my friend. I will play my role as representative of the Church to the best of my abilities and nothing more. I will not instigate or interfere with any events that may take place so long as they do not overlap with the status quo that we have currently established."

Shirou's glare intensified for just a moment before his body relaxed and he let out a tired huff, as if completely giving up. "Just keep in mind that if you piss off everyone too much, you'll lose your guest rights. That includes room, board, meals, and protection from the other Servants."

Judging from the slightly subtle look that the King of Rats was giving its master, Shirou's warning was one to take seriously. Not out of fear of the servants, but out of loss of the free quality food. The glutton. "I'll be sure to keep that in mind."

"Regardless of whatever the Vampire has in mind, what do you suggest we do now?" Luvia questioned.

"Honestly? Best we can do is nothing. At least as far as the trial's concerned." Shirou shrugged. "Most of the big moves are happening in the tower. Otherwise, we stick to damage control and cleanup for the War. As good as everyone is, I doubt we've even managed to cover half of the things we need to in order to quell all suspicions. Overextending ourselves now would be counterproductive."

"Don't remind me." Rin groaned as she leaned back in her seat. "Even with our new ally's and Archer's help, I was busy trying to navigate and manage more people than I've ever done for this territory. As much as I hate to admit it, Kirei really was exceptional at keeping Fuyuki running smoothing."

"I'll second that statement." Merem nodded. "I've taken the opportunity to look at some of his records in the Church's office. They were well organized and meticulously done."

Shirou shook his head. On the one hand, it made him uncomfortable giving Kirei any sort of praise. On the other, it was fitting that one of the people that gave him and his father so much cause for concern over the years was this competent. It would have been insulting if their enemy wasn't at the very least this capable and meticulous in his spare time. "Sakura, can you possibly help Rin out with her efforts? I'd ask Luvia, but she's going to be busy with Caster taking care of the Greater Grail, the Witch's territory, and Marjatta."

Truth be told, he wasn't sure who was going to be busier over the next few days. Rin was managing her territory to ensure that the locals didn't find out what the hell had just happened. But Luvia was the one that was more or less responsible for ensuring that nothing else exploded in Fuyuki in the same time period.

"Of course." Sakura nodded. "As the last of the Matou in Fuyuki, I am also partially responsible for ensuring that the city is well managed. At least, so long as Rin lets me help."

"That's not even up for debate Sakura. The only thing that's giving me pause is figuring out what you can do and what you should be focusing on first." Rin collapsed on the table, devoid of energy. The war was stressful enough, but the aftermath was hell of another sort.

"What about me?" Illya looked at Shirou expectantly. "I can help too."

"For now, the best thing you can do is inspect the Greater Grail and make sure that nothing's amiss," Shirou advised. "We don't have your dress here so what you can do is limited at the moment. But, your insight on just how good or bad things are is still invaluable, and we'll probably be asked about that tomorrow when the trial resumes."

"I can go with her," Bazett offered, catching everyone by surprise.

"You sure about that Master?" Lancer spoke what was essentially on everyone's minds. "You're barely holding yourself together right now."

The woman scowled. "I'm still an Enforcer. I may not be at my best, but I'm not some child that needs coddling. Getting out to the field and breathing some fresh air will be good for me regardless. If something does happen, there will be three Servants around to take care of things. Four if Caster is around doing her work at the time. I'll be fine."

"Let her go." Rin sighed. "She's made up her mind, and she does have a point. Even if things do get nasty, I doubt there would be many things that would be able to hold up against Berserker's strength, Lancer's endurance, and Assassin's bullshit. She'll be fine."

"Considering what we have endured, I'll decide to take that as a compliment." Illya smiled sweetly in a way that everyone could tell was a lie.

Not that anyone could really argue against it. Kiritsugu as an Assassin was still bullshit in so many ways that no one wanted to bother with it anymore.

"What about you, Shirou?" Sakura asked. "What will you do?"

"Let me guess. You are going to inspect the odd energies that we discovered around Fuyuki." Archer spoke up, breaking his usual silence and immediately getting a rise out of his younger counterpart.

"No." Before the owner of the house could even say anything, several voices spoke as one on reflex.

"Huh?" He looked around confused to see several of his guests glaring at him.

"No." They all said again in perfect unison.

"I'm not-"

"Shirou. We love you, to varying degrees. But, whenever anyone takes their eyes off of you when something dangerous is going on, you have a tendency of showing up later revealing that you were in the middle of it from the start," Rin stated bluntly. "And then, one way or another, willing or not, you drag everyone else into the mess."

"But I didn't-"

"And while this new entity is a worrying existence, I'm sure I speak for everyone else in the room when I say that we are currently warier of letting you try to deal with it on your own than we are of the situation itself," she continued, getting several nods of agreement.

This time he only opened his mouth before he was cut off again.

"Having Saber with you does not count as you going with backup. As responsible as she is, I'm afraid that she's only going to pick up your bad habits as time goes on rather than you pick up her good ones."

"Hmmm." Saber hummed as if taking objection to Rin's statement, but quietly refraining from refuting it either.

At this point, Shirou wasn't even trying to put up an argument. Instead he was just settling on giving everyone a dry stink eye, waiting things out until he could finally speak a complete sentence without being interrupted.

Everyone else, likewise, was enjoying his frustration probably more than they should have.

"So…" He started before pausing, expecting to be interrupted again. After a few seconds of watching Rin fail to hide her smirk, he continued, "I can't leave the house."

"Correct," several replied.

"While essentially everyone else will be taking care of the town and Grail."


His attention turned to Luvia. "Meaning the only people left in the building for extended periods of time to tend to your sister are Saber and I."

"Ah," Luvia faltered, knowing that he had a point there. "Well, I suppose when you put it like that… though I suppose we could just ensure that we all don't leave at the same time, as inefficient as that may be."

His attention turned to Rin. "And I'm sure Assassin is talented enough to find all of the bombs I've planted across Fuyuki in my clearly erratic and nonsensical attempts to keep ahead of everyone in the War."

"Hurk?!" Ah. Right. Shirou's bombs. She had forgotten about those.

"Wait. Bombs?" Bazett turned on him with a frown, being the only human in the group that didn't know just how crazy he had gone with his preparation methods. "Shirou, I thought you grew out of the habit of going nuts with those things years ago."

"You're kidding, right?" Lancer looked at his Master skeptically. After all the hell that Kiritsugu gave them and the fact that he had clearly trained Shirou to fight in the first place, there was no way that the kid would simply "grow out" of using methods like that if he thought they'd work.

Ignoring their reactions, Shirou then turned to Saber, his unreadable expression causing the King of Knights to flinch ever so slightly. "And since I'm unable to leave the house, and you have to constantly watch me like a child, I'll have to leave certain chores to others to address. Rider?"

Sakura's Servant took a moment to respond, unsure if she wanted to be remembered while Shirou was more or less tearing down everyone that caught his attention. "… Yes?"

The host reached into his pocket and pulled out a ring of keys and tossed it to her. "Can you do me a favor and pick up my motorcycle at the Einzbern castle? It's stored away in the garage, which thankfully wasn't damaged during the fighting."

Both Rider and Saber were stunned by the request, albeit for completely different reasons. It took both of them a few seconds to finally react to his request.

"No!" "Certainly."

"Motorcycle?" Lancer frowned in confusion.

"Wait. You don't mean the Hayabusa, do you? You actually got that monstrosity working?" Bazett shivered, remembering the few times she had seen Shirou playing with one of his few long term non sword related pet projects.

She also remembered the one time she had made the mistake of trying to ride it. Key word, try.

"If you are referring to that two wheeled device she rode during the beginning of the war, then yes. From my perspective, it was functioning as intended. At least at the time." Caster recalled the battle between the Casters, Rider, and Saber. "Why the alarm?"

"I nearly broke my neck testing it last year! And that was with enchanted safety gear!"

"It rode magnificently. And we don't need Rider's help to bring it back. I'm more than capable of getting it myself," Saber tried to argue her case while maintaining the image of professionalism and indifference… and failed on all counts.

"You are going to be busy making sure I don't leave the house," Shirou replied with a faint hint of vindictive satisfaction. "Plus, Rider can get to the castle faster than you by herself, and if I recall correctly, her Riding skill is higher than yours."

"A plus," The Servant in question reminded everyone (even though she didn't need to) with pride that no one would call her out on.

"Geez. No wonder Rider was so willing to play along with the kid. That's probably the most emotion she's shown since she was summoned," Lancer chuckled, clearly impressed with what he saw.

Then again, the dirty glare she shot him from under her blindfold a moment later might very well have topped that.

Before the situation could have a chance to devolve into a potential brawl between Servants, the house phone rang, catching everyone off guard.

"A call?" Bazett blinked in surprise before remembering that it wasn't all that uncommon. It was near dinner time, and Shirou's home was fairly modern. The trial itself took place in England, so everyone there must be exhausted if the time difference was taken into account. "Oh. Right. A call."

"It really is jarring to jump from magic to technology so suddenly," Sakura laughed lightly. Even Zouken had trouble keeping up with adapting and appearances every once in a while.

"I got it. It's probably just the town's automatic emergency broadcast system. Again." Shirou held back a display of annoyance, moving to the device and answering it. Ever since the War had gotten more intense, the Fuyuki government had been spamming the lines with reminders about staying inside at night and reporting any suspicious individuals.

Deep down, he was slightly depressed that he now technically counted as one of those "suspicious individuals".

"I understand the severity of the situation, but they're overdoing it." Rin sighed. "Five calls a day is just too much. I told them to stick to three at the most to get the point across."

"Hello? Emiya Residence." He didn't expect anything except for an automated message, but what met his ears was something else.

"Hey kid. It's been a long time, hasn't it?" a mature female voice spoke up on the other side, catching him by surprise.

It took him a moment to recall whose voice it belonged to, but that was it. "Cigarette."

"Café," the woman replied with the proper code word they had agreed upon. For the one he had just used at least.

"I didn't think you'd be the one to reach out to me. Much less this quickly. You don't feel like an impatient type." He shook his head, giving everyone in the room a warning glance to keep quiet until he was done.

"After the stunt you just pulled and the feet you just stepped on? Don't be ridiculous. I'd be an idiot to not rush the job and get my pay before someone comes over to kill you first."

"Funny, I thought you were still in Japan."

Toukou Aozaki laughed. "Don't get smart with me kid. You know there are other ways to keep tabs on these things other than that gaudy table you have. After all the fuss that was going on in the Tower, you'd have to be deaf, dumb, and blind to not know anything by the end of the day."

"Don't tell Sirius that. He might just sneak out of the Tower just to dare you to say that to his face." Shirou shook his head while filing away that Toukou had a resource inside the Tower, or worse, a puppet.

"That old drunk eh? Knowing him, he might just do that." A puff of air was heard, probably from the woman exhaling a drag from her cigarette. "So, given the shit show, I've decided that it would be best if we expedited the timetable. The longer we wait, the more eyes there'll be."

Shirou grimaced, but knew she had a point. Most of the resources in Fuyuki were focused on maintaining the secrecy of thaumaturgy right now, but sooner or later, everyone would focus on him again.

The main problem at hand was that Fina was still in town. And possibly listening to them right now.

"The main roads are being monitored. Use the backup route I told you about. I'll set things up on my side," he said vaguely, hoping she'd get the point. Not that he needed to remind her. Landlines were susceptible to being tapped one way or another, and she had been keeping things as vague as he had been. The fact that she didn't state a date or time for her arrival was proof enough.

Then again, he used the pass code that indicated that their conversation wasn't secure in the first place, so there wasn't a real need to second guess that regardless. Only novices used a single set of codes for identity verification.

Ironically, the backup route in question was one of the main routes into the city. The only deviation was that Toukou would stop at a predetermined point in a neighboring city to pick up one of Taiga's "associates" who'd essentially serve as a fast pass through security.

"Hooh? Is that so?" She played along without pause. "Well, nothing I can do about it then. My assistant and I will start to pack everything up on my side before going. We have to do things right after all, so we can't rush things."

It takes about five days to drive from Misaki to Fuyuki. Plus the time it'll take for Toukou to move her equipment, he should expect her in about a week.

"Assistant?" He frowned. This was the first time he was hearing of this person's existence. No. If they were playing number games to mess with any prying ears, there might be more than one person helping her out.

"Don't worry. That one's trustworthy. I've heard you have something similar now, don't you?" He could practically hear Toukou smirk on the other side of the line as she used a gender neutral term to describe her help.

And apparently this mystery person was qualified to be her "muscle" if push came to shove. Enough to pose a threat to even a Servant if needed, if realistically only a small one.

He couldn't help but let out a bitter laugh. Of course the sister of the Blue would have resources that he wouldn't know about. In their world, the key to success was ambiguity.

"I suppose. Though somehow I doubt yours can eat you out of your home." He ignored the irritated twitch that briefly plagued Saber's image.

"Depends if the bill is to Haagen Dazs." Her dry reply caught him off guard.

"Haagen... you mean the ice cream?"

"I swear that stubborn fool can live off of the stuff." Something told him that this wasn't the first time Toukou had expressed her frustration on the matter. "Never mind. We'll have a better time ripping on the help when we're all face to face so we can regret it later. Anything else you want to get off your chest before I get to work?"

Warnings, reminders, requests. Etc. There was a lot he wanted to say, but very little he could without repercussions in the current situation.

Shirou looked at his guests one at a time, but couldn't think of anything in particular, until he laid eyes on Assassin. "… Yeah. If you can scrounge up an extra pair of that other item we talked about before, that would be great. Also, if you have any spare boxes of that product I got last time, I'd be interested."

"Really? You actually went through all of that stuff?" Toukou asked incredulously. "I thought smoking was going out of style in this generation…"

"It's not for me." Shirou cut her off, locking eyes with Kiritsugu.

"Not for…" The woman paused for a moment before the meaning caught up to her. "Oh. Well then, that makes a lot more sense. Thanks for the heads up. Fair warning, you're building up quite a tab. I might have to charge you extra for all the service."

"I'm sure I have a thing or two of interest lying around that can serve as tribute when you get here."

"Heh. Cocky brat. See you in a bit."

He ended the call the same time Toukou did, and then turned to the rather impatient glares he was getting from everyone else in the room.

"Care to give us some context, Shirou?" Rin asked sweetly, but in a way that promised pain if he tried to avoid giving a clear and concise answer. She always hated being the one that was last to know things.

"Toukou Aozaki's coming over in a week with Illya's new body." Knowing better, Shirou gave them all what they wanted. "Originally we planned to do this a month from now, but with the chaos at the Tower, she probably wouldn't be able to get close to us without attracting attention by then. She's also bringing at least one assistant that she's vouching for. One that she has a fair amount of confidence in."

"Is that wise?" Caster asked. "The more people that get involved, the more loose ends there are."

"Toukou Aozaki. A Sealing Designate with some residual standing with the Clocktower. She's also the older sister of the Blue, the practitioner of the Fifth True Magic. Overall, she's kept a low key profile for over a decade." Luvia dredged up whatever she could recall about the woman. "In mercenary circles, her name is one that is officially a target, but unofficially untouchable so long as she hasn't made the first move."

"She sounds like someone that knows what she's doing," Sakura pondered. While she was familiar with the world of mysteries, she wasn't exactly knowledgeable about the more esoteric individuals that inhabited them.

"She's one of the Association's few reliable ears in Japan. So long as she's a resource, they'll leave her alone." Shirou sighed. "Word is that she's helped resolve quite a few events over the years."

She was also the one that taught Shirou how to conduct the half assed open cavity surgery procedure that he used on Sakura to get rid of the crest worms around her heart. He was by no means a surgeon, but at least he knew what to look for and what not to touch to make things worse by the time the War had started.

"You mentioned an assistant," Merem hummed. "There have been whispers about that one, but nothing concrete. The only thing that I know for certain is that the person exists and is quite capable of handling themselves in difficult situations. Because Aozaki is the one doing most of the reporting in the incidents she is involved in, information on this person is scant at best."

"Anyone want to bet that it's another vampire?" Rin dryly asked. The sad thing was that several people in the room looked like they were genuinely contemplating it.

"Please don't jinx it, Rin. For all our sakes." Especially since they already had Fina in town to deal with.

"For someone that claims to prefer the quiet life, you certainly do not hesitate to get involved in some esoteric circles boy," Caster noted.

"Desperation and necessity makes people do all sorts of things that they wouldn't do normally." Shirou relented helplessly. "I honestly don't care who does what in the world, so long as they help me out and don't try to screw me over in the long run."

"And you say that you'd make a terrible magus." Luvia gave him a coy smile.

"Shirou," Illya spoke up, her tone unreadable. "What were those other items you were talking about?"

"Oh. I was just ordering Mystic Eye killers." He shrugged. "For Rider. I don't want to hold everyone hostage here if we're going to take it easy for a while. If the other Servants are able to enjoy some time off, Rider should too. She'd have trouble doing that walking out in public with a blindfold."

"You are too generous for your own good," Rider thanked and warned him at the same time. "You are too frivolous with your gifts."

"You're welcome." He smiled kindly in turn, only irritating the Gorgon further.

"And what about you?" The albino wasn't fooled by his attempt to skirt her suspicions. Judging from her expression, she wasn't amused either. "You ordered extra glasses. Other than me, you're the only one here with eyes that possess any sort of ability. I've seen you rubbing your eyes a bit recently."

Shirou grimaced, knowing he had been called out.

"Damn it. Shirou please don't tell us you're losing control over your Pure Eyes," Rin groaned.

"I'm not. I'm not. It's just a precaution." He gave up quickly, lifting his hands in surrender. "I've, well I've had to push myself pretty hard during the war. During the first attack against Caster at the temple, I scanned a fair amount of raw space in front of me to locate her past her bounded fields. The fight against Gilgamesh wasn't difficult either, at least when it came to tracing his swords, until he brought out that monstrosity Ig Alima."

"The Mountain Felling Sword?" Archer blinked, not bothering to hide his surprise. "You actually managed to successfully trace that thing?"

"At the cost of nearly having my brain explode, yeah," Shirou grimaced. As much as he hated Archer, there was probably no one else on the planet that knew just how absurd of a feat successfully tracing that thing was. "If I didn't have Avalon while holding onto Saber's shoulder, I probably would have been out for good right then and there."

"Mountain Felling… wait, you mean you actually managed to trace that monstrosity that practically cut my castle in half?!" Illya gaped, recalling how she was practically blasted off of her feet while the top of her home was sheared away over her head.

"Cut your, just how severe were the damages to your estate, Einzbern?" Luvia had just as much trouble believing what she was hearing.

"What's Ig Alima?" Bazett frowned, trying to recall the name from her studies.

"It's a Divine Construct," Archer elaborated. "They are tools made by (and more often than not meant for) Gods. Or at least, those of divine descent or blessings from the world itself. Saber's Excalibur is another weapon of such pedigree, though its origins are different. Even I can't safely trace weapons of that nature without making necessary degradations. To properly trace something like that… even if it isn't on the same tier as Ea, you should have died."

It wasn't an accusation or anything immature like that. Archer was merely stating a blatant fact that could not be argued against. Performing a mystery beyond one's limits more often than not killed the user, or at the very least crippled them. It was only due to Avalon that Shirou was more or less fully functional, let alone breathing.

"Damn well felt like I did for a moment." A large bulk of the fight against Gilgamesh was a painful blur, especially after he had lost his arm. But Ig Alima was a notable, and very painful highlight.

"Shirou, are your eyes bothering you?" Sakura looked at him with concern. "Why didn't you tell anyone sooner?"

"We had more important things to worry about." Shirou deflected her concern, waving her off. "And it's not that bad. I've just been getting some minor headaches if I use my eyes in the first place. Residual strain on my mind and my circuits. It'll probably just wear off after a few days' rest. If I need to scan anything, I can just resort to tactile methods for the time being."

Thankfully, he didn't have to see something to structurally grasp something. Touching it worked just as easily for him.

"What about swords?" Rin spoke up. "You trace those instinctively, even without any spells. If you're not careful…"

"You're underestimating just how intimate our alignment to swords are, Rin." Archer spoke up for Shirou once again. "So long as the sword in question isn't something absurd like another Divine Construct, he should be able to look at and internally trace swords as easily as breathing, or see colors. There would be no strain on his eyes because from our perspective, the information we would receive would be of equal weight as what we would witness from rest of the world around us. There would be no difference."

The two versions of the same person stared directly at one another, as if trying to read the other's existence to solve an annoying puzzle.

"… Especially if he is as familiar with his abilities as he has claimed."

Shirou's eyes narrowed slightly, as if daring the other to keep talking before he was interrupted once more.

"Well, I suppose that is another reason to keep Shirou inside so he doesn't hurt himself doing something extreme again." Merem sighed whimsically.

That's it. He drew the line when the Apostle Ancestor of all people starts to pretend to worry about his safety and well-being without any alternative motivation.

"If anyone else tries to make an excuse to treat me as an invalid, I will play the role to its fullest. That means I'll do nothing while you're here, which includes cooking, then I'll lock down the kitchen and force everyone to live off of takeout until this whole mess is settled."

Everyone in the room instantly stiffened as if they were all zapped with static electricity at the same time.

"You wouldn't." Unsurprisingly, Saber was the most horrified by the ultimatum.

"He would," Sakura grimaced. "He's cut off Taiga Sensei a couple of times when she pushed her luck trying to mooch off of him. Watching her go through withdrawal was not pleasant to see firsthand."

"You pushed your luck." Assassin broke his near perpetual silence to chastise pretty much everyone else there. "He doesn't joke about the kitchen."

"It must be bad if that guy's the one saying it," Lancer muttered more to himself than anyone else.

"We know! You don't need to tell us." Rin groaned.

"Guys!" Bazett snapped, grabbing everyone's attention. "I think you're missing something important."

"Which is?" Caster frowned.

The Enforcer held her stern expression for a few moments before it finally cracked, showing that she had been holding back a rather cruel smile. "I believe that we should use this time to debate on what sort of glasses Shirou will order, don't you?"

The room suddenly grew silent. And all eyes turned to the person/victim in question.

"… Now that you mention it, he does look like he'd be able to pull wearing glasses off pretty well."

"Glasses are quite fashionable these days, if you know how to accessorize them properly." At Luvia's statement, more than a few sets of female eyes flashed with what could only be described as hungry anticipation.

A moment later, nearly an equal number of male spines began to shiver in instinctual horror.

"… I'm leaving my house in fear now. I hope you are all proud of yourselves."

"No! Saber! Hold him down! We need to investigate this further!"

"Saber so help me I will use a Command Seal if you even try to get in my way and you know damn well that isn't a bluff!"

o. o. o.

"You know, despite both of your vehement attempts to deny being one another, you both act remarkably similar at times."

Archer pretended to ignore Merem as he watched Shirou and Saber walk through the neighborhood streets at night and vanish behind a corner from the Emiya household's rooftop.

It had been roughly half an hour after the girls had finally stopped arguing about what glasses Shirou should get, and after a good amount of reasoning that certainly wasn't pleading, the teen was finally allowed to leave his home to get some much needed groceries. Apparently, their frequent celebratory partying since the War had ended and feeding nearly fifteen people, including Servants (including Berserker), had seriously hammered the household's food stocks.

Merem continued with the one sided conversation. "I mean, I doubt anyone but Assassin noticed that you left the room the moment the girls started to crowd around Shirou like that. Not that anyone could blame you."

The Vampire held back the fact that several of the girls weren't too confident that Archer could pull off glasses the way his younger counterpart could. Not that it would have stopped them from experimenting regardless.

"… Get to the punchline, Apostle." Archer frowned. "I've never been fond of meandering conversations, but at least when most Magi do it they are somewhat related to the actual point."

"True, but that's mostly because most Magi, forgive my crude language, enjoy perpetually stroking their inferior egos like hormonal teenagers, regardless of who is present."

"Funny. I have the same impression from Apostles. The ones that are able to think of anything other than pleasing their master's at least."

"Haha. You have me there. Your observation isn't as far off as you'd think." Doubly so considering Fina's habits.

"I still have yet to hear a reason as to why you are here." Archer's eyes narrowed. "If you keep up with this, I'm going to assume that you are up to something."

"That goes without saying, does it not? I am one of the eldest Apostle Ancestors, and it was not simply due to luck that I obtained such a feat. It would be remiss if I was not anticipating one thing or another." The ancient monster in the form of a one armed boy smiled genuinely. "However, you may relax, Guardian. I am not your antagonist for the night. Nor do I side with one. I am once more merely satisfying a shallow curiosity."

"Shallow curiosity." Somehow Archer doubted those words. Seemingly harmless statements that came out of the mouths of monsters like Merem tended to have the potential to put the entire world at risk at times. "And what would that be?"

The vampire's deceptively blue eyes seemed to glow hollowly in the night. "You can tell that Shirou has fully manifested his Reality Marble."

Despite his self his control, Archer's eyebrow twitched at the accusation. "Oh? You noticed too?"

There was no point in denying it. Not to an ancient thing like Merem Solomon.

"Hmhm. As seasoned as I am, I am not that capable or naturally insightful. Nor do I possess Mystic Eyes capable of deciphering as much. I was merely present when he had his epiphany. As was your Master, however, I don't think she realized just how monumental of an event she had been present for. It was purely by happenstance, I assure you."

It had been just for an instant, sitting on the mountain overlooking the burning city, but that moment was all he needed to know the truth. Or rather, Shirou's truth.

And while the experience had been brief, Merem couldn't help but feel… at genuine ease from the exposure.

He had witnessed all sorts of Reality Marbles during his time on earth, but rarely did he come across one that did not possess some sort of oppressive or twisted nature.

In a way, it made Shirou all the more interesting and terrifying from Merem's point of view.

"And your point?" Archer frowned, not wanting to risk revealing more about his real thoughts and intentions on the matter than he already had.

"I was simply curious about your perspective on the matter." The vampire took no offense to the Servant's attitude. "Considering who is present, I doubt the matter will be a secret between the three of us for long. No. I wouldn't be surprised if Caster already suspects what we already know as fact. And it is only a matter of time before Saber finds out from their connection."

"Why? Worried that this development will get in the way of your plans?" Archer finally tore his gaze away from the quiet town in front of him to look at his guest with a hawk like glare.

"No. Just the opposite. Shirou's flourished at a rate that I couldn't even pretend to hope for." Much to the Servant's ire, Merem smiled genuinely.

It almost sounded like the vampire had been grooming his younger counterpart all this time for something. No matter how Archer saw it, Merem looked truly happy that Shirou was growing stronger and capable. He stepped in whenever the idiot was in a particularly bad spot, and even took steps to make sure that Shirou's vampiric nature was kept in check in the few times it actually posed a problem.

And that wasn't taking into account his other reason for being in Fuyuki…

Between those two, if they weren't the end goals of this excursion, but merely accumulated resources for something that would take place in the near future…

"I see you've come to another unfavorable assumption," Merem summarized, his expression at ease, yet eerily unreadable.

"I have half a mind to tear you apart right now Solomon." EMIYA spoke his mind clearly. "And the other half is seriously considering it as well."

"Even if these conclusions you have made about me were correct, I doubt fighting me right above your Master would be in your best interests. You know I am not someone that can be put down so easily. By either of you."

The rooftop was ominously quiet for several long moments before faint footsteps were heard. Ones that would have been ignored under any other circumstance.

Assassin appeared out of thin air a short distance behind Merem, his Contender in hand.

Father and Son heroic spirits met eyes for only a brief moment before turning their attention back to the threat at hand. This was not the time or place for their personal grievances.

"Before things potentially devolve any further, might I make a small note?" Merem broke the tense silence, not at all disturbed by his current predicament. "I will not bore you with details, but, that source of prana coming from the sea that you are investigating is something that even I find rather distracting. Even if I were up to something foolish enough to risk being surrounded by seven Servants while monitored by my superiors at the Church, I would not do so with an unsavory factor like that in the vicinity."

The standoff persisted for several more tense moments before EMIYA let out an annoyed huff and turned around. "Humph. Better the enemy you know, is that it Apostle?"

"So long as it stays your impossible collection of blades. Regardless of how confident I am, there is no point in trying to ignore a blatant truth. I am not, nor have I ever intended to play the role of an antagonist in this city. Just as I do not have the capability to fight so many Servants and hope to survive." Merem gave a helpless shrug before turning away and walking towards the edge of the roof. "My apologies, Archer. It appears I let my curiosity get the better of me and put you in a poor mood. I will get out of your hair now."

Not even a few seconds later, the sounds of the vampire's footsteps vanished from existence, as if he was not even on the property to begin with.

That did not mean that Archer was alone though.

"… He knows more about the source than he shares," Assassin stated bluntly.

"Clearly. He showed far more distaste for it than he should have. Whatever it is, it's less likely to be on our side than he is. At least, if his claim to be an ally of the boy holds water." Archer replied emotionlessly, recalling at some of the words that Merem had inadvertently used.

"Another Ancestor?"

"Maybe. Either way, it's something that's not on amicable terms with the one we have already."

The rooftop was quiet for several more long seconds.

"There's a good chance that the idiot knows more than he's telling us. Knowing our luck," Archer concluded.

"We just let him out of the house. With Saber," Kiritsugu reminded him. "He takes risks, but he's not a fool."

"If this war has taught us anything, it's that all of us are fools. One way or another." For a moment, it sounded as if Archer was chastising him. "I thought you of all people would have known that by now."


"Don't." The killing intent in that lone word absolutely dwarfed what was aimed at Merem just a few minutes earlier.

For a tense moment, it looked like Assassin would press the subject that neither one of them wanted to even acknowledge. His perpetually unreadable body language was for once open, and almost vulnerable.

And then it was masked again.

"… You discovered something. Something that Shirou doesn't know." Considering Shirou had more or less dominated the entire Grail War with his knowledge and resources, the mere idea that there was something significant going around that he wasn't aware of was, quite frankly, terrifying to dwell on.

Archer was almost grateful for the change of subject, if it wasn't for just how sensitive it was. "It's still speculation."

"But likely enough to be more than just that. A potential issue," Assassin reasoned.


"Is there anything that needs to be addressed directly?"

Archer closed his eyes. "If it comes to that, let me deal with it. Illya, still needs you."

The problem was dangerous enough to pose a threat to a Servant then. Or it could be one of the other Servants to begin with.


Assassin slowly dematerialized from view. "Even if you abandon your name, you're still my son. It is too late for apologies. But… at the very least, I should have taught you properly back then. That sin, and its consequences, should have been mine to bear. Not yours."

Archer grimaced, his face scrunching up into an uncharacteristic and ugly snarl as he turned around to rebuke the man, but it was already too late. Assassin was gone, and the Counter Guardian was once more left alone to stew in his frustration.

o. o. o.



"I have been patient so far, but even I have my limits."

"What do you mean?" Shirou looked to his side as he and his Servant walked through town with bags full of food from their late night grocery shopping.

The local mom and pop stores were closed at this time, but thankfully Japan was littered with countless 24 hour mini convenience stores that were stocked with some cooking supplies. It wasn't an extensive selection, much less one of quality, but no one that was truly hungry ever complained when served rice, chicken, and an assortment of ground meats and salads. When it was done right at least. The supplies were just enough to tide everyone over until he could get some quality goods tomorrow… if the trial didn't take all day again.

"Shirou, as much as we laud your culinary skills, I doubt you frequently look at bags of rice with the same expression that you do while composing plans for an assassination. Much less for longer than five minutes."

"… It was on sale?"

"While I am still relatively inexperienced to the ways of Japan's current society, I am willing to assume that no, the rice was not on sale."

Damn it. His excuse would have been more believable if that actually had been the case. Maybe.

Saber's face softened. "Something is clearly still amiss if it is distracting you this much. I thought you agreed that you would no longer hide secrets from everyone."

"Everyone has secrets, Saber. Even you." He shook his head, rejecting her claim. For the briefest of moments, he contemplated ending the conversation right then and there, but thought better of it.

Saber was his partner. The one person that had been at his side throughout the War. The one person he had entrusted all his secrets to since the beginning. He could only see bad results across the board if he tried to keep her in the dark about what was going to happen any longer. And that didn't include the bad taste in his mouth that came up every time he even considered lying to her in general.

"This… this doesn't involve the others. It's not related to the War. So long as things go right, no one will be the wiser, or in danger," he started vaguely. Enough for her to get the idea of what the nature of the issue was. Overloading someone with details from the beginning never did anyone any favors.

"And if they go wrong?" The King of Knights frowned, already trying to piece his unspoken words together.

Her Master smiled dryly. "Well… having seven Servants on my side is a pretty good deterrent for that. One that no one is interested in enacting."

An exchange with a questionable third party then. One that was neither ally, enemy, nor particularly trustworthy. And yet, an exchange that Shirou thought was necessary to take place in Fuyuki at this time nonetheless. Or rather, an exchange that he had little power to change in the first place.

Solomon was involved in one capacity or another. That much was already immediately assured. But to what extent, she didn't know. Yet.

"I do not agree to this. You can't possibly miss the hypocrisy in your actions." Going out of his way to address the issues of others, but keeping his own to himself. This was exactly what Kiritsugu had been trying to address in the first place.

"I don't, but I can also see a reasonable chance for this fiasco being addressed without violence. I'm hopelessly idealistic, but you know how I try to bend the odds to my favor. If it can be resolved peacefully behind closed doors and minimal outside involvement, then so be it," he reasoned coldly.

"Hoh? Forgive me, Master, but I thought that you claimed that diplomacy was not one of your strong points. Quite frequently at that." Saber's tone matched his, challenging and mocking him simultaneously.

From a certain standpoint, she was right. The main reason why Shirou had managed to get everyone working together in the first place was because the situation called for it more than his conversational skills. All he really needed to do was emphasize the facts that "the war is a sham", "Gilgamesh is scary", "Shirou is clearly not an asshole magus that will stab you in the back", "he actually knows what he's doing", and then top it all off with the absurd amount of irrefutable evidence he had and it would eventually sink in.

It didn't hurt that he had some sort of intimate connection with pretty much every Master in the war to begin with either.

"It's not, but you've seen enough to figure out that I'm not inexperienced in it." He smiled dryly. Today's trial had proven just as much.

"It leaves much to be desired, but I suppose you aren't completely helpless," she stated her blunt opinion on the topic.

She was obviously joking, but still somehow managed to portray the impression that she was completely serious to the point that many would consider her words fact. Clearly the mark of a successful king.

Before he could retort with his own snip, his attention was drawn elsewhere, and his walking stopped immediately.

Next to him, Saber had simultaneously mimicked his actions.

"Shirou." There was no longer any hint of mirth in her voice.

"I know." He muttered back, eyes flickering to various points on their path back home, before raising his voice. "Is there someone there?"

A series of crude chuckles echoed around the pair right before roughly a dozen or so men and women stepped out into view from the alleyways and smaller roads round them. The lot of them were dressed crudely, some even to the point of indecency despite the cool winter air outside.

"Well isn't this something?" One man in his early twenties asked, his ears littered with piercings and a bandanna wrapped around the top of his head hummed as if he was actually someone of power and importance. "Isn't this suspicious guys? Half the city's falling apart on itself or burning to hell to the point that practically everyone's scared shitless of being out at night, and here we have this pair walking alone out in the open that's so adorable to look at I'm getting diabetes."

"A blonde twig, and some idiot that can't even dye his hair right." One of the women snickered. "They look more out of place than we do."

Saber looked cautiously at her Master to see what his advice would be. From what she could tell, these guys were just humans. They didn't feel any different from-

"Trace On."


It wasn't the speed at which he had materialized and fired the iron sword that impaled the man in front of her that was so surprising. Rather, it was the fact that the teen had gone straight for the kill so fast to begin with. Normally, her Master was the sort that tried to milk his opponents for as much information as possible before taking any real actions.


And yet, judging from his expression, the teen was more annoyed than anything.

The crowd had gone deadly silent for several horrified seconds before one of the women inhaled a breath to scream.


Said scream was killed off before it had a hope to begin, the woman's body hit so hard by a longsword that she was pinned upright on the wall of the building behind her. The blade itself was horizontal, cutting straight through the woman's wind pipe so that the air for her scream never made it to her throat.

"I thought I warned you not to try any more funny business," Shirou Emiya stated darkly. He didn't raise his voice, but it somehow seemed to echo around him to be heard as clear as could be.

His threat seemed to have no effect as the men and women began to stumble away from him in genuine confused fear. "Wh-what the hell are you talking about you freak?! This is the first time we've-"

"I can count six different ways off the top of my head you idiots are simply faking this, and four that expose your inhumanity. The police car you positioned just around the corner for this sham is even worse. Lie to me again, and the deal is off." Shirou's tone grew progressively more agitated and genuinely angry. His tone was as calm as could be, but his increasingly glowing silver eyes told a different story.

"Ohohoho. Now now, Shirou. There's no need to do anything rash."

A new voice echoed throughout the night air, dragging all eyes and ears to the elderly man in Priest's garb walking with a gentle smile towards them.

The King of Rats' eyes opened slightly to survey the situation with a shrewd gaze. "Then again, I do quite understand your frustration, as I shared the same assumptions as you did. Care to explain yourself, Fina?"

As if a switch was flipped, the crowd of thugs' expressions warped from shocked, afraid, and confused to impassive, no, not impassive but controlled and stern. The sort of faces trained soldiers would have while on duty.

All but one at least.

"Hahahaha! Ah. Sorry! Sorry! My apologies, Left Arm of Solomon! I got a bit ahead of myself this time didn't I?" The man that Shirou had impaled laughed carelessly, blood weeping from his stomach and mouth and his head tilted dangerously to one side. One look at his eyes indicated that the original owner of the body was no longer there. "I was just so interested to see you again, Emiya. I have a good eye for young men with talent like you, but even I didn't expect you to pick out my boys here so quickly. Your Servant maybe, but to think you caught onto things faster than she did… it's rare to see someone as perceptive as you in this era."

It was a charismatic and amicable voice. One with a hint of a foreign accent, but not strong enough to identify where the owner might have come from.

Shirou would almost compare the tone and strength of the voice to that of Iskandar's, or at least, from what he heard in Waver's memories.

Almost, had this new speaker's voice not clearly be overwhelmingly saturated in what could only be described as unconditional Lust and Hunger, as opposed to Iskandar's rather overwhelmingly unique self-aware brand of Greed.

As much as Saber had a habit of bashing the King of Conquers, she could not deny the charisma he had that motivated others to want to follow him.

This one though, possessed a charisma that excelled in leading the ones he defeated. The stolen. The beaten masses. It was the voice of someone that did not look at others as individuals, but as… something else.

"Keep your guard up. There's probably more hidden around the area. They might have guns." Shirou's voice echoed in her mind. Her only reaction to his orders was to slowly lower the bags she was carrying to the ground. The weapons were likely not a threat to her, but her Master was another story.

Her eyes darted about, her senses expanded. This new foe's words cut deep, but they were none the less true. She had dealt with all sorts of creatures and spells that could imitated humans before, but even now she couldn't differentiate the group around her from the bulk of humanity. The way they breathed, carried themselves, felt, prana. Everything about them just screamed human to her.

The only thing that genuinely made them stick out in the slightest was the way they naturally carried themselves. Each and every one of these individuals were trained soldiers. Not necessarily as warriors, but as troops. A cohesive unit. The way they positioned themselves amongst one another showed a cohesion that she witnessed among her ranks as they moved to perform tasks.

And yet Shirou still managed to see something that she didn't. Had he used his eyes, or did she miss something? She would inquire about it later.

"I warned you to keep to yourself," Shirou repeated himself. "The other Servants are already looking for you."

If the warning was intended to scare the monster, it failed magnificently if the widening smile was any indication. "Oooh? Is that so? I thought you were supposed to prevent that, boy?"

"Don't blame the results of your incompetency on me. By the time I knew they were aware you were around, they had already started searching the coastline. It's not my fault you are making things difficult for yourself. If you are exposed, the only thing I will take responsibility for is your head. Barthomelloi would have mine if I didn't do at least that much."

The madman laughed viciously, unafraid of his predicament, nor the damage that laughing caused the impaled body he was using. "Hahaha. Well said. The reports were true. You do have a viper's tongue that cuts as deep as those swords of yours. Perfect for the role you play. That mad Blue Blooded Queen, she's quite a vicious tart, isn't she? I've had run-ins with her ancestors in the past, but even they could not compare to the monster you currently serve. You have my condolences."

"You can apologize by leaving Fuyuki." Shirou's eyes narrowed.

"Oh no no no. You know I can't do that yet. Not until my business with Solomon is completed."

"There is little time to finalize the deal while the trial in the Clocktower is going on. My maker and our young friend are being monitored constantly as it is by various parties, and growing. It was surprising that we have managed to procure this much time for our current conversation. Likewise the resources in town would notice if a fool like you acted out any more than you already have," the false priest pointed out factually.

"And yet I cannot stay for long regardless. Not if the Servants are already looking for me. If I didn't know any better, I'd almost think that you didn't want the exchange to go through, Rat." The thirst for blood slowly began to flood the alleyway.

"I desire what my maker does. Please do not let your childish mind stray too far into your rampant delusions. Your master is already a pathetic enough sight to begin with. She does not need you to compound her shortcomings." The King of Rats' gentle and genuine smile did not falter in the slightest. In contrast, the background itself slowly began to rustle as if a thousand bodies were in movement.

Saber frowned, recognizing what was taking place. Even if the ones that were displaying their malice were mere proxies for their Masters, there was little doubt that the road would be the setting for a devastating bloodbath between legitimate monsters if nothing was done soon.

Her first instinct was to materialize her weapon and armor to get ready for a fight, but before she could…


The ringing sound of a piece of metal ringing once against the ground spiked through the ears of everyone there. It was a sound that was difficult to ignore, more so in such a hostile environment where everything could go wrong at the slightest provocation.

All eyes turned to the source. Not Saber, but to Shirou, who was holding a two handed longsword tip down on the ground as if to make a statement.

"That's…" The King of Rats' eyes momentarily twitched as he gazed upon the weapon itself.

A black blade littered with vein like patterns, and a malicious crimson double sided edge.

"I'm starting to see why Merem was so adamant on making me the mediator." Shirou stated as though he was speaking down on everyone there. "If this is how childish you two act now, I can only imagine how bad you will be during the exchange itself."

"Are you saying that you actually think that you can keep the two of us in check? Dog of Barthomelloi?" Somehow, the emaciated and half dead body looked even more menacing than it did before. Its eyes progressively stained red with blood, and its smile twisting into something inhuman.

Shirou took one glance at the puppet made of flesh before turning his gaze towards the King of Rats, his cold expression not changing in the slightest.

Their silent exchange lasted for all but a few scant moments before the Priest bowed deeply, silently quieting the chorus of scratches and hisses in the background. "My most sincere apologies. I allowed my emotions and instincts to rule my judgement. I assure you it will not happen again."

"Aaaah?" The man looked at the King of Rats as if it had just grown a second head… then again, considering what it was, that probably wouldn't have been out of the norm. "What's with the sudden royal treatment, Rat? It's not like you or your maker to stop after you get going."

"That may be, but we are overstepping our bounds nonetheless. Or do you wish to be noticed by the other Servants after all?"


"If you two are done." Shirou seized their attention again, not easing his guard or tone in the slightest as he looked at the crowd. "You have three days. That's as long as I can assume it will take for the rest of the Servants to find out what is happening. After that, you're on your own, and I couldn't care less what happens to you."

"Tomorrow night will be occupied with the trial," the King of Rats noted. "So unless events dictate otherwise, we shall organize things the following."

Believing that things had finally calmed down again, Shirou allowed the sword in his hands to fade away, and picked up his groceries once more. "You two set up the details. Merem will take Saber and I to the location, where we will mediate."

"Well isn't that just rude." The vampire snorted as the pair walked through the crowd of semi possessed hooligans without a single shred of fear or concern. "Where's the so called borderline mythical hospitality that I've heard so much about?"

"I don't treat home invaders," Shirou shouted back bluntly as he rounded a nearby corner and vanished from view.

"Cute." The dying body huffed, spitting out blood with the word. "He's got spunk."

"It is rather refreshing to have a new ear to talk to every now and then." The King of Rats smiled. "One that isn't obligated to agree with everything you say."

"That's rich, coming from a pet." Fina turned to look at Merem's left arm. "So, the sword? You can't expect me to ignore a nasty piece like that, Rat."

It wasn't the power that had caught his attention. No, in that regard, it was barely as significant as every other supposed "ultimate treasure" that noble Magi whip out every now and then in their half assed attempts to take on any Apostle worth their name. It was a stick. A glorified needle. A splinter…

However, what was concerning was the curse itself the blade harnessed. The malice. The severity. The potency. The age of malignant mystery it held was disgustingly ancient. And literally divine. The only thing that surprised Fina more than its very existence was the fact that Shirou seemed to be completely ignorant to its nature, much less holding the accursed artifact without being affected in the slightest.

Even though he had served Altrouge as one of her loyal knights for centuries, he had only encountered something of this nature maybe three or four times at best. And none of those events were particularly pleasant to recall.

So how the hell did that kid get his hands on something as rare and vicious as that?

No. If that sword was a projection like the rumors claimed, the better question was: how on earth did a child of the current era have the capacity to recreate a curse that possessed literal divine traits?

Fina was not a Magus… but he descended from a fairly long line of them. He learned quite a bit back when he was originally a human, and while he wasn't fond of his heritage, he couldn't deny that what he was imparted was useful.

His family's specialty was what eventually led him to his Reality Marble after all.

The King of Rats didn't immediately respond. Instead, he hummed to himself monotonously, as if distracted with something else as he turned to walk away. "The fact that he has brought out that blade in the first place indicates that he is taking our arrangement seriously. More concerning, is that it also proves we are wearing his generosity and patience thin. My master will not be pleased."

"I thought the boy's role was merely a formality. A brief flicker of entertainment to distract us from killing one another long enough to get the deal over with." The accusation was ominous. Like a calm lake surface that hid a monstrous beast underneath.

"I never thought that you'd consider one holding the leash to a Heroic Spirit to be rendered to such a meager position. Much less the sole person that can mobilize seven of them at a moment's notice." The King of Rats continued his trek back to his host's home, not at all bothering to speak anymore on the topic.

Well, it was less he was unwilling to speak of the matter and more that he was preoccupied with something else entirely.

He did not recall the curse of the blade feeling so, intense, when it was used against Louvre.

o. o. o.





"Miss McRemitz."

The five females greeted one another warily, each one silently probing the other for information, only to come up blank.

They then turned in the same direction to see Shirou kneeling in a seiza while Saber towered over him menacingly.

How the Servant had managed to get a copy of Torashinai in hand was anyone's guess.

"Shirou did something again." Rin looked like she had just eaten something disgusting.

"Looks like it." Sakura sighed.

"With my history and experience as a mercenary, I have determined it is best to avoid getting involved." Luvia pretended not to shiver.

"Even if I get a longer lifespan, I think I'm going to die early of excessive stress at this rate," Illya wept.

"How? He only went out of the house to get chicken and rice. He was gone for half an hour at the most," Bazett almost cried into her hands. "What did he get himself into this time? Everyone knows that Shirou is easy to make fun of. We were joking earlier about him getting into trouble if he was left alone. It wasn't supposed to be true."

"I don't know. But it was enough to seriously tweak Saber," Rin noted as the Servant made gestures every few seconds as if to torture Shirou into thinking he was about to get hit. Judging from how frequently the guilty party was shivering and flinching, it was working very well. "Normally she just goes along with whatever he does and stops him from going overboard."

"Yes, but you forgot that Saber's been his primary confident for the majority of the War," Sakura pointed out. "She was probably the only person that he was willing to risk talking to and discussing his plans with since the beginning. The fact that Saber's mad to begin with means that whatever happened was something she didn't have prior knowledge of."

Something that he didn't even trust Saber with.

"… So who wants to be the one to ask what's happening?" Bazett grimaced.

"I have already said my piece," Luvia rejected the position instantly.

Illya rolled her eyes and approached the pair in question. "I'll do it. After everything that's happened, one would think that you four would be a bit braver than this."

"Easy for you to say." Rin gave the albino a dry stare. If a person was insane enough to get used to being around Berserker, they more or less had the nerve to do anything.

"Saber? How bad is it?" Illya came up behind the Servant with a hint of exasperation. "Did Shirou accidentally blow up the town bridge while he was out?"

Shirou didn't know whether his sister was joking or not, but couldn't answer. His speaking privileges had been temporarily revoked.

Judging from the look on Saber's face, it wouldn't have been surprising if the words "if only" were on the tip of her tongue. "No. No fighting or collateral damage took place while we were out."

Shirou's impaling of two very human like puppets didn't count. His targets would have had to put up a form of resistance for it to be one.

"Are you going to tell us what happened?" she pushed.

Saber didn't respond immediately, staring down at her Master with a very displeased expression. "… You will know in a few days."

"Is that 'a few days' for you to buy time to hide evidence without telling us, or 'a few days' needed to get the worst of whatever's happening over with?" Illya probed knowingly.

"You'll know in a few days." Saber's tone was harder this time.

This time Illya suspected that Saber was being genuinely honest with the answer to the second question. It appears that even the Servant didn't know the outcome of whatever Shirou was involved with this time.

"Onii-chan, I don't know what you did, but it must have been bad to anger Saber this much," she chided.

Shirou dropped his head and nodded weakly, knowing he didn't have anything to stand on this time.

"And after everything that we just went through, you still think it's for the best that we don't know what going on for now?"

"Yes. Unfortunately." Saber didn't take her eyes off of Shirou. "That said, I do advise that no one travels alone for the time being."

"Wonderful." Illya shook her head.

"Is this a bad time to let them know that Rider already left to get that bike they were talking about?" Lancer shouted from the background, clearly not smiling the biggest shit eating grin ever.

"Already?" Rin looked at Sakura for confirmation.

"She was pretty excited." The Master of the culprit smiled sheepishly. Despite the fact that Rider normally went about with a near perpetual impassive expression, the Servant wasn't able to hide her… anticipation, from Sakura.

Saber's resemblance to a statue at that moment was directly proportional to the amount of blood that was draining from Shirou's face.

"… Why did you do that?" The teen looked at the Servant as if he was a kicked puppy.

Lancer shrugged. "Suck it up, kid. It was going to happen at some point."

"It could have been when I wasn't right next to…?!" Shirou's perfectly reasonable counterargument was interrupted by a firm hand that clasped onto his shoulder and wouldn't let go, followed by a pair of glowing eyes that he swore were literally drilling into the back of his skull with mana.

"Shirou," Saber stated evenly, and did not growl. "I believe that it would be best if we made sure your swordsmanship skills were kept up to par. As my squire, I expect a minimum level of… proficiency."

Shirou looked like he wanted to scream, but he was more terrified of what might happen if he did.

"… Is this one of those bad ends papa wrote about in his notes?" Illya tilted her head to the side curiously, not at all worried about her brother's fate as Saber dragged him into the compound's dojo.

"I honestly don't know. But it's dumb enough that I wouldn't doubt it if it was." Rin's expression matched Illya's perfectly.

"After all this time, it was his own Servant that would kill him. How ironic." Luvia closed her eyes and gave Shirou a silent prayer to the afterlife, as the still clearly alive teen was screaming in horror and pain from Saber's "lessons" inside the nearby building.

"You girls are enjoying this way more than you should," Bazett deadpanned, not at all acknowledging the fact that her Servant was the one that had poured oil onto the fire.

"Like you aren't." Rin, Luvia, and Illya riposted their elder without any mercy.

"I've trained him for years in close combat. I'm used to beating the crap out of him for hours on end."

"Oh dear." The King of Rats turned a corner and joined the group. "That sounds like Lord Emiya. What happening?"

"Onii-chan did something without warning us again. Saber's punishing him." Illya summarized the situation. She didn't bother bringing up the bike.

"Ah. I see." The Priest accepted the turn of events far too quickly than most people should, and moved onto another topic. "Miss Sakura, a word if you would? There are some things I wish to speak to you about in private if possible."

"In private? Why?" Sakura blinked in confusion. She couldn't think of anything off the top of her head that would require her to speak to an Apostle Ancestor without others listening in.

"I believe I have come across some matters related to your family by happenstance. As you are the only remaining Matou, I believe it be prudent to keep this between us. At least long enough for you to determine whether it is appropriate for others to know. As a man of the Church, I am unfamiliar with the exact procedure when dealing with familial related mysteries."

Her perplexed expression dropped into one of mixed distaste and discomfort. As much as she despised Zouken, the Matou family name, and its legacy were for better or for worse hers now. It was her responsibility to deal with whatever was left behind, and claim whatever resources had not been burned in the war.

"It's fine Sakura. Go ahead." Rin sighed. "As annoying as the Vampire and the Rat are, they wouldn't try anything here. Not with Shirou around."

A shout of alarm and a shallow thump that could be felt through the air caused everyone to pause and look at the dojo warily.

"… In a manner of speaking."

o. o. o.

If this was an anime, Shirou's spread eagle body would be littered with massive goose egg welts right now, complete with swirling eyes and a gaping mouth three times the size of the rest of his head. From the way he felt, he was pretty sure that he would have had several broken bones right now if he didn't have Avalon in him and Saber right next to him, for better or for worse.

He didn't know what was more impressive: the rate at which his injuries were vanishing, or the fact that Saber had hit him hard and frequently enough with the wooden shinai that said injuries were still there in the first place.

Then again, that thing was cursed. And evil. And pain incarnate.

The fading wooden swords in his hands had done nothing to protect him from his Servant's wrath.

"I hope that this experience has shown you the error of your ways." Saber stood over him, Torashinai leaning deceptively innocently against her shoulder. While neither Master nor Servant brought it up, they both swore they could hear the thing purring in sadistic satisfaction.

"U-un." Shirou wasn't sure if his Servant was referring to him hiding the whole mess with Merem and Fina from her, or the fact that he allowed Rider to go nuts with the Hayabusa. Either way, he wasn't going to risk asking her for specifics.

"What was that?" Judging from her tone, he was going to get pushed through the grinder again unless he gave her an answer that consisted of words and sentences.

He failed spectacularly to prevent his body from shivering in fear and immediately bowed to her on his knees. "N-no! I mean yes! I mean, I screwed up and I won't do it again, Ma'am!"

It was clear that she didn't believe him in the slightest, but at the same time, there was little reason to continue wailing on her Master. "I suppose that this lesson will suffice, for now. There are more important things to discuss after all."

Shirou let out a slow breath of relief. Safe!

"For now." Saber repeated herself with a warning tone, causing him to freeze up again.


The King of Knights shook her head in mild frustration. It was hard to forget sometimes that her Master was still a teenager. But conversely, it was hard to forget that her Master was as vicious as Kiritsugu when needed. The two were not mutually exclusive, but difficult to remember both at the same time. Like looking at the face of a coin and trying to recall the exact details of the other side. It was there, but not as apparent at the time.

"So you are mediating an exchange between two Apostle Ancestors," she restated what he had told her on their way back to the house.

He nodded.

"And you yourself were only recently informed that somehow, you are also one of their ranks."

"I'm still trying to get my head around that one." Shirou sighed, slowly picking himself off of the ground. "I get why Merem gave it to me. I was sorta turned by the previous Tenth's offspring, and then I killed him. So in a sense I inherited the position… but at the same time, I'm not anything close to being one of those monsters."

"I myself have rarely interacted with those abominations, other than to clean up their messes. In this regard, you have more experience dealing with them than I." Saber admitted her unfamiliarity with vampires. "Then again, even the one we have now firmly states that you are a peculiar case. I suppose your Reality Marble merely solidified his decision and expectations of you."

"I'm pretty sure there are other Apostles out there that have Reality Marbles of their own." He had never encountered any of them, thankfully, but he highly doubted that having one was exclusive to the Twenty Seven as far as Apostles went.

"Perhaps, but then again, the ability to recreate Noble Phantasms is an outlier beyond outliers." In the previous war, Rider's Reality Marble itself qualified as a Noble Phantasm. If that was the case then Shirou's ability in at least one regard already reached that of a Servant.

If one merely considered physical ability when comparing Shirou to Servants and Apostles, then it would not be wrong to consider him woefully lacking. But a true battle between Servants and monsters of that scale was one between their aces. Noble Phantasms and Mysteries clashing against one another, bending reality and ripping the world apart to establish dominance. In that regard, it wouldn't be far off to say that Shirou had more than met the minimum qualifications.

Saber shook her head. "We are distracting ourselves. There are more important issues to discuss. This new Vampire. The Pirate. Will he be an issue?"

"Are they ever not?" Shirou sighed. "The White Knight Bloodsucking Count of Altrouge Brunstud. The Eighth Ancestor. As far as they go, he's not a pushover. Not one of the true monsters that would cause an international panic just by coming here, but still a problem."

"I recall you saying that Solomon was the Twentieth Ancestor, and that they are ranked by threats to humanity. I assume that means that this new Vampire is stronger than the one we have?" Saber surmised.

Shirou shook his head. "No. If anything Merem's stronger, by a wide margin at that. The problem is Fina's powers make him difficult to deal with. Difficult to kill. Merem's never told me exact details when it came to most of the other Ancestors, even the ones he didn't like. Whether it's because he doesn't know in the first place or if they have some sort of agreement going on is anyone guess, but he did give me some vague advice every now and then."

Never make a deal with Altrouge. Ignore and walk away from Stanrobe if he ever shows up. Sumire will leave you alone so long as you give her enough alcohol. Ortenrosse is very old fashioned, so if you are polite and diplomatic he might let you go. Things like that.

As far as Fina went, Merem's advice went something along the lines of: his followers are a pain to deal with, and his Reality Marble makes all of them a trial to get rid of for long.

Right after that comment though, Merem had followed up with an afterthought of: "Then again, if you in particular took him seriously head on... no, that would only lead to a cruel and unnecessary bloodbath. Only Chaos could beat Fina when it came to a battle of quality and quantity."

His other, and more ominous advice in Shirou's opinion, more or less boiled down to: don't be left alone in a room with that guy. It has nothing to do with his powers. It's his personality and personal tastes.

While he rarely had the urge to make crude comments about the relationship between the Church and children, he couldn't help but feel a cruel sense of irony from that particular conversation.

"It's probably a precautionary measure. I doubt the others would take it kindly if one of their own started spreading secrets," Saber reasoned. "Remind me. If Solomon is stronger than this, Fina, why is his number so different? Even your rank is rather low, is it not?"

Shirou shook his head, trying not to remember that he now held the title of the Tenth. "The number is supposed to indicate how great of a threat the owner is to humanity. The lower you are, the bigger the threat. The top ten in particular are supposed to be monsters that practically exist in their own world and can't be killed by normal means. The previous notable Tenth, Nrvnqsr Chaos, was literally an amalgamation of 666 individual beasts. Supposedly, you had to kill all of them at once, otherwise they'd just reform in his body and you'd be back to square one in a matter of seconds. Rumor has it that guy was around during the First Crusade."

It should be noted that the First Crusade was during the Eleventh Century, meaning that Chaos was one of the few Apostles that had been around for over a millennium. A monster among monsters.

"If he was so difficult to kill, how did he die in the first place?" Saber probed.

"Well first of all, the only reason why I know that in the first place is because Merem heard it from Ortenrosse in passing, and then told me in kind just to let me know of how big of shoes I'm stepping in. As far as I can tell, not many people knew that much about Chaos to begin with." As if being one of the Twenty Seven wasn't bad enough.

"A lack of information about his abilities would contribute to his long survival… but again, how did someone of such notoriety die then?" She pressed.

"Best anyone can tell is that he got wiped out by the White Princess a few years ago. All things considered, I'm pretty sure she can kill anyone and anything on the planet if she wanted to." He groaned. "And I'm supposed to be on that level? I honestly don't know how the hell I'm ever supposed to meet that qualification in the first place, let alone be a 'threat to humanity'."

What Shirou didn't know was that Merem's confidence in his ability to serve as the Tenth was not supported by the teen's ability to survive, but his innate and versatile potential to kill the unkillable. With his armory of Noble Phantasms, and Kiritsugu, Shirou was, in the Vampire's eyes, an ode to Humanity's nature for destruction and war. A man made monster that would always have the right tool for the job that just so happened to be turned into an Apostle by sheer happenstance.

In the back of her mind, Saber briefly contemplated just how great of a threat her Master could be to anyone if he had enough explosives on hand, but quickly disregarded it. It wouldn't do to give him any ideas. "So I assume that Merem is ranked so numerically high due to his apparent lack of desire to harm humans."

"More or less. That and there are rumors that the Church has him on some kind of leash, but I know better than to bring that up." He waved away the assumption. "Either way, he's still one of the oldest Apostles out there. One of the few still around that was turned by Crimson Moon himself. Regardless of their reason, no one's willing to pick a fight with Merem unless they have a damn good reason. No need to poke a sleeping dragon that isn't bothering anyone."

"I see." Saber crossed her arms in deep thought. From what she could tell, Shirou's position was a delicate one from many angles. His impromptu role as a mediator was between a vampire that he was tentative allies with, and a vampire that was appeared to be more interested in testing the limits of his host than ensuring that everything went smoothly. All the while, Shirou was hiding his own position as a "Living Apostle" and the Tenth Ancestor from nearly everyone.

Hiding the deal itself from the others, given all that has happened… it was distasteful, but given what was at stake and everything that was taking place, it was risky, but objectively the best play he could make.

"You intend to tell the others about this once it is done?" she asked. She needed to hear it directly from his mouth before she made a decision on how to approach planning for the future.

He scratched the back of his head in frustration. "Everyone already knows about me being an Apostle. Me being the Tenth is just icing on the cake. I'd get yelled at and mocked, but in the end, it's just an over glorified title. It's more important to everyone that the position is filled to begin with. But me being the Tenth, and Fina being here at the same time? No. Everyone would go nuts if I laid it all on them now just as things are calming down."

"Even if this is unfortunately one of your better options, you do realize just how poorly this can potentially turn out for you, correct?"

"I don't have much choice. There's no point in escalating things any further than they already have, and both Merem and Fina seem dead set on having this thing go through even though they hate one another. Even they aren't too keen on exposing their actions right under the noses of Seven Servants. The best thing I can do is throw my own weight around in the matter, which is really a polite way of saying that I'll sick you and everyone else on them if they don't follow my rules."

"And after the deal is complete?"

He shrugged. "You whip out Excalibur and give them a ten second head start if they press their luck."

She gave him a dry smile. "How generous of you. I consider it benevolent to give them five seconds."

"My town. My rules." He matched her smile with his own.

"I am quite certain that Tohsaka would have qualms if she heard you say that."

His smile dropped. "Tch. Please. Rin's the type to 'loan' me the deed to Fuyuki for the duration of this mess just to make sure that she can't be held responsible in case things turn bad."

And he'd let her. The sap.

She savored her minor victory for but a few seconds before focusing on more important matters. "While things do appear to be in order, I do recommend you inform the others how you managed to identify the Vampire's followers. I must be frank, until you called them out, I had assumed them to be normal humans."

Shirou grimaced, which was all she needed to know that she was not going to like what she was about to learn. "And there, is the main problem of the day. The thing is, they are human."

The room became ominously quiet.

"They're… human?" Saber had to take a moment to digest that information. "I don't understand. That group we encountered earlier were clearly familiars to their master. How could they be subservant, be injured as they have been yet controlled as easily as an undead puppet, and still be human?"

Shirou sighed deeply. "And therein lies the reason why he's the Eighth. Fina's entire entourage consists of familiars that are literally indistinguishable from normal humans. They live. Eat. Drink. Sleep. Breathe. Have breathing hearts. Memories. Circuits. Spells. The entire kit. He can literally infiltrate a city with a literal functioning army and wreak havoc from the inside and no one would know until it was too late."

The details as to how on earth Fina had managed to pull it off was beyond anyone's knowledge. Even Merem's. The only thing that anyone knew for certain was that it had to do with his Reality Marble. Parade.

"Remember when I said earlier that I saw four different ways that his followers weren't human?" He went on. "I was getting ahead of myself, giving an exact number like that, but let me show you."

Shirou put a hand onto the ground and focused briefly. In front of him materialized four military grade combat knives.

"Knives?" Saber didn't know what he was talking about, but she already knew she didn't like it. "You only managed to identify what they were by their knives?"

"Yeah." He grimaced. "I briefly used my eyes to try and examine the familiars, but I couldn't get anything with just a cursory look. The tell is deep. Deeper than most magi would ever manage without specialized equipment. The knives themselves aren't anything special. Custom made about thirty years ago. Military grade. Japanese Special Forces. The kind of group that doesn't officially exist since Japan isn't supposed to have any major international military operations after World War Two. Not a hint of magic went into making them, and technically, there still isn't."

"Technically?" Saber didn't miss the word that changed the story.

"It's… hard to put into words. I'm not particularly knowledgeable in this branch of thaumaturgy," Shirou started slowly, picking his words carefully to not confuse his Servant. "It's a very esoteric field. Let's put it like this. These knives are part of a set. An extremely defined set, and somehow this fact has been, for lack of a better term, emphasized exponentially to the point that it's almost a mystery in itself. The 'set' is somehow more important to these things than "being knives" is. It was only because I noticed that that I figured out who those guys were."

"I don't understand. Part of a set? Like those kitchen knives sold at the store? How is that of any use?"

"That's a good analogy. How do I put this? The knives, the set they belong to, I could say that each of them are proof that the rest exists. They follow the logic, 'if this is here, then the rest must surely be around'. It's a basic concept that's being pushed to the extreme, but I can't tell how it's being implemented. The knives themselves are just a small part of the greater whole that I can't determine. A greater whole that doesn't include just blades. As a result, I can't properly recreate these knives the way they should be."

It was a bizarre and hypocritical circular logic that fueled this mystery. Because the "whole" that these "parts" belong to can't be replicated, the "parts" cannot be considered "whole".

Leave it to an Ancestor to give him a headache like this to deal with.

"And here I assumed that it was impossible for you to be unable to create a blade unless it was on the same level as a Divine Construct." Saber reasoned out the conclusion to his original train of thought. "Since you already knew the abilities of everyone else in the city, you immediately determined that that group was among the Vampire's brood. Impressive."

Shirou shook his head as he picked up one of the samples and began twirling it on his fingers expertly. "No. Impressive would be if I managed to determine just what the hell is up with these knives in the first place. The best I've managed to do is point out vaguely how these things were off in the first place…"

He'd also like to know why handling them stirred a sick rage in the back of his head…

The pair stared at the gleaming metal for a few moments before Saber brought up the topic that was on both of their minds. "If that's the case, then perhaps it would be best to show them to Caster and Archer."

It was clear that he found the idea distasteful, but the fact that he didn't shoot it down immediately underscored just how seriously he was treating the situation. Technically, he was supposed to be a neutral party to a non-violent event that no one was to know about. But that was only in the case that everyone played by the rules.

No one ever played by the rules.

Damn it. If only he could talk to Waver-nii. Deconstructing the logic behind random mysteries with minimal amounts of information was his specialty, not Shirou's.

"… Fine. See what they find out from the knives, but don't tell them more than necessary. Warn the Servants to keep an eye on everyone when they go outside. Work in pairs. If Archer or Caster find out anything interesting about the knives… tell them I'll come clean with everything if it's good enough. That should give them motivation to take it seriously."

"You plan on killing the Vampire." Saber looked at him skeptically.

"If needed. The more information I have, the less casualties there'll be." He looked at her, his expression indicating he had something in mind. "You can walk on water, right? That includes ocean water?"

"I was blessed by the Lady of the Lake, although I will admit, it is not as potent in bodies of salt water," she admitted. "You want me to attack his Ship."

"I want you to obliterate it, if it comes to that. Ships can be considered mobile fortresses. Prime targets for Excalibur," he corrected. "Merem will no doubt help you locate it if asked."

"Getting close enough to use it uninterrupted will be another matter entirely. My full power is not exactly subtle Shirou, and we don't exactly know what the enemy's abilities are yet."

"Yeah. You're right. But on the other hand…"

For a moment, Shirou wasn't in his Dojo with Saber, but standing alone on a Hill of Blades, looking over a calm and peaceful landscape draped in crimson sunlight from over a distant horizon. Swords and weapons, remembered and not littered the landscape, drinking the light in and humming in content.

Thin subterranean rivers of gold snaked underground in all directions, lazily swaying back and forth like boneless snakes, a deceptively harmless looking recent addition that only magnified the exotic texture of the landscape.

A pristine full moon shone brilliantly overhead with not a cloud to block it, joined by an uncountable number of immaculate stars that could not be masked by the barely visible sun.

It was a serene land. A sacrosanct land. There were no stories to be had here, for this was where all that struggled against the world came to rest after their journeys had ended.

Only stories to be told. Only stories to end.

It was a simple thing. Almost insignificant.

But to those that became Heroes, those that defied common sense and reality the way they did…

They had dreamed of fame. Of victory. Of adventure. Of prosperity. Of peace. Of ruling. Of security. Of family. Of comradery. Of enlightenment. Of achievements. Of worlds. Of creation. Of destruction. Of revenge. Of so many things and more.

But, how many of them had ever dreamed, or experienced, of a time where they were simply done?

No more madness. No more adventures. No more work. They could finally sit down, look at what they did, look at what was to come, and be truly, and unquestionably content with stopping where they were?

To them, such a priceless experience…

It must have been an ephemeral dream more outlandish and impossible to achieve than their own feats. Something even they doubted they would ever hold within their heart, to the point that many probably had trouble even harboring it.

But it was a dream Shirou could see as clear as day.

"This way, we know we're starting with an even playing field. All we need to do now is make sure we cheat better than he does."

Behind him, three cursed blades were impaled at the apex of the Hill, drinking in the sunlight and moonlight, sleeping in content.

It truly was a beautiful sight.

Even if it wasn't his to begin with.

o. o. o.

Omake: It's always the Quiet Ones.

"Ugh. It's just one thing after another. I can't take it anymore." Rin slumped down on the couch in the living room and turned on the tv. "I need a break or else I'm going to kill someone. Come on late night television. You've never failed to kill brain cells before. Don't let me down now."

"Doom Doom Dooom Dooooooom."

Too American. Click.

"Vegeta! What does the scouter say about his-"

Seen it when she was five. Click.

"Next contestant on our show is here from Shibuya! Let's see how she'll do in the pudding pool!"

These game shows were all rigged. And stupid. And boring. Next. Click.

"Call this number below to contact Madame Miko and get your fortune told today!"

Either a scam, or a magus down on their luck and trying to make some fast cash. Poor sap. Wait. Shit. Those are real talismans. She'll actually have to deal with that idiot soon before they do something stupid and get them all in trouble.

… Eventually. Click.

"Late Night Fuyuki News. We're back to tonight's top story. Police are still in pursuit of a reckless motorcyclist who has been racing down the main highways of the city at unprecedented speeds. Reports say that the suspect has somehow been consistently racing over four hundred kilometers per hour, outpacing any attempts from law enforcement to catch up."

Rin blinked. Then she blinked again.

"According to reports, the suspect is a young woman with peculiarly long hair in a black dress. Any attempts to contact her have so far resulted in failure. The only communication anyone has managed to make of her was when she pulled several dangerous stunts to avoid a road block that resulted in her jumping over law enforcement. Some officers claim that she was shouting "A Plus Riding" as she passed by overhead with a, what on earth is, you're joking, that's actually a thing? You're not making this… no, I don't care. I'm not saying- fine. Fine! I'll say it, the world's first hextuple shaolin backflip, though this has yet to be confirmed."

A wave of anger rolled over Rin, making her shiver uncomfortably. Slowly turning around, she saw Saber watching the television behind her. The Servant's body was radiating mana to the point that several items in the room were beginning to shake.

"… I'll change the ch-"

"No." The King of Knights ordered ominously. "Leave it. I will watch this in its entirety, and I will remember everything."

Rin slowly put down the television remote, got out of the way of the television, and decided to warn Sakura that there was a good chance that she might lose her Servant by the end of the night.

o. o. o.


As always, thanks Wayfarer for betaing. Congrats on how everything's been going for you. It's amazing what can happen in a year.


Really sorry for the wait. I didn't think it would take so long to finish the arcs in TTRT, and then it took me a bit to get back into the groove of things with FFD. Even THEN, this chapter's shorter than normal because the pacing is different than what I've been working with recently.

And. You know. Borderlands 3. Because guns. And explosions.

Pity the plot is so… yeah. Character development on several fronts could have done with a bit of work. Let's leave it at that.

Typhon de Leon's the man though. Talks just like my Grandparents used to. No joke. Full blown Brooklyn accent and everything. That shit is real guys.

But fuck it I'm back!

And maybe I'll be able to stay top of the FSN fanfic list with Parcasious on my ass! But given how slow I update, not fucking likely! Ahahahaha!

But seriously Parc. Good on you. I don't really review stories often, but you got good stuff. If, or most likely when, your fic passes mine in numbers, congrats. Not sure you'll read this, but if you do, kudos. You deserve all the praise you get.

As always, I'm not completely happy with the way this chapter turned out. I do feel I went a little too heavy with the whole "everyone agrees Shirou gets into trouble all the time" thing here, but I tried to treat it more of an inside joke between characters to make fun of him with than a genuine fact of life to go by. Especially considering the series of ass pulls he managed in the previous chapter. Shirou's always felt like the type of person that's easy for others to make fun of in jest because he doesn't really get the motivation to fight back most of the time, but that's just me.

Honestly, I think it gives everyone a bit more personality when they can go wild and joke and rip into one another like that, and respond in kind. I feel that keeping things perpetually serious tends to kill a reader's motivation to be interested in a story's characters, and by extension, the story itself. And personally, I think that making it so that the ONLY times genuinely funny moments in a fate story happens are when Rin (because it's always has to be Rin for some annoying reason) trolls someone or when Taiga appears is just poor taste. Again, I do think I went too far here, but it'll be gone the next chapter.

If you don't know by now, I'll state again I've pretty written Fina's character and powers from the ground up with what little has already been said about him in the Type Moon material given. Over all, I'm pretty happy with what I've come up with, and think he's solid "8th Apostle Ancestor" material. Real twisted logic behind how his mind and Reality Marble function, giving him a pretty hard ability to deal with under most circumstances.

Probably going to be completely wrong and useless whenever Tsukihime 2 comes out, but meh. That thing's existence itself might as well be a true magic that no one will ever reach.

Then again, there are rumors that Nasu is actually playtesting Tsukime remake these days…

Oh. Before I forget. I'm selling T shirts now, all related to the fics I make. Links are on my profile at the bottom. Due to how the website works, I have to manually make the shirts available after a certain amount of time, but that's how it works. I'll renew the FFD based shirts this time since well, FFD, but if anyone wants one of my other designs, please let me know and I'll get on it. Might not be available immediately after this chapter's out, but definitely by tomorrow at the latest, and the following few weeks afterwards.

In life news, my sister got a new job in Boston at a Startup. She's really happy about it, after the hell that HSBC gave her. Seriously, the stories I've been told, that place is a cesspool of assholes.

Finally. It's that time of the year guys. I'm going to Youmacon, here in lovely Detroit. It's a big con so you'll probably not find me unfortunately, but it's a fun event so… yeah!

Thanks for being so patient guys. I promise. This story's still got a bit of fire left to keep you all entertained till the end!

SO Review! Worship the Log! Keeping Rider from entering the X Games is a full time job partially because Rin wants to hedge her bets in illegal gambling! And Review Again!