Chapter 55: Far Side

I do not own Fate/Stay Night and stuffs.

o. o. o.

It was two hours until the trial restarted, and Shirou was in his workshop.

He had left a few times for some common reasons. Bathroom. Cooking. Checking up on the others. But after his discussions with Saber, he had holed himself within the confines of his semi-passible lab.

It was obvious that something was amiss to everyone. Their reactions to him the first time he went out was enough to get the point across. So he didn't bother to hide it. Only the details. So he just evasively deflected their questions in a way that couldn't fool a child and retreated again after his initial task was done. It was a pathetic performance, one that would get him in trouble later on, but it was necessary.

He needed to think. He needed to plan.

He needed to know more about what he was capable of.

Shirou opened his empty right hand, and closed it around a sword that materialized in it almost effortlessly.

He repeated the process with his left hand, and noted the effort it took in order to do the same thing with the same blade.

His attention turned to his right arm again, and for a brief moment, warped steel flesh blades in the shape of scales rippled into view, replacing his skin. And with another though they were gone again.

He scowled. He shouldn't have to do this. He shouldn't have to fight so soon again. He should have had more time to prepare for… for anything.

Three days? Who was he kidding? He had been running his mouth again. He'd need over a month before he'd be able to make a suitable list of all the advancements and potential uses with his Reality Marble. Manifesting it was possible now, but he knew there was more… so much more to it than that…

Archer. That infuriating idiot. Shirou didn't know if the fool had been restricting his potential, or if his efforts in studying thaumaturgy was so lackluster that the bastard didn't even bother to contemplate just how far their skills could go. Or, maybe the Servant was simply too limited by his class typing to do anything else. Not likely, but possible.

Either way, the more he investigated his Reality Marble, the more Shirou was convinced that Archer had a superficial understanding of what he could do.

"If he had bothered to take dad's dream seriously, if he had explored his abilities seriously… there's no way he would have become a Guardian…"

A half-assed ending for a half-assed effort.

Sloppy. Incompetent. Reckless. Selfish. Ignorant. Egotistical. Vile. Useless stain of a…

He swallowed the bile that was rising up his throat and shook his head. This was the third time that day he had saw red simply thinking about Archer. It was really starting to be a problem.

One job at a time, Shirou. Focus on your priorities. You can deal with the trash later.

Regardless of whether it was Fina or Archer, Shriou was still blatantly outgunned by himself unless he fully manifested his Reality Marble. There was no point in arguing that.

His body was… well, he didn't know what the hell his body was now technically. He doubted anyone did. That being said, he highly doubted it was up to par with a legitimate Dead Apostle Ancestor's, or a Servant's.

Even in his Marble, he would be fighting an uphill battle. His opponents were not weaklings. They had their own worlds to compete against his. Worlds that they knew how to use better than he did his own, World that they have had literal centuries to explore and utilize in all sorts of ways.

So he needed something to even the odds. Play to his strengths.

Finding what Noble Phantasms he could actually use was a good start.

Shirou Emiya was not an entity suited for fighting against Servants and Monsters.

Instead, it would be more on point to say that he was designed to fight against their powers. Their weapons. Countering strengths and exploiting weaknesses, instead of taking on the ones that possessed them.

The more he knew about his enemy, the easier it was to strip them of what made them strong, and strike at their core with the least resistance possible. Literally.

And that meant finding another new weapon to add to his list of options in combat. A new way to fight. A new way to win.

He had already more or less gone through this process a few days prior for the fight against Caster, when he remembered Enkidu, but now he was looking for raw power, not versatility. Something that he could whip out in the real world if needed to blast something to kingdom come, even if he could only do it once.

He couldn't rely on Saber to do it for him forever, and something told him that simply copying Gilgamesh whenever he was in a pinch wouldn't solve his issues either.

The problem was that most of the stronger Noble Phantasms came with a steep cost. Both to project properly and to use.

Manifesting a sword properly was like reverse osmosis, where his body and the tracing procedure were the filter between his world and the real world. The more skilled he was in his magic, and the more he understood the weapon, the easier the process was. That still didn't prevent resistance from existing though. The more complex the sword was, the more feedback there would be, and the more strain his body would undergo. Cutting certain corners made the process easier, but it also heavily degraded the quality of the end product.

Even if he got a Noble Phantasm of adequate quality out though, which at least was not too difficult for him after all the studying and research he had done, using it was a herculean task that was simply beyond him in most cases. He simply didn't have the reserves to activate most weapons of myth. Not without killing himself at least.

Gae Bolg was admittedly a nice start though. Shirou was pretty sure he could activate its ability at least once without wringing his body inside out for the necessary mana.

On another bright side, he already had a sword that would boost his natural abilities. Technically two.

Arondight, the blade of Lancelot himself, still boosted its user's physical abilities by a whole rank. Through Saber's memories, he had seen the sword both in its original state, and when it was wielded by Berserker in the previous war. Its wielder's state during the latter event had warped the weapon so much that it had registered in his Reality Marble as an entirely separate entity from the original. It was, ironically, not dissimilar to Shirou's own relationship with Archer.

Dual wielding them was out of the question. Even if he did have the physical strength to hold both massive swords single handedly (he didn't), the tools themselves seemed to reject one another as viciously as he did Archer. He knew for a fact that Gaia had absolutely nothing to do with this reaction. Whether it was from the Fae magic that made them, or something more spiritual, the swords simply refused to exist at the same time anywhere outside of his own Reality Marble, where they rested in a near perpetual dormant state.

He wasn't as skilled in single wielding as he was dual wielding, but the boost the blades gave him could serve in a pinch if needed.

Even so, Arondight's benefits and Gae Bolg's near guaranteed insta-kill ability hadn't been what Shriou was looking for this time.

A Noble Phantasm of pure destruction. One that he could use that did not require the user's prana to power.

It was an utterly selfish and unrealistic thing to demand. A weapon of that nature went against conventional logic, even in the most basic of legends. Requirements had to be met. Qualifications had to be satisfied.

So of course something as nonsensical and lavish as that had existed in Gilgamesh's vault.

"… Haha. Just as I pass one hill, there's a mountain behind it."

And of course, it fulfilled those specifications far too well, to the point that it overshot his target in its entirety and posed a different set of problems on its own.

He could use this sword. Technically, he could use any sword in his world. All the swords there did not recognize him as their true wielder, but as one that took care of them in a way that no one else would. It did not remove the cost of their activation. It merely undid the lock that prevented their use in the first place.

The first problem right now was that this weapon would kill him in a different form than the others once it was enacted.

His hand was on the grip, testing how it felt, its weight, its significance.

The second was that he could not properly trace the part of this Noble Phantasm in the real world that circumvented one of his initial dilemmas in the first place.

"Still, I might not be the only one that's able to do something with you…"

The blade's name was on the tip of his tongue before he was interrupted by a knock on the door.

"Shirou? Are you inside? Did you fall asleep in there?" Illya's voice came through the walls. It wasn't that the building structure was thin, but more that the bounded fields around the place had been set up so tight that another field had been made simply to let people talk across the boundaries if they didn't pose a threat. All in all, standard stuff.

"Yeah. I'm still here," he called back, momentarily blinking from the vertigo of focusing on something that wasn't related to his inner world for almost half a day. Another thing to make a note of when he had the chance. He got up and walked to the door to let his sister in, allowing the sword in his hands to fade away into nothing before it even touched the ground. "Is there a problem?"

He opened the door to see Illya glaring up at him, hands on her hips and her cheeks puffed out. "… You really are oblivious, aren't you? Asking me something like that."

Shirou's mind stalled a moment, completely drawing a blank as to what she was referring to.

"Onii-chan, since last night, Caster's expanded bounded fields across nearly half the town. Rin's ordered Archer to update her on anything that sounds suspicious, and Rider and Papa have been running around town trying to find something that they aren't even sure exists," Illya went on, clearly keeping her temper in check. "If it weren't for Saber keeping the peace, this place would be a madhouse by now. You really have no idea just how much your actions affect everyone, do you?"

Shirou flinched. He knew that the others had trouble trusting him after just how messy the war had been, but he wasn't that bad, was he?

"You're downplaying yourself again." Illya read him like a book.

"I-Illya, it's not like that. I told you…" He laughed nervously, holding his hands up in surrender.

"Three days. We know. But for us, that might as well be a doomsday timer Onii-chan." She cut him off, not placated with his attempts to calm down the situation. "From our perspective, anything that can make you serious and keep secrets from us, after everything that we had just gone through, automatically falls into the category of immediate threat and naturally puts us on high alert."

Shirou couldn't think of a legitimate counterargument to her statement. Illya was right. They did have a valid reason to be on guard. And he was holding back important information from them all.

He let out a deep sigh and scratched the back of his head in frustration. Looking up at the house, he didn't initially see anything out of the ordinary. But, he didn't see any of his other guests either. His home was fairly sizable, but it was a one story building, and the main hallway and living room were visible from the back yard and by extension the entrance of his workshop.

Everyone should be getting ready for the trial to start again, but his home still felt so empty. It wasn't right.

He was ruining the peace that he had fought and risked so much to achieve in the first place.

"… Yeah. I know." He gave up helplessly, turning back to Illya again. "I said I'll explain everything after the three days, and I do mean it. I just, don't want to risk starting any potential fires if I can help it. I'm not exactly happy with the setup either."

"But you're still going to go through with it," she stated flatly.

"Don't have much of a choice." He shrugged. "Things would be worse if I didn't."

"And it has to be you?"

"It was on request." His tone went flat, clearly showing his distaste for being called out in the first place. "And before you ask, yes, I was planning on bringing Saber with me from the start for extra protection in case things did go bad. At no point was I thinking of going through this mess on my own."

Judging from her stare, she didn't believe him.

"I was. You'd be able to tell if I was lying."

That only made her stare at him harder.

He gave up. "What do you want me to do, Illya?"

"What I want is for whatever mess you've gotten yourself into to be over with, but seeing as that's not the case, I'll have to make do with something else."

He was already regretting this. "Meaning?"

He was answered with a finger pointed straight at his face. "You have to take me out on a date."

It took a few seconds before Shirou's mind rebooted in a failed attempt to process Illya's words. "… A wha now?"

"A. Date," she spoke slowly, as if he was slow. "Just you and me. In town. No War. No magi. No distractions."

"That's a horrible idea on so many levels and you know it," he spoke his mind.

"No, it isn't. We aren't blood related, so it's fine here."

"How do you even, no. Illya, NO. You know that's just a terrible joke used in bad anime and television shows, so don't even try to play innocent. Plus, if Dad ever got wind of it and even for a moment believed it to be true, I'm pretty sure he'd actually kill himself early so he wouldn't be scarred any more than he already is."

"So you're saying that it would be okay if Papa wasn't around then?" She gave him what would be an innocent look if it wasn't for the sly grin on her face.

Shirou gave her a dry look. Trying to shoot her down normally would never work, so he'd have to play as dirty as her if he wanted to go anywhere. Leaning down and donning an impassive expression, he looked her dead in the eyes. "… I prefer older women, Imouto-chan."

The results were instant.

Illya reacted as if she had just been shot, taking a step back and looking wounded. "I! You! Wha! That's not fair!"

"Mhm."

"You know I'm older than you!"

"Could have fooled me."

"For all we know my new body will be bigger!"

"We'll just have to wait and see then, won't we? But if that's the case, it's pretty likely you'll have to spend a while getting used to being big for once, won't you?"

"Muguuuuu." It was really hard to stay in character watching her tear up like that, but as her older brother, he had to stay his ground. "I'll remember this!"

Shirou allowed himself to chuckle lightly as Illya ran away back into the house swearing revenge.

"You know you're probably gonna regret that in a few days, right?" Lancer smirked, leaning against his workshop casually.

"I can't let her walk over me all the time when it isn't serious." He shrugged, not at all surprised by the Servant's appearance. "Something I should know?"

"Other than the fact that everyone's expecting you to set half the city on fire soon, not really. I was just checking up." The Irishman casually made conversation. "That, and I wanted to talk to the only other semi-reasonable guy in this place that didn't have a stick up his ass the size of one of Berserker's thighs."

Come to think of it, Lancer had a good point. Archer couldn't hold a conversation without pissing someone off. Assassin didn't like talking in general. And Berserker was… Berserker.

Normally, being stuck in a house with a large number of admittedly beautiful women was a dream for most men. Unfortunately, the image was countered by the fact that half of those women were a bit on the young side for Lancer to play with, and the other half were capable of literally ripping out their hearts in one way or another if they weren't careful.

"This must be torture for you," Shirou surmised, coming to the only rational conclusion he could.

"It's annoying yeah, but still not that bad." The Servant shrugged off the observation. "Nowhere near my days with teacher. Took some time to get used to the Land of the Dead, but that was nothing compared to the mistress herself. Knock her age all you want, she was not hard to look at… so long as you avoided her eyes. She was scary like that."

"Scathach, right? She must have been one hell of a task master."

"She still is." Lancer frowned, looking up at the sky at something that wasn't immediately apparent. "Anyone she's taught seriously has a connection to her. Doesn't matter if I'm a Servant now, I can still tell she's still kicking in her kingdom. Probably knows I'm out now for a bit of a stretch too, come to think of it."

The Witch of Dun Scath. If there was a Hero from Irish mythology that could trump them all, it would be the woman that trained nearly half of them in the first place… but she'd have to be dead in the first place to be a heroic spirit eligible to be summoned. "Would your wish have been…?"

"No." Cu Chulaiin shot down the suggestion instantly, the heat in his tone clearly indicated that he found the very idea insulting. "Even if I thought that the Grail would be enough to kill her, I wouldn't have used it for that. The only way Teacher would ever accept going down would be in combat, so the only way any of her students would accept her death would be in combat. Whether by our blades or someone else's doesn't matter in the slightest."

"Humph." Shirou couldn't help but let out a dry chuckle. "Sounds like we have something in common after all."

"Please. I attract troublesome women. Not girls." Lancer's expression matched his own. "Watching you lot fumble around is like learning the stories of Diarmud all over again."

Ah. That was right. Diarmud's story takes place a couple of centuries after the Ulster Cycle's, and Cu Chulainn's stories do. They originated from the same mythos, but the two were from completely different eras. The only way Lancer would know of him would be through the Throne.

Shirou grimaced. "Better not bring him up with Saber nearby. He was summoned in the previous war and, it didn't end well."

"Hm? Why's that?"

"Dad was a Master then. Let's leave it at that."

Lancer's expression matched Shirou's. "Ouch. Point made. No need for more details. Thanks for the warning."

"No problem."

The two fell into an awkward silence for a few seconds as they tried to figure out where to go from there. They were fighters. Not conversationalists.

Lancer, being the extrovert, spoke up first. "So. Trial's in a couple of hours, but something tells me you have something on your mind that you want to try to do first. Anything the rest of us should be worried about?"

"Just trying to figure out new methods to ensure a way to screw over anyone that tries to screw me over. You know. The usual."

"Sounds like something you'd do." He nodded, not at all put off by the teen's admittance. "Need any help?"

Shirou opened his mouth to deny the aid before pausing for a moment. "Actually, are Luvia and Caster in? I want to talk to them for a sec."

Lancer lifted a skeptical eyebrow. Was the kid thinking of doing some absurd magecraft soon? "Yeah. They came in about half an hour ago after inspecting the Greater Grail and grabbing some things from their old place. Should be in their room now."

"Thanks." Closing the door behind him and engaging the security magic around his workshop, Shirou moved towards his house before stopping again.

"Something on your mind?"

Shirou nodded absently before briefly turning around and holding out his hand. An instant later, a copy of Gae Bolg had materialized in it.

Wait. It was Gae Bolg, but…

"You noticed it already, huh?" Shirou smiled briefly, glancing at his latest product. "It's a copy of the weapon that would become Gae Bolg from Gilgamesh's armory. The prototype."

With a lazy toss, the spear traveled from its maker to the Servant, where it was caught deftly.

"What're you getting at kid? I already have a spear." Lancer asked with a hint of a growl. He didn't like the idea of Shirou, or anyone for that matter, having his weapon on hand.

"Just wanted your thoughts on it. An idle curiosity." The teen shrugged. "Gilgamesh's versions are supposed to be stronger than the ones used in their legends, but my copies are fundamentally weaker than the originals. I'm curious to see how my work compares to what you have. Or what others have for that matter."

The positive of the prototype, and the negatives of a fake. If Lancer's Gae Bolg was considered a 'Zero', would Shirou's copy of Gilgamesh's Gae Bolg equate to a positive or negative value?

"Tch. You really do come up with the most vulgar requests sometimes kid. You know damn well that there's more than one Servant out there that would have gutted you for this sort of thing." Despite his distaste of even assuming that the boy's copy could have any chance of being more powerful than his weapon, Lancer couldn't deny that he was curious to finding out the results as well.

"You can break it however way you want when you're done." Shirou smirked and walked back to his home with a lazy wave. It may have been a bit rude, but all things considered Lancer was probably more receptive to this approach as opposed to simply trying to argue the case any further than that, or god forbid, apologizing.

"Cocky brat," Lancer muttered, annoyed but with very little heat behind it. Knowing that there wasn't any point in talking anymore, he turned his focus to the weapon in his hands.

It was without a doubt Gae Bolg, but at the same time it wasn't. Infinitely small details that he knew by heart, accumulated over his years with the legendary weapon weren't there, but in their place, what could only be described as an aged polish existed.

Even he didn't have the audacity to ask something like this from another warrior if put in the same position. No. Maybe that was because he was a warrior in the first place. A Hero. A fighter.

Shirou Emiya though… he knew how to fight. How to lead. Magic. All of that, but he wasn't any of those things.

He doubted the kid knew just how unsettling that far off look he had in his eyes when he thought no one was around was at times. It wasn't an expression that a normal human being would have. Or should have for that matter.

Instead of a hero, Lancer was more likely to say that Shirou Emiya was more akin to a…

He shook his head. He was looking too deeply into things. It wasn't his place to bother with a mess like that, and he didn't want to bother with it either. So long as the sword freak was on his side and didn't cause any problems, that was good enough for him.

"So this is what one of his imitations is like, huh?" A crimson flourish danced around the Servant, flashing all around its wielder in patterns that most eyes would not be able to follow even if they watched it a thousand times.

He didn't say anything else up until the trial started. Too absorbed in his own world. Too obsessed with the weapon that was and was not his.

o. o. o.

"I thought we were over this stage." Shirou smiled nervously as he sat in Luvia's room. The situation wouldn't have been out of the ordinary if Caster wasn't right behind him with the intent to set him on fire at a moment's notice.

"We were, until Saber told us that you were neck deep in something dangerous that might involve everyone present and didn't deem it important to warn us. Again," Luvia casually replied, finding nothing wrong with the current setup. "The fact that you then proceeded to lock yourself away from human contact and refuse to answer any of our questions does not sway things in your favor either, Emiya."

"Well when you put it like that…" Shirou knew that technically, Merem was about as much to blame for the current situation and terrible timing as he was. That being said, if he was going to be treated with the fifth degree by everyone for much longer he was going to share some of the pain with the midget monster.

Luvia couldn't help but lose some of her motivation at the sight of Shirou not even bothering to defend his actions this time. "Shirou, I understand that you probably do have valid reasons for your latest affair, but please understand that we are at our limits. Having this sprung on us from nowhere just when we can relax is beyond vexing. Especially from you."

"I know. I know." He lifted his hands up in surrender. "If I did have any power to influence the way things turned out, I would have, but my hands are tied. This isn't something I anticipated either."

"And yet you refuse to inform us as to its details until after it supposedly will pass." She looked at him skeptically.

"You'll understand when I tell you." He looked at her apologetically with a bitter smile. "And you might like it as much as I do."

"Might?" Her eyes glimmered in restrained annoyance.

"It's gotten to the point where Archer is almost not on the top of the list of people I want to impale endlessly." For a moment, Shirou's expression turned serene and peaceful. Just enough to remind everyone else in the room that at the end of the day, the person that usually wound up having to deal with the most bullshit was Shirou himself.

If someone managed to piss him off enough to almost surpass Archer on his shit list, (even if no one knew why Archer was so high on the list in the first place), they must have done something exceptionally stupid.

And they must be alarmingly dangerous. At least as much as a Servant in some capacity.

Luvia suppressed a shudder and debated with herself whether or not it was a wise idea to provide any resistance to his requests for the time being. Despite being a pacifist, Shirou had long since proven to have a knack for getting what he wanted in the end, one way or another. Especially if it meant killing someone that had pissed him off. "Why are you here, Shirou? I doubt you came to discuss how fast things have devolved over the past twelve hours."

Calming down somewhat over the question, he looked at his friend apologetically. He really didn't want to have things crumble between them like this. And the fact that he was here for something meant that he was using her again, which would only put a further strain on things, just as their bonds were starting to mend again.

He glanced around the room, inspecting the changes that had been made since she had moved in. Like Rin, Luvia had amassed quite a collection of documentation and gems as resources, which occupied a large amount of space. Unlike Rin, Luvia had also tended to collect a great deal of expensive novelties and decor to match her extravagant lifestyle. This included tools, paintings, clocks, and other accessories that may or may not have the potential to kill him painfully if handled improperly.

Thankfully, with Caster's help, the room's dimensions had been expanded to provide more area to work with. Not much, but there was probably twice as much space now than there had been before. Enough to flaunt her status above everyone else, but not enough to not be overwhelmingly obnoxious about it.

And then, of course, there was the fourth person in the room, sleeping deeply on the bed behind Luvia.

"How's she doing?" He knew it was rude to change the topic like that, but it wasn't as if he wasn't going to get to the point eventually. Plus, Marjatta's condition was important to everyone.

If Luvia was insulted or mistook his question for some veiled threat, she didn't show it. "My sister is recovering. Her body is still adjusting to having average levels of mana again. It will be a few days more before she can safely wake up."

"I don't know her that well, but I'm pretty sure she's not going to take the current situation well," he spoke his thoughts on the matter, not that everyone else didn't know this already.

"Caster and I will handle it. You have my word as your guest." Her response was diplomatic and neutral without warmth. Crap, she was starting to get angry.

"Mmm." He nodded, turning to Caster. "Speaking of which, I know I am going on a tangent, but about the knives that Saber showed…"

The Princess of Colchis didn't show any emotional response to his request. "I do not know what sort of abnormality you have encountered, boya, but I will admit, it is a peculiar one. Had you not have Saber provide me what information you had, then my progress would likely not be where you were now. The degradation of your knives being incomplete secondhand products does not help matters."

"Haaah. I know. I know. But it's the best I could do." Shirou casually waved a hand and materialized one of the four knives. "I'm just a one trick pony at the end of the day. The knives were a good start, but ultimately they were a part of a bigger whole that I can't properly grasp. The best I can assume is that the familiars I saw these things on also possess this mystery, but anything in this field just goes over my head."

Caster frowned as she pondered his ramblings. "If the full "set" you speak of are the owners of the knives themselves, the familiars… I assume that there is something peculiar about them that makes them unified?"

"Hmmm." Shirou played with the knife absently, recalling the encounter from last night. "Well, the familiars were indistinguishable from normal humans, but I think that can be considered a benefit of their condition, and not something that ties them together as a unit… a unit…"

Luvia saw his eyes narrow in thought and the knife stop moving. "Something else catch your attention?"

"They were dressed like thugs, but Saber said that they moved as though they had training. With familiarity with one another's position. Soldiers." He glanced at the knife in his hand. "The knives were made for military use too. There's probably a correlation there."

Fina was supposedly a corsair when he was human. A navy ship captain turned pirate for hire by European countries. A military man.

Throw in the fact that his Reality Marble was called Parade…

The pieces were starting to fit together, but it wasn't enough. It was still just the vaguest of outlines right now. He didn't even know what the hell Parade did in the first place still, much less its limitations or full capabilities.

The strongest of abilities tended to be the simplest in concept, actions that could easily be understood with simple words and a single sentence. They were only truly difficult to comprehend when it came to the details and execution.

Shirou Emiya could make a copy of almost any sword after seeing it once. Obviously he had slight variations to what his full skillset could do, and he could write entire books about the intricacies of how the tracing process worked, but at the end of the day, "making swords" was at the core of his magic.

So, following that logic, what was that "simple thing" that Fina could do?

Until he knew what it was, Shirou would never be completely certain that he'd be able to finish off the Vampire for good if things turned bad.

"You suspect the mystery magnifies and exemplifies a pre-existing innate condition over a group of individuals in order to impose the desired effects." Caster immediately jumped onto what he was getting at. "And it so happens that the condition in this case is "a military unit". Correct?"

"It lines up with what little I know." He stared at the knife again skeptically. What he saw certainly matched up with this hypothesis, but that wasn't saying much. "But, then again, that could also easily mean that there can be more than one "unit" walking around Fuyuki right now. I still don't even know what these supposed effects are in the first place. Or their limitations."

"Hoooh? Well isn't this a surprise." Luvia gave him a wry smile. "It isn't often that I see you stumped like this, Shirou. Don't tell me you're thinking of picking a fight with someone you know next to nothing about. That's not like you at all."

"Mmm. You're right, Luvia. But I might not have much of a choice if things go south. You know just how much I hate leaving things to chance."

Her eyes twitched momentarily. "So does that mean we're finally at the real reason why you are here then?"

He couldn't help but laugh. "Haha. Really. I can't get anything past you guys, can I?"

"I've said it multiple times already, you are terribly easy to read when your face is uncovered. It's quite entertaining to watch you try and hide things from me."

"Guess that mean's I'll have to disappoint you the next time I ask for something and hide my face the entire time." He sighed helplessly, dismissing the knife in his hand and lifting his hands up in the air in surrender.

"Truly a pity. You have such an exotic look too." It almost sounded as if she was purring, but anyone that knew Luvia knew that she was a beast just moments away from pouncing. "Well then, dare I ask what headache you are requesting from me this time?"

Despite the signs that he was pushing his luck now, Shirou didn't back down and matched her smile with his own. "I'd like Caster's help for an experiment. A joint venture. Mutually beneficial, of course. Overall, one that I doubt would take her much time to help complete."

"Mutually beneficial, you say?" Those were dangerous words to a magus, for all sorts of reasons. "Please do elaborate quickly, Emiya. We are limited on time after all."

He wasn't immediately kicked out of the room yet. Good.

Resting his hands on his lap, he focused on a specific sword. "Trace On."

A large, black, and gold greatsword appeared before them. Strong. Majestic. Powerful.

"A Noble Phantasm." Luvia identified what it was immediately, but was not on guard. Even with the tool in hand, Caster was more dangerous than her guest. "Why this one in particular?"

Shirou shifted the weapon so that the tip was gently resting on the floor. "This was one of the swords I copied during my fight with Gilgamesh. A prototype, but it still retains the functions and traits it would obtain in the future when it obtained a name and legend. I have a lot of "nameless" Noble Phantasms in my Reality Marble like that, but this one's got a name, and it's a bit peculiar. Technically, I can't completely trace this one in the outside world. I want to ask for Caster's help to address that problem."

"You can't fully copy that blade? How so?" The Princess inspected the weapon skeptically, trying to see what was amiss.

Shirou smirked slightly, and gripped the hilt with both hands.

Chack. Chack.

With a heavy metal clicking sound, the grip between his hands slid apart a small distance from a seam, a few centimeters at most, revealing a pure blue gem embedded in the weapon.

"That's…" Luvia's eyes widened and she moved closer to the treasure to get a better look.

She could only determine so much from just a cursory view of the stone, but upon initial inspection, she could only say that it was… perfect.

At no point had she ever encountered a crystalline structure as genuinely flawless and simple as the one before her very eyes. The innate potential was borderline limitless if she ever managed to obtain anything close to its quality.

"The focus of the experiment, and your payment." Shirou elaborated. "What you are looking at is the source of power for the sword that would later be known as Balmung, the blade of Siegfried, the Dragon Slayer."

Technically, the prototype of Gram would be the basis for Balmung, but he still had this blade regardless, which was odd.

Gilgamesh prided himself on having all the original treasures in the world, not what came afterwards. If that was the case, then the weapon that specifically would become Balmung would take the form of Gram in Gate of Babylon, and he would not have the weapon in his hands in its current state.

That being said, both Balmung and Gram rested in his Reality Marble as their own individual entities despite of this discrepancy.

The best Shirou could deduce as to how he had both was that while Gram was considered the origin for Balmung in terms of myth and legend, the blades themselves were separate entities entirely. It was likely that at some point, Balmung was mistaken for Gram, or rather, someone spread the rumor that Balmung originated from Gram, and got to the point that it was accepted as truth, as myth, and became as much a part of their existence as the feats that made them famous to begin with.

Caster immediately understood what Shirou's intentions were, but was nonetheless as surprised as her Master. "That gem is supposed to contain True Ether, not mana. The issue you want to address is that it's empty in the first place. You can't replicate the power… no, you can't fabricate the power itself like the rest of the blade. That would go against some of the most basic rules of thaumaturgy and physics. However… that weapon is fully charged within your Reality Marble, isn't it?"

"T-True Ether?" Luvia paled at the mention of the energy that freely pervaded the world during the Age of Gods. The Fifth True Theoretical Factor. A source of power that was vastly higher in concentration and quality than the mana they used today. It couldn't be found anywhere naturally now, and could not be artificially produced either. "Wait. You mean to request Caster to charge this tool for you?"

"No." Caster frowned. "Even if I were capable of manufacturing True Ether, I doubt that such a linear and base task is what the boy has in mind."

"You don't wish to charge it? Then what else could you wish for Caster's help…" Luvia frowned for a moment before she remembered something her Servant had said just moments earlier. "Wait, you don't mean…"

Shirou's smile widened. "Well Luvia? You interested in potentially breaking the First Rule of Thermodynamics with me and reaping the benefits?"

The blonde shifted uncomfortably. He almost had her.

"Right under Rin's nose without her knowing?"

"… You do realize that Tohsaka will genuinely try to kill you once she finds out about this, correct?" She looked at him dead in the eyes, completely serious about his future well-being.

He had her.

"I've been told my dogza's been getting pretty good lately."

o. o. o.

"Boy."

Shirou paused outside his room, completely dressed for the trial that was to start in a few minutes. To his side, Caster was waiting patiently for him, her expression unreadable. "Caster, is there a problem?"

The Princess didn't immediately reply, instead simply staring at him for several long seconds. "I don't trust you."

"After everything I've done and all you've been through, I'd be surprised if you did." He was not ashamed or insulted in the slightest.

"I find it infuriating that you have managed to play with my Master's feelings for so long and still remain intact. That she still finds you an individual worthy of her time and your own life." She went on. "The only reason why I stay my hand regardless of her orders, other than for her safety, is because you have exposed yourself so frequently to others that I cannot fathom you ever managing to achieve a long and peaceful future."

That caused him to frown and face her directly. "Is there a reason for this sudden treatment?"

"You can make True Ether in your Reality Marble." Caster stated bluntly. "You can replicate mysteries in your world that were mere fables even in my time. Tools made from the flesh of beasts that shook the world. Instruments crafted by the Gods themselves. Even the Fae's works are not beyond your grasp. Your world holds no rule sacred save for your own, thus in a twisted way, it a paradise for those that practice thaumaturgy without restraint. A blind spot in Gaea's design."

She was right. His world was one that possessed all the requirements and necessities to make all the swords that existed there. Thus, his world possessed all the requirements and necessities to achieve miracles and mysteries that were no longer possible in the current world.

Ultimately, it wasn't the Noble Phantasms that would make Shirou a gold mine for the Magus Association. It was his world itself.

His mind, body, and soul, wouldn't be utilized to manufacture weapons like some empty machine. It would be used to perpetually keep his Reality Marble up for all eternity, to provide the ideal working conditions that most Magi could ever dream of.

It wouldn't be too far-fetched to assume that some would even attempt to reach the Root using his world as the launching point, where Gaea's influence was crippled.

Waver had come to that horrifying conclusion when he was fourteen, and did not hold back the truth.

"I'm dangerous. And I'm a risk." He surmised her thoughts.

"Should your secrets be exposed to the world, you will be hunted. And my Master will come to harm, regardless of what the end outcome will be," Caster stated coldly. "You play with her heart too frivolously."

If he was called out, Luvia would get into deep trouble with the Association. The closer he was to her, the more his problems would bother her. Especially if she was unable to do anything about it. Being stuck in a powerless position, was something that Luvia would no doubt detest with every fiber of her being.

"You're right." Shirou shrugged, not even bothering to try and argue against the statement. His body language was completely open and exposed to her, not as a sign of overwhelming confidence, but absolute trust. "I can try and hide this as long as I can, but sooner or later I will be found out. That's why I mentioned faking my death earlier. It's the easiest and best way to get out of the spotlight. The sooner that's out of the way, the less loose ends there are. Barely anyone at the association knows what I look like, and people have short memories. I give it half a decade at most before I could walk pretty much anywhere without any problems."

Just long enough for his skin to go full tan and his hair to lose all its color.

"A coward's way out," she stated flatly.

"Whatever works. Can't afford to be picky at this point, can I?" Shirou wasn't insulted in the slightest. He could have called her out on her own hypocrisy, but there was no point in doing so.

That shameless, narrow minded dedication. Jason had possessed a quality of similar magnitude. However, that fool used it for his own benefit, while in contrast the fool in front of her was perpetually using it for others.

"You're a fool."

She didn't know which one nauseated her more. She didn't even notice the words that had escaped her mouth.

She was snapped out of her nausea by Shirou's brief chuckle and a relaxed smile that confused her so much that she briefly forgot her anger. "I'm glad. Most Servants don't tend to care so much about their Masters outside of obligation or a vague sense of comradery. It's nice to see someone reliable like you is by Luvia's side."

Reliable? Her?

Caster's hands clenched into fists momentarily. She knew it. Deep down, she could never get along with this boy. Archer was infuriating in his own way, but this brat was his own brand of maddening.

What was most vexing about the teen in front of her wasn't when he was trying to hide something, but when he was being completely honest. She didn't know why or how, but for some reason the boy was nearly impossible for her to read when he let his own guard down.

How? How on earth was a coward like her reliable in his eyes?

"If you dare cause any more problems for my Master, I will end you," she said that, but deep down she wanted to carry out her threat right then and there.

"I'll hold you to it." Either Shirou completely missed her underlying anger, or had accepted it to the point that it didn't bother him in the slightest.

Almost pushed over the edge, the Servant closed her eyes and took in a deep breath to calm herself down. She would not get anywhere like this. The boy was not Perseus. If she could deal with that insufferable man, she could deal with him.

Opening her eyes again, she regained her composure. "… I hope you realize that dying from your own stupidity is also considered an issue for my Master. I doubt I have to warn you, but it is impossible for your body to handle that sword, regardless of how bizarre your physiology is now."

It was true. Balmung produced far too much energy for Shirou's body to handle. It provided its own power, but it also required the user to be capable of processing a set amount of it in order to control the output properly. In a sense, the sword was the battery and the machine, but the wielder was the hardware that controlled and managed the process. If a person didn't meet the minimum requirements, they'd probably be fried or blow up trying to use it.

Maybe Illya had the magical capacity to handle it, and Saber certainly did with her Magic Core, but he sure as hell didn't. Not that he was insane enough to even try that in the first place with the former. Illya already had Berserker and Assassin under her belt. Girl didn't need any more firepower.

That being said, Shirou had known all this before even coming to Luvia with his proposition in the first place.

"Don't worry. I know what my limitations are." He tried placating Caster with a knowing smile. "At best, if I was lucky, I'd fry every nerve and circuit in my arms. At worst, I'd blow up. Either way, even Avalon wouldn't be able to heal that kind of damage."

Judging from the look she gave him, he wasn't doing a very good job easing her worries.

"It's fine. You know I'm not a very conventional type of person to begin with. Just finish those other things we agreed on and I'll have more than enough distractions to occupy my time."

"You mean other than your completed Reality Marble?"

Shirou flinched, but kept up his uneasy smile. "Ah. Aha. So you noticed after all."

"I am a Caster from the Age of Gods." She gave him a dry stare. "When, by chance, were you going to inform everyone of your breakthrough?"

Truthfully, she had merely suspected that his inner world was finished. The fool had simply verified it and saved her a few more days of passive speculation, not that she would tell him that. The less aware he was of his gullibility, the easier it would be to make him repeat the same mistakes.

"Three days. Well, two days now. Would have been earlier, but I thought it would be best to get it all out of the way in one go instead of constantly coming out with news that would worry everyone." He answered weakly, like a child that had decided to come clean after getting caught doing something. "It's not like I've actually manifested it yet. It's just… done. Haven't exactly had much time to experiment with it."

"Mhmm. I suspected as much. It happened during that night, no? You didn't show signs before then." There was only one night she could possibly be referring to.

He made a mental note to ask what these "signs" were later. "I think so. Sometime around the end, at least. The last bits a bit of a blur to be honest. All I know is that I realized at some point after I woke up that it was just, there, I guess. Not sure how to explain it for people that aren't, you know, like me. Or at all for that matter."

"Don't be so sure of yourself. While I am not an expert on the subject, I am more informed than most." Deeming the conversation long enough, Caster walked past him. "I advise you to curb your curiosity, boy, lest you lose yourself in your own world. It has happened before. Should that occur, I dare say that the only one capable of bringing you back would be Archer, and I doubt that prospect appeals to you."

Shirou's smile dropped instantly. "No. It doesn't."

She ignored his reaction and proceeded to the other side of the hallway. "Then I recommend you keep your mind in the current world. Gods forbid what trials you'd bring upon us if you weren't paying attention for once."

He refrained from replying as the Servant turned the corner and vanished from view. With a heavy huff, he scratched the back of his head, his expression one of mild remorse. "She really doesn't like me…"

"I don't think it's as bad as that." The professional assassin jumped like a small child at the sound of Sakura speaking from directly behind him.

"S-Sakura?! How long have you been there?!"

"Enough to know that what you were speaking about was important, but I was not close enough to catch the details." The girl appeared mildly dejected at missing some juicy gossip. "I don't think she hates you. Caster probably just doesn't know how to deal with you. You're not exactly normal, Shirou."

The accused gave Sakura a wounded look. "I know I'm not like most people, but I'm pretty sure I'm nice to almost everyone."

He got a pitying look. "Shirou, it has nothing to do with being nice. Do you know how many mixed signals you give out normally? You stand by and do so many ridiculous things without flinching that most people, even Servants, would balk at. To those that pride themselves on reading others and trying to make sound judgments, you are beyond bewildering and frustrating because you constantly make them revise their assumptions without knowing or trying."

With a heavy sigh, Shirou shook his head and thought back to how Sakura's statement might be applied to his experience with other people. "Well… I guess that explains why I have such an easy time pissing off the Magi at the tower then just by existing."

"That's not a good thing, Shirou." Sakura's pity turned into an unamused dry stare.

So she says, but he did notice that Barthomelloi tended to get on his case less whenever he accidentally tweaked off some major Lord for something that he could care less about. Then again, he wouldn't be surprised if that woman had some sort of personal quota that says she needs to humiliate or humble a set number of semi-important people or else her day isn't complete.

Bloody closet sadist. She could hide it all she wanted, but the history of that thaumaturgically altered riding crop she kept on her at all times said otherwise. Not that anyone would actually call her out even if they did know.

"Shirou?"

"… I really need to apologize to Rider's Pegasus at some point."

"What?"

"Huh? Oh, uh, never mind. Just, thinking about… things. You know how I am sometimes. Haha." Ok, maybe Caster was onto something when she warned him about getting too lost in his head. "Er, what about you Sakura? Why are you here instead of with everyone else in the living room?"

"I, came to get you. Like you said, the trial's about to start." She looked at him skeptically. "Are you sure you're all right, Shirou? You're acting odd. Even for you."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Shirou." Judging from her tone, she wasn't going to get distracted.

"All right. All right." He lifted his hands up in surrender. "Despite the war being over, I still have some 'errands' to do. You know that. Everyone does. But that's not all. Since things have finally been calming down and I actually have time on my hands to experiment, I've been… exploring new options I've obtained over the past few weeks. My body's changed. I have more weapons than I know what to do with. I can't do nothing but wait for my other problems to magically resolve themselves one at a time. Then there's the trial. It's, distracting, okay? Just a lot of distractions right now."

"Distractions? That's it?" Sakura frowned skeptically, as if trying to see if he was hiding something else from her.

"Between my body, my Reality Marble, and that thing that I'm hiding but everyone knows about that I've been trying to prepare for, yeah," he answered honestly. "Pretty sure Rin and Luvia would have a better choice of words to use than 'distraction' though."

Sakura didn't immediately respond, instead still clearly trying to find something that wasn't there.

Unfortunately, that was a tell in itself.

"Sakura? What's wrong?" Shirou frowned at her unusual persistence.

His question snapped her out of her inspection. "Huh?"

"Sakura. What were you looking for?" His tone grew harder. "Did something happen that I don't know about and you suspect me of knowing?"

Their roles had reversed instantly, with the younger girl now being the suspect.

His voice dropped in volume and he reached forward to gently grab her shoulders. "Did something happen to you? Are you losing control of your connection to the Grail or overloading with mana?"

"N-no! I-I'm fine." She instinctively took a step back, shaking her head frantically before taking a moment to cool herself off. "I'm fine, Shirou. I was getting a bit full last night, but your decision to let Rider out and have some fun gave me an outlet to empty my reserves. We do need a more reliable way for me to address this issue soon. It shouldn't be a problem for at least a few more days. I promise, if I thought that there was even the slightest chance of losing control, I'd have gone to you or Caster already."

Shirou let out a sigh of relief. The last thing he needed to hear was that Sakura had somehow been pushed over her limits when he wasn't looking and feasting on the populace.

But then, that begs the question of what was bothering her. The look he had told her that he wasn't going to let this go.

That and he was somewhat concerned about what Sakura had meant when she said Rider had 'fun' last night. It should be alarming to anyone whenever someone says that a Servant is having 'fun' in any shape or form, since it is normally followed by massive amounts of property damage.

"Sakura! Did you find Shirou yet!?" Rin shouted from the living room. "We can't start without him!"

"We'll talk later. I… might be overthinking things. It might not be an issue, but it could be something. I don't know yet, but please be patient," Sakura spoke before Shirou could get his own words in, and then turned to the hallway. "I have him! We're coming!"

Shirou frowned as Sakura led the way. Great. More distractions to deal with.

The Shroud of Martin morphed from his torso to wrap around his head, hiding his troubled expression. Just calm down, Shirou. You're not a genius like the others. There's only so much you can do at once.

Prioritize. Know what you can and can't do. Know what the problems are, and what's available to work with. Then take things a step at a time. Just do what you've always done.

Just do the only thing you can do, to the best of your abilities.

o. o. o.

When he arrived in the room, Shirou expected several things.

He expected glares from a few of the others.

He expected an annoyed or underhanded comment from Rin in a perfectly pleasant tone, as she was prone to do when she was dealing with someone she had issues with in a public location.

He expected Illya to be holding a grudge for his jab about her physical age, complete with a pout or pretending that he wasn't worth her time.

He expected Bazett to give him some sort of sign that told him that she wanted to talk to him about something but was trying to figure something out first. She was pretty bad at hiding her thoughts sometimes.

He expected Luvia to treat him as if he was one of her peers at the Association, meaning she'd constantly talk and look down on him as someone beneath her station, which technically was true to begin with. She had a tendency to do that whenever he did manage to get one over on her, and putting her on the spot that morning somewhat qualified. It was probably the best mask she could put on for the trial while being observed by the rest of the Association regardless.

However, Shirou was stumped as he sat at the table, will all expectations shattered.

As was everyone else there, holding similar expressions.

Primarily due to the fact that they were all watching Waver imitate what could only be described as the cross between a distraught hangover and a childish tantrum with no energy behind hit. The Lord was crying feebly with his head on the table, making the most pathetic expression anyone had ever seen on a man.

"Uh. Old Man? What exactly happened last night?" Shirou really hoped that Sirius would have an explanation for what they were seeing.

"The lad? No clue. I, on the other hand, partied harder than anyone my age ever should. Physically, or legally. And I don't regret a damn thing." The Irish geezer gave Shirou a proud smile and a thumbs up. If one looked carefully, they'd be able to see the old man's bloodshot eyes and pale skin that contrasted his happy disposition.

Shirou didn't ask any questions on that matter. He had long since learned better to ask questions when it came to Sirius' escapades. It was safer that way.

"Sirius. Focus. Am I going to be forced to make rash decisions soon?" The teen didn't care who heard him by this point. He had come too far to have things turned on him now.

"Relax. Relax." He didn't seem to be affected by Shirou concern in the slightest. "If things were that bad, then Waver here would have tried ta do something about it by now, or at least he wouldn't be mopin' like a child. You've seen this before, lad. He only gets like this whenever we rip on his masculinity for too long after backing down a few. As far as I can tell, the only thing that might be at risk today, that we might care about, is this one's dignity. For whatever reason."

"Why? How did it come to this?" Waver whispered more to himself than anyone else. The poor man's eyes were wide with trauma, staring into the endless abyss that only he could see. "In what twisted façade of a world did this turn of events make sense to those people? Or maybe this is the Counter Force's way of getting back at me for getting involved with the Fourth War…"

"Been like this since he came back last night. Didn't even try ta drink himself blind like a normal sap that's lost all hope would." Sirius wasn't bothered by Waver's psychosis, poking the man's head casually without receiving any resistance. "Thankfully he's still capable enough ta dress and clean himself. He's a good friend, but I ain't no nanny."

"I thought Lord El Melloi II was supposed to negotiate a plea deal last night." Rin frowned in thought. "Could their final agreement have turned out that poorly?"

"That does not sound right." Luvia pondered the same. "His capacity as a Magus is limited, but his ability as a negotiator is renowned among his peers. That does not even factor in the blatant fact that he was at an advantage yesterday prior to these discussions. Even if he was outmaneuvered in some way, he wouldn't give up like this."

"Maybe something unexpected happened?" Sakura suggested.

"Or someone." Shirou immediately suspected the most likely reason. Nothing happened in the Tower without someone behind it. If a situation was turned around unexpectedly, seven times out of ten it was because someone new stepped into the picture.

The other three of ten were usually a mix of either one of the people involved trying to pull a fast one, an experiment going horribly wrong (or right), or just plain sloppiness.

He looked to where the opposition, the Prosecutor and the Archibald family sat, but much to his confusion, they didn't look all that pleased about the upcoming tribulations either.

Wait. Scratch that. The youngest one there, the blonde girl with the black beret. It was hard to tell her age given her lithe stature and doll like complexion. For all he knew, she could be as old as he was or as young as Illya looked. She was putting on an impassive mask like the others, but she didn't look like she was holding back annoyance and loathing. Instead, there was a more, hungry look in her eyes. Something he had become familiar with after spending time with some of the most cruel and vindictive people on the planet.

He saw her before. That was the girl that, to put it aptly, held Waver's leash in the Archibald family. The one that was supposed to become a lord when she got older. What was her name again? Rinne? Rianne? Something with an R. Why couldn't Magi have easier names to remember? Or pronounce for that matter?

For a small moment, she looked at his direction through the screen and noticed Shirou looking at her. Even with his shroud on, it wasn't hard to tell that she had caught his attention.

The brief sly smile and wink didn't make him feel any better.

"Shirou," Saber whispered from her place behind him.

"I know." He didn't know enough, and he couldn't do much from where he was regardless. He'd have to wait and see what the hell was going on for now.

Before they could say or do anything else, a representative for the Tower approached the screen and began to go through the basic pre-trial procedures to ensure everything was in order.

His silver eyes closed and he let out a tired sigh.

It was time to play this bothersome game again.

o. o. o.

If there was one thing that nobility and politics could be relied upon, it was to waste an ungodly amount of time making doing nothing sound important.

Two. Hours.

They had just spent two hours simply going over what was discussed yesterday.

No. If the judge, lawyers, and overseeing nobles had done just that, Shirou wouldn't have had such distaste in his mouth. Instead, the bulk of those two hours had been discussing the "legality" of various minute and meaningless pieces of evidence, how to handle them, and how this change (if they remembered if it changed anything to begin with) affected the case.

Well, it was meaningless to him, but somehow most of the others at the table found the discussions absolutely fascinating and were jotting down notes.

The only real benefit to this entire dragged out mess, at least in Shirou's opinion, was that it had managed to drag Waver out of his funk. The Lord under duress was constantly being bombarded with several political and seemingly minor questions, and had more or less managed to return acting like normal within the first ten minutes of questioning, albeit with a more defeated and morose tone than normal.

As someone that had managed to somehow keep his trigger finger in check around Zouken for two years, Shirou liked to at least assume that he had pretty good patience. That being said, the idea of saying or doing something to speed things along so things could finally start moving was really starting to tempt him.

"Shirou. I understand your frustration, but please hold on for a bit longer. This is all a matter of course," Saber chided through their link, feeling her Master's unrest.

"I know, Saber. The Archibalds were the main proponents of bringing up charges, but they weren't the only ones. The fact that we have to wait here while all these meaningless imaginary issues conjured by these petty people are dealt with, after they were informed of what was at stake just yesterday…"

"It is embarrassing to share the same species with such cretins. I agree. But these people are important in their own way. Best to let them annoy us now and let the system deal with them then anger them out of impatience and make enemies of them later," she wisely advised. "They are only interested in the situation. Don't make them focus on you. There are enough eyes on us as it is."

That was putting things lightly.

While he could care less about these minor charges, Shirou did notice that his name was being thrown about far less than it did yesterday. On a few occasions, he had noticed the Judge and others actively avoid bringing him up when the conversation should have led to him. It was likely that most of these accusations had been inadvertently been rendered baseless yesterday after he had torn apart the bulk of the Einzberns' and Archibalds' cases.

Either they were afraid of him, or afraid of what would happen if he was directly involved in the discussion. But, at the very least, no one appeared to be willing to risk being his enemy. For now, anyways.

He wasn't sure how he should feel about it. It was convenient, but annoying and depressing at the same time.

On the bright side, wearing his shroud meant that he didn't have to put in as much effort to hide his yawning or hiding his disinterest.

Now if only he could get away with falling asleep in front of everyone like Sirius had.

Merem wasn't helping much either, having fallen asleep on his couch, completely covered with blankets while the King of Rats sat in his place at the table. Lousy freeloading vampire.

"Shirou. Are you unwell? You are more anxious than you were yesterday," Saber asked.

"I didn't rest much last night. And you know how bad mornings have been hitting me lately," he grumbled. It felt like with each passing day, getting up in the morning equated to trying to stay awake for an additional full day. His body didn't feel like it was falling apart, like other vampires would literally experience if they stepped into the sun, but moving around like his body was made of lead wasn't exactly pleasant either. Avalon healed wounds. It didn't restore lost stamina.

It didn't help that once more he was spending an extended period of time in close proximity to Archer again. It wasn't so bad if they were in the same building, but when they were this close, the memory bleeding effect was noticeable enough to give him a headache by now.

Flickers of fire and blood.

A world clouded by rust and gears.

"…-ya."

Countless swords that he had never seen, nor could see properly.

"E… ntion?"

Corpses stacked to the point that it might as well be a hill of-

Shirou jolted as Saber's hand rested on his shoulder, and his mind returned to the living room. He did not miss the fact that eyes both in Japan and in England were on him now, but it didn't stop him from grabbing his head as his skull suddenly began to throb with a bout of agony. It was as though the inside of his brain was slowly being inflated with something that didn't exist, but was still putting a burning pressure on his mind regardless and was only noticing now.

"Emiya? Are you unwell?" the Judge asked with caution and curiosity. Judging from the looks he was getting, everyone else was of the same mind.

His initial instinct was to simply wave off their concern so he wouldn't delay the trial, but a traitorous part in the back of his mind told him to use this opportunity to leave the room for a moment and regain his composure. Shroud or not, if everyone was looking at him with concern, he must have been extremely out of it.

"I… must confess, I am still experiencing some complications from the War." He skirted around the direct cause of his issues. "It is nothing that some rest and time will not cure. My apologies. After yesterday, I believed I was past the worst of it, but I apparently overestimated myself."

There was clearly more to what he was saying than he was willing to admit. At least to those that knew him, though no one was willing to bring it up in the open in front of so many onlookers.

Waver turned to his attorney and whispered something to her, prompting a brief nod. "My Lord, the defense requests a brief recess for all parties. We have been at proceedings for some time."

"It's fine." Shirou waved his hand and reached for a pitcher of water that was on the table. "Please, don't delay on my account."

"Shirou. What's wrong?" Saber prodded mentally.

"It's my connection to Archer. Being so close to him for so long is causing side effects. Get him out of the room. Please." He didn't know if his request equated to a demand or a plead as he slowly poured himself a drink. All he knew was that if he stayed near his alternate self for much longer something unfortunate was going to happen.

Thankfully, Saber understood just how dire the situation was and swiftly moved to the other side of the room was to inform Archer of the situation. The other Masters all watched her do so with some curiosity, but their conversation was kept quiet so no one knew what was said.

Or rather, no one should have, but judging from the brief look of surprise on Rin's face, she had been listening in through her connection with her Servant. The momentary flinch on Luvia's face around that time indicated that Caster probably figured out what had happened at that time as well.

The judge clearly had thoughts contrary to what was requested if his expression was anything to go by. "Will the defense retract their request?"

Waver gave Shirou a scrutinizing look, which was met with a stern glare that seemed to want nothing more to do with this trial. The silent conversation went for a few seconds before giving his lawyer the okay to keep going, but keep the idea in mind for the near future if needed.

"If we can get back to our discussion earlier," Animusphere restarted the conversation slowly. "Agent Emiya. Given your relationship with the defendant, do you have anything to add to the addendums and proceedings that have been discussed so far? Some of these claims have insinuated your involvement in passing."

Meaning they were near worthless after yesterday's reaming.

Shirou took a moment to adjust his scarf so he could drink, taking care to return half his face to its warped state and not chip the glass on his warped teeth. The extra few seconds let him get his thoughts together and come up with a proper response after his minor episode, mostly because he hadn't paid much attention to any of them. "No, Your Honor. The claims discussed so far were baseless to the point that I doubt I need to be in the Tower to be proven innocent. I'm sure they can find other ways to waste the Tower's resources if they put their minds to it."

It was a bit of a cheap shot to insinuate that Barthomelloi would be the one supporting him if the matters were pushed, but knowing the Vice Director, she'd approve of it so long as he wasn't sloppy about the threat. He was still officially her representative after all. Really, her name was enough to scare enough most of the idiots from trying anything more than they already have.

He was practically obligated to act like hot shit in front of the magus population whenever he was forced to actually speak on behalf of the Queen in one way or another. More so for an event like this.

Plus, all things considered, he really didn't give a damn about the feelings of the leeches that tried to benefit from Waver's situation. It was their fault for betting on the wrong horse.

Thankfully, the judge found his answer mildly amusing unlike those he had just insulted. "Hm. I suppose they could. That being said, I do believe that this does conclude all the minor associated charges brought up against the defendant. All accusations are hereby dismissed with prejudice." The sound of his gavel echoed through both rooms in Japan and England. No doubt there was some form of magecraft associated with the action that finalized the decision, but only those in the higher ranks of the Association knew just exactly what it entailed. "Now onto the main case and adjoined accusations…"

"Your honor, last night the Defense and Prosecution mediated a plea bargain under the supervision of Hishiri Adashino from Policies," Waver's lawyer spoke up, getting a series of reactions from all parties. "We wish to present the results to the court."

"Ungh. Not her…" Shirou groaned softly under his breath before he could control his reaction. He didn't think anyone important could hear him but knowing his luck that wasn't going to happen. Suddenly, Waver's pathetic disposition this morning made far more sense.

"You know her?" Saber asked.

"She's a menace." He moaned as the person in question walked into view. A Japanese woman of notable beauty dressed in a black yukata with flowers all around it. A yamato nadeshiko if there was one, only with glasses. "I worked with her on a job once. She's the type that jumps to conclusions as fast as possible, often the wrong ones, with whatever information is around to make a believable report. But really, she does it in order to force everyone else involved to rush and find whatever the real truth of the matter is and do all the hard work that she was supposed to do in the first place. With a side of luring people that some might think as 'potential problems' into lethal situations and playing innocent afterwards. A snake in human flesh if there ever was one."

The shit he had to go through in order to prove that severely traumatized seven year old kid wasn't responsible for killing his family, while simultaneously hiding his own abilities, could fill a book.

He wasn't Waver damn it. He blew up and cut apart mysteries. He didn't solve them.

"Will this be a problem?" The King of Knights took in the woman's image and tried to pick her apart to figure out where things may lead. Unfortunately, much to Saber's chagrin, the woman was nigh unreadable. A perfect mask for the day's events. A professional politician, and when the need arises, a practiced and seamless liar.

More worrying though was that Shirou outright admitted his distaste for the woman without hesitating. There weren't many people that he reacted that poorly to, and he had killed a good number of them over the past two weeks.

"If she is, then there's little we can do from here. If Waver's given up on putting up a fight, then I don't know what we could do that could make things better. There's no telling who that woman is supporting at any given time. The Witch could have taken lessons from her."

Their only saving grace was that Adashino was part of Policies, which, conveniently enough, was headed by Lorelei Barthomelloi herself. Shirou wasn't foolish enough to believe that the department answered her every beck and call, but he also doubted that someone from there would go out of their way to do something that would potentially embarrass and humiliate the Vice Director in front of the bulk of the Tower.

Not without someone to pin the blame on at least.

Judging from the way Waver was failing at holding back his cringe, he had similar opinions as Shirou, only exponentially worse since the man had to deal with her far more frequently.

"Ah. Emiya-kun. You look unwell. Are you sure you are able to continue participating in the day's events?" Adashino looked directly at Shirou with a concerned expression that didn't fool a single person that knew her, speaking in their native tongue. Her choice of honorifics didn't go unnoticed by those that knew even the bare minimum of the language. Their relationship was nowhere near close enough for her to use that, rather, she was using it to blatantly claim that she was his superior and confident enough to address him as such.

"I'll manage. Thank you for your worry, Adashino-san," Shirou replied almost robotically, clearly not amused with her games. He had half a mind to go with the –ba honorific, geared for middle aged women and aunts, but unfortunately he didn't want to push his luck this far into the game.

"Miss Adashino. I did not know you were on hand to participate in this trial," Animusphere hummed curiously. "This is not a venue that you are normally seen."

"Policies always has at least one member on hand for such a role for cases of this magnitude, as you already know. Due to my previous work with the Defendant and Accuser, it was deemed appropriate for me to play the part this instance, despite it being outside my usual focus. Is this an issue, your Honor?"

"No. There are none. Your work as an Officer and your professional conduct is known and respected in the Tower. I doubt that has changed for this case as well." The Judge shook his head before motioning for all parties involved to stand up. "Very well then. Please present what both sides have agreed upon."

Waver looked like he was about to be put up against a firing squad, sweating bullets and twitching erratically. This made Shirou almost as nervous as him, as the teen knew for a fact that Waver wouldn't act this way if he actually was going to be sentenced to death.

Adashino nodded and withdrew several official documents from her long sleeves. "The Prosecution and the Defense have come to agree to the following, negotiated unprovoked, overseen by Policies. All negotiations were enforced by a Class 3-A Geass contract for contract validation."

"The Defense, one Lord El Melloi II, Waver Velvet, will plead Guilty to all counts of subverting Archibald interests pertaining to the Fifth Holy Grail War. He will plead Guilty to willfully and knowingly sabotaging and endangering the Edelfelt lineage. He will plead Guilty to withholding information pertaining to at least one Class EX threat to humanity from the Association for approximately seven years. All other extraneous charges will be challenged, addressed in court by a jury of his peers, or managed by Policies at a later date."

Shirou, as did most of the people there, had to give Waver a double take at what Adashino had just claimed. If she was right, Waver was more or less going to admit to nearly every accusation that actually mattered. Ironically, those accusations were more or less true to some extent, but that wasn't the point. Unless something truly absurd happened, it wouldn't be surprising if Waver was to be executed by the end of the day. And that was if he wasn't unfortunate enough to be tortured extensively for weeks on end.

"Calm yourself Shirou," Saber advised firmly. "Wait for her to finish. If your teacher is as capable as you believe he is, then what he has to gain from such a setback must be significant."

Clenching his hands into fists under the table, he could only grimace and agree with her, even if he couldn't see how anything could overturn Waver's current situation.

"In turn, the accused agrees it will not support any investigations into the Archibalds by third parties related to revelations made public in conjunction to this case unless both agree to do so. He will refrain from any activity that will impair the Archibald name. He will continue to work to the best of his ability, and fulfil his role of Lord El Melloi II, head of the Archibald Family, until deemed no longer capable by Policies."

Wait. What?

"Saber, did she just…" Shirou looked around to make sure that he wasn't the only one confused by that last part, only to be met with expressions that likely matched his own.

"It sounds like your teacher is to retain his position despite his soon to be official guilt, and somehow his authority will be protected by the Association," Saber surmised curiously. "His freedom will be dependent on the Association itself, though. At best, he is exchanging one master for another like this. However, the way the statement was worded… would this not mean that he is now in charge of the Archibald Family instead of fulfilling the role of a puppet?"

That... did sound like it was the case. The only reason why Waver was a Lord in the first place was because he was a placeholder. That blonde girl that smirked earlier was the next head of the family, but she was too young and inexperienced to fulfill the responsibilities being a Lord entailed.

But if Waver was going to be a Lord until Policies, or more realistically the Vice Director said otherwise, then why the hell was the girl so pleased with this outcome? Didn't this mean she had not only just lost all the power she had in the family, but no longer had hope of being the head of her house now?

And if so, then what became of the repercussions of his guilt? Half of the accusations were on the Archibalds' behalf in the first place. The Noble Family couldn't realistically carry out the punishment if the guilty party and the victim were now one and the same. It would be the same as forcing someone to injure himself because he admitted that he hurt himself in the first place. Circular logic at its dumbest.

As for the other half of the restitutions… that was more or less split between the Edelfelt family and the Association itself. If memory serves, the Archibald family had only recently gotten themselves out of a rut thanks to Waver himself. If things got too nasty, they might never be able to recover from this.

A quick look at Luvia told him that she shared the same conclusion that Shirou did.

All in all the Archibald family might very well be finished by the end of the day. Waver may have retained his position as captain of the ship for life, but it didn't change the fact that the damn thing was sinking with him chained to it. It was a textbook case of mutually assured destruction.

So what happened to the life boats?

"The Accusing party," Adashino spoke up again, not once raising her voice but somehow still managing to still be heard by all there. "Likewise, shall support their Lord to the best of their abilities in any way he sees fit. All resources under their jurisdiction will be open to him unless the situation necessitates otherwise. They shall support Policies in the various investigations that will arise from the revelations of this trial."

Okay, this was starting to make more sense. Policies had played a heavy hand in the negotiations from out of nowhere. This had not been a deal facilitated between two parties, but three.

Looking around, Shirou saw that he wasn't the only one that had determined as much.

"While Lord El Melloi II's actions were unethical, unsanctioned, and erratic at best, Policies has recognized his intentions, efforts, and successful achievements in the unknown situation in Fuyuki. The fact that he was responsible for the education of the current head of the Emiya Family, as well as other notable names in this latest generation is not something that can be easily disregarded."

Considering that the courtroom was half packed with students of Waver's and their respective families, that was an understatement.

Rumor had it that this generation of Magi was the most promising the Association would have in almost a century in terms of developed quality and recognized potential. Said rumor did not start floating around until after Waver had been teaching for a few years.

Who knows what potential will snowball in a decade? Let alone two.

"The Department of Curses' investigation into the substance extracted from Kiritsugu Emiya is still underway. However, they have already concluded that the claims made about its source's threat to humanity are feasible, if compounded with the vast energies the Grail possesses. At the very least, it would very likely provoke a response from the Counter Force, or expose magecraft to the world at large." Adashino handed the Judge a form that supported her claim.

"Hmmm." Animusphere's wrinkles deepened as he scanned at the document. "This is rather worrying. Even if the approximations were off by a fair margin, it would seem that the Accused's claims and concerns were not unfounded."

"It is because of this, the Defendant's successful efforts, the benefits the Association has accumulated from these efforts, and his desire to continue to cooperate on its behalf in the future, that Policies has come to a decision to recognize and reward his successful efforts. We are willing to wave all penalties under our jurisdiction that the Defendant and associated parties have incurred pertaining to this trial. Of course, this decision is subject to change upon future developments."

That got a reaction from everyone.

"Miss Adashino." Lord Animusphere frowned. "Am I to understand that, should this agreement come through, Policies would waive the penalties incurred by the Archibald Family as well?"

"As he would remain Lord El Melloi II and head of the family, that would be the case. So long as they both cooperate with Policies during the succeeding investigations that will no doubt take place." The woman smiled politely.

Shirou swallowed heavily. So that was the game. Separated, both Waver and the Archibalds would sink under the tides of the Association's aristocracy. But together, Policies would give them enough leeway to float just enough to possibly make a complete rebound, if not more. The self-inflicted repercussions would be mitigated to a minimum, and after everything that has been revealed and exposed few families would risk getting involved and further instigate a highly volatile situation.

Waver got to live, and was more or less in a permanent position of power. The Archibalds retained their position and some degree of stability. And Policies got a new Lord under their thumb.

It was… too clean. Too simple. There had to be something more to it.

Maybe Policies was playing a longer game that required the support of an additional Lord? There were only twelve Lords in the Association. Waver's reputation was mixed, but his status was still something that everyone kept in mind.

Or maybe it was him? At this point everyone knew that Shirou and Waver had a strong relationship. It could be assurance to keep Shirou in line for the future… no. That wouldn't be the case. Lorelei Barthomelloi was a cruel woman, but she wouldn't resort to holding hostages. At least, she wouldn't for him. She already had so much dirt on him that there was no point.

So what was the catch?

"This is a rather interesting and profound turn of events…" the Judge started slowly. "It does not address all accusations, but enough to force the remaining delegations to a smaller venue. However, I am concerned with the arrangement between the two parties. Waver Velvet will retain his position as Lord El Melloi II, but to be a permanent head of the Archibald Family is rather peculiar. Many would say, unethical. I am surprised that Policies would support the decision to make one from outside a family be their head."

Waver twitched erratically, that blonde girl from the Archibald Family giggled slightly, and Adashino hid a polite laugh with one hand.

At that moment, Shirou realized that they had come to the source for most of today's questions.

"Oh no, Your Honor. It's nothing so outlandish as that. Please rest assured, Policies would never disregard something as fundamental as the sanctity of tradition and lineage of an ancient Family. We just took measures to ensure that both parties would maintain their ends of the negotiations with something more, intimate."

… No.

Shirou wasn't exactly sure how quick he was to come to the same conclusion that everyone else eventually did. All he knew was that everyone sitting at the table more or less had the same expression he had.

This has got to be some sort of sick and twisted joke.

"Intimate, you mean…" Animusphere's reaction wasn't as profound, but to say he wasn't affected would be a downright lie.

"In order to ensure that something like this would not reoccur, Policies deemed it appropriate to facilitate the arrangement between Waver Velvet, Third of the Velvet Family name, and Reines El-Melloi Archisorte, soon to be former head of the El-Melloi Family."

The room was dead silent.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" And then a girl dressed in what could only be described as cute Lolita purple with matching hair and an eyepatch in the audience chambers screamed bloody murder.

"Pfffftaahahahahahaha!" Followed immediately by Sirius roaring in laughter. "Hahaha! No wonder ya looked like the world had ended! Ya got hitched, ya poor sap! To a lass almost half your age and size no less! Hahahahaha!"

As the room devolved into chaos, there was at least one benefit.

Shirou's head didn't hurt as much anymore.

o. o. o.

Omake: One troll too far.

Apparently Sirius' outburst was the straw that broke the camel's back. With a quick indecipherable Aria, Waver broke the chair legs that Sirius had been leaning back on, causing the old man to fall flat on his back with a loud crash.

The noise was soon followed by Waver yelling bloody murder and actually mounting on top of Sirius and punching the significantly older man that was literally at least three times his body mass in the face without restraint.

Sadly, it did not stop the drunk bastard from laughing in the slightest.

"Holy shit! He's snapped! It's like when Flat screws up an assignment doing something stupid, only worse!" Someone, probably one of his students, shouted from the background.

"Lord El Melloi! Behave yourself!" Animusphere half demanded half panicked.

"Let me have this! I deserve this much after everything I've done!" Waver roared a battle cry as he unleashed his fury on the only person in arms reach that he didn't feel remotely guilty or worried about harming.

"Ahaha! Didn't know you preferred to be on top Lad! Who knew you had that kind of stamina in that piss thin skeleton of yours?! There may be hope for a happy love life for you yet! Bwahahahaha!" Sirius took it in stride, not at all bothered that he was being assaulted in public.

It was at that moment that Zelretch appeared in a front row seat that was conveniently vacant for the entire trial.

"Hey, everyone. Sorry I'm late. I had lost bet and had to pay up. Word of advice. Never test your luck against someone with unrestricted access to the Root, especially if they are a known gambling addict. Cheating emotionless green haired midget. So, what did I-"

"Shut! Up! Shut! Up! Why! Won't! You! Shut! Up!?"

"HAHAHAHAHAHA! Keep goin' Lad! I might lose a tooth by the time ya get a ring on ya finger! Better yet! Put the ring on first! It'll help ya out! HAHAHAHAHAHA!"

"- miss? Not my fault! Not my fault! I am completely innocent of this madness for once! You all saw it! I literally just got here! That being said, someone please tell me they are recording this! I will pay top dollar and extradimensional treasures for it! No catch!"

o. o. o.

A/N:

Thanks for the help as always Wayfarer. Hope you find a good place to get soon.

Ladies and gentlemen… this is probably the most you'll ever see of me incorporating Lord El Melloi Casefiles into FFD. Minor cameos and noodle incidents. Please keep in mind, that series is not canon to FFD. It can't work. Some characters and aspects from the series are in here, but not even close to the whole story is valid for this. There are just too many things I've done in FFD to have it fit in in any way. Grey may or may not exist here, but she's not Waver's student. Etc. Etc. I know some of you were really looking forward to seeing what I could do with it, but I really don't know that series well enough to use it properly. Sorry.

That being said, Battle for Babylonia is a rush to watch and needs more spotlight by the anime community. Every episode has a solid fight in it that's always fun to watch at least a few times over.

Yes. Shirou has Balmung. Bitch however you want. It's happening. He's nowhere near as powerful as Seig is, at least conventionally, but he will use it for all sorts of purposes down the road…

And he won't be the only one… insert ominous foreshadowing here.

Things will ramp up soon. Some people have suggested ways to kill Fina in their reviews and how it would be easy for Shirou to pull off, and, for the most part… they won't work. Sorry to disappoint you guys, but this guy's a bit harder to off than you think. I aimed to make an unfair character, and I made a fucking unfair character.

But yeah. The trial's done for the most part now. Then we can get back to the bullshit half-baked plot that I've been dwelling on for a year but still haven't completely ironed out yet. Yay details.

And I totally don't expect any form of backlash from the whiplash of politically force hooking up a 27ish year old Waver Velvet with a 15 year old extroverted sadist. Nope. None at all.

… (Smokes a cigar.)

… Come at me bro. I've been taking shit from the extreme half of the Fate community every time I go off script for nearly a decade. This is par the course for me.

Saw the Konnosuba movie. And I laughed harder than I have in a while, even though I've read the light novels and knew what was going to happen. Joke and plot wise, yeah, it could have served as half a season of the tv show, but the effects definitely make it worth watching in the theater. Kazuma is mah boi. A true gentleman that knows what gender equality is all about.

That heavy breathing bit though. Perfect execution. A subtle work of art if there ever was one. You know what I'm talking about.

For those of you that forgot, I live near Detroit, and we got hit with a ton of snow early this year. It's to the point that some of us are joking that the end of times are upon us… though most are just pissed that we have to deal with the cold now. It gets real nasty around the Great Lakes area during the winter.

Went to Youmacon. It was fun, but a word of advice: NEVER go to conventions with shoulder bags and stay for 12 hours straight! It's fucking crippling! I woke up on Sunday morning and couldn't get out of my damn bed! Or move my left side! It fucking sucked!

So, for those of you that are still interested in t-shirts, especially with the holidays around the corner, we got some new product available.

Crypt.

Yes. We now have a Crypt shirt for all to enjoy and freak the world out with. I know not everyone will get it since it's not FFD themed, but this nutjob is my fucking logo. How could I not have him on a shirt at some point?

Links for it and my other shirts are on my profile below. The Crypt shirt's available till the end of the month. Then you'll have to wait for me to post a new chapter before you can get it again.

Aaaand. That's it. I got nothing else.

SO REVIEW! WORSHIP THE LOG! EL MELLOI CASE FILES IS ENTERTAINING BUT IT PROVIDES SHIT FOR CONTEXT FOR ANYONE THAT DOESN'T KNOW THE NASUVERSE! AND REVIEW AGAIN!