Chapter 57: Foxtrot
I do not own Fate/Stay Night and stuffs.
o. o. o.
"Let me get this straight," Rin spoke slowly, clearly trying to keep her anger in check as she sat in the livingroom with the rest of the Masters, Saber, and the King of Rats. "There's another Apostle Ancestor in Fuyuki right now? And an exchange is going to take place between the two of you monsters, during which Shirou's condition is near certainly going to be exposed?"
"Your ignorance is astounding, Tohsaka." Luvia grit her teeth, clearly not liking the situation any more than she did. "This isn't just any Ancestor. We are talking about Fina-Blood Svelton. The Eighth. The fact that you are taking this so lightly underscores just how little you know about the situation."
"Enlighten us then." Illya frowned. "My life has revolved around nothing but the Grail Wars. My knowledge of the Ancestors is just as lacking by your standards."
Bazett shook her head. "What Luvia means to say is that The White Knight of Altrouge Brunstud has a unique reputation, even among his peers. In terms of raw power, he's on the lower end of average for the Twenty Seven, but his abilities are disgustingly effective against mankind as a whole, ergo his rank. Significant attempts have been made on his life before, and they've all ended in failure. Small armies of magi and the like have been sent out, only to vanish within weeks. On multiple occasions he's been supposedly assassinated by one party or another, including a previous Barthomelloi head. Only for him to appear completely unharmed a few days later. Outside of the fact that he does have a Reality Marble, details on what his powers are and their limitations are mere speculation."
Luvia crossed her arms. "What is known is that he's the captain of a ghost ship, and travels with an ever changing army and crew. Common assumption is that it consists of his victims, and he changes who he's working with depending on his needs at the time, though he prefers those with military backgrounds. They include Magi, Enforcers, crews from missing naval vessels from all over the world with said vessels, including submarines, werewolves, and other sentient phantasmal races from the current era. And those are just the confirmed cases."
"What truly makes him terrifying though is his efficiency, ability to multitask, and above all else his ability to blend in," Bazett spoke up again. "Despite what we stated before, it's common knowledge that Svelton's one of the few ancestors that doesn't make undead. We assume that the men and women trapped under his influence are done so by his Reality Marble, but how is beyond everyone. What we do know is that it's near impossible to differentiate his followers from normal humans. He can and has infiltrated countless human settlements, magical and not, without anyone the wiser until the entire location was up in flames. It's the reason why as an individual he's considered a greater threat to Humanity than most of the other Ancestors, including his master Altrouge Brunstud herself."
"The knives…" Caster appeared behind Luvia. "The boy was trying to show us how to identify the vampire's followers."
"Knives?" Sakura didn't follow.
"Shirou showed Caster and Archer a set of knives when the Servants first started investigating the mana from the sea. Meaning he's already encountered the monster, or at least his followers." Rin quickly put the pieces together. "If he saw the knives that was produced by Fina's powers, and was able to reproduce them…"
"Then he should be able to comprehend what mysteries they have too," Sakura finished her sister's deduction. "Or at least part of it."
"And he was already trying to unravel the monster's mysteries." Luvia nodded, recalling the discussion they had just the other day. Between Shirou and Caster, she would put the odds of deciphering the trick behind Fina's abilities at a solid fifty percent if he stayed in Fuyuki for much longer.
"I shouldn't have to state the obvious, but there's more to thaumaturgy than just magic swords." Illya shook her head. "If what you say is true, then what Onii-chan's managed to see and figure out is only a portion of the Vampire's power. Rather than trying to unravel everything with what we have, it would be more efficient to try and determine the fundamental concept behind the mysteries. But from what I've heard, we don't have much time for that either. Meaning that whatever Onii-chan has in mind right now has nothing to do with trying to figure out a way to kill a monster in the first place."
"Like I said before, he's a master at multitasking and infiltration. It is likely that we have been watched for days and haven't even noticed it. Making any big moves now would only cause more problems than address." Bazett grimaced. In hindsight, it would explain why Shirou was adamant about everyone being supervised by their Servants at all times, even after the War ended.
"Killing Fina, while it would elate my Master greatly, is unfortunately a supplementary plan. A final backup, if you would. Doing so now would only cause complications and trials for everyone involved," the King of Rats elaborated, taking out two forms of mana enriched parchment, often used for official documents. "For tonight, Shirou's primary goal is to ensure that his condition does not extend any further than absolutely necessary."
"Why not just not go through with the deal in the first place?" Lancer shook his head as the Masters leaned forward to examine the papers.
"A foregone conclusion." Saber shook her head. "As much as I loathe Solomon for proceeding with the meeting, I cannot place the blame at his feet. The offer was one specifically tailored for him in mind."
She had never met or laid eyes on the White Princess of the True Ancestors, but she knew enough to know that the hair of such an entity held extraordinary significance. To Merem Solomon in particular, who worshipped the woman as if she was royalty, the hair's worth must be nearly inconceivable.
"An offer made by Altrouge Brunstud that even Merem Solomon would not reject." Bazett shivered, not liking this in the slightest. It was no secret that Merem was firmly not part of the former's camp. "Why did it have to be here and now of all places? Better yet, why does Shirou have to be involved in the first place? If he doesn't go, then there's no risk of being exposed, right?"
Saber closed her eyes, and made no effort to hide her frown.
The King of Rats smiled apologetically.
"Right?" Bazett asked again, stressing the question in a clear hope that the situation really was that simple.
"What else haven't you told us? What has the boy gotten himself into this time?" Caster sighed, feeling another headache coming.
Saber turned to the fake Priest with an accusing glare, and the latter had the decency to look somewhat abashed, like a child with his hand caught in the cookie jar.
"My apologies, but it's less what Lord Emiya has done and more a matter of my own Master's doing. The former is, believe it or not, not at fault in this case."
"Even when he didn't tell us anything?" Rin started slowly.
"In his defense, Lord Emiya was unaware of the exchange, or the details until recently."
"How recently?" Illya wasn't the only one beginning to lose her patience.
"As recent as the evening with your exchange with Gilgamesh. Specifically, just as Lord Emiya was passing out from his wounds."
And right after that mess entailed everyone scrambling to deal with Caster. And right after THAT was the recovery efforts to return the city to normal while reporting everything to the Tower and the Church. There had been zero time to recover or adapt to the situation at hand.
Even if there was, had Shirou told everyone about Fina's presence in Fuyuki there was nothing anyone could do about it at best, and at worst, they'd risk exposing Shirou's condition to the world at large.
The idiot hadn't lied about anything either. He had simply kept everyone focused on the War. The Vampire's existence and intentions was a completely separate endeavor in its entirety save for those involved and the location.
And as usual, Shirou had desperately tried to undertake the entire issue by himself until the last moment in a vain attempt to spare everyone the headache and risk of being dragged into the mess.
Rin breathed out slowly. "… All right. Let's get this over with. What are you not telling us?"
The Rat sighed deeply, knowing this information would not go well. "My Master bestowed the position of the Tenth to Lord Emiya, even after the latter initially refused the position, and subsequently repeated that refusal dozens of times over the following years. The exchange tonight is for information on the location and identity of the Ash of Miracles for a significant portion of the White Princess Arcrueid Brunstud's hair, stolen by her sister Altrouge Brunstud."
The room was dead silent for well over a minute as its occupants digested the information. Even Illya, who was pale to begin with was nearly transparent by the revelation.
"Well." Lancer was the first to speak up. "Shit."
Rin didn't say anything. Instead, she reached forward to the two documents the Priest had pulled out and inspected them as if they were the only things in the world that mattered.
"Rin…" EMIYA quietly tried to engage her through their link, only to flinch as she violently cut him off before he could say anything else.
She looked back up at Saber and the Priest with cold eyes. "It's one or the other?"
Saber nodded. "Correct."
"And Shirou came up with this ridiculous plan?"
"Assassin modified it for more security, and devised the wording. But, yes. It was, the only feasible approach he could formulate under such short notice. At least, to his standards."
"How much time do we have left?"
"A little over an hour. Less if you want us to be there on time."
Rin frowned, tapping her finger on the table for several long seconds. "… This is a stopgap at best."
"Roughly ten years." The Priest supplied. When given more than a few confused looks, he elaborated. "There's an event. Altrouge wouldn't stir the pot significantly before then. Emiya's identity, well, with seven Servants potentially at his call, it'll force many to take action if word reaches the world at large. Especially now of all times."
Bazett had an idea what the Priest was alluding to, but she kept her mouth shut. The Aylesbury Valesti ritual was strictly on a need to know basis in the Association. If you didn't know, you weren't supposed to.
"Shirou already intended to disappear soon. Ten years should be more than enough for him to find someplace safe." Sakura added her thoughts, though she couldn't hide the tentative wishful thinking in her tone.
"Forget Emiya. What about us?" Luvia frowned. "Some of us can't afford to simply vanish from the face of the world. The moment the Vice-Director finds out the truth, she won't simply come for his head. While Magi walk the path of death, I still intend to die in more than a meager decade"
"Don't bother working yourself up, Edelfelt." Illya shook her head. "I may know Onii-chan the shortest out of everyone, but even I can tell your dilemma is a completely different matter in its entirety. If he's known about being an Apostle for years, then odds are there's at least one or two fail safes already set up in the situation that she does find out. Specifically designed to protect us more than him, I might add."
"That boy." Caster could not help but mirror her Master's frustrations.
"I see. So this is what it's all about," Rin muttered, having ignored everyone to focus on the paperwork in front of her. Specifically the one to her left. "The only reason why we're being told all of this ahead of time at all is because you need us to sign these Self Geass Scrolls before the meeting."
"What does it say?" Sakura leaned forward to get a better look at the exchange on the one closer to her.
It didn't take her more than a few seconds to comprehend what it said. And a fraction of that to turn bone white. "W-what? This is... I would have to… We'd have to…"
Saber crossed her arms. Her face was impassive as ever, but it was clear that she did not approve of what was being asked. "It would only become valid once every Master signed it. Including Shirou. That said, make no mistake. I also think what we are asking of you to be egregious. Especially after what we had just endured."
Lancer whistled as he stood over his Master to peek at the Geass Scroll in question. "Damn. Talk about high stakes. Kid doesn't do things by half does he?"
"I-Is he insane?!" Luvia choked as she also read the contents. "We would have to… to… why on Earth's conception would we agree to such a thing?!"
"Because it's the only option you have." Assassin spoke up, his voice cutting through the elevating panic like a cold knife.
"Shirou can come up with a way to deal with the Vice-Director. He can come up with a way to negotiate with Altrouge Brunstud to keep quiet. But he can't handle both. Not simultaneously. No matter how much he desperately wants to. Not, not with us in the crossfire," Rin stated emotionlessly, her body sagging back into her seat. "As things stand, if something went wrong, even if we were kept in the dark, we'd still be dragged into the madness one way or another by mere association. He would have kept quiet about this until everything had passed otherwise. He wouldn't resort to this unless absolutely necessary. This suicidal gamble is the only way we can possibly get out of this mess without screwing ourselves immediately afterwards. There's just… too many parties involved to be wary of to cleanly come out on top this time. Not with the way things are."
Running from the problem wouldn't help. Fighting the Association and Barthomelloi wouldn't either. Not with the current conditions they were trying to avoid. They'd be able to win the first half dozen or so major battles to be certain, but they couldn't do it forever. They didn't have the resources or time to accomplish such an absurd feat. Eventually they'd be worn down and picked off one by one.
Betraying the others for amnesty in the Association was just as pointless. Luvia knew she was in the best position to pull it off from a political standpoint. But, doing so would result in creating enemies that would make her life more than simply difficult. She had already publicly shown everyone during the trial where her loyalties lay. Strongly at that. It would be political suicide if she did anything to contradict that stance now.
Turning in Shirou to the association… might allow the rest of them some form of general protection, but that was no guarantee that Barthomelloi wouldn't clean up any "loose ends" to ensure that her name was kept pristine in the long term. Not that anyone of them would even consider it in the first place. Other than Shirou himself of course. They'd have to keep an eye on him in case he ever did think it was a good idea.
"Wait. Before we agree on anything, there's something we need to know." Illya looked at the Priest accusingly. "Was this deal the reason why you came here in the first place?"
Her question was not an unwarranted one, but at the same time held a great deal of implications. If he had, then the Vampire had put them all in danger by exposing them to Fina without their knowing.
But at the same time, in hindsight, conducting the deal in Fuyuki with Shirou present was probably the only way they'd be able to effectively mitigate the damage before things got out of control.
"No." The priest shook his head. "Fina arrived and approached of the arrangement shortly after the errant Caster started to become a genuine issue. I know it means little now, but it did take some convincing to keep his more… eccentric habits in check while everyone addressed the situation at hand. Far more than persuading him to proceed with tonight's arrangement on location."
"Confident bastard, isn't he?" Lancer glanced around at the other Servants, noting the varying levels of indignation they felt from being disregarded so easily. "You sure we can't just kill him?"
"I'd rather not." Archer shook his head. "Ancestors are troublesome in general, but more importantly, I'd advise against doing anything that would possibly lead to invoking hostilities with one of the Seven Beasts of Humanity."
"A Beast?!" Caster paled instantly, and she wasn't the only Servant to do so. "There's a Beast active in this era?! How is mankind even functional right now?!"
"Archer? What are you talking about?" Rin asked nervously, not sure she wanted to know the answer to the question.
"Let's just say that Primate Murder has a bigger reputation than most want to know." Archer shrugged haphazardly before glancing at Saber. "You've actually met it a few times when you were alive. Do you recall that small white creature that Merlin ensnared against its will?"
The King of Knight's impassive façade broke almost instantly, giving away to disbelief. "Do not toy with me, Archer. You truly mean to state that Cath Palug and the creature you speak of are one in the same?"
"I've encountered Merlin on his occasional jaunts and been killed enough times by the monster over the eons to be pretty sure, yes." He gave her a dry look. "In some worlds, Merlin's meddling did keep it in check, but in others like here, well, it's Altrouge's pet. She does keep it in line, for whatever reason. So take that as you will. If there was any hope of dealing with that thing, we'd either need more Servants to offset the power disparity or try to summon a Grand."
Personally, he believed that if Gilgamesh himself didn't think that the monster was worth bothering with after ten years of whatever it was he did between the wars, then they should follow the same advice if at all possible.
"A Grand?" Sakura frowned in confusion.
"Think of it as a super Servant." Lancer waved his hand lazily. "The best of the best of each of the seven classes. They're only supposed to come out specifically whenever one of those Beasts is around, or something just as ridiculous. No one knows who they are supposedly, but then again, Archer's the kinda ass that would sit on juicy info like that."
EMIYA rolled his eyes. "I only know of a couple of them. Grands have a tendency of being impossible to summon properly under most circumstances, even with proper artifacts nearby. The Grand Archer for example… his abilities are exceptional, but his personality is disappointing. He can be called upon technically, but, you could say that Divine Intervention constantly prevents him from appearing and performing as he normally should. The Grand Caster on the other hand…"
Nobody missed him frown suddenly as he trailed off.
"Is something wrong?" Rin asked.
"I can't remember him," he admitted shaking his head. "I've encountered him before, but… humph. Well, he's the Grand Caster for a reason I suppose."
"That was both enlightening and disappointing," Lancer deadpanned. "What about the others?"
"There's not much else to say. There are rumors as to who the Grand Saber is, but I personally have my doubts, though it would explain why that person rarely if ever shows up as they should. I haven't encountered the Grand Lancer, Rider, or Berserker yet. Or if I have, I'm unable to recall it."
"What about the Grand Assassin?" Sakura asked curiously.
Emiya's body language tensed slightly. "… It's safer if we don't talk about that guy carelessly. He doesn't show up unless he wants to. No exceptions."
"That bad?" Rin asked.
"I saw his sword once," he ominously recalled. "Only once."
Apparently yes, it had been that bad.
He'd rather not elaborate on the fact that he remembered what Death felt like being murdered by the First Hassan more than when he actually died at the end of his life.
The other Servants there didn't press the question. Anything that made Archer visibly scared just by talking about was something that they'd better not risk invoking.
"Look, the bottom line is antagonizing Altrouge isn't exactly a bright idea, even for us. There are some things out there even a force of seven Servants would hesitate to tackle with what's available." EMIYA shook his head. "If for some horrifying reason Altrouge did decide to let that monster loose here in Fuyuki… well, there'd be more casualties than survivors, at best. And that's before taking civilians into account."
"As enlightening as your speech is, it runs somewhat counterproductive to what we're being forced to sign," Luvia stressed, pointing to the documentation in front of her.
"Did you even bother to read the other form?" Rin stressed.
Deciding not to answer that question, she glanced at said secondary document and digested its contents.
She then turned to the King of Rats. "Speak the truth monster. Do you truly believe that the Vampire Princess will abide by this agreement?"
The false priest closed its eyes and thought carefully before speaking. "Under the current circumstances, I would place the odds at fifty percent that she would maintain the status quo with you for the expected ten years, if left as they were. She is known as the Master of Blood and Contracts, and will abide by any agreement made without question, but that does not mean that she will not abuse any potential loopholes as she sees fit. However…"
"Now is not the time to play with us, false god. Out with it," Caster all but snapped.
"However, that does not take into account Lord Emiya's penchant for being particularly, convincing, when he so desires. How that affects the outcome of tonight's events, I cannot say. That said, armistice or not, given the pretender's personality and how Lord Emiya tends to attract unwanted attention I feel obligated to inform you that it is likely that this will not be the last time an interaction with her brood will take place."
"Figures." Bazett sighed, looking at the documentation itself. "Well, at least this took into account inconvenient occasional conflicts of interest. Wouldn't want either party to accidentally mess things up. Pretty straightforward otherwise. Then again, given who wrote this thing it's not surprising."
If Kiritsugu was grateful for the compliment, he didn't show it. "If you're done complaining, we're running out of time. Caster. Lancer. Can either of you upgrade the contracts to make them more binding to prevent the vampires from doing anything funny?"
"Nope." The Irishman yawned. "Trick to these things is that the scroll and the wording are just the outline to the thaumaturgy that's enacted. The ones that enact and support the magic in the end are the ones that agree and sign the thing. Nothing actually happens till then. That's why it's near impossible to get out of them in the first place. Once signed, the scroll itself's just a formality, a piece of paper that's useful for checking the wording on the agreement you bound yourself to. Most I can do is slip in a secondary integrated curse within the subtext of the agreement itself, but if that woman you're talking about is half as good as you say she is she'll pick it up instantly."
"It's as Lancer says. The best I can do is have the curse bind to more than just the user's circuits and soul, but it would take time we don't have." Caster shook her head, not that she was exactly pleased with the current circumstances to begin with.
Rin was done signing both documents before the Servant had finished speaking and handed it over to Luvia. "Hurry up. The faster we finish this, the faster we can argue about what else we can do tonight."
o. o. o.
By one of the many shoreline piers of Fuyuki in the industrial district, Shirou, Saber, and Merem waited patiently for the other party to arrive.
Shirou had settled with leaning against the wall of a warehouse, arms crossed and eyes closed. His shroud was once more wrapped around his head leaving only his eyes visible, and his heavy trench coat hung over his shoulders, protecting him from the winter air.
Saber was a short distance away from him, already in full armor and resting her invisible sword tip first on the ground. Her posture and poise was nothing short of perfect and regal, as if she was at the head of her army awaiting the Saxons to approach once more.
Merem on the other hand was casually standing in the open as if nothing was wrong, patiently waiting with his eyes wandering about as though he really was the fourteen year old he appeared to be.
"Shouldn't be too much longer," the eldest of the three hummed. "Again, I must thank you and apologize for this turn of events, Shirou. It really was not my intention to-"
"Merem," Shirou cut him off bluntly. "I understand the situation, and what your intentions were. You don't have to go over it again. I'll let this mistake of yours pass on the condition that you fully understand that if you ever try this shit on me again…"
Silver eyes opened and bore straight into Merem's blue.
"I will kill you."
It wasn't a promise. It was an eventuality. Regardless of how vast the power difference and how much time it took, Shirou would bring that idea to reality should Merem push his luck once more.
The Vampire felt the slightest, meager facsimile of a chill run down his spine at the vow. And he smiled.
Despite the teen's reluctance to fulfil the role, it appeared that Merem had made the right decision after all.
"I assure you, my friend, I know better than to doubt your dedication and vows."
Shirou didn't say anything, maintaining their stare off for several more seconds before huffing and closing his eyes once more.
Merem on the other hand chuckled lightly before turning away to dwell on his own ponderings. Not on Fina, but on the original reason he came to Fuyuki.
The Tohsaka girl may have been stretching the truth at the time, when she stated that Shirou would come for his life should the boy ever discover why he was present for the war, but now… yes, it would probably be best if he delayed revealing his pointless curiosities by a few years or so. Just long enough for everything to calm down a bit. So long as the aftermath proceeded as expected, he could afford to wait a while longer.
A brief chill in the air lured him out of his meandering, and his eyes lazily turned to the docks. He didn't need to look to know that Shirou and Saber had noticed it as well.
Despite initial assumptions, Fina's "Ghost Ship" was not a decrepit Spanish Galleon or wooden pirate ship, but a genuine twentieth century military cruiser with modern weaponry, engines, and what appeared to be sonar and radio facilities on the top if the spinning antenna on the top of the Captain's deck was any indication.
The ship didn't appear from underwater, or from a cloak of mist like some childish movie, but seemingly faded into existence from the fissure where the sea met the air in the distance, like a mirage. One moment there was nothing, the next the military vessel was in clear sight roughly five hundred meters from shore.
Merem rolled his eyes. The Pirate, like many other Ancestors, had an annoying flair for the dramatics.
"Shirou. While I won't divulge any of Fina's secrets, I can give you a bit of last second trivia." Merem's left arm slowly began to warp and transform into the King of Rats. "The average crew size for a pirate ship during the Golden Age of Pirates was roughly a hundred men, give or take. That said, these numbers don't accurately reflect the crews lavishly sponsored by their governments. Those parties were usually geared to conduct more severe and intense raiding that officially were perpetrated by criminals."
Granted, Fina started his foray as a corsair for one of the many European crowns a decade or two before the Golden Age of Pirates, but one could say he was just ahead of the curve.
The Magus Killer frowned as he digested the information. At first glance, one could assume that Merem had told him roughly how many men Fina could possibly make at once, but he knew there was more to the hint than that.
Pirate captain. Government sponsorship. Large crew. Can manifest men effortlessly, even during the day. Reality Marble.
He was missing something simple. An idea or concept that tied literally everything together in a neat little bow. It was all there right in front of him. Something that would explain a core fundamental rule to Fina's power. But what was it?
"Ahoy!" Approaching the group was a small motorboat that was no doubt stored on the main ship. On it was a group of eight or so individuals that looked like they were part of the US marines if their gear was any indication.
All of them save for the rather flamboyant man in a sleek black captain's outfit and wearing enough medals from different eras on the left side of his chest that most people would assume he was compensating for something.
That and the ratty three corner hat that he was wearing all but gave away who the man was.
With a healthy Mediterranean tan, dark hair, tall stature, and confident yet cocky body language, the best way to describe him would be a "professional rogue". At first glance, a person could guess his age to be from late twenties to early forties and no one would doubt them.
Shirou gave Merem a pained look. "… Really?"
"I told you he was flamboyant."
"Sorry for the wait boys! Took me forever to figure out what to dress in for tonight!" The Eighth Apostle Ancestor grinned like a child as the boat glided to the dock effortlessly. "Not every day that you get to meet royalty after all!"
Saber's posture stiffened slightly, but otherwise she didn't respond otherwise. It was more or less an open secret by this point that she was King Arthur after all, even if no one had any actual proof.
"Decided to mix it up a bit. Keep things modern while not shying away from my roots." Fina ignored everyone's less than stellar reaction and strut his way up the dock and to the main opening, followed by his men, some of which were carrying some rather large boxes.
Shirou frowned at the latter bit. True, Arcueid's hair should be treated with the greatest of care, but those boxes seemed like overkill none the less.
Without any worry or shame, the Pirate sauntered up to Saber, and with a flourish that took his hat off and put it over his heart, he bowed deeply. "Pleasure to meet you in person, Your Majesty. My home country may have not been on the best terms with yours during my time as a soldier, but I haven't forgotten proper decorum for such events."
The King of Knights frowned slightly before returning his bow with a shallow, but stern nod of acknowledgment. "See to the fact you remember proper decorum tonight, Vampire, and you may live long enough to have a proper audience with me."
"Ha! I cannot promise you that, Your Majesty, but I thank you for the opportunity regardless. As a Pirate, I do have my own standards to keep after all."
"Your words fail to assuage my concerns."
"It was either that or lie to you, Your Majesty, and I like to think that I'm at least above that much." The monster smirked as he donned his hat once more, leaning to the side to get a better look at Shirou. "And there's the boy that's making waves around the world these past few weeks. The Magus Killer himself."
Fina managed to take one step forward before the sound of metal cutting through the air stopped him short. While he didn't see the weapon that had nearly literally cut his face off, he had certainly sensed and felt it.
"Not one more step closer to my Master, Pirate, lest you experience a King's wrath firsthand."
He held his hands up in surrender and almost casually began to back up. "Loud and clear."
"You're enjoying yourself a bit much, aren't you?" Merem noted. If he was irritated about being ignored for so long, he didn't show it.
"Might as well, Solomon. This one's royalty, but she's still leagues easier to talk to than Barthomelloi."
"That's not exactly setting a high standard to meet."
"Never said it wasn't. Perfectionists my ass. Lazy magi just don't want to admit that they're a family of antisocial introverts. They need the eighteen years locked up in their blasted homes to grow the balls needed to walk out of their front doors." The Pirate snorted bitterly before clapping his hands. "Right! Enough bitching about the bitch. We're all here now. Let's get down to brass tacks now, shall we?"
Shirou made a mental note to never under any circumstances enable a situation where it was remotely possible for Fina to meet Sirius. He didn't think the world would be able to handle it.
"Yes. About that." Merem turned his attention to the large boxes that Fina had brought with him. "Care to explain the luggage? I doubt those are the containers for the White Princess' hair."
The Pirate scoffed. "Of course not. Why would I ever keep anything valuable in something so drab?" He clapped his hands twice as if ordering some waiters to come in with food. "Boys. Open them up. Chop chop. We don't have all day."
Curious now, Shirou structurally grasped the containers with a glance, and froze.
The boxes themselves were nothing too special. Wood and metal reinforced with some runes for extra stability. But the contents… were human.
The tops were removed, and the containers were kicked over for the victims to spill out.
Shirou was no longer frozen. He was seeing red.
He wasn't the only one that was angry either.
"I thought we agreed to hold off on this nonsense." Merem's near careless tone had not changed in the slightest, but that didn't change the fact that he was also displeased.
Despite the waves of killing intent from three directions, Fina didn't seem to react at all as he sauntered away to his captives. "Don't be like that Solomon. I'm just balancing things out. The overseer is a friend of yours, AND he has a Servant with him? How can you possibly call that fair and impartial?"
Bending over, he reached down and picked up the beaten and wounded Soichirou Kuzuki by the neck, leaving the unconscious Taiga Fujimura on the ground.
"You shouldn't have done that, Fina." Merem sighed and shook his head.
"You make it sound like it was easy to grab them quietly." The monster shook his head. "These two were quite the surprise, let me tell you. Killed half a dozen of my men before we managed to put them under. This one here's got perfect breathing for Crimson Moon's sake. Who the hell expects anyone to have that these days? They almost got away too, if they hadn't run straight into the backup team. I was actually starting to sweat by the end of the chase, believe it or not."
"Let them…" Shirou took a step forward, only for Fina to focus on him, holding his teacher's body in front of him like a limp shield.
And then with a finger from his free hand stabbed him in his back with enough force that a part of his stomach exploded outward from the front as if hit with a buckshot, staining his suit instantly.
Before anyone could react, Fina followed up his manual butchery by chucking his victim at Saber as if he weighed nothing, who barely caught Souichirou in her surprise. She didn't even bother noting that her front was stained in red in the catch.
Taking Shirou's and Saber's stunned states in stride, the Pirate Captain licked his finger as if to sample the blood like a sauce, dwelled on it for a few seconds, shook his head, and pulled out a handkerchief and began to wipe the rest from his finger. "I got him in an artery. Not immediately lethal, but it will be soon enough. He'll live if you get him to a decent doctor quick. Only one of you should be needed for such a trip though, right?"
His intention was blatantly clear. He didn't want Saber around for the deal. He wanted to weaken Merem's power base as much as possible.
Fast. Brutal. Efficient. And effective. All without a hint of hesitation, remorse, or even out of the ordinary. Not once had the Eighth Apostle Ancestor broken character or stride.
"Tonight just got significantly more vexing." Merem sighed, talking to himself in dejected tone. He really should have expected something like this happening.
"Saber!" Shirou snapped, ordering his Servant to move.
"Go!" He gave her some additional instructions through their link, but it was obvious that time was of the essence.
Knowing that she couldn't hesitate any longer, Saber hoisted the injured teacher over her shoulder in a fireman's carry and jumped towards the city, clearing over the nearby warehouses easily and vanishing a few seconds later.
Leaving Shirou alone with Merem and Fina, to which he was glaring murderously at.
"Hoh?" The Pirate was not intimidated, rather he was more interested in something else. "Those are quite an interesting pair of eyes you got there kid. Haven't seen a silver set in some time, let alone in humans. It's mostly gold with Apostles… I guess there's more to your title than I thought."
"You have five seconds to let Fuji-nee go before I show you just how inadequate my title really is," Shirou growled, his circuits already starting to warm up.
Without any commands or prompts, Fina's men moved forward as one and aimed their guns at the pissed teen.
"Now now. Calm down, children." Merem stepped in between the two before things escalated any further. "Shirou, it's clear that Fina's a pathetic weakling that's afraid of being outclassed more than he already is. Otherwise the coward would have killed Kozuki-sensei instead of hurting him. You're supposed to be the mediator tonight, not me. Remember?"
The Pirate's eyebrow twitched. "I still have another hostage."
The smaller vampire's eyes narrowed slightly. "And are you willing to risk the pretender's ire to see how far that lone resource can get you?"
While the two monsters bickered, Shirou slowly managed to regain his composure and started to think straight once more. Merem was right, acting on his instincts would not do him any good right now. He had to be cold and calculating if he wanted to get through this.
No one would ever respect him for simply being diplomatic. He needed to be as ruthless as the others to get anywhere from this point forward.
"Sir!" One of Fina's men barked out a warning as he saw Shirou reach into his pocket, redirecting everyone's attention to the boy once more.
What they didn't expect was for him to pull out a cell phone, and start to dial in a number.
"A phone? A bit late for that, isn't it?" The Pirate snorted. "Ratting this to Barthomelloi would only get you killed, and the other Masters and Servants-"
Shirou pressed the send button, and a five story tall warehouse that was being built a block and a half away from where they were was littered in explosions in key points before collapsing under its own weight.
Fina had the decency to at least stop talking.
Specifically since the building that had just been demolished had been where two teams of snipers had been positioned.
The molten fire that had been in the teen's eyes had died as swiftly as it had come, replaced with a cold and controlled metal that could cut with just a glance.
"Next time you want to position some grass men, do try to find some less obvious perches." Shirou droned and he visibly started to put in another number. "Now if you would be kind enough to withdraw the men from the warehouse a block to my right. That one's still in use, and the city no doubt still needs the resources still in it. You can keep the ones set up on your ship as lures as is, seeing as you clearly feel the need for extra security."
He had been more out of habit than anything. Shirou had scouted the location out and placed bombs on the three most likely buildings that a long ranged opponent, i.e. sniper, would pick to set up shop while everyone was busy trying with Fuyuki's recovery efforts. He didn't expect to actually use his ordinance tonight, but then again, he didn't expect to be dealing with a hostage situation either.
That said, he wished he could say that he didn't expect Fina to break out into a very amused laugh too.
"Haha! Not bad! Not bad at all! I'm starting to see why Merem actually thought you were actually fit to be moderator for this mess!"
"Fina, if you don't let the girl go unharmed, I am obligated to warn you that this will devolve into far worse than a mess come morning." The eldest one there sighed, looking like he was about to nurse a massive headache.
"I didn't think you'd have such a soft spot for this one."
"I don't. I did, on the other hand, promise Shirou here that I would keep your worst habits in check. Specifically so that he would keep his worst habits in check. In case you've forgotten, there are six other Servants in this city that are still on high alert. I don't know about you, but I don't fancy my odds against a full set of them at once. Nor do I look forward to discussing such an event with my associates at the Church."
That seemed to take the metaphorical wind from the Pirate's sails if his ebbing amusement was any indication. With a huff, he crossed his arms and shook his head. "Fine. Have it your way. The girl was merely insurance so the boy wouldn't try anything funny during the deal. You know how magi are, Solomon. You can't expect me to try and cover my ass when Barthomelloi's dog armed with a Servant of all things is involved, can you? And you have the gall to call me unreasonable."
"I couldn't care less what either of you considers reasonable." Shirou stepped forward calmly, as if he still didn't have several guns pointed at him. He was clearly far more interested in the woman that was held hostage. "What I care about is getting this over with and pretending it never happened. Now are you two doing this or are you going to continue with your annoying games? The longer we're here, the more likely we're going to get caught."
"I couldn't agree more." Merem took out an envelope with his remaining hand and handed it to the King of Rats.
"Tch. Kill joys." Fina clapped his hands twice, and one of his soldiers put away his gun and took out a briefcase. "So how are we doing this?"
Shirou walked out to a predefined location in the lot and channeled his Od. Instantly, a thirty meter wide bounded field ringed by several runes appeared.
"This bounded field was constructed specifically for tonight's events. Its mysteries are utilized for official Association exchanges. The only ones allowed in or out are individuals that carry one and only one of the agreed items for tonight's trade. Likewise, the items cannot enter or leave the field without being in contact with one of the designated representatives. One individual per parcel. The inside of the field is considered its own reality, so any efforts to remove or alter the items in question from outside its bounds are futile. They are effectively indestructible by conventional means within. Walking into the field will enact a self-geass that will enforce non-confrontation for all that enter. Any efforts from either party inside to alter, steal, or destroy the items in question will result in repercussions from the geass that I am not at liberty to divulge. The representatives from each party will enter the field from each side of the field. They will meet in the center, exchange items, and leave through their respective sides. Any inquiries about the bounded field's mysteries are prohibited. Any requests for third parties to enter the field are prohibited. The only exception to these rules is the spellcaster, myself. In order to cast this mystery, I have subjected myself to a separate geass of impartiality for the duration of the exchange to fulfil my role as a moderator and enforce the agreement that has been established between the primary parties. Should either party take any offensive actions against the moderator during the exchange, all items of the exchange shall go to the other party. Should both parties engage in aggressive actions against the moderators, both items in question will be destroyed. Divulging any further details of the moderator's vow is forbidden. Are there any questions?"
He wasn't joking about the field being used at the Association. It was the standard for high profile exchanges involving extremely volatile and valuable items. Underhanded exchanges were still the norm, but some trades were just too big and symbolic to hide, even for Magi. If the spells used in it didn't deter those involved from trying anything stupid, the societal and reputational backlash would.
The only reason why Shirou knew and could pull off a spell of this nature was due to his position as one of Barthomelloi's representatives. It had taken him weeks of practice and Waver banging his head against a wall/teaching to finally get it right the first time, and he had overseen at least five exchanges at the Tower over the past few years. That said, it was not an easy mystery for him to use, and took at least an hour of prep time to get it set up.
The fact that it took Rin less than hour to figure out the spell in its entirety the first time he showed it to her and only a few minutes to use successfully was something he preferred not to dwell on if possible.
Fina smirked, clearly amused by his sudden professional demeanor. "Solomon's item in question is just a piece of paper. How do I know that it has what we agreed upon?"
"I swear upon the blood of Crimson Moon Brunstud that runs through my veins that the identity and location of the Ash of Miracles is contained in this parcel." Merem stated without hesitation. Say what you want about the Apostle Ancestors or their ethics, but there were only a few that didn't take their progenitor seriously. That went double for the eldest of the lot, of which Merem was one of. "What is your assurance, Pirate?"
The Captain casually jabbed his nearest man with his elbow, another sturdy European looking soldier that stood half a head taller than the others with a stern face that seemed incapable of showing emotions other than possibly discontent. "You heard the runt. Show 'em the gold."
"Sir." The soldier nodded quickly before unclasping the latches on the briefcase and opening it up.
Shirou didn't know what exactly to expect, but he was pretty sure that Fina's "gold" comment was a derogatory understatement the second he laid eyes on Arcrueid's hair.
Folded up neatly on the velvet silk interior of the suitcase, Shirou couldn't help but instinctively compare the stolen biological material to Avalon in terms of pure mythical value. Meaning that it was absolutely impossible to quantify by any measurement. Hair was a critical resource to magi, which was why most tended to grow theirs out on average, but this… this was something else entirely.
The paltry rumors did not do Arcuied Brunstud justice. If this was just her hair, then he didn't want to imagine what the source was like. He would have made it a point in life to avoid encountering the White Princess at all cost for the rest of his existence if he hadn't done so half a dozen times already.
"Shirou." Merem's voice snapped him out of his stupor, but anyone that looked could see that the small Vampire was just absorbed in the treasure as the teen, if not more so. An inhuman hunger was present in his eyes that even his seemingly harmless physical body could not belie. "Would you be kind enough to verify that Fina has not tried anything with the container?"
"I, yes. Of course." Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, the teen turned his attention back to the briefcase again, not noticing Fina's confused look. "Trace On."
The good news was that within a second Shirou had determined that the briefcase itself was benign. Outside of some spells to ensure that it preserved its contents perfectly, there was nothing out of the ordinary about it.
The bad news was that structurally grasping an Alien Princess' biological tissue, even if it's just her hair, was in hindsight a pretty stupid thing to do. Especially with Pure eyes that had a tendency of forcing such information through the user's mind, whether they wanted it or not.
"Ugh." Stumbling back a step, the teen instantly reached up and rubbed his eyes in an attempt to mitigate some of the blood flow in them. The sudden headache didn't help things much either.
"Is something the matter?" Merem frowned, displeased that he had been forced to look away from his soon to be prize.
"Oi. I didn't do anything to the case or the hair. Neither did my master. Say what you want about us, but we have the decency to not tarnish goods of this quality." Fina's expression was equally confused and wary.
"No." The teen held up a hand to stop their movements, inadvertently revealing to everyone the blood on his fingers. "No, it's nothing to worry about. I merely discovered that structurally grasping an alien's biological tissue will make my eyes bleed. My mistake." It wasn't as bad as trying to examine a Divine Instrument, but he'd still rather not leak bodily fluids from his head at all if possible.
It took the two monsters a moment to register what he had said before reacting.
"Really Shirou?" Merem shook his head in halfhearted disbelief.
Everyone ignored Fina snorting and holding a fist to his mouth to hold back his full blown laughter.
"Well, the more you know, I suppose." The King of Rats' smile was clearly forced. "What of the container?"
"It checks out. Just, give me a moment to make the world stop spinning and we can get this over with."
"Structurally grasping the White Princess' locks eh? That's certainly a new one." Turning back to the suitcase in his soldier's possession, Fina couldn't help but get a bit curious. It was no secret that the Queen's Dog was a bit of a projection freak, so his level of structural grasping was leagues above pretty much everyone's. That said, it was a rather basic skill to have, and Fina did have a somewhat passible background in thaumaturgy…
In an instant, secrets to the world/ţ̵̻̹̖̤̝͖̰̼̬̰͈͈̋̈́̇̓͌̾̈͒͛̍͘͜h̵̢̢̧̼͎̦̯̬̯͍̘̙̜͇͝͝ͅe̵̻̘͍̰̖͊̓̉̑̈́̒͋͛̈́̒̋́͊̅͘͜ ̵̰͈̲̟̗̼͍̳̳͉̺̻͊͗̐m̵̩̭͔̻̟̜̽́̇̉̈̍̐́́o̶̡͎̰̘̬̙̞̩͍̘͔̤͉̙͐͑ơ̶͎̳̗̦͌̾̓̈́̆̓̾̈́̕ǹ̵̖̣͚̹̪̾͒͊̿̂̏̉ that he did not understand the questions to hammered his mind like a sledgehammer.
"Madre del Grande Santo!" The Pirate swore and tore his eyes off of the alien gold and immediately began to nurse the sudden headache he got. Apparently his hypothesis was wrong. Just because he had been turned by Altrouge herself didn't mean he was immune from having his mind twisted into an abomination if he looked too deeply into the moonfolk's physical biology.
"I'm surrounded by children. No, monkeys." Merem didn't bother to hide his thoughts from the world. "One gets burned by a fire and the next jams its hand into the flame immediately afterwards thinking he's different."
"Quiet. I'm busy rejoicing my childhood decision to run away from home and not be a magus. Again." He shook his head. Smelling salts paled in comparison to the kick his head just took.
Out of the corner of his sight, he glanced at the boy who, despite the bleeding from the eyes, was taking the rush a lot better than he was. Even if there was a vast difference in the distance they were at when looking at the hair, the impact and recovery times of their near identical actions didn't add up.
Fina licked his lips. His instinct was right. Merem's most recent human curiosity was more interesting than he appeared.
"Because exchanging one existence of dedicated zealotry and foolishness for another is something to be proud of. Truly." Merem turned to Shirou. "Please tell me we're finally ready."
He took a few extra seconds to wipe the blood from his ocular cavity and blink a few times to see straight again. "Mmm. Yeah. I'm good. Let's get this over with."
While Fina was still trying to rid himself of his incurred migraine, Shirou got himself into position at the edge of the bounded field. A full quarter of the way around the circle to either side stood the King of Rats and the soldier that was holding Arcrueid's hair.
"Representative for Merem Solomon. Are you prepared for the exchange?"
"I am." The rat bowed briefly.
"Representative for Fina-Blood Svelten. Are you prepared for the exchange?"
"I am." The stiff soldier stood at attention, briefcase firmly in hand.
"The both of you will now enter the field. You will meet at the center. You will verify the parcels. You will exchange them. You will return to the points where you have entered. And, on my signal, you will leave the field at the same time. Any deviation from these instructions will render the exchange null and void, and incur appropriate repercussions. Am I clear?"
"Yes." "Sir." The two confirmed at the same time.
"Fina." Merem called from his spot. "Once the exchange is complete, I recommend you release the girl as quickly as possible."
"For the last time Crown, she's golden as soon as we're done." The pirate huffed. "Is your age getting to you, geezer? You almost sound scared of the brat."
"There's a difference between fear and a genuine dislike for a rapidly devolving situation. I have known Shirou for years, and I assure you I have yet to hear of someone that has gotten on his bad side and not severely regretted it, if they survived at all. Human or not. He did kill Louvre if you recall."
"Don't threaten me with a good time. Anymore sweet talk and I just might take you up on that offer." The guest looked at Shirou. "Then again, I'm curious as to why Barthomelloi's prized mutt isn't taking more interest in all this to begin with. Isn't he likely to sell us out?"
"Hunting Apostles is her fetish. Not mine. I just play the yes man for the benefits and so she'll give me an easier time. I couldn't care less about you lot so long as you leave me alone," the accused rebuffed bluntly. "Any relevant questions?"
"Humph. Well I'll be keelhauled, someone from the Association that can speak the plain truth. And it's one of the Bitch's at that." Fina shook his head. "No. I'm good. Let's get this over with."
While it was tense, the exchange surprisingly went about exactly as Shirou instructed. The King of Rats and Fina's soldier stepped in at the same time. They walked to the center. Spent a good fifteen seconds staring one another down. Exchanged parcels. Returned to where they entered. And left at the same time.
If only things could have ended at that.
While Merem was handed the briefcase as if it was the most precious thing in the world, Fina took the letter from his man and started to open it. "Finally. Now that all this nonsense is over with I can finally see what all the fuss is about. Who did ya pick Solomon? Is it that meathead Tychon? No, that idiot's under White Wing. Both of them would have shouted it to the sky and back if he was the Tenth. Abdhul? Nah. He's still recovering from that fiasco in Calcutta."
"I thought he died there, Sir." One of his men asked.
"My ass he did. Even if they prepared, the squad the Church sent to off him don't have the means to completely kill that snake charmer. You need a real special set of skills to ensure that one's actually dead. Tricky pissant, but still a few centuries away from being Ancestor material. Five at least if he's set back as much as I think he is." Fina quipped, slicing the top open.
"Oi." Shirou frowned, approaching Fina's group. "You have something of mine."
"Hm? Oh. The lass. Right." Fina turned around and waved a hand, Taiga's current situation little more than an afterthought to him. "Let 'em have her boys."
Given the fact that there was a good fifteen or so meters between them, and that Taiga was still unconscious, there were only a few ways that returning the woman could have taken place.
The soldier did not kill, drop, or throw the woman at Shirou, as he halfway expected them too.
Instead he actually did the polite thing and dragged her body in a side carry. It wouldn't hurt her, but it was time consuming.
In the back of his mind, Shirou cursed at the fact that he would have preferred it if they had just chucked her at him.
Ten meters. Five meters.
The instant Fina's voice broke the silence, Shirou's body moved and his circuits burned.
The soldier holding Taiga up didn't have time to react to the short sword that lodged itself in his skull. He, along with his captive, collapsed instantly.
Before they hit the ground though, Shirou had already reached the latter.
By the time he had gotten a good grasp on her, the rest of the soldiers were either already pointing their guns at him or sprinting at him at speeds that no human had a right to achieve.
Which made sense, given that their physical features were already ebbing away to reveal more canine like aspects.
Fina had at some point in time found, and decided to guard himself with a squad of fucking military trained werewolf soldiers. Because of course he would.
"Merem!" Without even pausing to think about it, Shirou threw his neighbor back with all of his reinforced might, well over thirty meters away, and put up a cross guard just in time to get assaulted by a mix of bullets and soon to be claws.
Good news was that between his reinforced coat and the shawl over his head, he was pretty protected against most small arms.
Bad news was that werewolf claws were a bit higher up on the damage scale than generic .22 bullets.
Before Shirou could react, the closest monster reached him, reared back his significantly not human right arm, and clammed his claw against Shirou's head, sending the boy flying back well over a dozen meters past where he had once stood for the exchange.
Meanwhile, the King of Rats had thankfully managed to catch the unconscious Taiga and retreat behind his unsurprised Master.
No, unsurprised was a poor choice of words. Uninterested would be more on point, seeing as he was still preoccupied with examining every strand of golden hair that had come under his possession than he was with the current turn of events.
"Perhaps it would be best to allocate more of your attention to the current state of affairs?" The Rat prodded slightly.
"Solomon!" For the first time, Fina didn't speak with a casual if not downright careless tone. Instead his bark was that of someone in power. One with authority, and expected a clear coherent answer when he asked something. He held up the crumpled up paper in his fist. "Explain! Now!"
"What's there to explain? Shirou's the Tenth." Merem waved both of them away as though their concerns were inconsequential.
"You expect me to believe that Barthomelloi's latest pet is an Apostle?!" The Pirate snarled. "Don't play with me you ancient relic. We both know that sow would rather tear apart any of our kind rather than employ them, regardless of their use! Let alone play the role of her representative!"
"You're absolutely right. Which is why it is fortunate that she doesn't know." Merem's casual tone only further bewildered and enraged the pirate.
"She doesn't… how the saint's name does that work!? You have a better chance of finding Water Bottle sober than you do getting one of us past that wretch without her knowing! Let alone into the Association's grounds!"
"Because he's still alive."
Four words. Four simple words was all it took for the Eighth to pause as though he was just shot.
"Shirou, get up. Stop pretending to be hurt. You're embarrassing all of us with such a pathetic performance."
"Tch." At Merem's prodding, the teen's seemingly motionless body easily sat up. The crimson shawl around his head torn up to reveal the spot where his face should have been shorn apart to expose a lattice of tightly knit blade like scales that weren't even scuffed.
The sound of clinking metal caught more ears along with a surprised grunt drew everyone's attention to the soldier who had struck Shirou in the first place.
Only now he was wrapped in a familiar golden chain that linked back all the way to the attacked party's coat sleeve.
"Sir." The beast soldier growled, his voice far deeper and coarse than it had been before. "I can't break these chains."
"I'd be surprised if you could." The King of Rats stated in a polite tone that did not hide in the slightest his mocking satisfaction.
Shirou grunted as he got back up, the red shroud repairing itself with alteration to hide his face once again. "Werewolves?"
"Don't give me sass, boy," Fina stated bluntly, his good mirth all but gone. "United States Far Side Ops. Lunar division. First squad actually. They were originally one of the Reich's experimental units, trying to militarize demonic and phantasmal entities for wartime profiteering. But like most militaries, the fools upstairs didn't know what the fuck they were doing and botched up more than succeeded. More accurate to say that these were among the few that survived those idiots, rather than calling them successes. They may be less than a century old for the most part, but they're still among my finest strike teams."
Shirou grimaced. He wasn't exactly a historical buff outside of myths and legends, but nearly anyone with half an education in modern thaumaturgy knew about how close to a catastrophe Hitler's reign and experiments into their world was. The fact that even the general populace of humanity to this day knew bits and pieces of his wild experiments was proof of just how bad the situation had devolved. "I'm guessing that scientists and intellectuals weren't the only ones that jumped ship first chance they got."
"They didn't exactly feel the patriotism of their homeland, what with their families murdered during their acquisition, so they were giving the States a try. I nabbed them on their first mission after training."
"I could say the same." Fina glanced at the golden chain. "I know a Noble Phantasm when I see one. A magus that specializes in making swords and the like with projection. And you just so happen to be a Master in the Holy Grail War… care to release my man?"
"Depends what you're going to do with him."
"Humph. Fine. Be that way."
Before Shirou could contemplate the chance of a threat, the soldier in his grasp went limp and faded away like he was a spirit. A few seconds later, the same man seemed to walk back into existence from behind his commander and wasted no time giving the teen a vindictive glare.
He stood next to the very much alive man that Shirou had just lobotomized less than a minute earlier.
"I believe we still have some matters to discuss."
Without so much of a glance, Shirou retracted Enkidu into his coat until the gold couldn't be seen by anyone again.
"What is going on Solomon?" Fina turned to his elder. "What do you mean when you said he's still alive?"
Merem barely paid him any attention. "Due to a wide range of improbable circumstances, Shirou here was turned by Louvre's offspring, but never died in the process. An incomplete conversion, would be the best way to put it. He's, for lack of a better term, a Living Apostle. An abnormality even among our twisted kind. The influence of Crimson Moon is weak in him. So weak that under most circumstances, he can pass as a normal human. Even under Barthomelloi's passive scrutiny."
"You're joking." Fina glanced at the teen. True, much of what Merem lined up in hindsight. Louvre went after Kiritsugu Emiya's kid. Said kid was turned. Louvre died soon after. That's about around the time when Merem started those rumors about… wait. Wait wait wait wait wait.
"Solomon. You said he's alive." Fina's gaze turned hungry. "Then, does this mean… does he not need to feed?"
"No. At least, not yet." Merem shrugged. "I've watched him for years. Our instincts do exist within him. They are merely subdued, for lack of a better term. He eats and lives and grows like a normal human. Other than some minor personal preference changes, he's indistinguishable under normal circumstances from the masses. He can walk out during the day. Consumes what he wants. And, as stated before, Barthomelloi is none the wiser."
"… For now." The Pirate's eyes narrowed.
"For now." Merem whimsically echoed. "And you just blasted a hole through one of his teachers and held the woman that raised him like an older sister hostage."
"You make it sound as if you're some sort of saint, Crown." His arms crossed before giving Shirou a look over. "I still wonder what you were thinking making this weakling an Ancestor. Your standards have clearly dropped. Just because he's different doesn't mean he's up to par."
Shirou didn't take the bait. "Yell at him. Not me. I've lost count of how many times I've said no to the position. I couldn't care less about it, and yet he still made me one regardless."
"As I stated several times, you were the most suited person for the spot by happenstance. What you lack in power you make up for in potential." Merem sighed, clearly repeating himself.
"Potential?" Fina snorted in disbelief.
"By my estimations, he should have a fluid grasp of his Reality Marble by the end of the decade." It was technically true. The biggest hurdle for Reality Marble users was properly manifesting it in the first place. After that, the rest was just simply playing around with one's powers to determine how far one's abilities could go. Two years. Ten years. Such small measurements of time were nearly identical to their kind.
"A decade?" His bewilderment was understandable. Most Apostles in general didn't have a hope of fully understanding or realizing their inner worlds earlier than two centuries under normal standards. And that was if they were particularly gifted. There were a handful of cases that could do it faster, but those monsters tended to be unique circumstances. Even so, a mere decade was simply unheard of.
"Like I said. Potential." He was getting tired of repeating himself.
"Don't toy with me you relic. The rumors you spread recently said the Ash of Miracles would be able to manifest his Reality Marble within the next century. Not a tenth of it."
Merem shrugged helplessly. "The Holy Grail War's been saturated with all sorts of curious developments that were beyond even my expectations. Can you blame him if he's had a breakthrough or two during such trials?"
Personally, Shirou would prefer it if they blamed anyone that went by the moniker "Archer" these past few weeks, but knowing his luck that wasn't going to happen.
"I don't believe this." Fina shook his head. "Even by our standards, this is beyond absurd. Chaos would resurrect himself just to tear you apart for this Crown."
"We both know even if he was alive he'd be incapable of such a feat." Merem shook his head. "I'm disappointed that you have such little faith in my judgement. It is true that Shirou is lacking in terms of raw power, but by no means does that mean he's harmless."
"It does if it means everyone will finally leave me alone." Shirou deadpanned. Being strong was simply a means to an end for him. He reached the "end" he wanted, so he didn't really care about gaining any more power.
"While I, like many, hate to agree with Barthomelloi on anything, I do feel obligated to chastise your lack of motivation when it comes to your own reputation, Shirou." Merem shook his head. "You have a poor habit of completely disregarding and ignoring it unless you need it to serve an immediate purpose."
"Just what we need. A humble Ancestor," Fina muttered.
"He's unrepentantly honest too," the King of Rats added sounding helpful but clearly finding joy in stirring the pot further.
"Whose side are you on?"
"We are Apostles! Not the bloody Boyscouts!"
"I'm pretty sure the scouts don't accept Apostles to begin with. They did start as a Christian organization," the King of Rats pondered thoughtfully.
"Of course they did." Shirou was starting to wonder if he was going to be here all night.
Fina grabbed his face with a hand and sighed deeply. "This is ridiculous. You expect me to believe a school boy not only holds Chaos' throne, but is just a short time away from fully utilizing his Reality Marble? I'm disappointed, Solomon. To think that being with the Church has addled your mind to this extent."
Merem's eyes narrowed slightly in annoyance. It was one thing to be insulted and belittled constantly by his junior. That was to be expected. But to actually be looked down upon as a genuine inferior, to be pitied, was another matter altogether.
The Pirate lifted his hand in the air as if giving a command.
The teen's eyes widened in surprise as several key locations he had been keeping tabs on began to move. This was accelerating faster than expected.
"This entire mess was a waste of time. I'd rather lose the hair then let this farce tarnish my mistress' name." The Pirate's arm went down. "Kill the boy! Hold down Solomon! Get back the hair if you can, but the boy comes first! FIRE!"
The flash from the stolen ship that signaled that a short ranged missile was firing was something worth noting. So was the dozen-ish werewolves that immediately started to sprint at Shirou.
Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping.
However they had been mere distractions for the half a second needed for the 7.62mm sniper rounds to travel from Fina's ship to Shirou's body, had they not been blocked by the large ornate shield that was bigger than a two car garage door that had materialized before the vampire had even issued the command.
The world on the face of the shield then exploded as the cannon shells that Fina had fired off an instant later hammered against the nameless D ranked Noble Phantasm that had been copied from Gilgamesh. It wasn't anything special. It was more or less a giant piece of metal that muted any non-magical inertia that hammered its face. At best, it would have only lasted a minute against the attack of a normal Servant, if they didn't decide to just go around the thing. Less against the Prana charged attacks of Saber or the mystical blasts of Caster.
Shirou didn't notice the explosions, however, as he was too busy materializing and firing off a rainstorm's worth of nameless swords at the oncoming inhuman soldiers like a high caliber machine gun with his instantly manifested bow, much to their surprise.
Before any of the gunmen had managed to fire, they were mowed down by a horizontal rain of metal shafts. Many were impaled. Several managed to react in time and shattered the blades with their claws… however…
"GHAAAAA?!" They screamed out in pain as the dust and metal of the destroyed tools erupted in flames, burning them at best, and incinerating into their flesh to cook them from the inside out at worst.
The swords were nameless mystic codes, not Noble Phantasms from Gilgamesh' vault, but products from a crazy drunk Irishman's workshop.
These blades in particular were a particularly nasty product of the madman. Composed of a combination of aluminum and iron oxide, aka rust, the blades were enchanted to literally disintegrate into dust if hit hard enough anywhere other than the tip, and then convert the remaining kinetic energy from the impact into an incendiary to light the dust instantly.
In short, the blades were cheap, self-contained thermite bombs. Meaning not only was the heat generated from the attacks on average two and a half times as intense as a normal flame at zero cost, but the particulates that fueled it would more often than not stick to the flesh of whatever it came in contact with and essentially sear itself into the target to cook it from the inside out.
Absolutely useless against the mystical nature of Servants, but against nearly everything else that was mainly comprised of flesh and blood… not so useless.
More so when one poured more prana in them to magnify the intensity of the chemical reaction.
They were cheaper to make and use than normal flame generating swords too. Shirou wasn't able to project gunpowder, but this wasn't that bad of an alternative, and proof that the teen wasn't completely locked out of all forms of chemical warfare.
A quick glance up showed that there were three missiles that had been launched into the air already moving towards his general location. He had less than five seconds to do something before he was blasted to bits.
In a single seamless motion, Shirou materialized a water element blade turned arrow, notched it, drew back while filling the blade with power, and fired. The lone projectile immediately became three, and each bolted like an arrow of blue light directly into the oncoming projectiles, setting them all off prematurely.
The arrows hadn't even made it halfway to their targets before a flicker of something that was large and distinctively not on fire charged its way towards him. With what little time he had, a normal if sturdy sword flashed in his free hand while prana flooded freely through his body like heat through a forged blade to strengthen every facet of his being. He swung as hard as he could to block the claw of the lone werewolf that had not been butchered by his initial assault. The one that had exchanged Arcrueid's hair with the King of Rats.
It didn't take long to understand why this one managed to stay alive unlike its brethren, on the count of the metallic colored pelt it had in its transformed state that reflected the light in the background.
Shirou grunted and his knees almost buckled under the surprising force of the attack, the ground under his feet cracked under the weight. The stress of the clash had muted the impact of the shockwaves from the explosions that detonated above on his body. For the briefest of moments, he had gotten flashbacks of his fight with Rider just a few nights ago and the strength she possessed.
A silver Werewolf, with metallic fur that reflected the sparse and erratic light in the background growled deeply while looming over him. Standing well over two and half meters tall, the monster of a specimen radiated with primal power that was overwhelming to the bulk of the world's population.
Of course the leader of an entire corps of military trained werewolves would be an endangered species of phantasmal beast.
The irony of his own moniker did not elude him either.
In comparison to a Servant, the sheer weight of its existence was still lacking, but that didn't change the fact that this thing was on a completely different level to the norm.
On the other side of the exchange, the monster in question was just as miffed at the fact that Shirou had managed to hold up against his strike in the first place. The clash of their respective strikes had been strong enough to halt his momentum and prevent an immediate follow through for an easy kill.
The monster flexed his free claw and lashed out, expecting the previous exchange to be a mere fluke, only to be disappointed again as it too was deflected by a second sword that had replaced the bow that had been there a second before. The sound of their clash echoed throughout the docks and could be felt by all witnesses.
Shirou grit his teeth. This experience did remind him of Rider, but ironically the weight of each blow from this monster twice his size was far inferior to the Gorgon's. Enough that he could actually hold up against it…
The beast growled, annoyed about being denied once again. His nose flared and a myriad of scents and prana filled his senses. Iron and power. Fire and mystery. Curses and blessings. A sword maker. A blacksmith. All that and more were recognized instinctively with a single whiff. It was a curious ability to be sure, but at the end of the day the blades were but trinkets. Toys that paled in comparison to his natural strength and claws.
Three more times he swung down to tear the boy apart. Three times he was matched or thrown off with deceptive strength that threw him off center, preventing him from building his own tempo or controlling the exchange.
In fact, that last deflection had staggered him long enough to buy the critical few instants needed for his defeat.
While the werewolf was recovering for a particularly savage and wild uppercut-like swipe that would rend not only his opponent but the concrete into strips, the initial sword Shirou had made vanished, and was replaced by a twisted red longsword that-
The Werewolf didn't fully understand what exactly happened the moment the new weapon had manifested.
One moment he was swinging to tear apart his foe from groin to throat.
The next his body had seized up in absolute terror. His instincts screamed at him that he was in the presence of that which feasts on predators. That he must flee immediately lest he become slain.
It was due to that moment of confusion, of internal conflict, that saw his arm severed and his chest split open as easily as paper, in spite of the military grade protective vest that he wore.
"Guh?!" Despite the damage, he had somehow managed to avoid a lethal blow, and retreated back to his commanding officer. Said commanding officer, on the other hand, was for lack of a better term, moderately surprised by Shirou's sudden victory.
The teen on the other hand, merely glanced down at the red blade in his right hand in disappointment.
Hrunting. The Hound of the Red Plains. One of the two blades of the legend Beowulf and the tool he used to kill the Mother of Grendel. An A ranked anti-unit Noble Phantasm with a history and nature that makes it the instinctual bane of monster based entities. When swung it guides itself to make the most optimal slash to draw blood from its target, drinking in the fluid in the process.
There was nothing wrong with the sword. Rather, it was his inability to draw out its potential that had Shirou miffed. He knew for a fact that his last swing should have dug three times as deep into the werewolf's body, severing several internal organs and arteries, but his inability to match what the blade intended had muted the effectiveness.
Tracing and projecting weapons came as easily as breathing, but excelling in the sympathizing of their growth, dredging up how the weapons were used and the techniques they contained was something that could only be done when wielding the blades themselves. It still took time and focus for him to fully integrate the memories needed to make full use of them. To do so seamlessly to their maximum potential in the middle of battle required a degree of experience and familiarity with the weapons that he admittedly simply did not have yet.
He doubted that even Archer was truly capable of such a feat. Not with any and all blades within his Reality Marble. That guy didn't have the proper mindset for it. Maybe if he had been summoned into a different class, but certainly not as he was now.
In short, if at best he could imitate a fraction of what Beowulf could do with this sword, then what he had just done was a fraction of that. A fraction of a fraction. A pitiful performance that wasn't worth even being considered an imitation.
It didn't help that this weapon in particular was one that he had gained not from Gilgamesh's armory, but from the bleeding memories that he had been receiving from Archer over the past few days.
Still, that fraction of a fraction had been enough to nearly gut the phantasmal beast in front of him.
Ah… In hindsight, now that he was using Noble Phantasms against something other than Servants, he was finally starting to get why everyone else made such a big deal about them. Cutting through a Silver werewolf in a single stroke… he couldn't imagine doing something like that so easily before the war. They really were a major power balancer for the lucky few that could use them despite not being original owners.
On the other side of things, Fina glanced at his soldier with some interest. "You froze."
"Sir." The Werewolf didn't try to find an excuse as he clutched onto his chest wound to stem the bleeding. Fast healing or not, the damage was deep. "That sword, it sees me as prey."
He didn't miss the fact that his man referred to the sword itself and not the boy. "Another Noble Phantasm. No doubt." He watched as Shirou stood at the ready, the shield at his side protecting him from any supporting fire from the ship. Instinctively, he produced the squad that had just been disposed of, as good as new. He didn't bother to watch as they got into position and…?
Fina and the injured Silver Werewolf took a few quick steps back an instant before a small rain of familiar arrows fell from the sky and impaled the freshly revived men.
One of his eyebrows twitched in annoyance. Looks like that arrow fired up in the sky earlier was intended for more than just the missiles. The hide of a werewolf wasn't thin by any measure, but judging from how deep into the concrete the rest of the arrows had dug in, their felling was understandable. He had to give bonus points for the fact that the projectiles managed to stay on course after being blown away by the explosions.
In the span of seven seconds, the kid had handled being shot at by sniper fire, auxiliary cannons, missiles, and being attacked up front by a squad of werewolves, including a Silver, severely injuring the latter, AND apparently slipped in a counterattack in the middle of the madness.
Even worse, he was the one that was forced to move positions first. That was more embarrassing than anything else.
The number of magi, or monsters in general that could handle that sort of sudden assault on the fly were few at best. No, that could be said about dealing with the Silver Werewolf Dreyfus by himself.
The number that looked like they were waiting and willing for more and could actually handle it were smaller.
Silver eyes bore straight into his red, taking in as much information and anticipating the next move. Fina was being watched like some sort of specimen. His movements, behavioral patterns, and very words were being examined and filed away for potential use later.
"That cocky little shit. He actually thinks he can take me on."
Without question, if another exchange took place, Shirou would not be on the defensive, and it would not be out of some desperate maneuver. The look in his eyes was abnormally blank and calm despite his circumstances. No rage. No pride. No fear. No hunger. No dedication. No external thoughts. Just pure, single minded focus on something that wasn't even considered an enemy.
But in spite of that blank slate, those eyes did not belong to something as pedestrian as a puppet. They did not look forward to the oncoming fight, but to the oncoming execution.
This kid… he wasn't a magus, warrior, monster, soldier, hero, assassin, or some idiot noble. Nor was he some slave or mindless tool.
He was a god damned hunter. And one armed with probably one the largest and most dangerous repository of weapons and armaments in human history at the ready. No wonder Barthomelloi was fine with everyone referring to the kid something as degrading as her dog. She planned to use him for hunting sport from the start.
He was sort of person that, once focused on a target, would learn and use every minute fact there was to bend and pervert the odds in their favor and execute their prey with the least amount of effort possible. Just like the previous Magus Killer.
Did not mankind crawl its way to the top of the food chain with these exact methods? By wielding information and tools to overcome their adversities, be it beast or nature? Before the scientists, armies, and even farmers… wasn't the first role that exemplified these innovative traits the hunter?
But, to see that look, in this sort of situation? For him to be gazed upon as a target and literally nothing else. It wasn't normal. No, it went beyond normal. It was genuinely insane.
Well now, it appears that Crown may have been onto something after all.
Fina lifted a hand into the air, and the near constant barrage of shells and gunfire that assaulted the area came to a halt.
"I stand corrected. You're not as green as I thought." The Pirate's grin returned as the dust and debris began to settle, albeit hungrier than before. He nodded to the sword in the teen's hand. "That's a nice piece you're swinging there. A bit surprised you're not tottering around the one you pulled out the other night though."
"Fina." Merem walked through the dust and debris, somehow completely unscathed in the slightest. "A word of caution. The moment that particular sword is used in earnest is the moment all hope of negotiations is lost. It is no Noble Phantasm, but even I am particularly adverse to the idea of exposing myself to it. I reason that you'd even less."
"Hoh? You sound as though talking's still a possibility."
"Don't play coy. If you wanted, the entire docks would have been obliterated by now."
"Maybe, but judging from that look the kid has, I'm not the only one that's holding back."
"I apologize if we still practice humility and courtesy as a standard here in Japan." Shirou's scathing comment served to only further amuse the foreigner. "I keep on forgetting to lower my expectations when dealing with non-locals."
"Someone's knows how to talk upper class. Are you sure he hasn't met Rita yet?"
"They'd get along like oil and water." Merem cringed at the idea of such an encounter. She'd tolerate him for his cooking, but the teen would no doubt find a reason to get away from the narcissistic artist at his earliest convenience.
If he was going to introduce Shirou to any of the other Ancestors, it would be either Sumire or Van-Fem. They would practically dote on the kid like an adorable pet or young naive extended family member. That or abuse his passive nature and treat him like an in house butler. Either or.
Fina breathed in deeply, clearly trying to piece together what to do next. "Well, this is a fine shit show, isn't it? I come all this way to find out who the new Tenth is, and it's the brat that Barthomelloi's been strutting about for years. I don't know if m'lady's going to take this better or worse than I am."
"Get to the point. What does the Eclipse Princess want from me?" She wouldn't have gone through all this effort to find out who he was in the first place unless she had something in mind.
There was a brief pause as they stared one another down. "… There happen to be some events coming up this side of the century. You know of them?"
"I'm privy of a few." Shirou frowned. "I've tried to make it a point to keep my calendar purposefully occupied with personal agendas after this winter. In spite of requests."
"Bit young to plan for an early retirement, aren't you?" The pirate nodded, knowing exactly what the boy was alluding to. "Well, it just so happens that there's a bit of an unspoken armistice between the notable names of our kind because of those events. Open secret really. No peace, by any stretch of the imagination, but a ceasefire while we all get prepared for the festivities."
That made sense. No point in making plans and allocating resources for a big event if said plans and resources were constantly getting blown up, dismembered, eaten, or thrown into alternate realities.
"And just when things were finally calming down after the White Princess took out Tatari and Chaos, Solomon of all people comes out and sponsors the next Tenth soon after Louvre gets himself killed by some kid that Barthomelloi snagged. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't be surprised if that White Winged feather duster was just as put off by this as m'lady was. Only difference is that those old relics actually tolerate one another. Everyone was caught off guard, and no one knew anything about you. Your intentions, abilities, and allegiances are an enigma to everyone. Not exactly a pleasant combination regarding a newcomer this late in the game. Especially when put in a position like yours. There are still a good number of spots that have been open for a while, but the Tenth? Even a fresh child like you should know how significant your position is."
Shirou nodded bitterly. The top ten Ancestors had a reputation of being fantastical monsters as a standard. A standard he was expected to meet by any means necessary regardless of his personal feelings on the matter. "And now here we are. And here I am."
"So what now? I'm not exactly what was expected, but I'm not toothless. And regardless of what Merem says, I have no intention of involving myself in whatever nonsense the other Ancestors get themselves involved in."
"Humph. Louvre would piss blood in madness if he heard and saw his replacement say that. Useless coward. Serves him right to be done in by a child." Playing with his hat, Fina weighed his options before glancing at the Noble Phantasm that was still in his target's hand. "My original instructions were to find out who the hell you were to begin with, then perhaps sway you to m'lady's side, or kill you, but that's clearly hit a bit of a blockade."
"An understatement if ever there was one." The King of Rats chuckled, glancing at the subject in question. Even he was surprised at just how resilient Shirou could be when on his game.
Fina put his hat back on. "It is your turn to parley boy. I'm not so blind to assume you did not come without some scheme of your own. Solomon would not risk so much to make an idiot one of us. You are weak, not helpless, but more importantly you have influence over Seven Servants. Tell me, were you planning on killing me tonight?"
Shirou's expression didn't budge. "If needed."
He nodded shallowly, as if agreeing that it was only sensible for Shirou to have that train of thought. "Number advantage aside, you do know of my reputation, don't you? I've been supposedly killed before. Last lass managed to cut my very head off and left a curse that even I won't forget for the next century, but I'm still here."
It might have even worked, had she known of his particularly, unique, disposition.
"I have a few ideas. Your Reality Marble has some similarities to the Rider's of the previous war. Alexander the Great had quite the following." Shirou noted the fully healed and renewed squad of werewolves by the vampire again. Their brief encounters tonight had exposed a few more aspects and rules about Parade to make note of.
Particularly how easily it was for Fina to generate his men. Too easily.
"Heh. Now that's not fair. Comparing an admittedly popular dashing rogue like me to the overwhelming might of King of Conquerors. Who told you I'm a whore for flattery?" Fina paced slowly, choosing his words and approach carefully. "Ah, but there's an idea. Between my boys and your armory…"
"Insinuate such a thing again, and I will show you just how under-equipped the entirety of your army truly are." Shirou's eyes momentarily flared with rage. As if the mere idea of what was being proposed was a sin worthy of death from the teen's perspective.
Fina's lips twitched for but a moment. He hated it when people referred to his men as a mere Army. They were a glorious and majestic Parade damn it.
"Ohohoho. Someone's protective. Then again, I can't say I'm any different." Smirking, he wordlessly retracted his suggestion. For the briefest of moments, he saw the image of several hundred swords of varying quality and sizes flying right at him like bullets.
Ah. In hindsight, he might want to take Shirou's words somewhat seriously. Parade may have its own tricks and gimmicks that gave him a leg up on most enemies, but his opponent's contained more than a few Noble Phantasms at this point. Who knows how many useful trinkets this kid had up his sleeve?
"Hmm. But to be this amicable, you must be quite wary of Barthomelloi finding out about this?"
The visible flinch told Fina all he needed to know.
"Heh, don't act so surprised. It isn't that hard to piece together once you have enough time to think about it. The last thing you want is trouble, and the one in the best position to make your life hell isn't one of us, but the big bad bitch herself. Oh, now that I think about it, she'd have a right mast up her ass if this ever got out to the Association, wouldn't she? Her prized dog, a fox this entire time? Ha! Hell, I'd almost put money on her spending her time going after you instead of Ortenrosse!"
Shirou's eyes narrowed dangerously. They were crossing into the very territory that would decide the fates of many major powers in the Moonlit World tonight. "Unless, of course, that was the plan."
Fina's joyous mirth died instantly.
The Second Magus Killer slowly reached into his coat, and pulled out the first document inside. A rolled up piece of parchment commonly used for Self Geass Scrolls. With a casual flick, he tossed it to the pirate captain.
"It's as you said. If Lorelei Barthomelloi finds out about my condition, my existence in the Association is forfeit. As is those of the other Masters in Fuyuki."
Fina frowned. "They know about you?"
"They knew about my condition for some time. My position on the other hand, is a recent discovery. Regardless, if this gets out in the Association, and I go down, they will too. And they know it."
The sound of paper shuffling echoed throughout the docks.
"Kuh?! This is, are you mad boy?!"
"No. Just desperate." Shirou stated factually, ignoring the look he was getting. "Why do you look so surprised? Isn't that outcome more or less what you were going to blackmail me with? I simply put it in writing."
"Put it in writing?! A Black Spot is putting it in writing!" Fina shouted, pointing to the paper that had the signature of every active Master in the Fifth war in it, save for Shirou's. "This is all but a declaration of war you reckless fool!"
In his hand was a Self Geass contract that enlisted and obligated every individual that signed to do everything in their power to obstruct and antagonize Altrouge Brunstud and her followers. This included inclining them to offer their services to the White Winged Lord Trhvmn Ortenrosse in exchange for protection.
Or rather, it was a copy of the contract.
"What's there to misunderstand? If you out me to the Association, what other outcome were we to take? You didn't expect us to submit ourselves to the ones that placed us in such an adverse situation in the first place, did you? Or did you anticipate that we would simply expose our stomachs to Barthomelloi's wrath?" Shirou looked skeptically at the Pirate, as if daring him to refute his prediction of a worst case scenario.
Indeed, because had anyone used Shirou's condition as an Apostle gotten out, the fallout would have been catastrophic at best. Catastrophic… but predictable.
So, with a piece of parchment and a few signatures, Shirou had ensured that if he and the other Masters were pushed into the abyss, Altrouge's brood would find themselves falling too.
It was a game of Chicken that risked disrupting the moonlit world's balance of power to its core.
"Solomon! You did this! You planned this from the start!"
"You overestimate me, Fina." Merem yawned. "I warned you. He has a gift for excelling and purposefully over-inflating a situation if unnecessarily pushed. This entertaining scheme was of his own design. I assure you, even I would not dare go this far for a mere bluff. Trhvmn's too much of a headache to be around already. Putting the new Tenth and seven Servants under his command? I'm cruel, but I'm not a masochist."
"In spite of recent events, of course." The King of Rats muttered quietly with an amused smile.
"Between that and his unnatural innate ability to ensnare the attention of anyone worth noting in this world, in spite of his desire to be left alone, one could reason that his threat level to Humanity could be solely based on how easy it would be for him to disrupt the power balance of our world. In their reckless desire to use Shirou for whatever plots or schemes they possess, everyone has inadvertently placed him in the prime position to set the world aflame with a mere decision or two. Literally a monster of our own making."
"Merem." Shirou glared at his questionable ally in a way that more or less said: If you don't say something that I'll actually like soon, I'm going to stab you repeatedly with a different weapon each time.
"Regardless, it really is fortunate that Shirou is more capable than you assumed. That contract there activates when all active Masters' signatures are present. Had you somehow managed to kill him in your carelessness…"
The Geass would have activated, and Altrouge would have suddenly had a great deal of new headaches to deal with.
The Pirate was not happy if his murderous expression was any indication. It was understandable, since he had been essentially played with the moment he arrived that night. By a child no less. He was agitated enough that he had to take in a slow deep breath to calm himself down. "Say your piece. Whore of the Church. Dog of Barthomelloi."
Shirou reached into his coat and pulled out the second document. "Calm yourself. What you hold is merely my ultimatum. The consequences for interfering with my life and the lives of those I oversee. This on the other hand, is what I would prefer would come to pass at the end of our negotiations."
"You'll find that Lord Emiya can be unnaturally reasonable, when his temper isn't stoked," the King of Rats added as the parchment was tossed and caught with little grace or delicacy.
Fina didn't immediately respond as he opened the document and read it quickly.
He paused. And then read it again.
"That's it," Shirou stated flatly.
"You'll threaten turning the world sideways just for this?"
"I would have asked for more, but quite frankly, you have nothing else I want."
Shirou's cold scathing words seemed to have caused critical damage to the point that even Merem flinched. Altrouge Brunstud and her faction were one of the greatest powers in the Moonlit World, and yet Shirou had dismissed her empire's capability and resources as if it was inconsequential.
And as one of the woman's top confidants, her royal guard, it was only natural for Fina to take exceptional offense to it.
One did not need to be an expert mind reader to tell that the vampire wanted nothing more than to tear apart the document and be done with this mess.
He took in another deep breath and regained his composure. "And, hypothetically, if I were to press my luck? Say, try to burn this city of yours down in my departure tonight while keeping my word to take this rag to my lady?"
For once Shirou didn't rise to the bait. Rather, he didn't seem to look affected by the threat in the slightest. "You'd find that to be somewhat difficult."
"And why's that?"
"You'd need a boat to accomplish that much."
"What are you-?!"
The world around them shuddered as a bright golden pillar of light caught everyone's attention.
Not near them. Not from further inland.
But on Fina's ship itself.
"Conveniently, my Servant possesses an Anti-Fortress Noble Phantasm, and what are ships in this era but mobile fortresses?" Shirou's expression didn't change in the slightest. There was no overconfidence or pride in his tone. He was simply stating facts.
"What the bloody… the hell did she get on my ship?!" Fina balked at the turn of events. Even from this distance, they could see Saber standing on the deck of the commandeered ship, calmly at ease with her hands resting on the grip and pommel of her golden sword and it sat with its tip on the metal below. If it weren't for the raw power she was emanating, she would almost appear as if she was patiently waiting for the end of the negotiations.
"Simple. My Servant is not that slow."
Truthfully, the turn of events had been Fina's fault in the first place, as he had given Saber an opportunity to leave and get out of the Vampire's range of detection. She had only traveled a few kilometers away at best before extracting her copy of Avalon and giving it to the mortally wounded teacher. Once the man had recovered enough to recover under his own steam, she had hidden him away in the shadows before Shirou had instructed her to sneak onto Fina's ship. Instead of heading straight to it though, she simply did the smart thing and entered the bay a few kilometers down the shore and strafed the boat until she approached it from the other side.
While Saber admittedly didn't know how to swim, and stealth wasn't her forte, she did have some workarounds. Her blessing from the Lady of the Lake allowed her to walk on water. And in case she ever needed to move around undetected, Shirou had given her a copy of her dagger, Carwennan, which allowed her to hide under the cover of darkness.
He hadn't planned for this exact scenario by any stretch of the imagination, but he wasn't going to give up the option of allowing his strongest card to sneak to a key location in the middle of any potential madness for an easy win if the opportunity presented itself. In truth, Saber had carried a copy of her old dagger on her since the beginning of the war for just such an occasion. She never used it simply because there had never been an occasion that she needed to prioritize stealth over her attention snaring raw power.
She found it somewhat queer that she managed to abscond on a Vampire's minions so easily using darkness as her cloak, but in hindsight, she doubted her enemies would expect such a ridiculous approach either.
Regardless of her musings, her holy sword was currently emanating an absurd amount of power and its tip was digging a few millimeters into the metal surface of the ship.
She did not miss the feeling of the vessel beneath her feet literally squirm and shudder under her power.
Fina turned murderously to Shirou. "And here I thought you weren't here for a fight."
Shirou held his ground. "I'm not. But I'm not here to get fucked either. Not now. Not later. Not by you, Brunstud, or Barthomelloi."
"Could have fooled me." He looked down at the paper. "Fancy lightshow. But your grand plan has a snag in it, boyo. I represent Altrouge Brunstud, but I don't sign the papers for her and the faction."
"She's the Master of Blood and Contracts. Don't tell me she hasn't found a way around such a small thing." Shirou didn't buy the excuse for a second.
Fina huffed. "Oh she has. But she doesn't give the okay for it to happen unless she knows of the deal ahead of time. And she sure as salt doesn't know of this mess." He tapped the document in his hand. "You want this rag sailing? I need to go back to the lady in person. Simple as that. I'm surprised Solomon didn't tell you of this."
"I did." Merem waved him off absently, more interested in once again inspecting the hair in his possession.
And that's when Shirou took out a third Geass scroll.
"Oh you sassy little…"
"Relax." Shirou tossed him the paper. "This' just so you won't renege on your duties delivering my proposal to your master or sabotage the agreement before a decision is made. In return for the peace, I'll do the same, and not nuke you with a holy sword. No aggression. No disclosure about the deal to third parties. You go from point A to point B."
Besides, there was no need to tell the others about this when they were watching it devolve as it happened.
"Tch." The vampire opened the paper, scanned it briefly, debated with himself about actually going through with the mess before remembering that his ship was about to take a Noble Phantasm at point blank range, channeled some prana into his finger and put down his signature, instantly enacting the geass. "There. It's signed. Now get your blasted lass off my damn ship."
As if on cue, the golden light in the distance died off quickly to the point that everyone was seeing spots as they tried to adjust to the darkness again.
Seconds later, Saber landed back on shore with a flashy gust that gave others the impression of a meteor of air, clearly purposefully showboating her power as whatever dust and debris that had been left in the vicinity had been blown away.
The first thing she did after inspecting the beaten and cratered docks was give Shirou a dry and unamused look. "You can't be left alone for five minutes without someone coming for your head."
Her Master shrugged, not even bothering to try and defend himself. "On the bright side, I'm not hurt this time."
"I do seem to recall…" The King of Rats was about to bring up the fact that the boy had taken a werewolf claw to the face earlier before a quick glare shut him up. "Never mind."
Saber glanced at Fina, who clearly was in a worse mood than when she left. It didn't escape her attention that the vampire was holding several pieces of parchment in his hands and that Taiga was in the King of Rats' care. "Have tonight's negotiations concluded?"
"It appears so, Your Majesty. That is unless of course your cocky master has another piece of paper that I'm sorely tempted to wipe my ass with."
"I don't want to hear it from the one that came here with hostages," Shirou riposted coldly. "… How long until we can expect a decision from your mistress?"
"A week at the earliest." Fina huffed, pocketing the documents. "She'll know of them come morning, but it'll take some time to get these to her in person and return."
Shirou held back a curse, but didn't act on it. He had hoped that the timing wouldn't match with when Aozaki would arrive. "For everyone's sanity, it's best if it was just you that returned. I don't think it's possible to hide Primate Murder of all things from detection the way things are heading in the near future. Fuyuki's getting a lot of attention from more than just vampires you know."
"You know you could just come with me and get this over with in person."
"We'd kill one another before I'd have a chance to see a shred of dog fur. Geass be damned." It wasn't a joke. Shirou firmly believed it.
"Careful there boyo. Any more talk like that and I'll have to put you in your place. I thought the people here had a thing about respecting their seniors." It was clear that the vampire was starting to get irritated by the lack of respect and recognition of his power.
"You made a terrible first impression of one." Shirou glanced at the Pirate once more, and wasn't surprised to see him surrounded by the pack of werewolves in formation.
The same number of men. The same individuals.
The source of their constant manifestation didn't seem too put out from maintaining such a force despite the fact that they clearly came from his Reality Marble. Rather, Fina only appeared to have only irritated by the act of producing them, or when the ship was under threat.
He doubted that the man's vessel hadn't been sunk at some point over the years, but here they both were regardless… wait…
Fina… the men… the ship… the Reality Marble Parade… constantly coming back after being killed… the ease of constantly maintaining a crew and vessel from his inner world in the current one despite the absurd levels of raw power required to accomplish such a thing…
Shirou's hands tightened to the point that he almost drew blood before he relaxed again. "I see. So that's how it is."
"Hm? Say something?"
"Nothing important. Just figured out something for later."
He had underestimated the situation. Fina-Blood Svelton truly was a monster of the highest order.
Just not in the way that was assumed. No wonder everyone's had such a hard time killing him. The only people that would have a hope of figuring out how he worked were those that were intimately familiar with Reality Marbles.
Even if Shirou tried to get along with the other rational Ancestors, there was no question that he would never be able to tolerate this one in particular.
"That look says that you've come to a very dangerous conclusion." Fina frowned, matching Shirou's stare with his own. "For your sake, you best be sure that you don't do something foolish with it."
Saber, Merem, and the King of Rats had to hold back the urge to say or do anything that would betray their thoughts and growing despair.
"Don't worry. I'm the reacting type. The only ones in danger are those that don't get the hint and back off."
"Humph. My ass." Fina turned to look at Merem with a scathing glare. "As usual, your taste in companions is dubious at best, Crown. I still don't understand what on earth convinced you to make this brat the Tenth, but there's no point crying over it now. It's his funeral."
"You recognize him?" Merem asked with a curious, but eerily unreadable tone that could be interpreted in a dozen ways simultaneously.
"As the weakest slab of fresh meat to ever be considered one of us since our founding? Yes." He crossed his arms. "Even that fool Louvre made more sense than this one. Reality Marble or not. Noble Phantasms or not. He's too human."
"Of course. But then again, it would be a shame to not have an Apostle that doesn't need to feed among us, would it not?" Merem's eyes flashed knowingly, causing Fina to falter.
Shirou grimaced. At the end of the day, it would always go back to that. One of the greatest goals for all Apostles and Ancestors was to perfect their immortality. What they had now, their overdependence on the flesh and blood of the living to maintain their current forms and longevity, was the sole greatest frustration they had to their existences.
If Shirou truly was immortal, even if it was simply in the form of mere longevity… and if he didn't need to feast on the living in order to naturally stay alive for ages on end…
Even if Fina wanted to kill the kid, there was no doubt that Altrouge would want to keep an eye on him to see how he develops.
Hell, just knowing about this before White Wing Ortenrosse held an absurd amount of potential further down the line.
Sooner or later though, the other Apostles would start hounding Shirou about this.
"How about if all of you manage to keep your fangs in your pants long enough and not bother me about it, I'll give you priority if and when something relevant to that does happen so you can lord it over the rest of the world's heads. How does that sound?" Shirou deadpanned.
"So long as I don't see another damned geass scroll, I'll suck your hairless nuts for all I care brat." The terrifying thing was that Fina looked to be completely serious when he said that.
Saber glanced at her Master with an unreadable look before eyeing the documents in the vampire's possession. "… Just like your father."
"Not now, Saber."
"Are we done?" Shirou decided not to reply to Fina's unsettling declaration. "One week. Pending some other nonsense shows up that I'm inevitably stuck in the middle of again, of course."
"Someone's salty… Aye. One week. My mistress is a willful one, so don't lay your complaints with me if she decides to contact you without warning. I can at least guarantee that it won't be for our meeting."
Merem grimaced, showing a rare moment of sympathy with Fina. "As much as I hate to agree with him, he's right. The Pretender has her moments, and Fuyuki isn't secure enough to prevent her entry if she so chose to visit."
Shirou sighed deeply. "… So long as she follows the same rules that Merem follows when he visits, I'll tolerate her behavior. That's the best she can get."
"Well that's hardly reasonable. I go through all this effort, and she's the one getting the pass?"
"Your Master hasn't threatened me with hostages or carelessly risked setting the unstable peace I've bled for on fire. Yet. You have. Until that changes, you'll deal with it." It was clear from his tone that the teen wasn't going to budge on his decision.
"Feh. What a petty thing you are." He waved his hand and walked to his boat. "Come on boys. Let the greenhorn play in his sandbox."
Shirou didn't let his guard down at all.
"Well. That could have gone smoother." The King of Rats mused as he carried Taiga in his arms. "Altrouge is no ally of my creator, but your aggression was not missed, Lord Emiya."
"It would have gone worse if he had done nothing." Merem sighed. "Fina had come with hostages, despite our repeated efforts to curb his behavior. Without ground to stand on and the momentum of being in control, Fina would not have agreed to Shirou's requests. They still might not for that matter, as the decision ultimately falls with Altrouge."
"You told them about my condition on purpose. To make them curious about how I'd turn out." Shirou stated, familiar with the mind games that were already at play.
"A living Apostle right under Barthomelloi's nose, armed with Noble Phantasms and access to seven Servants. Your situation's so bizarre and precarious that it would be hard not to expect them to sit on the sidelines to see what would happen next. No doubt you'll be the source of their entertainment for at least the next year or so." Merem shrugged. "It's the aftermath of that madness that you'll have to be wary of. If you refuse to be a player in the greater game, then you might find yourself to be nothing more than a trophy if you aren't careful."
"Wonderful." The teen watched as Fina and his crew of werewolves made out to his ship on the small motorboat, gliding across the water. "… Come on. Everyone's probably going to want details from what they couldn't get from Caster's familiars."
The King of Rats sniffed as he glanced at the seemingly random stray cats hidden in the corner of buildings in the distance. Must the woman use such infernal beasts for her spying? He had offered the services of several perfectly usable Rats nearby. Bah. He would never understand human females.
"They're probably going to chew you out for getting into another fight." Merem smirked. "At the very least, you can make it back home under your own steam this time."
"Hilarious." Shirou could feel Saber's amusement right behind him.
"You do have a tendency of getting critically injured as of late," the King of Rats prodded.
"I also have a tendency of performing better when not fighting hopelessly mismatched battles against Servants."
"My my. It almost sounds like you consider Apostle Ancestors to be beneath simple common Servants. But of course that can't be true, right, Shirou?" Merem smiled in a way that fooled absolutely no one.
"Common Servants?" Saber skeptically lifted an eyebrow, challenging the small vampire to repeat himself.
"Don't even go there, Merem." There was little heat in Shirou's tone. All things considered, he needed the small banter. He needed to destress something fierce and this small talk was just the thing to start the process.
"Oi brat! One last thing!"
He was a fool.
Shirou bit back a swear and turned around to see Fina standing on his boat, already on his way to his ship. With him were his men, and the boxes that he had used to hide and carry Taiga and Kizuki.
All… three… of them…
His face paled as a new face was brought into the light. One he had not seen in weeks.
Fina held up the unconscious teen with one hand by the neck. The other was flexing itself lazily.
"What are you doing, Vampire?!" Saber shouted, not liking one bit where this was likely to go.
The smirk on the Pirate's face was as cold as the glare in his eyes. "You said earlier that I didn't have anything else that you wanted. So I'm only doing the natural thing for my ship."
A hand punched through Issei's chest from behind. In its claws was the young monk's still beating heart.
"Dumping dead weight."
The sound of the body falling into the ocean echoed ominously in the docks.
"See you in a week boy!"
o. o. o.
Omake: Sharper than blades
The sixth singularity was winding to a close.
The Divine Entity known as the Lion King had been stopped. The Knights of the Round bested. Chaldea had been victorious, despite the odds.
The world would heal with time, and despite the intense fighting, it appeared that all sides had finally managed to accept their eventual return to the Throne without regret.
"Get back here!"
"How about no!"
Save for one.
Shirou panted as he turned a corner in a desperate attempt to lose the raging Knight of the Round that was after his head.
In doing so, he barely managed to dodge the electrically charged sword that impaled where his head would be.
Ever since Mordred had found out that Shirou had been Saber's Master in another war, the Knight of Betrayal had had it out for him. The wild monster had perpetually mocked him for either his weakness or his lack of qualities to be King Arthur's Master, regardless of Sab-Lancer's constant chidings.
Even now, when all the Servants were visibly fading away, Mordred was staying around through sheer willpower and spite in order to rectify what she felt was clearly a mistake. How someone could love and hate someone as much as Mordred did Arturia both bewildered and impressed Shirou to no end.
At first it had been tolerable. He was used to being underestimated. Called a coward. Snide comments.
But whatever line Mordred had didn't stop there.
Quick jabs. Trips. Frequent requests to "spar". Shocks of electricity. They got worse the more often he spent time with Arturia.
"Will you just disappear already?!" Normally he wasn't this rude, but normal rarely came into play these days.
"Not until I kick your pansy ass for thinking it's worthy of being near Father!" Mordred snarled! "I don't care what the others say! You don't deserve breathing the same air as him! You don't deserve being on the same battleground as him! And your shitty food is not something that should ever pass his lips!"
Shirou stopped in his tracks.
He still didn't know where Mordred's line was, but his had just been crossed.
"Finally! Now stay still and take your execution like a-"
"Trace. On." Mass producing blades. Engage simultaneous manifestation. Fire.
Maybe if Mordred had been at full strength instead of fading away she would have been able to handle the fifty some odd nameless Noble Phantasms firing at her like bullets, but as it stood, she could only manage half of them before the rest either hammered into her armor or nailed her into the nearby wall.
Before she could recover, a flash of silver caught her attention, and she realized that she was staring at the tip of a sword two centimeters from her face.
More annoyingly was that Shirou was staring at her with an emotionless mask that reminded her of her king's.
"Tch. Figures you'd try and show off while I'm at my weakest. And they call me an ignoble coward." She snarled, her body already starting to fall apart into prana. "Well? Get it over with already! Unless you're too much of a pussy to do even that."
The two glared at one another silently for several long seconds before Shirou shook his head and put away his weapon.
"That's what I thought. You really have no balls." The Knight looked at him with mixed contempt, disgust, and self-satisfaction.
She expected him to walk away. She expected him to try and play it cool. She expected him to be a pushover.
She did not expect him to lean forward so that his mouth was next to her head.
"… I fucked your dad. And he liked it."
The hallway was dead silent as he pulled back and walked away at a leisure pace. He didn't bother to relish Mordred's dumbstruck expression, her pale complexion, her dilated eyes, or her body shaking in pure rage.
No. It was the temporary silence that he bathed in that announced his victory.
"Oh you son of a BITCH WHEN I GET MY HANDS ON YOU I'LL TEAR YOU APART WHILE FRYING YOUR INSIDES! YOU HEAR ME?! I'M GOING TO SHOVE CLARENT UP YOUR ASS AND TURN YOU INTO A KABOB! YOU WISH I LET AGRAVAIN HAD HIS WAY WITH YOU! YOU HEAR ME?! A SWORD KABOB!"
The Knight of Treachery's bloody howls echoed throughout Camelot for another five minutes before her body finally gave in and she returned to the Throne of Heroes.
o. o. o.
As always, thanks Wayfarer for betaing.
Oh boy. This chapter. This chapter.
It could have gone in so many different ways. Many more flashy and absurd ways that would just cause the whole situation to go to shit at breakneck speed. Problem was, as tempted as I was to do it, and OH BOY was I tempted, it would have been too much too quickly. Pacing people. If there's one thing you gotta keep a strong hold of when doing a Fate fic, its pacing. … That and maintaining some lore consistency.
Yes. I know about the Grand Lancer (For reference for future readers, FGO Olympus Singularity just came out at the posting of this chapter). But the chapter was more or less written by the time I found out about him so, too bad. I'm sticking with what I got.
That being said… how the FUCK is that guy a Lancer in that state?! Seriously! The only way I can even think that guy qualifies as one is if through bizzaro logic, wielding and spamming Laser Beams qualifies as using a near unending supply of endless ranged spears! I'm calling bullshit!
As far as FGO goes, my main goal is to get all the Beast and Grand Servants on my account when possible. Kingprotea counts as the representative for Tiamat.
Back to the story, yeah, at least one character was bound to die at this point as a victim of circumstance. Originally I was planning someone else to die, and have Shirou himself accidentally do the deed for a bit of extra trauma, but again, pacing came into play and I couldn't use that one without turning the story in a completely different direction.
So yeah. A lot of gambling took place in this meeting. Shirou was in a tough spot with pretty much no easy way out for himself this time. No amount of bluffing or throwing his weight around was going to give him a favorable permanent solution. He was stuck between a rock, a hard place, and a pool of lava, and the rock and the hard place were either cursed, irradiated, or spiked.
For clarity, his Self Geass wasn't obligating everyone to align themselves with White Wing, but offer their services in exchange for protection, like mercenaries. Merem would vouch for them.
On another side note, in earlier chapters, I said that Fina was the Seventh. That was a mistake on my part. He's the Eighth Ancestor. My bad.
As far as real life goes, my birthday just passed. I'm 31 now. Quarantine birthday. Yaaaaaay. Not much happened really. Just stayed at home and talked to friends and family online. If anyone wants to do something for me, just make some fanart please. Normally I'd try and milk the situation and sell some shirts, but given the circumstances, making you guys waste your money on a shirt isn't filling me with comforting feelings.
Besides, I'm a fanart whore.
Nothing else to talk about atm. I'm holding off on getting FF7 remake, even if I'm hearing nothing but glowing reviews from everyone. Thankfully I still have my job and I can still work from home. That and I have a fairly sizeable nestegg saved up so even if I lose my job I can last a while if needed.
Unfortunately, I'm gonna be focusing on my other fics for now. I've put things off for a while, and this feels like a good spot to take a break for the time being. Plus people are starting to get real impatient for my other stories. Sorry guys.
More importantly though guys. Above all else, stay safe. Quarantine's a bitch, but getting sick and spreading the virus is even worse. Please don't be reckless. Be patient, and don't be like those idiots in Lancing Michigan. I know it's tough but we'll manage somehow.
That's about it. I know I'm cutting things off on a bit of a cliffhanger, but that's what I do normally, so it shouldn't be that much of a surprise at this point. Hope you guys all do well in the meantime.
SO REVIEW! WORSHIP THE LOG! YOU ARE NOW IMAGINING WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF RIZUKA TOLD LANCELOT THAT HE FUCKED HIS "SON"! AND REVIEW AGAIN!
"Next time, you best be careful with your words."