Chapter 59: Consensus

I do not own Fate/Stay Night and stuffs.

o. o. o.

They spent the rest of the night picking apart Fina's theoretical existence like vultures. The more they disseminated his limitations and functions, the more likely it was that they were more correct than they wanted to believe.

And they really didn't want to believe they were right at several points.

The Eighth Apostle Ancestor could be described as a twisted mix of a hive mind and something similar to a hydra. With interchangeable parts no less. There was technically no "core" to speak of, but that didn't mean that all of its resources (mana) was distributed evenly through all the individual bodies that made it up.

Obviously, the majority of Fina's mana was stored within his "ship". The bigger body ensured that he could safely stockpile what could only be assumed to be a terrifying amount without getting noticed. However, to ensure an expedited recovery should anything happen to it, a slightly above average portion was distributed among the "crew" that was manifested at any given time. That went double so for Fina, who was the "captain" and the public face of the monstrosity in the first place. He had an image to maintain, and power was needed for that.

It was a genius setup if one thought about it abstractly. Whenever Fina arrived at a location, the first thing he did was send a sizable portion of his "crew" onto land and spread them amongst the locals. Not only was this a way to feel out the situation and get information, but it simultaneously protected him from a worst case scenario in a single move.

Shirou recalled how there already had snipers set up during their meeting seemingly before the ship had already arrived. The move at first glance may have been intended to put pressure on Shirou, but in reality it had been to set up a lifeline in case Merem tried something funny.

Whenever one of his "men" died and was replaced, Fina made a show of it, making it look like his soldiers were disposable dolls that could easily be remade from scratch.

It couldn't be further than the truth. His men weren't being replaced. They were being regenerated. The same way other Apostles regenerate a lost finger or hand when injured. It was a minor injury that barely made the monster blink or take a few seconds to recover from.

Between the irregular power distribution and his existence spread out between so many physical bodies, it was no wonder that Fina was damn near impossible to kill. No one had ever managed to wipe out enough of his foundation to put him down for good. They were all too busy being distracted by the ship and the flashy disposable Captain to bother thinking about the crew, much like aiming for a lizard's tail instead of the lizard.

That said, when the question on whether or not they needed to kill literally EVERY member of Fina's Crew, the ship, and Fina to off him for good came up, the general consensus seemed to be a tentative no.

Do enough damage to their physical bodies, and most Apostles went down eventually. Outside of a few outliers that didn't exist physically in the first place, this was a general rule of thumb when dealing with them. Simple in concept but difficult in execution. It had just been applied incorrectly in the Eighth's case.

The problem was determining how much damage to deal and how to deal that much in the first place.

Most of the Masters estimated that they would need to at least destroy Fina's ship, Fina, and wipe out over eighty percent, or a hundred and sixty members of the crew at once to have a realistic shot of doing lethal damage. Give or take.

It wasn't a pleasant or reasonable task to imagine pulling off without significant resources and prep time, but at least it was something to aim for.

Ideally, the best way to hit them all at once would be to catch him in transit between locations in the ocean where he couldn't spread his forces out in the first place, but that meant fighting a pirate on his own turf. The odds of managing to pinpoint his location at sea was pathetic at best, let alone mustering up a force that could take down a mystic battleship, or whatever else he had up his sleeve if he had to fight in earnest.

Of course, therein laid the second major revelation regarding Fina's particular condition.

His choice in ships and crew led to a deeply disturbing, yet enlightening revelation. While using modern ships and men helped Fina blend in with the locals, the primary reason for his doing so was something far more simplistic and genius.

Much like how a ship uses its natural buoyancy and design to keep itself and massive cargos afloat despite the weight and mass it possesses, Fina uses the buoyancy and stability of a modern ship and crew to keep himself afloat within Gaea's influence with minimal effort.

Fina was a five hundred year old monster that drank blood to keep his body intact and supply himself with power to maintain his Reality Marble's stability…

But with the connections established, the ship and crew he was with were by definition modern and barely altered existences that required minimal maintenance to upkeep according to the world…

Then by all rights, Fina could easily consider "himself" cargo and allow his ship and crew to not only do most of his heavy lifting, but potentially even stockpile additional mana for a particularly rainy day if his intake of mana was significant enough and his ship was outfitted with the right setup.

He was literally shipping himself over Gaia's system without a care in the world.

Obviously, he had stronger forces available at his beck and call if needed. Stronger and older ships. Mages. Monsters. Probably even phantasmal beasts. But the further his forces strayed from reality, the heavier the burden would be. There was no telling just how strong he truly was if he went all out, but by that same measure the cost for maintaining that sort of firepower would be crippling.

At the very least the bastard wasn't from the Age of Gods. Who knows how dangerous he would have been if he had access to the monsters from that era.

There was a possibility that Fina himself was required to be on hand to interchange the "members" of his crew and his ship. If so, then there may be a significant cost of mana to make the switch depending on who or what came and left. It was something to keep in mind.

Then there was the matter of the base for the "ship" and "crew of two hundred" that needed to be taken into consideration, and its relationship with Parade and the men he killed, or kidnapped, or whatever it was he did with his victims.

Illya was the one that came to the most likely explanation first. Much like how the corrupted Grail utilized the existence of Irisviel von Einsbern to speak to Kiritsugu during the end of the Fourth War, she suspected that Fina's crew were utilizing his victims in much the same way. Somehow, Parade was capable of utilizing those it had captured as models for the original crew to inhabit and exist in the modern world.

Parade had enabled Fina's entire pirate crew to survive for five hundred years, not just their captain. The only difference was that Fina was the only one that constantly stayed in his original body with his psyche and personality untouched. Probably not out of choice either, but out of necessity in order to maintain the Reality Marble as easily as possible. It ensured that whoever he called upon was loyal to him to a fault, regardless of the past and loyalties they held before when alive.

So to summarize, they were up against a monster that consisted at the very base level of a ship, and two hundred some odd individuals, all of which save the captain could be interchanged with other individuals he has eaten, absorbed, consumed, whatever, to maximize his efficiency given the situation. One that immediately spread itself out upon reaching land in order to gain information and to ensure it didn't die if the "Captain" and "Ship" were executed. Maximum firepower of the ship and crew is unknown, and it is likely that he travels with an absurd level of stored mana for regenerative and potential offensive purposes.

Oh, and while he does count as an Apostle, only Fina is apparently an actual vampire and affected by the sun.

Wonderful.

"So what do we do?" Lancer asked. "Have Saber blow up his ship and then hunt down the rest of his crew until he fades away?"

"If you want to pick a fight with a Beast, do it on your own time Lancer. Don't get us involved." Archer shook his head.

"But it could work. Especially if Caster sets up bounded fields ahead of time to catch or identify the stragglers," Luvia pointed out firmly. "At least, if we are correct."

"And if that pirate asshole doesn't haven another trick that keeps himself alive. Which is unlikely knowing our luck." Rin yawned, glancing outside to see that it was starting to get bright. "Ngh. That said, I'm pretty sure he won't be doubling back and attacking us in the next few days. Long enough for us to get some rest."

"It's morning already?" Sakura blinked before realizing just how tired she was.

"Well, it has been that kind of night." Bazett stretched. "I think all of us could do with some sleep."

While she did get some murmurs of agreement, eventually all eyes turned to the one person that hadn't responded, still focused on the notes and chalkboard set up earlier.

"Onii-chan." Illya's tone was a mix of frustration, accusation, and concern.

"Mmm." Shirou hummed absently, absorbed in his thoughts.

"It's morning, Shirou. We're going to sleep." Rin spelled it out for him. "That includes you too."

The fact that he was being told to do something that wasn't immediately related to Fina's murder or suffering snapped him out of his near endless plotting. "Hm? Wait. What?"

"You. Bed. Now," Rin summed up everyone's demand as if talking to a child.

"But-"

"Shirou, unless you want me to be the first person to manhandle an Apostle Ancestor like he's an infant, you will get some sleep." Rin held her ground. "And if you even try to argue I'll have Saber help me do it. I might not know her as well as you do, but I'm pretty sure she'll take my side on this."

"No, she…" he trailed off as he remembered that his Servant was still in the back yard. Along with Caster and Issei. "She's still outside."

"So she is." Lancer scratched his cheek in thought. The fact that the two Servants outside were STILL treating the teen was something of concern. Issei should be deemed alive or a lost cause by now. "What do you think is wrong with the kid?"

"I would also like to know." Surprising even some of the Servants, Kuzuki revealed himself from the bedroom hallway.

"Sensei!" Rin, Sakura, and Luvia gasped in surprise.

"You got up fast." Bazett nodded, looking at where the bloody hole made in his body once existed. While his wound was gone, the damage and stains in his clothes persisted, and judging from his complexion, he was still suffering from some significant blood loss.

"I assume that something unfortunate happened once Fujimura-sensei, Ryuudou-kun, and I were taken captive. Seeing as the former and I were left alone, I presume our conditions are manageable, The history teacher stated factually and evenly. However it did not change the fact that his attention was completely occupied with what was happening outside. "I presumed that once this War was over, there would be no more complications."

Shirou flinched.

"I take full responsibility for what happened, Sensei," Merem spoke up before anyone else could offer an explanation. "An, acquaintance of mine decided to drop by unannounced. Shirou and I attempted to keep things civil, but the fool allowed his eccentricity to get the better of him."

The Assassin turned teacher frowned and looked at the vampire as though deciphering and digesting his words, spoken and not. He already knew that Merem was a Vampire, supposedly a powerful one at that. Throw in how absurd magic could be, and he couldn't help but find an explanation for everything that happened so far.

"And the reason why he went after us?"

Merem grimaced, nodding to Shirou. "To keep our mutual friend in check. In our defense, we were unaware of your status until you were taken out before our eyes."

Kuzuki slowly nodded in comprehension. "I presume that Issei's condition was different from mine and Fujimura-sensei's." The fact that the boy was the only one still in a questionable state underscored as much.

"Mmm. It was a rather peculiar night. I'm certain you understand that your own mortality was put into question at a point."

The impassive man's expression tightened slightly, underscoring just how much the recent events truly bothered him. "I would have preferred it if Issei's and my states were swapped. I owe much to the Ryudou temple. The boy is akin to a younger brother. His health is my responsibility, as a teacher and as family. Particularly in a situation such as this."

"I have no intention of making light of your familial bonds, Sensei. I have witnessed firsthand just how severe the ramifications are underestimating them and have no intention of placing myself in the crossfire."

Everyone there did not need a hint to tell that he was speaking of the Emiya family.

"This associate of yours. The one responsible for this. Is he still alive?"

Merem's lips twitched slightly in amusement. "For now. He has a rather troublesome disposition to get around. Even by our standards. And his superior is one to be wary of. Dealing with him without ramifications would require a significant level of finesse. A good portion of tonight after you returned was dedicated to that particular topic."

Kuzuki glanced at the blackboard littered with all sorts of notes that he could comprehend only a quarter of. The fact that Shirou was still sitting in front of it did not escape his notice.

Instead of saying anything else, he turned and made his way outside to where Issei was.

"Not sure if that's a good idea." Lancer warned. "Anything that has Caster and Saber's focus for that long won't be pretty."

Archer sighed and stepped forward. "I'll join him. I can ask the right questions without wasting time."

The bulk of the room looked at one another skeptically, unsure if Archer was the best person for the job. After a few seconds of silence, they all dropped the matter. If the situation really was that concerning, someone would have spoken up.

Merem yawned, glancing outside to where daylight was slowly growing more predominant in the sky. "Well, as interesting as the past day has been, I recommend we all get some rest for the time being. It is unlikely that Fina will return anytime soon, and many of us still have other chores and tasks to accomplish erstwhile."

He pretended to not notice the dirty looks he was getting as he got up and walked to his personal chambers. It was unlikely that he would receive genial treatment after what happened to their friend, more so if worst came to worst. That said, everyone knew that he held absolutely no malice to the people here either.

"Merem."

That said, even if he tried to play off the situation as amicably as he could, even he could not simply brush off the ominously empty tone that Shirou addressed him with.

He didn't turn around, but he didn't keep moving either.

"Yes, Shirou?"

"We still have much to discuss."

The vampire's lips twitched in amusement. The latest Apostle Ancestor was still very much in his infancy, but he was already growing into his role quite well. He was already outlandish enough to make demands of his senior. They grow up so fast. "Get some rest, my friend. You have many a long night ahead of you yet."

Judging from the fact that Shirou didn't reply to his advice, it was safe to assume that his host was still willing to listen to him. At least to some extent.

He made it to the hallway before pausing once more. "I know it is meaningless to you, but I offer my most sincere congratulations. Few have managed to pick apart Fina's true nature. Even among our kind. To do so in a single encounter no less is…"

"Merem."

This time there was no hiding the heavy warning that laced that lone word.

The oldest being in the building stopped his musings with a wry smile. He was very well accustomed to knowing when someone was at the end of their patience. "Very well. Until tomorrow."

Rin grimaced as the vampire left their sight. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I can't wait for that monster to leave. And somehow, it has nothing to do with the fact that he's an eldritch abomination."

She got a chorus of murmuring agreements.

"That said, he was right about one thing. We should get some rest." Sakura sighed. "We all still have chores to do around town and for the Association. We'll only make matters worse if we can't perform as expected."

One by one the Masters got up. Except for Shirou.

Illya took priority and slowly hugged him from behind. "Onii-chan. It's time for bed."

"In a bit…" His excuse was halfhearted, both in his words and in the energy put in them.

"Now." She held her ground, not letting go of his back. "I'm using my onee-chan privileges. You have to do what I say. Don't make me force Papa into this too."

Several of the Servants looked at Assassin skeptically, questioning if he really would step in if Illya asked.

Much to their dismay, he was completely ignoring them, not only clearly pondering the exact same thing, but the means he would go about doing it if it came to that.

Fortunately, her words seemed to reach through her brother. With a heavy sigh, he picked himself up slowly and turned around.

It was the first time any of them had had a good look at him since he had first returned, and while what they saw wasn't surprising, it didn't make it any more pleasant.

Tired.

That was the sole underscoring word that seemed to etch itself into Shirou at that very moment. His expression was tired. His face was tired. His voice was tired. But more than anything, his eyes were tired. It was almost as if he had aged a decade during the night and the aches that came with it were only just starting to catch up.

"Just, let me check up on Issei first," he rasped out, completely ignoring the looks he was getting from his guests. "I'll go to bed right after that."

Misinterpreting their silence as a confirmation, he made his way uninhibited to the back yard where Archer and Kuzuki were standing a small distance from Saber, Caster and Issei.

He was only spared a cursory glance by a member at most from each party but wasn't greeted otherwise.

"… Well?" he probed. At this point, if speaking up would have interrupted something, someone would have taken him to the side by now.

"The vampire had drained his blood before that little show at the end. Too much, and for too long, according to Caster," Archer summarized the situation. He held neither malice nor pity in his words "Between that and the wounds he sustained afterwards, the shock to his brain and body was particularly significant."

"Bottom line?" Shirou just as firmly demanded the bad news, not needing to look to see his teacher's hands clenched into fists.

Archer closed his eyes. "Saber and Caster managed to keep him alive, but he's in a coma. Whether or not he wakes up is just as uncertain as the degree of brain damage he sustained. To put it in other words, the bulk of Caster's and Saber's time spent so far has been to minimize the odds of him being a vegetable or cripple should he wake up at all."

The brain was what linked the Soul to the Body. The fact that the source of the damage was a Vampire alone was enough to cause some major issues on a conceptual level, even if Fina never injected any blood into the poor teen.

The fact that Saber and Caster have worked for this long to mitigate the worst possible result only underscored just how much damage Issei had sustained in the first place.

Which in turn, further cemented his conviction to take proper measures in the oncoming days.

He turned around. "We're going to bed. Bring him to the living room. He's been outside long enough as it is. Caster can set up whatever bounded fields she deems necessary."

"On the property was one thing, Luvia's room another, but in the house in general?" Archer's skepticism was understandable. No magus worth their salt would even consider allowing another person to have free reign inside their workshop. Even if that person was a magic wielding powerhouse from the Age of the Gods.

If Shirou had bothered to look, he would have noticed Caster giving him the same expression of disbelief as Archer.

"We're already depending on Caster for too much as it is. I don't have the patience left to worry or care if she's stupid enough to turn on us now."

As Shirou re-entered his home, Archer could only sigh and watch. There was no point in contesting the issue any further than that.

Glancing at his fellow Servants, he gave them a rare look of pity. "I know it's unwarranted, but the both of you have your work cut out for you this time."

"You speak as though you have nothing to provide, Archer." Caster's tone was hard with focus.

He shook his head as his body began to fade away into spiritual form. "My role has been the same as it always has, Caster. I'm merely here to ensure things don't get worse. To actually improve a situation for others, is better left in other hands."

"That frustrating man. He doesn't even try to be productive unless his arm is twisted." Caster hissed under her breath.

"You know he has his own circumstances, Caster. And he isn't wrong," Saber chided, albeit halfheartedly. With Shirou in his current state, Archer had to be careful what he said or did, lest things do actually turn out worse. There really wasn't much that the Counter Guardian could do to improve the situation right now. "Come. Let's move Ryuudou-san inside."

"Allow me." Kuzuki stepped forward. "You continue with your spells."

"You're quite dedicated for a teacher." Caster mused.

"His family housed me when I had nowhere else to go and treated me as their own. I will see that debt paid, as kin or otherwise."

"A pity Heracles is a Berserker. You share much in common." With a tired sigh, Caster allowed her patient to be picked up and followed him into the building. It was going to be another long day at this rate. "Saber, I only need your assistance for a little while longer. Afterwards, it would be best to keep an eye on your Master. Zeus knows what that child will do without proper supervision in his current state."

Saber didn't dare reply to Caster's dry comment.

As Shirou's Servant, she had a connection to his surface thoughts and emotions so long as he didn't purposefully cut her off.

What she saw and felt wasn't unfamiliar, but wasn't pleasant either.

She would indeed talk to someone as soon as Caster no longer needed her assistance, but it wouldn't be her current Master.

o. o. o.

Waver all but collapsed at his desk in exhaustion. It wasn't even lunch yet and he felt like calling it in for the day.

"Aww. Does my loving fiancée need some tender care?" Reines giggled from the guest couch in his office.

"And you pretend to wonder why I avoid being near you in public." His scathing comment was distinctly lacking in scathe as he refused to take his head off of the desk.

"When will you get over yourself and submit to our tantalizing situation, dear Waver?" She teased.

"When I'm no longer liable to have the police called on me when you open your mouth. Suffice to say, I doubt such a time will ever come to pass." It could be half a century in the future and he was certain the crazy female would still make a game of how quickly she could get him into some nightmarish situation.

"How can you claim that I am the child when you are perpetually sulking like one?" Reines whimsically sighed, giving him a fake look of mocking scorn.

"With the immense apathy that comes with being a Lord."

"Tch. What a waste of a resource."

"I work with what is available. It's not my fault I'm on a tight budget."

The Archibald heiress' good mood fell rather quickly at that remark. "How bad is it?"

"Enough that no matter what relationship you claim we are in, my testicles will forever be in Barthomelloi's possession. And those of several of my successors for that matter."

"Do be less crass, dear older brother. You are a Lord still. Somehow."

"And as stated before, I am exercising my Lordly apathy as I see fit."

The girl allowed herself to sigh before relaxing in her seat and allowing her metallic maid that was the Vollumen Hydrogemn to serve her some tea.

The trial may have gone in Waver's favor, but the aftermath was nothing but pure chaos for the poor man.

The Archibald Family was placed in his name, and he had regained the Velvet family crest, paltry thing as it was, but it didn't amount to much. The Archibald family's name was rent asunder during the trial, and it was only barely kept afloat due to Waver's astonishing reputation with the latest generation and his connection to both the Vice Director and the current Magus Killer. Both were limited valuable resources that most other factions and families would do well to have access to, or more to avoid their attention.

Ironically, it was the boy that had been garnering more attention than the Vice Director as of late.

A Noble Phantasm. In-depth knowledge on Fae magic. Specialized projection. Official winner of the Holy Grail War. And a war potential that was the Vice Director's unofficial right hand.

Truthfully, it was hard to tell if people wanted to get on Shirou's good side because they wanted something from him, or because they simply didn't want to be on his bad side later.

And as much as Waver did not wish to use his first real student as a crutch to further his own position, he was left with little recourse.

The Archibald family was in worse straights than ever before with this latest episode. While they may have avoided completely falling apart, they were left with few allies. All but a handful of the old names had any faith in the Archibald legacy now, and while Waver had grassroots support from the younger generation of Magi that he taught, it could only go so far. At least for now.

Which meant that Waver more or less had a good number of individuals after his head, either to ensure that the Archibald family did collapse, or as revenge in their misbegotten assumption that he was responsible for the frequent slandering and degradation of an old family in the first place.

… Well, technically he was responsible for the Archibald family's decline over the past decade, but he could only take a third of the credit. Half at most. The rest was just poor decision making and worse luck on their part.

"If only apathy could settle our debts."

"No, but fortunately an overwhelming combination of connections, investments, and forward thinking will mitigate the damages enough to keep us afloat."

That had her attention. "Oh? Do tell?"

"It's nothing particularly astounding. The recent generation of magi may have less foundation in terms of mysteries and extensive connections, but their families are cumulatively wealthier financially than most assume. The technology and economy of the mundane world has been exceptional as of the past few decades, and while most of our kin has overlooked that resource, the notable names of the new blood has not."

Despite the seemingly good news, Reines frowned. "You intend to place the future of the Archibald family in the hands of the commoners?"

Waver let out a bitter snort. "Clearly whoever educated you in economics has failed to fulfil their role properly. Do remember that the bulk of resources and income that fill most noble family coffers comes from antiquated investments that have either survived or adjusted to the current era. It is not out of talent or mystery that these families have maintained their wealth for this long, but out of luck or political maneuvering. I doubt even a tenth of this generation of the old blood knows how to properly manage a balance sheet, how to budget, or start a venture from scratch."

Waver still recalled living on a budget before the Archibalds picked him up. He wasn't dirt poor, but he did have to be careful and make the most of what he had. He doubted that most magi knew how to or had the inclination to properly manage their resources unless said resource was actually valuable and rare for their craft. The elitist culture had unfortunately led to a particularly wasteful lifestyle more often than not in the race for Akasha.

"And you believe that your students can manage our books for us better than you can?" Reines didn't acknowledge Waver being on the mark, once again. Her pride wouldn't allow her to.

"Of course not. But they can point us to the people who can. In addition to the people that we can benefit supporting with minimal risk." Technology companies for example, were on the rise as of late, and the economy had just recently hit a crash a few years ago so now was a prime time to make a few calls.

It didn't hurt that several of the new generation's families were part of the boards for these mega corporations. Insider trading was admittedly a bit crude, but in the magus world few things were sacred.

"I do hope that you have more options available, my fiancée. Regardless of any potential success you may have, I won't have the Archibald family's fate dependent on simple mundane investments and stocks."

"Perish the thought. I have enough individuals desiring to end me outside the Archibald property as it is. No need to provoke matters further." He waved her off.

"So you have an appropriate plan worthy of a Lord conjured after all? Some elaboration would be appreciated."

Waver sighed. "Other than continuing my role as a fixer in the Association, I have been approached by Lord Animusphere for a joint venture in the near future. Admittedly, he too is financially strained in order to accomplish the project, but his proposal is interesting enough to warrant further discussions."

"Animusphere?" That caught the young woman by surprise. "The Judge? The Head of the Celestial Body department? They rarely reach out to anyone. Why would he want your help?"

"Not sure what he anticipates exactly as of yet. He is interested in my assistance, but truth be told he's more interested in Shirou's services than me. And not in the usual topics that virtually the rest of the Tower is after. I just happen to be more approachable than the Vice Director."

Reines stared at her half-finished cup of tea. "A joint venture between two Lords of the Clocktower, with indirect support of the Barthomelloi… that could certainly re-open a number of doors and ventures for the Archibald family rather quickly."

"As a sign of good faith, Lord Animusphere also suggested I privately tutor and escort his granddaughter, Olga-Marie during her tenure in the Clocktower. He claims that while her education is not lacking, her exposure to the outside world is. She's around your age come to think of it. Who knows, you may actually make a friend for once."

"Humph. Do keep talking like that, dear brother, and rumors may start about your questionable taste in younger women."

At one point, that insult may have caused him some grief, but after everything that has recently transpired, Waver merely took the warning in stride. "I am the official Lord of the Archibald family now. Remember that such rumors would actually impact you from this point on, my dear."

"Tch." She didn't know if it was the exhaustion or the relief that the trial was over, but Waver was particularly flippant to her teasing, and she didn't care much for it. Sooner or later he would return to normal and react as he should to her mocking, but until then he would be unbearable. "At the very least, you have been productive with your regained freedom. Though our finance issues could be remedied rather quickly if you could manage to get your hands on Emiya's artifact…"

"Do suggest something that won't put us in the crosshairs of a Servant, a professional Assassin, and the Barthomelloi, if you could."

"It was just a proposition." She pouted, leaning back in her seat, staring at the ceiling. "… I need not say it, but your trials will persist for quite some time. You have inherited many additional debts these past few weeks. You rule a kingdom that is the equivalent to your coffin, even if you manage to fulfill and surpass the purpose of your role."

"Well it's a good thing that most of the allies I'm accumulating appreciate me for who I am and value my input more than what the Archibald family can do for them," he just as dryly replied.

"I do hope you expand your prospects more than that. I'd hate to see a Lord of the Clocktower limit themselves so," a third, new voice spoke up from the door of the room.

While Reines jumped in surprise, Waver didn't so much as twitch. "I said most, Vice-Director. I have yet to obtain the narcissism required to overlook the futility of my situation just yet."

"Yet clearly enough to address your superiors in a careless and crude fashion." Lorelei Barthomelloi walked into the room. If she was actually annoyed or angry at Waver's blatant disrespect, neither her tone nor her expression betrayed it.

"L-Lady Barthomelloi! I, we weren't expecting you!" Reines stammered as she got up and stood straight and proper as proper decorum required before hissing at a lethargic Waver Velvet. "Brother! What are you doing!?"

"Resting after nearly seventy two hours of constant trials, politics, and paperwork." Waver dryly picked his head up and looked at the Vice-Director with a mixed expression. Deep bags could be seen under his eyes, evidence of a distinct lack of rest. "Which our esteemed guest should be aware of with the resources that have been shadowing me during the entirety thereof. No doubt a show of generosity to ensure my safety in these curious times. My thanks are in order."

"We are both aware that more than mere thanks is due in time, Lord El-Melloi," Lorelei stated crisply, walking towards him like the Queen that she is. "Managing the sudden inflow of requests for my Dog's services is merely the first of many tasks you will undertake in time."

That said, he didn't handle all of said requests. Most curiously, Atlas and the representative from the Wandering Sea had also shown interest in Shirou, or rather Avalon, and had approached the Vice-Director to request his services.

Some temporary. Others, more permanent.

Waver wanted to make a comment about how that only happened because nobody wanted to deal with her in person, but wisely didn't allow it to escape his thoughts. "I presume my contact with the Barthomelloi family for such arrangements will not be you specifically."

"Of course it will be me." Her glare hardened the same time his widened in surprise. "My Dog is just that. Mine. Just as you are the Lord of the Archibald family. Not simply a stand-in as you were prior. That said, you may as well consider your position akin to an official dog walker."

Waver gave her an unreadable look. "Convenient for a walker and the collar being one in the same."

Neither Lord was fooled by the contents of the conversation. Just as Waver would be considered Shirou's official handler for Association related matters, he would also be considered the one first punished for the teen's misbehavior should anything happen.

"Given your circumstances, I assumed you would be relieved. This way you do not need to waste time on unnecessary expenditures."

Waver maintained eye contact with the powerful woman for a good half a minute before sighing heavily and sitting up proper. "Reines, if you could."

The girl clearly looked like she wanted to say something, anything to oppose his request, but she didn't. Normally she could win any argument against Waver, but it was a different matter when the Queen of the Clocktower was involved.

"By your leave." She got up and bowed politely before exiting the room, closing the door behind her.

Neither Waver nor Lorelei bothered to watch her leave.

With a snap of her fingers, Lorelei erected a bounded field for an extra layer of privacy. Given the small shudder and physical pulse he felt, Waver surmised it was based on the wind element, but he couldn't ascertain much else other than the fact that they were in an isolated artificial dimension. Nor did he presume discussing the mechanics of her mysteries would earn him any favors.

"You've managed to do well for yourself in the short amount of time you have been free," the Queen drawled, her expression never changing. "Tell me, was Animusphere's offer part of your schemes as well?"

"Of course not. I was the most surprised by his request. A convenient turn of events without question, but not of my making. I doubt I have the resources to reach out to him in such a timely manner to begin with. That family is almost as difficult to contact as the Einzberns on a good day." Waver shook his head, leaning back in his seat.

"And yet they made the effort to reach out to you. Fortune favors the bold, but I suppose it also pities the reckless on occasion."

Her mocking observation passed right through him. How could it not, when he agreed with it. Rather, it reminded him of a certain Rider class servant that nearly emboldened her words exponentially. "Humph."

"My words amuse you?"

"They remind me of an idiot that amuse me. My apologies."

"I did not come here to amuse you, Lord El Melloi." Lorelei's voice grew slightly clipped. "I took a risk endorsing you and the boy. The Barthomelloi took a risk. And while it has borne fruit, it does not conclude the debt incurred nor the risk you two still pose."

And there they were, back to the crux of the matter. As much as Lorelei knew about the situation, she still was kept in the dark on several key factors involving Shirou and the Grail War. Several that would not go over well if it ever became public.

In a sense, by siding with Waver and Shirou, Lorelei had put a collar around her own neck in the process. If they went down… well, she wouldn't go down with them, but it wouldn't be pleasant for her regardless.

She already knew that Shirou's abilities were more than what they seemed. His ability to reproduce the curse of Angra Mainyuu in his swords had betrayed as much. But she didn't know how he did it exactly. Normally, that was fine. Magi were entitled to their secrets. It was what they did. But this wasn't a normal situation, and Lorelei Barthomelloi wasn't a normal supervisor.

She would have her answers, one way or another.

"My concern is what you will do once that particular debt is settled. I'm in a rather unstable position as it is, m'lady." Waver held his ground.

"That all depends on how the debt is repaid, Lord El Melloi." She didn't so much as budge. "I believe that my contribution to your freedom warrants that much benefit of the doubt."

Benefit of the doubt his ass. She was giving him an ultimatum and wasn't even trying to hide it. Not that he could blame her.

Waver sighed. Well, they were all already chest deep as it was. If he tried to stall any longer, she might just kill them all out of sheer irritation.

"Unlimited Blade Works."

She slowly frowned, trying to decipher the name. "Is that the name of Emiya's founding magecraft?"

"Mmm." He took the plunge. "His Reality Marble."

The room was dead quiet for what felt like an eternity.

"I see." Her expression was unreadable. "He records copies of swords he analyzes in it then. Mundane and mystic. Including Noble Phantasms."

"There are limitations, and you have seen yourself that the replicas are not perfect. Close, exceptionally so, but not exact. We were not lying when we stated that Avalon was the only item he could perfectly copy."

She waved off his lecture. "And you enabled him to reach this state? You and McGinty?"

"We taught him to use his gifts, but the potential was his to begin with." Waver threw off the accusation. "We still don't know how it came about exactly. It is a long list of convenient coincidences to be sure, but that is how many unlikely miracles come about ultimately. We have suspicions. His amnesia from the Fourth War is genuine, and we never did manage to identify who he originally was or his genetic lineage. The trauma and experience he endured more or less scrubbed his psyche, leaving him a blank slate. A cracked one. Throw in Avalon shortly afterwards, and you have his matching Origin and Element. As for his affinity for material transmutation based Magecraft, that really was just a fortunate turn of events."

"The Magus Killer sought you out not for your experience with the King of Heroes, but because of your familiarity with the King of Conquerors. His Reality Marble. Kiritsugu Emiya knew of the boy's potential." Lorelei was quickly putting the pieces together, making sense of what she had known for the past two years.

"Yes and No." Waver lifted his hands up in his defense. "He sought me out for both. And McGinty for general education. But he didn't know of Shirou's potential until shortly before he reached out to me. He…"

"What is it? What more nonsense are you hiding?" Lorelei's patience was starting to ebb.

Waver sighed. "You could say it is the greatest mystery we still haven't been able to decipher. Shortly before matters were put in motion, Kiritsugu Emiya experienced prophetic dreams of how the Fifth War could turn out had he done nothing. Exceptionally detailed, varied, and informative. Once he had a grasp of what he was seeing, he took action and quickly verified that there was foundation to what he was experiencing. McGinty and I did our own investigations where we could and validated what he provided us word for word. We never did find out how or why he had the dreams in the first place. By the time things were underway, we had more important matters to address."

"Prophetic dreams of variant futures…" Lorelei frowned. "Have you suspected the precognition may be some form of aftereffect of the time adjusting properties of the Emiya Crest?"

"We did but it was unlikely. In those timelines, Shirou not only didn't inherit what little Kiritsugu possessed, but his overall potential was… cripplingly lacking, to put it lightly. More insulting than embarrassing, even for a normal third rate. Kiritsugu was an exceptional assassin, but a disgustingly poor teacher in magecraft. It truly was fortunate that he found McGinty and I when he did."

"And yet despite such a poor education he somehow managed to manifest a Reality Marble?"

Waver bitterly smiled. "We did say that one of the Servants was a Counter Guardian."

He didn't need to say anything more than that. The implications were already damning enough as it is.

She flashed through the known Servants in her mind. It wasn't Saber, Lancer, Caster, or Berserker, which left Rider, Assassin, or Archer.

That said, it did take Lorelei Barthomelloi a few moments to regain her composure. "Moving on. Judging from your words and prior actions, I presume that the Assassin class Servant was not Emiya in these supposed dreams."

"Not at all. I'm still trying to digest that particular development." Waver shook his head. "Edelfelt wasn't to participate either. In fact, from what I can gather, the whole Louvre incident never took place in that timeline."

So the Counter Guardian was not Assassin after all. Curious that Kiritsugu Emiya managed to somehow become a Heroic Spirit. Regardless, if it was a choice between Archer and Rider that Shirou could be, the answer was rather obvious.

She'd have to keep this in mind for later.

"And I suppose that the Edelfelt's summoning of Medea of Colchis as Caster was not up to chance then."

"The Witch of Betrayal was summoned in the visions, and her Noble Phantasm was particularly useful in several situations, even if she primarily served as an antagonist." Waver smirked. "Rule Breaker. An anti-magecraft Noble Phantasm that takes the form of a dagger. It can sever contracts and disrupt rituals, even the bonds between Servants and Masters."

To her credit, the Queen of the Clocktower merely blinked at the information. "Sounds like a useful tool to have on hand."

"Shiou would agree." He wasn't trying to be subtle. The more valuable he made the teen look to her as an operative, the less likely Barthomelloi would be inclined to cut him loose and slap him with a Sealing Designation.

"A Reality Marble that can replicate and produce swords complete with their mysteries, even ones from the Age of Gods, the Fae, and Divine Curses…" She began to ponder, coming to the same conclusion that Waver had. "Such a location would be ideal for conducting tests with minimal interference from Gaia. Virtually every school of magecraft could find monumental use of it."

"He hasn't completely manifested it yet. At least to my knowledge." Waver denied her that possibility. "It was to be a counter to Gilgamesh's Gate of Babylon. Unfortunately we ran out of time honing his other skills, mysteries, resources, and accumulating information."

He would have made a jab about how her constant missions for him also got in the way, but he wasn't going to go there.

That said, the knowledge of a Reality Marble that was supposedly capable of countering one of THE strongest Servant's Noble Phantasms wasn't something that could simply be ignored.

She gave him a cold glare, indicating that she knew exactly what he was doing and did not care much for it. "But he was confident enough to fight the King of Heroes regardless."

"Accompanied by the King of Knights and the Bastard of Zeus, yes. And we saw how that turned out." Waver agreed, reminding her that Shirou had been supported by two top tier Servants in the ordeal.

"That boy has an uncanny habit of attracting peculiar support." Her scowl deepened. "Such as that pest from the Church."

Ah. Merem. There was a button that he would have avoided pressing if he could. "I assure you once more, Merem Solomon is as confounding to us as he is annoying to you."

"Don't patronize me. He knows of the boy's Reality Marble."

Damn it. "He does."

Her eyes narrowed dangerously.

"I can't believe I have to be the one to say this to you of all people. Shirou isn't a Dead Apostle. Or one of their puppets. You would have noticed it by now if there even a chance of that happening. And you know the boy well enough to know that things such as immortality and power don't interest him in the slightest." Waver stood his ground.

"An interesting conclusion you came to. I was initially more irked that the monster was aware of my Dog's secret to begin with, but now you have my curiosity."

"Merem Solomon is one of the oldest living free roaming Apostles still around. A nameless God producing factory that was turned by Crimson Moon himself. Of course he is capable enough to identify a Reality Marble user with minimal input." Waver shook his head. "And I do recall that part of his deal with cooperating with the Church is to not feast on or turn any humans during his tenure with them. I admit that Shirou is interesting, but I doubt it is enough to turn Solomon against his current employers."

Lorelei visibly scowled. Everything Waver said made sense, but there was something he clearly wasn't saying that was rubbing her the wrong way. There was still something he was hiding that she clearly would not like. Unfortunately, even in her advantageous position there was nothing for her to press on with. She was not some fool that shot blindly into the dark until she hit something.

For the briefest of moments, she had assumed that her Dog could very well be this Ash of Miracles that had been spoken about among circles related to the Apostles. Young. A Reality Marble user. Private. And somehow sponsored by Merem Solomon. All the facts lined up. Except Shirou Emiya was, as Waver stated before, clearly not a Dead Apostle.

Literally a third of the defenses in the Association, let alone her office, would have killed him or worse at some point over the past few years, automatically no less, had that been the case.

And to be frank, the idea of Shirou Emiya being something as monumental as an Ancestor was a bad joke that she doubted many of the other Ancestors would tolerate on a good day. Outside of his reckless behavior when irritated or put on the spot, the boy had neither the ability, disposition, nor fortitude to be one of the Twenty Seven.

So why did the idea feel more likely the more she dwelled on it?

She decided to throw decorum out the window in a rare show of directness. "Lord El Melloi. Speak to me truthfully or I will have your head here and now. Is the boy the Ash of Miracles?"

Waver blinked in surprise, bewilderment, and confusion. Then he laughed.

"Ha! Ah. My apologies Vice-Director, but I fear that these past few days may have had a toll on you as well. I admit there are some parallels between Shirou and the rumors, but that's about as far as they go. As I stated before, he isn't a Dead Apostle. More than that, even if he was one and was offered the position, he'd turn it down without hesitation. A title like that, along with the responsibilities and annoyances it would entail doesn't interest him in the slightest. Make no mistake, that boy is vastly more comfortable being your Dog than the mysterious Lord of a disorganized mass of mostly brainless monsters."

He wasn't lying. Or hiding the truth this time. Of that Lorelei was certain. She knew when someone was trying to sneak the truth around her. It was par the course for Magi and nobility.

"Dark Lord Shirou." Waver chuckled trying to imagine such a silly notion. "Bringing new meaning to the term "Hell's Kitchen" across the land."

Oh he knew Shirou had a temper at times and could be intimidating when he was pushed, but literally at any other point in time the boy was awkward, genuine, and clumsy to a fault. An easy going old man in a teen's body.

"Are you done making light of my concerns?" The Vice Director was not nearly amused by the prospect as Waver was.

"For the moment. Even you have to admit the idea of Shirou donning the title of a Lord or one of the Twenty Seven to be rather comical in hindsight."

"After what has transpired, I must inform you that I am unsure what notions can be considered comical and not pertaining to that child."

His good mood dampened slightly. He could not retort against that particular statement and not look the part of a fool. "What is it you are looking for, Vice Director? A reason to condemn him? A reason to keep him? A person in your position could make a long list of both at this point without even trying. At this point, what concerns me the most now is that you have clearly yet to make a decision."

Had Waver's words not struck home, the Vice Director would have seriously contemplated punishing him right then and there for his audacity.

But he was right. She was normally nowhere near this uncertain about matters.

As minute as her physical reaction was to his questions, they were not missed.

With a shallow nod, Waver sighed and leaned back in his seat. "Part of the confiscated documentation I possessed when taken into custody included several psyche evaluations that Sirius and I conducted on Shirou. At a surface level they are of little relevance, but in reality they are investigations into the foundation of his Reality Marble and why he has the potential to manifest one at all. At the very least, I request you hold making any final decisions until reviewing them with that perspective in mind. Otherwise, do with them as you will."

Lorelei narrowed her eyes. "I presume you have no intention of utilizing this information and research in its entirety."

"What would I do with it?" He shook his head helplessly. "Even with my regained crest, I have neither the potential nor the ability to utilize one myself. And I certainly am not enamored with the idea of actually increasing the number of monsters out there that can use it. Human or not."

"And passively?" She probed. If Waver had any pride as a Magus, he would not simply lay such valuable reference material on the wayside.

He smirked faintly, having being caught. "Outside of maximizing Shirou's capability, I at most intended to use my research as a reference to streamline and maximize the efficiency of spellcasting from its bare basics. The relationships between a caster and the thaumaturgical schools they base their craft in. Refine the use of elements and sorcery traits be it from oneself or within a crest."

And there it was. If Waver Velvet excelled at anything when it came to Magecraft outside of general analysis and investigation, it was excelling in the fundamentals to the point of making even the simplest mysteries have the greatest effect.

"I take it you have at least put some of the latter research into practice."

"I may or may not have managed to refine the efficiency of my spellwork by a reasonable margin since starting this research with no adverse influence on my person." At least twelve percent mana cost efficiency upgrade, which was no small feat by any means considering he didn't alter or drug himself in any way whatsoever. "I have reason to believe that the Velvet family Crest's integration into my body and further use will also see improved performances in time as well."

Still nowhere near enough to make him remotely threatening or strong compared to the bulk of the rest of the Association, but enough to not render him completely helpless from now on.

In a rare show of frustration, Lorelei closed her eyes and slowly breathed out through her nose. "You are extremely fortunate you are as capable as you are, Lord El Melloi. I will expect your research and documentation on this development soon."

"I shall do my best to refrain from including anything incriminating." He didn't even try to hide his smile, which died the second he saw the woman's irritated stare. "R-regardless, while the foundation of the research stems from Reality Marbles, the application is far more generically applicable and simple. Some might consider it revolutionary, but none should even think that it would stem from a taboo subject."

"You best hope not. I am not in the mindset to lend the Archibald family another favor."

Waver's eyebrow twitched. "For all our sakes, I think it best we completely ignore matters regarding favors and debts for the time being. Unless of course, it is when I am in the process of repaying them."

For once, the Vice director showed a brief moment of amusement. "So every conversation between us for the duration of your Lordship then."

"… Pardon my language, but how is it that Shirou is your Dog but I'm treated as your bitch after everything has transpired?"

"Don't be ridiculous Lord El Melloi. As the Vice-Director of the Clocktower, it is common knowledge that nearly everyone in my domain falls under that crude title."

o. o. o.

If they thought that Shirou would be easier to manage once he woke up that afternoon, they were woefully right and wrong.

He was more willing to converse with the others, and no longer carried an aura that made everyone on the premises wary for their wellbeing, but one look at him was all it took to tell that he was nowhere near as relaxed or easygoing as he should be.

So much so that it soon grew on the nerves of some individuals more than others.

"That's it. If nobody else is going to do it, I will."

Before anyone had an idea of what Lancer was talking about, a savage kick launched Shirou straight through the living room glass window straight into his back yard.

"Lancer?! What the hell are you doing?!" Bazett shouted in shock and alarm at her Servant's behavior.

"Kicking the shit out of our host to get his head back on. At the rate he's going, the only person he's going to end up killing is himself." The Irishman shamelessly shouldered his weapon while casually walking outside. "Personally, I'm surprised that Archer didn't beat me to it."

He probably would have had he still been in the house, but he had left with Rin and the others to do errands around the town hours ago. Outside of the unconscious Taiga and Marjatta, only the Saber and Lancer teams were in the house at the moment.

"Lancer! How dare you-" Saber's irritated tirade was interrupted as Gae Bolg was whipped out and pointed at her chest.

"Spare me the semantics, Saber. You know better than anyone he needs to his head smacked straight. As his Servant I was willing to give you first dibs when it was clear he wasn't getting any better, but since you've decided to treat him with kid gloves for whatever reason, I'm stepping in for everyone's sake. Don't you dare act like this is the first time you've seen someone get a cool down beating."

The King of Knights wanted to retort the contrary, but knew that she could not. She had held out hope that Shirou would calm down over time, but apparently that had not been fast enough for everyone else's liking. Now that Lancer had gotten things started, it was too late to stop now.

With a reluctant nod, she stepped out of the Irishman's way giving him permission to more or less duke it out with her Master. A prospect that, under almost ANY other circumstances would be considered foolish at best and ludicrously suicidal on average.

To call it a battle was stretching it a bit. It was blatantly obvious that Lancer was playing with Shirou if his posture and expression were any indication. Gae Bolg flickered out like a crimson serpent, cracking and deflecting the nameless Noble Phantasms that Shirou dual wielded in his attempts to strike back at the Servant.

"Come on kid, don't tell me that's all you got." Lancer was starting to get disappointed. Was getting a bit tweaked all it took for the kid that screwed the Holy Grail War to lose his edge?

Three more exchanges took place within the span of a second before the Servant lost his patience and kicked the teen again across the yard. He didn't think he broke anything important, but at the same time he wasn't particularly holding back either.

At the very least, Shirou managed to skid and land on his feet before reaching the wall of the yard.

This was starting to be a bit of a letdown. He had expected something special, even if the fight was admittedly a bit spontaneous. A trap. A special Noble Phantasm. Something. Instead, he was just wailing on the kid just like any other human. The sun setting in the distance, making the shadows stretch long and dark in the… "Oh?"

He stood corrected as a deep black cloud of metallic smoke encroached the back yard. His crimson eyes taking note of the various black swords embedded all over the yard lazily emitting the suffocating smokescreen.

Shirou was standing up straight, clearly irritated if the glint in his eyes was any indication. The red shroud he normally wore as an undershirt slowly wrapping itself around his head until only his eyes were visible, giving the previously harmless looking teen a more intimidating look.

"I stand corrected." Lancer's grip on his spear tightened slightly as his target slowly faded from view. "Kid's more like his old man than I thought."

He swung his Noble Phantasm the very moment several arrows came at him from the right. The power of his sweep was easily enough to blow away the smoke in the property temporarily and deflect the arrows that had been piercing through the air at his body from the side, revealing that his target had already moved a considerable distance around him in the short time he was out of view without making a sound.

Well, at the very least his opponent knew how to move undetected under cover. Guess he wasn't called an assassin just for his ability to kill things and land cheap shots after all.

Lancer grinned, shifting his grip the smallest of angles as he turned. Those arrows had way more weight to them than they should have. Probably mystery enhanced in some way. Protection from Arrows would deflect them all the same, but it was still an accomplishment in itself for anyone not a Servant to force that much from him.

Still, it wouldn't amount to much in the end. He had zeroed in on his target a good ways behind him, even as the smoke returned. It was a negligible distance for a Servant to cover, much less him.

Several more arrows flashed right at him at a rapid pace as he rushed forward. The projectiles' speed and rate were far faster than what a normal human could accomplish, but he paid them little to no mind as his spear and his ability deflected all of the ones that would have otherwise struck him.

Within a fraction of a second, he was just about on top of his target should be, his spear ready to lash out and hammer him from the left. He wouldn't stab. Too many people would be out for his neck if he tried anything stupid like that.

Too easy.

It was that very thought that caused Lancer's confidence to flicker for just a moment. The kid wasn't an idiot. He was the sort of annoying bastard that had plans and backup plans for days. Even distressed and distracted, he should have had at least one or two tricks prepared that would work on the Servant if they ever encountered one another during the war…

It was only as that train of thought made itself known that the Irishman felt something ensnaring his body.

"What the?" He looked down to see several thick, yet still difficult to see chords of wire wrapping themselves around him from top to bottom. It had gotten to the point that even his legs were somewhat impaired by the lines, slowing him down enough that Shirou had managed to jump away in time.

It only took the Servant a moment to realize what had just happened once he spotted the arrows that were linked to the ends of each chord entangling him.

"Clever little bastard."

Protection from Arrows ensured he wouldn't get hit directly from the projectiles fired at him, but it did jack against the lines tied between the arrows that sailed past him undeterred.

Judging from the fact that he didn't immediately break through the cables to begin with, he assumed that the things were some sort of ether construct. Tough shit under most circumstances, and a surprisingly effective stall tactic, but it would take more than that to keep him down.

"Not bad, kid!" With a flare of mana and the flexing of his muscles, Lancer tore through his restraints as if they weren't there. "You're not completely pathetic. But you're going to have to use something with a bit more juice if you want to get rid of me!"

"Trace. On."

The sudden spike in prana nearby following his declaration made Lancer grin. He knew he shouldn't be escalating things this much, but as a proud warrior he couldn't help but get excited when someone with promise decided to bring out their A game.

"Safety. Off."

With another swing of his spear, Lancer blew away the smoke again, turning to where he felt the rise in power, and couldn't help but be simultaneously amused, eager, surprised, and slightly concerned.

After all, it wasn't every day that someone was seen wielding Berserker's stone sword axe. Much less when that someone wasn't Berserker in question.

On instinct, Lancer poured power into his spear. Human or not, Shirou was coming at him with something that could NOT be taken halfheartedly. The stone weapon in the boy's hands was twitching with something that screamed danger, with something that without question originated from Heracles himself.

He wasn't facing a kid anymore. Wrapped up and radiating with power, Lancer felt like he was facing against some oddity from another land. The irritation he felt against the young man known as Shirou Emiya was completely forgotten, replaced by the anticipation of facing off against someone that bore the moniker of Magus Killer. A title that held weight in this world. Whatever was about to come at him was going to hit hard.

It was almost like he was fighting against Archer again, but not quite. Archer constantly held himself back, relying on what he knew for certain and his personal bag of tricks rather than pulling out anything esoteric and remotely creative. Bland, but reliable, cost efficient, and consistent.

The person in front of him though held no such reservations. Saber's Master was not shy in the slightest about whipping out the more exotic and creative toys in his arsenal in order to get the job done at a moment's notice.

He couldn't help but smirk in genuine amusement. Between Archer and the kid, he had to admit, the latter was certainly the more fun to play around with. There just was no telling what he was going to pull next.

"I stand corrected." The Hound of Ulster's blood was running high now. His crimson eyes matching his target's silver. "This is a bit more than I was expecting, but I can't say I'm complaining either."

Shirou didn't reply. Instead, he merely tensed his body, a tell that he was ready to charge.

Lancer's body reacted in kind. He was not taking the human boy lightly anymore. Whatever came next, it would be approached with his full ability. It was both a sign of respect, and acknowledgment that he would not play around anymore.

"Strike Air!"

And then Saber unleashed a blast of wind that hammered into her master and crushed him against the property wall.

"Oi! The hell?! Saber! What gives!? I thought you were okay with me smacking your Master around!" Lancer snarled. Few things tweaked him like an interrupted fight.

"I was. However, I am not fine with the two of you throwing clearly lethal attacks against one another that resulted in permanent injury. Or potentially do irreparable damage to the property," the third party stated with a flat tone that held no mercy. "That said, I take full responsibility for this mess. I should have known better than to let you be the target of my Master's frustrations."

The Irishman frowned, shouldering his spear with a still very pissed off expression marring his face. "What's that supposed to mean? As far as I can tell, I've done jack and shit to that red headed psychopath."

Saber shook her head. "I mean you no offence. It is simply that you are my Master's worst matchup in terms of ability. He has admitted recently that he believes his odds of handling even Berserker are better than against you, even after witnessing many of the contents of Gilgamesh's Gate of Babylon. Your combined skills and prowess are difficult for him to work around, which in turn would force him to take drastic measures if he did intend on matching you in combat, let alone emerging victorious in your spat."

Powerful, broken, and insane as he was, Berserker at the very least lacked the finesse and precise dexterity to get around all of Shirou's traps and attacks if the latter went all out with his Reality Marble. His copy of Enkidu further gave the teen some leeway against the monster if he played his cards right.

Berserker would still win in the end, of that there was no doubt, but at the very least he'd be shaved of a couple of lives in the process.

Lancer on the other hand, was immune to most projectiles, had an unusually high rank in Runecraft, and was one of the most dexterous and fastest Servants in the War. Shit luck aside, Cu Culaiin really did deserve to be dubbed the "Irish Heracles" in most circles.

"Tch. Well when you put it like that, it almost sounds like it's my fault things almost got fun." In spite of being cucked out of a good time, Lancer relaxed his stance and dismissed his spear. He paused and glanced to the side. "You think it was a good idea to blindside your Master like that? That wind enchantment of yours is a Noble Phantasm, isn't it?"

"I only used a third of its power at most. And you saw that he blocked the bulk of the attack at the last moment with Berserker's sword. After what he's experienced so far, he can handle that much." Saber waved off his concern as if it was a non-issue, dismissing her own blade in the process. "Shirou, have you come to your senses yet?"

From the other side of the yard, the human slowly picked himself up from the ground and cradling his chest, the massive stone axe sword lying next to him. No one missed the dirty look he was giving his Servant. "Lancer cracked five of my ribs. You just finished breaking three of them. And added another two cracks on top of that." Fortunately, from what he could tell, he didn't have any floaters. Those were always a pain, both in general and to heal.

"You didn't answer my question." Saber was clearly in no mood for the usual banter.

"If I say I'm too preoccupied with my aching chest and being pissed at you to contemplate murdering the pirate will you give me a break?" He winced, leaning against the wall.

"That depends on whether or not I will need to keep breaking your ribs after Avalon heals them in order to keep you reasonable." Saber held her ground. "If memory serves, it should only take a couple of minutes at most for you to fully recover. Seconds if I decide to actively provide you with my mana."

Lancer couldn't help but get flashbacks of his time with Scathach listening to the exchange.

"Fine! Fine! I'll slow down with the vampire nonsense!" Shirou finally gave up, lifting a hand up in a vain attempt to keep her away. "… For now at least."

"Shirou." Saber's tone was something one used to chide a child or pet from doing something they were clearly about to do.

"He's going to come back in a week, Saber. I'm not getting caught off guard again. I can't."

She felt the motivation to argue against him die rather quickly at that. It was hard to reason against it when Issei Ryudou was still recovering in the living room behind her in a bounded field that Caster set up.

"… Fine." She relented. "But do so when the rest of us are around so we can coordinate properly. You were not the only one insulted that night."

Lancer decided to step in at that moment. "Good. Good. Now that you've got all that squared away, could you be so kind as to stop with the smoke swords now? It's hard to hold a conversation when it's hard to see anything."

It was at that moment that Shirou and Saber realized that the back yard was nearly entirely choked with the black metallic particles.

"R-right. Sorry." Shirou apologized, embarrassed. With an effortless mental dismissal, the swords generating the smoke and the cloud itself vanished instantly.

"Nifty trick. Though I gotta ask why you never did that before in all those other fights where you got your ass kicked." Lancer looked around curiously. Judging from the fact that the smoke itself vanished as well, he guessed that the particulates were residue made directly from the swords themselves, instead of being some sort of generated byproduct.

The teen shrugged helplessly before wincing due to agitating his ribs. "Limited range. Near pointless to use them when everyone's moving and blowing up everywhere on an open battlefield."

"And yet you could still pin where I was in that mess." Lancer's red eyes gleamed with curiosity, recalling the arrows that were too accurate to be considered lucky shots.

"It's a mystery," Shirou replied in a helpless way that fooled no one.

In reality, the blades were a custom job made by Sirius. Some select yet simple elemental spells here, a few biological samples there, and you had a decaying sword with a remarkably short half-life. The thick residue "smoke" seen by everyone would be completely transparent to Shirou's eye, giving him the perfect cover to move in and around his targets, or escape from a rough situation.

Much like the "thermite" swords that Shirou used against Fina, this sword was modeled off of a grenade. Part of a list of one time use weapons that were absolutely useless for most people under most circumstances, but perfect for enclosed assassinations and subterfuge jobs for a certain Reality Marble user. Cheap. Easy to replicate. Multipurpose. And hard to predict.

"Speaking of mysteries, I thought you said that you couldn't replicate Berserker's technique." Saber's accusing glare forced her Master to shrink back a little, remembering that he had just tried to maybe kill Lancer.

"… I can pull off part of it." He was pretty sure he could manage the first three strikes of Nine Lives if he focused hard enough and reinforced his body properly. Maybe five if the full moon was out and was willing to potentially cripple his arm for who knows how long.

Enough to beat Lancer head on, but so long as he didn't crush the Servant's skull or heart by accident, it wouldn't be enough to kill him either… hopefully. At least, that was the plan.

Saber wasn't amused. "Is that so? Well, if that's the case, then you best be careful, Master. You know full well how dangerous incomplete techniques can be. The next time I hear you attempting to use that move halfheartedly, I will personally request Berserker's aid to train you until you are capable of performing it properly. Am I understood?"

Shirou didn't know why, but he had a strong suspicion that Berserker would in fact take offense to his actions and somehow dredge up enough coherent thought to make good on Saber's promise. "N-noted."

"Good. Once you are healed, you may proceed with your warmups and clean yourself. There is still much to do and I will not have my Master conduct himself any more in such a poor manner." The King of Knights gave her Master a dangerous glare. "Unless you have something you want to say."

The teen swallowed heavily and shook his head in denial.

"Then I will take my leave then. Since Lancer is partially to blame for the mess in the house, I am sure his Master will be accommodating enough to aid in addressing it."

Bazett leaned up against one of the pillars of the porch in casual wear with an unamused expression that matched Saber's. "I'll leave it to Lancer to figure out. He'll even throw in a solid spit shine."

"Say what now?" Lancer frowned.

"It's the least he could do after being so rude to our host and causing this mess in the first place." Bazett gave her Servant a warning glare. "I'm certain that he was taught at least that much courtesy while rubbing shoulders with royalty."

"Woman, you know damn well that half the inbred royals I dealt with had less tact and forethought than a wild bull."

"And you must have learned so much from them while you were drunk off your ass partying."

Lancer opened his mouth to retort before thinking about what she had just said. "… Shit. I actually did learn things from those idiots. Fine. I'll clean up after my mess. Wouldn't be the first time."

"Mhm." Bazett wasn't impressed by Lancer's grumblings as he got to work. She had been with him long enough to know that positive reinforcement didn't work on him. Instead her attention gravitated towards her little brother figure who was still cradling his stomach. "Shirou. Do you have your head on straight yet? Are you good?"

"I'll be able to breathe normally again in a few." Broken ribs tended to do a number on the respiratory system. "What about you?"

"What about me? Outside of some PTSD and getting used to my legs perpetually sending chills down my spine because of your Servant and your friend in the living room, I'm just peachy." The sad thing was that it was hard for Shirou to tell if she was being genuine or sarcastic. It wasn't the first time they had been in a rough spot over the years and came back with some unwanted leftovers, but he always did marvel at how Bazett was able to shrug off some of the horrible things she had gone through.

He opened his mouth for a moment before thinking better of it and then shaking his head in defeat. "When I get back inside I'll make you and the girls some tea… they like tea, right?"

"They don't know what they like yet. They live off of mana and act like my body parts than individuals most of the time. Only real food they've had so far is that victory feast you made a few days ago. I'm afraid I'll spoil them if I raise them on your stuff." The Enforcer smirked slightly. "But tea does sound good."

Turning around to walk inside again, leaving Shirou and Saber outside, Bazett came across her Servant making runes to fix the broken glass from when he kicked their host out of the building. "… Well?"

"Well what?"

"Don't give me that. What are your thoughts on him?"

"Does it matter at this point? I thought I was just the help these days." A rune glowed brightly, and soon enough wood and glass began to float in the air and rearrange itself into the window it had originally been.

She frowned. It wasn't like Lancer to dodge a topic. "Lancer, what's the matter with him?"

"… Nothing. Yet." The Servant sighed heavily before hesitating, picking his words carefully. "He's, how do I put this? It's like he's got one foot in one direction, another foot going off in another, and he's facing a third. Through sheer stubbornness, skill, talent, stupidity, whatever you want to call it, he's managed to keep himself afloat so far. Ironically the war gave him focus and direction for years from what I've heard, but now? With the War over? He's going to fall back on habits he's developed for this mess on instinct the second something triggers him. And ultimately fall apart if something isn't eventually done. By his own hand no less."

It was like dealing with a war veteran coming back from the front lines and acclimating to civilian life again. He might do well initially, but the moment something triggers him in just the right way, all bets are off. Some instincts and habits just don't go away.

Bazett's hard expression more or less portrayed that she had feared this would be the case but wasn't surprised in the slightest. "I had a feeling that the old drunk and Waver were worried this might happen. Explains why they kept on trying to get Shirou to enjoy cooking and tinkering with cars and the like every now and then as a distraction. Get him to develop productive hobbies outside of murder and magecraft."

"If everything works out, you'll be here long after I'm gone. So, what are you going to do about it?"

"Summon you again. You're a wonderful stress relieving toy."

"I meant about the kid, Maeb." It really said something when Bazett could literally hear the sarcasm in Lancer's tone triple.

"Who's Maeb?" Bazett's left leg asked curiously and innocently.

"I don't know, but she sounds annoying and disappointing." The right responded.

Bazett came to the conclusion that Lancer was influencing the girls more than she had initially assumed. "What can I do right now other than keep an eye on him and smack him around like his older sister figure? He already has Saber and the other girls all but hanging off of him so he doesn't leave everyone's sight. Not that I blame them." An alone Shirou was a very dangerous and unpredictable Shirou.

Lancer huffed as the last of the mess he made earlier magically fell back into place once more, as if a teen assassin wasn't just kicked through the house just a few minutes prior. "My advice? Help set him up with his escape plan so it runs as smooth as possible. Guys like him tend to make pretty big messes when their fallback schemes fall apart."

She couldn't argue against that. "I'll work with the girls and Waver at the Association to keep things clean. Hopefully with everyone having Servants we can keep the damages on that side to a minimum."

The two looked outside to see Shirou already in the motions of his daily morning (afternoon in this case) warmup, with Saber standing over him like a Drill Sergeant barking out orders.

The Apostle side… would need some extra work.

o. o. o.

"Are you sure it was wise to leave Emiya-san alone with just Miss McRemitz supervising him?"

"Onii-chan will be fine," Illya placated Luvia as the two plus Sakura and their Servants walked into the caverns underneath Mt. Enzo. "Saber and Lancer are there as well. At the very worst he'll just be a bit moody when we get back. Nothing a hug from yours truly can't fix."

"And if that doesn't work, I suppose I could take him to the side for some more adult comfort," Sakura innocently added while purposefully looking away from everyone else.

Primarily when both Luvia and Illya shot her accusing glares.

"… Its worked before," the Matou excused her actions in a far too carefree tone.

"That's. Not FAIR! Why does everyone else around Onii-chan have amazing bodies that they can flaunt around and seduce him while I'm stuck like this!?" Illya blew up.

To the side, Kiritsugu coughed just loud enough for everyone to remember he exists.

In hindsight, slipping into girl talk around one of their fathers, Heroic Spirit or not, might not have been the best idea.

"Not now, Papa! I'm being angry that I'm still stuck as a midget! And Onii-chan's not related by blood anyways!"

Had anyone been able to see Kiritsugu, they would have born witness to the rare sight of him genuinely sulking a short distance away, clearly conflicted.

"Even if you had a point, that was pretty cruel, Illya," Sakura chided.

"Just you wait! Once I get my new body and finally grow up, I'm gonna be tall and beautiful and have huge breasts like Mama! Then I'll have Onii-chan to myself!"

"That's not how it works and you know it."

"Of course it is. It worked on Papa."

"Illya, as your father I think its best if you don't use me a reference for this particular topic." Kiritsugu pathetically tried to change the topic of conversation. "… Please."

Caster and Rider merely stood to the side, trying very hard to pretend like they didn't exist while holding back any signs of amusement.

As did Luvia.

They could hardly be blamed. It was a rare day indeed when the normally stone cold Magus Killer was put in his place so helplessly and easily.

"Does that mean that you didn't like Mama's breasts, Papa?" Illya turned her sadistic charm on her father.

There was no correct answer to that question and even Berserker knew it. This time Kiritsugu wisely kept quiet.

"Illya, now you're just being pointlessly mean." Sakura sighed. "I thought you were more interested in calming down Shirou." She made an effort to ignore the genuine look of thanks that the abused father was giving her.

The albino fairy pouted childishly and crossed her arms. "Even if I can't help Onii-chan as a woman, I'm still his adorable little sister. All I have to do is look cute and hug him and he'll calm down."

"As much as I desire to believe the validity of that statement, Illya-san, I seem to recall you not trying that last night when your brother was at his worst." Luvia struck with a cold counterargument.

It was a critical hit, as the small girl stumbled for a moment before sulking. "… Fine. You're right. Sometimes Onii-chan is so far gone that even I can't bring him back unless my life is being put in danger… which is fine because I still have Berserker as a last resort."

"Not exactly what I had in mind, even if it is true." Sakura's forced smile fooled nobody. Berserker was a rather effective way to close most arguments in their tracks. If a bit crude.

"Sooner or later, we will need a procedure for containing Emiya-san. Preferably with Saber's aid. Fortunately, the Servant has yet to grow accustomed to her Master's recklessness…" Luvia trailed off slightly before noticing Illya and Sakura staring at her. "Is something amiss?"

"Just wondering why you are referring to Onii-chan so formally." Illya held her stare. "If I recall correctly, you were closer to him than that."

"No. You're right, Illya. Luvia was much more at ease with Shirou before," Sakura confirmed the girl's suspicions.

Luvia flinched at being called out before forcing out a laugh. "O-ohohoho! Is that really something that concerning ladies? After everything our host has done recently, is it that curious that I address him with some additional propriety?"

Sakura wasn't fooled for the slightest. "You're scared of him, aren't you?"

This time Luvia did freeze. "Wh-what? N-no! No! That's not it at all! I mean, of course he's is intimidating at times, anyone could say that at this point, but that's not the issue!"

"So there is an issue then," Illya hummed.

Luvia shook her head and sighed. "Fine. If you must know, since everything about the War was revealed to me, I've been for lack of a better term… feeling inadequate."

"Inadequate?" Sakura clearly didn't understand what Luvia was getting at.

The foreigner shook her head, her shoulders slumped over. "You must understand. My family has a strong background in mercenary work as well as thaumaturgy, and I am no different. Rather, we are infamous for it, and as the next in line, my combat prowess is nothing to scoff at."

Luvia looked up in a daze. "And yet, this entire War, I have done nothing but been led around by the nose by someone I not only thought as an equal on the battlefield, but respected and trusted as a peer. A true warrior's comradery is not something easily made between Magi. Even after putting in the efforts to go around that annoying contract I was forced to take on his head, working with my sister to come up with plans to combat him gloriously on the field, and emerge victorious in the end… to find that I had put so much on the line only to be dancing in his hand all along…"

"Your pride can't handle it. Even if he was trying his best for everyone's sakes in the end," Illya mused, comprehending what Luvia was getting at. "I can relate in a way. I was raised for years on end to hate Onii-chan and Papa after the last War. Raised to be the next sacrifice for the grail. For the Einzbern family. To find out that my family has been not only lying to me this entire time, but actually screwed up the purpose for Mama's Sacrifice. My sacrifice… it's more than a bit infuriating."

"I think Shirou's feeling the same thing too. After last night." Sakura noted. "The War is over. Everything should be a smooth now, but he has to deal with that pirate."

"I am aware of the parallels between us, but it unfortunately does not change the discontent I have right now." Luvia sighed. "Emiya… Shirou is not truly at fault, I have known that from the start, and he does not have a malicious bone in his body most of the time, but I cannot help but feel the need to blame him for the mere opportunity of victory that was robbed from me."

"Victory? That's it?" Illya scoffed. "If that's all you want, then why don't you just fight him now?"

"A convenient solution. However now that I know of his potential, I do not favor my odds. He is not Gilgamesh, but the ability to create and fire off Noble Phantasms is still not beyond him." Luvia hunched over, demoralized. Maybe if she had time to set up a location to her advantage she could beat him, but that was beneath her. She wanted to show her superiority in combat. Not magecraft.

"You know he'd probably hold off on those if you asked," Sakura pointed out. "If you just pointed out what was wrong, Shirou would go with whatever you'd ask."

"Haaaagh!" Luvia leaned back and grabbed at her hair. "That is also part of the problem! How can someone so gifted in combat and stubborn be so unreasonably genuine and kind! It completely sullies the thrill of competitive sporting! If I wanted a senseless bout for the sake of it, I would have just provoked Tohsaka with some pointless banter!"

"It really is fortunate that Nee-san isn't here for this." Sakura gave Luvia a dry look. Not because of how shamelessly the latter had admitted to picking fights with Rin for fun, but because she had made it sound so simple and easy to pull off. The sad thing was that Sakura could easily see that being the case.

"So you wanted your fight with Onii-chan specifically to mean something." Illya concluded. "You know, I might be sheltered, but from what I've heard it almost sounds like you were trying to use the fight as some sort of replacement for a love confession."

"Really? I thought I was the only one that came to that." Sakura was clearly surprised by Illya's logic.

Rider coughed in the distance, just loud enough to indicate that she too had figured out that much.

"I'm not even going to comment." Caster sighed to the side, not wanting any part of the conversation.

Assassin was still sulking dejectedly in the shadows.

Berserker… didn't know what was going on. Girl talk didn't go through his Madness Enhancement.

Luvia looked at everyone aghast. "Wh-what?! How preposterous!"

"No. It's likely the truth." Sakura sighed, looking away dejectedly. She had a feeling that Luvia was genuinely interested in her technically unofficial boyfriend for a while, but the fact that the blonde was just as frustrating to deal with on the matter as her sister wasn't an endearing prospect. "Shirou does have that effect on girls. Even if he's clueless about it most of the time. You wouldn't be the first that kept skirting around the topic for years. It was amusing watching Nee-san stumble around it for a while, but after a certain point it just got annoying."

"A-annoying?!" Luvia squeaked. "Wait, are you saying I'm incompetent like Tohsaka?!"

"She's saying your inflated pride is getting in the way of you saying what you want to say to Onii-chan. And as a result it's incorporating your desire to challenge and fight him to further confuse you," Illya summed it up. "Confess or not, for everyone's sake it would be best if you got your head straight sooner rather than later. We're not splitting up anytime soon, and we have vampire problems that ARE coming soon."

The sobering reminder of their trials to come immediately darkened the mood in the cave and calmed Luvia down. "I… yes. You're absolutely right. I have been off my game ever since the truth of the War started to push me in directions I did not expect. Petty logic or not, I resorted to blaming Shirou as the easiest available target for my insecurities. If I can't manage to prioritize what matters most at this point, then I don't have right to lament a battle that never was. It was unbecoming of me…"

"It's all right. You're not the first person to blame him for something he didn't do. I tried to kill him with Berserker when we first met, and now look where we are. An adorable brother and sister combo." Illya waved off Luvia's apology.

"I can't help but feel that I'm witnessing two extremes right now." Sakura laughed nervously, completely ignoring the fact that she very well could be considered a third.

Caster shook her head, for once truly pitying Shirou from the bottom of her heart. The poor boy would no doubt have many painful trials in the future. Many of which would not entail Apostles or Servants.

A few moments later, she was no longer pitying anyone as something caught her attention.

As did the others.

"We're here." Illya hummed emotionlessly as they entered the cavern that held the Greater Grail.

The air held a unique combination of stagnancy and power in it. Cloying, yet simultaneously invigorating. There was clearly a greater mystery of sorts taking place here, yet there were no visible results. No corrupted lights. No monstrous eldritch abomination in the background. No well of power.

There was just stone, and a large raised platform further up ahead chiseled from it…

"Wait. There's something there." Rider appeared in front of the girls suddenly, nails in hand.

"There is?" Illya blinked in surprise and alarm. "That should be impossible. No one should be able to find this place, let alone get in so easily."

The grail itself shouldn't be active either. Only the Witch and Gilgamesh had been killed so far, and they had been absorbed by different Lesser Grails no less. True, the former's system had absorbed a fair amount of prana from the city and injected it into Marjatta, but Caster had been slowly bleeding that system out over time and returning it to the outside. By all means, the Greater Grail should be inactive…

But as everyone enhanced their senses and their eyesight, they came to realize that there was indeed someone standing where the Greater grail was situated. Someone that was vaguely familiar to most, and easily identifiable to the rest.

"That… that can't be." Illya's eyes widened in genuine astonishment. Her voice full of so many emotions it was hard to tell what she was feeling.

"That looks like..." Sakura trailed off, unsure what she was seeing herself.

"A facsimile of the Greater Grail." Caster frowned. "The system is not truly active; however, my counterpart's actions must have been enough to trigger some of its underlying functions without our knowing. This could very well be the cause for why the boy's cursed swords were resonating so strongly with power, if not evidence for it."

"It's a Servant," Rider stated ominously, holding her guard and prepared to attack at any given moment.

She was not prepared however for Assassin to walk past her, completely exposed and defenseless.

"Assassin? What are you doing?" Luvia balked at the Servant's irregular actions. "Einzbern! What is going…"

Her words trailed off as she registered Illya's dumbfounded expression, one that clearly indicated that she was in no state to answer anything right now.

Kiritsugu was in a similar state, as he simply strode towards the new Servant at what felt like to him a snail's pace. The secondary party saying nor doing nothing at his approach, allowing his footsteps to echo in the chamber for an eternity of minutes.

Until he stood just a short distance away from the ridge, looking up into eyes so familiar yet foreign to him.

An impossible meeting that should never have taken place, even after death.

A painful reunion that held infinite possible outcomes that could affect the world.

"It's been a while, hasn't it, Kiritsugu?"

"… Yeah. It has, Iri."

o. o. o.

Omake: Impressionable Magi are exceptionally dangerous:

Illya sat at the dinner table with a cold yet confident look on her face. Berserker stood ominously behind her, and in front of her was a half-eaten plate of waffles loaded with sugar, chocolate, syrup, and strawberries.

"First, comes the breasts. Then the Onii-chan. Then the Bitches."

From a safe distance away, Shirou looked at Kiritsugu with concern.

"Um… Illya, that's not how the quote goes." Shirou bit the bullet and made himself known. "What about the money and power?"

Illya pointed to Berserker.

"Can't argue with that." Kiritsugu resigned himself to the situation.

"All the Bitches!" Illya roared from the living room, clearly experiencing a sugar high.

Shirou glared at his father accusingly. "When did you let her watch Scarface? And why?"

The Servant had the nerve to look embarrassed. "She found my old movie stash while exploring the house this morning… and I made the mistake of telling her it was one of my favorites."

"And you thought letting her watch it would be a good idea?"

"She was bored and wanted to bond." The father poorly excused himself, not doing himself any favors by avoiding eye contact. "I'm more surprised you still had a working VHS set up in the house. I haven't been around for long but even I can tell they are rarely used anymore."

"You know damn well I have a minor hoarding problem and habitually fix things when bored!" Shirou hissed. "

"There are a distinct lack of Bitches here right now! Berserker! Find me some Bitches!"

Berserker turned to look at Assassin and Shirou with glowing eyes, who proceeded to nearly shit themselves.

Normal men would object to being called bitches on principle.

Normal men would also fully admit to being considered bitches when compared to Heralces, on principle.

"Other than those two!"

"_▄▄▄▄████!" With a mighty roar, Berserker charged out of the house and ran off to who knows where.

The two male Emiya had a distinct suspicion that the other female residents of the household would have very stern words for them in the near future.

Chack chack.

"Say hallo to my little friend!" Illya stood on the table, touting of all things a familiar looking machine gun that was not particularly little looking when in her small hands.

"Where the hell did she get the calico?!" Kiritsugu hissed to his son as they dove out of the way of the flying bullets. "I thought you said that you stored most of my old hardware at the Fujimura's!"

"I do!" Shirou snapped frantically. "But I took them back for the war as a backup just in case and stored them in my workshop!"

"Why can she get in your workshop?!"

"Why can't she?!"

The bullets that flew over their heads was a pretty good reason why not."

As they plotted how to take down the crazed Illya, the two men of the house made a mental note to not allow Illya to have sugar after watching movies.

They managed to stick to it for barely a week before someone got their hands on A Clockwork Orange.

o. o. o.

Omake: Berserker Training camp:

"_▄▄▄▄████!"

"Haaaa!"

"_▄▄▄▄██████!"

"HAAAAA!"

"So, care to explain what the heck we're supposed to be seeing right now?" Lancer walked up to Saber, watching what appeared to be Shirou repeatedly throwing his back out swinging Berserker's stone axe sword while said Berserker stood over him roaring with each swipe.

Saber's face was stern and calm, but there was no hiding the glimmer of amusement in her eyes. "In a rare moment of lucidity, Berserker has shown interest in training Shirou. I in turn managed to, convince, my Master not to pass up on such a rare opportunity."

"_▄▄▄▄██████████!"

"HAAAAAAAAA!"

"Gotta pity the poor guy. I genuinely can't tell what's going to give out first. Berserker's focus. The kid's spine. Or his lungs." Lancer did absolutely nothing to contribute to the situation but continued to watch in wonder.

"It will be a novel learning experience." Saber's charisma was in full force, almost convincing Lancer that actually she meant what she said.

He gave her a dry side glare. "… What did he do this time?"

"_▄▄▄▄██████████!"

"HAAAAAAAAA!"

He let Rider use her Hayabusa again, that's what. The nerve of the fool. And he has the gall to try and be her squire? Her Master was a hundred years too early to even think of claiming such a responsibility if he was so careless with his duties.

"You don't need to concern yourself with it Lancer. It is of no consequence."

"_▄▄▄▄██████████!"

"_▄▄▄▄██████████!"

"No consequence, huh?" The Irishman deadpanned as he saw Berserker and Shirou now shouting mindlessly while hammering their weapons against one another. It would be hilarious if the two weren't swinging at one another with lethal force. "Color me skeptical, but I'm not too keen on the idea of having two Berserkers in the house."

"Nonsense. My master is merely adapting to adversity, as he should." Saber nodded firmly, not at all bothered with the teen's decent into madness.

Lancer decided at that moment that it would probably be best if he stayed around for a bit longer than expected. He had a feeling that Shirou would need some extra fellow guy support in the long run or else horrible things might happen.

… Especially since Berserker was incapable of providing the support needed, Archer wasn't capable of getting near the kid without getting shot at in some capacity, and Assassin's balls were firmly in the hands of his daughter.

"_▄▄▄▄██████████!"

"_▄▄▄▄██████████!"

This was going to be a long summoning.

o. o. o.

A/N:

As always, thanks Wayfarer for the Betaing.

Sorry for the late post everyone. RL issues on both my and Wayfarer's part held this up by a huge margin. I was stuck in quarantine because my roommate caught covid in early March… then I caught something that wasn't covid during it… then I caught something ELSE, and I know it was different because that second time murdered my appetite to non-existence. And THEN by the time I had sent it to Wayfarer, he was in the process of moving.

So yeah, real life bullshit.

Good news is I'm already in the process of making the next chapter.

Oh, and I just turned 32. Yay. I'm old.

I would be playing with a drone by now, but Amazon apparently likes to fuck up birthday gifts now. So I have to wait for their refund to come in before trying to order it again.

So Shirou got some of the emo slapped out of him finally. Not all of it, but enough that he can hold a conversation without sulking again. Before anyone starts complaining about "oh you're being too mean to Shirou for no reason again waaaa", the reason why Saber blasted him instead of Lancer was because the amount of force needed to stop the latter would have destroyed half the property. And because he can actually handle a hit on that level.

As for Iri, yeah, bet that threw a lot of you for a loop. She's an interesting twist on the story and I'll be elaborating just how she came about. As for her personality… let's say, if the Black Grail Iri from Fate Zero was a mix of 30/70 favoring the Grail, this one is more, 80/20. Still corrupted, but far more of Irisviel's personality and interests will show. For better or for worse.

What else? What else? Works work. Life's life. The United States is self-destructing under a combination of half assed politics and a population with its collective heads up its ass. So… nothing much different there.

Pa-reon's looking good though. Slowly growing. First commissioned artwork, a TTRT piece, is getting close to finishing… if the artist's words are anything to go by. TBH, I don't know if him and his kid's constantly getting sick is real or he's procrastinating. Meh. He's really good regardless and he is working on it so I'll let it slide. Note that any commissions made will ONLY be available to members. Them's the breaks guys.

Anyways. That's it for now.

SO REVIEW! WORSHIP THE LOG! BERSERKER IS AN AMAZING SENSEI AND ALL SHOULD BOW TO HIS WORLDLY WORDS OF WISDOM! AND REVIEW AGAIN!