Prelude to War (I)


When Shirou's eyes opened up he was staring at the ceiling of his room at the Tohno mansion. He blinked a couple of times before swinging his legs off the bed and sitting up.

If the sunlight peeking from the heavy curtains pulled over the windows was any indication, it had to be early in the afternoon. About ten hours after they had come back.

Groggily, he made his way to the bathroom, where he unceremoniously fell to his knees and emptied the contents of his stomach into the toilet.

Flushing the unpleasantness down the drain, he stood up and walked to the sink. The mirror wasn't particularly merciful with its reflection. Bloodshot eyes on a sunken, pale face stared back at the teenage Magus.

A spray of cold water and a quick meeting with a toothbrush could only help so much, but five minutes later he didn't look like one of The Dead. Walking back to his room he took off his shirt and the bloodied bandages that wrapped his torso, exposing unblemished if sickly pale skin.

He showed no sign of injuries, even though he was grievously wounded not twelve hours earlier. It was almost like it had all been a dream.

'The starting penalties are five'

Shirou's stomach lurched, threatening to spill its content once more, but he fought it down.

No, it most certainly hadn't been a dream at all.

He shook his head and changed into clean clothes. He probably should have taken a shower, but frankly he wasn't in any mood for that. He had barely finished putting on a new shirt that somebody knocked at his door.

"Come on in."

Satsuki's head poked inside.

"Shirou? What are you doing up? Your wounds- "

"Are healed," he finished. He didn't feel like he deserved her concern and he certainly didn't need it.

"Already?"

"I have been told I don't look the part, but I'm still a Magus, remember?" he said with unfelt humor.

"Yes, well, I guess…," she agreed hesitantly.

"How are you doing, Satsuki-san?"

"I'm… fine."

Their eyes met for a moment, but they immediately looked away, shame etched across both of their faces.

"Any news about Ortensia-san?"

"Ciel-senpai said that her wounds weren't life-threatening. She should recover in a few weeks."

"Yeah," he nodded grimly. "There is that, at least. So… are you ready to leave?"

She gave a small nod. "Are you sure I won't be imposing?

"I told you, it's fine. My place has plenty of rooms I never used and I can't in good conscience leave you to fend off on your own."

"Thank you."

"I should be the one thanking you. You really pulled us through last night."

Satsuki shuffled her feet in embarrassment.

"And I should apologize," Shirou continued. "For what you had to do."

"It's… nothing you should apologize for. I came of my own volition and… I'm not proud of how I did it but…"

"I know. Those people were already dead, but still you shouldn't have been forced to do something like that."

She gave a small, helpless shrug and Shirou didn't push it any further. She was a vampire and there was no changing that. Ultimately she had to feed, one way or another, and the twisted souls trapped in those armors were already dead. If anything, it had been a mercy killing.

Still the image of Satsuki's mouth and clothes spattered with blood of her preys was not something he ever wished to see.

More importantly, he was worried about her psyche. Every step away from a human mindset was a step closer to a monster's.

But then again a Magus of all people had little right to say anything about that. Especially not him, not after the previous night.

"Well then, as soon as the sun sets we are moving out."

"Okay. I'll be in my room until then."


Unpleasant. There were few other words and none as polite to describe the situation Tohno Akiha had to face. The troubles in her city had finally been resolved but she wasn't particularly satisfied with the outcome. Those women that nii-san showed up with… Urgh! Better not to think about all that for the time being.

She had more pressing things to worry about, namely the two guests tucked away in the staff wing. The previous night they returned from their escapade bruised, bloodied and with a look of utter defeat on their faces.

She refrained asking for details and immediately tasked Kohaku to treat Emiya's wounds, though even at a cursory glance the majority of the blood on him wasn't his own. That woman from nii-san's school showed up soon after in her Church robes and left after exchanging a few words with them.

Emiya looked a tad relieved after that, but only just.

In any event, it was almost time for them to leave and truth to be told Akiha was happy of not having them around anymore, not because she particularly disliked them, but rather because they were trouble. The last thing she wanted for was the Church knocking at her door in any greater capacity than they already had.

At least the whole vampire non-sense was finally winding down for good and Misaki city would soon return to what passed for normalcy around the place. The issue with nii-san remained, especially if he kept seeing those two …broads.

Just thinking about him with those two made her blood boil-

The door to Emiya's room opened and the redhead in question looking around with an alarmed expression on his face until his eyes finally settled on her.

"Is something wrong Emiya-san?" she asked.

"Uh," he blinked owlishly. "I thought I felt a surge of murderous intent just now… Must have been my imagination."

Akiha coughed in her hand. "Anyway, Emiya-san. The materials you have ordered have been ready for a while now. If your wounds are healed, I would ask you to take them and leave."

"Certainly. I'm sorry for imposing on you until now. We are leaving right after sundown."

"That being said, are you feeling better? You were pretty beat up last night."

"I'm- "

'The starting penalties are five'

"-fine. Thank you."

Akiha nodded and excused herself. It didn't look Emiya was feeling fine at all, but she neither needed nor wanted to coddle him. His problems were his own after all and her courtesy extended only so far.


When evening came, Shirou and Satsuki climbed on a van provided by Tohno-san with a driver, after checking one last time the things he had paid for. Satisfied with his purchase, they left behind the city were so much blood had been shed.

Satsuki stared out of the window as the street lights passed them by at high speed.

"Something on your mind?" Shirou asked by her side.

"I never thought I would leave Misaki this way, without saying goodbye to anyone."

"Well… for what it's worth they are all convinced you are fine and happy and though it would be better if you didn't meet them for a while, you can still hear from them. I guess it's a small comfort but-"

"It beats being dead, I suppose" she concluded. "Well, deader."

"Yeah, I suppose it does."

The soft rumble of the engine underlined the following silence.

"Shirou?"

"Hm?"

"It wasn't your fault."

"I- "

'The starting penalties are five'

'-know."

They said nothing else for the rest of the trip.


Medea paced.

Finally, after days of absence that felt like months, Shirou was about to come back.

Though she would not easily admit it out loud, she was still worried. When he called her that afternoon to let her know he would be back later that evening, he dismissed her concerns for his wellbeing with a hollow voice. He hadn't been forthcoming with details and she knew better than to push for them over the phone, when she could do it all the much better in person.

Her emotions were painfully mixed. She was both worried and sad for him, but she was also happy that he would be finally be back where he belonged. Safe from harm and away from annoying interlopers.

She should have known better that to think that things would go smoothly from there onward.

When she heard the vehicle pull over outside of the gate, she immediately went to greet the man that was both her Master and wayward apprentice.

"I'm home," he said stepping inside.

"Welcome home Shirou," she greeted with a pleasant smile. The same smile that froze on her face at the sight of the person with him.

Sensing the shift in the mood Shirou looked back and forth between her and the eyesore he had brought along.

"Uh," he said after a moment, realizing his blunder. "Did I forget to mention we would be having a guest over?"

And just like that, Medea of Colchis' mood took a dive for the worse. A crime for which more than a person in the course of history had lost their life screaming.

Emiya Shirou did not realize how lucky he was not to have joined their numbers.

"T-thank you for having me over," the Eyesore said timidly.

"You are most welcome," she said conveying precisely the opposite.

She had to exchange words with her Master. Lots and lots of unkind words.


Behind closed doors.

"What," she spat, "is the meaning of this, Shirou?"

"I know this is sudden, Medea, but it was the only thing I could do."

"There were lot of things you could have done, starting with leaving her where you found her."

"I wasn't about to abandon her," he protested. "She would never survive on her own as she is. She doesn't know the first thing about the arcane, and without at least a supervisor either the Church or the Clock Tower would have sent someone to execute her."

"She isn't any safer here, Shirou. Should I remind you that in a few months at best we're going to be at war and she's not equipped to deal with a conflict of this scale. She's a liability. To herself and to us."

"I know," he sighed. "I know that very well. Look, I didn't have an opportunity to set up anything better for her and there isn't anywhere else safe she could have gone on a short notice. Right now this is the best accommodation I could think of."

"You should have at least consulted me first."

"I- know. I'm sorry. My head was elsewhere and I didn't give the matter enough thought."

"Shirou… this isn't like you," she said, her tone switching to angry to genuine concern. "Sometimes you do miss the obvious, but it's not like you to be so thoughtless. What happened?"

"I'm not-"

'The starting penalties are five'

"– sure."

"Please," she said taking his hands in her own, "tell me."

And so he told her.


Misaki. The previous evening.

When he came to, he was laying on the floor, face down. Professor Shirata's face was staring at him, or it would have if in place of his eyes there hadn't been a slit wide and deep enough to see on the other side of his cranium. His lifeless mouth was frozen into a twisted scream of suffering.

The aftertaste of satisfaction in his mouth made Shirou want to vomit.

Disgust, defeat, guilt pervaded him, but not surprise.

Shirata was dead and Shirou was the one who had done the deed, he knew, even though the memory of the act itself was hazy.

From the neck down, the professor's body was missing.

He was not stabbed nor had he been cut.

His left leg lay in an empty glass case. The right leg hung from a lamp on the wall, blood dripping on the floor. Both of his arms had flown somewhere out of sight, while his torso and its content was scattered evenly across the room.

Shirata Shizuo hadn't been merely killed. He had been torn to pieces while still living.

'Retribution is justice too.'

Shirou ignored the traitorous thought, if only because he had more pressing worries.

"Caren," he grunted, crawling toward her very still form.

She was alive and breathing, fortunately. The cuts on her body had stopped bleeding and even now, before Shirou's eyes they were closing. Did she have self-healing abilities? It was possible but… the rate at which it was happening… was the same as his own.

Her innate ability to sympathize was now replicating on herself the effect that Avalon had on his body?

Wasn't it supposed to replicate only the effects of a possession? Or was it because Avalon worked in a similar way?

Inconsequential questions. The only thing that mattered was that she would not die because of it.

"Shirou!"

"Sa…tsu...ki?" he choked weakly. What was she doing here?

She run up at him and the blood in his vein froze.

From her mouth, down to her neck and blouse she was covered in blood. Blood that was not her own. Seeing his horrified expression, she stopped in her tracks.

"I-I…" she stuttered.

"It's… okay," he managed to say weakly. Now he knew how Caren had managed to get this far without him. "You have… done well."

Absolution was so much easier to give than to receive.

"Oh," a disembodied voice said. "It would seem like I am late."

From the shadows, a figure emerged.

A man with long black hair appeared and even though he was there in front of his eyes, Shirou couldn't feel his presence in the least. He recognized him as the martial artist from the previous day, the one who had been watching Shirata's presentation and who had been able to sense Shirou's watchful eyes.

"Who…?" he asked, dread creeping up his spine. If this person was an enemy…

"Oboro is what they call me," he declared, voice smooth and deep. "Though I suspect your question implied things such as 'why am I here' and 'what do I want'."

He strode forward with soundless steps. He did not even leave a footmark when he stepped on a puddle of blood.

"I have been sent to retrieve this," he said as he knelt to pick up the Urashima's sword.

"Don't… - "Shirou protested, but it was unnecessary.

"Be quiet," he commanded at the cursed thing and the wraith in the sword was immediately forced to cease any attempt to take over its new wielder. "My apologies. I intended to act sooner but it would seem that the late professor Shirata had me fooled thoroughly. I never suspected that he had used his own estranged son and I came to believe that he was unrelated to these events. The other… factions waging battle in this city didn't help identify the real source of this threat either."

Though still very much wary of the newcomer, Shirou understood where Oboro was coming from. After all he found out about Kenta only because of a combination of semi-fortuitous circumstances and unique skills.

"Who… do you work for?"

"I don't think the name of my employers would mean anything to you," he said amiably, "but rest assured that this object will be kept where it cannot do any further harm."

"How can I trust you?"

"I believe that you cannot, although you are in no condition to stop me, but perhaps I can extend an olive branch all the same."

The martial artist knelt by Kenta's lifeless body lifting his hand, palm open, and slamming it on the boy's chest.

"Gah!" Kenta gasped. He convulsed for a moment, then he stopped moving again save for the steady movement of his breathing.

"I restarted the flow of his ki," Oboro answered before a wide-eyed Shirou could even verbalize the question. "His body lives still but I cannot speak for the damage done to his soul. That is beyond my capacity to help."

"T-thank you."

The martial artist didn't acknowledge Shirou's gratitude in the least.

"You are an interesting person, Archer-san," he said as he moved to leave. "I do believe we shall meet again someday."

Oboro disappeared in the shadows whence he came from. Only a missing sword and a restored life were proof of his passage.


Emiya Household. Present time.

"After that Satsuki-san helped us getting back to the Tohno's," Shirou concluded. "Ciel met us there and left with Caren and the still catatonic Kenta."

"I see," Medea replied. "You lost the grasp on the situation. Is that the reason?"

"I was over my head from the beginning and I couldn't really do anything. Caren and Kenta both survived for reasons beyond my control and I endangered Satsuki-san too. "

"It appears to me that you intend to shoulder the blame for crimes you didn't commit. No single person can hope to know every situation and control every single factor. Whether or not you were good enough to face the challenge, Shirou, it doesn't change the fact that you did take action."

"That's not enough."

"It's enough for me," she told him, placing her hands on his own. "It is because you acted that I have a chance now. And for the same reason, so does the little eyes- vampire. You are an idiot that chases after foolish dreams and ideals, Shirou, but the world is a slightly better place because of you."

A much better place, she would have rather said, but right there and then, that was more than enough.

Shirou said nothing more, but he accepted her hands within his own.

For a little while, there was peace at the Emiya household.


Satsuki put what little personal belonging she had been given from her home into her new room at Shirou's place.

Although she was used to a western-style building, the room she had been given was spacious and comfortable. Quite frankly the mansion was beautiful even if much less imposing that the Tohno's.

Now, if only Shirou'; aunt she guessed, hadn't glared daggers at her everything would have been perfect. She basically dragged him away after showing her room and they had segregated themselves to discuss things. About her, presumably.

Admittedly, she was worried. Though she didn't think Shirou would leave her to fend her for herself, it remained the fact that she didn't know where else to go should the discussion downstairs turn for the worse on the matter of her living arrangements.

She didn't know what the other woman's problem with her was, but it wasn't like Satsuki had much choice in the matter.

The situation reached a conclusion half an hour later, when she heard soft footsteps coming toward her room.

She opened the door without so much as knocking.

"Come along, little girl. Let's set down some ground rules."

Satsuki bristled. She wasn't a little girl. A young woman, maybe, but not a little girl. Nonetheless, she followed obediently.

"Here is the restroom. The kitchen and the living room is over there. You are expected to do your own share of chores while you're here, starting tomorrow. You are otherwise free to move around as you please."

"Um, where is Shirou's room?"

Even though she was facing the other woman's back, Satsuki could have sworn her eyes had narrowed.

"Further down the hall," she replied, "though there is no reason in this world or the next for you to go there. Am I understood?"

"Yes," she replied warily. "Where is yours?" That was one place she wouldn't want accidentally stumble upon. Invading this woman's privacy, no matter how accidentally, would spell disaster for sure.

The undoubtedly scathing answer was interrupted by sound of the front door being slammed open and close, followed by loud running footsteps.

"Megissa!" yet another woman all but shouted. "Is Shirou back yet? The old man said there was a van in front of – YOU! "

"M-me?" Satsuki asked, point a finger to herself while looking left and right for the actual recipient of this new woman sudden rage.

"Yes! You are the one who has been trying to steal my Shirou!" the tiger-like woman accused.

"Eeeeh?!" Satsuki squealed, red-faced. "I have not!"

"Don't you lie to me," she hissed. "I know the two of you have been sleeping together."

"It wasn't like that! I swear." Caught completely by surprise, Satsuki didn't even attempt to deny the accusation.

"What the hell is this ruckus?" Shirou, asked as he stepped on the scene. "Megissa? Satsuki-san? Fuji-nee?"

Fuji-nee's eyes zeroed on him and started filling with tears

"S-S-S-SHIROOOU!" she cried, dashing toward him with her eyes arm outstretched in preparation for a hug.

With a kind smile, Shirou moved out of the way just in time to dodge a kick that passed where his stomach had been a moment earlier and Fuji-nee went flying past.

"Hello, Fuji-nee," he greeted, completely unperturbed by the sudden act of violence.

"Tch, how did you know I was going for a kick?"

"Your repertoire of moves is getting old, Taiga," he said jokingly. "How have you been?"

"Don't try to change the subject. What is she doing here?" she asked waving a finger at Satsuki.

"Satsuki-san? She's going to be staying here for a while."

"No way!" Taiga answered back, putting her arms in front of her chest in a big X. "I will not allow that."

"Why? What's the problem with having one more person over?"

"It's entirely inappropriate for a young man and a girl without relations to live under the same roof."

"Err… I don't understand why you didn't raise the same objections with Megissa."

"Of course Megissa-chan's purity wasn't in any danger, idiot. If you really had a thing for older women, you wouldn't have left a beautiful flower like me untouched until –buh!"

Shirou bumped her over the head so fast that Taiga didn't even saw it coming. "What the hell, Shirou?"

"Two things, Taiga," he said with a tranquility that belied the righteous fury in his eyes. "First, if you are ever going to mention again, even in the negative, that sort of involvement between the two of us I'm going to wash your mouth with soap until bubbles come out of your nose. Second, if you'll ever imply again that I'd take advantage of a person under my protection, regardless of age I'm going to… put you on a year-long diet."

"You wouldn't," Taiga recoiled. "That's too cruel."

"Try me," he said with his arms crossed over his chest.

"Mou… Shirou is mean. I didn't raise you to be like that."

'You didn't raise me at all', Shirou didn't say. "Anyway, Satsuki-san has nowhere else to go right now."

"S-sorry to be a bother," she said dejectedly.

"Uuuh… no problem," Taiga replied, suddenly feeling guilty over her treatment of the frail-looking girl.

"You are very good with kids, Shirou," Megissa said with a strangely fond smile.

"It's a necessary survival skill around here," he nodded.

"Hey!" Taiga cried indignantly. "I'm not a kid!"

"That's what a kid would say," the two Magi said in deadpan unison.

Taiga subsequent foot-stomping didn't help her case any, but in spite of everything, Satsuki could feel the warmth of family between those three.

She really didn't mind living at the Emiya's after all.


Tik. Tik. Tik.

He had been lying awake in his bed for a while, just listening to the ticking of his alarm clock in the otherwise silent house.

Tik. Tik. Tik.

It's not that he wasn't tired but that he wasn't comfortable with closing his eyes. Afraid, even.

He was no stranger to fear. He felt it all the time, for himself and for others, but this was a new one.

Tik. Tik. Tik.

Each stroke was the same as the previous and as the next, but each one sounded like a different curse.

Tik. Tik. Tik.

If he kept listening to it, he would surely go insane.

Tik. Tik. Tik.

Again.

Tik. Tik. Tik.

He turned to the side and forced his eyes close.


"The starting penalties are five"

The smile that stretched upon his face had nothing to do with the boy who wanted to be a hero.

On the ground, to the side, the unconscious form of Caren Ortensia twitched. Her unseeing eyes opened and black tears run down her face. Her mouth gaped the black, mud-like substance overflowed at the corners as well as from her nose.

"What the…?" the man took a step back. His name escaped HIM, as of that moment, but it was inconsequential, just as it didn't matter if he tried to leave.

He would die. There wasn't any doubt. It wasn't a matter of difference in skill or power. He would die because so HE wished, because he was human.

Die

"Life penalty, body penalty, freedom penalty, fame penalty, fortune penalty."

Die die die

'That's right, isn't? Retribution is justice too' die

'Evil is a necessity' die die die die die die die 'in this world'

die die

die die die die 'For every crime' die die 'there is' die die die die 'justice'

die die die die die die die die die die die die die die

die die die die die die die die 'For every sin' die die die die die die 'there is' die die die die 'retribution.'

Die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die die diedie die die diedie die diediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediedieiediediediediediediediediediediediedieDIEdiedieDIEdiediediediediediediediediediediediedieiediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediDIEediediedieDIEdieDIEdieDIEdieDIEdieDIEdieDIEdiediediedieiediediediediediediediedieDIEDIEdiedieDIEdiedieDIEdiedieDIEdiedieDIEdiedieDIEdiedieDIEdiedieDIEdiedieDIEdiediediediediediediediediediedieDIEdiediediediediediediediediedieieDIEdiediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediedieDIEdiediediedieDIEdiedieiediediediediediediedieDIEdiediedieDIEdiediediediediediedieDIEdiediediediediediediediediediediediediediediedieiediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediedieDIEdiediediediediediediediedieDIEdiedieDIEdiedieiediediedieDIEdiediedieDIEdiediediediedieDIEdiediediediediediediediediediedieDIEdiediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediedieDIEdiediediediediediediedie

Blades, more similar to animal claws than any man-made weapon flashed out, seeking blood. They were intercepted by the blade in the other's hands but it wouldn't be enough to stop HIM. The claws dug into the flash of his chest and the human screamed.

'Good.'

HE slashed and tore at him, blood and flesh flying around. The wraith made a valiant effort of piercing its host back together. Blood, clotted in the shape of swords knitted the wounded flesh back together at an amazing speed.

HE smiled, amusedly. The world was truly as small place after all, or perhaps the strings of fate did not care about trivial things like the passing of time. In any event, that only meant that HE could indulge in his amusement a few seconds longer.

HE fought like a beast, if one could call fighting a one-sided massacre. The legs were the first to go, it would not do if he were to try to run. HE didn't mind giving chase but HE didn't have much time.

The man fell down on his stumps, screaming all the while, forcibly kept alive and conscious by the wraith.

'Quality entertainment all around.'

The left arm was ripped out next and it flew high in the air. The right arm followed suit. The cursed blade fell on the floor uselessly.

The human body free of the protection granted by the maleficent spirit resumed bleeding normally.

Unconsciousness would come for both parties in a matter of seconds. It was time to wrap up the party.

One claw in the gut and one in the eyes gave the dying man the release he no doubt desired. HE wrenched forcefully and the head came off with a satisfying sound of ripped flesh and snapped bones.

A job well done, if HE could say so himself.

HE spared a glance for the nun. There was no more time to do anything about her, one way or another. Emiya Shirou's hatred had found its mark and was dissipating rapidly. On cue the world spun and HIS head hit the ground hard.

'That's all folks.'


Shirou jerked awake to a sitting position, gasping for air, heart hammering in his chest.

He wiped the sweat from his face and threw the covers aside, standing rapidly. He leaned against the wall with one hand, forcing his breath back to normal and wishing his heart would do the same in short order.

Fortunately, he regained his bearings after a minute.

The clock by his bed read two in the morning. Way too early to be up and about, he admitted, but he could not bring himself to lay down again.

Scratching his head in frustration, he made up his mind and left the room as silently as possible.

The waning moon in the sky was like a curtain closing on a macabre show in which Shirou had played a part he didn't fully understand. He felt like a side character in someone else's story and certainly not the hero he had tried to be.

He scratched his head. If he could not rest he could at the very least make something productive out of the extra time. Barefooted, he crossed the courtyard and quietly slipped there into his Workshop.

The torches on the wall turned on as soon as he stepped inside. The expanded space was stocked with tools and raw materials of different kind, but the thing that interested him the most was the furnace at the farthest end.

He opened and closed his fists repeatedly. Moral implications aside, he told himself, the price in sweat and blood had already been paid. Now the important thing was to make it worth something.


Medea woke up at dawn and just like every other morning she set herself to prepare breakfast, a habit she had come to appreciate since after her Contract with Shirou. Speaking of which he would probably want to help with that, now that he was back. He had an unnatural predisposition for cooking, that boy.

She went to wake him and found that he wasn't in his room. Well, it wasn't unusual for him to get up very early. He was probably in the dojo doing his usual workout routine.

Except that he wasn't there either. Could he have started preparing breakfast already? No, an quick glance into the kitchen revealed no trace of her Master.

Then she finally noticed it, the faint echo of clanging metal. She had thought it came from outside, but as she followed it through the courtyard she realized it came from the tool shed, or rather from beneath it.

The trap-door to the Workshop was open and the heat that came up from it washed over her as she went down the steps.

He was there, sweaty back bare of clothing turned to her, as the hammer in his hand hit the steel over and over again. His muscles shifted underneath his skin with every motion, sending drops of sweat flying in the air along with the spark.

She didn't say anything as she approached, light-footed, but she examined the products of his labor up to that point with a keen eye.

Blades of all kinds, from knives to swords were laying on the workbench behind him. She could see the progression of quality in them. He went from distorted things that vaguely resembled blades to precise works of blacksmithing.

It was astounding to see that much improvement in such a short span of time, surely a testament to Shirou's innate talents, but for all of her marvel her heart was filled with concern.

She didn't need to see his eyes to know that the weight he shouldered wasn't just that of the hammer he wielded. The was an exorcising property in the motions of his arm, a single-minded focus on the task at hand that didn't just stem from his Magus upbringing. She wasn't a stranger to the feeling herself.

She touched his shoulder gently and he stopped, turning to look at her with a startled expression.

"Medea? I'm sorry, did I wake you?"

She shook her head. "It's morning, Shirou."

"Morning already?" he blinked. "Uh. I must have lost track of the time."

"Indeed," she said evenly. Albeit she'd rather prefer he would rest properly, she knew first hand that sleep wasn't always the best way to get it. "It's time for breakfast. Would you mind giving me a hand?"

"Breakfast?" he asked as if the concept was foreign. "Yes. Yes of course."

"Good. Before that, I think that you should get cleaned up," she said, wrinkling her nose.

He looked down at his exposed chest and flushed beet red, having apparently forgotten that he had discarded his shirt at some point during the night.

With an unmanly "eep" and a stammered apology he took off at high speed, presumably toward the bathroom. She watched him go with a smile, unable to wrap her mind around the self-consciousness these easterners had about their bodies.

Then again, she came from a place and time where people's idea of sport was wrestling naked covered in oil, so perhaps she was a bit biased.

Chuckling to herself, imagining the reaction of some of the modern day girls at the sight, she left the Workshop as well.


Misaki. The previous night

The man called Oboro walked through the empty streets of Misaki with the cursed sword firmly clutched in his hand. The wraith screamed and assaulted his mind relentlessly, but it held no sway over a man like him.

Police sirens were blaring in the distance. They would arrive, of course, when it was too late. Or rather, where it was safe for them to arrive. Ordinary law enforcers would only die pointlessly against the things people like Oboro faced, so they were kept out of the loop for everyone's sake.

Oboro paid them no mind as he walked to a phone booth. One of the last vestige of a dying era. He picked up the phone and punched in the number.

"This is Yamamoto speaking."

"I've retrieved the object," Oboro said as a way of introduction.

"Was there any unforeseen problem?"

"I run into a few interesting people."

"The Vampire?"

"No. A boy. The Archer."

"Ah. That was unexpected. More so if he managed to pick your interest. What do you make of him?"

"He's though. Tougher than Yu was at his age I would estimate, with the potential of getting much stronger too."

"Do you think we should recruit him, then? Show him the ropes?"

"The kid is a Magus. I reckon he requires very little in the ways of introduction."

"That wasn't in his file," the man called Yamamoto said after a moment of pause. "Which means he knows how to keep things quiet."

"Indeed, although I am not sure whether he would want to join us. He was with a woman from the Church."

"A Magus? With the Church?"

"Stranger things have happened."

"So they have," the man agreed with a sigh. "We'll keep an eye on him, just in case. For the time being, come back home, Oboro."

"I was hoping I could make a detour and see how the Vampire Princess fares, if you don't mind."

"Don't be an idiot," Yamamoto said hurriedly. "She's an Omega-level threat. The other one from the Burial Agency as well. Even someone as good as you would not come out on top, Oboro. Keep away from them."

Oboro glanced out of the phone booth, where the blue-haired woman was looking at him coldly, with three knives clutched between the fingers of each end.

"I'm afraid that's already no longer an option, Yamamoto," he replied, completely unsurprised. "I'll see you soon."

"What? Oboro, I'll send reinforcemen-"

He hung up and stepped out of the phone booth. It looked like he would be getting the fight he had been looking for after all.


XXX


AN: So, uhm, long time no see? I could come up with a dozen different excuses for the lateness of this chapter but as a fellow fanfic reader too, no excuse is ever good enough. We want our fix, after all.

Either way, here it is. I lost my beta RavingScholar in the past few months, probably to the merciless mistress that is Real Life. The trusty Obiki Doragon has come to the rescue so give him the acknowledgment he deserves.

As usual, reviews are appreciated. See you soon(er)

PS: before you ask, the next chapter is almost completely done and I'll be putting it up in a week. I'll be working on Promises of a Wandering Hero next.


Published: 06/11/2016
Beta: Obiki Doragon