When Taiga dropped by that Sunday morning, the house was dreadfully silent.
Either all the people living there had yet to return from a night patrol or they already had and they were still sleeping. Although miffed that she would have to seek food elsewhere, Taiga wasn't about to complain.
Shirou worked non-stop for everyone's safety and so did everyone else who had the Emiya household as their place of residence. Well, perhaps Satsuki barely qualified and Rider's loyalties were still up in the air, but that was the general concept.
She resigned herself to seek nourishment elsewhere and promised to return later.
Which she did around noon, sure that this time there would be some food waiting for her, but it turned out to be nothing more than a delusion.
Satsuki was there though and she said she hadn't seen either Shirou or Caster since the previous day, while Rider was out… riding.
Fine! She could go one day without eating at his place.
Except she couldn't. Sometime towards mid-afternoon she felt a bit famished and decided that by then Shirou would be up and that he would damn well make some snack for her.
Yet, her expectations were once again utterly shattered. Upon returning to the Emiya household for the third time that day, she found Satsuki and Rider drinking tea by themselves in an awkward atmosphere, but not Shirou do be seen.
That was it!
She stomped to his room making the entire house shake in her wake. She reached his room and opened his door without bothering to knock.
It was difficult to say how long she stood there, merely staring at the scene displayed in front of her.
Eventually, with trembling hands she slid the door close and took a deep breath.
It was a pleasant day for Rider, all things considered. She got to ride her bike for a long time and the weather was nice as well. It reminded her of the quiet days on the Shapeless Isles, an eternity ago.
Of course, that was about as far as the similarities went. As peaceful as it was most of the time, the Isles were often targeted by many so called heroes who wanted to take and ravage her older sisters. On those days there was much terrified screaming going on.
On cue with that thought, the house shook and trembled as a mortal was once again faced with a horrible truth their mind could not withstand.
Hmmm. Now, maybe this place was a bit more similar to her own home than she first thought.
Shirou opened his eyes to the familiar sight of his room ceiling, and to the not so familiar but very much welcome weight of Medea draped across his body.
Judging from the light shining through the rice paper doors, it had to be late afternoon at the very least, which wasn't all surprising, considering how late into the day they had taken the previous night activities.
A sudden growl from his stomach reminded him that he had skipped breakfast as well as lunch. No wonder he was hungry, he had skipped two meals and he had exerted himself quite a bit too.
The problem though, wasn't so much that he hadn't eaten, but that he hadn't prepared two meals. Satsuki and Rider didn't really need to eat the way humans did. Ordinary hunger was of no concern to them.
No, the problem was Fujimura Taiga. Her hunger too wasn't ordinary. Skipping a meal was a sin, skipping two was a heresy, yet no starving tiger had come manifesting its wrath. That couldn't possibly be a good thing. Either something had happened to her, or she was lying in wait for him somewhere.
He slowly districated himself from the embrace of his lover, who mumbled in protest but otherwise kept sleeping, and pulled himself up.
He quickly threw on some clothes and made himself decent, though he would have to take a shower as soon as possible, and quietly left the room.
The house was completely still and silent, and Shirou couldn't tell if the tension he was feeling was just a product of his imagination, or the byproduct of a predator waiting to pounce and bite him to death.
Forcing himself upright rather than stand in a defensive crouch, Shirou made his way to the living room. He stood in front of the sliding door for a tense moment, before pulling it open an inch so that he could peer inside.
Shirou leapt back, slamming the back of his head against one of the pillars that lined up the patio and fell to the floor.
She was standing right behind the door, staring down at him from the small opening he had just made like a vengeful spirit returned from the grave.
"T-T-Taiga?" he stuttered.
"Emiya Shirou," she repeated. Her hand came up and clutched the door. Shirou jumped to his feet and put his own hand onto it to prevent her from opening it further. It would be the end of him if she managed to come out.
No matter what happened, the Demon King could not be allowed to escape from its seal and be resurrected. As a hero, he absolutely had to prevent that scenario. World peace (and his own life) were at stake.
But Taiga the Demon King would have none of it, of course. Try as he might to seal it back again, the door just wouldn't budge. Worse yet, it started to show signs of breaking under the combined pressure of the two opponents.
Cracks started to form along the wooden frame. There was no helping it, he had to let go.
The moment he did so, she slammed the door open, stepping out of the room and making him retreat until he was with his back pressed against the pillar that had cracked his head just moments before.
"Taiga… calm down," he begged, trying to quell the anger simmering beneath the surface. However, Taiga didn't seem to hear him at all. She just stared into his eyes while he held his hands up between them, both as a gesture of surrender and to keep her back.
So, of course, that was she went for.
"Gaaah!" Shirou screamed as her mouth clamped around his forearm, sinking her teeth into his flesh. "Taiga! Don't bite! Biting his off-limits!"
He shook his arm, trying to break free but she would not let go. He put his other hand on her face in an attempt to push her away to no avail. He struggled and fought until he ended up with his ass on the floor with Taiga on top of him, still biting into his arm.
This was the scene upon which Rider stumbled upon.
"Should I intervene, Master?" she asked, with only the faintest amusement displayed on her face.
"Yes! Please, restrain her until I get her something to eat other than my arm!"
Rider conjured her trademark chain and quickly wrapped it around Taiga, pinning her arms to her torso and yanking her off Shirou with as much care as she could without arming her.
Further down the corridor, peeking her head from around the corner, Satsuki watched the scene as it unfolded with a mixture of amusement and envy. As a vampire, she too wanted to bite Shirou. Although, to be honest, she knew she'd want to bite him even without her undead impulses. Sadly, that particular morsel belonged to someone else and trying to snatch it for herself would have dire consequences.
Taiga wasn't the only one whose appetites went unsatisfied.
Some time later, after the ravenous tiger had been fed, Shirou sat at the table opposite to his guardian who had just recovered from her hunger-induced madness. Even then, she was clearly not pleased, as punctuated by the way she drummed her fingers upon the table while glaring at him sideways. The reason for her mood wasn't just because she had been starving longer than she liked, but also because of the reason for said lateness.
The cat was out of the bag.
"Well?" she eventually asked after he refused to break the silence. "What do you have to say for yourself?"
"Sorry. Next time I'll make sure to leave you a meal prepared."
She slammed the palm of her hand on the table, making the plates clatter loudly.
"That's not what I'm talking about and you damn well know it!"
"I do," he agreed with a nod. "However, I have nothing to say on the subject."
"What? No, you don't get to do that, buster. I put up with a lot of stuff you do because it can't be helped, but this about saving the city or the world or whatever. This is about my ward, a minor, having a… sex... an adult relationship with an adult woman."
Despite being outwardly calm, Shirou's face betrayed the embarrassment he was feeling at having this conversation with Taiga.
"Yes, what's your point?"
"My point is that it's completely inappropriate. You are not even seventeen yet, and she's like in her late twenties at the very least."
"Actually, Taiga," Caster interjected as she stepped into the room, making both occupants turn towards her, "I was around fifty when I died."
"F-Fifty?" Taiga's eyes nearly burst out of their sockets.
"Of course," she added, "if you consider the time in between my death and the present day, then the age count is in the couple of millennium."
"Huh," Shirou said casually, crossing his arms over his chest and tilting his head. "I never thought of that. I guess that ascending to the throne is one hell of aging remedy."
Caster laughed under her breath, but she seemed to relax visibly. They never got around to discuss the subject of age, and Shirou figured that she had been worrying about it on her own.
"How can you be so casual about it?" Taiga asked, bewildered. "She's old enough to be your mother."
Shirou let out a long breath through his nose, before staring squarely into Taiga's eyes.
"That's easy. I love her."
Taiga had already opened her mouth to retort when her brain fully computed Shirou's statement. She looked from Shirou, who stared back resolutely, to Caster who was looking away blushing but smiling.
"You two… you two are… in love?"
"... Yes?" Shirou said cautiously, not knowing what to expect.
Taiga blinked and then she jumped to her feet.
"Squeee! That's wonderful, Shirou!"
Shirou balked at the sudden movement and change in demeanor.
"Wait a minute. What exactly were you thinking our relationship was?"
"Ah… well… you are a hot-blooded teeanger and she's a lovely lady so I thought, you know, you just couldn't hold yourself back and that she took pity on you?"
Shirou's left eye twitched several times. Caster's too.
"Kindly, fetch the soap bar," he said as he got up and cracked his knuckles.
"Right away, honey," Caster said as she left the room.
"Wait, Shirou… you aren't really actually going to…"
Shirou put a foot on the table separating them and loomed forward with his usual kind smile but that this time gave Taiga the chills.
"You can say whatever you want about me, Fuji-nee, but not that I'm not a man of my word."
"There you go, Shirou," Caster said as she returned with the soap bar which she placed in his hand.
"Thank you. Now would you mind restraining Taiga for me?"
"Wait, wait, wait…!" Taiga protested as she scooted away from the duo.
"Of course, darling," the Witch agreed, with a devious smile spreading across her face.
"No… Nooooo! Blurb-blurb-blurb!"
Thus Fujimura Taiga learned the price of running her mouth foolishly one time too many. It was a lesson she wouldn't forget for a long time.
After dinner, when sanity had been restored to the Emiya household, and all its inhabitants had been properly fed, Shirou sat at the table with Caster and Rider.
"How are the deployment of the countermeasures going?" he asked of Caster.
"They are well underway. Rin's help had been speeding up quite a bit. She's a fast learner, that one."
"What about the Grail itself? Any odd behavior?"
"Besides those we already know? None, but the Grail is building up energy faster. The next summoning might happen any time now."
"Already? It hasn't been that much since Rider has been summoned."
"Indeed," Caster agreed. "In the first place, the Grail shouldn't have allowed any summoning until it had sufficient energy to summon all seven. However, between the residual energy of the previous war and the meddling of the Einzbern, both past and present, the summoning system has long since gone off the rails."
Shirou nodded grimly. "Speaking of which, is there any trace of prospective Masters?"
"None, sadly. It's not wise to come to the battlefield too early, so anyone selected by the Grail isn't likely to make themselves known before summoning their own Servants. it's not strictly necessary to do the summoning in Fuyuki itself. Depending on factors like the Class, the identity of the Heroic Spirit and if they keep to their spirit form, as well as the ability of the Master, it's entirely possible to do the summoning ritual on the other side of the world."
"Like the Einzbern have done." Shirou concurred.
"Precisely. Bottom line, we have the advantage of an early preparation but we are stuck reacting to their actions."
"Archer, Lancer and Assassin," Shirou mumbled. "Three more Servants to go."
"Assassin is clearly the most dangerous of the group." Caster explained. "With our alliance, we can take on any single Servant, but any Assassin worth their title won't make a move until they are certain of successfully dealing a killing blow. Their Presence Concealment is the worst."
"Hm," Shirou grunted in agreement. "That just mean that we must lead them into a trap. Let them believe they got the drop on us."
Caster nodded. "I'll be working on that. I've got a few ideas in mind."
"Of course you do," Shirou snorted. "What about you, Rider? Is there anything you think should be said?"
Rider tilted her head, looking away. "I'm not much of a planner, Master. I will follow your orders."
Shirou blinked and shrugged after a moment.
"Alright, but don't hesitate to pitch in if anything comes to mind."
"Understood." she agreed.
"That being said, tomorrow I'm going to talk with Shinji."
"Have you found out where he's staying, Master?" Rider asked.
"Yeah. I want to figure out what he's going to do. He can't keep skipping school like that and Sakura is worrying about him."
Rider said nothing, but seemed to stare right through Shirou, which unnerved him. He didn't really understand what she was thinking most of the time. Even more so when it was about Shinji. He was fairly certain she didn't like her previous Master. Then again, he still had yet to meet anyone who did, but he couldn't be sure what she made of her forced change in allegiance. Did she retain any loyalty toward Shinji because he had been her first Master?
Shirou really couldn't say and he didn't dare to ask. He was more afraid of her personality than he was of her power, to be honest. He really couldn't gauge her most of the time.
"Do you want to come along?" he asked diplomatically.
"... I shall escort you, for your safety." she replied.
"Of course." he nodded. If that's how she wanted to play it, he wouldn't be calling her out on it.
With that settled, they went their separate ways.
Rider went to her room where she would wait for nightfall so that she could go her evening ride, while Caster headed for their shared Workshop.
That left Shirou with some time to kill, and since he hadn't put in any training hours in the past forty-eight hours, he decided that it was high time to fix that.
"Let's see if Satsuki is up for a light spar."
"Ha!" Satsuki shouted, shooting a punch toward Shirou's chin. He dodged by a hair breadth and elbowed her into the stomach, but instead of the softness of her abdomen he made the flat surface of her palm.
Before he could react she swept at his feet with a low kick, which he avoided by jumping. However, with his elbow still in her hand, she pulled and threw him behind her back with her superhuman strength.
Shirou flipped and made to land on his feet, but Satsuki rushed up to him and high-kicked him. He blocked with his arm but, being still airborne, he was sent flying towards the wall.
While that would have proven problematic for a normal human, to Shirou it was just a minor inconvenience. Saber had tossed him against a wall so many times that he had long since become experienced in using vertical surfaces just as well as horizontal ones.
He kicked the wall and inverted his momentum, launching himself back to Satsuki with a kick of his own.
Satsuki for her part rolled out of the way, slashing her hand down toward his head as he flew past.
"Ow!" Shirou said, rolling to a halt a few feet away, rubbing the back of his head in pain.
"Ah! Sorry!" Satsuki exclaimed, rushing up to him. "I thought I stopped in time."
"No, it's nothing. Just a little bruise. Well done, though. Your reaction times have improved greatly. If this had been a real battle, I'd be dead."
"Please," she snorted. "If this had been a real battle you would have been pulling swords out of your ass left and right."
"I suppose I would have," Shirou laughed.
Satsuki had changed a lot. She was no longer shy as she used to be, or scared of herself for that matter. That is not to say that she was at ease with her circumstances, but she was starting to get comfortable in her own skin again. He didn't know her before she was turned into a Dead Apostle, but he got the impression that she was more self-assured than she used to be even before that.
She was holding her own, both emotionally and in a fight. She was far from being safe on her own in the Moonlit World, but she was no longer easy pickings.
At the very least, barring special circumstances, she would not lose to an unaugmented human again.
"You've come a long way, Satsuki."
"... Yeah, I guess so," she agreed, reluctantly. "Just in time as well, isn't it? My time here is about to run out."
"Sorry about that, but it's for the best. As much as I would like you yo stay as long as you wanted, Fuyuki is about to become the most dangerous place in the world."
"I know and you shouldn't worry," she reassured. "I took advantage of your help long enough. It's about time I stand on my own. I would have had to anyway, sooner or later."
Shirou would have rebuked the taking advantage of him part statement, but he withheld his opinion. He couldn't protect Satsuki forever, even just because she would one day outlive him, and there was no better time or reason to leave Fuyuki behind than near future.
"Are you going to be alright?" he asked.
"Actually…the people from the Church have agreed to let me move back in Misaki and live a normal life unless they need me."
"Really? So that means you're going to see your family and friends again?"
"Yes," she nodded. "I'll live on my own, but I'll be able to see them again every now and then."
"That's wonderful… and weird," he said, frowning. "Did they happen to mention why they went with that solution?"
"Only that Ciel-senpai was willing to take responsibility for me. They told me that she's moved there indefinitely and she has agreed to be my handler. I don't know anything more than that. Do you think I should refuse?"
"No," he replied, shaking his head. "I'd have plenty of reservations if it was anyone else, but if it's Ciel… I know you can trust her. She, of all people should know what you've been through."
"Hm? What do you mean?" Satsuki asked.
"That's… not really for me to say. Not to mention that she'd kill me if I did. Maybe one day she'll tell you her story herself."
"Alright. I trust your judgement," she nodded.
"Thanks. Well, since there's not much time to lose, how about we go another round?"
"Sure," she agreed. "Bring it on, mister."
There once was a quiet island immersed in a peaceful sea. Upon the white sands of its shores, hundreds of life-like statues of powerful ad valiant warriors stood. Some of them seemed to be have just disembarked and making their ways towards the inland. The expression on their faces were of utter confidence and boundless desire.
Most of them, however, looked like they were running back towards the sea, and their expression was one of utter fear and abject horror.
The scene was pretty much the same inland, among the ruins of empty houses and forgotten temples.
From shore to shore. there was no trace of sentient life to be found under the azure sky. Not even the birds dared to make this island their home.
Yet, it was not an inhabited island.
Deep within a cave, far even and especially from the gazes of the Gods, the lone creature and undisputed queen of this land lived in pitch black darkness, with only her hunger to keep her company.
Alas, there was nothing for her to feed upon anymore, except the fear of the foolhardy heroes that ventured in her abode, thinking they could gain riches and honour by slaying the hideous monster she was.
She only had the persistent memory of what eating was, of how it felt to feed.
The tenderness of the flesh, the crunchiness of the bones and her favorite, the iron flavor of blood. The phantom of its taste and smell never left her and she would kill, as she already had, to savor it again.
And yet, she would never have the opportunity again. Everyone creature of flesh and bone would turn to stone at her mere gaze. Scant few could resist Cybele long enough for her to feast upon them.
In fact, the last prey whom she had devoured, the people whose blood still lingered in her mouth, were her own…
Rider woke with a silent gasp, the memory that she had dreamt was her own, but it did not belong to her current incarnation. The creature that did those thing didn't share an ounce of the guilt that Rider felt over them.
Even though they were the same person, they were two distant points in her long existence. Irreconcilable concepts like life and death, yet undeniably both parts of the same whole.
As full consciousness returned to her, she took stock of her surroundings. She was in her room at her Master's house, sitting on the tatami with her back against the wall. To her side rested the book that she had fallen asleep reading.
It seemed that she had become more relaxed that she thought with living in this place. Initially, she had been wary about Emiya Shirou, thinking that no friend of Shinji's could be much better than the man himself, but it had turned out that even a worm can have a decent man for a friend.
However, falling asleep had been just too careless. The War might not be in full swing yet, but that was no reason to drop her guard like that. Anything could happen at anytime.
Worse yet, when she slept she dreamt, and her dreams would invariably be of Stheno and Euryale. Her beloved sisters. Whom she ate without even recognizing.
Whenever she slept, those things that she'd rather forget haunted her, like the taste of blood that she could still feel in her mouth, even now. It was already fading, but it was there, and she didn't appreciate how it made her heart race.
She took a few calming breaths, waiting for the phantom taste to fade entirely. It did, as expected, after a few moments.
However, her heart did not stop racing, for the scent of blood was still strong in her nostrils. This was not just a memory. It was truly the smell of blood.
She got her feet in one smooth motion and quickly left the room, following the scent, disregarding her fast beating heart. The trail came to an end in front of the little vampire's room. Before she could think about the circumstances, she threw the door open.
Two pairs of eyes turned upon her immediately.
Emiya Shirou was half-kneeling on the floor, fist clenched tightly to squeeze blood from a self-inflicted wound right into Satsuki's mouth, who was sitting seiza in front of him. Her lips were wide open and her tongue sticking out to receive the hot, sticky, life-giving substance.
There was a long moment of embarrassed silence, shared by the three of them, almost as if she had caught them in the midst of an illicit act.
"...Rider?" her Master eventually asked, snapping her out of her thoughts. "What's wrong?"
"I smelled blood, and I assumed the worst had happened. I did not mean to intrude. My apologies."
She closed the door without waiting for a reply from either one of them. With measured calm she left the floor, then the building. In the toolshed that served as entrance to her Master's Workshop she put on her biker suit and immediately took the streets, hoping that the thrill of riding at high speed would work as a substitute for her thirst for blood.
She wouldn't return until late into the next morning.
By the time Shirou had finished feeding Satsuki and dressed his wound, Rider had already left the house. He could have called her back if so he wanted, but he knew that wouldn't do any good.
It didn't take him much to figure out what was wrong with her. If her assault on Ayako had been any indication, she too possessed a taste for human blood. Servants didn't need to physically drain a human to access their Mana. The fact that she went that way was the clear sign of a personal preference. It was not a physical need, but a psychological factor.
However, keeping into consideration how upset she seemed, she wasn't too fond of that aspect of her personality.
He didn't know how to approach the situation. Would it become a problem later down the road? Normally Servant would be around for a couple of weeks at worst, but with the current War going the way it was, Shirou worried that she might not be able to keep it in check.
Fortunately, he didn't have to figure it out on his own.
"So, that happened," Caster said after Shirou retold the incident. "That is... not unexpected."
"How so?" he asked.
"Consider her legend. Cursed by Athena for her beauty, she became a man-eating monster. Clearly, she had been summoned at an earlier stage of her life, but given sufficient time she will inevitably become that thing again."
"Even though she's a Servant?"
"Hm. Now that I think about it, the container might not necessarily survive her metamorphosis. Or it might constrain and prevent it altogether. Whatever the case, her craving for blood will only become stronger in time."
"There must be something we can do about it," Shirou said.
"Of course," Caster agreed. "A Command Seal would be more than enough to fix her. If it can bend the rules of space-time, it can very well alter her psyche."
Shirou grimaced as he glanced at his Command Seal bearing arm. He was never fond of altering people's minds. Even for their own good.
"However," Caster continued, "that's a huge waste of a trump card, especially since there are cheaper stopgap measures."
"Really? Like what?" he asked.
"Easy. Feed her your blood."
"I had already considered that, but wouldn't that make things worse?"
"If this was a simple addiction, then yes it would. However, this is a curse."
"And I assume that it makes all the difference?"
"It certainly does, Shirou. By its own nature, a curse become stronger the more one fights it. Of course, there is an upward limit depending on the caster's ability, but this is an act of the Gods we're talking about. Trust me, I'm an expert on the subject." she said morosely.
Yes, Shirou guessed she'd knew about being cursed by the Gods all too well. Therefore he did not question her judgment.
"I suppose you have some things in common then." he elected to say.
"More than I'm comfortable admitting. Even in this incarnation we seem to share a similar fate."
"Huh? What do you mean?" he asked.
"Well, we were both summoned by a disreputable Master for one thing. Then we were both rescued by the same dashing hero. Hm. I wonder if that's our fate showing its hand or rather yours."
"Very funny," he deadpanned, slightly embarrassed by her praise.
"Your inability to see the humor in the circumstances doesn't make them any less true, Shirou."
"Fine," he yielded. "I know better than trying to win an argument with you, anyway."
"It warms my heart to know that you can learn, Shirou. Even if it takes much effort."
"I see you still enjoy having fun at my expenses," he grumbled.
"Why, Shirou. That's my favorite thing in the world," Caster grinned like the Witch she was.
This. This was the woman he fell in love with.
He didn't regret a single thing.
At the same time. Location undisclosed.
Whenever she wasn't dispatched on a mission, Caren Ortensia spent her days in silent prayer and quiet contemplation. With the innate empathic ability, Caren was just short of a full-fledged telepath on the scale of people that freaked others out. As such, she was a bit of an outcast even among the people of the Burial Agency.
Having one's emotions exposed was a weakness, and no one liked to be weak in the Moonlit World. Furthermore, for the most part, the Burial Agency was a collection of peculiar individuals brought together by convenience, rather than a common faith. Therefore that was another thing that Caren didn't have in common with them.
The were other hardcore believers like Caren among its ranks, of course, but ultimately the Agency cared only for ability and willingness to cooperate, regardless of motivations, to the point that they employed even some of the same creatures that they existed to eradicate.
In short, it was a madhouse kept in check only through the sheer power if its higher ranking members.
Yet, Caren managed to freak out every single one of them.
For one thing, her faith was unshakeable. No threat of bodily harm would so much as deter her from a course of action once she decided that such was the will of God. Additionally, with her disposition to get under other people's skin, both intentionally and unintentionally, meant that people much more above her in hierarchy and power went out of their way to avoid her.
However, the necessity remained for Caren to be briefed whenever a mission came up for her, so someone had to be sent of that specific purpose.
Such was this instance.
The door of the chapel were Caren was kneeling in silent prayers was opened. A man with short, spiky hair, wearing the trademark coat of the Agency's agents walked in. His eyes were hidden by the white reflection upon the glasses he wore, but they couldn't hide the seemingly perpetual scowl on his face.
He had an aura that would have other people get out of his way as soon as they saw him approach.
He walked towards the praying nun until he stood right behind her, towering over her kneeling form. He pulled out a hand from the pocket of his coat and reached out to her.
"Sister Ortensia," he said in a delicate and soft-spoken voice that belied his appearance. "Sorry to disrupt your prayers, but the direction sent me to fetch you."
"Mr. Dawn," she greeted, standing up and turning to face him. "You do not disturb me at all. I have been waiting for you for a while now."
"Knew they would send me, didn't you?" he asked with an easy smile. "Did you receive a vision?"
"Hardly," Caren laughed softly. "There are few others they would send in your stead and they are all carrying out their own assignments at present."
"I see. When you put it that way it hardly requires an oracle to explain your foresight."
They shared a chuckle at the expense of their colleagues. Although most went out of their way to avoid Caren there were also a few exceptions. People who didn't mind her or even went along with her. One such person was the man in front of her.
"So, have they come to a decision?"
"Yes… they agreed to allow you to proceed without the use of a Catalyst, as per your request."
"Oh? They saw finally saw sense, then?"
"I believe they just squabbled among themselves about who would have to convince you otherwise, until they realized there was no one willing or capable, and thus they decided that letting you have your way was the most expedient solution."
"Honestly, they seem to think I would bite them or something," she snorted.
"I think they would much prefer that," he commented. "At least, they would know how to deal with it."
"Indeed," Mr. Dawn agreed. "Nevertheless, they have prepared everything required for the summoning ritual."
"Lead the way then," she told him.
As they walked through the hallways of the Burial Agency, Caren spared glance for the blurred mark upon her left hand. The sign of a Command Seal that would fully manifest upon summoning a Servant. The proof that she had been chosen by the Holy Grail to participate in the competition for its possession.
It wouldn't be the first time the Church would have one of its members taking part in the conflict. In fact, just ten years previously the current supervisor and son of the previous supervisor had been selected as a participant as well.
Despite their cooperation with Tohsaka Tokiomi, Fuyuki Second Owner at the time of the previous conflict, they had not managed to win the Grail, which fell into the hand of Emiya Kiritsugu. A man believe to be dead shortly thereafter until his adoptive son surfaced.
There was some irony to that. For Emiya Shirou to appear shortly before an early Holy Grail War was about to start. Caren saw it as a sign from God himself. Then again, everything that happened was the will of the Lord in her eyes, and she accepted it all without the slightest doubt or hesitation.
She only had one request when it became apparent that she was to be a Master in this Holy Grail War. She refused to use any Catalyst. The Church could get their hands on more than a few without problems. They had plenty of relics of saints in their possession through which they could summon one of their choosing. However, Caren had no intention of doing anything of the sort.
She would, as always, let God provide for her.
Naturally, this didn't really fly with the upper echelon of the Burial Agency, but they knew better than to argue with her. So they argued among themselves and then relented when they figured they had no way to coerce her.
Which is how Caren found herself standing in a wide room with white marble columns that reached all the way to the tall, painted ceiling. There was a summoning circle already inscribed upon its polished floor with the use of a silvery solution. Three or four people, Mages in the employ of the Agency, were standing to the side, talking between themselves in hushed tones.
The summoning of an Heroic Spirit wasn't a common occurrence by any means, even for the practitioners of the occult.
"What am I going to do about the lack of Mana?" Caren asked. "I have no Magic Circuits."
"You needn't worry about that. The higher ups have agreed to lend you a suitable relic that will take care of that particular problem. You need only to focus on the ritual."
Caren nodded. The vaults of the Holy Church were brimming with several artifacts endowed with unique capabilities, on par and even above the Shroud of Magdalene that she used as the only mean to defend herself.
She stepped towards the circle, stopping right at the edge of it.
She brought her hands together in front of her chest the same as she did when she prayed, because that was exactly what she was going to do.
Prospective Masters did not summon their Servants themselves. The Holy Grail itself pulled the Heroic Spirit from the Throne. The summoning circle provided merely the coordinates for the Servant to materialize and kept the excess energy contained. The Master served only to provide the Servant with an anchor in the world of the living and, in most cases, a source of energy for them to fight.
Unless one knew a set of instructions to make the Grail summon a Servant into a specific Class, the chant was entirely unimportant. Magi would stick with tradition out of pride, but Caren had no such thing.
She didn't recite spells. Never did and never would. Her lips uttered prayers only.
"Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name;"
The summoning circle flared up with light, while energy coalesced in its center.
"Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven."
The energy kept building up and the light became so strong that the onlookers had to squint their eyes to see. Caren had no such issues. Her eyes were closed. She did not need to see to believe.
"Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
Lightning cracked within the circle, perfectly contained within its boundary. The pressure increased until it reached a frail standstill. Like a bubble ready to burst.
There was an ear-piercing blast as the bubble exploded, air rushing out of it causing dust to fill the area of the summoning circle.
A few steps behind her Mr. Dawn adjusted his glasses and straightened his clothes, while Caren stared intently in front of her.
Slowly the dust cleared out and she could make out a figure standing in the middle of the circle.
"... So, you are my Master," the figure said as it stepped forward.
Caren unconsciously took a step back.
The hooded, black-clad figure towered over her. It was distinctly male, but that was all that she could say about its look. His from was clearly defined, she could see that, but she could not describe, even in her own mind, what it looked like more than she do with could a cloud of smoke.
However, that wasn't the reason why she had taken a step back. Her empathic ability, it seemed, worked just as well with Servants as it did on humans, and what she felt from him made her retreat out of instinct.
What had answered her prayer? An agent on the Lord, this certainly was not.
From under his hood, his eyes stared into hers. It was the only thing of his face that she could clearly define. They were orbs of an empty, dull gray.
His answer was short, and seemed to come from the same abyss he had crawled out from.
"Servant Avenger. At your command, Master."
Thus, the Fifth Holy Grail War went off the intended path even further.
AN: I'm back folks, and so is this story. Sorry for the long wait. Between getting married, having a honeymoon, getting back and catching up with everything, I didn't have as much time to write as I would have liked.
Anyway, a new Servant has been summoned and it's not who you think it is (unless it is). For the records, the Holy Grail War will start in full from chapter 51 onward, just so you know. That's when the action will begin for real.
Stay tuned for more.
Or check out my page (just google Neoalfa).