Kariya limped through the dark streets of Fuyuki. He stuck to the back alleyways and tried to avoid notice. The few inevitable stragglers that caught sight of him were quickly bitten by one of the non-lethal insects and knocked out for a few hours.
The Matou Crest allowed for that much mercy, at least.
Beyond the activation of his circuits and the conversion of his life force into prana, the crest worms did indeed convey the benefits of a mundane magic crest; a series of built-in spells that allowed for the manipulation of the familiar-insects being the first among them. Further, greater mysteries were present as well, however Kariya could barely use the least ones while maintaining consciousness.
Zouken could have easily limited the crest worms in Kariya's body to those spells he thought most suitable to the Grail War, but Kariya, after some bitter reflection, realized that he did indeed seem to have access to the full and unlimited powers of the Matou Crest. Zouken hadn't even thought it worth leaving out the greater spells; after all, Kariya currently had no way of actually casting them and living through the experience.
As such, he dragged his ravaged half-corpse across the city, following the senses of one particular scout bug. He had scattered a handful of insects around to hunt for anything pertaining to the Grail War, and had stumbled upon the stink of Caster's monsters. Being spiritually-charged, the Matou familiars were extra sensitive to the otherworldly nature of the tentacled beasts, and Kariya found the fact that one of them was loose in Fuyuki . . . disturbing. It wasn't actively doing anything, but it was lurking in a bad part of town. It was a good enough lead to bother checking out; if by some miracle he encountered Caster the extra Command Seal would be his. Berserker was untouchable- this much he had determined. What little glances of insight he had gained from the rage-hazed senses he shared with his Servant amounted to the fact that never, at any point, did Berserker actively react to a 'threat.' He reacted to things, he dodged or grabbed incoming projectiles, and he went white with fury when he saw Saber . . . but at no point was anything he perceived ever considered a danger. They were just elements in his environment that he could choose how to respond to.
Finally, he was close enough to direct his more aggressive swarms around the target. This was his greatest disadvantage; he was by no means refined enough to control the bugs at the obscene distances Zouken did. If the control spells in his crest were delicate tools, then he was pounding on things with their handles. Zouken was probably laughing.
Caster was on the run; this much he surmised simply from the Church's announcement. If he wanted a chance, he had to be patient. Barring Saber's arrival, Berserker would cooperate without issue.
He collapsed against an alley wall, slid to the ground, and began to wait. In the shadows around him, small figures twitched and crawled.
Archer bounded across rooftops, scanning the city with reinforced sight. Kotomine had scrambled home to once again go over the data of missing children and murdered families from the last few weeks. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Archer knew that Tokiomi was going to have questions. Big, uncomfortable questions that he didn't have the time or energy to contemplate at the moment. Right now, his sole concern was the rescue of the potential victims he had been made aware of. He found himself filling with a familiar combination of urgency and focus- something he had not done since he died. He smiled grimly as his Kotomine's words once again resonated in his soul.
Rejoice, Emiya Shirou . . .
It was time to go to work.
In a dark room underneath the Matou manor, Zouken rested his body.
His mind, however, was busy directing and observing through dozens of familiars scattered in the city. He was not providing much assistance to his errant proxy, however. Rather, he was keeping a careful eye on everything, trying to discern the nature of the wrongness in this Heaven's Feel.
The previous war had ended on a sour note, yet nothing particularly catastrophic had occurred. Or so it had seemed at the time. Kariya was merely an amusing distraction; that his Berserker was even more disturbingly powerful than expected was a not unwelcome bonus. That Kariya had not attempted to kill him yet, even more so.
Oh, he harbored no illusions about the chances of that actually happening. Both he and his wayward 'son' understood that Zouken was virtually impossible to kill as it was, let alone by a mere fledgling magus and a Servant with a very strong sword arm. Zouken, of course, had already considered the appropriate Command Seal manipulations he would use if he was in Kariya's place; that is, to A. Perceive the critical heart of Zouken and B. Destroy it. If he was feeling magnanimous, perhaps even B. Destroy it with as little collateral damage as possible. This last one, of course, to account for Zouken's habit of leaving his heart-worm inside other people or places away from his 'main' body.
That Kariya probably wasn't capable of reaching a state of mind to account for this was simply an investment in potential postmortem irony.
Indeed, he was far from immortal. The important part was, no one else understood the specifics of how or why. A proper exorcist from the Church could potentially end him in seconds . . . if they got a close look at Sakura. Thankfully, the Church's particular vigilance about Fuyuki made them easy to avoid, as their eyes were consistent and not overtly prying. That the Tohsakas shared a closer relationship with the Church was no concern of his, so long as it didn't interfere in the War.
Nagato was a floundering idiot, and his progeny little better. About the only great evolution in their family craft over the centuries was the very recent 'theft' of the Edelfelt Crest, and that couldn't even be credited to any particular ability they had in Magecraft. Two foolish children flirting on the battlefield, because they shared an interest in gems. How quaint. That they persisted in attempting to better themselves meant little in the face of their lack of progress.
The Einzbern . . . and by that he meant Acht, was little better. This entire ritual was a result of their failure to follow through on their own ideas, and the meddling of the Kaleidoscope. Zouken would have been a fool to pass up the opportunity. The Grail would grant him . . . would get him . . .
. . . yes. More time. All the time he needed. Enough time to accomplish . . . anything.
Immortality would be his; he just needed to be patient. For now, he needed to solve the puzzling problem with the War.
Archer landed softly about two blocks from the estimated epicenter of the murders and kidnappings. It wasn't in the geographical center of the zones the crimes happened in; it was in the transportational center. Assuming the perpetrators used obvious speedy transportation to get to the crime scenes as quickly as possible, then slower, less-than-obvious means of returning to wherever they were taking the missing children (via back roads or simply walking), this particular district of Fuyuki was likely to be their base.
When he heard a child scream in terror, all doubt and hesitation left his mind and he dashed towards the source, twin swords in-hand.
As he rounded the corner, split-second analysis revealed five children, in varying states of daze or panic, and a dripping, bloodied bludgeon held by . . .
Kanshou and Bakuya had already left his hands, arcing to separate the target from the victims. Before Berserker began the motion to drop his current weapon and reach for them, they already began to shatter and vanish.
I am dead.
The black knight was on him almost before a replacement pair of swords were in his hands. He buckled under the force of an overhead blow, and desperately began deflecting strikes.
He is not the fastest. He is not the strongest. My War's Berserker was faster and stronger. This doesn't matter at all, however.
He barely dodged a sideswipe. There was no opening in which to counter.
Whoever said Berserkers fought with raw rage and instinct was full of it . . .
The black knight leapt to the side, tore a generous length rain-gutter pipe from the side of a building, and started thrusting it forth like a spear after it blackened.
. . . unless this guy's skill was so great that it remains with him AS mindless instinct.
There was no opportunity. Every attempt to make distance failed. Any weapon of quality he projected and launched was either dodged or deflected. Apparently Berserker had learned to not bother trying to take his projections.
All possible avenues of attack neutralized. All possible avenues of defense under a steady onslaught. Now that he had given up completely on counterattacking, he could focus on blocking and looking for an opportunity to slip away.
He had been pushed back into another alley, when a door slammed open nearby and a new high pitched voice pierced the darkness.
"Get AWAY from me you murderpervert! Why . . . don't . . . you . . . stay . . . DOWN!" A small explosion. "HA! That will teach you to- Ahhaa-eeeEK!"
Archer's blood froze. He knew that scream.
Berserker had also stopped his assault and turned to the source.
Taking the mixed blessing at face value, Archer jumped up to the nearby roof and vaulted to the street below.
He expected the tiny Rin. He expected some sort of mortal danger (a purple and green tentacle around her ankle, stretching out from the entrance to the building she escaped from, judging by her bloody footprints). He did not expect Berserker landing next to him and launching his makeshift polearm to sever the offending tentacle before he could throw a sword.
In a split second judgement call, he tossed his swords to Berserker, hilts-first, and projected new ones. Black gauntlets caught them as if expecting them.
As they both moved forward, every window of the building shattered as more squid-like monstrosities burst out.
The first reaction to the rain of squidlike monsters was a blur of parries and deflections from both Servants, ensuring that not a single shard of glass landed within a meter of Rin.
Archer looked down at the fallen girl.
"Rin. RUN. Run to your father. Try to take the other children with you. GO!"
Ordered out of her daze, the Tohsaka heir got to her feet and pivoted to run- then tured back for a moment as the two knights battled on her behalf. She hesitated, then shouted out:
"At least three survivors on the first floor in the main tavern. I heard two more crying above, but they might not be savable." She bit her lip. "The murderpervert was there too." Her face went almost feral for a moment. She raised a finger at jabbed it at the second story windows. "END HIM!"
Archer could not stop the smile that came to his face. That's my Rin.
"Understood and acknowledged." He turned to Berserker as he finished the final monster on the ground. "I'll cover the exits!"
The black knight simply launched himself to of the broken windows, contorting and passing through without even further disturbing the glass. Archer began muttering a few lines of his standard aria, and giant three-meter tall swords began to fall from the sky around the building, blocking off all routes of escape. After a second pass over the building with Structural Analysis, then the road, Archer noted the sewer-way underground, and immediately phased through the asphalt to the tunnel below. Right on time, an obscured figure with one arm dropped to the ground from a hole in the tavern's floor, and began running (at vastly less then heroic speeds) towards him.
Even as he hefted his twin blades for a blow, Archer realized something was off- wrong body temperature, wrong bone structure, wrong . . .
Archer hopped backwards and dismissed Kanshou and Bakuya. Empty handed, he stared the down the oncoming entity and let his mind race to choose the appropriate counter as he heard a faint scratching noise from above.
His first priority was preventing more deaths.
"I am the bone of my sword."
The man-shape skidded to a halt and almost, wavered, then turned and began to run in the opposite direction . . .
. . . when a piece of the ceiling of the tunnel FIRED downwards and crushed it in the blink of an eye. In its place stood Berserker, holding a . . . blackened pool cue.
Archer immediately summoned his bow and a few generic swords, firing at a few of the dozen or so tiny squidlings that had manifested from the body parts that had been sent flying from the blast in the next few seconds. He saw one 'hand' revert into a slightly larger beast, and fired at it- hearing a distinct tink of metal on metal as the arrow struck something inside it. Before he could investigate further, Berserker was already on him, one hand around his throat, slamming him back into a wall of the tunnel.
As his immediate concern was stopping the remaining monsterlings from escaping, it was with mixed feelings that he heard the unmistakable sound of small creatures dying, followed by a vaguely familiar buzzing noise. A swarm of disturbing insects flew up from that direction and hovered in front of him. As he started to weigh his escape options, a voice could be made out through the buzzing.
"If you try to phase, he will crush your throat. If ANYTHING else happens, he will crush your throat before reacting."
Archer immediately relaxed as the grip on his neck loosened just enough to allow speech. He debated trying to ping Tokiomi, but decided to not risk his attention if it wasn't already on him. He had cut off his connection as best he was able the moment he had recognized Rin's scream.
A slow, methodical shuffle came into his hearing on his left, and after waiting for the source to come into his range of vision, he laid eyes upon abomination.
As Kariya limped into the Servant's field of vision, even his single remaining good eye picked up on the shift of expressions. The incorrigible smug smile (which had reappeared the moment Berserker had grabbed his neck) immediately faded, and steel-gray eyes widened in horror. Said eyes darted to the bad side of his face, then down to his torso, and widened further. Kariya spoke first.
"How did you recognize that scream?"
Kariya was in agony and quickly approaching death, but he wasn't stupid. While following Berserker's vision, he had easily been able to tell the red knight was about to be crushed with little effort. The scream hadn't caused him to hesitate, but the name shouted next had.
Archer knew Rin. There were a handful of possible explanations, but what concerned Kariya most was, Archer recognized Rin's scream. Which implies he had heard her scream before. It was a minor detail to latch on to, true, but he was long past the idea of sense and restraint where those children were concerned. Any potential threat, any possible danger . . . he'd crush them all, even if his body fell apart.
The only reason Archer wasn't dead already was the slim chance that he wasn't a threat to them . . . after all, he was no threat to Berserker.
"Am I . . . talking to . . . Zouken? This . . . seems to be . . . a poorly made puppet . . . for him."
Kariya stiffened. Berserker's grip tightened and relaxed with his mental state. He could imaging the old vampire laughing at that line. He might be imagining it but some of his . . . tenants seemed to shift. The captive Servant's eyes darted up and down Kariya's corrupted side again.
"I am not Zouken. He is probably listening, however."
Archer seemed to blink in surprise as he reconsidered Kariya.
"What are you . . . Shinji's father? No . . . he had no magic . . ."
Kariya began trying to put the pieces together after hearing his nephew's name, and none of them seemed very good. Before he could respond, Archer's expression returned to smugness and he spoke again.
"Oy . . . bug-training . . . old fossil. Why don't you . . . give your pawn . . . a hand and call . . . the church for us? There are some . . . surviving children in . . . the building above. Tell them to . . . hurry here."
Kariya felt more stirring in his body, then stillness. He gritted his teeth and decided he had had enough.
"Answer the question! How do you know Rin?"
Archer dropped his smirk again.
"The fastest . . . answer is . . . Unlimited Blade Works."
Kariya's world went white.
As his vision faded back in, Kariya watched in mild horror as Berserker released Archer and bounded back into the distance behind him. A glance through his vision showed a gold and blue sword on the far horizon he had utterly focused on.
Kariya blinked his good eye as he took in his new surroundings. A . . . wasteland. A sword graveyard, almost. A giant set of gears in the sky.
The hero, EMIYA.
His mind filled with various details, but the important one stuck out: this hero was from the future. Or at least, became a hero in the future.
Everything quickly clicked.
He turned his gaze back down to Archer, who pointed to his left. Standing up in the dirt were five swords, each engraved with a handful of Japanese characters vertically. Kariya read them right to left.
There were 220 worms in your body.
17 of them reacted when I spoke to Zouken.
Those 17 were not pulled in to this space.
Rin Tohsaka teaches me magecraft 10 years in the future.
I will not allow Sakura Matou to be made into a puppet again.
Kariya's overstressed heart skipped a beat. Apparently, he failed to save her. Archer broke him out of his thoughts.
"The future can be changed. In my past, a different Archer was summoned in this war instead of me. My presence here renders the 4th war's results in my history invalid."
Several swords rose from their spots and turned to point at Kariya. Berserker was still utterly focused on whatever it was he was running towards. Kariya considered his Command Seals.
"Why should I allow you to live? I sort of want to kill anyone that controls those insects, but I must say they are doing a good enough job of that on you already."
Kariya let out a hopeless laugh.
"So you want to kill Zouken? Good. I'll happily fold if you can save Sakura from him. It's the only reason I let him do this to me in the first place. Hand him the grail, free Sakura from her fate." He coughed. "Reunite her with her mother and sister, then get them away from Tokiomi."
The swords in the air froze.
Kariya laughed again.
"What, Rin never told you? Perhaps Tokiomi influenced her too strongly before she met you. Tohsaka Sakura was given to the Matou last year so that they could have a viable heir; and so that Rin would be unchallenged for the Tohsaka crest. In just one year, Zouken has already warped her mind, body and soul.
Archer's mind fluttered through various memories, and made connections he hadn't had the context to make in life. His focus shattered.
Unlimited Blade Works collapsed just as Berserker got within arm's reach of Archer's model of Excalibur; his gauntlet closed over thin air with a snap as he found himself back in reality.
Archer and Kariya eyed each other for a few seconds, then glanced down at the seventeen dead worms at Kariya's feet. Archer turned and took a few steps.
"I am going to go verify a few facts." He clenched a fist and released it. "If you're telling me the truth, then my priorities for this War just shifted completely." He turned back and looked Kariya up and down. "If we cooperate, I think I can heal you." He resumed his exit.
"What . . . what happened to Sakura?"
Archer stopped, but didn't turn.
"Rin and I went to destroy the Greater Grail. Zouken possessed a large number of people with insects and used them as puppets to stop us. Sakura was the strongest one."
He took a breath. His next words came in an icy tone that brooked no argument or comment.
"I was forced to kill her with my own hands." His form faded as he dematerialized.
Kariya felt Berserker's presence behind him again.
He weighed Archer's statement, and decided to take it as given.
"At least her suffering came to an end."
He turned and limped back into the tunnels.