The tiny girl had been spilled from her position of command by the golden sword. This might have been a situation where action and spell power was the best response, but she seemed stricken with surprise and dismay, looking at the broken heap which had once been the Servant she had never stopped believing was the strongest.
As the battle concluded, Archer let his weary hands drop, ceasing the endless rain of weapons that had given Saber the opportunity to end the war. Thus freed, Leys and Sella, Ilya's ever loyal servants went to her side and faced outward against the Servants and their Masters. But it was a futile gesture. Though powerful and unflinching, even with the weapons they sat on increasing their abilities, as well as the fact that the Servants were all tired and bereft of prana, the fact remained that if the heroes decided to take revenge on Ilya there was only one way the fight would end. Still, Lays and Sella were prepared to give their last breaths to defend their master.
It did seem like a battle was brewing, but then Saber simply collapsed on herself and fell over. Freed from the curtain of prana by Berserker's death and Ilya's resultant shock, most of the Masters ran forward, though Rin was nowhere in sight. Shirou was the first to reach the scene, cradling Saber in his arms, worried about her disappearing after spending too much prana. The scene was rather touching, but then…
"Aww, dammit!" Ilya exploded, going from catatonic to bitch in three seconds flat. "Berserker wasn't supposed to lose! Argh, that drives me nuts!"
Ilya slammed her hands down on the ground she rested on, frustration verging upon madness warping her usual pristine beauty.
"Onii-chan, I won't forgive even you for this, not again! GRAAAAH! It's still my victory if nobody survives!"
Shirou was slow to react to Ilya's dire warning as he was fussing over Saber, but as he processed what the Einzbern Master had said, he looked over to her in alarm, only to see her yank the red button from the heap that had been the Bersercar out of the wreckage and trigger it with a grim smile.
Shirou's instincts were nowhere near Saber's, but even he felt the immediate danger that he suddenly found himself in. The castle began to shake and twist on itself, and a scary rumbling sound began to echo through the area.
The entire land they had been fighting in was a bounded field created by Ilya for the purpose of playing in, so of course if she wanted to she could shut it down. Scooping up Saber, who was barely conscious, into his arms, Shirou made for the door in a panic as Ilya's Castle began to collapse, though he was soon outstripped by the Servants who could themselves carry their Masters out.
He arrived late outside the building, unable to keep up with Servant reflexes and speed. As he made his way down the steps he could already feel a sense of mortal danger building behind him, he wasn't even going to come close to escaping…!
HIs thoughts were interrupted by the squeal of tires, a completely unexpected noise at the foot of the castle neck deep in Ilya's play land, In a handbrake turn around the side of the building came Tohsaka Rin in an attractive classic pink convertible that somehow she seemed right at home in. She was even wearing a dark set of sunglasses. The car swerved to a stop right in front of the steps.
"Emiya-kun!" Rin called rather unnecessarily, as Shirou was already climbing inside and tossing in Saber's semi-conscious form.
"T-Tohsaka, where did you…" Shirou started as Rin shifted gears and gunned the engine loudly.
"I pinched it; Rich people always have nice cars!" Rin said, with a triumphant air that seemed just a little out of sync with the current desperate situation.
Shirou struggled to hang on as Rin began to drive through the forest at breakneck speed, at times only inches away between the trees of the forest. Though when they had fought their way through the game the area had been filled with many dangerous and varied areas to claw their way through, as the bounded field unraveled and reality began to assert itself, it was clear they were moving through the usual grounds of the Einzbern forest that began to appear between swaths of mist.
Around him, he could see other Servants trying to carry their Masters down, and behind them all, he could see the bounded field truly unravel. The castle itself was swallowed into a dark void. What happened to his sister he couldn't say, and from the black hole which had once been the Einzbern estate, the ground to begin to collapse into void, spreading out and beginning to chew away the scenery that had once been the game. Shirou wasn't sure the devastation wasn't catching up. He looked worried at Rin, but her face was already a knot of fierce determination, her mouth set into a grim line as she coaxed the maximum amount of speed possible from the old but powerful car.
For the life of him, Shirou had no idea where she had learned to drive like this!
Off to the left, Archer was playing defense. In addition to the carnage from the falling ground, there were also large rocks falling behind and around them, the precursor to an avalanche forming as the grounds began to sink in on themselves. As rock and debris neared the car, he would cut it from the air or shoot it with arrows from his futuristic bow. Despite his exertions earlier, he seemed to still have plenty of strength for the task of evading the danger and protecting his Master. For other Servants, this was not always the case.
On one side of the car, Shirou could make out Rider carrying Sakura in the distance. Though Sakura was an exceptional Master equaling even her sister, Rider had used her Noble Phantasm many times recently and had fought bravely in the battle against Berserker. The Greek Heroine was finally beginning to give out. Normally she would have left the car in her dust, but as she was she could barely keep up as she ducked and leaped over obstructions in her escape. Seeing Shirou wave, she began to arc her path towards the car, and with a tired heave dumped Sakura into the vehicle. Sakura appeared to be unconscious; perhaps Rider and Sakura had been hit by some of the falling debris, she had pulled Sakura out first and should have been way ahead. Shirou could only imagine the herculean effort it would have required for Rider to right herself and still try to mount an escape.
So lightened, she was able to join Archer in protecting the car from danger while running alongside it, Though, to be honest, she looked weary enough Shirou half expected they would need to pull her in as well. Looking the other way, Shirou saw a dangerous situation develop.
Lancer was a Servant of almost inhuman willpower and was carrying Bazett; having awoken at some point after Shirou had left. He was practically a corpse, literally charred and still smoldering after the battle. Shirou could clearly see he and Bazett in the midst of some kind of heated argument even as Lancer tried desperately to save his Master. Bazett seemed to want to get down and run, but despite her good qualities she was only human, her only chance was Lancer's unsteady legs. Still she seemed desperate to try to run on her own two feet.
The reasoning was increasingly clear, they weren't going to make it. Lancer was the Servant of speed, but he of all the Servants had given the most. Happily, he had used every scrap he had to fight and win, even going so far as to take the power of his own cursed lance in order to give Archer's plan a chance, and the damage was simply too much. Like Rider, Lancer saw the car speeding away and began arcing closer to it, but behind him, the yaw of the pit forming where the ground was ripping away seemed to hungrily speed up, nipping at his heels.
Finally, in one horrible moment, the ground spread to the point where he was about to put his foot down, Lancer began to fall. At the last second he hurled Bazett from his arms into the vehicle. The motion saved Bazett, but forced him even further backwards, robbing him of his last chance to right himself, and then Lancer was gone.
Woozily, Bazett seemed to gather herself as if to follow after him, but Shirou and Sakura pulled her back and held her in her grief, while Rin desperately hit the gas in trying to outrun the devastation that edged closer and closer to the car. Shirou leaned outside the passenger side to see that the ground was no longer visible behind, any second now the back tire would lose purchase and then they would follow Lancer…!
Just as the weight of the car shifted, signaling the last moment, there was on odd pulling sensation, like trying to push one's way through a wall made of tiny threads. Shirou saw the approaching path of ground twist and distort as they passed the edge of the bounded field. Looking inside through the slightly misted edge, Shirou gratefully saw the ever widening path halt at the edge, for a moment he had feared it would follow them.
Shirou finally breathed a sigh of relief and was about to check on the others when Rin let out a strangled noise and threw the car into a hard ninety degree swerving brake. Shirou looked up with worry only to see a horrible emptiness come up behind Rin as she fought to come to a stop. The car had popped out of the bounded field onto a large hill that verged on being an out and out cliff, if they went over; things would be bad with most of their protectors being too tired or out of position to help.
The car shifted and bucked as it came parallel to the edge, stopping just inches before the brink on Rin's side. Both of them sat breathing hard for a moment contemplating what had nearly happened.
"Nice… driving… Tohsaka…" Shirou said in between breaths. Rin didn't reply, but she beamed at him, exhilarated. After a moment where they stared at each other Rin caught her breath, and, still grinning in the aftermath of the adrenaline rush cocked her head at Shirou.
"Well, what are you waiting for?" She asked.
Shirou blinked and felt himself flush a bit, there was a nice feeling in the air, Sakura was unconscious and they were both feeling good…maybe Rin wanted a kiss? Shirou's heart thundered in his chest as Rin let go of the steering wheel and reached toward his face…and thunked him on the forehead with her palm.
"Emiya-kun, get out, I can't get out on this side!"
"Oh…er, right…s-sorry, I am sorry, Shirou stuttered as they piled out of the car.
To cover his embarrassment he grabbed Sakura while Rin grabbed Saber. They took them out and laid them against a nearby tree to recover.
It was then Rider and Archer came over the side of the cliff and popped out of spirit form. It said a lot about their condition that it had taken them a few moments to arrive. When the bounded field had ended their position had been a little bit different, but they knew where their Masters were and had no trouble finding them. Archer, seeing Rin was fine, merely stopped and observed the scene, though Shirou noticed a small but certain droop in his shoulders. Like the one that might have come across his own if a relieved sigh had tried to force its way out of his body.
They regrouped to check on everyone's injuries in the aftermath. Bazett had to be led out by hand. Ever since Lancer had vanished, she had been silent and still, not even responding a bit when they had escaped the danger or nearly tipped over the cliff. When they took her out she just crossed her arms looking back towards the bounded field they had left.
Shirou heard a familiar and welcomed voice distract him from Bazett, he turned to his purple haired friend. She was rubbing what was probably going to be a nasty lump.
"Are we the only ones who…made it?" She asked diffidently.
"No." A somber voice answered, prompting them all to turn in surprise. Climbing up the back side of the hill came Kuzuki-Sensei, with Caster unconscious on his back. The group waited, expecting more, but instead he just walked over and moved to lay Caster near Saber. As he did so, Shirou saw a small pinkish purple charm on a chain fall out of his shirt to dangle. It said one word, "Safety."
As a human, escape should have been impossible, even ignoring the falling debris. Even for someone like Kuzuki, keeping up the necessary high speed movement for that long shouldn't have been possible, especially since it was very likely the majority of Caster's magics reinforcing him were dissipating. But she must have prepared a protection charm prior to the battle. Trust Caster to cheat for her Master. Kuzuki folded the charm back into his clothes.
Shirou noted instead of joining the others he stayed near his Servant, he was a bit leery of having Caster and her Master near his Servant, but it didn't seem like they meant any harm at the moment.
"L-Lancer…"Bazett said, it was her first words since it had happened.
Maybe hearing someone show up unexpectedly had gotten her hopes up. They all looked back through the filmy bounded field towards the wreckage that had once been the mini-game.
"Lancer got killed… you bastard, Ilya..." Bazett said, a hint of real anger coming in under her sadness. Overhead, a shooting star passed by, They all watched it fly into the distance, oddly reminded of the Knight whose fire had always burned bright, but brief.
"Heeeeeelllllloooooooo contestants!" At that somewhat familiar sound, the other Servants got into tired but threatening combat stances, looking up at the sky in reflex before realizing the voice had come from the next arrival. Ilyasviel von Einzbern, flanked by her two white clad maids, was standing at the edge of the cliff side. The noise was enough to shake Saber awake, who, after only a moment to assess the conversation, hurriedly put her tired body in front of Shirou's.
There was a moment of shock where they just stared. Not only had Ilya survived, but she had actually changed into her usual snow white dress, and the maids as well were wearing clean and pressed clothes. While the others had been fleeing for their lives,
Ilya and the others had been getting changed.
"Ilya… how did you even…" Tohsaka Rin was the first to speak, astonishment and vexation clear in her voice.
"Tch, it's my castle, you didn't think it would threaten me did you?" Ilya stuck her tongue out at the red clad magus.
"Argh, but even I couldn't bring Berserker back after he had been cut in two…"
Ilya's face clouded over.
"Onii-chan, you are so mean! How could you beat him again, it's not fair!"
"O-oh, err, sor…" Shirou began, reflexively trying to head off one of his sister's tantrums, but he was cut off wordlessly when as one, Saber, Rin, and even Sakura's head all turned towards him and glared daggers at him. His apology cut off as if the air had left his body.
"Why are you even here? You lost; you can't be here to gloat!" Rin said, crossing her arms.
"Hey, I didn't win, but I still got twelve points in one round, that's more then you ever did!" Ilya huffed back.
"I am not sure you did, Ilyasviel." Surprisingly, the soft voice that cut in was Saber's. Well, she was always competitive though. "Caster survived after all." Saber continued.
"Shut up, Berserker definitely beat her! And I absolutely, definitely, surely beat Lanc…!"
Ilya's comeback was interrupted by what seemed to be a mini earthquake. Below them, the ground seemed to twist and shift, some kind of after effect from the bounded field collapsing? As they watched, there was a sudden up swell several feet long, and a large crack formed as suddenly something ripped its way up.
It was…it was an armored hand, clutching lengthwise an immediately recognizable red spear. Moments later, the rest of Lancer clawed his way out of the ground to stand panting and exhausted looking before the rest of the team.
"Lancer…" Bazett's voice seemed to catch in surprise. "How did you…"
"Keh! Like I'd die!" Lancer responded, tossing off a triumphant grin despite his condition. Ilya looked flabbergasted.
"Y-you…survived my bounded field collapse…? You…you're not human!"
"Hohoho…" The sound shook them up as they turned to see Caster, having recovered somewhat approaching with Kuzuki in tow. "Looks like everyone is alive, so isn't the score for the Einzberns more like zero?"
"Shut up, everyone shut up, stop making fun of me!" Ilya yelled, throwing her arms up in anger, "I am not here to talk about points anyway!"
At that, Ilya put one finger to her mouth and grinned, her mood swings were even faster than Lancer.
"Oooh, actually, I am!" She said, reaching into a fold of her dress and coming out with something.
"It didn't work out the way I intended, but rules are rules! Emiya Shirou!" Ilya began, for once eschewing the use of onii-chan, "Master of Saber, I declare you the winner of my game and present you with this key!"
Ilya firmly placed the object into Shirou's hand. Now that he looked at it, he remembered from her video, the key to a bounded field so powerful that even all the army of the King of Conquerors couldn't breach, whatever that meant.
"You had the highest score at the end, and you beat my Berserker, so you win. Now…remember the award? You can take aaaaaaaanyone you like with you, but surely the choice is obvious right?"
Ilya smiled up at him, playing up her charm for all she was worth. Shirou took a quick back step in reply, feeling his mind go blank. In all the excitement he had forgot there was a reason they were fighting in the first place!
Ilya leaped forward past Saber and hugged onto his midsection, while just behind him Saber turned a confidant look his way, and behind her, Rin was staring with more than her usual intensity. Lancer and Bazett were fighting already, having seemingly forgotten all about the rest, and Caster and Kuzuki were standing in companionable silence.
"W-well, actually…" Shirou began…
The next day, on a brilliant, sun lit beach, a single, beautiful girl in a red bikini lounged happily on a beach chair, soaking up the sun, a single, empty chair next to her. Tohsaka Rin was enjoying her day immensely when a shadow past over her eyes, as the chair next to her was occupied, she smiled in welcome.
"Ah, Sakura, just getting up?" Rin said to her sister.
Sakura Matou was sporting an attractive white one piece, looking a little flushed in the wonderful warm heat; she relaxed into the beach chair with a sigh as her sister called to her.
"Mm-hmm, Rider and I took some time settling in after our flights, and she was exhausted so I didn't set an alarm. How long have you been out here?"
"Huhuhu…actually a while, I had some things to take care of this morning, so I was up early, I left Archer back in our rooms. He didn't seem like he wanted to leave with me, wonder why?"
Sakura didn't want to say it out loud, but considering Tohsaka Rin's noted preference for lazing about in the morning herself, it must have been important for her to rise with the sun.
There was a brief flurry of activity as an attractive but overdressed young man on the beach came sprinting down at nearly a dead sprint and offered with a gasp, a fruity drink in a large decorative glass to Rin. She signed something for him and took a few relaxed sips. Sakura was a bit surprised, of course, it was nice to see someone who took their job seriously, but the serving boy had run as if his life was on the line.
"How are the rooms? You and Rider make out ok?" Rin's voice cut into her thoughts. Sakura scowled rather fiercely, surprising Rin since Sakura Matou was usually a gentle and kind soul.
"Fine. Beautiful. Wonderful." Sakura ground out each word as if it was its own sentence, Rin had a feeling she knew why.
"Well, Ilya had to give us pretty good ones, but she always plays so dirty." Rin said wryly, looking out over the water. In the distance they both could make out a certain red haired boy waist deep in the water with a tiny girl riding on his shoulders. Her shrieks of laughter were clearly audible. She was wearing the same scandalously revealing swimsuit she had worn the day before. Nearby, Leys seemed to be trying to play a water sport with Sella, but without much response.
"Dirty nothing, what kind of bargain is that!" Sakura burst out! "She never actually said how many people we could bring along! He was right!"
They both thought back to an annoying conversation back at the airport. Ilya had reluctantly allowed Shirou to bring all the contestants on the trip, but she said accommodations had only been provided for a few people, while she could arrange more, it would either have to be paid for separate, or Shirou would have to bargain. She agreed to set everyone else up if Shirou would play with her and her alone during the morning.
"Well, maybe it's good Shirou got us our own bungalows. I saw the original one he and Saber are in, and it would have been pretty cramped" Rin mused out loud. "Besides, girls should have somewhere safe away from annoying guys. I mean, what would you have done if Shirou attacked you while you were asleep?" Rin said it as a joke to lighten Sakura's dark mood, but after several moments of no reply, she looked over at her sister a bit worried.
However, instead of silently fuming as Rin had expected, she was now sitting half way up with her eyes closed and her hands clasped together, a slight flush reddening her cheeks. Rin put her head in her hands.
"Err…ahh!" Sakura vocalized, becoming embarrassed, she flailed her arms a bit as she tried to come up with smoothing to say.
"Oh…Ah yes!" She began quickly, "Archer! How is he? Wasn't he amazing? It was so impressive when he attacked Berserker like that; I never thought he could attack with so many weapons!"
That brought an extremely self-satisfied smile to Rin's face, but she didn't directly respond, instead laying her head back with her eyes closed in the sun. Sakura recognized that look; it was the same one she saw flicker across her face after Rider had attacked Archer in the third round. It was Rin who was the natural genius, but Sakura was no mental slouch, thinking back she suddenly saw a great many pieces fall into places in her head and felt her mouth open with shock.
"You did it! I don't know how but…" She said, pointing an almost accusing finger at her older sister.
"Did what?" Rin asked airily. She raised up on her seat and lowered her sunglasses. "You mean something like…"
It was the first day of the contest. Rin was covered in fresh mud and dried refuse. Her clothes were stained so badly she had to use Archer's coat just to clear her eyes up. The smell was so bad that sleep was impossible. A weaker girl might have already cleaned some of the mud up from her face with tears, but not Rin. She was mad.
"I CANT BELIEVE THIS!" she had raged, not for the first time. "THAT BRAT IS GOING TO PAY, I CANT LET HER GET AWAY WITH THIS!" Archer had felt somewhat bad for his master, though in all honesty, a floppy disk could be put into the A drive being true wasn't that difficult an answer. Not that he was going to explain that to her. Instead he just sat back, answering where he could and trying not to arouse his grouchy master's ire.
Finally, after stomping around the room several times raging, she had fell exhausted into the small chair by the table that Archer suspected would have had dinner had they picked the better option. Rin noticed it to, her stomach let out an almost cute growl, but that only added to her misery.
"I'll…I'll get her for this…" Rin sniffed.
That was far enough as far as Archer was concerned, watching his Master get taken down a peg, was one thing, but she was nearly in tears at this point. He settled himself into the chair across from her.
"Master, I…don't think we will get much rest anyway. What do you say we examine the situation?"
Rin cocked her head at him, waiting for him to continue.
"We should consider how to best deal with Ilya and Berserker when we encounter her," Archer continued.
"Uh huh." Rin nodded, her voice came out a little scratchy but she picked up the train of thought.
"We all have to keep going for points." She said. "You and I are in first place, which is probably why Ilya gave me an impossible question!" She clouded over again, but continued, "We all keep fighting, we have a whole day of this, and your magical energy has already gone down after fighting caster and using a Noble Phantasm against Saber. We can win, but it will be worse by tomorrow…"
Rin trailed off, she could see the puzzle, but wasn't smart enough to see the answer. Or no, that wasn't right, Archer thought, it wasn't that Rin wasn't smart enough, only that she was unsuited for considering a scenario other than her going all out. Fortunately for her, her Servant did.
"Master, what if we didn't win?"
Rin looked up angrily, thinking he was giving up, but Archer held up a hand.
"If the purpose is to make us compete and drain Servants of their combat ability, then maybe we should play a game of our own…"
The next day would bring special trials for their team. It wasn't enough to just lose, that might make Ilya suspicious and spoil their plans. They had to be beaten, convincingly, in a way that would not appear contrived. Fortunately, the other Servants were all spoiling for a fight.
Before the second match, Archer had correctly predicted Saber would want revenge for her defeat in the first round, though as Rin would later note, both she and even Archer were surprised by her sheer vehemence.
The third round had been harder, he had expected Rider's attack and had planned to exchange a series of blows and then allow himself to be driven into a corner and flee into the water, but her anger had been an unwelcome change. Still, the overall strategy went off fine; Archer was able to use the Rho Aius to defend himself from Sella and when the smoke cleared, he and Rin had already snuck off the bridge into the water.
The next night though, Rin and Archer were both feeling very guilty. Rin wondered if this had almost been an example of her ability to always screw up at the worst time in action. Shirou and Saber at the hands of Gilgamesh! If they hadn't thought they were so clever, Archer would have been ready to fight, and something terrible might not have been so close to occurring.
It made Rin's heart sick to think of Shirou trying to tear himself free of impaling swords trying to save Saber from the worst enemy for her. Even Archer had been unnaturally silent. Eventually though, they decided to stick with the original plan.
Keeping Archer's magical energy high had provided new options, but there was a new twist now. Gil's presence had been a sure sign Ilya was targeting Saber, and it was no secret that the enemy of Berserker was Saber with Excalibur. Therefore, if they had the opportunity, Archer would need to try and prevent Ilya from outmaneuvering Saber again.
"And then Archer won, No way Saber would have been able to do that without him!" Rin finished in a bit of a huff. "But Ilya gave the win to Shirou, which I thought she would, but Shirou definitely owed me for the win, so he should have invited me! Trust Emiya Shirou to find a way to make a choice without actually picking a girl for once, he is so unreliable."
Sakura found herself amazed at the lengths Rin would go to avenge a slight, and the way her Servant fought that was so different from heroes like Saber. She flashed back to what Rider had said; Archer would not lose the same fight twice. Though, she wasn't happy that Rin had wanted Shirou to take her.
"Err. But! You really don't seem that mad?" Sakura asked, trying to get by the awkward moment.
"Eh? Oh, well, maybe I am not. I have learned to enjoy the simpler pleasures in life." Rin replied with another smile.
"Oh? Like what?"
"Friends, family, and the opportunity to run up the tab on the annoying little brat who dunked me in mud!" Rin returned with a coy grin. At that she waved in the air and another servant came sprinting out to her.
"Hey this is good, is this expensive?" Rin asked, pointing at the drink she had been served.
"Err," the server began.
"Great, I'll take eight more, charge them to the room. You want one Sakura?"
"She wants ten. And write yourself a nice tip, thirty percent. Fifty."
Sakura saw the way the poor fellow's eyes widened almost to bursting as her sister placed more and more outrageous orders. But even so, while fun, Ilya had flawlessly arranged extra flights and last minute rooms for everyone, she wouldn't drain the Einzbern accounts with a little splurging!
That's when Sakura noticed the bag next to Rin. It was a small shopping bag, filled to bursting with store receipts. She remembered the several expensive jewelry and beachwear shops filled with designer clothes and name brand products, which had been open when she arrived but had all been closed when she went down this morning when she left her room.
In her mind she saw a flash of the suite that contained Rin and Archer's rooms, filled nearly to bursting with shopping bags from all the stores Rin had been able to find this morning.
Sakura again saw her sister's self-satisfied grin play across her face.
Tohsaka Rin was truly scary.
Black speedo and no shirt, very nice…
Rider thought, taking a seat at the open air bar, next to Archer who became a knot of muscles when he noticed her presence.
Black speedos and just anti-social enough to be shy about it, Rider mentally amended. The girls of the island owed Tohsaka Rin a thank you. There was no way Archer had willingly picked that as his beachwear. Tohsaka Rin had been even more domineering and grumbling after the flight, and if one Emiya was having his time monopolized by his sister, Rin had something of a spare to bully and boss around.
Rider herself wore an eye catching black bikini Sakura had picked out for her, knowing she filled it out superbly, but it was nice to see other Masters taking an interest in making their Servants attractive. Though, in Archer's case, it had clearly been by force.
"Anything going on?" Rider said after accepting a highball from the bartender. Archer tended to take a self-appointed role of watcher over the other Servants, and if there had been any disturbances with having this many so close together, he would be the one to know.
The question drew a smirk from Archer. "Does that count?" he asked wryly, indicating using a cocktail glass. Rider didn't have Archer's reinforced eyes so it took her a moment to realize what she was seeing. Further on down the beach were three people who had apparently taken over one of the beach changing stations. Kuzuki, Caster, and…was that…Saber?!
Saber was wearing a wide brimmed straw hat and a becoming white sundress, looking scared. Caster was leaping around her, taking pictures from all sides. She was moving so quick and looking so happy Rider thought her feet might not even be touching the ground. Caster waved her arms around, and though her voice didn't carry far enough, they could see Saber awkwardly try to pose without much success. Caster was eating it up though.
After a few minutes Saber was forced into the station with a small sack and emerged shortly wearing a more elegant beach wear set up involving dark shades and a small parasol. Caster's squeals of delight were clearly audible.
"What…am…I…looking…at!?" Rider stuttered out after she finally found her voice, shock clear in her tone. The strongest Servant in the war, the one who had beaten both Gilgamesh and Heracles in her time, was being bullied and bossed around by Caster. The world suddenly made no sense.
"Remember when Gilgamesh was defeated by Caster?" Archer asked with a cocked eyebrow.
Rider nodded once in reply.
"Well…At that time, apparently Saber said she owed Caster. This morning Caster asked Saber if she meant that, Saber said she wouldn't go back on her word, one thing led to another…"
Archer looked back over to wear Caster and Saber appeared to be arguing. Caster was holding an extremely sheer nighty that would leave nothing to the imagination and Saber seemed to be rejecting it. After a moment Saber walked into the changing room holding the nighty as if it were a live snake. Caster had her hands clasped joyfully in front of her while she was waiting.
"I have never seen Caster so happy." Archer remarked wryly.
"And… Kuzuki… is… happy… too?" Rider said, diverting her attention to Caster's Master. Kuzuki was lying under a large beach parasol in a set of swim trunks. Despite the beautiful location and the antics of two attractive girls he was staring at the ocean as inscrutably as ever.
His body did have a tiny shine that came from recently applied sunscreen. Thinking about it, it was easy to picture Caster carefully applying it to care for her Master. Between the chance to make Saber look cute and dote on her Master, perhaps it wasn't surprising that Caster's feet were just barely touching the ground. Maybe it was more surprising that she hadn't just floated away all together.
"Any word from Lancer and Bazett?" Rider found herself asking after a few drinks.
"Words? No, Vocalizations? Yes." Archer replied with a strange look.
"Are they still going at it?! Rider asked in surprise. Late last night when they had arrived Lancer had shoved the furiously blushing Bazett towards their accommodations, saying embarrassing and rather frank things about a promise Bazett had evidentially made. Those who had occasion to walk near the house, now that Rider was looking, either gave it a wide berth or walked uncomfortably quick to get out of ear shot.
"Mnn." Archer grunted. "I had the staff start bringing them water a while back. That might not be enough at this point."
"Thinking about sending breakfast along?" Rider guessed.
"Actually, I was thinking about furniture," Archer said with a wry grin. "Can't be an intact bed left in the house."
"Hah. Not just that, I am sure the shower is out!" Rider said laughing.
"Bath is totally destroyed."
"Chairs are in pieces."
"Walls all have holes in them"
"Floor is in tatters."
"Sink is unrepairable."
They laughed together for a moment. The bartender took the time to bring them their next round, which they clinked together and pounded back.
As morning turned to afternoon the massed Servants and Masters, save Lancer and Bazett were prodded by Ilya into a very action packed day. She insisted on cramming in as many activities as possible, including swimming and hang gliding, as if almost desperately trying to pack in as much fun as possible. In the fun, day turned to night quickly.
The combined contestants found themselves led by Ilya's maids to a dining hall filled to the brim with sumptuous fair. Shirou was forced to sit between Ilya, and Rin claimed the seat next to him. He couldn't believe how fun the day had been, and enjoyed chatting with Rin about the day's events. He looked over to see his Servant seated at the very middle of the table, surrounded by many delicacies including more than a few she had requested specifically from her book. He supposed she would be in heaven.
Which is why he was surprised to see her mostly empty plate and the way she was just pushing food about it, looking out of sorts. He was even more surprised when just a few minutes after supper started while everyone in was chatting, she stood up quickly and left the room. Shirou thought about going after her, but was pulled back to his seat by Ilya, demanding to know what he thought of some completely unidentifiable rich person food she was holding out to him.
Saber took her place carefully at the bar. While not usually her preferred locale, the night was lovely and the view over the moonlit waters was wonderful. The entire bar was deserted because of the dinner in progress; the only person in the area was the shadow clad bartender in the back. He saw her take her place and after a bit of sorting away his utensils, came out to take her order. That's when Saber realized she had made a mistake. While the bartender had been cloaked in darkness, the shadows were things he carried with him.
"What? Avenger?!" Saber said in shock as the Servant known as All the World's Evil came out wearing a serving apron.
"Ah, Saber, don't usually get you back in Ahnenerbe. Always nice to see a new customer!"
"Sure, didn't you know? I work as a bartender there, I love this job!" Avenger replied with his usual brashness.
He didn't add that what he loved about bartending was it was a job where you got to sit for hours and listen to miserable people. He loved it! Couldn't get enough of it, didn't even take a paycheck. Hell, he would have paid to work there.
"Bazett won't let me near the house, so after trying to kill some time on the beach I figured I would just get back to what I knew how to do. So, can I get you something?"
"…Water will be fine, thank you." Saber said after getting over the oddity of having Avenger serve her a drink. He rolled his eyes and placed a carafe of sake in front of her instead.
"Heh, as a bartender you do two things: serve drinks and listen to stories. So there is your drink, what's your story?"
Saber took a sip and tried to collect her thoughts. Finally, she opened her mouth to speak but was interrupted by an embarrassing loud growling sound. Again Avenger rolled his eyes and put out a dish of cold spring rolls from earlier. Saber sighed and popped one into her mouth.
It wasn't in Saber's nature to complain, so she was a little halting at times, but over the next hour or so she talked with Avenger about the battles she had recently been in, harrowing experiences, hard battles won, giving everything she had to win, and achieving victory.
"And so I achieved victory for my Master." Saber said, laying another empty carafe next to several empty others Avenger hadn't bothered to clean up yet.
"The reward was his to use as he wished, and he did bring me, so it's not like he didn't keep his promise. We even had the dinner he had said we would, the food looked good, but it seemed wrong to eat it without his company like we had agreed on. I did not wish to seem ungrateful to our host or cause a scene, but…"
Saber trailed off, thinking of the way Ilya and to a lesser extent Rin and Sakura had been the center of his attentions throughout the day, while she had spent a great deal of time in degrading situations with Caster to rectify the debt she had accrued when Caster had saved Shirou when she couldn't.
"It does feel as if I was not properly rewarded for my efforts." Saber finished, a bit morosely.
Avenger nodded along, rather sagely he thought. Trust a girl to get jealous over stupid stuff, though at least Saber was not as bad as his master. Thinking of jealousy though, there seemed the potential for something really fun…
"Saber, here is I think you should do," Avenger began.
"Sempai, that was fun!" Sakura said, hanging on his arm. After dinner they had walked a bit on the beach and came across an old photo taker cut out and had posed for a few pictures using a coin operated automatic camera. They were actually made for kids so they had to squeeze close together to fit, but Sakura hadn't minded at all.
He separated with her a little further down as Rin waved her sister over, probably for more drinks. Rin's glass hadn't been empty all day and she was usually pushing one into anyone who came by's hands. Shirou wasn't quite sure what that was about, though he had seen, on two separate occasions, a fight break out among the group of servers following her around. This was apparently over the chance to take her next order.
Shirou continued to walk down the beach a ways. Lost in thought, it took him a while to realize just how long he had been walking alone and why he was doing it.
He was worried about Saber. It wasn't like her at all to skip dinner and he hadn't seen her since. Just as he was thinking that he caught a flash of golden hair on the horizon and sped up to meet his Servant… and then skidded to a stop as she came up to meet him.
Shirou felt his face heat up immediately, his heart seemed to be pounding triple time as his Servant walked the last few feet.
"G-Goshujin-Sama, may I accompany you?" Saber said haltingly. Saber using that expression was almost more bizarre because it fit the rest of her. Soft white serving headwear, her hair tied back into a blue ribbon with a matching cloth choker. An attractive blue maid outfit complete with white apron that accentuated her slim curves completed the look, hanging high over her smooth thighs. Shirou didn't even know how to look at her!
"Goshujin-Sama, would you l-like some company tonight?" Saber started again, flushing red.
Shirou's mouth tried to work, to say yes, to ask what had happened, to exclaim in pure surprise, but no matter how hard he tried he couldn't seem to actually push any words out. G-G-GOSHUJIN-SAMA?!
"NNNNGH!" Saber exploded, marring her servant like image by putting her hands on her hips.
"Why are you so silent Master!?"
Somehow that made it a bit easier for Shirou, dealing with his Servant's anger was easier then, well, meido Saber!
"It's not, I mean, I will, I mean, why are… GAH!" Shirou said, taking a moment more to collect himself.
"I would like to spend time with you, why are you dressed like that!?" Shirou said again, this time getting the words in the right order.
"Errr… wellllll," Saber trailed off, embarrassed. "Avenger said since you had spent the day of our vacation as you wished, it wouldn't be bad if I requested the night be mine! The reward is half mine after all! And… and he said maybe if I asked Caster for something a cute Servant would wear and say, you might pay more attention to me…" Saber trailed off, blushing even harder.
Shirou was finding it hard to think. A cute Servant, a cute servant; well, that was Caster for you. Her outfit was mixing the urge to run away, the urge to hide her from anyone seeing, along with less kind urges to damn the consequences and push her down on the beach right there. But one word cut through his thoughts.
"A-Avenger…?" Shirou asked in surprise. "Why would Avenger help…?"
That was almost unthinkable. That troll (he learned the word from Shinji) was only the type to help someone if it led to someone else being hurt. Following that thought, the worst case scenario would be…
"Saber!" Shirou exclaimed in fear, grabbing onto her shoulders and lulling her close in a panic, ignoring a surprisingly strong smell of sake on her breath. "Have you seen Rin or Sakura tonight?!"
Saber didn't seem happy at the change in conversation, but replied, "I believe I saw them both walking to the bar where Avenger was serving, they were staggering a bit so I assume had already been drinking…"
Twin voices broke out into the night, Saber looked where Saber had when she had talked about Avenger and saw in the far distance the door slam open and two magus girls pile out in a fury... and then they looked back at him.
With their faces almost pressed together.
And Shirou was holding Saber close by her shoulders.
W-W-Wait, hadn't this situation gotten way out of control?! This was just a mistake, but look at the looks in their eyes, th-there was no way he would survive this!
"G-Got it Saber, I understood, I will spend time with you, I am sorry for ignoring you, but we have to hurry!"
Shirou tugged at her arm as he started to run down the beach.
"Err… yes." Saber said, following him in head long retreat.
"DON'T MOVE SHIROU!"
"W-WAIT A MINUTE SEMPAI!"
Please be there, please be there, pleeeeeeease! Shirou was thinking, as he rifled through his pocket, that the look in the eyes of Rin and Sakura was unlike any he had ever seen. he would never see tomorrow if they caught up, so he was running to the one place he thought he might stay alive.
Shirou pulled out the key, the key that Ilya had given him as proof that he had won the game. He ran to the door of the special house. This was separate from their normal rooms, designed to be a special hideaway. Shirou slammed the key into the door, grateful he hadn't done something cliché like drop it, and threw it open. He and Saber stumbled inside and he turned to slam the door as hard as he could.
Surprisingly, or perhaps not, despite Rin's athleticism and reinforcement, it was actually Sakura who was only a step from the door as he pushed it closed. He looked desperately for a locking mechanism and was heartened to see several large, oversized mechanical locks manipulate themselves into place automatically.
"Haaa….haaaa" Shirou gasped, leaning on the door. He was safe, for the moment anyway. Shirou wasn't sure what was going on outside, but he couldn't even hear anything. It felt like he had been completely cut off. After catching his breath, he turned to the room…and immediately felt it catch in his throat again.
Soft music, shifting lights across the walls creating ambiance, a bubbling Jacuzzi for two with a filled champagne bucket, and a single love cushion set the stage. It was like a room straight out of an expensive love hotel; almost proudly the bed in the back was enormous, overshadowing all the rest of the house, covered in soft red blankets and giant pillows.
"Ilya…?" Shirou said asking a question of someone who, thankfully perhaps, wasn't there to answer for herself.
Who was there though, Shirou realized, he had almost forgotten. Saber had knelt at a small tea table, calmly looking up at him from the cushion her knees rested on. She seemed unperturbed at their surroundings. Her skirt hitched fetchingly up against her legs as she knelt, and Shirou tried not to stare.
"Err…right! Let me make something to drink!" Shirou said, the atmosphere throwing him off. He went into a small cooking area in the back that Ilya, knowing him pretty well, had created. It was quite well stocked for its size, and Shirou quickly heated water and assembled a small tray of cookies while he tried to think.
This was really the first moment he had had to think since he had encountered Saber. This room had an almost intoxicating scent to it that gave one naughty ideas that Shirou was trying to ignore. …but then, on the other hand, Saber had talked about the night being her reward, then maybe she wanted to…?! No, no, surely not, but maybe… as a man, he had to be prepared! That's right, a man needed to steel his nerves!
Feeling blood rush to his head (in more than one sense), Shirou threw his chest out and took a pot of tea and cakes out to meet his Servant.
"All right Saber, I th…."
Shirou immediately cut himself off as he actually looked at his Servant, at the tiny pool of drool that lay near her sleeping head. She had collapsed over the tea table and was now fast asleep. Even as he looked she let out an entirely unladylike snoring sound that grew slowly louder and louder.
Shirou felt his head hang down for a moment.
Well…Saber always says she has to eat to keep up her energy, and she skipped dinner, who knows, maybe she wasn't lying after all! Shirou thought, grinning wryly.
Well she had earned her rest and then some. After the battles they had, and a day of being bullied by Caster along with a head of sake, her nodding off was entirely natural. He would put her to bed and nap in the love chair, Shirou supposed. He carefully picked her up, her head lolling over his shoulder, and carefully laid her down on the bed.
…Or rather, he tried to. As he tried to lift himself up he discovered Saber's hands had locked together behind him, one over his shoulder, and the other behind his back. He looked at her but she seemed to be completely asleep. Still, no matter how many times he tried to her lift up she kept ahold, like the way she occasionally cuddled her lion plushie to sleep when she thought nobody knew.
He had to get free though. He couldn't just lie next to a sleeping girl who hadn't given permission, as that would be completely wrong, and though he had been ready to do more earlier, he didn't want to add to the things he would have to explain to Sakura and Rin tomorrow.
…? What was that thought?
Ah that's right, tomorrow. There wasn't one.
There would never be a tomorrow to the fourth day. He felt himself flashing back to many things: Ilya at the very beginning had said the game was to make the four days exciting. Avenger had told Saber half the reward was the night they had, which he finally understood now. There was only one day to be awarded to the victor. Ilya had only cared if he was killed in the game. That made sense, as if he died, he couldn't take her on a trip, but as for the others; it was fine. Any damage sustained would vanish when the circle began again.
That was now, and this was the end of the circle. The cycle would start again, and the abnormality had not been explained. When he woke tomorrow, he wouldn't be at the beach, he would be at home, and everything that happened would be nothing but a murky swirl of happy memories.
Shirou puzzled at that thought. Happy? The game had been filled with danger, and terrible things had happened. He still remembered the icy feel of the shadow's grip, Gilgamesh's smirk while swords twisted inside his body, and the feeling of watching Saber slowly losing against the Bersercar.
…but… at the same time it had been pleasurable. He also had seen the Servants clash in battle, Sakura's grin as they played together, Rin's exuberance as she fought to be number one, and his sister's endless enjoyment of being both host and contestant.
The clock was nearing midnight now, Shirou decided that maybe it was all right, just this once. He laid himself first down on the bed, Saber on top of him, resting contentedly on his chest.
He was growing tired, but… maybe… some other loop, some other time, he thought he might just come back to play in Ilya's castle again. It had been fun after all.
Shirou felt a sleepy grin cross his face as his eyes drooped down.
Yeah…it really had….been….fun…