Act 1: Scene 8
2 Days Remaining
Mihara gave a long sigh, a hand reaching up from his white Interface to rub his forehead out of exhaustion. Opening his eyes, he observed the transparent concave wall of hexagons and pentagons in front of him for a few moments.
Before it crumbled into pieces as he watched, the sound of shattering glass echoing in the area.
'This 'shield' still isn't working.' He thought to himself wearily as he shook his head, his eyes turned downcast at the sand that covered the garden just outside of Saber's room. 'I'm just far, far too tired for this. Still, I need to get a grasp of the basics at the least, otherwise Shun's going to crack my skull open next time in the Arena. Or Shinji'll be blowing a limb off with his own Code Casts.'
"Damnit." He cursed, gritting his teeth before rubbing both his temples. "I've got to find a way to maintain it for at least five minutes, or find a way to build it faster than I can currently."
"I see that you are attempting to counteract the threat you had encountered yesterday." A familiar voice said. Turning his head around towards the house, he found his Servant, Saber, approaching him, the light swish of her red dress gliding gently over the barren sand.
"Good morning, Saber." He greeted. "Yeah, I'm not exactly partial to the idea of getting my jaw smashed again. Unfortunately I don't seem to be having that much success, it seems to be much more difficult than just shooting something."
"That is unfortunate." She replied, continuing to speak as she approached. "One must find a way to nullify the threat posed by that Master. A broken bone would be a severe disadvantage, even if it may be your jaw and not one of your limbs. The pain is a distraction from the fights we will inevitably encounter, and it will not disappear easily."
"Although I'd rather not suffer injuries like that again, I could just go back to Sakura to get a quick repair, can't I?" He asked.
"I would recommend against doing so, Master." She replied, stopping in front of her Master.
"What's wrong, Saber?" He asked. "She's just an NPC of the SERAPH, isn't she?"
"There is definitely something about her that irks me ever since yesterday." She answered, crossing her arms. "You may have forgotten her words from two days ago, so I will point out that her words then are in conflict with her actions yesterday. Her programming should permit her to only repair the injuries sustained by Masters outside of Arena and Coliseum fights. Hence my recommendation now that you do not speak with her more than necessary, subsequent to today's appointment."
"I guess I see what you mean." He answered slowly after taking a few moments to digest her words. "But, well, I'd think the SERAPH must have some sort of repair mechanism right? If what you're suggesting is true, then her program might just be faulty somewhat. Couldn't the SERAPH take care of that?"
"Admittedly, I know little about the intricacies of the SERAPH's operating procedures." Saber said. "That fox Caster might know more, considering her descriptions yesterday."
'She probably does.' Mihara thought wryly. 'But I'm not exactly willing to go into that territory to try and ferret out that information.'
"Hence, whether such a repair system is present or not, I do not know." Saber continued "But I do know that the SERAPH takes almost disproportionate measures against those it deems to be in breach of its rules. For that NPC, I cannot say she will walk away freely after this."
"Well, I guess I can't say anything about that, with this place's penalty being death and all." He muttered, his heart sinking slightly at her words as he reminded himself to go see Sakura Matou later in the day.
"You still forget that this is a War, Master." She reminded him, her face berift of emotion as she stood before him, hands crossed. "Still though, I stand by my recommendation until there is evidence that the SERAPH has attempted to correct the issue."
"Alright, alright Saber." He sighed tiredly again, not willing to argue the matter.
"Moving on, what is our plan of action for today then, Mihara?" Saber asked.
"We still need to collect the final Trigger." He began listing the things to do for the day as he raised a finger. "We kind of ran out of the Arena before we could find it, and I'd like to grab it today if possible. The same goes with Taiga's requested item in the Arena too."
"Indeed, I am quite interested in what else she has to offer in terms of rewards." Saber said with no small amount of enthusiasm.
"Though before that I need to head back to the Library today." Mihara continued. "Since we had to go to the Nurse's Office first, and the School NPC's were starting to rotate shifts I didn't manage to go and hand the book back to the Librarian NPC and collect the program he promised."
"I'll probably want to spend some more time there looking at information about the enemy Servants too." He added. "That book Shinji took mentioned the 'Golden Hind', so I want to have another look through the Library. Plus, Shun's Servant mentioned something that might be key yesterday. Something about being the Great Khan's 'Arrow', I think."
"Yes, I do recall that barbarian said something along those lines." Saber confirmed. "His statement fits well with what we had previously deduced. I presume after your research is done we can head to the Arena to continue with our interrupted search from yesterday."
"Yeah, after going to the Nurse's office and the Library we can head to the Arena for training and grabbing the Trigger and Taiga's item." He nodded in acceptance.
"Umu, very good." Saber nodded. "Since our planning for the day is complete, come with me to the kitchen."
"Huh?" He asked at her demand.
"I am interested in sampling that 'Watermelon' fruit you had bought earlier in the week." She continued. "Since I have had no experience with such a fruit like it, I must have you serve it to me."
"But, I-" He began, still confused as to her sudden demand.
"Is there something the matter?" She asked after his half-completed sentence, turning to look at him.
"Ugh…" He groaned as he looked to his holographic Terminal, still floating in mid-air.
'Actually I don't think I'd be able to do anymore today with trying to get that shield to work.' He thought quickly. 'Maybe I should take a break, before heading out for the day…'
"No, there's no problem Saber." He finally answered, closing his Terminal and turning to look at her. "I'll come find you in the kitchen and get some watermelon ready for you."
"Umu, very good." The blond woman said, turning around and walking back to the house, not waiting for him to follow.
"How very abrupt." Mihara muttered, raising an eyebrow as he saw her disappear around the corner of the house. "Well, I guess I needed a break anyway." He rubbed his temples before taking steps forward through the sand, following his Servant.
'…Maybe this is her way of telling me to take a break?' The thought hit him as he stepped back into the house, although he shook his head vigorously in denial afterwards.
"Nah, that can't be it." He gave a wry smile before heading to the kitchen and his waiting Servant. "She's probably a little hungry again…"
'Okay, she's more than just 'a little' hungry.' Mihara's dumbstruck mind thought as he knelt at the dining table, watching Saber on the opposite end quickly devour a slice of watermelon.
"I'd recommend you suck the flesh a little bit after biting." He said as he noticed several dribbles of red juice flow down her chin. Automatically he picked up some tissue he had prepared, leaning forward to hand it to her.
"Hrm, this is quite a difficult fruit to consume." She noted, dabbing her chin.
"It takes a little bit of getting used to, I guess." He answered. "Just need to remember that there's a lot of juice that needs to be sucked out after every bite, otherwise it'll get everywhere."
"I see." She murmured, observing the half-eaten slice of fruit in her hand before going at it again. He just barely supressed his amusement as she made several slurping sounds as she did, before adapting herself after several more bites.
"You seem to like it, Saber." He began speaking hesitantly as she moved to the next slice.
"I admit, it is quite different from the sort of fruits I have had during my time." She replied after another bite. "The amount of liquid within these slices is beyond what I've had before, for one. The sweetness within each is another that could only be rivalled by the finest vineyard fruits my people could produce. In short, yes I do seem to be developing a liking for this."
"That's good…" He nodded, returning to silence out of reluctance to interrupt her meal.
'This feels… a bit awkward.' He thought absent-mindedly as he watched her. 'Well, I still know very little about her actually come to think about it. The only reference points I have is Ancient Rome, the possibility of her being a person of importance, and the fact that she loves eating.'
'But I don't think it's a good idea to mention how dangerous it would be to her waistline to eat so much. Wait, can Servants actually get fat?'
"You should not be so reserved, Mihara." She spoke again after picking up another slice. "Enjoy some of this fruit as well; opportunities to rest now and in the future should be used to the fullest, to at least let yourself relax after exerting your full capabilities."
"Well I don't exactly know where said capabilities come from." He muttered under his breath, recognizing her reference to yesterday's combat. "And that's one of the many things troubling me."
'Another thing troubling me is who you, and Caster for that matter, are.' He couldn't help think as he took a slice of watermelon for himself per her suggestion.
'The list of questions just keeps on growing and growing.' He continued as he took a bite. 'Who am I? What's up with the fights I've been in? Why did I join this bloodbath of a tournament in the first place?' He shook his head gently before looking at his slice of watermelon, then taking another bite.
'So many questions and so few answers, the biggest of all being who are these 'Servants' that call themselves my ally?'
Immersing himself in his thoughts once again, he let his eyes wander as a strange silence descended upon Master and Servant as they sat at the table. For several minutes only the occasional faint crunch echoed in the room as one or the other bit into their 'meal'.
"Master." Saber spoke abruptly after swallowing, the man in question jerking slightly in surprise.
"Y-Yes, Saber?" He stuttered, stopping himself from taking another bite.
"It is quite difficult for me to enjoy my meal if you were to keep staring at me so." She began.
'Ugh, she noticed…' He groaned inwardly.
"If there is something that concerns you, speak." She continued, putting down her slice of watermelon to turn her full attention to him. "As I said, opportunities for rest must be utilised to the fullest, so such distractions are more than permissible."
'Well, one valid question would be why her skirt's see-through actually, but asking that seems a bit absurd right now.' He thought deadpan as she spoke.
'Well, more importantly she said she wouldn't tell me who she was when we first met, four days ago but… My curiosity really is starting to get the better of me now that I actually have a little bit of time to think without 'something' trying to kill me. And since she's asking right across from me…'
"Alright, I may as well then." He murmured softly, reaching a conclusion before speaking up. "This might sound a bit crude, but, who are you actually, Saber?"
"This is surprising." The blond said, a smile crossing her face. "So it seems not knowing my True Name is putting you on edge?" Seeing him nod in reply she continued.
"I see… Hmm… While it is all well and good to worry about who I may be, I would have thought your worries would be more concerned about the fights ahead of us. After all, even you yourself must admit that our group's strength is woefully pitiful."
"You didn't have to add that last bit in did you?" Mihara muttered under his breath.
'Maybe I should have asked why her skirt was transparent actually…'
"Regardless, it is the privilege of those of import to answer the queries of those around them with answers." She continued with her proud smile, ignoring him. "And as we share an oath of Fealty, I will tell you."
'Well, this is unexpected…' He thought, pricking his ears and leaning forward attentively. 'She seems to have forgotten her earlier claim to silence. All the better for me I guess, she really does like to talk about herself, though it might be a problem if an enemy overheard her…'
"Firstly, I will tell you about the name given to me as a child." Saber spoke after a brief pause. "Listen well! During my childhood, I was known as Lu-"
"Hm?" Mihara couldn't help but raise an eyebrow in confusion, several seconds after her half-finished sentence.
Another second passed by, the blond's mouth frozen still, partway through forming her words as though she had suddenly remembered something of grave importance.
The next second passed, the tick of the room's clock echoing in the sudden silence, as though emulating the thoughts ticking within Saber's mind.
Then another as Master and Servant continued to stare at each other awkwardly from across the table.
And finally another-
"Guh, no, that was close-" The swordswoman suddenly spoke, jerking her head back, a hand over her mouth as though to seal it. "That was dangerous; I nearly spoke of it-!"
"Grr, I told you already didn't I?!" Saber turned on her Master moments afterwards, a tint of red in her cheeks. "I would conceal my true name for the time being, so falling into this verbal trap you have set will not happen!"
'Having said that you almost fell for it though.' He couldn't help but smile at her embarrassed tantrum, reminding him somewhat of a child.
"You will learn of my True Name in due course." She continued, her face growing redder as she noticed his wry smile. "So for now, restrain yourself. And remove that smile from your face! You have yet to actually gain anything from this conversation!"
With her comeback spoken she quickly picked up her half-eaten watermelon and buried her face into it, as though trying to mask her flushed cheeks with the red watermelon juice.
That, and to probably block her mouth from saying anything else she might not want to say.
'Close, but not close enough.' He thought, trying to follow her demand with his smile as he returned to his watermelon. 'I guess it's still a bit too soon for me to prod there.
'Well, at least this conversation was a nice distraction, albeit at Saber's expense. I should probably try and make it up to her with something later…'
"Come to think of it, I should be grateful Caster didn't show up during that conversation." Mihara mused as he walked through the city centre, before turning into a particular street he had singled out. "Well I made sure to cut some for her as well so it's fine…"
Once again he and his Servants had split up upon entering the city, deeming there to be little threats possible. But while Master and Servants had little money to spare on luxury spending, both Caster and Saber seemed quite eager to window-shop at least. And he wasn't one to deny them, having other things he needed to take care of.
Over the last few days he had noticed this street seemed to have a higher proportion of Masters as compared to the rest of the town. While their numbers were still dwarfed by the NPCs going about their scheduled daily lives, he thought there must have been a reason for this.
And very quickly he found out why, with the very first shop he came across selling Code Casts to be used in the Arena by Masters.
'A 'magic shop' then.' He concluded. 'Geez, the gap between RPG game and this world is growing smaller by the day.' Sighing to himself he continued onward.
'With things like it is, it's difficult to remember that… we're all literally gambling with our lives in this tourney.' He grimaced as the image of those dead bodies during the prelims reared itself once again in his mind. 'I'll end up like one of them soon if I can't pick up the pace, but, ugh, I lack even the basic knowledge to put up a proper shield. The only thing I can do right now is fire an explosive shot. And even then it takes a good thirty o so seconds to set up…'
"There's got to be something around here to help me brush up." He shook his head as the thoughts continued, before his thoughts were interrupted.
"Ah, it's big bro!" A somewhat familiar voice called out to him as he turned around to see some little girls before him.
Almost instantly, Mihara recognized them as the same one from the last two days of the preliminary period, Alice. It would have been difficult to forget those sad, lonely eyes that gazed upon him in that corridor with his friend.
Of course he couldn't forget the poofy skirt she wore either, as though they had come from the Victorian era. That alone was quite odd when he met her so many days ago.
And yet, the more he looked, the more he realized something was exceptionally odd about the two girls in front of him now.
'There are… two 'Alices' now?'
He couldn't help but blink as he made this realisation, before remembering that the little girl was supposed to be a 'Ghost', according to what he remembered of the preliminary period.
'Hold on… Does this mean Ghosts can multiply?' He thought awkwardly. 'Or were there always two of them, and I only just met the one? In any case, are they supposed to be NPC's of the SERAPH?'
One of the two was the exact same little girl he met during the last two days. Another one, while dressed in an identical manner, had a completely different colour scheme for her poofy dress: Complete black, instead of the blue-and-white frills of the original.
"Hello, Alice." He greeted the two apprehensively, confused at her multiplication.
"Ah, big bro remembered our name, Alice!" Alice exclaimed.
"Yep, Alice, even Yamada's starting to forget our names already!" The girl in black replied, turning to look at her twin. "Well, I think they've got a hole in their head somewhere too since they've started forgetting their own name too!"
'That's pretty serious.' Mihara thought sceptically. 'Then again I shouldn't be surprised. This System makes some interesting NPC's, so I'm guessing their 'playmate' is one of those.'
"Wow, big bro must be really good at remembering names, huh Alice?" Alice said, returning her twin's gaze.
"Wait, Alice and Alice… Could it be?" He asked haltingly, even more confused at the situation.
"Oh, big bro hasn't met Alice yet, has he?" Alice asked as she turned to look back up at the Master. "Well, Alice is Alice, just as I'm Alice, and big bro is Mihara; I hope we can all be good friends!"
"Yep!" 'Black Alice' nodded in response. "Alice hopes to be good friends with you too big bro!"
"Having a looot of friends makes everything fun!" 'White Alice' said after their introductions were finished before switching topics. "Big bro, have you seen Yamada around here?"
"Alice, I don't think big bro knows who he his." Black Alice said, looking at her twin.
"Oh yeah, big bro and Yamada haven't met yet, have they?" White Alice asked.
"No, I'm afraid I don't know who you're talking about." He shook his head, confirming their suspicions.
"Hrm, Yamada's not really good at playing hide-and-seek." Black Alice said, putting a hand to her chin. "He hasn't found us even after we went hiding yesterday."
"That's mean of him, isn't it big bro?" White Alice asked, pouting.
"Leaving you two alone overnight?" Mihara asked confused, though he was certainly quite shocked someone, especially an NPC, would do that to these two.
"Yeah!" Black Alice said. "It's not nice for a guy to leave a lady all alone."
"Even after he promised he would play with Alice…" White Alice continued, sulking slightly.
"We should go play something else now, Alice." Black Alice said.
"Yeah, I don't think Yamada's going to find us until the end of the week." White Alice replied. "Maybe he forgot more than just his name now. Still, Alice, what should we play?"
"Ah, I have an idea, Alice!" Black Alice piqued after a brief period. "Big bro, are you free for some tea right now?"
"Ah! A Tea Party, a Tea Party!" 'White Alice' clapped her hands together in excitement. "But where are we going to have tea?"
"Don't worry Alice, we saw a nice shop earlier remember?" Black Alice answered. "The one with that nice old man and lady taking care of it."
"Oh, I remember now!" White Alice confirmed, nodding her head. "You're really smart you know, Alice. I hope big bro can come, it'd be so much fun together!"
"Well, I…" He began as he tried to think up of a reason.
"Please, big bro?" White Alice pleaded as she looked at him imploringly.
"Haah, I guess I have a little bit of free time right now." He replied after a pause and a sigh.
He just couldn't say no to the two of them, not when one seemed so excited about the excursion, and another was pleading with him like that.
"Yay!" The two Alice's jumped for joy at his reply. "You're the nicest, big bro!"
He couldn't help but crack a tired smile as he watched them.
'Perhaps Caster was right.' He thought as he began following the two Alices who had already begun skipping down the street. 'I'm too easily pushed around. Even though Shinji and Shun threaten to kill me at the end of this week, I still can't turn them down…'
'Especially… After having seen her before during the Preliminaries.'
…That's right. After meeting her again, he just couldn't forget those sad, lonely eyes that gazed at him during the last two days. If he could, he would rather avoid having to witness the same scene again, at least for the moment.
"Hmm…" White Alice murmured as she stared at the small cake on her plate before her, a face drawn on the icing.
"What's wrong, Alice?" Mihara asked, taking a sip from his teacup.
The Master and two little girls were sat outside a small coffee shop being run by an elderly couple and what seemed to be their young daughter. On the cobbled street next to them, the large throng of NPCs passed them by without a second glance: An outing by an 'older brother' and his two 'younger sisters' barely warranted any attention after all.
'Yeah it's almost like I'm growing older by the second.' He thought as he watched the two Alices stare at their food. 'I just hope nobody thinks I'm old enough to be their father, now that would be scary…'
"It's kinda difficult to eat them when they have such cute faces drawn on them." White Alice said, her fork poking the icing on the sides, not willing to destroy the face on its surface.
'And that's half the reason why I didn't order one of those cakes.' Mihara thought wryly, drinking as he watched the two.
"Oh, don't worry Alice." Black Alice said. "Just imagine the cake is looking forward to get eaten!"
"That's a good idea, Alice." White Alice said. At this, Black Alice gave a large smile before holding her knife over the cake.
"No! Stop, please!" She began wailing in a mock-voice, the knife in her hand getting closer and closer to the cake. "Please, don't eat me! Someone, help! Kyaaa!"
"That's mean, Alice!" White Alice cried in dismay as her twin cut the cake cleanly in half.
"It's not good to play with your food you know, Alice." Mihara said, pointedly looking at Black Alice, giggling as she lightly knocked her head.
"Yes, big bro." The two said in unison, White Alice losing her inhibitions as the two soon began eating their cake.
"Such a strange pair…" He shook his head as he whispered, before pouring a cup of tea for the two and taking a sip of his own.
After several minutes of peace however, he began feeling something, or perhaps someone, boring holes into his back.
"Big bro, that lady over there's glaring at you." White Alice said innocently, confirming his suspicions as she pointed her fork behind him.
"The strange guy that's with her is staring at you too, big bro." Black Alice added.
"It seems like this is happening quite often to me now." He sighed, the two Alices tilting their heads together at him in confusion.
"Hey, hey Manaka, don't do anything rash." A familiar voice said behind him, his eyes widening slightly as he turned around to see his opponent as his girlfriend approaching them.
"You're the guy that broke my honey's nose, aren't you?" The blond young woman said as the two reached his table, more a statement than a question.
As Mihara turned to look at Shun, he couldn't help but raise his eyebrows in surprise as he noticed something about his face.
"Surprised?" Shun asked with a smile, a hand snaking around his girlfriend's shoulders and pulling her closer to him. "Manaka's very good with all this hacking stuff in the Moon Cell, something like repairing a broken nose is nothing for her."
"Honey, I'm the one asking him questions." She pouted, though willingly leaning into his side.
"Sorry, sorry Manaka." Shun said with a smile. "I just can't help showing you off after all."
"Anyway, you are the one who broke my honey's nose right?" She asked again after giving her boyfriend a beaming smile.
Wordlessly Mihara nodded in answer to her question, still very confused as to what's happening.
"Apologise." Manaka said after seeing his answer.
"Huh?" The seated Master said, in shock and confusion.
"You heard me; apologise for breaking my honey's nose." She said, crossing her hands as she glared at him.
"But, I, what?" Mihara stuttered, completely lost for words at this.
'If anything, Shun's the one that's supposed to apologise to me for breaking my jaw-!' He thought.
"Big bro, did you do something to the strange guy?" White Alice asked, tugging at his sleeve from across the table.
"Strange?!" Shun balked as he heard the little girl.
"Ugh…" Mihara grimaced as he heard the little girl speak before turning his head around. "Well, let's just say he broke, 'something', of mine and I ended up breaking something of his."
"That's not good!" Black Alice said. "Breaking other people's things is what bad guys do!"
'True, especially when that 'something' is a person's body part.' He thought, unwilling to elucidate the point to the two little girls.
"Wait, I broke something of yours?" Shun asked, slightly confused now as well.
"You broke my jaw." Mihara said matter-of-factly. "That time when you hit me over here." He pointed to the section in question for emphasis.
"Oh… Oh!" His opponent said in realization. "So that's the crack I felt when I punched you."
"Honey, you didn't tell me about this." Manaka said, looking at him.
"Sorry Manaka, I didn't realize that happened." He said with a sheepish grin while scratching his head. "He didn't have any visible damage yesterday or today, so I thought that hit didn't do anything."
'If you did, Caster wouldn't have been very happy.' Mihara thought sarcastically.
"Big bro, you need to apologise to the strange man!" White Alice began again in earnest, now standing at his side while tugging on his sleeve again.
"You should always say sorry if you broke someone else's things, big bro!" Black Alice joined in, standing on his opposite.
'Why am I still the bad guy?!' He thought, growing even more confused.
"Honey, you should probably apologise as well." Manaka said, sighing.
"Yeah, that's true." He gave another sheepish smile before bowing his head.
"Sorry for breaking your jaw yesterday, Mihara Hakuno." He said sincerely with closed eyes.
Mihara groaned inwardly before standing up, bowing his head.
"Apology accepted." He began. "And, I'm sorry for breaking your nose yesterday, Shun Fukui."
"Now, make-up so we can all be friends together, big bro!" White Alice urged as she and her twin watched.
Mihara held out his hand in response to her prodding, Shun taking hold of it a few moments afterwards as the two opponents gave each other a firm shake.
"Yay!" The two Alices shouted in unison as the two disengaged.
"Now the strange guy and the lady can be big bro's friends!" White Alice said.
"I hope they can be our friends too!" Black Alice continued.
"You've been calling me the 'strange guy' for a while now…" Shun said, slightly annoyed.
"Oh come on honey, they're so cute!" Manaka said, apparently content with the apology the two opponents shared as she kneeled down. "What's your names then, little girls?"
"I'm Alice!" White Alice said with a beaming smile.
"I'm also Alice!" Black Alice said with an equally large smile.
"Ah, so you're twins then!" Manaka exclaimed. "How adorable!"
"If you're free lady, we can all have a tea party together!" White Alice continued.
"The strange guy can also join us too!" Black Alice added.
"I have a name you know, you two." Shun said darkly.
"Hmm…" White Alice murmured with a hand to her chin. "Alice, do you remember his name?"
"Hmm…" Black Alice also murmured, mirroring her twin. "I'm afraid I don't, Alice."
"Yeah, strange guy's easier to remember anyway!" White Alice said with another big smile.
"Alright then you little munchkins…" Shun said, his eye twitching as he cracked his knuckles. "I'll just have to drill my real name into your heads!"
"Ah, we made the strange guy angry Alice." Black Alice commented.
"Yeah, the strange guy's angry now." White Alice concurred.
"We should run away Alice." Black Alice added.
"Yeah, far away so the strange guy can't catch us." White Alice said in agreement, the two quickly running away through the tables of the café, laughing merrily.
"Come back here you two!" Shun shouted, playing along as he began giving chase, Manaka laughing as she placed an order with the café's waitress.
Mihara, having felt the danger passed, returned to his seat before taking a deep drink from his cup as he watched his opponent ad the two young girls play around with a smile.
Yet even as he sat there watching his opponent chase after the two little girls, a dark thought kept tugging at his mind, just as Alice had done with his shirt a few minutes ago.
"Well, that was interesting." He said, reflecting on the events from town as he made his way over the School Courtyard and into the main building.
His opponent had left a little while ago, and the twin Alice's had left only a few moments ago after finishing another cake he had bought for them.
'I didn't expect to be sharing a meal with my opponents like that.' He thought wryly. 'They're quite nice people actually. I would say normal, but that'd be a bit strange coming from me…'
'Although, I guess I should be grateful that Shun was busy collecting information on his 'darling's' opponent, instead of my Servants.' He thought, remembering the conversation he overheard between the two.
However, before he could continue his thoughts was interrupted by a familiar voice that sent a chill clambering up his spine.
'Uh-oh…' He thought wide-eyed.
"Don't tell me you're interested in-"
"It's a misunderstanding." He said to his invisible Servant, cutting her off.
"A misunderstanding?!" Caster cried incredulous.
"A very very big misunderstanding!"
"Explain to me what part of this is a misunderstanding!" The foxgirl wailed. "I just saw you having a date with two little girls I didn't know about! I didn't know your preferences were like that!"
"That's exactly the misunderstood part here!" He shouted, trying to ram home his point.
"And here I thought you were more interested in mature girls with big breasts…"
"I do-" He began shouting, cutting himself off as he realised there were at least a dozen people that were staring at him shouting at nobody.
'I'm digging my own grave here!' He thought, taking a deep breath, even as his face heated up while imagining the foxgirl tantalisingly lift her breasts.
"Goshujin-sama, please don't tell me it's true?!" Caster cried after a few seconds with no reply.
"I am not going to fall for that trick Caster!" He said through a quickly established mental link, his body standing rigid.
"What trick?" She asked innocently.
"I will not shout out my preferences for the entire world to hear like that!" He replied firmly.
"Oh pooh." She muttered, realising she had been caught.
"Regardless, I am not interested in dating little girls Caster, and that's final." He continued.
"Really?" She asked.
"Really." He confirmed. "Now, please, stop jumping to conclusions so quickly like this, Caster."
"But, but, but if I don't I'm afraid you might end up giving other girls all the wrong signs!" She replied. "You're supposed to be my husband Mihara, and nobody else's! Or do you want me to leave my 'scent' on you instead to ward off those ugly leeches?"
"I do not-argh!" He groaned, realising he was slowly beaten back as his felt his face get even hotter. "Caster, there's a lot of other things I'm worried about, and… that… is definitely at the bottom of the list!"
"Aren't you a bit young to be, 'drying out' now, goshujin-sama?"
"Anyone would be 'dry' if their lives were on the line Caster." He replied matter-of-factly, trying not to think about her words too much. "Either way Caster, this sort of conversation is not meant to be discussed in broad daylight, so let's call it over, alright?"
"In that case, expect a visitor to your bedroom tonight…" She whispered, a strange mix of ominousness and seductiveness within it.
"Caster!" He shouted, trying not to let desperation sink in.
"Oh pooh, fine." She replied finally. Despite her invisible form, Mihara could easily imagine her pouting at him. "If I went any further we'd be going over our set T-ratings anyway. Still, I'm going to make sure I keep a good eye on you to make sure nobody else tries to lay even a finger on you!"
"I definitely don't want to know what you mean by T-ratings, but as long as we can drop this subject." He answered in relief, rubbing his temples. "I'm guessing Saber's not with you now then?"
"Fortunately she found something that caught her eye in town, so she's off looking around on her own leaving us two alone!" Caster shouted with glee.
"Okay, fine." He shook his head. "I'm planning to go back to the school grounds now that it's almost noon."
"Then I'll be right behind you, goshujin-sama!"
'Ugh, now I know how Saber felt like.' He groaned, rubbing his forehead as he disconnected the mental link, now acutely aware of his Servant's presence next to him.
'I had better talk to her about calling me that absurd title as well while we're walking.'
"Honestly, they were like that to you?" Caster asked incredulous, her form still kept invisible.
"Yeah." Mihara nodded as he entered the School Courtyard.
"Wow, they really aren't taking this seriously." She said. "Though if I were her I wouldn't let whoever did that to my darling Master get away with just an apology."
'Am I the only one here stressing out?' He couldn't help but think, his mind turning over the earlier meeting in his head.
'Or are they the ones that don't understand this situation? If it's the latter, can I really just kill Shun like that? Without him even realising the sort of hell he and his girlfriend have signed up for? In the first place, I don't even know if the SERAPH's rules about killing people is actually true! For all I know it may just be all a sick joke to knock people like me off their perch…'
"Master." Caster said, bringing him out of his dark study just in time to avoid running into another person.
"Geez, you really should pay more attention to the road, Mihara!" She chided as the two continued through the School Courtyard. "I wouldn't want you to get hurt so quickly after what had happened yesterday. Even if that suspicious Nurse is around to help take care of you."
"Yeah, thanks for the warning." He shook his head wearily in reply, his eyes wandering to look at the other Masters and NPCs flitting about the School grounds.
"It seems like most of the Masters here are getting more focused at least though." Caster commented. "The atmosphere's a little bit more serious than it was earlier in the week. Just a little bit though."
"I'm guessing it'll change quite a bit come three days time?" He asked quietly.
"Significantly, Master." She answered him after a pause, her words only serving to reinforce his expectations as the two continued on for a little while longer in silence.
To his relief, the two soon afterwards reached the Nurse's Office. Sliding the door open he took several steps inward, before noticing that Sakura Matou was not present.
"Hmm, that girl's gone and disappeared." Caster observed as her Master slid the door closed behind him.
"Seems like it." Mihara nodded in confirmation as he looked around the room. "I guess she went out for a little while, maybe she'll come back in a bit."
"I'd rather we get this over and done with quickly though." She said, disgruntled as Mihara moved to the central table, taking a seat. "Something about her is reeeally suspicious for one. That, and she's a definite potential rival I need to keep off my dear Master."
"She's just an NPC though, isn't she?" Mihara asked, turning to look at the door as he ignored her last sentence. "Saber told me her suspicions earlier today, but I'm not sure I can fully comprehend it still."
"Well you are talking about a program which is going against the program rules set out by the SERAPH after all." She pointed out. "Well, I admit I've met my fair share of NPCs who didn't obey their programming to the letter either."
"NPCs who didn't obey their programming?" He asked, growing even more confused.
But before he could continue the doors to the Nurse's office slid open suddenly, a familiar figure walking in accompanied by a black-clad NPC.
"Ah, Mihara." Sakura Matou said as she recognized the seated Master. "I'm sorry, were you waiting for long?"
"No, no, just a short while." He replied as he stood up.
"Hrm, so this was the guy you said you were expecting?" The new NPC beside her asked, stepping forward to look at him carefully. "Heh, yeah I thought I recognized you."
"Have, have we met yet?" He asked, slightly confused.
"Nope, but I'm sure you've met my sister though." She answered before she held out her hand. "The name's Arina Ikuya; I'm in charge of managing the Arena with my sister."
"Oh… Oh yeah, I remember now." Mihara nodded his head as he took the NPC's outstretched hand.
"I gotta say though, you're making a surprising amount of progress from what we've been observing." She said with a grin. "Unfortunately my wager with my sister still stands, I honestly doubt you've got it in you to get past the first week."
"Your words hurt me more than you'd know." He muttered gloomily.
"Anyway then, my job here's done, I've got my real job to do now." Arina declared. "Honestly though, where are those Maintenance NPC's? Kotomine's got us running around trying to fix up all those anomalies popping up everywhere because those lazy bums haven't shown up yet."
"Maintenance NPCs?" Mihara couldn't help but ask.
"Yeah, they're supposed to help correct the anomalies we end up finding one way or another." Arina answered. "Yet for some reason the SERAPH hasn't generated them this round, and the NPCs that are around have to go running about like headless chickens to do their work for them!"
"…Good luck then." He answered hesitantly, unsure whether it was appropriate to console a program.
"Anyway, Sakura." Arina said, addressing the Nurse as she knocked a fist to her shoulder. "I'm expecting the final report to come in several days' time. When it does I'll come find you to tell you the results, and enact any modifications necessary."
"Yes, thank you very much, Arina." The purple-haired nurse said, bowing in gratitude as the latter walked out of the office, waving a hand goodbye.
"Corrections?" Mihara couldn't help but ask as he saw the NPC close the door behind her.
"Yes, actually." Sakura said, turning to face him. "It seems like there's a number of… strange events happening to me, and I asked one of the other NPCs to run a full checkup on my programming."
"Ah, I see." He nodded in confirmation.
'Maybe she realised what had happened yesterday seemed off?' He thought.
"However, it seems as though the others haven't found anything wrong with my programming." She said, before quickly continuing. "Although Arina isn't a dedicated Maintenance NPC, she knows how to work the Arena, so I would trust her judgement."
"I see, alright." Again he nodded slowly, processing what he had just heard.
"So it seems that yesterday's issue wasn't a problem?" He asked through a quickly established mental link.
"If the SERAPH didn't detect anything off, then I guess there shouldn't be any problem." Caster responded. "Still though, my fox-senses are tingling with danger. Or perhaps that's just my female intuition kicking in."
"Do I want to know what that means?" He asked. "Actually, nevermind, forget I said anything."
"Oh pooh, you're a really hard nut to crack Master." Caster moaned.
"Either way, I probably shouldn't push my luck by asking her about it."
"Anyway then." Mihara said after terminating the connection. "Erm, are you still free to finish with yesterday's checkup?"
"Oh, yes." She said, moving over to the rows of beds at the side of the room. "I was waiting for you to come back before Arina came to find me for my requested checkup. I'm sorry I couldn't finish the procedures completely yesterday, the NPC programs operate on a regular rotation, and it was almost the end of my shift during the day you see."
"Ah, I see." He nodded his head as he followed her. "The other NPC nurse is…?"
"Her name's Caren Ortensa." Sakura replied, gesturing to an empty bed, her patient dutifully moving over and sitting on its side. "She takes care of the Nurse's Office during the night shift, so unless you're here during those hours it's unlikely you'll see her."
"Okay, I'll keep that in mind." Again he nodded before lying down on the bed, breathing gently as he relaxed his muscles, keeping himself still.
"I'm going to take a quick scan of yesterday's injury, before repairing any damage that I didn't manage to take care of." She said. "It should be the same procedure as yesterday, unless I find something else wrong."
"Alright, that's fine Sakura." He answered, turning his head to look at her as a violet holographic screen appeared in front of her, lines of code passing over it at breakneck speed.
Almost immediately after she began he noticed a slight hum, as though a machine had been started within the room. Soon afterwards he also noticed the surface of the bed begin to pulse several times with a white glow, his eyes closing instinctively due to the brightness he saw.
Remaining motionless for another minute or so, he opened his eyes again as he heard Sakura's voice through the intermittent hum, the glow having dissipated somewhat.
"Hmm, yes, it seems like the damage has been taken care of yesterday, though it would probably be good for me to double-check after yesterday's quick operation." She reported, a hand on her chin as she examined what appeared to be an x-ray photograph that had appeared on her screen.
"I'd assume this'll be a bit easier to take care of as compared to yesterday?" He asked, looking at the photograph with anxiety, though he couldn't see the injuries she spoke of from the bed.
"Yes, this should only take a little bit of time…" Sakura answered, biting her lip before working on the screen again.
Shortly afterwards he began seeing lines upon lines of code arch over his face, travelling from both sides of the bed to the other.
'I don't think I'll get used to this anytime soon.' He thought as he observed the lines, keeping his body as still as possible. 'Well, at the same time I hope I don't need to use this that frequently either.'
As he watched, he began to feel a strange itching sensation erupt in his jaw, around the same area where yesterday's wound had occurred. Stopping himself he kept still, knowing from yesterday that it was just a side-effect of the healing process.
"It's really strange seeing your jaw light up like snow like that, Mihara." Caster commented, evidently watching the procedure. "Even though I know it's supposed to be a healing process I still can't help but worry when I see you like this."
"I'll just have to make sure I don't get wounded too much in the future." He murmured quietly, trying to keep his jaw still while hoping Caster could hear him.
"Alright, all done." Sakura said after several more minutes, closing her Interface. "You shouldn't have anymore problems with your jaw now, Mihara."
"Okay, thank you Sakura." Mihara said as he sat up, giving her a grateful smile as he did so.
"You really do need to take better care of your health though, Mihara." She continued. "You only have one body here after all."
"I wish I could have a taste of that body myself though…" Caster murmured, having remained silent up until now during the procedure. "Well, at least she didn't try anything with your defenceless self this time."
"As though she'd actually want to try anything like that." He answered, before noticing Sakura give him a confused look. "Oh, sorry Sakura, I was talking to my Servant just now."
"Ah, I see…" She nodded with a smile. "It must be nice, having a Servant to talk to on a regular basis."
"Well, I guess so, yeah." He said after a pause with a tired smile.
"What was with that pause just now, Master?" Caster asked, suspicious.
"Anyway!" He began again, ignoring Caster. "Thank you for helping me out Sakura, I really appreciate it."
"Oh, no, it's nothing." She said with a smile. "It's my duty to look after all the Masters after all. Though, I guess you have to go again now?" She added, her smile disappearing quickly afterwards.
"Yeah, I'm sorry Sakura…" Mihara answered.
"Oh, please, don't be, it can't be helped after all." Sakura said, shaking her head as she put on another smile. "It's near the end of the week after all, and so close to the Elimination Fight that, well, I guess everyone's going to be very busy at this time."
"Yeah, I've been getting busier and busier everyday as the week draws to a close." He gave a sheepish smile as he stood up before giving a short bow. "Either way, thank you again. When it's not so busy, hopefully I can pay you another visit under better circumstances."
"Then, well, I look forward to it." She began, moving over to the central table while watching him move to the doorway. "Just, please take care, alright?"
"I'll try at least." He replied, giving her a wave goodbye. Seeing her return the gesture he slid the door open, stepping out.
"It is very strange though…" Sakura murmured to herself as she sat down after waving Mihara goodbye, her smile wilting away. "How come Arina couldn't didn't detect anything wrong with my program, even after… that, two days ago…?"
"It's strange, but, I guess I'll have to wait until the full report comes in from the SERAPH's Diagnostics subsystems later. Yeah, I just have to wait here for that report, and someone else to come visit…" She continued, before looking around the Nurse's Office.
"Though I said it couldn't be helped, I do wish he could have stayed a bit longer…"
As Mihara stepped out of the Nurse's Office, he happened to notice a familiar figure run down the corridor, shoving past a number of Masters in his way.
"Shinji." Mihara noted, immediately recognising his opponent's blue hair.
"Hmm, what's that jellyfish doing?" Caster asked. "Was he skulking around here just now?"
"Don't know." He shook his head in reply as he closed the door. "It doesn't seem like there's anything out of the ordinary here…"
"Well, who cares what he's up to." Caster said nonchalantly. "Definitely not me! After yesterday's fight I'm more than willing to scorch him a bit with my curses! Oh, though not directly though, the SERAPH's put a big no-no on that. Let's just say he got caught in the cross-fire…"
"The SERAPH seems to be pretty loose on that rule doesn't it?" Mihara asked, remembering Shinji's Servant and her guns aiming at him yesterday.
"Yeah, though with most other things it isn't even nearly as lenient." Caster complained. "Well, what's our plan now then, Mihara?"
"I need to go up to the Library to hand over the book we got yesterday." He began counting his fingers. "That, and I want to check up a bit more on our opponent's Servants, so I may be in there for an hour or two. Afterwards we can head straight to the Arena."
"Alrighty then." Caster replied. "I think Saber should be showing up before you finish in that case, we'll just wait in the area for you to finish and give us a call."
"Yeah, will do Caster." He nodded as he walked down the corridor, content with the plan for the rest of the day.
"Well now, look who's finally decided ta show up!" A now-familiar voice called out to the Master as he stepped through the doors to the Library.
"Yeah, sorry I didn't show up yesterday as I said I would have." He replied sheepishly, stepping up to the counter.
"Nah, don't sweat it." The NPC said, waving an arm as he gave his attention to the Master, though his free hand was still fiddling with something below the desk. "Well, as long as you's here and got the goods with ya that is!"
"Yeah, I have the book Shinji took from the library yesterday." He nodded his head before bringing out his Terminal.
"I'm guessing you's already taken a good look into it fer the info you's needs yeah?" The NPC asked as he watched, his hands still busy.
"Yeah, I had a read-through of it yesterday when I got home." He replied as a leather-bound book appeared in front of him above his Terminal.
"Glorious." The NPC said with a smile, a hand reaching out to take the floating book, before bringing up his game console from beneath the desk. "Now, fer my part 'o this bargain."
"Wait, you were busy playing with that?" He couldn't help ask surprised, a complicated shooter game playing across the screen as the NPC's in-game character dodged bullets left and right.
"It's damn boring bein' the Librarian you's knows!" He said grumpily, one hand playing the game as another began typing into a holographic screen that had appeared floating above the game console, his eyes also focused on the holographic screen. "Well, at least the SERAPH wasn't bein' too big 'o a bitch when it let me take this 'ere console with me. Useful since it acts as my Interface too."
"I see…" Mihara couldn't say much more as he watched the NPC multitask in perfect form, not even dying once as a new chip solidified itself on the floating holographic screen.
"Right, there she is." The NPC said finally, gesturing to the floating chip with a smile. "Use 'er well, I'm sure she'll prove ta be more than useful fer one such as yerself. You's can try slottin' 'er into your Terminal and give 'er a spin now if you's wants."
"Right, thank you." He nodded, taking the chip and doing as the NPC suggested. Just like yesterday, the small piece of plastic quickly disappeared afterwards, as though being absorbed into his machine just as with Taiga's chip from yesterday.
And within moments the screen activated itself, showing a familiar map of the Second Floor Arena in full 3D. Freely rotating it, Mihara quickly noticed the maze of hidden pathways criss-crossing between the four shipwrecks, some of which he didn't see in yesterday's map and some which were absent as well. Very quickly, he also noticed the small yellow dots scattered around the map, a red line crossing out what he assumed to be opened Item Folders.
"I updated the software a teensy bit from yesterdays." The NPC said. "Should'a be a bit more accurate than the one I gave you's yesterdays."
"Yeah, this'll be very useful for me, thank you Librarian." The Master said with a smile, pocketing his Terminal after a few more minutes.
"No sweat, it's my payment fer savin' my bacon after all." The NPC replied, watching him even as his fingers still worked on his game. "Right, now I'm sure you's still gots a lot of info ta be searchin' in this 'ere Library. As long as I'm 'ere, this Library will always be open to ya."
"Well, for this week at least I think I'll be using this place a bit more." He said apprehensively.
"Heh, still cautious as always eh?" The NPC said with a smile. "Anywho, I won't keep you longer, now git out there and start killin'!"
"Thanks, see you later Librarian." He said after a pause, before turning around and entering the forest of books.
'Well, I can't say I'm looking forward to the slaughter in two days time.' He reminded himself. 'But at least I should do my due work and finish researching my opponents.'
"Well, this seems quite fruitful." Mihara muttered to himself as he scanned the table he was sat at, looking closely at the three books he had laid out before him. "Definitely much more useful than my last search for information about my own Servants, strangely enough." He gave a wry smile at that.
Remembering what he had read from the faded yellow journal yesterday, Mihara had found a book that talked specifically about 16th Century warships.
"'The Golden Hind.'" He murmured, reading from the book aloud. "An English Galleon best known for her circumnavigation of the Globe between 1577 and 1580. Passing around the coast of South America via the Strait of Magellan, the Golden Hind continued up the Western American coast before sailing over the Pacific Ocean. During its passage around the American coast, the Golden Hind was known to have challenged and hijacked a number of Spanish shipping interests."
'I guess this is the bit that ties in with the 'Invincible Armada' that Shinji spoke of before.' Mihara thought to himself, looking up briefly to rest his eyes. 'The British and the Spanish at the time were definitely not on the best of terms. Hrm, I wonder…'
"Reaching the Indonesian Archipelago, the Golden Hind continued onwards straight to the southern-most point of Africa, before sailing upwards and returning to her home port of Plymouth. Originally named 'Pelican', the Golden Hind's Captain renamed her mid-voyage in 1578, in honour of its chief benefactor, Sir Christopher Hatton. Sir Hatton was Lord Chancellor of England at the time, and his armorial crest was a golden 'hind', or female deer."
'So that would explain the odd name.' Mihara thought to himself as he closed the book. 'The Golden Hind's Captain, is probably also the Servant who I am dealing with. They should also have had some involvement with the defeat of the Invincible Armada by Britain, so I should double-check that. Still, something seems quite… off, about this but I don't exactly have much time to find out what or why this is the case.'
"Either way, next up…" He continued murmuring after shaking his head to clear his thoughts.
"The 'Arrow' of the Mongolians." He began reading aloud again. "It is a title given to one of Genghis Khan's Four Dogs of War, his four most prominent Generals during his conquests of Central Asia and Eastern Europe. It is believed that the two men first encountered each other as enemies during Genghis Khan's unification of the Mongolian tribes. In 1201 during what was known as the Battle of Thirteen Sides, Genghis Khan was wounded by an arrow to the neck."
'Gee, that puts my broken jaw to shame.' He thought sarcastically. 'I definitely wouldn't survive if I had something rammed into my neck.'
"Genghis Khan's vassal Jelme, another of his Four Dogs of War, was present at the time to treat his wound by sucking out the poisoned blood. Upon completion of the battle, Genghis Khan asked the defeated about an 'arrow that broke the nape of my yellow warhorse' from a 'mountain top'. One of the defeated answered him, saying he had shot Genghis Khan, and not his horse."
'It takes a brave man to own up to something like that.' Mihara thought grimly as he closed the book. 'Still, these two books basically tell me who I am expecting to fight come the end of this week.'
"This is not going to be an easy fight." He murmured to himself, his hands rubbing his temples slowly. "But, well, I guess I can't worry too much about that right now. If I don't get the Trigger, hard fight or not I'll still be dead."
"Caster, Saber, can you hear me?" He asked through the mental link as he began reshelving his books.
"Loud and clear Master!" Caster replied.
"Yes, I am here." Saber answered. "Are we ready to head into the Arena now?"
"Yeah, I've finished with my research now, we're free to collect the Triggers now."He answered."I'll meet you both outside the main building."
With a confirmation from both his Servants he finished replacing the books and began moving to exit the Library. Just as he slid the doors open however, he began to hear a conversation from two familiar voices somewhere down the corridor.
'Now what?' He couldn't help but ask wearily as he shook his head. Despite that however, he still began listening in, trying to remain as discreet as possible.
"My my, did he actually manage to do that to you?" One voice asked. "It seems that your reputation is grossly inflated."
'Rin Tousaka.' Mihara thought. 'Still as smugly confident as always I see.'
"Tch- I-I threw that fight on purpose!" A second voice stuttered. "I was just playing around with them. No use going full-out yet when it isn't even the Coliseum fight yet, right?"
'That's… Shinji.' He thought, now assigning both voices a name. 'I guess they're talking about yesterday's fight.'
"Oh, how thoughtful of you." Rin said. "I guess that defeated look on your face and your frantic running about today is all just an act then huh? Clearly you're far worse at this than I had originally thought."
"The power of my Servant can't be matched!" Shinji shouted in reply. "She can rip anything and anyone to shreds with her culverin, and when it comes time for us to fight I'll make sure she fills you and your Servant up with more holes than swiss cheese!"
With his declaration made Mihara heard the sound of running footsteps that faded away quickly, presumably Shinji escaping. Soon afterward the footsteps had faded he heard a soft sigh from the corridor.
"Unfortunately, I don't think we will get a chance to fight." Rin Tousaka said, before several more footsteps echoed in the corridor, slowly fading out of hearing.
'She thinks I'll kill him in this round.' He thought to himself grimly.
'No, no, I shouldn't think about this too much.' He lightly smacked his temple.'I've got other things to worry about right now; Caster and Saber should be waiting downstairs to go to the Arena now. I shouldn't keep them waiting.'
"Right, let's get today's busywork done and over with!" Caster said as the three reached the Arena Entrance, a Master having just disappeared through its doors. "Afterwards we can just take our time and relax for the last few days."
"Yeah, I don't think that's a valid option Caster." Mihara replied. "Well, first of all I don't want to lose by default."
As he said so, he held out his Terminal to the panel next to the Arena door, expecting the usual beep to acknowledge him.
Instead however, he was greeted with an electric spark that erupted from the panel and into his arm.
With a pained yell the Master jerked himself away from the Arena Entrance, several electric sparks still running up and down his arm as his body immediately tensed up.
"Master!" Caster cried as she saw him. "Are you alright? Did your hand get burned?!
"If my hand actually got burnt by electrocution that'd be pretty serious!" He gasped as the pain slowly ebbed away, slowly observing his hand for any signs of damage before flexing his affected hand, giving himself the all-clear. "Thankfully, that doesn't seem to be the case. Ugh, what just happened?"
Looking up to the Sports Hall, he noticed a strange blue sheen covering the Arena Entrance, the occasional electric spark flying off it. And a moment later, his Terminal began to register a new message in its characteristic blue, glowing font:
Entrance to Arena Floors has been obstructed by an unknown program.
Obstruction must be cleared before access to Arena Floors can be granted.
"Clearly someone is afraid of a fair fight." Saber muttered as he read the notice, a surprising hint of fury within her voice. "In this situation, the culprit can only be one person-"
"Hey there!" A familiar voice interrupted Mihara's Servant as he turned around, immediately recognizing the blue-haired Master.
"Shinji." He muttered, still rubbing his arm gently.
"You've been hitting the Arena pretty hard haven't you?" He asked. "I'd dare say you've toughened up now what with how your Servant burned me yesterday."
"Hmm, I was hoping that was going to be more of a permanent mark, but it seems like he's managed to take care of it himself too." Caster mused as her Master noted the lack of any burns his opponent should have had.
"A-as I thought though, the SERAPH's really good at simulating things, e-even injuries like that…" Shinji began stuttering, his attempt at bravado breaking down slightly.
'I think all three of us Masters can agree with that now.' Mihara thought to himself as he continued to watch.
""Heh, w-well, I can't say that the experience was entirely new; I've played a lot of games that tried to simulate things like this." Shinji continued. "And since that wasn't anything new I decided to spice things up a bit."
"You'd call this-" Mihara asked, pointing to the Arena door, "-as 'spicing things up' a bit, Shinji?"
"Well, what can I say?" Shinji asked, regaining some confidence as he gave the confused Master a shrug. "Though you may be tough, I've fought even tougher things down in the deeper ends of the Arena. You'd be crushed like a bug if you fought those things, so I shut down the Arena for you to help out, y'know?"
"I'm pretty sure I can handle myself well enough, Shinji." Mihara said, slightly confused at his opponent's reasoning.
"Well, with that over-inflated ego who knows?" Shinji retorted.
'The only one with an over-inflated ego here is probably you.´ Mihara thought.
"A-anyway." The blue-haired magus continued, folding his arms. "If you really wanna go down there, you'll just have to get rid of the two sigils I'm using to keep the barrier active."
"And where exactly-?" Mihara began.
"Where are the sigils exactly?" Shinji said, cutting his opponent off. "Why the hell would I tell you?! Figure that out yourself, loser! Oh, and if you do go down there, know I won't be holding back with my Servant afterwards either!"
With his declaration finished, the opposing Master scurried away from the area, evidently quite wary of what might happen to him.
"Evidently he is becoming much more skittish around us, having now sustained some injuries." Saber muttered darkly. "Regardless, this man-child has annoyed me ten times too many already: I cannot wait until the day I face his Servant in battle so that I may eviscerate the both of them before nailing their corpses onto a crucifix!"
"You may be satisfied with just that, Saber." Caster said. "But I won't be satisfied unless I get a chance to curse the both of them to kingdom-come and back again! Or maybe even turn them into a potato bug just so I can stomp on them."
"Well it's good to see the both of you agreeing on something." Mihara muttered as he turned to survey the locked door, the occasional sparks of electricity causing him to flinch.
"Unfortunately planning out his torture for the sin of annoying me would yield nothing at this time." Saber said, calming down slightly.
"Yeah, he's probably trying to stall for time now." Caster added. "That degenerate bug probably realised we haven't collected our Trigger yet."
"And without our Trigger, our fight's as good as finished without even starting." He said tiredly, rubbing his temples.
"Firstly, do you think you can conduct a scan of this barrier?" Saber asked. "We will need a bit more information on it before we can decide on a plan of action to deactivate it."
"Yeah, I think I can do that…" The Master said after a pause before bringing out his Terminal.
"My question now is how was that other Master able to pass through this barrier without being interfered with…" Saber muttered as Mihara's Interface activated itself.
"He's probably used some code that reacts specifically to us." Caster replied. "It won't react to other Masters and let them through."
"At least that shows some spark of intelligence on his part." Saber spat. "Denying access to the Arena to all passing Masters will yield too much attention and result in this barrier dropping almost instantly after its establishment."
"I just hope those sigils aren't thrown about in town." Caster moaned. "All this running around all the time will tire us out long before we can give him and those programs a good beatdown!"
"Fortunately, it seems like we won't need to run around." He said in response, his Interface quickly identifying the barrier. "As Shinji said, I'm detecting two power-sources of some sort linked up to this barrier. They're both emitting some form of signal, and they seem pretty close to our position here as well."
"One may assume it is somewhere on the School Grounds, correct?" Saber asked.
"Probably." He gave a half-hearted answer. "I can't seem to be able to pinpoint their exact location, but my Interface seems to be telling me they're somewhere near, so the School Grounds would probably be the most likely place to find them."
"Then we had better start moving." Saber continued. "Perhaps we should divide our group to cover more ground faster."
"That might be a good idea, although…" Mihara began before pausing to think for a few moments.
"What's up, Master?" Caster asked.
"Do you remember earlier when we finished at the Nurse's Office, Caster?" He responded.
"Yeah, I remember seeing that blue-haired freak running off just after we left there." She answered.
"He might have been installing something related to this barrier there while Sakura was performing her checks on me." Mihara continued, gesturing to the barrier.
"Hmph, evidently he is about as secretive as a criminal running through a pottery bazaar." Saber commented. "Which is to say, not at all. Yes, your suspicions might be correct; I believe you should begin there to prove it. Your Interface should be able to remove these sigils, am I correct?"
"Yes, Saber." He nodded in response. "My Interface should be able to disrupt the flow of power so we can drop the barrier."
"Umu." The blond woman nodded in approval. "Begin your search there. I will scout out the rest of these grounds for anything out of the ordinary."
"Okay, I'll start from the top of the main building then." Caster said. "Right, now that all the discussion's over, let's hop to it!"
"Yeah, looks like we were correct." Mihara said through the mental link to his Servants. "It seems like I need to use my Interface to see it, otherwise anyone would probably have missed it."
He stood in front of the Nurse's Office, his holographic Interface floating before him. Through its semi-clear surface, he could a rectangular shape embedded into its doors, lines of code leaking from it slowly into the surroundings.
"Umu, eliminate it quickly." Saber ordered. "I tire of this charade, but I will withhold my anger until I have a suitable outlet to unleash it on."
"Well, one down, one more to go." Mihara answered as his fingers worked on his Interface, the sigil on the door quickly turning black and dissipating into mist. "And yes, I'm just grateful these aren't too hard to find or get rid of."
"No kidding." Caster moaned. "Clearly these things are a joke. Well, I won't complain too much, since it means less busywork than I expected."
"Yeah, that's true." Mihara replied tiredly as he pocketed his Terminal. "Anyway, contact me again if either of you find something; I'll check out the rest of this floor in the meantime."
"Clearly our enemy has become skittish around you, Mihara." Saber said as the Servants and Master were walking down a cobbled pathway, the light of the setting sun bathing the area in gold.
After eliminating the last sigil, the three met little more opposition from their opponent, who couldn't be found for the rest of the day for some reason or another. None of them complained however, it just meant they could collect their Trigger without bother.
That, and they also retrieved a box of Tangerine oranges for Taiga, though Mihara had to let Saber have one to sate her curiosity on how it tasted.
"Though the other guy's not even nearly as ruffled." Caster said. "Honestly now, he doesn't seem to care that we're gaining ground on him. Heck, as long as he has his 'sweetheart' around with him he would probably ignore a tsunami coming his way! Well, I can understand that somewhat actually…"
"Stupidity kills." Saber answered. "Hiding behind a veil of love and sweet words has blinded him to the truth of this Holy Grail War. Either he, his consort, or both, will have to suffer for that blindness."
Mihara only gave a sigh as he listened to his two Servants converse, their invisible forms his only companionship on this nearly-deserted road as they made their way back home.
"Still though…" Caster began. "Though that jellyfish's sigils were crude, I'm surprised he managed to hack into the SERAPH even this much without causing alarm bells to start ringing. It's pretty strict on the rules you know."
"There is also the matter with that Nurse as well." Saber added. "From what you have told me, her diagnostics request today resulted in no anomalies, correct? And that afterwards she continued on with the operation as though nothing was out of the ordinary?"
"Yes on both counts." Mihara nodded slowly.
"Hmph, this is most unusual." Saber muttered. "Add to that the unusual lack of diagnostics NPCs as well…"
"No kidding." Caster said. "Honestly, it's not like the SERAPH to be napping like this. Those diagnostics NPCs should have found and corrected those sigils that jellyfish made today too. If they were around that is. Maybe we should find that Priest and see if he has anything to say about this."
"I'd rather not look for that guy if I could…" Mihara muttered. "But, I guess you're right. If what you're saying is true, a high-ranked NPC probably knows more or what to do in this case."
"It should not be our priority at this stage however." Saber cut in. "Our priority is our fight with that man-child and blind fool in, what is effectively, one day's time."
"That's true as well." Again Mihara nodded. "Honestly though I can't really be bothered to bring this up to that guy…"
"To be honest me neither." Caster moaned. "Just that, it's really unusual for the SERAPH to be so sloppy so early in the War it makes me a little bit worried."
"Then, if I see him I'll see what he has to say." He answered wearily. "Otherwise we have other, more pressing preparations to take care of I guess."
"Umu, very good." Saber said. "Regardless, today has been quite fruitful in terms of what we have achieved today. Now, about our evening meal…"
"Still the little piggy as always huh, Saber?" Caster teased.
"Can you just stop with that?!" Saber flared. "The amount I can consume is far more than what such a little animal can!"
"That's what you take offense to now?" Caster asked, surprised. "Hmm, I do admit your small size belies the amount one can stuff inside you for sure."
"Grr… Then what about you yourself, you animal?!" Saber growled. "Even you yourself can't seem to resist a fourth plate every night!"
"Don't call me an animal!" Caster snapped. "What sort of loving wife would I be if I didn't accept my husband's delicious meals after all! Even your so-called 'animals' can appreciate something like that; evidently someone like you can only focus on just the fact you have food in front of you and consume it with reckless abandon!"
'Great, they're at it again…' Mihara groaned inwardly as he listened to his two Servants shouting at each other as they walked back home. 'I guess I can just count myself lucky they haven't come to blows yet. Having internal fighting between my Servants would be the worst thing right now…'
Not exactly that much happening this chapter either, except for the loli-tag team. It's a bit strange how in-game they only appear once during the first two weeks, considering how they were like. Sprinkled a bit more about the SERAPH system here too.
Some questions for my readers (of course issues/opinions on anything else would be well-appreciated): Is there too much slice-of-life happening? Has the 'couple' stolen Shinji's spotlight? Are Caster's antics getting too repetitive?
With this update I took some time to go through the previous chapters a bit. While I'm sure I missed a few mistakes around the place it looks a bit cleaner... I made a few tweaks here and there for consistency/coherence, but no major changes.
Also, for those who were interested in seeing Servant Sheets, I've put something 'interesting' on my profile for you.