Good God it's been ages since I've posted anything...I came back to find all my documents gone, and currently am having mixed feelings about it.

Oh well Merry Christmas to all, and to all, let's pick up where we left off, shall we?

Ninth Night: Knight of Stratagems.

"Archer…" Kiritsugu muttered, lowering his phone warily, making no sudden movements even as he slowly cursed himself for letting his guard down AGAIN, his eyes flickering down to the Servant's hidden hands, both to protect himself from being caught by the Servant's Mystic Eyes and to brace him for the first sight of a weapon.

While he'd yet to see the Masked Servant's combat capabilities beyond his shield, the very fact he was an Archer meant he relied on long range combat, and while it would take less than a second for the Servant to summon his weapon, for someone like Kiritsugu, a second was all the time he needed to make his escape.

He was no fool to assume he could take the Servant down. Even the WEAKEST of Epic Heroes were more than a match for any mortal man. As skilled as he was at killing people, he was nowhere NEAR equipped to tackle a Servant, never mind one capable of deflecting blows from the King of Knights of all people, albeit with a handicap.

Still, it was rather unnerving, and indeed humiliating, to know that he'd been forced to retreat from someone with a build even FRAILER than Saber's, though at the very least he was TALLER than the King of Knights.

"You can relax, Emiya-san." The Masked Servant offered, a hint of self-mockery in his tone as he placed a hand on his chest, Kiritsugu tensing briefly as the limb emerged from beneath the wing-like mantle the Servant wore "If I had wanted you dead, would I have bothered to reveal myself to you?" he scoffed mockingly, raising a hand as if to brush hair from his face "For the moment, my Master has ordered me to refrain from killing you, wasted a perfectly good Command Seal as a matter of fact."

"Imagine my relief." Kiritsugu muttered, his expression deadpan even as his heart-rate settled, though his mind was working a mile a minute to process what the Masked Servant had just revealed.

"I can see you're wondering why Tokiomi would wish to keep you alive?" Archer noted, seemingly amused at the way Kiritsugu flinched at the apparent reading of his mind "Truth be told, when he first learned you were entering the Grail War, he pegged you as some sort of heretical psychopath." He continued at Kiritsugu's silence "I suppose that's what led him to trust Kotomine Kirei despite my warnings. After all, who better to deal with a heretic than a man who's very PURPOSE is to hunt heretics?"

'So Kotomine and Tohsaka WERE working together…' Kiritsugu muttered, his expression hardening even as he felt the pit drop out of his stomach. Ever since he'd learned of Kotomine Kirei's existence, there had been something about the ex-Executor turned Magus that had unsettled him. The Man was a proverbial blank slate, a genius whose dedication to mastering every nuance of his chosen field was matched only by the callous manner in which he cast aside everything he learned to focus on his next endeavour.

The man cherished nothing, valued nothing, and yet the sheer HUNGER with which he dedicated himself implied there was SOMETHING he was looking for, something that a life of devotion and the mysteries of Thaumaturgy had yet to provide him.

In short, Kotomine Kirei was an enigma, a DANGEROUS one that Kiritsugu didn't have the time, or desire, to deal with unless he absolutely had to, something in his gut telling the Magus Killer that if he ever DID come face to face with the man, only one of them would be walking away.

And he wasn't entirely certain it'd be HIM.

"Kotomine's betrayal hit him harder than either of us would care to admit." Archer continued, snapping Kiritsugu out of his thoughts "I'm sure you can imagine what it must have felt for a man of Tokiomi's calibre to make such a grievous error of judgement."

"I'll bet." Kiritsugu couldn't help but scoff, imagining the look on the Tohsaka head's face the moment he realised Kirei had betrayed him. Someone like Tohsaka Tokiomi would never even CONSIDER second-guessing themselves. The man was arrogant to the core, like most Magi really, though unlike most Magi knew the benefits of keeping on the Church's good side.

'Come to think of it, the Kotomine Church and the Tohsaka family have been associated since the Third Grail War…" he muttered, recalling the dossiers he'd gotten from Jubstacheit regarding the other founding families. 'I suppose it stood to reason he wouldn't suspect the son of a friend of the family.'

"Yes, you certainly put on a good show as a remorseless killer." Archer mused, his tone both applauding and mocking at the same time as he waved a hand dismissively "Fortunately, I'm not as narrow minded as Tokiomi. While it's true your actions would paint you as some sort of psychotic murderer, in the end, they served a greater purpose, limiting the amount of casualties whilst saving the maximum number of human lives."

Kiritsugu said nothing, his guard not dropping in the slightest at the Servant's praise, though he had to admit this was NOT what he would've expected from one of the 'Knight' Classes. Saber had made her opinion of his methods all too clear, and Lancer hadn't been all that different when it had come to 'proper battlefield conduct'. Rider was an oddball but his tactical mind made him a truly potent threat, while Berserker's and Caster's anonymity made them silent terrors in the night.

But Archer was different. Like Rider, he seemed to possess a mind for tactics, though he was less outspoken than the King of Conquerors. Like an Assassin, he knew the value of undermining the enemy and striking from the shadows, and like a Caster, he wielded powers far beyond the ken of modern magi.

In short, he was EXACTLY the kind of Servant that Kiritsugu would have preferred to summon, a killer that wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty, even if it meant going against the 'Rules' of this ridiculous bloodbath.

"We're not all that different, actually." Archer admitted, placing a hand on his chest once more, his tone almost reverent "I have long since held onto the belief that the only ones who should kill are those who are prepared to BE killed. The only true difference between us is that I DID die for my goals."

Kiritsugu grimaced, a sense of apprehension washing over him as he pointedly avoided looking the Masked Servant in the face despite the feel of those hidden eyes staring at him with the intensity of a laser.

"And so I ask you, Kiritsugu Emiya…" Archer demanded, his tone polite, yet commanding "Just what is it that you desire from the Holy Grail, and is it worth risking the life of your wife and child?"

Kiritsugu's eyes widened at the mention of Illyasviel, only to harden once more he glared at the Servant, one hand reaching stealthily for a smoke grenade only to freeze as the sound of gunfire emerged from his phone, which he'd forgotten during the conversation, Maiya's tense cursing snapping her master out of his rage.

"It looks like Kotomine's on the move…" Archer muttered derisively, Kiritsugu's blood freezing at the mention of Assassin's Master, the pit dropping out of his stomach as he realized the Masked Servant was looking directly at the building Maiya had been staking out the hotel from "It seems our little Q & A session will have to wait, my Master has ordered me to reprimand his FORMER Apprentice for his betrayal, and I'm certain you'd prefer not to lose Hisau Maiya this early into the game."

Kiritsugu said nothing, though he couldn't help but heave a sigh of relief as the Servant reverted to Astral form, leaving the Magus Killer to gather his wits about him.

'Kotomine betrayed Tohsaka…?' he muttered, his eyes cold even as he turned on his heel and ran towards the construction site 'But that doesn't sit with his personality…why would he jeopardise his chances at winning the Grail?'

As much as the man made him uncomfortable, Kiritsugu could at least be certain that, unlike Archer, he had a decent understanding of Kotomine Kirei's character. While the man had no love for anything, at the same time he didn't discard anything until he'd exhausted whatever interest he'd held in it.

'If he had no desires, he wouldn't have been chosen by the Grail at all.' He muttered, pulling out the calico as he ran, sticking to the back alleys to avoid drawing attention from the civilians or police, who were turning up in droves.

Fuyuki Shopping Centre Construction Site...

Maiya scowled, Kiritsugu's assistant kneeling in the shadows of the incomplete Fuyuki Shopping Centre, her assault rifle lying discarded on the ground with a single Black Key embedded in the stock, as she peered around the corner of a pillar at her foe.

"Kotomine Kirei…" she muttered, her eyes narrowing as she undid the safety from her handgun, eyeing the executor turned magus warily, looking for the slightest sign of weapon or spell preparation.

"I don't believe we've been introduced." The younger Kotomine noted, his tone intrigued, Maiya cursing his senses and her own carelessness as he turned in her general direction "Or could it be there is a reason you know who I am?" he chuckled at her silence "Don't make me do all the talking, woman. This is a prime location for spying on Fuyuki Hyatt hotel's thirty-second floor, it stands to reason that, if someone wished to monitor Lord El-Melloi's activities, they'd do so from this location."

He scoffed suddenly, amusement mixing with exasperation as he continued to gaze down at the ruckus below "Still, I can't believe he'd go so far as to blow up the entire building." He mused "To use such tactics...can he really be called a magus? Or was he even a Magus to begin with?"

'He Knows!' Maiya swore, her eyes widening in surprise at the revelation that the one man Kiritsugu deemed dangerous enough to openly break the rules to monitor not only knew of his existence, but was familiar enough with the Magus Killer's methods to identify them on sight. 'He needs to be taken out now.' She deduced, her eyes narrowing as she ducked out from cover, firing off three shots at the priest's abdominal region, only to swear as he dodged the shots, a combination of his experience and inhuman mobility, light glinting off a set of Black Keys, the trademark weapons of the Executors, as they hurtled towards her, knocking her hand aside and forcing her to drop her firearm and roll for cover to avoid being perforated.

'He's toying with me…' she realised, anger and wariness adorning her features as she leant against the pillar, gripping her wounded hand to stem the bleeding. Had he so wished, the younger Kotomine could've taken her hand off, or indeed, hit her through the pillars, the Black Keys were strong enough to penetrate reinforced concrete after all, even if used as a projectile 'He's planning on taking me alive.'

"Your agility is impressive." Kirei called out, his tone laced with mocking approval as he drew closer, light glinting off a fresh set of Black Keys as he advanced towards her, completely at his leisure "Clearly you've been well trained."

'He's mocking me…' Maiya muttered, her eyes narrowing in distaste once more. While Kiritsugu had certainly trained her, it had not been as a 'magus', but as a 'Soldier'. Neither of them had combat records worth boasting over, preferring to take their targets out using methods that would most certainly be labelled as 'war crimes' were they ever to be brought before a tribunal.

As such, while Maiya was confident in her skills as a Soldier, someone who took the enemy down using tactics and stratagems, as a Warrior, someone who took their opponents head on and crushed them with overwhelming force, Kotomine Kirei surpassed her and Kiritsugu without question. Bereft of equipment and with her position compromised, there was little Maiya could do but surrender.

"What's wrong?" the younger Kotomine called out, his tone taunting, though Maiya thought she detected a hint of impatience as well "Aren't you going to call for help? Emiya Kiritsugu is nearby, isn't he?"

"Closer than you'd think." A charismatic voice noted, Maiya and Kirei freezing as a cloaked figure appeared between them, his features hidden behind a black mask "However, I think you have more pressing concerns, Kotomine-kun."

"Archer?" Maiya muttered, blinking at the masked Servant in shock, her confusion warring with apprehension as the situation went from bad to worse, in her eyes.

"And a good evening to you too, Hisau Maiya." The masked Servant returned, Maiya's eyes widening at his coy tone even as he faced Kirei, the Executor having backed off, Black Keys held at the ready, shielding his face, and his eyes, from view, no doubt to protect himself from the Servant's Mystic Eyes "I wish we could be properly acquainted," he admitted, a crimson blade appearing in his hands "but my Master has ordered I educate, his FORMER apprentice in the price of betrayal."

Before Maiya could question what the Servant meant, or indeed, how he came to know her name, the sound of clattering metal drew her attention to a gas grenade being rolled across the floor, the wounded woman looking up to see Kiritsugu crouching near an elevator, the Magus Killer's eyes locked onto Archer's back even as smoke erupted around them, Maiya using the opening to make a break for it.

"Hold it!" Kirei called out, his Black Keys flying from his hands, only to curse as a crimson shield intercepted them, Maiya looking over her shoulder in time to see Archer rush the priest, sword in hand, the sound of clashing blades echoing behind her as she and Kiritsugu made their escape.

"Are you alright, Maiya?" her mentor enquired, his tone tense, his concern evident despite the mask of professional calm he wore at all times.

"It's just a scratch, nothing too serious." She assured him, her heart rate dropping as she drew deep lungfuls of air, having held her breath to avoid inhaling smoke "Archer intervened before things could get out of hand…it seems Kotomine Kirei DID betray Tohsaka."

"So it would appear." Kiritsugu mused, his tone unconvinced as he eyed the skeletal structure of the Fuyuki shopping centre, from which the distant sound of battle could be heard if you knew what to listen for "I'll refrain from passing judgement until I've seen the corpse."


"I must say, you're better than I'd heard." Assassin mused, pressing against his Master's Black Keys with his blade, savouring the feeling of actually being able to overpower someone physically for once "It truly is amazing what the human body is capable of with the right training."

"Why did you interfere?" Kirei demanded, his features calm, though Assassin could tell his Master was annoyed as he continued to hold the Servant off, planting his foot in Assassin's chest and using it to propel himself backwards, hurling a set of Black Keys at the Servant which were easily deflected by his Noble Phantasm.

"You even need to ask?" Assassin scoffed, his tone mocking as he snapped his fingers, Kirei cursing as the sound of cocking hammers filled the air, the Executor turned Magus rolling to the side as a hail of gunfire turned the wall behind him to Swiss Cheese "Did you truly believe you could bare your fangs at my Master after everything he gave you and just expect him to let you off simply because you've lost your Servant?"

Kirei said nothing, the Enforcer scowling as he realised what was going on, pumping more Prana into his Black Keys, expanding them to the point they could be used as shields to deflect the oncoming bullets just enough that he could roll to the side, discarding the shattered blades for a fresh set as he attempted to flank the Servant from the side.

Even if he wasn't all that much compared to the other Servants, as a Heroic Spirit Assassin had enough strength to snap a human being like a twig. While Kirei was far from an ordinary man, having been trained by both the Holy Church and as a Magus, even he could only hope to fend off a Servant whilst looking for a chance to escape, though his Black Keys could certainly serve as something of an equaliser if he applied the right Sacraments.

Not that either of them were going all out, mind you. No, the only reason they were still going at it despite the Magus Killer having no doubt made his escape was to eliminate any remaining doubts in the minds of the other Masters that Kotomine Kirei and 'Archer' were enemies.

There was no chance any of the other Masters didn't notice the destruction of the Fuyuki Hyatt, which almost certainly meant there were probably countless familiars flocking to the area, if not Servants. By having 'Archer' challenge Kirei for his 'betrayal', they could not only eliminate any suspicions regarding 'Archer's' allegiance, but if they timed it right, they may even draw out another Master.

Not that that didn't mean Kirei wasn't annoyed with his Servant's interference. Oh no, if he were anyone else he'd probably swear at the Servant's timing. Not only had Emiya Kiritsugu been RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM, but he clearly had no idea they were working together. True, with the Command Seal in place, Assassin was hardly a threat to the man, but there were plenty of ways to incapacitate someone without using lethal force.

"It's not that I can't understand your desire to eliminate the man." Assassin called out, his coy tone, laced with an undertone of annoyance, snapping Kirei from his thoughts to find the Servant gazing at the smoking ruin that had once been Fuyuki's premier hotel "And after all the trouble my Master made me go through to force Lord El-Melloi to retreat…the only consolation I have is that Saber will surely be vexed at the loss of her dance partner."

"Then Lancer has passed?" Kirei muttered, filing the information away even as he continued to dodge the shots from the shadows, impressed at his Servant's versatility, recognising that he was being herded somewhere, no doubt into an ambush.

"You know as well as I that Servants can sense each other's passing." Assassin shot back, turning his helmeted head towards his Master once more "I sensed a Servant Passing not long before I arrived on the scene. Since Lancer lacks the Independent Action Skill, it stands to reason he followed his Master in death, like a true Knight."

Kirei scoffed, knowing all too well his Servant's opinion of 'Chivalry' and the 'Knight's Code', the Executor turned Magus allowing himself to be herded out of sight of any watching familiars, wondering just how long Assassin was going to snip at him only to jolt as he felt the floor drop out from beneath him, the sound of ripping tarp heralding his fall into gravity's clutches as he fell through the cleverly disguised hole in the ground, accompanied by several sharpened steel rods.

As he fell amongst the debris, one of Assassin's Doppelgangers swung out of the shadows, grabbing him in a flash and carrying him out of sight, Kirei dropping his Black Keys for added effect as he allowed the doppelganger to carry him to the ground, out of sight, out of mind, the former Executor quirking a brow at the sight of the body lying at the bottom of the pit, dressed in the robes of a priest, the head crushed beneath a fallen support beam.

"It's Caster's Master." His rescuer whispered, a female voice he noted, the younger Kotomine trying, and failing, not to gape at her bright pink outfit which did little to draw attention away from her figure despite the cloak, even as she watched Assassin, or another of his Doppelgangers, drop down to the corpse, giving it a precautionary stab with his sword "I eliminated them both in the tunnels under Fuyuki City. That was the Servant that passed earlier."

"Then Lancer yet lives?" Kirei wondered, stunned despite himself, and rightfully so, as he highly doubted that Kayneth knew Kiritsugu's methods well enough to prepare for something like this.

Then again, the man WAS hailed as a genius, it's possible he managed to pull something out of his considerable sleeves, and even if he didn't there was still his fiancée to consider. While he knew next to nothing about her abilities, it was highly unlikely the daughter of the Head of the Summoning Department would go down so easily.

"That is currently unknown at this point." The Doppelganger admitted, her tone clipped, to the point, speaking no more than she had to in case others were watching "It is possible that his and Caster's demise were near simultaneous considering the timing between the two events. However, given that we only sensed ONE Servant passing, this is unlikely."

"I see…" Kirei mused, the younger Kotomine looking down as the Assassin examining the corpse below crossed himself before pulling out what appeared to be a FLAMETHROWER from under his cloak, purple flames lighting up the darkness as he turned the weapon on the body, no doubt to keep anyone from confirming its identity.

"With this, we can hopefully alleviate some of Emiya Kiritsugu's suspicions regarding your survival and 'Archer's allegiance." Assassin opined from behind, Kirei unable to help flinching at the sudden appearance of his Servant even as the pink Doppelganger bowed "Your father will identify the body below as yours when it comes time to perform the autopsy. He will, naturally, be most distraught by the loss of his only son."

"I see." Kirei mused, impressed with his Servant's forethought. Whereas before he could still be considered a risk to the other Masters, even without his Executor training he could still contract with another Servant. With the confirmation of his death by city officials, the other Masters, Emiya Kiritsugu in particular, would write him off completely.

"I have also prepared a stratagem that should keep Emiya Kiritsugu's eyes off Lancer and his Master for a while," Assassin Admitted, nodding his head towards the ruined Fuyuki Hyatt "That is, provided Lord El-Melloi survived of course."

"You mean to seek an alliance with Lancer?" Kirei wondered, the younger Kotomine quirking a brow at the idea, wondering how the Archibald heir would react to such a proposition, even as Assassin scoffed coyly.

"Let's just say it'd be a waste if, after surviving such an attempt on his life, the Lord El-Melloi foolishly decided to seek revenge on the Magus Killer without us first having the chance to meet face to face." Assassin mused, Kirei unable to help shivering at the Servant's tone, knowing all too well what would happen during such a meeting, only to blink as Assassin turned to face him "That being said, in order for ANY of these plans to be carried off without a hitch, I'm going to have to INSIST that you do not leave the Church grounds without informing me first."

"I understand." Kirei muttered, his expression calm, though internally he felt like sighing in relief, as he'd half expected Assassin to use his Mystic Eyes to force him to comply. What little he'd seen of Assassin's life, and the fact he'd managed to bring SABER to her knees despite her innate Magic Resistance, made it clear to Kirei that The Power of The King was not something to be taken lightly.

It wasn't as if it couldn't be countered; one of the few flaws was that it required direct eye contact after all, something that could be averted with a simple pair of sunglasses or closing your eyes. However, Assassin KNEW of these weaknesses, and had surely devised countermeasures against them. Kirei had witnessed some of them second-hand through the Dream Cycle, but the Masked Servant probably had more stashed up his sleeves.

"It would appear the fire crew has finally arrived." Assassin noted, glancing down at the street as several fire engines and ambulances pulled up just outside the danger zone, several Doppelgangers appearing from the shadows as he spoke "Watch the rescue teams, if you see any sign of Lancer's Master, or should anything unusual occur, send word to me at once and track them." He turned to Kirei as the Doppelgangers faded into the shadows once more "Now then, Master, I do believe we've kept your father waiting long enough. Sayoko?"

"At once, Zero-sama." The pink Doppelganger offered, bowing politely even as she grabbed Kirei's waist, slinging him over her shoulder like a sack of potatoes, the ex-Executor unable to voice his protests before she leapt off the building and into the night, Assassin following in her wake, the two of them leaping from roof-top to rooftop as they made their way back to the church, taking the roundabout route to avoid being spotted by any familiars.

Well, that was refreshing. God I've missed this.

Hope that sated some of your bloodlust fight fans. Also for those of you wondering just what spooked Kirei during the fight, just imagine the scene from Hellsing Ultimate when the Vampire Priest ordered his Ghoul Minions to 'Kill Him A Lot'.

Not much of a reveal this time around in terns of stats or noble phantasms, so let's skip to Master Stats.

Emiya Kiritsugu - Status: Strategically Withdrawing. Seals: 1. Servant Identity: Known. Base of Operations: Secure for the moment.

Kayneth Archibald - Status: Presumed Dead. Seals: 2. Servant Identity: Known. Base of Operations: Kiritsugu'd.

Tohsaka Tokiomi - Status: Dead. Seals: 3 (Transferred to Risei). Servant Identity: Unknown. Base of Operations: Zerown'd.

Waver Velvet - Status: Absent. Seals: 3. Servant Identity: Known. Base of Operations: Unknown.

Uryuu Ryunosuke - Status: Extra Crispy. Seals: 3 (Transferred to Risei). Servant Identity: Known/Sayoko'wnd. Base of Operations: Known.

Kotomine Kirei - Status: Annoyed. Seals: 2. Servant Identity: Unknown. Base of Operations: Known.

Matou Kariya - Status: Absent. Seals: 3. Servant Identity: Unknown. Base of Operations: N/A.

Things haven't really changed all that much, the Strongest Masters statistic wise are as follows:

1. Kariya's still in First Place, so consider that his Christmas Present.

2. Waver likewise retains his position as Number 2, but has to share with Kirei because the Priest has been given one HELL of a card.

3. I'd like to put Kayneth lower on the list, but statistically he's still stronger than Kiritsugu...prick.

5. Kiritsugu, sorry mate, but your situation really isn't any different from before.

Let's hope I have more time to update this year eh?