"You're not leaving me here!"
"Saber please you're in no condition to-"
The King of Knight's hissed, struggling to her feet on shaking legs as Shirou grabbed her, helping her stand as she clutched at her chest, her brows furrowed, sweat beading her forehead as though still trapped in some kind of fever.
She panted, struggling to catch her breath before glaring at him, green eyes boring holes into his skull. "You're my master. I won't let you go alone."
"I won't be alone." He tried to reassure her. "Sage Freke is coming. So is Rin."
"Neither of them can-" She stopped, groaning as a spasm of pain ripped straight through her body all but doubling her over.
"Neither can you." He said, easing her back down, the strength in her legs all but gone as he brought her down to rest again.
She glared at him some more. Those green eyes glinting like flint daggers as they radiated her disapproval of this, her reproach at his brazen self endangerment, her own self loathing at being unable to do anything about it.
He stared back down at her, all but pleading. "Saber please. You still have to get your rest, you're not fully recovered."
She opened her mouth, fully ready to snarl out another protest before Shirou spoke up one more time.
"Don't make me use a command seal."
Her mouth snapped shut in reflex. Eyes going wide with shock "You wouldn't!"
"If it'll keep you safe you know I will!" He shot back, trying to sound confident. He really would use it. But even he could see it would be a waste. A waste compounded by the fact he only had two command seals left.
"I'm your servant, a tool. I am not-"
"You are to me."
Her lips thinned, emotions warring across her face before she sighed heavily through her nostrils.
"Don't worry so much." Rin sauntered in from somewhere, all but admitting she'd been eavesdropping behind one of the many columns. "If worse comes to worse, all we've got to do is outrun an aging mage so that the monsters eat him rather than us. We'll be fine."
The troubling part was that Shirou couldn't tell if she was entirely joking.
Emerald mist and wisps of magic dissipated to reveal the three of them standing atop the shattered remains of the bell tower, the Archstone sword's hilt grasped between them.
Looking over the landscape spread out before them, Rin could safely say that this place was still just as horrible as when she'd last seen it.
A black cloud loomed over the sky, the sunlight above all but blacked out, the tower off in the distance, what once must have been a beautiful structure stuck out of the land now like a bone poking out of skin.
She looked straight ahead of them, finding the harsh granite of a very narrow walkway, hanging over what must have easily been several hundred feet above the ground.
With not a single railing in sight.
"Good god didn't these people have a safety committee?"
When Freke looked at her oddly she elaborated, gesturing to the bridge infront of them. "A strong wind can knock you off of this thing. Its ridiculous."
"Ahh." He nodded, understanding now. "It was not always like this. Look." He knelt, his fingers brushing the edge where he pointed out a paper thin slit running along the length of the walkway. "It was once used to emit a magical barrier. In the thousand years since the ivory tower stood nothing, not even the most reckless babe or the dullest lackwit ever fell. Since the demons came however, the barriers are gone, and its very likely hundreds have fallen to their deaths since."
Rin rubbed a spot at the bridge of her nose. "Lets just...go. Its not like its gonna get any safer."
Ilya yawned as she sat up from the bed, her eyes were still droopy and her hair a tangled mess.
She moved to stand from the bed when her nose caught a whiff of something magnificent.
Doing a personal imitation of Toucan Sam she followed the scent with eyes wide open now. Opening the door she walked through the hallways until she finally came across the kitchen.
Where she felt her jaw all but unhinge itself at the sight of Rin's Archer with a skillet in his hands "You cook!?"
The servant turned his head, looking over his shoulder at her. "Ahh, you're awake." Then he seemed to remember her question. "Not entirely. Sakura did most of the work."
It was then that Ilya noticed their purple haired other a little off to the side, preparing the table, a blush blossoming over her face at the aloof praise.
"Ahh..I. Umm...I did-Archer-san helped a lot." She stuttered gnawing on her lip.
"Sakura-chan when did you get here!"
"She arrived just an hour ago. Volunteered to start cooking for you. I decided to help, after I realized I'd been reading the same line for ten minutes."
He seemed to be finished since he put the omelet he'd been working on into a plate, setting it at the table before returning to the kitchen to pull a hissing kettle off the stove and serve himself the water for his tea.
She walked over to the table sitting down, half startled when Archer pushed the omlete he'd placed on the table over to her, setting down his tea before walking back over to the kitchen counter to pick up another omelete that had been on the counter and set it down. For Sakura as he pulled the purple haired girls chair out from the table.
They sat down, and the moment the omelete touched Ilya's tongue her tastebuds sang.
"Oh dear god!" She brought her hand to her lips.
Her snapped over to Archer. "Did you make this!?" She looked back to the still fidgeting Sakura. "Did you!? Who made this!?" She'd had gourmet dinners with less flavor than this.
"Enjoy it." Archer said with a smirk. "We'll be busy today."
That brought her out of her tastebud induced euphoria. "Huh." Looking to Archer her eyes went wide with delight. "You found something!"
Even Sakura turned her eyes up at that looking to Archer as though she was ready to shake him in order to get him to speak again.
"Don't get your hopes up." Rin's servant warned. "Its a longshot at best. And even if it works it wont really get them back."
"In an eye blink Ilya began inhaling her food, somewhere in the back of her mind she was lamenting the fact that she wasn't really tasting it but to hell with it! They finally had something to work with!
Shirou found that the walkways were just as perilous as Rin had feared.
The wind buffeted them, making them sway dangerously as they tried to keep their footing, the height made him dizzy in and of itself, the fires, billowing in massive brazziers whipped embers into their faces with stray winds.
"The architect of this place should be flayed." He heard Rin mutter ahead of him.
"Curious that you should mention such." Freke piped in at the head of their group. "The Ivory tower was built by Haermenous Sven, or, Sven the mad, as some would call him. While not exactly flayed, his end was rather grisly."
"Do tell." It was disturbing just how cheerful she sounded.
"Well, all the slaves rebelled, after the tower was built. Some had learned aspects of the Soul arts. Magic you see, was something that Sven feared. When the uprising came, the slaves slew their noble masters, and their leader, an adept wielder of the Soul arts tore Sven's soul from his body, to forever dissolve and recompose itself and be dissolved again for the rest of time. Pure Hyperbole of course, no creature could ever hold a soul in thrall for eternity save perhaps a demon, but it does give one something to ponder no? Surely his fate must have been rather gruesome for someone to entail an exaggerated myth like-"
Shirou felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, his whole body seizing up in fear as he heard a sound he'd hoped never to have to hear again.
The flapping of wings.
'Oh no no no no!'
He rushed forward, all but tackling Rin as he shouted to Freke. "Get down!"
He ignored the brunettes startled, and angry yelp of surprise "What the hell!"
She fell still as the wind buffeted their backs and the wisp of something fast whooshing right past their heads.
They hit the ground and both teens rolled onto their backs to get their first look at their attacker.
"Why can't anything ever be simple!" She snarled, loosing a fireball at the stone skinned gargoyle coming around for another pass, a thin rod with a point gripped in his long, gnarled fingers.
The creature dove, dodging Rin's attack and the brunette let loose another, this time adjusting her aim. It struck dead center of the beast's chest.
It howled, flailing as its body caught aflame. Though its skin looked like stone, it was more akin to leather. It lit up like tallow and the beast fell, plummeting down to the earth; its wings and arms whipping this way and that way as it tried in vain to smother the fires.
They stand, their eyes trailing the orange dot as it falls away into the nothingness below.
"If you're going to say it was easy don't!" Shirou interrupted. "It'll just make things worse."
"Too late I'm afraid."
Both teens turned, to see sage Freke looking off to the right.
Following his gaze, it did not take them very long to pierce the gloom with their eyes finding dozens more of the creatures beginning to fly towards them.
The three humans stared for a moment before Freke spoke up again.
And just like that, the three were sprinting across the walkway, buffeting winds and narrow ledges be damned as they tried to swallow up the remaining distance between themselves and the stone tower before the Gargoyles caught up to them.
Wings in the air however will always be faster than feet on the ground.
With a howling screech the first creature reached them, landing atop the walkway right infront of Freke.
The old mage backpedaled, cursing as he stumbled and fell on his ass, he pulled out his wand as the beast loomed over him, iron spike in hand.
With a savage lunge Shirou jumped over the older man, a simple dagger now in hand as he plunged it into the things chest, sending them both toppling over with a magnificent crash as the creature released a surprised screech before falling onto his back.
Shirou rolled once, over the beast and onto his back, scrambling to his feet as Freke and Rin stumbled over the beast, with Rin pulling him to keep running as she ran passed
They hissed and howled, pursuing with the beating of wings and the sound of crunching footfalls.
Freke turned, "To the ground."
Rin fell flat, Shirou following her example a second before a wave of magic rushed over their heads.
They heard more screeches, then all was silence.
They looked up, over their shoulders to look out behind them where only three or so Gargoyles were showing their backs, fleeing back to wherever they made roost.
Standing up, they found Freke panting, beads of sweat lining his brow before he wiped them away.
"Well." He sighed. "That was...bracing." placing his wand back into the fold of his sleeve the older man turned to keep walking. "We should continue, before they bring friends."
Shirou found himself agreeing as they all marched into the tower's entrance archway.
When they reached the anteroom, Rin and Shirou's mouths fell open in horrified disgust.
"-the hell is that!?" Rin finished.
It was a bloated mass, pulsing with rhythmic contractions.
Weeping puss and oily ooze, sickening limbs fastened themselves to the wall holding it aloft.
"That." Freke answered. "Is the heart of the Archdemon above."
"A locator spell?"
"Its a bit more complicated than that from what the verses describe." Archer said brushing his fingertips over the lines of text. "This was designed by the Tohsakah's for family members to locate others that had gone missing. Since a normal locator spell could be tampered with with countermeasures they designed this. It allows them to see through the eyes of the person they're searching for. Or perhaps communicate telepathically if the blood bond was strong enough, like say a parent and their child, or twins."
"But none of us are family." Ilya said looking at Archer.
"No. But I'm Rin's servant. And Sakura is very close to Shirou."
The purple haired girl nodded, biting her lip with what seemed to be nervous worry.
"That seems like a leap-" The albino bemoaned.
"Its more than what we've had so far." The servant barked, standing straighter "The design is precise, but simple. It just needs Prana to activate it once its done, items belonging to the people we're searching for. Preferably blood, but any DNA will do I think, and the ones closest to them standing on certain spots."
He turned his eyes to Sakura, who all but wilted under his harsh glare. "You go to Emiya's house and get us something we can use" Turning to Ilya he gave her orders as well. "In the meanwhile you'll help me make this thing."
"You're the closest thing to a Magus that we have. So we'll have to all take a bit of a leap and hope for the best right now."
The demon's heart.
Bloated by avarice.
Turned rotten by hatred.
Corrupted by malice.
It dominated the tower's hollow insides, looking every bit like it was ready to burst, immune to magic and weapons. It was both the source of this demons power and the parasite that sapped it away.
"We will have to destroy it." Freke had said. "The demon will be nigh untouchable with the heart still beating."
"Wait? If we destroy its heart we wont kill it?" Shirou had asked.
"No. You will weaken it, considerably. But to kill it you must cut the cancer at the root." The sage intoned. "The yellow Robed King. The man filled with such greed and poison he turned his daughter into the dolls she so adored and his twin sons into the eternal guardians of the sky bridge. The man who cast his lovely wife into the most horrid of prisons to die and blighted his entire kingdom to ruin for the mere chance of immortality. An immortality that is more a prison than any walls could ever hope to be."
The winding sky bridge spread out before them, the desiccated corpse of the once gleaming Ivory Tower at their back. It coiled up to a set of stairs on another tower, its very dimensions defied belief, impossibly thin at its base, becoming wider above where they made their way up the stairs that wrapped around it, coming closer and closer to the bright glow that could just barely be peeked at from outside the walls.
"Here." Freke said running up the last five steps, that granted them entrance to a mezzanine room.
A massive, glowing chain hung in its center, fastened to the floor, every link bigger than a door, its golden glow was...sickly, in a sense, making the three feel queasy just by looking at it for too long.
"This is what the demons are using to hold that heart. We break it, and it will fall."
The sage began to circle the chain, with Rin doing the same, both mages looking for some kind of weakness in the structure.
"Do you sense anything?" Freke called to her. "Any fallacy in the magic we might exploit?"
Shirou looked around, various cracked vases and pottery, nearly as tall as he was, were pressed against the wall. Grime covered the floor, like a muddy rainstorm had swept in the night before and left everything with a layer of filth.
Something caught his eye, half obscured by the array of pottery.
"Not really." Rin answered. "But maybe if we were to-"
Shirou inched closer, pulling a pot away from its surface to reveal a half rusted lever.
"No, I don't think that would work. This is the Archdemon's power. It will not be felled easilly."
"So what do you suggest then? Break down the whole tower."
"That is an inspired idea."
"That was sarcasm, Freke."
"Which is not at all limited to just your use lady Toh-"
With a screech of sundered metal the chains shot up, the irresistible weight of the bloated heart pulling it with enough violence to shake the entire tower as link after link rattled free of the overhead axis.
Freke saw the monstrous organ strain, lurching down before falling still, its remaining support just enough to hold it aloft, if only just.
Rin turned her eyes to Shirou, who's hand still rested on the pulled lever.
The redhead shrugged.
Rin opened her mouth, but something caught the very corner of her eye.
With the all encompassing glow of the monstrous chain no longer burning her retina's with its sickly yellow color, her eyesight was once more adjusting to the darkness allowing her to see a little farther.
Also the plethora of colors atop a platform may have helped to catch her attention.
She looked closer. "Is there someone over there?"
Lancer nearly sighed, his red spear in hand as Kotomine turned his flat, dead stare onto him. "No. Not the boy, the girl, their servants, or even the Einzbern girl.
"I have an idea where it might be." The dog of Culann admitted. "I'll have to confirm however."
"Do it and return quickly." The false priest ordered. "We'll have to draw out Tohsakah and the Emiya boy."
Lancer bowed turning and leaving as quickly as he'd come; leaving the false priest to his thoughts.
Unlike most, Kotomine could remember how much trouble an Einzbern, an Emiya and a Tohsakah could be.
The lights from the glowing stones cast an awash of colors over the body in the cage. Sitting, unmoving. Rin was half worried that the person was dead, just held up by the sturdy looking armor.
She leaned in closer, the helm of dark metal having only the barest slit over the eyes, veiled in shadow, she still couldn't tell if the man was alive or dead.
She leaned in a little closer, hearing Shirou and Freke coming up behind her.
She turned to look at them. "I think its dead."
Shirou opened his mouth when his expression contorted into shocked horror, Rin's head swiveled back, only to find a very pointy dagger touching the base of her throat.
"Not so much, no." The voice was a rasp. It sounded like metal. He pulled the dagger back, sheathing it. "You should be more careful little girl. Nothing can be trusted in this place."
She stepped back, her hand at her throat, still feeling the ghost of the daggers kiss as the armored man sat back once more.
"Tohsakah, are you alright?" Shirou asked her, coming closer and looking at her neck before glaring at the man.
Freke held his hand forward, an orb of magelight held out, to try and catch a glimpse of the man behind the helm. "Who are you?"
"Is that really important? I am who I am, and you are who you are. All you need know is that I am on your side. I fight the demons."
"Either you give us your name, or you rot in your cage."
The man stood, his armor scratching against the metal bars around him, the joints creaking, dust-actual dust fell off of him.
"If you must call me something. Then call me Yurt."
"Yurt." Freke breathed, his eyes narrowing. "I know that name. The silent chief. The leader of the black spiders within the shadowlands."
"I am the leader of nothing now. The fog has seen to that."
"Has it spread so far already?"
"Farther now than when I left." Yurt turned his head, looking to the Ivory tower. "You seek to bring down the heart. Smart. But you need to destroy the other chain. It won't be easy."
"What do you mean?" Shirou asked.
"The Demon knows you're coming. He's directing all his strength there, the Gargoyles will circle above. You will be overwhelmed before you can ever reach the Dawn tower from the walkways."
"Let me guess." Rin prodded, glaring at the man that had just recently held a knife to her throat. "You know another way?"
"I do." He looked down. "Through the marsh. Down below. The landscape is twisted, broken. But you can reach the Dawn tower there, rising from below. Destroy the chain before the Gargoyle's ever know you're there." He looked back up to them. "But you'll never make it-"
"Without your help." Freke finished.
"Indeed." One could almost feel the smirk tugging at the armored man's lips. "As I said, I am on your side. I fight the demons. Release me, and I shall aid you against the twins and the Yellow robed Demon up above."
He paused, perhaps in consideration, perhaps just for dramatic effect. "Or would you prefer to try your luck against three dozen flying vermin atop a narrow walkway.
The three looked at eachother.
Moments later, the shattered remnants of the cages lock clattered to the floor.
Yurt stepped out of his prison, languidly stretching his legs as he moved freely for the first time in who knew how long.
The armored man looked to his 'saviours' all but blatantly assessing each as he stared for several moments. Not a lick of armor between the three of them, hardly any weapons either, save for the daggers the girl and old man carried.
Soul art wielders. He determined.
All three of them.
The boy had no weapons at all save for a bow. Is that foolish bravado or skill?
He would find out shortly. "Come then. We've no time to loose." There were demons to be slain for now, the rest could come later.
Unfortunately I come with some bad news. Law school really isn't leaving a great deal of excess time to devote to my stories unfortunately so I can't promise that my update rate will be steady and sure. At least until summer gets here. Its a lot of work and it can't be shelved, so while I do intend to continue my stories, it may be, quite frankly a few months between updates even ones as relatively small as this one.