"Soul of the lost withdrawn from its vessel..."
The starlight floor glowed, its runes swirling and twirling across the black backdrop as the glimmers of light danced along its rippling surface.
Freke's body lay there, a white cloth wrapped over his throat, hands laced over his chest, his hood drawn forward.
"Let strength be granted so the world might be mended..."
Shirou looked around, watching the others gathered there...everyone was here. Paying their respects, some in silence, some kneeling in prayer to their god, Umbassa.
The starlight floor glowed, the runes aligning in perfect synchrony.
Then it opened. Like a flower bursting to full bloom, Freke's body was enveloped by starlight. Sinking down into liquid of silver glass before the runes realigned, the light faded, and all that was left was a rippling, empty void of stars.
"So the world might be mended."
And the maiden placed the tip of her staff to the floor at her feet, the runic seals swiveling once, as though locking.
Then it was done.
Sage Freke's soul and body had joined the Nexus.
Soon the others left, each filing out to their respective places. The death was sudden, tragic...but each one of them had already seen far too much of it to grieve for long...if at all. Not even Freke's student...
Shirou sighed, the burning grief smoldering through his chest, the guilt, the self-loathing. He should have woken up sooner...should have been faster...should have done more.
He felt a hand at his shoulder, he turned and couldn't help but smile softly at the concerned face that stared back at him. "I'm alright Saber."
His Servan't nodded. "Come on Shirou...we should go see Rin."
He twisted the towel in his hand draining it of excess ice-water before placing it on Sakura's scorching forehead.
"How's she doin?"
Archer looked back finding Ilya at the doorway, big red eyes staring at the shivering, feverish girl.
"The same." He said before standing.
"And you?" Ilya asked, pointedly. "I can feel your Prana ebbing away. An Archer class has independent action. You're stronger than most Archers but you can't go on indefinitely without a Master."
The Counter Guardian glared at the girl who only smiled back with a sly little smirk. Ilya was dangerous and conniving when she wanted to be.
He pulled the sheets up to Sakura's chin, then turned and began to march out the door, brushing past the woman-child.
"Come on." She scoffed walking after him. "You know you need a new Master! Either she used up her command seals or she's dead."
He stopped walking, visibly aggravated as he turned to look at her.
"Either way." The red eyed girl spread her hands, in a magnanimous gesture. "She can't be your master anymore."
"And then you have not only Berserker but-"
"The only Servant capable of killing him seven times." Her smile got wider, eyes gleaming, almost viciously. "Forgive me for not sounding too broken up at the prospect."
"And after the fighting is done you can order me to kill myself with a command seal...leaving you to hand Berserker his wish. I know where your loyalties lie Ilyasviel von Eisbern."
Her smirk fell away, replaced by puffed cheeks full of indignation. "You think I'd do that? I'd let you fight. If you managed to win then the wish would be yours."
Archer scoffed. Winning against Berserker? Alone? He knew who and what that servant was. And even with that advantage he had little doubt that fight would end in his death. Ilya knew that too.
"Archer." She said, and this time she sounded sincere, not coy, not smug, not predatory...
He looked at her, dead in the eye and she stared right back. "If Sakura doesn't wake up...you need a Master."
He took a deep breath. She was right...he was being stubborn, and only a part of him was hoping to stall long enough for Sakura to wake up. He didn't have long and with her condition as it was she wasn't gonna wake up in time. He'd already pushed much longer than he should have.
"I'll deal with that when I have to." He said once more beginning to walk away from her.
"Fine-whatever." She said, walking after him into the house kitchen. "Now what about what happened to you. Remember anything?"
"I've already told you no." He said reaching for a box of tea leaves. "Its...all fogged...maybe a blurred image or so. But I don't remember much."
"Well whatever happened. I could sense Rin and Shirou-nee on the other side. We were on the right track." She sat down on a kitchen stool, leaning over the table.
Archer placed the kettle over the stove. "Before we go making any more location seals we'd better try hunting for some additional alternatives."
"Like what?" She asked, incredulously.
"I don't know that's why I said we'd better try hunting for them. I've lost my connection to Rin so the only one who could go through with it would be Sakura and the last thing we're doing is putting her through whatever meat-grinder we stepped into again unless we don't have any other choice."
Ilya groaned, rubbing her forehead as though to stave off the anticipatory headache. "Does this mean we've got to start reading again?"
"No. This means you've got to start reading again. I need to head out."
"Head out?" She asked looking up at him. "You have no master."
"True, but I don't like this." He said as he turned his head to look out the kitchen window. "We haven't heard anything. Not on the news, and neither you nor I have sensed anything. We have two masters and one servant here. And nothing has come anywhere near this place for weeks."
"You think someone's gonna get ready to hit us."
"One or more. You say you saw Saber kill Rider and you killed Riders Master. Saber, myself, and your Berserker makes four servants accounted for. That leaves Lancer, Caster and Assassin. All three of which, especially assassin, have me worried."
"Assassin is the weakest of the servants"
"Not for me, I can take care of myself I'm talking about you and Sakura. If assassin discovers this place or already has, soon enough he's gonna get in here to kill you both."
"And if he discovers this place and you leave...He'll kill us both anyway."
"I'll search the place before I leave but I have to at least get out there and look. Otherwise we're stumbling blind here and waiting for them to hit us, on their terms. And you know more than anyone else how bad that can be."
Ilya sighed through her nostrils, leaning back in her chair.
"Mmmmm" Rin all but moaned, as she sat against the wall. "Shirou...if my getting stabbed means I get to have food like this you might be spoiling a girl." Rin praised, for probably the first time ever. But after a week of the Nexus'...cuisine...Shirou's return was everything outside of a flat out godsend to her sense of taste.
"How are you feeling?" The redhead asked, kneeling at her side, Saber was standing just a few feet away.
She nodded, her glibness abating. "Better...I feel bad for Freke." She answered, truthfully. "Kinda hasn't sunk in yet. Do we know...why Yurt..."
"No." Shirou answered. "We have no idea."
Rin nodded, then turned her eyes towards Saber her lips turning upwards in something not quote a gentle smile but not quite a haughty smirk either. "Well look at you. You're looking like your old self again."
"The demons..." The Servant pause, as if trying to search for the right words. "They're fighting eachother...neither wants to be subservient to the other in this body...so they fight...exhausting their strength against eachother. Neither can divert their power to suppress or injure me."
"So...they're still there then? Awake?"
Saber nodded. Her face somber, almost troubled as she touched a hand to her chest. "I...I can almost feel them. Hear them..." Her face turned grim, determined as it always was. "But it won't be an issue. They do not influence me."
"I hope not." Rin said. "Because we're gonna need you."
"Rin." Shirou piped up, ever worried for his servant.
The brunette sat straighter, wincing as pain lanced through her stomach from the barely day old injury. It was enough to shut him up as he moved to help her, letting her happily interrupt."We have three more archdemons to bring down Shirou. Freke's dead, Yurt's dead for whatever good he might have been. And Ostrava and Biorr are hellbent on a two man crusade through Boletaria. Even if we could convince them; we brought down one Archdemon with Saber's help and the last was sheer dumb luck. Four humans, only one of which can use magic aren't strong enough. Saber is the only one that can go toe to toe against them for now."
"I will fight Shirou."
The teenaged Magus turned, looking between both females. "Saber we don't even know if you'll survive the fog, the demons are fine in here but out there, against other demons who knows what could-"
"Its something that we'll have to find out Master."
"Either she goes out there or we stay stuck here and that's not a prospect I'm enjoying given how dismal this place is turning out to be. I miss running water thank you." Rin piped up, backing Saber's statement.
Shirou opened his mouth to argue some more when the soft pitter patter of feet interrupted them.
Turning, the three of them found the maiden, standing between the massive pillars, looking towards them.
"The Monumental, awaits thee above."
She shivered in the cold. The stone was moist; freezing at her back. The cot was paper thin...
And it was more comfortable than anything she'd slept on in ages.
Yuria hugged her arms shivering in miserable cold, the thin, black rags that hung off her body doing nothing to shield her.
She hugged her legs, pulling her knees up, the crown of her head resting on them...
"Oi' lass." Her head snapped up, wide eyed and fearful like a deer caught in the headlights; she turned, her heart all but leaping to her throat to choke off her scream.
It was Biorr, massive and dressed in his simple tunic and trousers. His salt and pepper beard free of the confining helmet. "Lass...are you alright?"
She nodded, her head whipping up and down so fast her hat nearly fell off her head, hair whipping about her face. "I-I'm fine!"
Biorr eyed her. "No you're not." He said. "You're shiverin'-cryin."
The older man ducked out back, out of sight of the pillar that kept her sequestered from the others.
Yuria swallowed, trying to force down the knot in her windpipe.
Then Biorr was back, and Yuria found herself nearly flinching as the older man reached forward, a thick, wool blanket held out.
"Come on lass." He urged, holding out the woolen blanket. "You're safe here."
Yuria hesitated, her fingers trembling as she reached forward, looking at Biorr's gentle features.
"You're safe lass. Its ok."
She grasped the cloth. Pulling it towards her.
"Her name is Mephistopheles."
"Why would this person help Yurt?" Saber asked, staring down at the diminutive form of the Monumental, his body seemed thin, withered and frail beneath the thick cloth of his robes.
"Or why was Yurt helping her?" Rin put in. "We don't know which one of them was the ring leader here." The brunette looked back to the monumental, tearing her eyes away from Saber. "Do you know what they were planning?"
"They wished to slay the Maiden. To what end...I cannot say. But Mephistopheles is powerful in the soul arts. Stronger than Freke. Perhaps stronger than most demons. I cannot sense her, but I know that she resides somewhere close to the nexus. Somewhere beyond the reach of the Fog, for the time being."
"Well that's just great news." Rin groaned.
"We can't leave them alone then."
Saber and Rin both turned to look at Shirou, their eyes asking him to continue and finish the thought.
"Think about it." He said. "If they could get in here, which, this woman might be able to do, then they could attack the Maiden, or any of the others while we're gone. We can't leave them alone."
Rin forwent the groan and simply slapped her forehead. "This just keeps getting better."
"Then someone has to stay and guard them."
Rin brought her head out of her hand; snapping her fingers. "Got it."
"You want us to stay here?"
Rin nodded from her place on the ground. Shirou, Saber, Ostrava, Biorr and the Monumental forming a perfect human circle on the balcony that overlooked the Nexus. To an outsider their picture must have looked strange indeed, surrounded as they were by the pale, petrified corpses of what seemed like children monks.
"You have to. The Nexus is our only safe haven. If this Mephistopheles woman can get back in here and kill the others..."
"But..." Ostrava began, clearly torn. "Boletaria-"
"Is a dead wasteland." Rin scathingly cut in.
"We found a survivor!"
"One, in god knows how many days of searching!"
"There could always be more out-"
"My prince." Surprisingly, it was Biorr that cut in. "We have a duty. We are honor bound to defend those who cannot defend themselves. Our honor demands that we stay and defend those we know we can save. Over those we only might be able to save."
The young prince looked for a moment as though he would argue some more when the fight seemed to drain out of him.
There was a silence between the lot of them. Saber broke it after a moment.
"We have to decide then, what Archdemon we destroy next." The King of Knights passed her eyes over the entire group, finally locking gazes with Shirou last."
The shadow moves in the dark.
"What have you found?" Zouken says, his voice a poisonous whisper, slithering across his room.
"The Servant Lancer patrols the city; The caster remains atop her mountain shrine."
"And the Archer?"
"Still with Masters that are not his own." The shadow replies, tilting his head, almost in curiosity.
"You have not discovered Lancer's Master?"
The shadow shook his head. "That one hides well. The lancer never returns to the same place, and always behind a boundary field..."
"Something is wrong here..." Zouken thought aloud, fingers gripping his cane as he leaned back in his seat.
"Should I slay the Einzbern and the Matou?"
The old crone frowned, a sneer dancing on his features, making them seem all the more grisly as it carved deep lines across the map of his face.
Three servants found, two missing, or dead, one most certainly dead.
Something was not adding up here. And Zouken had already foolishly squandered one servant in this war. He would not squander another until he knew all the facts.
Still...there was one piece on this chessboard he should wished to eliminate...even if he was not technically a Master.
"No...leave them be for now. I have another task for you."
"What is thy bidding then?"
"Find and eliminate Kotomine Kirei."
This chapter is a bit short, the next one will be roughly the same length.
Now as for Zouken. Its arguable that Zouken already knows about Gilgamesh, and Kotomine and Lancer, however, there is little more than purely circumstantial evidence to support this. Sakura knew about Gilgamesh but there was no guarantee she told Zouken about it at all since at no time did Zouken or Shinji make any remark to indicate a knowledge about an all powerful Servant or that Kotomine was a threat. He actually seemed mildly surprised when Kotomine teamed up with Shirou in the Heaven's feel route. So I'm erring on the side of caution here. So he doesn't know about Kotomine being Lancers Master or about Gilgamesh' continued existence.
At any rate, I hope you enjoyed it for what it was worth Soon enough, a lot of "big" things will be happening in both the Fate world and the Souls world. Here's to you all my readers sticking around till then. ;[