Disclaimer: I don't own Fate/Zero or anything related to Type-Moon or the Nasuverse in general.
A/N: Here we go, the next chapter. I actually had it completed a while ago, but… the scenes didn't flow right as it jumped from night to day in the middle and it just seemed off to do it like that. After rearranging a couple things and adding a scene or two, it all came out pretty well. Hope you all enjoy.
Questions Without Answers
The young priest didn't respond to his father's harsh tone as he stepped inside the church, standing silently at the entrance after closing the door behind him. He was too deep in his own thoughts about what happened to listen. Kirei's body moved on its own as his mind went over and analyzed the developments of the night.
Honestly, it had been a disaster. Kiritsugu's Servant had been much more formidable than he originally thought, and had killed many of facets of Assassin. Nearly three dozen to be precise. Admittedly, the number would have been lower if it weren't for his own rash actions. That sword-arrow Archer had fired at him had been an exploding bullet, and if it weren't for the Assassins retreating back and shielding him with their bodies, Kirei may have very well lost his life this night.
But it wasn't his near death that concerned him. No, he expected his desired meeting with Emiya Kiritsugu to go much differently than it had. Frustratingly enough, their conversation had left him with more questions than answers. He should've been quicker. He should have been more demanding. Because of his compliance, because he had allowed Kiritsugu to ask his own question and because he had taken time to answer them, Kirei had missed his opportunity. He had been unable to hear the answer he so desperately sought from the man who was like him.
The young priest stopped when his father's voice finally registered, turning towards the older priest with an impassive look on his face.
"Where did you run off to this late at night?" Risei asked, frowning deeply at his son.
"Assassin spotted an intruder drawing close to the church." Kirei replied, tone flat. "I left to take care of it."
"I see." Risei's expression became less stern, but he didn't lose the frown. "Even so, why not allow Assassin to take care of it? Tokiomi-kun asked you to remain hidden in the church. Your Servant should've been enough to take care of any common intruder."
"It was a Master and Servant that had trespassed." Kirei said, stepping past the rows of seats that led up to the church podium. "Kiritsugu Emiya and the Servant Archer."
"Emiya? But I thought the homunculus Assassin saw at the warehouses yesterday night was the Master of Archer." Risei muttered, slightly bewildered. "I suppose Tokiomi was right about the Einzbern getting desperate. To bring an outsider into this conflict and have him bear their Command Seals no less…"
"Kiritsugu Emiya is known by all magi as the Magus Killer. The Einzbern hired him to be the perfect weapon to use against the competitors of this war. They must have thought the Command Seals would be safe with him as well."
"Hm… I see your point." Risei nodded. "Even so, why did you join Assassin in confronting that man? Regardless of his skill he would have been no match for a Servant. Given the number of Assassins even Archer shouldn't have been able to ward them all off. Not only that, but the church ground is a neutral zone in this war. Kiritsugu would not have dared attack this place without reason."
"…The Magus Killer is unpredictable. I decided it would be best if I warded him off before he had time to prepare a trap." Kirei elaborated, defending both the Magus Killer and his own actions. "Even if I was unaware of his intentions, it would've been unwise to leave the man alone."
Risei's stern expression melted into one of concern when his son approached and stood before him. Looking closely, he could tell Kirei's confrontation with the Magus Killer had left more of a mark on him that he apparently thought. There were rips and tears in his clothes, which were filthy and stained with dirt. Risei could see cuts and marks on Kirei's face and hands, and were those burn marks?
"…Tokiomi-kun was quite displeased when he discovered you were absent." Risei informed his son. "Because of your disappearance, we were unable to act during this night."
"…I see." Kirei muttered. He hadn't thought about the consequences of going out on his actions and disobeying Tokiomi's orders to remain at the church. All that had mattered to him was meeting Kiritsugu Emiya.
"Kirei, your duty is to help Tokiomi-kun acquire the Grail. I know it might be frustrating just sitting around and biding time until he calls upon you, but you must understand that all of this is necessary." Risei said firmly. "No one else must be allowed to reach the Grail, and you and your Servant are our only means of fighting this War. You mustn't run off on your own like you did tonight to confront one man. Kiritsugu is a dangerous man. Even if you had your own reasons you've revealed that Assassin is still alive and you've wasted a night confronting a man who you didn't need to. Please see that this doesn't happen again."
Kirei was silent, torn at how he should respond to his father. Obviously the correct response would be to nod and accept the matter for what it was, continue to play his role as Tokiomi's pawn in this War and act when Tokiomi gave him orders to. Still, another part of Kirei felt angry. Odd as it was, he didn't like his father's dismissal of Kiritsugu Emiya and his own obvious interest in him. He was no longer content with sitting and waiting when he own goal was right in front of him. His answers were within reach. Or so he thought. While Kirei didn't like how his father had claimed that this night had been "wasted", Kirei couldn't help but agree with his father's words given he hadn't been able to get any answers from Kiritsugu even when the man had been at his mercy.
Kirei shifted uncomfortably as his thoughts swarmed in his head. He grew more and more confused as he reflected on his conversation with Kiritsugu and the Magus Killer's questions. Did Kiritsugu really…?
Risei gave his son a concerned look as he refocused his attention on him. Kirei seemed to be thinking deeply about something and was troubled by whatever was on his mind. "Are you okay, son?"
"I'm fine." Kirei answered quickly, berating himself for ignoring his father. "I'm aware the error I made and it won't happen again. I'll await my teacher's instructions before moving out again."
"…Alright then." Risei conceded, smiling as he gave Kirei's shoulder a comforting pat. "Why don't you get some rest then? It's late and it looks you ran into a little trouble out there confronting the Magus Killer. I've already put Caren to sleep."
"Thank you." Kirei nodded thankfully and retreated to the backrooms of the church. "Good night, father."
"Good night, Kirei."
Risei watched his son go, worried not because he had not emerged from his confrontation with the Magus Killer unscathed, but because of his obsession with the man. He had seen Kirei reading reports, investigating papers and reading up on the infamous Magus Killer. And tonight he had abandoned his duties and disobeyed Tokiomi's orders because of the Magus Killer's sudden appearance. Risei was concerned because he couldn't understand Kirei's interest in Kiritsugu Emiya.
"…Perhaps I should let Tokiomi-kun know of this." Risei murmured thoughtfully to himself. Kirei's strange fixation on the Magus Killer might interfere with their plans, and that couldn't be allowed to happen…
Inside one of the backrooms Kirei took a moment to put himself at ease, taking a deep breath and letting his body relax. He idly noted the dull pain in his arms and legs and his raised his hand up, gingerly pressing on the tender spots on his face where he had been injured by Archer's attack. His injuries were minor and he could fix himself up easily. He glanced around the room that was only illuminated by the candles on the counters and table. The sound of soft breathing made its way into his ears and Kirei followed the noise until his eyes came upon a small bundle on the couch.
He saw his daughter, sleeping soundly on the couch with a large blanket curled around her.
Kirei approached his sleeping daughter, stopping and staring at his daughter's face as if searching for something, though he wasn't sure what. Tentatively, his hand reached out and brushed away some of the silver locks of hair that covered her face. Caren shifted a little at the action, and even when she mumbled to herself and blearily opened her eyes Kirei did not remove his hand.
"Sorry. Did I wake you?" Kirei asked his daughter softly.
"No…" Caren replied sleepily, trying to lift her head but giving up halfway and planting her cheek against the couch cushion again. "I was waiting up for you…"
Kirei's lips tugged upward in slight amusement at Caren's words. Clearly she had fallen asleep while waiting for him. He suddenly recognized that the blanket she had wrapped around herself was from one of the cots in back and she had probably tugged them off to take with her after his father had apparently sent her to bed.
Gently, Kirei scooped up Caren as she was still in encased in the bundle she had covered herself with. Caren didn't protest or say a word as her father carried her to the bedrooms, instead closing her eyes and falling back asleep halfway through the brief journey. Kirei quickly located the bed with absent sheets and carefully placed her on it, spreading out the blanket she had twisted around herself and fixed the sheets that had been displaced when she had stolen the blanket and tucked her in. He watched her sleep for a moment before taking a seat in a chair that sat near the foot of Caren's bed. Kirei continued to observe her through half-lidded eyes as his thoughts from before came back. His fatigue finally registered as he sat on the chair and his mind was cloudy with dreariness, making it hard to think deeply about the matters that concerned him. As Kirei stared at his sleeping daughter, remembering one question of Kirei's that echoed in his mind.
"You have a daughter… Caren, correct?"
Kirei frowned slightly as he thought of that single, insignificant question. Why had Kiritsugu asked that? His daughter was completely unrelated to the War and to Kiritsugu. So why had the man asked a seemingly irrelevant question as that? What did it matter if he had a daughter?
As much as the question bothered him, Kirei didn't have enough energy to think about it. His mind was scattered due Kiritsugu's confusing questions and hazy due to his fatique. He'd properly analyze the Magus Killer's words and questions tomorrow when he awoke. Kirei's head dipped slightly as his eyes slowly closed.
For now, he'd sleep…
Kiritsugu was lying down on the bed inside one of the many rooms inside the Einzbern castle. Irisviel sat on a cushion chair beside the bed, her hands hovering over his shoulder as she went about properly healing the injury she and quickly patched up in the car. He had removed his jacket and his shirt, allowing the homunculus to heal his arm more easily. Maiya stood near the door, silently watching Irisviel heal Kiritsugu while Archer did the same as he leaned against the wall opposite of her. The glow from Irisviel's hands faded as she stopped working her magecraft, having finished healing Kiritsugu's arm. She smiled at him, placing her hands in her lap as she regarded her husband.
"So? How does it feel?" Irisviel asked.
"All fixed." Kiritsugu replied as he sat up, flexing and stretching his arm as he worked his shoulder experimentally. There was no throbbing pain or soreness at all. It was like he'd never been hurt. He nodded gratefully at his wife. "Thank you."
"Not at all. I was happy to do this for you." Irisviel said happily, content that she had been able to assist the man tonight.
"So, Assassin's alive." Archer suddenly spoke up from where he was positioned. The two humans and homunculus turned their attention to the Heroic Spirit. "And there's more than one. Any thoughts on that, Master?"
Kiritsugu sighed as he thought about the Servant of Kirei Kotomine. It was certainly a troublesome one. Kiritsugu guessed that the only reason so many Assassin could exist was due to the effects of a Noble Phantasm. He wasn't sure of the specifics of the ability and the condition that allowed so many Assassins. Was it a technique that allowed the original to split into numerous other Assassins, or were they all extensions of a true Assassin that hid elsewhere while its other selves did the work for it? Well, the "how" didn't really matter when it had been proven that each Assassin was a solid being and knocking off one or two wouldn't mean the end of the Servant. Archer must've killed over two dozen at least, but who knew how many more there were…
"There has to be a limit to how many Assassins there are. Though they seem to be quite numerous and it wouldn't be practical to search for every one of them…" Kiritsugu said mostly to himself though spoke loud enough for everyone to hear. "What worries me most is that with so many Assassins, Kirei could have eyes all over the city. His Servant could be hiding in every Shadow…"
"Assassin has the capability to attack any Master or Servant any time its Master wishes it to." Maiya put in. "They could be monitoring the other competitors, waiting for their chance to strike."
"…I don't think that will happen." Kiritsugu said thoughtfully after a moment. "Kirei and his Servant haven't made any significant moves in this War. Targets like Kariya and the child, Waver… you'd think they'd be easy to eliminate, and if that were his goal Kirei would have done so by now. However…"
Kiritsugu reached over and plucked a file off of the nightstand by the bed. The file contained reports from his contacts around the city that were keeping an eye on the other Masters. Kiritsugu took out one report and glanced it over before speaking again.
"Based on the information we received in the beginning, we assumed that Kirei was working under the order of Tohsaka Tokiomi, his teacher in magecraft. Tohsaka, despite not being a competitor, sent his wife and daughter away and keeps contact with both Kirei and his father Risei Kotomine, the judge of this War. Today, someone observed the new priest that arrived, Sancraid Phahn, traveling between the church and the Tohsaka manor just around the time night fell and during when I confronted Kirei in the forest." Kiritsugu stated, placing the file back on the nightstand. "This contributes to our suspicions that Tohsaka is working with the church and using Kirei to act in his place during the War. It's why all Kirei has done is observe and hasn't got involved thus far."
"…Yet, he attacked you tonight." Irisviel pointed out. She blinked, surprised when she saw Kiritsugu's lips turn upward slightly.
"…Tonight was an exception." Kiritsugu said, surprising himself with how sure he sounded. "I exchanged words with Kirei Kotomine and engaged him in a brief battle where he deliberately avoided killing me. He seems interested in me for some reason and is assured I know the answer to something he's been asking himself for years. I cannot fathom what, but unless I run into him again or unless Tohsaka order it, I don't think we have to worry about him harming us directly."
"That's different than what you thought of the priest before." Irisviel frowned, still confused by Kiritsugu's sudden change in opinion about Kirei Kotomine. "Didn't you tell me he is the most dangerous out of all the Masters in this War?"
"I still think he's dangerous." Kiritsugu confirmed with a solemn expression. "His combat prowess and abilities make him superhuman. I would prefer to avoid directly fighting him in battle, but…"
Kiritsugu thought back to his conversation with the priest, the odd questions he had asked and the frustrated expression on the man's face when he hadn't answered his questions and instead asked his own. Kiritsugu remembered how uncomfortable his last questions had made the priest, and the strange, confused look Kirei Kotomine had on his face just before Maiya rescued him.
"…He's just another enemy." Kiritsugu said calmly. "A dangerous one, yes, but I don't feel the same fear I used to when I thought of him. Though he is strange…"
"So should we leave Kirei alone then?" Maiya asked.
"…No. We will continue monitoring the church and Tohsaka as well." Kiritsugu said. "With the knowledge that Assassin is still lurking around we should take proper precautions. Put more familiars around the castle and increase the strength of the Bounded Field. It won't stop a Servant from entering, but it should at least buy us time to prepare for an attack and at the very least let us know of any intruders entering the area."
Perhaps it would also be prudent to switch locations. Kiritsugu had hoped to use the Einzbern castle as their base for the entire duration of the War, but if Assassin knew where they were and could monitor them… well, it wouldn't hurt to make preparations at least.
"I'll go out and scout the area." Maiya said, moving for the door. "I'll let you know if I find anything out there."
"Good." Kiritsugu nodded. Maiya nodded back before stepping out the door and shutting it behind her. Kiritsugu shifted as he made a gesture to get up. "I should also-"
"Why not just turn in for the night, Master?"
Kiritsugu frowned at Archer's words, ignoring the Servant as he sat up but paused when he found Irisviel was standing in front of him.
"There's not really anything left to do tonight, is there? Maiya can take care of things and we have Archer too…" Irisviel said with a small smile. "You should rest. You'll have all day tomorrow to plan and prepare so…"
"Just leave the night watch to me. Servants don't really need sleep anyway." Archer smirked. "It wouldn't due if you suddenly collapsed from fatigue after your wife went through all the trouble to heal you."
Kiritsugu gave an annoyed frown at Archer's words, strangely irritated by the smirk on the Servant's face. That smirking expression hadn't faded from the Servant's face after he had unintentionally gave his thanks to Archer after escaping Assassin. The Heroic Spirit had seemingly let his praise go to his head, though why a few words made him so elated was lost to Kiritsugu.
…Still, as much as he disliked depending on the Servant and appearing vulnerable to him it was Irisviel's expression and stance that gave him pause. He noticed she was shuffling her feet slightly and wringing her hands together. Her shoulders were tense and he could see flashes of worry cross her features every couple of seconds.
She was worried for him. It was understandable. He had gotten hurt, and Kirei could have very well killed him tonight. While he hated times where he was inactive, sleep was necessary and he could stand to put off a couple things until tomorrow, if only to help put his wife at ease.
Kiritsugu grimaced slightly to himself. His susceptibility to sentimentalism regarding his wife, especially during this time, still worried him.
"…Fine." Kiritsugu conceded, sitting back down on the bed. "I'll go to sleep once I finish looking over the reports. It shouldn't take too long."
Irisviel let out a small breath she hadn't known she'd been holding and smiled at the man. "Good. You can always save work for tomorrow. I don't think any Servants will attack us this late at night anyway."
"Should I leave you two alone then?"
Kiritsugu and Irisviel both turned towards Archer, both surprised by the Servant's words though the latter was more open in expressing her shock than the former. Kiritsugu quickly composed himself as his face was set in an expression of impassiveness. Irisviel also got over her shock and waved her hands around in the negative.
"No, no…! Archer, we… that's…!" Irisviel stumbled over her words, her flustered expression amusing the Servant as she quickly calmed herself down. "Kiritsugu and I… we don't need to… I…"
The woman stopped, peering up at her husband with an uncertain expression. Archer watched the two, eyes moving over to Kiritsugu as he stared at his wife.
"Kiritsugu…?" Irisviel ventured.
Archer gazed at the man's face intently, looking out for any emotion. He waited to see if that impassive mask would crack again.
"…You shouldn't wait up for me." Kiritsugu suddenly spoke up, his expression unchanging. "Get some sleep, Irisviel. I'd prefer to read over the reports on my own."
It was a flimsy excuse and Archer found himself very dissatisfied by the man's answer, and that dissatisfaction increased when Irisviel's expression changed into one of soft understand and acceptance.
"I'll leave you to it then." The woman smiled warmly at her husband. "Don't stay up all night reading them, okay?"
Archer's eyebrows went up when Irisviel suddenly reached her arms up, gently holding her husband's face and pulling her to him, pressing her lips against his in a tender kiss. It was a brief kiss, and even if Kiritsugu remained unresponsive, Archer found himself smiling at the expression on Irisviel's face after she pulled back.
"Good night, Kiritsugu."
Archer pushed off the wall and headed towards the door, holding it open for Irisviel and allowing her out of the room before following after her. Just before closing the door behind him, Archer heard his Master's voice.
"Good night, Iri…"
Archer sighed a little to himself. Seriously, the way Kiritsugu acted was just…
…Well, no. Remembering the man's words from earlier, Archer reminded himself that the man wasn't completely cold and devoid of emotions. It just took a little prodding to bring them out.
"I'll take a look around too." Archer announced. "I'll relieve Maiya and tell her to get some rest while I watch over the castle."
The Servant stopped when he heard Irisviel call out to him. He turned to face her, giving the woman a disarming smile as she gave him a slightly accusing look.
"That was a little rude."
"Rude? If anything I was being considerate to the two of you." Archer retorted. "I would think as husband and wife you wouldn't mind sleeping together."
"Archer, you…" Irisviel began, but paused and shook her head. She gave the Servant a small smile. "I couldn't forgive myself if I was that selfish. Even if I want to… it would only be painful for Kiritsugu."
"…That doesn't make any sense to me." Archer said, crossing his arms as he frowned. "Are you two really-"
"Kiritsugu loves me. And I love him. I'm certain of that." Irisviel interjected firmly, speaking with absolute certainty. She smiled softly to herself as she continued. "I've shared many happy years together with Kiritsugu. Each moment with him is a moment I'll forever cherish. He's given me more than I ever deserved, and to ask for more when he's bearing such a burden… it would only add to his pain. I can't… I won't ask that from him. I'm fine with it, really. As long as I can lend him support and help him fulfill his dream… I'm happy with that."
Archer stared at the woman, who was smiling warmly as she finished speaking. This person, his father's wife, the stranger who he had gotten to know over the past few days… she was…
"…You're too good for him."
"Pft… hahaha…!" Irisviel laughed at Archer's words, and he could only shake his head in response. "Why would you say something like that? That's my husband you're talking about, Archer!"
"Sorry, sorry." Archer said, rolling his eyes. He gave a small smile as he gazed at her. "You really love him though, huh?"
"With all my heart." Irisviel smiled.
"…I'll make sure to protect him then." Archer said. "I'll fight for Kiritsugu not just because he's my Master, but because he's the man you love."
And because deep down, he wanted the man known as Kiritsugu Emiya to acknowledge the man he had become.
"Thank you." Irisviel smiled gratefully at the Servant. She moved down the hallway towards her room before turning and giving Archer one last smile. "So… I'll see you tomorrow then?"
"Yeah." Archer nodded, returning her smile. "Good night, Iri."
"Good night, Archer."
Berserker roamed the halls of the Matou manor, peering into every room that he could to get a feel for the place. While the lights were kept dim and the place gave had a sort of eerie feel to it, the dank atmosphere that followed him around didn't deter Berserker from his exploration.
"This place is huge…" Berserker whistled as he checked inside a room to find another empty bedroom.
Plus, his wandering around was the only thing that helped him take his mind off his Master and the old creep he had left him with.
Berserker tried hard to ignore his gut instinct to knock the old man's head off when he had confronted him on the street last night. The old creep, Zouken, had claimed to be his Master's family member and asserted that he could help Kariya. Berserker kicked at the floor as he berated himself for his screw up. He knew his Master was sick, and he had left him alone… giving their enemies the perfect opportunity to attack him! He had seen the wound on his Master's back and Berserker knew that it hadn't been those demons that had done in his Master. It had probably been another Servant or Master that stabbed Kariya. If the sick man died from his wounds then that meant Berserker would be out of the War!
"Man, why is my Master so weak?" Berserker whined as he trekked through the halls. How pathetic would it be if he disappeared this early because his Master succumbed to his sickness?
Still, his continued existence proved that old Zouken creep hadn't been lying when he said he could help his Master. Berserker was sure that he'd be gone by now if Zouken hadn't been able to save Kariya. He would've gone to check up on his Master but the old man had forbidden the Servant from entering the room he had dragged his Master into. Berserker recognized the room as the basement he'd been summoned in. He couldn't understand why he wasn't allowed in, and normally Berserker wouldn't have cared about the old creep telling him what to do and would've done what he damn well pleased if it hadn't been for what the man had said.
"I don't care if he dies. You do. If you desire my help, and if you want to stay in this war, you won't enter this room. Is that understood, Servant?"
Berserker would've called the old man's bluff… if he thought it had been a bluff to begin with. The tone and the way the old man had said it, along with the way Zouken had regarded his so called son when he had been in such a state had been…
"…What an ass of a father. I can see why Master didn't want to stay here." Berserker grumbled. Although, he couldn't believe the creep was Kariya's father. The guy looked wrinkly and withered enough to be his Master's great, great, great, great grandfather or something instead.
Berserker was brought out of his thoughts when he spotted something near the end of the hall. He was surprised when he recognized the wandering figure as a child. Beaming a smile, Berserker hurried over to the child.
"Hey there! You lost?"
Sakura stopped when she heard an unfamiliar voice call out to her. She turned her head slowly to see a tall man she'd never seen before jogging towards her. With his golden hair and accessories, he almost seemed to light up the dark halls of the manor. And why was he smiling so happily like that?
"Don't be embarrassed. This place is huge, so I get if you don't know where you are." Berserker smiled at the child who wasn't meeting his eyes. "Or maybe you live here? I admit it's got space, but living in such a dank place isn't-"
"Who are you…?"
Berserker paused when he heard the girl mumble something. He squatted down so he could hear her better. "What was that?"
"Who are you…?" Sakura repeated her question to the strange man. "Why are you here…?"
"Ah, my Master just ran into some trouble and got hurt. We came here so Zouken can fix him up." Berserker replied.
"Kariya-ojisan…?" Sakura whispered quietly to himself.
"Eh? You know my Master?" Berserker grinned. "You another relative of his? Well, you're better than that creepy old man!"
Throughout their conversation, Sakura hadn't once looked up at the man. When he had reached her gaze had gone to the floor, unable to face the bright expression that had shined down on her. But the mention of her dear uncle, about the man who had suffered with her this past year and who had disappeared a couple days ago after saying goodbye caused her to look up.
The face Berserker beheld wiped the smile from his face.
The Servant nearly recoiled at the expression on the small child's face. Berserker was stricken by those hollow eyes and that vacant expression, along with the sheer… emptiness that seemed to encompass the child's entire being. That miserable, unsmiling face didn't belong on someone so young. Berserker felt his insides twist up at the sight, and an irritating throbbing sensation building up behind his eyes…
"Is he hurt…?" Sakura asked quietly. "Did he get hurt…?"
Oh… that voice. Though her tone was flat and monotonous, Berserker could hear the undertones of sadness and misery. At the same time, the question flowed naturally from her lips as if asking such a thing was to be expected. It was as if she anticipated his Master's eventual pain.
"J-Just a little!" Berserker assured the girl, pulling a smile back onto his face. "He'll be up and about in no time. His sickness got the better of him, is all."
"Sickness…?" Sakura wondered. She wasn't aware that her uncle was sick. No… maybe this man was referring to the worms that she knew were tearing her uncle apart from the inside. It's because he-
"Hey, what's your name?"
"Ah…" Sakura's thoughts were derailed by the man's question. "I'm… Sakura…"
"Sakura-chan, huh? That's a pretty name!" Berserker said, struggling to keep smiling. "So, how do you know my Master?"
"He's my uncle."
"Oh, is that right?"
"Mm…" Sakura nodded, turning her gaze back down. "He left a few days ago saying he had an important job to do… and that I probably wouldn't see him again until it's done."
Berserker wondered if this "important job" was the Holy Grail War and Sakura knew about her uncle's participation in it. Thinking about it now, it probably wouldn't do him any good to keep referring to Kariya as his "Master" in front of the girl. The War was meant to be kept a secret after all, and referring to his Master by title instead of name might give the girl wrongs ideas or make her suspicious about-
"Huh?" Berserker's thoughts ceased when the quiet girl suddenly spoke.
"I don't know why, but's he's changed. He doesn't smile much anymore, and he always looks so sad. He must be in pain, yet…" Sakura trailed off. She stared back up at the man before her, and Berserker found himself trapped by those empty eyes and couldn't tear himself away no matter how painful they were to look at. "Why does he suffer? He doesn't have to, right? Why does he choose to suffer for…"
The girl mumbled something at the end there, and as she finished Berserker saw something flicker in her eyes that resembled emotion. Misery, confusion, fear… all negative feelings that quickly disappeared back into those empty eyes that hid all emotion. Sakura glanced around, biting her lip a bit as she tried to find the words before looking back up at Berserker. Even though her face was expressionless, she voiced a question that was pleading and desperate for an answer.
"…Is it my fault?"
Berserker swept forward and suddenly pulled the child into his chest, holding her close. Sakura blinked, not quite sure what to make of what was happening. Why was this stranger embracing her? Who was he anyway? Why was he here? Why was she telling him these things and why would she ask him questions he didn't know the answer to? All these obvious questions suddenly flooded her mind, but Sakura could only think of one thing as the man hugged her.
"I said it's okay." Sakura heard the man reassure her with a trembling voice. "Whatever's happening to your uncle isn't your fault. He's… He's just been a little reckless, is all. I-I've been a little careless. I've been too hard on him, pushing him to get that important job of his done. If anything, it's my fault. I'm sorry."
"…It's okay." Sakura found herself replying. She shifted a little when she felt something wet drip onto her hair. "…Are you crying?"
"Ha… haha… not me." Berserker chuckled, rubbing at his eyes before breaking their embrace but still held the girl by her shoulders. He continued to smile at her. "I promise I'll take care of your uncle, okay? I'm actually helping him out with that job of his."
"Really?" Sakura asked. "Then do you know why he's doing it?"
"I… that's…" Berserker's smile faltered for a moment before his grin returned. "I-It's a secret! Yeah! I can't tell it to you because it's a secret job. It's really important though!"
"C'mon, don't look so sad!" Berserker grinned. "Kids should be laughing and smiling. Why don't you give me a big, golden smile right now? Please? For me?"
Sakura stared at the man for a long time. His bright, smiling face asking her to do the same. After a few moments Sakura turned away from him and began to walk back down the halls.
"Where are you going?"
Sakura stopped at the end of the hall when she heard the man's voice call out to her. She was silent for a moment before answering.
"To my room. Grandfather says I don't have to go back to the bug room tonight so I'm going to sleep."
"Bug room…?" Berserker thought confusedly. What was she talking about…?
Sakura resumed her trek, and Berserker watched her go.
Berserker didn't move from his spot, the girl's dull voice echoing in his ears and the expression on her face burned into his mind. He'd never seen a child so miserable, so empty, so… broken.
"…Who did this?" Berserker whispered to himself as he stood up. "Who took away that child's smile…?"
That feeling in his gut from before was back. That uncomfortable, sick feeling he got last night when that old creep showed up and that throbbing in his head that let him know his Master was in trouble. Berserker took a step backward, his eyes darting around the hall as the walls and ceiling seemed to press down on him. The shadows seemed to grow more sinister and the darkness became more palpable. Something was seriously wrong here…
Berserker took off down the hall, going into spirit form so he could faze through walls and cut his trip in half. Regardless of the consequences that would follow, he needed answers to questions he should've asked a long time ago.
Why was someone as weak as his Master participating in the War and who had taken Sakura's smile away?
The young teenage child, stood beside his mother, warily eyeing the man who had braved the mountain's perils and made it to their home on the peak. He glanced from his mother to the man then to himself, taking note of their differences. He and his mother were dressed in drapes and rags. Common clothes his beloved mother had sewn together so he could maintain some decency whenever her child visited the village at the base of the mountain. This man before them had a sort of regal bearing, his clothes shined and his held himself with such poise and confidence. Not only that, but he gazed at his mother without fear. He was probably the only man who hadn't fled at the sight of the fabled "Mountain Witch" of Mount Ashigara.
The child frowned at the thought of the reaction of the last person who had made it to their home. His mother was beautiful!
"The boy is gifted." The man spoke, his tone warm and strong. "Such strength I've never seen before. I'd heard rumors of a child with golden possessing strength enough wrestle bears, to uplift trees, to even move the mountains themselves! To be honest though, when I traveled to this village and saw this fabled child laughing in the mud and dirt with the other childen, I found myself quite amused."
The man grinned brightly, laughing aloud to himself and the boy found himself smiling in return. The man turned to the boy's mother, getting on his knee and bowing his head to the woman. The boy glanced up at his mother, who was shocked that such an esteemed character would bow his head to her.
"Forgive me for intruding upon your home, Yamauba-dono. When night fell and the boy returned to the forest, I followed him with my retainers. We climbed Ashigara in pursuit of him, watching him climb trees, play with animals and show us his strength was more than a mere fable."
The boy glanced behind the man to see three other people. One was another man about the same age as the man speaking to his mother, looking calm and relaxed as he observed his surroundings. The second man, younger than their leader and the man next to him, couldn't seem to sit still and seemed a little nervous though he was doing his best to hide it. When he caught the child's eyes on him, he gave a hesitant wave which the boy just as hesitantly returned. Lastly was a girl only a couple years old than the boy himself just judging by appearances who wasn't even trying to hide her displeasure and wore an expression that quite blatantly expressed her desire to be anywhere but where they stood.
"I'd like to take the boy as my retainer."
The boy's attention snapped back to the man when he heard his words. His eyes were wide in surprise, and his mother's expression expressed her shock as well.
"I can find use for his strength. I will help teach him to harness and control his power, to use his gift to help others." The man said. "Please, do not mistake this offer for a demand. It is his choice whether or not to place himself under my command. What do you say, boy?"
The boy didn't know what to say. Looking at the man and his retainers, he found himself growing excited. While the mountain was his home and he had fun playing, he had found himself growing bored as the days passed. No longer was there any thrill to his usual activities and the boy felt inspired to travel. To see what wonders the world had to offer. To find new adventures. Deep in his gut he knew that sticking around with these people would yield the type of thrill and adventure he sought.
The boy peered up at the mother. Still, the one thing he knew he would miss was his beloved mother. He knew that she wouldn't be able to come with him, as much as he wanted her to. Seeing her smile every day and having her greet him whenever he made it home… he wouldn't have that if he left. And she would be lonely, wouldn't she?
The woman suddenly smiled down at her child, sensing his attachment and hesitance.
"This mountain isn't a big enough playground for you, is it?" The woman smiled benevolently. "Don't hold yourself back. You are free to use your strength as you please. If you wish to use it to travel and serve this man, I will not stop you.
The boy was touched, and he embraced his mother.
"Just remember, you will always have a home here. And I'll always be here waiting to greet you should you choose to return."
The boy released her, rubbing at his eyes to keep himself from crying. He stepped towards the man, who was grinned broadly at him as he got to his feet.
"I'll take you under my wing then. As my fourth retainer, you shall be given a name. A title, so that all who hear it will know who they are speaking of when they tell others of your deeds."
The boy smiled brightly in anticipation. The man gave the boy his name, his title, and the boy rejoiced.
And that was the start of the boy's journey.
Kariya groaned as he slowly came to, blinking blearily as the strange images he had seen in his mind disappeared.
"Another dream…?" Kariya wondered. Strange as it was, he couldn't help but feel that the dream had been familiar somehow…
Pushing those vague thoughts away for the time being, Kariya sucked in a small breath and twisted his nose in revulsion when the smell of rotting meat invaded his nostrils. He tried to move, but hissed when he felt cold iron scrape against his wrists. He glanced up, noticing his arms were raised above his head and chained to the wall behind him. He glanced around, grimacing when he immediately recognized the murky atmosphere of the hellhole that rested beneath the Matou manor.
Kariya limply hung against the wall as he struggled to remember how he ended up here. He and Berserker had been out last night and ran into… those things attacking those children. He had saved them and Berserker had stayed behind to kill them but some of the monsters had followed after them, then there had been someone… else who had helped him out and got those children to safety. Kariya had tried to bait the monsters and had beaten them, though he had used to much energy and was on the verge of collapsing when…
"Ah… that's right…"
He glanced backwards and tried to get a glance at the stab wound in his back. While he couldn't clearly see the wound, Kariya could feel the pulsing and throbbing near the area of injury as worms shifted and moved underneath the skin working to close the wound. Kariya groaned as his nerves throbbed with a dull pain. He had overtaxed himself, and he was lucky to still be breathing. He glanced around the basement again, shifting uncomfortably when he saw hundreds of worms scuttling around in the darkness. Even after all he'd been subjected to the sight of those things in mass and among the colony still made him nauseous.
How had he even ended up back here? After pushing his body past its limits and getting stabbed by that masked man who had no doubt been another Servant Kariya should've been dead to rights. Yet, he woke up and still drew breath.
"Maybe this is hell…" Kariya muttered to himself.
Had… Had Berserker taken him here? He was surprised that the Servant even remembered where the manor was. And what would bringing him here do? He couldn't imagine that the old worm would be willing to-
Kariya stiffened when he heard a croaking laugh echo from within the darkness. Kariya grit his teeth as he watched Zouken Matou emerge from the shadows. The old worm smiled with missing teeth, his expression mocking and conveying his amusement.
"Back so soon, Kariya? You had been so eager to leave after summoning your Servant and barely two days after your departure I'm forced to drag you back here." Zouken smirked. He shook his head. "Honestly… for you to collapse on the second night. I don't know if I should be disappointed with how quickly you fell or satisfied that you met my expectations so precisely."
"You really are pathetic, Kariya."
"Why did you heal me, old man?" Kariya asked, too exhausted to put any anger in his voice.
"Don't misunderstand. It would be entirely unsatisfying for you to die when the game has only just begun."
"So… this is just for your amusement?"
"I never implied it was anything but. The only reason I patched you up because I want to see you struggle more." Zouken answered, giving the withered man a cruel smile. Kariya's shoulder's slumped at that and he turned away from the old man in disgust. The old worm's lips curled at the sight, finding some hilarity in Kariya's quiet acceptance of his place and what Zouken saw his chances in the War were. Zouken decided to prod the man to see another reaction. "Come now, what happened to all that conviction you had? You won't be able to save Sakura at this rate."
And just like that, the anger was back. Kariya's mind was a red haze as he tried to lunge at the old vampire, crying out in anger and hatred as the chains kept him from getting close to the worm. Zouken watched in amusement as Kariya snarled at him and struggled helplessly against his binds, chuckling slightly at the man's ravings.
"Damn you…! Zouken…!" Kariya cursed, frustrated by his own weakness and horrified that he had forgotten his drive, his reason for fighting this damn war… the promise he made to Sakura…!
"You can do nothing but disappoint me, can you? Even after replenishing your prana you don't show me an ounce of gratitude." Zouken gave a helpless sigh before a sinister smile stretched across his face. Kariya stopped struggling, not liking the way Zouken was looking at him. "I had planned to save this until later, but after seeing you fail so spectacularly… I've decided to bestow upon you the greatest gift I can give."
Kariya's eyes widened when he finally noticed what was slithering by Zouken's feet. Kariya recoiled at the large, pulsing… thing that vaguely resembled one of Zouken's Crest Worms but looked more like a beating heart. It was larger than any of the other worms, hissing and throbbing as it slithered around Zouken's feet. Its appearance was like something out of a nightmare. How had it even gotten that big…?
"This worm was the first to feed on Sakura's purity." Zouken revealed, taking pleasure in Kariya's expression of absolute horror and revulsion. "It's been feeding on the girl for well over a year now and is an excellent source of prana. It should give you quite the boost."
Zouken stepped forward and Kariya stepped back, hitting the wall as he struggled to keep away from the ugly thing on the floor. He… He couldn't and wouldn't use that thing! That grotesque worm that had fed on Sakura's…! He wouldn't…!
"G-Get away…!" Kariya begged desperately.
"Oh…? You would reject this kindness?" Zouken smirked. "Kariya, you've already proven you can't win the War on your own. You don't have the power. This way you can at least put up a good struggle. Now then…"
Zouken's cane came up, striking Kariya in the throat and forcing his mouth open. Kariya's eyes widened as the worm suddenly sprang up. There was nothing he could do.
But the worm never got close to Kariya.
There was a golden flash of light that momentarily banished the darkness and illuminated the hell Kariya was in. The man stood in shock as he stared at the back of the source of light.
The Servant with golden hair kept his hand up, electricity jumping between his fingers and glaring at Zouken whose eyes were wide with shock. Berserker didn't even bother glancing at the scorch mark on the floor, which was all that remained of the parasite that had tried to attack his Master. No, Berserker kept his eyes on the old man… no, the demon in front of him.
"You… Berserker…!" Zouken growled, finally finding his voice and glaring at the Servant that had intervened.
"…What is this?" Berserker growled, tone low and menacing. "What were you trying to do to my Master…?"
"…Kariya. Call off your Servant." Zouken demanded, barely able to contain his own rage.
Frowning deeply at the old man's words, Berserker raised his hand up high and set off a flash of light that lit up the entire basement. Kariya turned away in an effort to shield his eyes and Zouken did the same. Berserker's eyes widened when the light revealed what had been hiding in the shadows. The man took a few steps back, eyes darting all around the basement before coming back to Zouken.
Zouken glared at the Servant, who pointed an accusing finger at him with a wide-eyed expression.
Kariya began to panic when he portions of Berserker's skin began to change color. His arms began to take on a red hue and electricity began jumping off from his body. Hissing screeches followed by wet noises began to echo in Kariya's ears, and he noticed that the worms scuttling to the discharge were being fried by the electricity jumping off of Berserker. He was like a big, red bug zapper. Still, while Kariya would normally be overjoyed at the sight of Zouken's worms getting zapped, Berserker's chanting and hysterical tone was beginning to scare him. Plus, the worms inside his body were reacting to the obvious threat and he could feel their teeth gnawing at him from within his flesh.
"Kariya! Call off Berserker!" Zouken demanded again, stepping back when a large bolt struck too close for comfort.
"Berserker, calm down!" Kariya ordered.
Berserker wasn't listening though. In a frenzy, he kept on repeating that word over and over again, his expression becoming furious and angry as his skin continued to darken.
"Demon…! Demon! DEMON!"
"Berserker! I said calm down!"
"Kariya!" Zouken shouted. The lightning had turned red now.
"Berserker! I said-!"
"DEMON! DEMON! DEMON! DE-!"
"BERSERKER!" Kariya screamed as loud as he could. The worms in his body were more agitated than they had ever been, ripping and tearing him apart from the inside. His eyes shot to his Command Seals, glowing brightly on his right hand. As much as he hated it, he'd have to use another one. "BERSERKER! BY THE POWER OF MY COMMAND SEAL, I ORDER YOU TO-!"
And suddenly, the lightning ceased. The red hue of Berserker's skin receded. Berserker was quiet. Kariya's eyes were wide as he stared at his right hand.
"…Still two." Kariya thought, relieved when neither of the two remaining sigils faded away. But that meant Berserker had calmed down on his own! Why had…
Berserker's deep exhale sounded like a clap of thunder in the darkness of the silent basement. Even the worms seemed to have stopped moving, Kariya's body relaxed when he no longer felt the worms inside him eating at him. Berserker stood in place, staring at Zouken with an unreadable expression. Zouken met the Servant's gaze, though unable to see past the dark sunglasses the Servant wore. Finally, Zouken clicked his tongue in annoyance, barely able to contain his anger and turning away from his pathetic son and his Servant that had proven… more troublesome than anticipated.
"…You really are a disappointment if you can't control your own Servant." Zouken announced as Kariya glared at the old man's back. "I'll overlook your Servant's behavior just this once. Don't abuse my forgiveness, Kariya, unless you want Sakura to pay the consequences."
"Do not expect to lend my aid again after refusing my gift. This is your last chance, Kariya. Without that prana source, do you really expect to win this War?"
"I'll make do." Kariya spat back. Even if his voice was shaky, it had regained some of that former conviction that had been scared away.
"Hmph. I'll be watching you." Zouken declared as he faded into the shadows. His voice echoed in the pit even after he disappeared. "Struggle as hard as you can. Use all your flesh and blood trying to win back her life back…"
The basement was silent again and neither Kariya nor Berserker could hear any worms scuttling around. Kariya realized they had retreated back into the crevices of the walls and floors. They were alone. Kariya gave a shaky breath, relieved that his exchange with the old man had finally concluded.
"Can't believe I didn't notice those things the first time I was here."
Kariya turned his head towards Berserker as he watched his Servant step forward and tear the one of the chains confining him out of the walls with his bare hands. Berserker kept muttering to himself as he moved to tug out the second one.
"Old creep. He's a demon, that's what he is, keeping those things around." Berserker growled to himself as he tore out the second chain. "Smart move, hiding them from me after I was summoned here. I would've fried all of them back then…"
Kariya nodded dumbly, blinking when his Servant gave him an expectant look.
"O-Oh! Right…" Kariya stammered, raising his hands up. Berserker gripped the iron cuffs and tore them off Kariya's wrists. Kariya rubbed his wrists as he shifted uneasily in front of his Servant. "T-Thanks…"
"…Yeah." Berserker nodded, glaring into the darkness and searching for any other demons that might be hiding in the shadows. "Now I really get why you didn't want to stay here. With those things crawling around here…"
Kariya didn't know what to say. His Servant had saved him. Never once did it occur to Kariya that he'd ever be saved. But from within this hell from which there was no escape, Berserker had rescued him. It was…
"There are some things I want to ask you, by the way."
"I want to ask you some things." Berserker repeated. "Is that okay?"
"Y-Yeah." Kariya nodded, surprised as he always was when his Servant was acting civil and mature. Berserker nodded and gestured to the stairs. Kariya made a move to follow his Servant but paused for a moment. "Hey, Berserker…"
"Hm? What is it?"
"Ah…? Didn't you already thank me?" Berserker asked, his face expressing his confusion.
"I know I did. But still… thank you." Kariya smiled.
"…Whatever." Berserker said, turning away. "Hey, you got any spare clothes lying around this big place?"
"…? Why do you ask?"
"I thought it be better if we found you something to wear first." Berserker said, causing Kariya to look down at himself.
It was then that he finally realized he was shirtless.
A/N: There. That should wrap up things for the aftermath of the second night. Now we move onto the third day. I'll fix any errors later.
Hm, Berserker and Kariya's scenes lasted longer than I thought but that's because I moved a lot of them to this chapter. I've actually got a quite a number of scenes for the next chapter written up already, and those should focus mostly on Team Archer, Team Rider (with its new Master, Sola-Ui), and Team Lancer. Give it a chapter or two before the third night starts since most of the action happens at night. In the next chapter events move along and plans are made. It's all a build up, and we've got a ways to go.
Anyway, hope you guys enjoyed the chapter. Any feedback is appreciated, though I ask criticism be kept constructive. Hearing your thoughts and opinions helps make the story better. Have a good one.