"I must say, you have a lot more material than I thought you would." Rin remarked as she moved another box to Shirou's side of the shed.
Shirou shrugged as he began putting thing down on a table. "I never thought I'd have this much either, but I guess things just piled up over the years. Still I'm kind of surprised that I have more than you do."
Rin waved this off. "Oh please, everything you see here I had to buy in the city. My workshop back in London is far more impressive." Of course, she doubted that more than half of it could fit in this shed. Although Shirou's old workshop was technically fine as it had been in the basement, the fire had closed down his building for a few weeks while repairs were done. Given that he wanted his workshop close by to where he lived, Rin had been generous enough to allow him the use of the shed she had ordered constructed, though she had to have it be twice as big as she had originally intended. To the credit of the man who built it, he had managed to deliver fairly quickly, even if it was a little rough around the edges.
She turned and looked at the boxes remaining and frowned, both at the lack of space and privacy. She would have to put up some sort of rice wall to partition the spaces off when everything was sorted. Speaking of which, the boxes of her things and his had ended up haphazardly mixed and some point, making it difficult to tell who's was who's. With a sigh she pick up a box, and quickly determined by how heavy it was that it was not one of hers. With a grunt, she carried it over and set it on Shirou's table. "Just what the hell do you have that needs to be so heavy?"
The man leaned over, and after a moment's pause he flipped open the box. Rin was greeted by the sight of several plastic rectangular objects, though the lines were somewhat curved. There was writing in English on the top of all of them. "Front towards enemy?" Rin said, giving the unfamiliar objects a curious glance.
"Yeah, be careful with those. Those are Claymore mines. I use them for workshop defense." Shirou said before turning back to the books and papers he was unpacking.
Rin paused for a few moments trying to remember where she had heard this before. Her eyes went wide as old history lessons from high school came back to her, about how they were used in wars by the US military and just how dangerous they were. She jump back from the box like they could explode at any moment (because for all she knew they could) and yelled "W-What?! Why the hell do you have a box of explosives with your research?!"
Shirou arched an eyebrow. "Like I said, for workshop defense. I would have thought that you would have appreciated that."
"Why don't you just you magic for protection like a sane person?"
"Well, sure I have some pretty powerful wards I can set up, but given that they're all fire traps, it's not guaranteed to work against everything. Besides, if someone manages to get past my elaborate magical death trap, who's going to expect the Claymore mine after that?"
Rin's brow furrowed. "Then why do you have a whole box of them?"
"Well, after you get past the Claymore mine, who's going to expect the 6 back up Claymore mines?"
Rin just stared at him, the display of logic that could have only could from Shirou filling her with equal sense bafflement and nostalgia. Eventually she fell back on her old standard when dealing with such things: ignore it and move on with her life. "J-just keep those put away for now. I think between the two of us we can manage something that doesn't require such an… extreme back up."
Shirou looked a little crestfallen, but nodded and took the box, moving off to the side to find a good place for it. As he did, Rin leaned over and took a look at the various things scattered over the table. A glance showed there were a wealth of notes and books, as well as a few containers of various materials just lying about. Granted, it wasn't like a magus was expected to protect the things in his workshop beyond the normal defenses, but the man should be more thoughtful since the two of them were in the same shed. She put a small smirk on and glanced over at him. "Just look at all this research just lying around. It would be a shame if some of it just happened to find its way over to my side because you left it out for anyone to find."
Shirou finished setting the mines aside and turned back to her, following her gaze to the things on the table. He frowned and shook his head. "Nah, that wouldn't be much use to you. Most of that is theoretical stuff and notes relating to my Reality Marble. I mean, it might give you some ideas, but there's nothing there that you could actually do or use. The box you want is… this one." He said after looking around for a moment, picking up yet another box off the floor and setting in on the table in front of her. "This should have some of the finer aspects of more traditional fire magecraft. I founded principles and spells so that they could be integrated with my own specific thaumaturgy, but they're general enough that you should be able to derive the gemcraft equivalent with little effort." He said before organizing the things already on the table into neat piles.
Rin look back and forth between Shirou and the treasure trove of magecraft knowledge he had put in front of her, her jaw slack as she tried to figure out what the hell had just happened. She eventually managed to sputter out "D-don't do that!"
"Do what?" He asked in confusion.
"You can't- don't just give me the secrets of your magecraft you idiot! What if I found a weakness and used it against you!?"
Shirou's brow furrowed. "But you would never do that."
"But what if I was some other magus that got ahold of them?!"
"…but you're not another magus. You can't be another magus and Rin Tohsaka at the same time. That's just silly."
"Gah!" Rin shouted as she gripped her hair in frustration. "I swear, you're still as bad at this as you were in high-" she cut herself off when she realized what he was doing, and her suspicion was confirmed when she noticed him trying to hold back his laugher. "You're teasing me, aren't you." She said flatly.
"It's like shooting fish in a barrel." He said helplessly, that irritating grin still plastered on his face.
Rin gave a small huff and pushed the box back towards him. "Well, all that nonsense aside, you still shouldn't joke about that kind of thing. Like it or not, you are a magus, so you can't be so careless with leaving your research lying around."
Shirou gave her an even look before pushing the box back over to her. "Well, all that nonsense aside, I wasn't joking. You should find what's in here useful, just be sure to get it back to me when you're done."
The woman threw up her arms in exasperation. "What did I just say!? You can't possibly tell me that you don't know that if I use you magecraft you would get weaker!" The concept of Fading Mysteries was one of the more unfortunate tenants of magecraft, and was known to even the most novice of magi. To put it simply, the World opposes magic performed by humans and tries to snuff it out. If the same spell was being cast by two people at the same time, then the World would notice and try to surpass that spell even more, thus resulting in the spell being weaker than if only one person had done so.
He shrugged. "Then don't use it the same time I am, and even then it won't reduce my effectiveness by as much as you might think." His expression softened a little as he looked at her. "Besides, even if it did, as long as you're made better for it, I think it would be worth it."
Rin grumbled in frustration and looked away from him, her face turning red for reasons that in no way were because of what he said. This is ridiculous, she thought. I am a magus of a respected and noble house. I should not be this awkward when dealing with other people. Unfortunately, experience over the past few days had told her otherwise, as Shirou still had the ability to put her off balance after all these years. It was made worst by how she still had all of these… feelings she hadn't needed to deal with for some time.
Her thoughts on how to finally confront and end this nonsense were put on hold however, when a particular diagram on the table caught her gaze. "What's this?" she asked as she picked it up off the table. It was a cross section of the human eye, though there were a number of notes scribbled around the edges, as well as some formulacraft she recognized.
"That's, uh, nothing important." Shirou said, now a little nervous. "It's just a little side project I've been working on."
He reached out for it, but Rin held it away from him. "It looks like the necessary steps and spells to create Mystic Eyes." She said, her voice taking on a slight edge.
"Well… yes. You got me. The Church had a good deal of material in its archives about how to make them, so I thought it would be useful if I had some Mystic Eyes of Binding-"
"Shirou," Rin cut him off, her voice now stern. "You're trying to make the Eyes of Flame, aren't you."
"You know as well as I do that's considered to be impossible-"
"And I know you as well as I do that that wouldn't stop you in the slightest." She growled.
Shirou gave an exasperated sigh before saying "Fine! That's what I'm doing! I'm pretty sure I can do it, so I don't know why you're making such a big deal out of it."
"You know you can do it because he had it." She said, leaving no question who she was referring to. "And if it wasn't such a big deal, then you would have just told me the truth from the start."
Shirou grimaced but held her gaze. "I'm not Avenger. The power I would gain from having these would be a huge asset in doing my job. Giving myself these eyes won't make me more like him."
"Maybe not, but that's how it might start." She returned. "He was the end of what you would become if you could have pursued your abilities without limit. Maybe you shouldn't be so keen on becoming any bit more like him."
His voice became a low growl, and Rin could swear she saw a small light in his eyes. "I won't. I'll become something new."
"I like what you've become already!" She snapped. Shirou blinked in confusion at this but she kept going. "Do you have any idea how many little things are different about you since I last saw you? You can hold a conversation without becoming too intense, you can humor people and hold yourself back, you can make a smile that isn't predatory and terrifying! You've become more human than I ever knew you could, and I want you to stay that way, damn it!"
Shirou looked at her with wide eyes, his intensity gone. There was a long silence between the two before he sifted uncomfortably and gave her a sheepish look. "I'm… really more human?"
"And you like it?"
Rin looked off to the side and grumbled, trying to ignore how her face was heating up. "Yes."
Since she was looking away from him, she gave a small yelp in surprise when she felt his arms wrap around her. She glanced up to see him giving her one of those genuine smiles. "Thanks. That means a lot coming from you."
Her grumbling intensified, but she didn't try to break out of his grip. Though she would never admit it, she enjoyed the amount of human contact she'd gotten lately. Well, to be fair a lot of it was actually Sekirei contact, more specifically Musubi. The woman was just so bright and excited and happy it was hard to be mad whenever she ended up latching onto her. Rin couldn't yet say that she returned Musubi's feelings with the same intensity, but she did feel affection for her. Shirou on the other hand…well that was more complicated. It would be ideal if the situation could be dealt with after the nonsense in the city had settled down, but after that…
A silence settled in the shed once more, though now the two were left in their embrace. Rin was steeling herself to finally broach the subject when Shirou suddenly said "I'm not waiting another five years."
"What?" Rin said in surprise as she looked up at him.
"I mean… After this is over, I'm not going to spend another five years waiting to see you again. Letters aren't good enough anymore."
Rin blushed a little, but she didn't refute it. She had been so much happier here than she was back in London. However… "What happens after all this is over? After the Sekirei Plan is ended and all the Apostle things are taken care of. We both have lives in different parts of the world."
"Well, my work always takes me everywhere. When I'm not on active assignment it's usually a given that I'm living somewhere in Japan. Maybe… maybe we could both move back to Fuyuki. I mean, I know our work keeps us busy, but at least then we'll see each other."
Rin paused in thought. She had always considered moving back to her home manor when her reputation in the Clock Tower had been established. It was a little early… but then again she did just acquire a windfall of sorts in the discovery of the Sekirei. If she played her cards right, she could be deemed the head of their research due the discovery, which would both give her a reputation boost and give her a reason to stay in Japan. Eventually, she said "I… would like that." She composed herself a bit more. "Hmp. Well it wouldn't do for a Tohsaka to find herself unable to achieve her desires. I suppose I will have to use my not inconsiderable amount of skill to make this happen."
Shirou gave her that smile again and held her tighter, causing her heart to flutter slightly. She grit her teeth and dove straight in to what she had been avoiding all week. "Shirou, about us-"
There was a sudden beeping noise with caused both of them to jump. Shirou reached for his phone and looked at it before jumping in alarm. "Oh crap, I'm going to be late!"
"Huh?" Rin said, thrown completely off balance.
"I'm meeting with a group of Executors to clear out a nest of Apostles which Merem said he found. Miya is coming too to see if this has to do with the Sekirei disappearances." The man quickly gathered his things and sprinted out the door. "I'll talk to you later!"
"Wait!" She called out, but it was too late. Feeling frustrated and at a loss, she said to the open air. "I hope it rains."
The rain was coming down heavy, and with the added problem of it being after sundown, the world was dark and blurred, the street lamps providing only modest illumination. It was getting somewhat late in spring, so it wasn't as cold and miserable as it could have been. Still, Homura wished that the weather could have been more pleasant for this outing. Then again, what they were doing was far less than pleasant.
"I want Alpha and Beta teams to go in through the west entrance. Gamma and Sigma will go in though the east. Special team will enter from the north with the VIP. I want a standard sweep and lockdown of the outlying area. Preparations for the standard contingency have been put in place." The man in the dark longcoat and hood stood before a group of similarly dressed individuals, their faces indistinct in the gloom and rain. There were about two dozen in total, and all of them had a distinct and dangerous air about them, the rain pouring down on them seemingly beneath their notice.
The lot were standing outside of an abandoned and somewhat decrepit looking sewage plant, located a stone's throw away from the waterfront. Homura was actually surprised that such a structure existed in a city as new as Shin Tokyo, but he had been told it was a relic from when the city had first been constructed. A new one had been built later, but it seemed that no one ever got around to tearing the old one down. He would have thought that land would have been sought after in this city, but this one had fallen through the cracks of bureaucracy. Whatever the case, that rat priest had informed Shirou that he had found a large concentration of those… things here. The Church was now moving to remove them.
"Ara, I do hope that they're not just trying to put on a show for me." Homura turned to look at the so called 'VIP', who was standing a short ways behind him on the sidewalk. Miya had opted to put a large raincoat over her usual outfit, and was holding a large umbrella over her head to keep most of the rain off. It would have looked as if she was simply out on a rainy night if not for the sheathed sword head in her other hand. "Though I appreciate that you consider me important."
Yukia, who was standing next to her with her own umbrella, rolled her eyes at this. "Please, this is hardly a show. Executors take their job seriously and it's important to plan ahead before jumping head first into a nest of undead." She looked off to the side, looking at something down the street. "Well, most Executors anyway."
Following her gaze, Homura saw the shape of a person approaching swiftly though the rain, which turned out to be none other than his own Ashikabi. "Sorry I'm late. I was… preoccupied and lost track of time." He looked mildly surprised when his gaze fell on Homura. "Homura? I didn't know that you were coming along for this one."
The fire Sekirei grumbled slightly. "Well, since this might involve the Sekirei, I figured that I would at least want to confirm it with my own eyes." Indeed, he imagined that Miya was here for the same reason as well. They had both seen what the man in front of them was capable of, as well as that supposed vampire boy, but they needed to see it in a more… real way. Miya was there in her capacity as leader of their kind. Homura… well, it just felt stupid for his Ashikabi to be at the center of all this but not get involved himself.
Shirou grinned at the man's response. "Ah, I knew you had it in you to be a vampire hunter! You're even wearing the outfit my wife made for you."
Homura shifted uncomfortably, though to Nero's credit it wasn't due to the outfit he was wearing. In fact, it was more or less the same thing, save for the cut being altered to suit his larger frame and some straps across the chest. The big difference was in the cloak that fell over his shoulders and the wide-brimmed hat on his head. He had argued with himself on whether or not to wear it, but eventually gave in because… "Well, this is just because it's better than my old one at handling rain."
"Fair enough, fair enough." Shirou said with a wave of his hand before glancing around. "Speaking of which, where is Nero?"
As if summoned, the blonde woman suddenly dropped down into the street, having jumped from the top of one of the nearby lampposts. As she crouched in her landing her outfit pooled around her, which was a strange ensemble of numerous strips of dark blue and black cloth. Some of the strips were wetly pressed against her skin, leaving nothing to the imagination what was beneath them, while the rest dangled loosely. It seemed to be an outfit that was made to accentuate being wet rather than keeping the user dry.
The corner of Shirou's mouth quirked up as his wife walked towards him. "You were waiting to do that weren't you?"
"An entrance is of critical importance, particularly when one is showing new outfits." She replied. "Now, shall we get going? I am not looking forward to being in… that place for an extended amount of time."
Shirou nodded and turned to the man who had been giving orders. The rest of the people had already dispersed, though he seemed to be waiting. "What's the plan?" Shirou asked.
"Standard search and destroy, sir." He replied. "I have teams going in through the secondary entrances while you are going in through the primary. They should catch anything you miss in a pincer. Also, they have been instructed to fall back in the contingency of a Phoenix event."
"Thank you commander, but I doubt that will occur today. Now," Shirou said, cracking his neck. Homura noticed that his Ashikabi had gained a familiar edge, and his stance had become just a little more predatory. "Let's go meet the neighbors, shall we?" And with that he started striding forward.
Miya, Nero and Homura followed after him, walking through the open gates towards the man building, a large squat structure save for several towering containers next to it. Homura looked back at the two humans who remained by the gate, and his unasked question was answered by Nero. "They are to remain there and oversee the operation. I would not worry for their safety. In addition to their own capabilities, Yukia's Sekirei is also watching over them." She said, pointing at a roof across the street.
Homura could barely see that far, but he swore that he saw a small glint from the edge of the roof. A scope of some kind? He shook his head and turned his attention back to the man in front of him. "So, what's a Phoenix event?"
Shioru looked back at him. "It's a little complicated, but the short answer is that I burn the building down."
Once again, Homura managed to convince himself that he didn't want to know and followed him though a pair of double doors that lead into the gloom of the interior building. There was no lighting to be had, of course, so beyond the initial reception area the hallway beyond offered nothing but darkness. Homura shook off some of the water that had collected on him while Miya folded up the umbrella and placed it against the wall near the door. "If it is all the same, I would rather you kept the building intact. I would like to retrieve this umbrella later. "
Shirou looked back at her with a wiry grin. "I can promise nothing." Before turning back and speaking a quick phrase in Latin. Several small but bright streams of fire came into being around him, reminding Homura of when the man had first met Miya. Shirou now shone like a bright torch, and as he walked forward into the darkness the streams trailed out behind him like threads before fading away.
Homura gave a small frown as the group proceeded. "I know that we need light, but is it really the best idea to make ourselves so visible?"
"No matter how hard I would try, I would never be able to use the darkness like those of the Type-Moon." He replied. "To be sure, there are those in the Church that can, but I'm not one of them. I find it best to make myself a target and be prepared for when they attack first." He paused. "Or just burn the whole area to the ground as a first strike, but that's generally frowned on."
There were some sharp cracks that echoed from the darkness, barely audible. It sounded vaguely like gunfire. Shirou's mouth quirked a bit. "And it seems that the other teams have already encountered some undead."
The group walked in silence for a while, wandering down the twisted corridors. They ended up traveling down a flight of stairs to gain access to the basement level, which was no less creepy than the building proper. Homura didn't know how the other's remained so calm when they knew that the building was full zombies. Then again, he supposed that Shirou and Nero were used to this kind of thing and Miya, well, she had certainly never met anything that could challenge her. Even though he knew that he probably wouldn't have any problems taking one, the memory of the one he met in that burning building still played in his head.
They ended up in a room somewhat larger than the others, a number of large boiler-like containers scattered throughout with pipes connecting all of them. Shirou suddenly stopped in the middle of the room, his body retaining that same tension which he had since he walking into the building. Homura was about to ask why, but then he caught it. The whole complex had a stale, dusty scent to it, but it had now changed to something more foul. And it wasn't the stench of old sewage that one would suspect.
It was the stench of rotting flesh.
There was then a series of low growls coming from the darkness around them, and in pairs glowing red lights opened, spread around them in the penumbra. This went on for a few moments, until the growls subsided and all that could be heard was the low his of Shirou's flames.
Shirou grinned. "This is where it gets fun."
At the broken silence the creatures leap forward with a snarl. Homura notice that these ones were more… worn than the one he saw before. They were broken down and missing limbs like true zombies, and didn't really move faster than a normal human. As such, it was easy of him to move in time with his Ashikabi, the two throwing out their hands in an arc and a torrent flame enveloped the charging horde. The sudden burst of illumination showed that more were coming from the broken crevasses and holes that were in the walls of the room. He turned to warn the others, but they were well aware of the situation, Nero having manifested her massive red blade and Miya standing in a ready stance with her hand on the hilt of her sword.
"This… is most upsetting." Miya said as she eyed the decaying masses coming towards her.
Nero stepped in front and took out several with a lazy wide swing. "If you have reservations against fighting these creatures-"
She got no further though, as a few slipped by her in her inattentiveness and went for the landlady. Before the emperor could do anything about it, Miya's arm blurred before returning to its original position. The Dead in front of her broke stride and fell to the ground in neatly bisected pieces. "I meant it is upsetting to see people reduced to this kind of state." She said calmly. "I imagine what we are doing now is a blessing."
The four of them moved in concert, Shirou and Homura lashing out with waves of fire while Miya and Nero used their blades to take out any that strayed too close to them. At first Homura felt a mixture of adrenaline and terror at facing these abominations, but after a minute or so the terror subsided. He didn't let his guard down and the Dead were still horrific… but to be honest they weren't very threatening. They were little more than mindless humans as far as their capabilities were concerned, and while he might have panicked at the large number swarming him in such a tight space, the four of them could handle it without much issue.
Of course, once the last one had fallen and the room was filled with smoldering corpses, they then had to deal with the problem of the smell. "I really cannot stand this part of your occupation." Nero said to her husband, her nose wrinkling in disgust.
Miya glanced around the room before looking at Shirou. "Hmm. If this is the sort of thing which the Church usually deals with, I suppose I will have to take it more seriously. However, given what both you and that… priest have told me, I am actually a little underwhelmed."
Homura thought that Shirou would protest at this but instead the man simply frowned. "Well, to be fair this they were simply Dead, the lowest form of these creatures. I don't get it. Maybe the other teams have encountered them, but I was expecting at least a few Ghouls mixed in." His tone almost in indicated that he was frustrated by the fact that they hadn't run into anything more dangerous.
Homura was about to chastise him for such an attitude when he heard a nose like water rushing through pipes. The group looked around at the various containers and pipes in the room, trying to determine where it came from. The answer appeared to be everywhere, and a number of clangs echoed thought the room, liquid moving through pipes which had held nothing for years. Soon Houmra could see water dripping out of joints, and those drips turned into tight streams as the pressure built.
Shirou seemed to know what was coming, and with a rapid shout in Latin he threw a torrent of fire at the nearest boiler, which simultaneously ruptured and spewed murky water at them. The two waves met with a massive crash and a loud hiss and the water evaporated, but before the two forces could truly push against each other, the water shifted move around to the side, trying to strike at Shirou's flank. Nero appeared in a blur, and she somehow managed to slap away the attack with a massive swing from her sword.
Homura herad another series of pings from behind him, and having a sense of repetition he immediately spun and shouted "Fire Snake!" A large animate serpent of flame sprung from his hands and rose to meet the new blast of water ripping out of another metal shell. The attacks met like the last pair, but this time Homura's attack moved with the water when it tried to shift, the serpentine columns twisting together to gain leverage. It was taking no small amount of concentration to keep it up, which made the man feel dread when he heard the same thing happening several more times.
Miya and Nero helped as best they could, but neither was particularly well equipped to fight back surging walls of water. "This is most vexing, Praetor." Nero remarked. "If we stay here for much longer then the situation will become untenable."
"Water magic is always annoying for me to deal with." Shirou agreed, looking at the water that was starting to enclose the group before briefly looking up at the ceiling. "We're not too far down. I think the main room of the facility is right above us." He looked at his Sekirei. "Homura, can you hold it back for a few seconds?"
Homura grimaced, but nodded. He took a deep breath, and the moment Shirou turned his attention away from the attacking wave, Homura yelled out "Fire Aegis!" He swept his arms out and a circle of fire formed around the group, burning hotter than anything he had managed thus far. He could only keep this up for a few seconds, but for the moment the water could only swirl ineffectively around the barrier. Shirou took this opportunity to jump upwards, and when he reached the low concrete ceiling he thrust his arms up such that his fingers simply buried themselves into the material, leaving him hanging by his arms. As fire erupted from his hands, Homura thought to himself He can't seriously be trying to burn through the concrete.
However, his eyes widened when he saw the flames take on a greyish color and suddenly spread outwards from his hands along the ceiling. Shirou dropped to the ground, a small amount of white powder failing with him. More started to fall as the grey flames increased in intensity, and a definite hole began burning its way through the ceiling.
Technically, he wasn't burning a hole through the concrete in the normal sense. He was simply lighting it on fire.
"Nero!" Shirou called out, and the woman leapt up through the hole and out of sight. There was then a tremendous crash and broken pieces of fiery concrete came tumbling out of the hole. It seemed that Shirou didn't want to spend the extra time waiting for his own work to finish and instead had Nero punch through the rest of the way. Just as the flames around them started to die, Shirou shouted "Move!" And one by one they jumped up after the blonde, Homura being the last one up before the wave converged to crush him. The water spouted after the hole after him, but lost cohesion and fell back to the ground.
The room they had landed in was much larger, about hundred meters across and had a high ceiling that went to the roof if the skylights were any indication. There wasn't a great deal of illumination, but lights from the city managed to filter in through the windows and gloom to allow one to see the room's contents. There were a number of huge basins which Houmra could only assume were used as part of the water sanitation process, and catwalks spanned between the tops of them and along the walls. The sound of dripping water echoed as it leaked in from the outside, gathering into stagnant puddles along the ground.
Homura spent the moment observing his surrounding to make sure they were safe before rounding on his Ashikabi. "Wh-What the hell did you just do?! Concrete isn't capable of combustion!"
Shirou merely smirked. "It's something of a specialty of mine. I can burn anything."
"While I admit that you continue to surprise me Sahashi-kun," Miay said. "At the moment I think we should be more concerned about what just happened. That was clearly an attack of some sort. Is this the work of one of those Ghouls you mentioned?"
He shook his head. "No, Ghouls are physically more impressive than the Dead, but they still lack a mind. You need either a natural talent or a will to work magic like that, and given the circumstances I'm inclined to believe that we're dealing with a-"
Shirou cut himself off as a wet rasp echoed through the room. The group went into guard and looked around, and eventually Homura spied it. He wasn't sure when or how it appeared, but a dozen or so meters away there was a human like shape crouched down in one of the many puddles. Its arms and legs were partly submerged and it seemed to be wearing some kind of grey leather. Ratty black hair covered most of its face, but as it moved its mouth in a heavy pant, he could see it's too sharp teeth.
"…Vampire." Shirou finished as his eyes locked on it, that predatory air returning to him once more. A subtle motion from his hands caused six long blades to extend from fists. "Are you ready for this?"
There was a long silence as tension filled the air. Right up until Nero said "Hmm… no."
Shirou blinked and looked at her. "Wait, what?"
"Fight against someone whose main method of attack is hurling around sewage water? I think not." She said with a dismissive wave. "You can handle this one on your own."
Shirou looked at her flatly for a few moments before he opened his mouth to say something. Unfortunately, whatever he was about to say was lost as he was hit by a pillar of water, sending him tumbling back and crashing into a small stack of rotten wooden palets.
"Shirou!" He called out in panic before rounding on Nero. "You're seriously going to make your husband fight that thing alone?!"
Again the rasping chuckle emanated from around the room, but when Homura looked back, the thing was gone. Still, its voice reached his ear. "From what I've seen, this won't be much of a fight."
His instincts screamed at him and he turned just in time to see the vampire's wet and filthy body rise out of puddle near him, its hand spearing towards his heart. "More a slaughter!"
However, the creature immediately pulled back, just in time to dodge the flaming blade that had been hurled at him. Both looked to see that the pallets which Shirou had landed in were now ablaze, and the man himself was sprinting full tilt towards them. "I am the fire that burns away the dark!" He incanted with glee as he made his mad lunge.
As Shirou's attack drove the creature away, Homura heard Nero speak up behind him. "My husband is perfectly capable of handling a foe of this caliber on his own. In the unlikely event that he should need aid I will not hesitate to deliver it, but for now this is sufficient."
He shot a glare back at her, but the woman simply returned an imperious look. He looked to Miya for help, but the landlady was keeping an eye on the two fighting, her hand on the hilt of her sword, but giving no indication that she intended to join. Homura growled. "It may be 'sufficient' for you, but not for me!" he yelled before turning back and jumping into the fray himself. A Sekirei shares all of their Ashikabi's battles. The idea of one standing aside while their destined one fought was unthinkable.
Shirou danced around the large room, the space allowing him to use all of his agility while he threw numerous of those flaming blades at his opponent. However, the vampire was not only fast, but seemed to have a way of traveling through the pools of water that dotted the floor. Homura wasn't sure if this was just some kind of trick or not, but he decided to be proactive. When the creature dodged another attack it was pulled up short in its escape as a blast of flame from the Sekirei stuck its path, vaporizing the water it had been going for. Its pause allowed Shirou to throw one of his blade's at the creature's feet.
"Displodo!" He called out, and the blade suddenly exploded in a burst of shrapnel and flame, causing the vampire to give an inhuman shriek of pain. However, in spite of the wounds inflicted on it, this only seemed to enrage it, as it then sprung towards Homura at alarming speeds. "You insolent, inferior pigeon! Your entire kind doesn't know what's waiting for them!"
Homura didn't rise to its taunts, mostly as he was far more concerned at how the undead creature was jumping at him with claws bared. "Fire Blade!" he shouted, and a long sword of fire sprung from his forearm, lashing out at the vampire. This was a mistake, as he quickly learned that the vampire was much faster than he was, ducking past the swing and clawing at Homura's chest. The Sekirei was able to jump back, but the claws still slashed across his torso, leaving hot, painful wounds. From then Homura was on the defensive, trying to duck back away from it, but the creature was now focused on him. He also found to his horror that he was close enough to see that the thing was rapidly healing itself, its wounds fading to nothing.
Homura took another few cuts until he managed to duck under a strike and move past the vampire, jumping up against one of the giant vats before springing off onto a catwalk on the wall. He turned to look back just in time for him to roll out of the way, as a split-second later his pursuer crashed into the wall he had just been in front of. Thankfully, at the same time Shirou also landed behind it, the air rippling around him with heat and a fistful of fire in each hand. The vampire briefly paused as he found himself surrounded on both sides, and Homura took the time to raise his Fire Blade before him and said "Looks like all that's waiting for your kind is ash."
The vampire snarled, but did not look afraid, its pasty narrow face twisting in anger. "You have no idea what we are, fool. And your arrogance in unfounded. Do you think I didn't know you would come for me? I chose this battleground." Homura suddenly became aware of a rushing sound beneath his feet, and looked down to see that the catwalks had pipes running underneath them. "Fire will do neither of you any good here!"
The pipes underneath exploded and the torrent of filthy water swept Homura of his feet. He felt the water solidify into tendrils which griped his limbs painful, and one tried to force itself in his face to smoother him. However, he managed to keep his Fire Blade alive and swiped at the tendrils, cutting them off before they could immobile him completely. He staggered to his feet and saw that Shirou was in a similar bind, but he wasn't able to focus on that for long. The vampire spat out some words in a guttural language he didn't know and with a thrust of his arm a massive pillar of water slammed into Homura. It was a steady stream that threatened to push him back, but the Sekirei managed to hold his ground, his Blade held in front of him and slicing the water with a hiss. "Ha! I get hit with things like this all the time, and you're nowhere as good as she is!"
It was hard to see anything in front of him, but Houmra heard more guttural muttering and the pressure increased. Still, he did not yield. He planted one foot ahead of him. "Come on, is that the best you can do? You can't even push back an 'inferior pigeon'!" Homura continued to press forward, inching closer and closer to the vampire. His body ached with the force he was pushing it through, and as he was only a foot away he was worried he would break before he reached his target.
Lucky for him that wasn't his goal.
There was a loud shout from Shirou and Homura instinctively ducked. Before the vampire could understand, a veritable lance of solid flame ripped through its torso, sending its body flying over Homura and crashing into the ground. Homura got to his feet and gave his Ashikabi a nod. With all of that creature's attention on him, he knew that Shirou would be able to sucker punch him from behind. Shirou had delivered, and was now walking towards him with a satisfied smile. "We should do this more oft-"
Suddenly Shirou's eyes suddenly widened and the man grabbed Homura, throwing him behind him just before a tendril of water collided with the deacon's side, sending him tumbling through the air and landing on another catwalk near one of the giant basins. Homura looked and found the vampire pulling itself up, using the arm it had left to grip the railing. It was missing the other side of its torso, but that wasn't slowing it down too much as water filled with filth and blood had formed into yet more tendrils from his side. "I told you, fire will do you no good!" It leapt and landed near Shirou, its water tendrils lancing towards him.
Shirou managed to roll out of the way, causing the attack to plunge into the stagnant water in the basin. As Shirou got to his feet to counterattack though, the water in the basin suddenly rose up and crash over him before pulling him into itself. Homura saw him struggle before another wave carried him beneath the surface. The basin was lit with a reddish glow and steam bubbled to the surface, but as the water churned it was clear that Shirou wasn't coming back up.
The creature laughed, and Homura could see parts of itself rebuild inside its water frame. "And to think that you are one of the Churches best!" It said with a sneer. "Your death will grant me an excellent position in what's to come!"
Wrath built in Homura's chest. No. No he would not let this monster kill Shirou. He got to his feet and immediately jumped up bouncing off the wall and landing on a metal support beam near the ceiling. From here he had a good vantage of his target, and he started to gather all of his strength. It wasn't sure what to call it, his power, his fire, but he call forth more than he ever had before. The wetness on his body dried instantly, as flames sprung into being around him. The intensity was so great that the metal beneath him softened somewhat. The vampire noticed the light, and when he turned and looked up to see he only a few moments to look surprised before Homura cast out his arms.
"GIFT OF PROMETHEUS!"
The resulting blast caused all of the windows in the room to shatter from the pressure wave, and the once dark room exploded in flames. Metal became superheated and cracked as the water in the room evaporated, and any and all organic material burned viscously. The smoke reached Homura, who collapsed on the beam he was standing on out of exhaustion. He had never pushed himself that far before. His eyes scanned the wreaked beneath him, looking for any sign of life.
His eyes narrowed when he saw movement a distance away from where his attack stuck. Crawling out from under an I-beam was the vampire, scored with burns all over his body, but still moving. It looked up at him. "After all that, you missed." It sneered.
Homura smirked back. "Actually, I didn't."
The basin which had held Shriou was a molten slag, but the fire still raged in its center. Then, there was a voice. "From that which endures, this World is purified!" That fire then condensed and moved, pushing aside the soft metal like it was nothing and revealing the immolating form of Shirou, striding towards the now terrified looking vampire. He looked up at Homura…
…who nearly fell of his perch when he saw his Ashikabi's face. He had though he had seen Shirou with a battle crazed look before, but the too wide grin he was getting now disturbed him to his very core. He had never seen… no, wait, he had. It reminded him so much of that night they first meet, when Shirou had gleefully tried to cut him to bits. Homura had thought that he had gotten used to his blood thirsty partner, but he could see from that inhuman fire in his eyes that it wasn't the case. Shirou had been holding back.
And now he wasn't anymore.
He barely heard when Shirou said "Not strictly necessary, but you certainly have helped speed things up a great deal." He glanced around at the devastation. "And to think, they were worried about me burning this trash down." His eyes settled back on the vampire. "I certainly can't have someone outdo me like this."
The vampire panicked, and the rain which had been pouring in from the holes in the roof gathered together into a huge sphere which smashed into the deacon. However, the fire surround Shirou didn't even dim and the water turned into steam before disappearing entirely. Shirou gave a lazy gesture and several more of the fire spears he had used earlier formed from the flames that scattered the room, and when he launched them they exploded on contact.
The vampire was thrown violently, but he didn't make it far before Shirou was on him, and several of his blades lashed out and pinned the creature to the ground. It howled in pain, but while it couldn't move it still was not finished. Shirou titled his head and a dark chuckle came from his lip. "Hehehe, it seems that you've embraced the Water element enough that you can resist the Cremation sigils. Well that's fine." He held his hand out, and the fire wreathing it grew to a white hot intensity. "You wanted to drown me? I think I can return the favor! AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"
The vampire did not die quickly. The torrent of white flame cascaded over its body for a full 30 seconds, all the while it screamed in horror and pain. And all the while Shirou laughed madly.
Homura hoped that he would never have to hear either of those things again.
Homura savored the feeling of the rain pouring over him as he stood outside, watching the fire consume what was left of the plant. Shirou was still in there, making sure that everything was gone. Since the rest of the Church members had quickly regrouped with him after Shirou… did his thing, he was pretty sure that he knew what a Phoenix event was now.
After several minute where he had said nothing, he turned to Nero and asked dryly. "So were you going to jump in before or after Shirou drowned?"
The woman arched an eyebrow. "The thought of assisting him had crossed my mind, but you seemed so intent on dong so yourself I thought it would have been rude to interrupt."
Homura simply grumbled at this and returned his attention to the group of vampire hunters, who were currently talking among themselves. "We encounter moderate resistance before Executor Kotomine took control of the operation, but we suffered no casualties. We eliminated a fair number of Dead, and left clear markers of where needed the most sterilizing before we left. I doubt that any will remain." One said.
"Good." The one Homura recognized as the commander replied. "With the Dead Apostle eliminated that should reduce the threat. However, I don't think this is over just yet. From what I heard of what the Apostle said, it sounded like he was a thrall for a greater power, maybe even an outsider looking for favor. Stay sharp."
"Well, this has been a most exciting evening." Miya said primly. "You lot have certainly shown me a great deal. However, I have yet to see anything relating to the missing Sekirei in area, so I should think if there is nothing else-"
"Wait." The commander said. "As a matter of fact, Alpha team did find something." A few men brought three large, black bags forward and set them on the ground. Curiosity, got the better of him, and Homura walked forward to see what it was. When the bags were unzipped and opened it was clear what they were: body bags.
"We checked their backs, all there are Sekirei." One of the hunters said, but Homua wasn't listening. His eyes were transfixed on bodies in front of him. Each had tearing wounds around the shoulders and neck, but more shockingly each had a messy hole between their breasts, their chest cavities open for all to see. It was then that he realized an obvious, simple, horrible truth.
These Sekirei weren't terminated. They were dead.
The distinction between the two had never been so clear until that moment. Even before his conversation with Tsukiumi, he had never truly considered the terminated as 'gone', just continuing in a lesser sense. Maybe he did believe deep down that they would wake up some day. But these three would never get that chance. They would never get to see their destined ones again. The Sekirei race was now that much lesser than they once were. How could he consider himself a Guardian if-
His breath caught as his eyes settled on one of the faces. One of the hunters noticed and asked. "Sir? Are you alright?"
Homura could only say "Her name was Kaho…" He remembered this one. He had helped her and her Ashikabi fight off some punks and brought the two together. And now she was dead.
He felt like he was going to be sick.
Miya said nothing, though the morose look on her face made it clear how she felt. Yukia on the other hand was more clinical about it, bending down and putting on some gloves to inspect the bodies. Homura felt like he should protest, but he had no words in him and let her do her work. After a minute or so she got back up a frown on her face as she turned to Miya. "After one of you dies, does the.. core in your chest disappear?"
The woman blinked in surprise. "No, it does not. How do you know about that?"
"We have studied a few Sekirei, and found that is one of your defining traits." She gestured back to the bodies. "Given that information, it is clear that their cores have been taken."
"Taken?" Homura said. "Why?"
"I don't know, and that's not all. I can tell from the chest wounds that it was done after they had died. What's more, these three didn't try to defend themselves." She pointed at their necks. "Those are the only wounds on their bodies. We should be seeing self-defense wounds on their limbs, but there's nothing."
"That… does not make sense." Miya finally said. "Every Sekirei is capable of combat to some degree or another. Why wouldn't they fight?"
"I think… that the real question is 'who' wouldn't they fight." Yukai replied softly.
It took Homura a second before it hit him. "No… you can't possibly mean that… their Ashikabi…"
"Were turned into Dead and then tried to feed on their Sekirei." She completed as she shook her head. "I hope that the Sekirei had already perished before the master turned… because there are many unfortunate possibilities that the alternative opens up."
Through his weariness, a rage the likes of which Homura had never known built inside of him. He didn't want to, but he could imagine the horror these three would have felt, seeing your loved one turn into a horrible abomination that then tries to eat you. Not again. He would never again let this happen. As he looked up into the falling rain, he swore that he would never let this filth harm one of his wings again.
He blinked when he thought he saw a flash of white duck back on one of the rooftops, but he figured he must have imagined it.
He felt so fucking tired.