Chapter 6: Last Preparations

On the Rooftop of the school

Reality flipped on itself for Shinji as the grating of steel-on-steel filled his ears.

He wanted to believe it was a lie. He wanted to believe, more than anything else, that his best friend wasn't a Magus and had just expressed an interest in the Holy Grail War.

But he had. "Emiya…you're…"

Shirou nodded to the unfinished question. "I'm a Magecraft-user…"

Shinji's faith crumbled at that instant. If the stupidly honest person he trusted more than anyone else besides Sakura had been hiding something this big from him, who else could he trust?

It was funny though. Even though he felt betrayed, there surprisingly wasn't any pain. Only numbness that seemed to spread throughout him as his mind began to re-evaluate every single thing they did, every interaction and every moment they shared, to make sure it wasn't a ploy to get him to reveal something that could be used against him.

The fact that Shirou Emiya, who just stood there, hid behind a mask so well-crafted that Shinji couldn't see through it put the artificial magus on alert. He kept his Mystic Code, an amplifier in the form of a pen that allowed him to use the moisture in the air as a medium, inside his bag and there was plenty of paper to use at the expense of homework. The question was if he was fast enough to access them.

He had no idea what mysteries his opponent had and the sound of steel in his ears told him that prana was already in effect. There was no other choice but to blitzkrieg it, fire all seventeen at once and draw out as much magical energy as he could in an instant and reinforce himself to survive the first two seconds. He nocked the arrow in his mind and prepared to hit the target…

But would such a trigger act fast enough to set off all the Magic Circuits he had?

No, it wouldn't. He needed a stronger image…so he visualized it. His mind, the anchor of his soul and the most important part of his body, replaced the target. If there was anything that could set off all seventeen, it was the mental image of that which he needed the most being driven through by an arrow.

The bowstring was drawn. Tension in the string made it taut. The release converted the potential energy into kinetic. The arrow flew and a flare of white hot pain bloomed as all seventeen awoke from their slumber, flaring to life in preparation for combat.

In response, Shirou showed no hostile reaction. He let out a breath of relief instead, ultimately glad that his educated guess was proven correct…at least as far as he knew. "So, you were the Magus in your family after all. Good. That means that Sakura wouldn't be involved in something like this."

That information passed through Shinji's mind, conclusions drawn rapidly and discarded in succession based on insight. The opponent was unaware of Sakura's status, believing Shinji was the heir to the Matou mysteries. Something was amiss. "You…does the Second Owner know about you?"

Shirou rubbed the back of his head before shaking it, switching his Magic Circuit off now that his point had been made. "She doesn't. Kiritsugu told me not to get involved unless I couldn't remain hidden anymore, so since the war was beginning I was planning on telling her later."

Confusion popped up. Why would an enemy reveal their hand and drop the element of surprise? Recalling his words seconds prior before panic set in, considering the lack of hostility, accounting for past history, Shinji reached one conclusion. Emiya was who he was, the mask his actual personality…

Suddenly Shinji wondered if that was potentially worse than if it had been an act. If Rin didn't know about him before and he told her, before he had a Servant, then she would probably get rid of him to thin out the competition. "How do you even know about the war?"

"Kiritsugu found me in the disaster that happened at the end of the last war," he stated. "He didn't tell me much, and I didn't ask since it was a sore topic, but I thought the war wasn't going to happen for a couple of more decades until Sakura was kidnapped and I went to get her back. I guess whoever it was that kidnapped Sakura had done so to get you to come out, and I thought that Tohsaka had altered her memories and just decided to confront me on it later."

"That was me," Shinji decided to say, taking the situation as it was so that he could potentially salvage it. That meant lying. "I altered Sakura's memories once I killed the Magus, but since your circuits were inactive I couldn't tell you were like me. Most likely the alterations didn't take effect or were worn away or something. "

"Shinji…you killed them?" Shirou asked as his expression became one of discomfort at the thought.

"He kidnapped my sister!" Shinji snarled defensively. "You said you went there to get her, so would you have done anything differently?"

Shirou looked pained at the question, unsure of what to say. All he could do was lick his lips and say, "To be a Magus is to walk with death. Kiritsugu told me that sometimes…sometimes it's necessary if there is no other way. If Caster hadn't disabled me I probably could have done something else or at least would have spared you the burden."

"There wasn't any other way," Shinji told him. "He was going to torture her in front of me until I agreed to work with him. He got what he deserved. Besides, there's a bigger problem now since Caster is running loose without a leash."

Shirou's body tensed at the revelation. "She's still around?"

Shinji nodded. "Somehow. Most likely by feeding on souls…"

Shirou's eyes narrowed at that. Feeding off souls of the innocent was something he couldn't tolerate. "I have to stop her or—"

Shinji cut him off. "How are you going to do that as you are? We're talking about a Servant here. Tell me, how many Magic Circuits do you have? What Magecraft are you competent at? Do you have anything that can stack up against her?"

"Well, I have twenty-seven circuits and I know the basic three Material Transmutation, some runes, and a few other things…"

Shinji might have been jealous of him being born with the luck to have so many circuits if his mind wasn't in its current mode. Instead he just shook his head and berated him. "Think Emiya! Do you honestly think that would be enough against a Servant who wields arts from the Age of the Gods?"

"Age of the Gods?" Shirou repeated, catching the underlying meaning. "Shinji, do you know—"

"What can you do against her?" Shinji demanded, cutting him off. He had to back him into a corner to see if he had anything else that Shinji needed to know about. "How can you beat an enemy like that with just that? You'd be dead in a heartbeat if you don't have something else."

Shirou shuffled on his feet at the claim. "I know that I can't do much on my own, that's why I need to know how to enter the war with a Servant. I can save more innocents and help you, ending the entire thing as soon as possible with as few deaths as possible. Even if I can't enter for some reason, I'll still help without one."

Shinji gritted his teeth behind pursed lips at that and he could have sworn more of his hair had shifted to a pale color. Every instinct and experience with the person in front of him told Shinji that he was being truthful. Does he have no sense of self-preservation?

It was clear that he was going to get himself killed jumping into things without thinking. Even if he was a Magecraft-user, the notes Shinji had said witnesses had to be taken care of. Since trying to wipe his memories would be too difficult, silencing him permanently would be the best option.

Shirou needed a Servant just to stay alive.

But the Servants came to fight for the grail in exchange for a wish and, knowing this idiot, he would tell them he didn't care for it. They wouldn't be willing to surrender the chance to have it and the conflict would allow one of the other Masters to cut him down. If Shinji did nothing, he was sure Shirou would get himself killed.

He supposed he would feel somewhat bad about letting Shirou be sacrificed without being able to do anything, leaving his oldest friend to die for being ill-prepared. But that would take care of one potential Master and put him closer to the grail.

An alliance, on the other hand, provided him with an extra Servant. In addition to another venue of use depending on what he was capable of. Yes, Shinji would pull his strings like a puppet to use him to the fullest before stabbing him in the back…oh, but Sakura still liked him. It would hurt her and take away her happiness if he killed him, so maybe he should keep him alive for Sakura's happiness…

And it was that exact instant that Shinji realized he was acting no better than Zouken and Rin, willing to sacrifice the well-meaning doofus in front of him for his goal after he could get no further use out of him, and promptly shivered in disgust at himself. This wasn't even just any chump off the street, but his best friend to this point. He let his circuits go inactive and pulled himself out of that mindset before he went too far to come back.

"Fine, we'll work together," Shinji stated as he picked up his bag and slung it over his shoulder. "I'll contact you with the details later, but until then don't tell Tohsaka anything in case she decides to cull the competition early…"

Shirou sighed. "I don't think she'd be that bad. She seems to be reasonable, at least at school."

"You don't know her," Shinji told him, also deciding that during their partnership Shirou would never learn of his plans to kill Tohsaka. "You've been squatting on her land for ages without telling her, only to enter into the Holy Grail War. You'd be dead before you knew what hit you."

Then he walked past the other Magecraft-user and down the stairs to make his way home, silent the entire way with a scowl. He was angry at both himself, for falling into the mentality that he was going to kill Tohsaka for, and Shirou. Despite the idiot's vow to help him, Shinji's job just got harder as he now had weigh the life of an eventual competitor to that of Sakura's and her happiness, and actually try to keep him alive through the war so he didn't die from his stupidity.

That anger needed an outlet. And he found one the moment he entered the living room, where Sakura was waiting for him with Zouken standing at the entrance to the corridor that led to the catacombs. The Old Worm's smile as Shinji entered immediately tipped him off to the depths of the man's knowledge of the current situation and gave him the justification to release the rage that filled him. "You bastard."

The sudden snarl in his tone set off Sakura's concern for him. Despite her knowing he loathed Zouken, she also knew that he would never blatantly disrespect him like that out loud. It put her on edge immediately, making her drop her normally impassive mask in the presence of her Grandfather. "Nii-sama? What's wrong?"

Shinji ignored her as he approached Zouken. "You knew all along, didn't you?"

"I only took notice shortly after you became involved with the boy," Zouken stated unashamedly, making no note to hide that he was watching the scene on the rooftop through his familiars. "Once I determined he was utterly clueless to both of your identities and held to secrecy as you did, I saw no need to inform you. His assistance in the kidnapping and his offer this evening are just boons to be exploited."

Shinji snapped. "You miserable, old, disgusting relic! If you had said something earlier—"

Zouken silenced him with a tap of his cane on the floor that sounded like a gunshot in the room. "I never once dictated whom it was you talked to, so why should I have started then? Why should I tell you what you were too unobservant to notice? When have I ever held your hand, boy?

"Know your place," Zouken made clear. The look in his eyes carried weight that spoke of punishment should Shinji continue his tirade. "My tolerance for this teenage bout of disrespect only goes so far now that the time draws near. But you are not the only card I can play for the grail. If offered the same deal that I did for you, I am certain he would be better suited in your place."

This was the worst situation. Now Shinji had to prevent Zouken from using Emiya as a pawn or getting rid of him to deal with whatever Servant he summoned near the end. Not to mention what if he decided to change his mind about the wish at the last minute, for something like World Peace. What would he do then, kill him and take away Sakura's happiness for her freedom?

Sakura approached Shinji, grasping onto his arms as he stood there silently with his gaze cast down, hiding his eyes in the shadow of his hair. The feeling of his muscles tensing so tight that he shook was made worse by the fact that he gritted his teeth so hard they looked like they would crack from the pressure. "Nii-sama, please tell me what's wrong…"

"Tell her boy," Zouken ordered curtly as he left the room for his domain. "Or would you prefer to have her learn as he lay dying once the battle begins?"

"Sakura…" Shinji paused to consider how she would react before he dropped the bombshell. Then he told her, his tone stripped of all emotion. "Emiya wants to enter the Holy Grail War."

Fear and shock crept up her spine at the declaration, the worms inside of her teeming at the mention and the sense of despair entering her. She shook her head slowly as the implications sunk in. "But, that means…"

"He's a Magus," Shinji confirmed. "Or at least he's a Spellcaster, like me, and capable of using Magecraft."

Sakura felt her blood run cold at that. If he was a Magus then he could tell what she was, what was coursing through her body. The one person she was so desperate to hide it from could tell how defiled and unclean she was. "No…not him…"

It was enough to bring her to her knees, just short of breaking, until Shinji spoke as though he read her mind. "He doesn't know about you."

"What do you mean?" she asked carefully, afraid of the hope that those words brought.

"He doesn't know about you," Shinji assured her softly. "He doesn't know you're capable of using Magecraft. He thinks I'm the Matou heir, a natural born Magus rather than an artificial one. He thinks you're in the dark about it because of that and asked me not to get you involved."

Relief briefly filled her, only to be replaced by guilt, shame, and horror that she had placed him realizing what she was over the fact that the man she loved and admired would be facing against the other man she loved and admired as family if he entered the war. It was something the worms inside her seemed to squirm and gurgle in delight at, mocking her for it and reminding her that she was unworthy of either of them and only thought of herself. "Are you and he going to…"

"He proposed an alliance," Shinji explained, gesturing to the couch. "I told him I would think about it. Let's sit down and I'll explain."

So Shinji told her and, in the end, Sakura had left for her room to cry in private at the thought that not only would her brother have to face her sister who abandoned her, but the young man she loved as well. Rin wasn't like them. She was a proper Magus with a Crest and the desire for the grail.

Out of fear she was going to lose everything to her again, Sakura began to lie to herself at that moment and convince herself that Rin wouldn't go that far. She went so far as to touch the ribbon in her hair, the only gift Rin gave her that still remained. It gave her just enough hope that Rin wouldn't kill them both to claim the Holy Grail for the Tohsaka name…just like the man she once called her father sold her to maintain the one heir rule for their family.

If she didn't lie to herself she wouldn't be able to go on, but a small part of her recognized that those lies were just lies, nothing more. It recognized what she truly felt was hatred at Rin, at the knowledge that she didn't know or want to know what she went through, and the knowledge that she was going to take everything away from her again. It recognized that she wanted to kill her, even if she hid it so deep that she herself didn't realize the depths at which the desire dwelled.

But Zouken knew, even from the catacombs that served as his lair. He could feel it and gave a wet chuckle at the dark feelings slowly blossoming in the container that held the form of a human. It was coming to pass, her love and concern giving birth to hatred and despair.

All it would take was the right push now and he had so many buttons he could press.

With Shinji – Some Time Later

January was coming to a close by the time Shinji found himself waiting one of the safe houses he set up in preparation for the upcoming war, a hotel room between the Big Bridge and Station Front, with his sister nervously sitting in a chair set against the wall. Money and Mystic Eyes of Whisper went a long way at securing in a few places to hide out in all over Fuyuki for the duration of the war, just in case making it home wasn't feasible.

At present they were waiting for Fang Yin to arrive of her own volition. As she wasn't stepping foot into the Matou Manor, this was the ideal location for them to meet. It was someplace far away from Zouken's domain and the prying eyes of his familiars.

It was a shame she would not be able to stay longer, Shinji thought, but he reasoned it was for the best. When she called him and they exchanged the times, she expressed that she might have been interested in seeing the Servant being summoned. But she knew once the Old Worm had the catalyst he had no reason to keep her alive nor would she restrain herself in trying to rid the world of him herself, so as soon as they were done she was on the next flight out of the country.

Thus the Matou siblings waited, with Shinji checking the time on his phone impatiently and thinking back to how things had grown so far out of hand. He originally just wanted to kill his Grandfather and set Sakura free. Then killing Rin was added to the list. Now the Holy Grail War, which would give him the opportunity to do so if he didn't get wasted considering just how much of a snafu the last one was.

He clicked his teeth as he recalled some of the key memories from Lord Mello II's point of view, stored on a crystal from the Mineralogy Department from the Clock Tower that could be viewed and passed through the generations. None were more so horrifying than the Cthulhu-ish creature summoned by that war's Caster and his child-murdering Master. That, and witnessing the effects of an Anti-World Noble Phantasm on a Reality Marble.

After witnessing that he was starting to think that he was in over his head. Not that Shinji would admit it out loud. Nor did he have a choice in the matter. He didn't have enough time for another solution to winning Sakura's freedom and dealing with Rin and the Old Worm.

He would have to make do, most likely by targeting the Masters from the shadows while the Servants did battle themselves. Shirou already refused it as a suggestion when Shinji brought up the idea a few times over the course of the last few weeks, but what he didn't know wouldn't hurt him and his distorted priorities. Shinji supposed the argument the last week between them was inevitable in retrospect.

They were both different people at their core, even more so as practitioners of the Art. Even if they both saw their craft as only a tool to be used for their goals, those goals were different from the beginning. Shirou wanted to save everyone while Shinji couldn't care less about those outside his sphere of interests.

It wasn't helped that, to Shinji, Shirou's value as an asset during the war was fairly low. Initially Shinji was hopeful since he did research to learn that Emiya's adoptive father was a dangerous Freelancer known as the Magus Killer. He thought the man would have taught Shirou beyond what he knew, since he was supposedly an expert at taking down Boundary Fields and killing other Magi, but Shinji was quickly disappointed to learn that Shirou was in many ways even more unprepared than he was.

He claimed that he was fluent at Structural Grasping, but that had limited uses during combat so Shinji brushed it aside right off-hand. Out of the Material Transmutation trio he was only decent at using Reinforcement while his skill with Alteration was fairly low. Then there was Gradation Air or Projection.

It was typically a useless spell for combat since it was merely meant to be used if you needed a disposable item for ritual work or as practice for using Magecraft. The projections were too fragile to be used in battle, cost too much to maintain, and the world tried to crush them as long as they existed. It was a completely worthless spell for most users of the Art who transcended beyond the basics, so Shinji couldn't see why he bothered practicing it on those equipment pieces in his dingy workshop.

As for Magic Foundations, Shirou used Runes somewhat but with no real level of proficiency beyond Shinji's Fuwen due to his lack of resources or formal knowledge. On top of that they couldn't tell what his element was with the mediums they had on-hand, meaning it wasn't one of the Western Five elements or the Eastern Five elements. It had to be something unique like Shadow for example. He could help him find out after the war ended provided they both lived...actually should he really be all that concerned with Shirou's survival?

Even now that decision still troubled him. One of the few things Shinji valued to the extent of Sakura was honesty. It was the reason he was drawn to the people he knew, the most honest people he could think of.

It was why he had a thing for Ayako, despite her tomboyish nature. It was the reason why he was friends with Shirou initially. That and because he helped Sakura when they were younger. If the lie was something minor he would probably understand, but this was something big.

When he visited the Archery Club yesterday alone, as he did occasionally, even Ayako could tell something was off between them, with the complications of trying to work in an alliance during the war and the distrust he had for Shirou now driving a wedge between them. Shinji couldn't help but wonder if he would truly ever be able to trust Shirou again …

Driving his thoughts away from the doubt that would hinder him, he checked his phone. The time had incremented again and his impatience grew further and further. He was about ready to try and track his aunt down when there was a knock on the door and a voice followed.

"Brat,"—that voice made it clear who it was right off the bat—"open up!"

"Finally," he muttered as he checked through the peep hole to see his aunt standing there, a long trench coat adorning her and steel-case in her left hand and a long wooden case in her right. She was still smoking, despite the fact that they were in a hotel room on the fifth floor. Unlocking the door he made his displeasure known. "You're late!"

"Well, considering what I held onto as a carry-on for the entire flight, you can imagine that there were some set-backs," she countered, before coming in and fixing her gaze on Sakura. "So, you're the sister I've heard so much about?"

Sakura stood and gave her a courtesy bow of deep gratitude. "Yes, Sakura Matou. I wanted to thank you for looking over my brother during his time on the continent."

"Hmm…" Fang Yin's eyes rose slightly as she pulled the tobacco pipe out of her mouth and let out a steady breath, the grayish wisps of smoke flowing out in tandem. "Nice to see a Matou who isn't rude for once…I guess it's genetic rather than fixed by the family name."

"I'll show you the amount of respect you deserve," Shinji stated at the implied insult, unrepentant. "You're late on so many fronts it's not funny since the war is starting within days. Lancer, Berserker, Caster, and Assassin have all been summoned in accordance to the Old Worm. That leaves only three classes remaining: Rider, Saber, and Archer."

"You're lucky I managed to even get this ready on time," Fang Yin shot back, crossing her arms as she stared down at him. She was still a good head taller than he was. "I'm not going to be here long, so let's get down to business. Strip off your clothes."

Shinji's eyebrows rose at the demand. "Huh?"

"You look worse than before," she clarified. "I need to check on your condition and your clothes are in the way."

"Fine," Shinji scoffed as he reached for the hem of his shirt. "Let's just get this over with."

Sakura did her best to look away as he removed his shirt over his head, but shamefully stole a few furtive glances at her brother's broad back and noted how toned it was from his archery practice. While they were both well-accustomed to one another's bodies, not that either of them were thrilled with the fact that it was a necessity to deal with the carnal impulses welling up inside her, it was nearing the time that she was going to require his affection. It made her feel further shame that she was in the presence of someone Shinji respected, despite him otherwise saying, and left her hoping the woman didn't notice how she was lightly rubbing her thighs against one another and clenching the fabric of her skirt.

She promptly excused herself. "I'll wait outside the door…"

As Sakura left and shut the door behind her, Fang Yin noted an anomaly with Shinji as her eyes examined not only the flesh but the soul and artificial circuits. "Was there an incident recently that put a huge strain on the Circuits inside of you, specifically where they are anchored?"

"Something like that," Shinji confessed. "A Master tried to kidnap Sakura and I think Caster, his Servant, did something near the end or something…worse, came about. It felt like a sledgehammer was hitting there over and over."

Fang Yin followed up with, "Has it been more taxing on you to use your magecraft?"

He nodded. "Only for prolonged use or if I need to expel a lot of prana at once, but since most of the things I do are just quick bursts to trigger effects or stored shenfu, it's not a problem…at the moment anyway."

"You'll need to see someone who specializes in spiritual surgery and won't turn you into a lab rat when the war is over," she told him. "Until then don't push yourself or you'll be lucky if you don't have a stroke. You can get dressed and call in your sister now."

He did so as Fang Yin sat down on the bed and pulled out her tobacco pipe, lighting it. As long as he knew the risks that was enough, since she was never the type to coddle when teaching him. When he was dressed and Sakura was back in the room, she opened the long wooden case and revealed the three things inside it.

The first was a composite bow, made of a stronger material that conducted prana well, and the second was a set of light blue clothing that went well with the night. Both had fuwen characters inscribed on them. "Considering the time frame when you contacted me before I hopped on a flight, I couldn't get anything customized to handle extensive battle. The main advantage they provide is that they allow you to conserve your prana, compared to keeping the effects active on the paper you use as a bow and armor, and are stronger overall."

Shinji paid them little mind. It was a rush job and you got what you paid for. What he did pay mind to was the last of the three things inside the case, the most expensive of them, his sister taking an interest as well as her fingers glided over the elegant shape.

It was a Chinese Magic Mirror, or a Makyoh, the size of a head and made of lead, tin, copper, and prana conductive grains of powdered metal that was melted inside a gas furnace until it was all liquefied. Once ready it was poured into two molds that had been purposed specifically for this mirror, as burnt straw was used to filter out the surface impurities, one to serve as the back plate of the mirror and the other to serve as the mirror itself.

The back of the copper plate of what was to be the mirror side had a design that was akin to a web or circuit pattern trapped inside the symbol of the Taijitu, while the front was scraped smooth and polished over months before a thin layer of nickel was applied to give it its reflective surface. The back plate was larger and held the rimming that was designed to have pointed ends, empty holes uniformly fixed and to be filled with glass spheres containing a fluid to serve as storage for foreign prana. It was then hand-painted, the left half of the mirror ivory white and the right half ebony black.

Fang Yin blew out a small ring of smoke and lifted the mirror as spoke. "It's a Specialized Mystic Code designed to deal with curses. Since mirrors have a long history of use in both Magecraft and myths around the world, none more so than Japan and China, the motif is thus fitting."

Her prana entered the mirror through receiver points and passed through the conduct lines within the mystic code to activate its mystery. It began to defy gravity, a constant stream of magical energy passing through it to keep it aloft as it circled her like a satellite. "To be specific, the mirror's purpose is 'Defense and Retaliation against curses' once activated. Try using a curse on me."

Shinji reached into his pocket and pulled out his previous mystic code, the pen that used the water in the atmosphere as a medium for realizing mysteries. Inscribing the fuwen character of Gu, his prana was molded by the intention and purpose within fuwen as it went into the character. The curse was born and slithered towards her like a black centipede made out of polluted water.

It was a Chinese curse that could be interpreted in many ways, but in this case it was much like the Gandr shot—a curse of illness. The effects of the pen and his element gave it a watery body to physically reach out and curse her. However, whereas the Gandr afflicted the body, it affected the mind to bring forth hallucinations and insanity depending on the amount prana put into place behind it.

However, the mirror moved to protect her and intercepted the curse. The watery centipede collided with the reflective surface of the mirror but, rather than break apart or splatter, it sank into it with ripples flowing outwards like the surface of a pond. The fluid of a smaller glass sphere on the bottom rim darkened slightly, like ink had been dropped into it, while one on the top looked as though a light blue dye had been injected into it.

"Does it work on the theory found in the Fauna of Mirrors myth?" Shinji wondered out loud. The myth held that each mirror led to another realm, but it could be that it was merely a folded space represented by the glass orbs on how much space was left for the curses and prana. Given how much it cost, that wouldn't be a surprise.

"The mirror actively seeks out curses that enter within a certain range of the code-user," Fang Yin explained. "So, when the curse is detected the mirror moves to intercept it and then absorbs it through an efficient method of prana absorption. The mirror has a filtering system, designed to strip the curse of all properties and store them into the smaller designs around the rim. That being said, it allows for a little of the prana and curse properties to meld so it retains its purpose rather than fading away.

"In addition the stored prana and curse can be returned if the code-user wills it. The retaliation comes from the central mirror, where the combination of curses and prana make for a materialized curse with the cumulative effects of everything that was used against it. However, there is a set amount of curses it can take into itself and because it automatically moves to protect its caster within a certain radius, if the number of curses entering the range is too great it may not keep up."

With that said she returned the mirror to its resting place and closed the wooden case. She then opened the metal case to reveal a very long and aged bone within the confines of a soft material to cradle it. "As for this, it is a femur belonging to a horse known as Red Hare. Without a doubt, as long as this catalyst is used during the summoning ritual, you'll summon Lu Bu under the Rider class…

"Be careful," Fang Yin warned him a final time. "Between the war, your health, and a Heroic Spirit like this…with this much riding on your shoulders, the weight of it all may crush you to nothing, Brat."

Shinji shut the case, sealing away the catalyst once more, before glancing over his shoulder at Sakura. "As long as I accomplish my goal it doesn't matter if even my soul is crushed in the end…"

That Night

The witching hour was upon them as the moon hung above the satin night sky of Fuyuki, the date shifting over once to become the thirty-first of the first month. Even though the silvery rays touched down and shone upon the land, the light would not reach the catacombs that stood beneath the manor above. For once it was absent of the despicable worms and corpses that normally resided inside of it, for the sole purpose of calling forth the Ghost Liner that would serve in the war that was to be fought.

It was within the center of the dark and dreary room that a dais stood. On it was the femur of a horse that had long since died. That bone was the catalyst that, with the help of the overlapping sigils etched in Shinji's blood that was gathered over time and soaked in prana, would access the Throne of Heroes and call forth one who earned their place in legends.

"It's time," Zouken declared, his old and ragged voice stern as he looked upon the boy who was a puppet with invisible strings and the thing that could wore the skin of a girl. In his hundreds years of surviving, chasing immortality for a purpose that eluded him by harvesting the flesh of others, there was no greater chance than this of him grasping the grail with his own two hands. While there were anomalies, such as the Witch on the mountain calling forth her own bastardized Servant that wore the name of Assassin like a mask over its nameless identity as a wraith, there was no doubt in the aged Magus' mind that the war was already won.

One way or another. "Begin, the ritual with the altered aria and the grail itself with call forth the summoning. Do not falter and do not speak out of concert until the anointed time. Become the anchor and make solid our sword to cleave a path to the grail."

Shinji stood there, adorned in the cloth that formed his new battle garments and his bow resting on his back, with his right hand outstretched as though reaching for a distant dream. Sakura kneeled to his side, hands clasped and fingers locked together as though she was about to pray. Both had so much riding on this and neither could fail, so they spoke as one.

"Silver and iron serve as the base. The foundation built upon stone by the archduke of contracts and my ancestor, my great master, Schweinorg. The alighted wind is blocked by an impenetrable wall. The gates in the four directions close. Born from within the crown of the ruler, the three-forked road that leads to the kingdom forms."

Crimson light was born, running through the lines that made up the circle and sigils once, twice, and thrice as a wind blew through the enclosed space. White noise reached the ears of the one who stood and the creatures that filled the vessel that kneeled awakened. It had begun.

"Enclose. Enclose. Enclose. Enclose. Enclose. Five times per repetition to fill to the brim and destroy to spill. Shatter the bound time and cross the never-ending distance."

The prana that was laced throughout the sigil was charged, reaching out and beyond time and space to a place that could not be reached through normal means. The path was forged, taking shape as the sound of the gateway coming into existence was one of deafening chimes. Pushing it aside and keeping his concentration, the hallucination of an arrow pierced the skull of the artificial magus and the circuits not of his own flared to life.

The body drew in the prana that permeated the catacombs, already filled through the sacrifice of countless bodies devoured and made food for the familiars that were offered up to cap off the amount held within the confined workshop of the aged one who refused to die. Seventeen acting as one refined it and sent magical energy coursing through channels like magma through a vein of earth, liquid fire melting his body from the inside. The pain was eating him from the inside out, but at the end of the road of that may have been made of hellfire laid the goal he turned to Magecraft to reach and the sound of bells tolling in his ears rang loud.

"—I hereby propose. Thy body shall be under my command and my fate shall be determined by thy sword. In accordance with the call of the Holy Grail, if you abide by this mind and this reason, then answer my summons."

Taking all the magical energy and dumping it into the magic circle that stood before them, the connection was established. The door to the throne that cataloged those who earned their place as legends was now cracked opened to those who sought the grail. From that crack, the catalyst that served as the search term filtered through those countless beings that were once called heroes and narrowed it down to one who slept in waiting for the call.

Closing their eyes as that which should not be seen slowly came into existence, the colorless ether being prepared to give form to that which had none, the two who spoke as one until now spoke as individuals. The girl offered herself as the vessel from which that composed of the fifth element would drink from, the worms flowing throughout her defiled body writhing as they surrendered their power to support a being greater than their host as living prana batteries that etched the Matou mysteries into her flesh.

She bore with it as she always had, continuing with utmost concentration as she spoke. "Yet the burden shall be shared by two entwined, from which the sword will part from the body and be bestowed upon the vassal to sacrifice themselves and cleave through space and time."

Her brother followed suit, his tone rigid and his resolve firm. Bracing his outstretched wrist, he made his pledge. "Mark upon this unworthy flesh the emblem of the sacrifice, the vassal whose death shall bring forth victory through the fields of steel and blood!"

Zouken smiled as the two spoke in perfect unity once more, the raging winds billowing throughout the catacomb as the pair prayed for the path to his victory. "The oath is laid here. We are the ones who represent all the good within the pure lands, and we are the ones who judge what is evil within the pure lands. Thou, Seven Heavens clad in three mere words of unequal power, shall emerge from the spiral of control, O keeper of the balance—!"

The flare that erupted from the circle blinded those with closed eyes as the circle that served as the door was wrenched wide open. The world twisted as magical energy great enough to distort reality surged in as lasso and snared the template, drawing it forth into the material world. Magical energy was drunk deep from the vessel that offered itself, the chalice emptied to fill the template in the way melted steel filled a mold and cooled.

And, at the same time, a blade of poison from a dagger of malice stabbed into the center of Shinji's right hand. He grimaced as, without mercy or hesitation, the formless blade carved into the back of the Matou's right hand and used his blood to etch the intricate design that served as his qualification to enter the war. He had been chosen.

The sound of an inhuman breath from mighty lungs reached the pair's ears and the presence of a being constrained to a physical form daunted over them. Hesitation and anticipation, the juxtaposition so great that it overwhelmed all other feelings, filled the two. Yet grey and purple eyes opened and fixed themselves on the being that stood before them.

There was a large man, adorned in an ancient Chinese general uniform that was red with linings of gold, the torso looking as though it were the face of a dragon with fangs bared. Twin feathers of crimson decorated his short red-hair, peaking from his head and cascading down his back. Slowly opening his war-paint rimmed eyes, pupils of red copper were revealed and held within their sight a furious might.

In his hand was that unmistakable Chinese halberd that could pierce the clouds and cut the heavens, Sky Piercer. Between his legs was the steed colored ashen red, as if dyed the color of pale flames, Red Hare. There was no doubt whom it was that they had summoned, even if they had not known the identity of the Servant before they called him forth.

It was Lu Bu Fengxian, an infamous Chinese general turned Warlord. For the loose definition of a Heroic Spirit, he qualified. His legacy began and ended in treachery and betrayal, but there was no doubt he was one of the greatest warriors of his time.

The mighty steed let loose a breath, an arid heat washing over Shinji and knocking over his hood as he stared not into the gleaming red eyes of the beast, but its rider. Just the same, the Servant cast his gaze down at the frail looking blue-and-white haired boy and the girl who now stood at his side, not a word leaving his mouth. The Servant watched in silence as Shinji held his hand out and gently pushed against Sakura, nudging her to take several steps back just in case something happened.

She spared him a concerned glance, her purple eyes falling upon the mark on his right hand that now held his bow. It was a scar that represented the burdens now on his shoulders. Sakura then took several steps back, slowly leaving him to confront the Servant himself as tension between them mounted.

Then, after a moment of silence, the Flying General raised and swung down Sky Piercer. The ground beneath them ruptured in a spray of concrete dust and a roar of destruction that drowned out Sakura's scream when her brother disappeared in the dirty veil that went up. From within the cloud that obscured her vision, an unfamiliar voice rang out.

"For a moment it seemed like a weak child and feeble woman that had no place on the battlefield stood before Lu Bu," the Servant mused aloud as his steed let loose a snort that blew away the rest of the lingering dust, revealing Shinji standing there with blood trickling down from a cut beneath his eye. A sharp piece of debris that had clipped him. In his hand was the bow, paper arrow nocked and drawn back to where the string was taut as he took aim at the Servant's eye. "But it seems you possess some measure of a spine to stand against the Mightiest Warrior. Do you claim to be my Master, boy?"

Shinji tilted his right hand without faltering on his aim, revealing the command seals on his hand. It was the shape of the blade of the warrior's halberd, overlapping three-fold. He was to be their sword and Shinji was to wield him. "Yes, I do."

To that, what sounded to be a condescending chuckle left from between the Servant's lips. "And you think to lead Lu Bu onto the battlefield with that frail body of yours? To regard a great warrior as the lackey of a lame child?"

The bowstring let out a low hum, as if crying it was ready to be unleashed. "If that is the only place where my wish can be granted, then the battlefield is where I will call my home. For the sake of my wish, I'll walk through a land of steel, bone, and fire barefooted. The only question is whether or not you will ride alongside me as an ally who holds the same goal, facing those who would claim to be the strongest in your place?"

Lu Bu stared at into the eyes that held no lie, his words serving as his belief. The corners of the Servant's mouth rose into a crooked smirk. Then came a tumultuous laugh that echoed throughout the catacomb and the arrogant warrior spoke. "Very well."

He hoisted the halberd of red, gold, and black onto his shoulder and bared teeth with a hungry smile. "Then let us journey to the battlefield, where the blood-soaked earth shall be trampled underfoot of my mount and steel will ring out to the heavens as it clashes, Boy."

Servant Stats: Rider

Spirit: Lu Bu Fengxian

Master: Shinji Matou (Command Seals), Sakura Matou (Prana Supply)

Alignment: Neutral Evil

Strength: B-

Mana: B

Endurance: B+

Luck: C

Agility: C

Noble Phantasm: (A)

Class Skills:

* Riding (B-)

* Magic Resistance (C)

Personal Skills:

* Bravery (B): The ability to negate mental interference such as pressure, confusion and fascination, at this rank Lu Bu does not suffer in skill from sudden engagements or changes within the skirmish.

* Nature of a Rebellious Spirit (B): The temperament to never remain at one location and never embrace a lord, a wandering star that does not have the capacity to be king nor is capable of finding his own king. Negates the effects of Charisma with the same rank.

* Military Tactics (C): The tactical knowledge used not for one-on-one combat situations, but for battles where many are mobilized. At this rank bonus modifiers are provided during use of one's own Anti-Army Noble Phantasm.

Noble Phantasms:

Red Hare: (Anti-Unit) – The loyal steed that served only Lu Bu, a horse without comparison that gallivanted across many battlefields alongside its rider.

God Force: The Five Soldiers of the War God (Anti-Unit, Anti-Army, Anti-Fortress) – Chen Gong saw a war god in Lu Bu's strength and form, and projected on him the image of China's oldest god of war, Chi You, who was said to be the inventor of the war axe, shield, and bow and arrow and held a different weapon in each of his six arms. The result born from this idea was an artificial, multi-mode Noble Phantasm super weapon that had six forms in order to let the many martial techniques of Lu Bu bloom as he pleased. It has three different categorizations of varying strength, and it can be said Lu Bu has the equivalent of six Servants' worth of Noble Phantasms for himself.

* Slash Force (Axe Form) - for heavy damage attacks that nullify or cut through and break all kinds of physical defense.

* Thrust Force (Halberd Form, Sky Piercer) - for heavy damage attacks that can stun on hit, the target being rendered immobile due to spear impalement, and penetrate through a line of enemies.

* Blunt Strike Force (Bracer Form) - for raising his defense by transforming into huge bracers, or using a special defensive technique for blocking and redirecting attacks.

* Sweep Force (Scythe Force) - for sweeping aside a row of enemies.

* Parry Force (Sword Form) - for doing special counterattacks to do damage while deflecting physical attacks

* Cannon Force (Bow Force) - for a large-bore, wave motion cannon-like "Lu Bu beam." The halberd separates into a large bow and arrow that charges and fires at the enemy.