"Ok…" Shirou let out a breath as they walked down the sidewalk in downtown Fuyuki, rifling through the receipts in his hand. "I think that was the last item."
Saber on the other hand let out a huff and crossed her arms. "I do not see why you felt the need to return most of what I acquired. What I obtained was completely necessary. "
Shirou looked at her flatly. "You bought a multi-million yen yacht."
Saber of course was unmoved by this. "And it was necessary! You cannot expect someone of my splendor to accept anything less when it comes to water craft!"
Shirou held back a groan and said "I wasn't expecting you to try purchasing a boat at all." It seemed that once Saber had left to procure medical supplies, she had also done a certain amount of… shopping, though the word seemed far too small to represent the size and quantity of purchases she had made with his credit card. He had only learned of it just after he managed to pull himself together from his last battle. The woman's purchases ranged from clothes, to jewelry, to antique weaponry, to a surprisingly large amount of art work that ranged from renaissance paintings to street artist caricatures. As well as the aforementioned yacht.
He hadn't even been sure that he could have returned a yacht, but apparently it could be done. It just involved a whole lot of yelling and maybe a few threats he wasn't proud of. Still, he had managed to return most of what had been purchased, though he was still going to have to explain the remaining expenses to his superiors. Shirou doubted they would accept the 'the Servant did it' excuse.
For her part, Saber let out a theatrical sigh. "Very well, but I would have thought that you would have been more open to my acquisitions. Why, the culture of the people of this time have embraced this 'consumerism' whole heartedly! And who am I to deny indulging in the customs of my Praetor's nation?"
Shirou took a moment to look around the busy street, having to move out of the way of a hustling shopper. "I guess you have a point…" he said with a small frown on his face. In spite of all the recent incidents throughout the city, it looked like commerce wasn't slowing down at all. The recent demolishing of part of the woods outside the city might be far away and easily ignored, but part of the boardwalk on that side of the river had been destroyed recently as well. And yet, no one he could see seemed concerned about it in the slightest.
If anything the marketplace was even more active than usual. Shoppers were hustling from store to store, and more than a few heated words were exchanged from people bumping into each other. It was… odd to Shirou, or at the very least very un-Japanese. He would expect to see this kind of behavior at an American marketplace, but people here were usually more polite.
As he stared at the crowd and tried to think of more excuses for where all his money went, he picked up movement out of the corner of his eye that caught his attention. As he turned he head to look, he realized it was because it was out of place with the choppy frantic motions of the crowd around it; the person responsible was moving at a much slower and reserved pace.
And Shirou's eyes widened in surprise when he saw who it was. "Sakura!" he called out, and he changed direction to intercept her.
Sakura jumped in surprise and spun to face him. "S-Shirou! What are you doing here?"
The man let out a sigh. "Just… taking care of some unexpected errands. I hadn't expected to run into you." He paused for a moment before he said. "Has… everything been alright with you? I haven't seen you since…" Since the War started, he left unsaid. He didn't expect anything bad would happen to her, but collateral had been surprisingly high ever since it started, and he wanted to be sure.
"Things have been… fine." She said after a moment before she waved it off and changed the subject. "What about you?" She asked, concern entering her tone.
"Great! Mostly. Still getting my footing, but things are looking pretty good." He was about to introduce her to Saber before he noticed that she was not alone. Standing a short ways behind her was Shinji and, oddly enough, a dark haired girl around his age hanging off of his arm. Shirou looked at the pair in curiosity for a moment before he waved. "Hey Shinji."
"Hello, Kotomine-san." He said flatly. He turned to Sakura and said "We don't have time for you to chat. We need to get moving."
Before Sakura, could respond however, the raven haired girl spoke up in a soft voice. "Now Shinji dear, don't scare off your friends like that, especially without introducing us first." She smoothly moved forward to greet him, and her dark eyes locked onto his amber ones. "I am Hitomi Kanota, Shinji's girlfriend. And who might you be?"
"Uh," Shirou said, taken off guard by how… well, pleasant she was being. Most girls were at first nervous by his appearance. He quickly regained his wits though and continued. "I'm Shirou Kotomine, I've been friends with Sakura for years. Shinji a few less than th- wait girlfriend?"
The girl giggle at that and raised her hand to her cheek. "Ah, yes. I know that he may be a little crude on the outside, but he does have some good qualities which won me over."
Shirou slowly looked at Shinji before he looked back at Hitomi. "…Seriously?"
"Hey!" Shinji yelled at him.
"Huh…" Shirou said, not really paying attention to Shinji's indignation. "Well, I guess that conditioning I put you through paid off."
"Fuck you and you bullshit, Kotomine!" The blue haired boy yelled back. "You didn't do shit for me! Besides, I'm doing even better at it than you considering you hang out with a bunch of dumb girls all the time and you still haven't gotten any."
A frown crossed Shirou's face. "On the other hand, you could probably stand to have a little bit more." His fist cocked back and Shinji flinched, but before he could throw the punch Sakura surged forward and grabbed onto his arm. Shirou paused and looked over as her, the girl saying nothing but a pleading expression on her face. After a long moment he lowered his arm and relaxed. "Ah, I guess it's not that big of a deal."
There was a moment of silence before Hitomi let out a soft laugh. "Oh Shinji, I never knew you had such interesting friends." She said. Her eyes then drifted past Shirou. "And just who is this lovely creature?" she said in a smoky tone as she gazed at Saber.
Saber all but preened at the praise, standing straighter with a hand resting on her hip. "I am Contessa Anna Carolina Eugenia Tergolina, an artist hailing from glorious countryside of Italy. I have been invited here on the bequest of the Church to craft them a piece of art reflecting the inner soul of their members!"
Shirou had to stop himself from rolling his eyes. She really was going full tilt with that persona of hers, and was honestly half expecting someone to call her out on how… fantastic it all sounded. However, Saber was playing it for all it was worth, and Hitomi seemed to believe her. "Really? That is so fascinating. What kind of artist are you? Painting? Sculpting?"
"My skill is not limited to one medium, for my grasp of beauty is unparalleled!" Saber said proudly. "I have yet to decide on which I shall use for my assignment. Perhaps I shall use a combination… Yes, of course, I cannot restrict myself to but one form for this task, but shall instead combine several to make something grander than the sum of its parts!"
Shirou was starting to seriously worry that his Servant had forgotten the whole War thing entirely if favor of the fantasy she just made up.
Hitomi just giggled at this, and a strange glint entered her eyes as she said. "Hoh? Well, it seems that you are very talented. Though I have to wonder if acting is among them?"
Shirou frowned a little at the odd question, but Saber practically glowed at that. "Of course! The stage is upon which the highest forms of art can be performed, the bearing of a soul to the world! My skills as a thespian are unmatched!" She said, striking a dramatic pose as she did so.
The other girl was briefly taken aback by this response before she stepped back in. "Such passion! I can see that you have no hesitation in putting yourself on display." Hitomi said as she stepped even closer to Saber and moved around her, her hands reaching out to trace along the Servant's back and arms. She spoke as she pressed in against her back. "And such form as well. I am sure that any performance you give would… spectacular."
Shirou tilted his head to the side at this interaction. Saber didn't seem to mind the other girl touching her at all, but it struck him as odd to say the least. He cast a glance at Shinji and Sakura, and found the two to be watching intently and blushing respectively at the scene before them. He turned back to look at the dark haired girl and found her looking back at him. The two gazed at each other for a long moment before she seemed to realize something and her eyes widened marginally.
Before he could ask about this though, Hitomi smoothly steeped away from his Servant. "It was wonderful to meet you, Contessa-san. However, I am afraid that Shinji is correct in that we have errands of our own to run. Maintaining an estate is some work after all. However, I do hope to see you again soon."
Saber finally broke her pose and nodded. "Indeed. It is always a pleasure to meet someone who can appreciate beauty."
Hitomi nodded back and she turned to leave, Shinji following behind her. Sakura looked a Shirou for a long moment before she too turned after them. For his part, Shirou couldn't help but feel that something had been… off about that whole encounter.
"So…" Saber drew out as she watched their departing forms. "What is next?"
Shirou dismissed his thoughts. "At the moment, I have a lead I want to look into." He replied as he looked back at her. "I spent some time this morning contacting some people I know to find out what I missed while I was out. They're an organization that one of my other friends is a part of, and they're pretty good at keeping an eye on the state of the city."
"Oh, just who are these individuals?" The woman asked with an arched eyebrow.
"It's… a little complicated, but let's call them business men for now." Shirou said with a wave of his hand. He didn't really want to have to explain the Yakuza to woman, lest she might find a reason to object. While he knew that Taiga's family was technical made up of criminals, the things they got up to were relatively tame compared to the horror shows he had seen in his line of work. And Old Man Raiga always made sure to stamp down on anything out of line in his territory. "Anyway, one of them told me that the boss has been having some dealings with a shady foreign woman behind closed doors lately. More than that, several of them were recently killed in one of their safe houses. Word is the place looked like a charnel house."
"I see." Saber said after a moment. "You think this could be the work of an enemy Servant?"
"Well that sort of thing doesn't happen very often, at the least. And considering I'm in fairly good graces with these people they're likely to help us if we look into for them." He bared his teeth. "And even if I'm wrong, this is my home town. I'm not going to some psycho wander around butchering people just because I have other things to do."
The blonde was silent for a moment before she nodded. "Your reasoning is sound. We cannot abandon the masses to such a fate. Lead on."
"Graaah!" Shinji yelled as he kicked a box clear across the alleyway, rage clear in his voice. "I hate that bastard so fucking much!"
"Shinji…" Sakura started to say before he cut her off.
"And do you know what the worst part is?!" he shouted as his anger focused on her. "He doesn't even really care about me! All of the beatings, the putting me in my place is just a chore for him! Which he does because of you!"
Before this went any further, Assassin intervened and got Shinji's attention with a touch to his arm. "Now, don't let him get under your skin. Soon enough you'll be able to prove to him which is the better man."
"You're damn right I will! I gonna-" The boy paused and cut himself off, looking at the Servant in curiosity. "Wait, what makes you say that?"
I guess he's a bit more intelligent than he looks. Just a little, Assassin thought before she said "Because that woman with him was a Servant."
Shinji looked surprised for a moment before it settled back into a scowl. "Tch. Typical. I should have figured he would become a Master." He said, a hint of bitterness in his tone. "He thinks he can one up me even in this War. Well, we're going to prove him wrong, aren't we?"
"Indeed we are." Assassin said with a smile, her mind already going through plans of how she would eliminate them. She had considered using a slow acting poison on the master while he wasn't looking, but she had decided against it. While she was certain she could have done it without him noticing, she was less certain about the Servant. And that said, she didn't know enough about said Servant to know if the blonde could somehow counter it or simply persist long enough after his passing to be a problem for her.
Thus, information of the Servant's identity and class were required, but from their interactions she already had some good ideas. "From the movements of her body and tone of her muscle, I would wager that the Servant is a warrior, one that fights in melee." She mused out loud. "I am not willing to discount Rider just yet, but I am positive that she is not Caster or Archer. Or Berserker, obviously. This must be handled with care, especially if she happens to be Saber."
Shinji didn't look to happy about that, but he said "Well, do you have any idea who she is then? Her identity?"
"Not as such." She said. "She… wasn't what I was expecting. But while her given identity is of course a lie, I don't think she was putting on much of a mask. That was her true personality, and her love of art is genuine. That alone should help narrow things down. At which point it should be a fairly simple matter to have them eliminated."
"Ah," Sakura suddenly spoke up, her tone hesitant. "But, you only really have to kill the Servant right? Shirou doesn't have to die."
Anger twisted on Shinji's face at that, but before he could say anything Assassin moved her hand to his shoulder and spoke up. "Technically, but that is ill advised, as a Master could find a new Servant if the circumstances are right. Perhaps… I could incapacitate him instead; keep him out of the way until things are done."
Sakura wilted a little and nodded, and Assassin couldn't help but feel bad for the girl. The Servant had only just met him and she could already tell that her Summoner was hopelessly in love with the boy. Normally Assassin would have fun in instructing her in the proper way to capture his attention, but him being a Master complicated that. However, that was not the true problem.
The boy was a nascent Mystic, a person bonded to an aspect so thoroughly that he had become one with it. Even just being near him she could feel the Fire that wove itself through his being. While it was amazing to see in one so young (if not fully realized), his personality could not be close to a normal human's as close as he was to his aspect. Sakura's love would likely be unrequited, simply because he would not understand it.
Assassin ponder for a moment how to make her Summoner understand this, or to simply make the problem go away, when she glanced over at the oaf that called himself her Master. She watched his hands clench and unclench, the barely contained feelings of anger and inferiority, how he hated Shirou for how little he was compared to-
Assassin blinked as a though occurred to her, and she had to force herself to keep a wicked smile from forming on her face. Yes, I think I can work with this, she thought to herself before she said "Sakura, there are a few bits of planning I have to go over with Shinji, which you'll no doubt find boring. Go pick out something nice from that store over there, I'll be with you shortly."
Sakura didn't look happy at being dismissed like that, but she did as she was told. Assassin felt a twinge of guilt at that, but she resolved to make it up to the girl later. For the moment, she pulled the Shinji aside and gave him an even stare. "I take it that you would like to see this Kotomine boy put down, correct?"
"Of course, dumbass! That's what I've been saying this whole time!" He yelled back. "Even if you're too weak to take down his Servant, you should be able to kill him without a problem!"
"This is true," she remarked. "But I was thinking… your animosity for him is such that I am hesitant to take such a kill away from you. After all, wouldn't it be far sweeter if you were the one to end him yourself."
"Are you out of your mind?!" he said. "That asshole hunts monsters for a living! I wouldn't stand a chance against him!"
"As you are now, quite so." Assassin confirmed. "He beats you physically and magically. But aside from less direct forms of confrontation, I believe I can help in this regard."
Shinji calmed, and his expression became curious. "Wait, what do you mean?"
"In my life I studied much of the human form and its reaction to various concoctions and chemicals. My art would be considered a form of Alchemy by modern standards, and while my poisons are my most skilled creations, there are a number of other potions I can create." She flicked her hand and a number of small vials appeared between her fingers. "And even then, poisons can be beneficial to body given the right context." A wick smile crossed her lips. "What I am saying, my Master, is how would you like to even that playing field."
After a moment Shinji realized what she was saying, and a vicious grin split his face. Assassin smiled at well, watching her strings pull tight around her 'Master'. One way or another, I'll get something I want…
Rin sat on her bed, frowning at the letter she held in her hand. It wasn't a letter so much as a card though, and it only had a single line written on it.
A member of the Church is a Master in the Holy Grail War.
The familiar hand writing made it clear who this was from, as well as how the message was both helpful and annoyingly vague. Even your assistance is infuriating, you phony priest, Rin thought to herself. Why Kirei had even chosen to send a letter rather than simply call her was a mystery, as well as why he didn't simply tell her the name of the Master in question. As the Administrator, he had to know who every Master was.
She sighed as she tossed the card onto the bed stand. Kirei had said that his help would be 'subtle' to avoid suspicion, so there had to be a reason that he only gave her as much information as he did. Perhaps it would be conspicuous if she found this Church member too quickly… but who would notice? Did this mean that someone other than Kirei was watching?
Rin let out a huff as she got to her feet and made her way downstairs. In the end, it didn't matter. She would take every advantage she could get, even if they weren't as good as she wanted. Knowing that one of her opponents was a member of the Church would give her a place to start looking.
And I have a feeling, she thought to herself as she entered the kitchen, that I know someone who might know more about that than I might expect.
Sure enough, she found Avenger right where she left him, tending to several slabs of meat cooking on a grill. It wasn't the grill she had built into her countertop though, because that would actually make sense. No, it seemed Avenger had somehow acquired an American style charcoal grill and had just placed it right in the middle of her kitchen, uncaring of how smoke was billowing everywhere. It was a small mercy that he opened up a window.
Rin took a deep breath before she spoke. "You know, that would be a lot easier to do that outside." She refused to lose her temper at him over this, mostly because she was sure he was doing it for exactly that reason.
"Yeah, but what if the neighbors saw it?" The Servant replied without looking up, tending to the burning coals. "I wouldn't do for them to know you ate meat from a grill like this, like a plebian. It's better this way."
Rin grit her teeth, but she managed to reply calmly. "Are you mad at me for ordering you to retreat? Because this is a really petty way of showing it."
"What? No, no, I'm already over that." He said with a wave of his hand. "Forgiveness is a big part of Christianity after all."
"Right…" Rin said flatly as she thought of how full of it he was. "Speaking of which, I just got it on good authority that one of the Masters is a member of the Church."
"Oh? Well terrible thing that, when a man of God if forced to fight."
Rin paused, her eyes narrowing a bit as she started to realize this conversation wasn't going to go where she wanted it to. She had wanted to ask Avenger what he knew about the Church and how one of its members would go about fighting in a Grail War; not because she wanted the information itself (she had Shirou or Kotomine to answer that if she really wanted), but to see if he would slip up and say something a man of the 4th century wouldn't know. Because if he was who she thought he was…
But it was looking like he Servant was just going to dance around things like he usually did. So she decided to change gears and be a little more direct. "And what the hell would you know about that, you phony saint?"
Avenger started at that, not expecting the response. He recovered quickly though. "Ah, are you really going to believe the word of an enemy Servant over your own-"
"Yes." She snapped. "You've been nothing but unhelpful and obstinate since the day I summoned you. And don't think I didn't hear bits of your conversation with Rider, 'sinner'."
He waved dismissively at that. "We're all sinners, just some more than others. And remember, I was a soldier for a good part of my life. "
Rin looked at him skeptically. "Right. And just how many people have you killed?"
She blinked. "Wait, what?"
He ignored her and continued. "And honestly, what does it matter in the end? We dead souls have been summoned to battle one another in this War, where each fight is all that counts. What does it matter what things we might have done before this, or even what each master has done before this? Well, except for you of course, because after all, you're better than them-"
"Avenger." She suddenly said, her voice becoming very quiet and cold in an instant. "Shut up."
Amazingly, the man did, his posture going straight at hearing her tone. There was a long moment of silence that filled the room, Master and Servant staring at each other, waiting for something to give. Finally, Rin spoke softly. "Since I've summoned you, I haven't questioned your identity. I haven't even pushed you on your abilities, even when you've clearly been holding out on me. It hasn't matter so long as you could get the job done."
The Servant started to speak, but Rin talked over him, her voice getting louder. "But I can't do that anymore. I need to know who you are. I need to know if I'm right or not, if this stupid idea in my head is just that."
Again, Avenger tried to speak, but Rin shouted. "Don't you dare lie to me! I know that it doesn't make any sense, that everything I know about Servants tells me it should be impossible, that you can't be who I think you are! But I can't just ignore what I see either! Your clothes, the way you walk and stand, how you fight, the fire all the fire seriously why do you have to be so fucking obsessed with fire you god damn Pyro!"
Rin felt suddenly drained as she looked into his wide red eyes behind his mask. When she found her voice again she could only let out a single questioning name. "Shirou?"
The silence that permeated the room now was far heavier than the one before, and Rin felt a tension building in her chest that almost became unbearable. Finally, Avenger's shoulders sagged, and his gaze looked downwards as he gestured helplessly. His voice was softer than she had ever heard it when he said. "Rin… I-"
"I knew it!" Rin shouted, shock running through her body as the truth came out. Avenger was Shirou. Her Shirou. And the only way that was possible was that this Shirou was from the future, having reached the Throne of Heroes upon his death for some deed that he was yet to perform. The implications of someone reaching the Throne from the modern age were staggering. "But, how?" She asked. "How did you end up… what did you do-"
"What do you want me to say, Rin?!" He suddenly shouted as he looked up at her, the intensity in his eyes causing her to take a step back. "Do you want me to tell you about how I ended up where I am?! How I died?! How thousands more died because I failed?!"
She tried to speak up, but now it was his turn to roll over her, the temperature of the room spiking. "I fuck up, Rin! That's what happened! The thing that made the World think I was worth keeping around was my getting people killed! I thought I could save some people from the monsters that ruled over them, but I just made it worse. I fought them, I failed, and everyone who thought they could put their faith in me died. And I had the privilege of living long enough to watch it happen."
He gestured angrily, sparks trailing his arm as he did so. "So no, I don't like to talk about my past! I don't care what mantle I'm wearing now! The only thing that matters is moving forward, so I can make sure that all the shit I caused wasn't for nothing!"
Rin was heaving heavily as her heart hammered in her chest, both at the display and what her once-friend said, what he implied. "I… I'm sorry." She said. "I didn't mean…"
However, the heat around him started to die down, and weariness entered his frame. "I… it's alright. I suppose it would have come out eventually." He stood up straighter. "But, yeah, you got it right. It's me."
Rin reached out to him at a loss for what she could say. She needed to-
"Shirou Tokisada Amakusa, leader of the Shimabara Rebellion."
He let out a sigh. "I have to admit, I'm really impressed that you managed to figure it out from the clues you had."
"I mean, most people don't connect flames with miracles, but I had to win those battles somehow, you know?"
"And I know I don't embody what most people think of as a 'saint' but I never asked to be considered one. And I guess you realized that persons of history don't always resemble their accounts."
"Kotomine." She somehow managed to hiss out from between her teeth.
The Servant perked up from his rambling. "Huh? What was that?"
"Are. You. Shirou. Kotomine?" She said, each word containing barely restrained rage.
The man looked at her for long moment before he said "Who the fuck is Shirou Kotomine?"
"…Are you mad?"
"Because you look mad."
"You're mad, aren't you?"
"Yeah, you're mad."
Were anyone else around to hear (not for a lack of volume), they would have considered the following screams of fury to be the stuff of legends.
Luvia sighed as she read her book, getting the most out of the waning light of the day. She had to admit, when she had joined the Grail War she had not anticipated this much waiting around between engagements. Even though she usually spent the daylight hours investigating and researching all she could on her opponents, most of the other Masters of the War had remained rather elusive to her. To be sure, she had seen evidence of their fights, but never the Masters themselves. Though she had a few suspects, the only one she knew for certain was Tohsaka, and while she knew where she lived Luvia did not have the means to assault her place of power and be assured victory. Not yet.
Still, she wasn't sure what else she was to do. Given her family's background as mercenaries, she would have thought that this War would have been a relatively straight forward search and destroy affair. However, her targets were rather competent in keeping themselves out of sight, and she could not bring too much of her family's resources into the city like she normally would for such a thing. There were no hard rules against using the resources of one's family into the War, but it was frowned upon as it could result in escalation between major families. She would have to manage her resources carefully in such a case.
She let out a small breath in amusement. 'Resource management' was technically why she was in her current location.
"Master, save me!" Rider called out as he reached out towards her. "All my strength is useless against them!"
Luvia had to suppress the urge to roll her eyes. "No."
Rider let out a sigh of his own. "Oh, you're no fun." He said, awkwardly walking about with several children hanging off him. The small playground they occupied was currently littered with them, running around and making a good deal of noise as children were wont to do while playing. A short distance away was the orphanage that she had been to a few nights before, where one of its staff watched them from the doors. The little ones laughed and screamed as they tried to bring her Servant down to the ground, with a rather familiar one having managed to climb up to his shoulders. "Go pony!" Mika cried out as she pointed forward. "Onward to gwory!"
Her brother Masomi on the other hand was off to the side pouting. "Come on, why can't I get a turn?"
"Cause you got to ride Igni!"
Luvia took a moment to watch her Servant. She had not expected to come back to the orphanage where they dropped the children off, but Rider had made the request to check in on them earlier that day. She hadn't really wanted to do so, but to be truthful she didn't have anything more pressing to do at the time. There was also another reason why she had agreed to her Servant's request: when it came down to it, Luvia didn't have total control over Rider.
Command Seals served the two-fold purpose of empowering one's Servant and forcing them to comply with an order, but the latter was not effective on Rider for two reasons. The first was his 'A' rank Magic Resistance, which was powerful enough interfere with the Seals if he so willed it. The other was his personal skill Soul of the Martyr, which made him highly resistant to mental effects and compulsions. Either one would have been bad enough, but him having both meant that it would take all 3 Seals she had to even hope to get him to do something he was opposed to, and since that would immediately loser her Rider it was not an option.
However, Luviagelta Edlefelt was not as petty as other magi, who would whine about not having a perfectly controllable tool at their disposal. Yes, these Servants were their Master's tools, but they were so much more than that. They were heroes, warriors without peer, and as such they were so much more than the mere weapons that other magi saw them as. She would command her Servant the way that any great general in the past would have: she would gain his trust and respect. Granting him small favors such as visiting these orphan children was simple yet effective way to build that respect (Though she still wasn't entirely sure how he managed to convince the staff of the orphanage to let him do so; another power of a Christian saint, perhaps).
She just wished that she didn't have to be around them as well. That wasn't to say that she disliked children. Children were fine… so long as they were quiet and well behaved. This lot… well, she wouldn't use the word urchins (mostly because Rider would be unhappy with her), but they were a little too unruly for her.
"Luvia, it is not good for a girl you age or stature to simply sit off by the side." Rider remarked as he swung a pair of children around from his arms. "Why don't you try joining in a little?"
The blonde huffed at that. "I am quite fine where I am thank you. Besides which, I don't think that I will be of particular interest to these… children compared to you."
"Are you sure? You certainly do have admirers." He said as he pointed. Luvia followed the gesture to see a little girl peering over the other side of the bench, but she made a small noise and ducked back down as soon as the older girl looked at her.
Luvia looked back at her Servant and sighed. "I suppose, but what am I supposed to do about it? I have no experience talking to children."
"I am sure that you will manage." Rider said with a smile. "After all, she are awed by your elegance and grace, so I am sure she just wants to be more like you."
Luvia felt a blush start to creep into her cheeks at that. She was used to empty flattery (much of her interactions with other magi involved such being directed at her), but Rider was so, well, genuine. She had no doubt that he meant every word he said, and to hear such honest confidence in her was… pleasant. "Ah… well, if you insist." She looked back over at the little girl and patted the bench next to her. "Alright, come here little one."
The little girl was hesitant for a moment before she moved to sit next to Luvia. She was clothed in a shirt and skirt that was a little too large for her, and she looked at Luvia's dress in wonder. "You're so pretty!" she said.
Luvia saw a few other girls start to wander over, encouraged by the first girl. Luvia, deciding that it would be uncouth to back out now, drew herself up into a prim position. "Why, thank you for noticing," she said graciously. "I will have you know that I am a noble Lady hailing from the far off land of Finland."
The girls around her gave 'Ooos' of appreciation. One of them spoke up excitedly. "Does that mean you're a princess?"
Luvia shook her head. "No, I am afraid that Finland does not have a princess. But my family's lineage does include royal blood from Northern Europe, as my great-great-great- grandfather…"
And so Luvia started to talk about her family history, which was an easy task as it had been drilled into her head from an early age. It was done so that she would 'have the proper understanding and respect for her earlier generations of magi' , but as she got into the swing of the tale she started to change the tone a bit. For while the children around her wouldn't care to hear how the Edlefelts systematically rose to power among their peers through savvy political maneuvering and marriages, they did seem to get a kick out of the story of how her ancestor had hunted a magical wolf through a winter forest for two weeks straight, or the first time the family was call upon to fight vampires. She spoke in terms both general and exaggerated, both to hide details and to keep the kids interested. All told her family history started to sound like an elaborate fairy tale before long.
And more than that… Luvia found that she was actually enjoying herself at little. She supposed that the children weren't so bad when they were all quiet and listening to her, and the gentle smile of encouragement she was getting from Rider as he moved to stand near her… well, she did not blush again, as that was merely a trick of the fading light of evening, but she found it pleasant nonetheless. Though it was growing late, she figured she could keep going for a little while longer.
That was until a voice interrupted her. "Which of you mongrels was responsible for that package?"
Rider's head snapped to the side and he froze. Luvia followed his gaze towards the source of the voice, and she was greeted by the sight of a blonde man in stylish dress clothes, though his handsome features were twisted into an ugly scowl. Part of her wanted to tell the man off for being so rude, but something held her back, a feeling of dread in the pit of her stomach at the sight of him. The fact that the man had red, serpentine eyes only reinforced the idea that that she had to careful.
"Children, get behind me. Now." Rider said, his tone grave. Though surprised, the little ones did as he asked, climbing down off of him as he stepped towards the man.
"Rider…" Luvia said slowly. "Do you know who this is? Is this a Servant?"
"I am… unsure." He said without taking his eyes off the newcomer, before addressing the man directly. "I am sorry, but I do not know of what you speak. Who are you?"
There was a long moment where the blonde man said nothing, glaring intensely at Rider. The man then let out an annoyed huff. "There was a time when I would have killed you on principle for not recognizing me. Since then I have realized that the historians of this age are incompetent and it would be a waste of time." His mouth twisted again. "There was a package that was sent to me which insulted me gravely. I managed to track it's origin to here. The… courier service has already been dealt with for their part in this obscenity, and now I must find the mongrel that sent it in the first place."
Rider was silent for a long moment before he gave a small nod. "I see. I believe that I know of the package you speak, and I know of the man responsible. However, that man is not here nor does he reside here. There is no one at this place to blame for your insult."
"That is not for you to judge, mongrel." The other man said harshly. "For its mere participation in this slight, I should reduce this whole area to rubble. But… I suppose that would delay me. So tell me, who was this man?"
Rider paused for a moment before he continued. "I don't know his real name, but he calls himself Avenger."
The blonde man was silent before he scoffed. "Truly? A Servant so weak that it does not even qualify for one of the seven thought to make a joke of me? I will tear that pathetic wretch limb from limb."
"Hey, you can't talk about Igni like that!" Masomi suddenly shouted, not noticing the deadly tension that filled the air. "He's way cooler than you, you… you big stupid head!"
The man's eyes shifted to stare at the little boy, his expression not changing. There was a beat where no one moved. Suddenly, there was a bloom of golden light from behind him, like a hole opening in the air. There was a crack and a blur shot out from it, flying straight at Masomi.
And even faster than that, Rider was there. There was a massive crash that shook Luvia to the core as a part of the ground 10 meters off to the side exploded, having been gouged up by the deflected projectile. By the time she managed to process what had happened, Rider was standing tall in front of the boy, the last of the motes of prana drifting away from his summoned armor and his sword already in hand. "You will not hurt them." He said softly. It was not a threat, but a statement.
The blonde man let out a cruel laugh, and armor of brilliant gold materialized on his body in kind. "It is my right to do with them as I chose. I am the King, and I sentence that little mongrel to death for daring to speak on behalf of the one who wronged me." More portals of gold opened up behind him, and much to Luvia's growing dread, she saw countless swords, spears, axes and other weapons emerge. "In fact, for your impudence, I have changed my mind. I condemn all of these mongrels to death." As one, the weapons shot forward.
Rider's form blurred. To Luvia, it seemed like he was almost in several places as once. There was a series of massive crashes which forced the Master to throw up her arms to protect her face from the sudden blast of wind. She miraculously managed to stay on her feet, and after a few moments the cacophony of sound died down. Slowly, she lowered her arms and took in the sight before her.
The playground was completely destroyed, the various bits of equipment reduced to little more than scrap. Craters and gouges littered the area, with bits of fire burning everywhere, and a few weapons embedded in the ground. The children had huddled around her as best they could, some still screaming, some crying, and all of them were afraid.
But not a single one was harmed, and Rider still stood in front of the group. His armor was scuffed and his clothes dirty but he remained unbowed before the other Servant, even as the golden man narrowed his eyes. For an instant Luvia could feel the sheer presence of the red eyed man, massive and oppressive. But as at the same time she could feel the contrast of Rider's, much more calm and subtle, but no less deep.
And her Guardian Knight's tone did not change one bit. "You will not hurt them."
A/N: Oh yeah, I was writing this thing once upon a time.
Anyway, I actually have had half of this chapter sitting on my hard drive for a year, but I left it after I got stuck. I came back to it recently to see if time made it easier.
It did not.
Still, I decided to just plow right on through and write it anyway. It's not the cleanest chapter I've written, but it'll do.
Oh, and in regards to Avenger: TROLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL.
Till next time.