The fire raged all around the woman as black mud clung to her, searing even the bright shining mail that she wore into a darkness. The smell and taste of it swarmed over her forcing her to choke and cough trying to force it out of her mouth and lungs. She was only barely conscious of the devastation raging about her as her mind swam and tears of rage and fresh betrayal stung her eyes and trailed down her cheeks. She forced herself to stand up momentarily and fell back to her knees as the mud impossibly flowed up her body.
Then she screamed out into the night sky.
Many years later Taiga Fujimura smiled as she sat at the table and looked at all the wonderful things that Sakura had cooked for breakfast. The girl had gone to Shirou's room to wake him up for the morning meal leaving Taiga to sit and wait for them.
Slyly she looked around and then reached out to fill her bowl with rice. Normally, she wouldn't do something nearly so stupid, but with certain members of the household still out on their business trip, it seemed safe.
"Ahhh, Sakura-chan's cooking is so wonderful," Fuji-nee commented in a carefree manner as she sampled some pickles and omelet. "They won't mind if I start without them."
The sliding door behind her slid open and she turned around with a smile on her face to wave at the newcomer and then turn back to her food. She had barely looked back at the bowl of rice before she'd realized something and slowly twisted her neck around to confirm that she had, indeed, caught a glimpse of hell.
"Senpai," a soft, feminine voice called out. "Shirou-Senpai. You need to wake up."
The young man named felt his eyes start to open and he took in the purple-haired appearance of his friend's younger sister. He smiled.
"Ahh, Sakura-chan," he said with a sigh of recognition. "I guess I fell asleep again while repairing this and overslept." He gestured toward the machine behind him.
"That's all right," Sakura repeated. "I'd actually like it if you would oversleep more often so that I can take care of you."
"Yeah, but I'm sure Fuji-Nee will chew me out over..." Shirou paused and his eyes widened. "Oh no!"
He darted around Sakura and ran for the door to the storehouse.
"Senpai?" Sakura asked.
"She's coming back today!" he called over his shoulder.
"She..." Sakura started to say looking a little confused before her own eyes widened and she brought a hand to her mouth in surprise. "Oh!"
Shirou was certain he was already too late as he arrived at the house and heard the authoritative demands of one of the other women in his life. Sure enough, as he turned a corner, he found a terrified Fujimura Taiga running up and down the dojo with a towel in her hand. She was dressed in her normal green and orange outfit.
"You will not come here and be a layabout beggar to this household!" shouted the other woman in the room.
This woman was much smaller than Taiga, with pale almost bleached skin and faded blonde hair. Her golden eyes stared out of a bitter and angry glare as she barked reproach and derision at Fujimura-sensei. "Are you or are you not a teacher and responsible for setting an example for your students?!"
"Yes, Big Sister," Fujimura-Sensei declared. "I'm sorry Big Sister."
"And I come in to find you sitting down to eat breakfast before your host is even in the room," the blonde woman snapped. "Are you a sensei or a yakuza brat?!"
"A sensei, Big Sister!" Fuji-Nee declared.
"Did you even make sure that Shirou went to bed at an appropriate time last night?" the blonde snapped savagely.
"Of course I did, Big Sister," Fuji-Nee declared as she ran up the dojo again, thinking that she was going to be sweaty when she got to work.
"Then why is he dressed in his work-overalls, standing in the entryway and looking like he slept in the storehouse?" at this point the small, angry woman whirled to glare at Shirou. "Again!"
The confused Taiga paused and turned to look where Shirou was standing with a sheepish expression. "Shirou-kun, you didn't."
"Uh, welcome home, Ria," Shirou said apologetically.
Behind Shirou, Sakura walked into the scene and smiled as she waved at the blonde woman and Fujimura-sensei.
"Good morning, Penn-san," Sakura said cheerfully.
"Sakura-chan," Ria commented in a somewhat more reasonable tone of growl. "My apologies, but if you could wait for us at the breakfast table?"
"Of course, Ria," Sakura responded in a kindly manner as she walked on past the scene and the blonde woman turned back to look at Shirou and Fujimura.
"Now, Shirou, clean yourself up," she snapped. "Your work ethic is admirable, but you fail in your duty if you fail to care for yourself."
Shirou had heard that many times before and he bowed swiftly, working to keep the smile off his face. She did not respond to such expressions either lightly or well save from Sakura and other acquaintances from school. Even then she mostly preferred to avoid such people when they were at the house.
Ria had been an acquaintance of Shirou's father in someway, though he had never seen them so much as speak to each other in the years his father was alive. Not directly, at least. For any exchange between the two to occur, there had to be a third party that they could direct their words to as part of their continual effort to ignore each other.
Shirou had once wondered if they were lovers that had had a falling out, at least that's what he'd have called it if the suspicion had come now. Suggesting it had brought a hot, angry silence sitting behind a harshly offended glare from the woman and somewhat disapproving glance from his gentler father.
"Yes Big Sister?" Fujimura-Sensei asked hopefully.
"After classes." The hopeful look on the teacher's face got bigger. "Bring. Your. Sword."
Fujimura's face crashed into the depths of hell.
"Buh...I'm going to die!"
At the breakfast table, Fujimura-sensei sat nervously next to Ria as the small blonde woman tore into the feast at her usual pace. It had been just Fuji-nee's luck that food had been the issue at hand, the blonde woman took her food very seriously. She's was something like Shirou imagined a hungry lion would be...or maybe a rampaging dragon. In between bites, Ria was running a checklist looking for whatever inevitable thing Fujimura-sensei had forgotten.
"Another gas leak today resulted in a dozen unconscious individuals being transferred to the hospital," the TV commented, drawing a narrowed look from Ria that neither Sakura nor Fujimura had quite seen before.
Shirou would have noted that as well, if he weren't equally enthralled by the news-story.
"Yes, I remembered to..." Fujimura paused as she noted the other woman's distraction. "Ria? Big Sister? Shirou what is..?"
"Senpai?" Sakura asked. "Penn-san? What is the matter."
"It reminds me of something," Ria responded slowly turning back to the table and noting Shirou's own attention with a narrowing set of eyes. "Shirou."
The young man instantly turned to look at her and recognized the forbidding look.
"You have other concerns than an accident," and she heavily emphasized the last word.
"Right, school," Shirou said nervously. "It just seemed a bit spooky is all."
The look on Ria's face proclaimed that she wasn't fooled at all.
"Ria" watched Shirou and Sakura walk off as she grimaced and considered matters. The pain spiked in her briefly as she clenched her fist imperceptibly. The pain was always present to some degree, but the spikes had been getting more frequent of late and there were other things. There was a stirring in her soul outside the curse that continued to try and consume her from within.
It felt like the Grail War was starting again for all that it was fifty years too early. She was tempted to declare that they were leaving the area for a time, but she had to first make sure that Shirou wasn't chosen. If that happened she wasn't sure how to approach matters. It wasn't like she could prevent the Grail from choosing anyone, even if she dragged Shirou to England.
The pain spiked again at that thought, drawing an angry growl from her throat.
The swordswoman was flesh and blood now, her proximity to what the boy carried and the Grail's curse had combined to insure that over the past ten years. She hadn't yet been a proper Counter Guardian or Heroic Spirit in the first place, so that probably had affected the situation as well. Whatever the case, while she couldn't be called human, she also wasn't as strong as she had been. Possibly she could form a contract still and recover some power without sacrificing her resistance to the curse, but she'd rather not have the need.
"Don't pick him, you accursed thing," she growled quietly.
Shirou thought about the rumors he had heard as he walked home from work. All the gas leaks sending people to the hospital. That burglary and murder committed with a long blade.
There was something strange going on and Ria knew what it was. She had all but outright forbidden Shirou from looking into it at breakfast this morning. He was well aware of her thoughts on his desire. His mind cast back to a particular conversation.
"Why is it impossible?" he had asked his father.
"It's hard," Kiritsugu responded.
"Why is it hard?" the boy had pressed. "You and Ria-oneesama saved me so why can't I save everyone else."
"You can only save the people you know about," his father's answer had been. "And sometimes things will happen that you can't stop."
"And sometimes you have to kill in order to save others," Ria had interjected. "That is what is not being told to you."
They were both right of course, but it wasn't something he accepted. He would save everyone. He would find a way to become that Hero of Justice.
Regardless, he shook his head as he came up to his door and started to walk inside. Almost instantly he was set on by a wild Taiga. At least it was only Taiga right now. The matter of him taking care of himself was something both women had firmly identical stances on.
"Shirou! What are you doing out so late! Students were told to go home as soon as school was out," the woman had lectured. "You're going to give your Fuji-nee and Big Sister ulcers from worrying about you."
As she spoke, she rotated one of her shoulders, and it looked like she was developing a bruise on her forehead. Or maybe a group of bruises. Her hair was a little wet as well.
"I was at my job," he protested.
"And I'll bet you did everybody else's work too," Taiga had scoffed.
"What's the harm if it helps someone?" Shirou demanded. "And where's Ria?"
"Oh, Penn-san and Fujimura-sensei were being very diligent in their exercise," Sakura explained gently. "Ria is still finishing up her bath."
"You should feel lucky that she is," Taiga added. "You getting in this late. Sakura has almost finished the cooking. She's been here so long that she was able to entirely finish preparing the meal."
As Taiga lectured the young man, Sakura walked back toward the furo to alert Ria that dinner was ready and Shirou was home. Minutes later, the black garbed blonde was standing beside Taiga and glaring at Shirou before they got ready to sit at the table.
A few loud and harrowing minutes later and they were sitting at the table while Fuijmura and Ria tagged team Shirou in describing his desire to help others.
"And then there was his elementary essay," Taiga noted. "'My Dream is to be a Hero Justice.'"
"That sounds like a good thing," Sakura commented.
"Maybe for a child," Ria protested, "but Shirou seems to consider the idea has true merit."
"What's wrong with wanting to be a hero?" Sakura asked.
"Because Heroes are hated," the blonde explained. "They're people who sacrifice their lives so that lies can be told behind their back. They're outsiders the rest of the world feels justified to drop their dirty laundry on."
"But I always thought Heroes were loved," Sakura protested.
"Love for anyone called 'hero' is always cursed," Ria declared in a tone that was much cooler than usual for her. "Hero is a curse that devours the person who would become one."
Taiga sighed but nodded along with the other woman's comments. "There are many more productive things to be, Shirou."
Sakura bent down to her meal and ate in silence as Shirou shrugged with a put upon look to his face.
The next morning, went pretty much like the first one.
"Good morning, everyone!" Fuji-nee declared as she walked into the house carrying a shopping bag in her hand triumphantly.
"You have the temerity to appear again this morning after your affront yesterday?" Ria demanded angrily, though she took the offered bag without commenting on its existence. "You should feel fortunate that Shirou is the master of this place not I or I would have banned you several times over."
"Of course, Big Sister," Fujimura said in a singsong tone.
Shirou recognized the name of the store on the bag as a high-end store dealing in toiletries and the like. Fujimura turned it over with a carefree smile that clearly irked Ria though, as usual, she wouldn't mention it. She had only ever mentioned Taiga's "tithe" once before actually. Shirou was careful not to let either woman see him roll his eyes in amusement at the display.
Still, at least the bath salts that came in made the house furo one of the most relaxing and soothing he'd ever experienced. Ria certainly seemed to enjoy them, at least more than she enjoyed anything else.
Behind them, the TV was running again. The news discussed the previous murder and pondered whether or not it was connected to an unidentified European woman that had been admitted to a hospital with a severed arm and then disappeared.
"Shirou, you have no work today," Ria said near the end of the meal. Beside her Fujimura nodded.
"And you aren't on the cleaning teams for today either," Fujimura confirmed.
"Sakura-chan," Ria addressed the purple haired girl imperiously. "You are to not walk home alone. You are to wait for Shirou to escort you directly here or to your house. Is this understood?"
"Yes, Penn-san," Sakura responded too quickly. "I will wait for Senpai to escort me home from school."
Shirou narrowed his eyes at the lot of them and sighed. "You worked this out ahead of time didn't you?"
Ria simply returned to savaging the remains of the food in front of her as Sakura started collecting dishes and Fujimura checked her watch.
"Ack! I'm going to be late!" the sensei declared before running out of the scene.
"Tch," Ria grimaced at Taiga's retreat from the scene. "That woman always leaves when there's work to be done."
Later that day, as the sun was dropping, Sakura started to walk for the gates alongside Shirou. She looked up to see her brother and a gaggle of girls approaching and tensed as she did so. Shinji's eyes immediately traced to her standing there at Shirou's side and narrowed.
"Oi, Shirou," Shinji called out. "Do you think you can do me a favor. Our dojo is a little dirty and I'm just so very busy you know."
The girls around him giggled and Shirou smiled slightly at the obvious ploy. Still, there was no harm in helping out. If he hadn't already promised to see Sakura right home, then he'd quite easily be willing to do it.
"Sorry, but I've been tasked to make sure your sister gets home safely," Shirou commented.
"Oh, don't worry about that," Shinji protested. "She'll be fine."
"Sorry, but I really need to make sure of this," Shirou said with a sigh. "Fujimura-sensei and Ria both demand that I escort her tonight."
"But if the dojo isn't cleaned tomorrow then I'll be in trouble," Shinji insisted.
"I'm sorry, but my hands are tied," Shirou said with honest regret. "But maybe you and your friends can get it done quickly."
Shinji returned the statement with an angry look that seemed to be more savage than Shirou could account for. It made him somewhat cautious and, despite his long friendship with the other boy, he began to feel it would be best to leave before anything could happen to threaten that friendship.
"We need to be going, senpai," Sakura said cautiously, half hiding behind Shirou.
"Right, see you tomorrow, Shinji," Shirou said as he left the scene to bring Sakura to her house.
The next morning, Shirou awoke to an unusual sight. Ria, leaning over his futon with a grimmer than usual look to her face.
"Ria?" he said before gasping and sitting upright. "Did I oversleep that much? I'll get ready right now!"
He started to stand up when Ria put a hand on his shoulder. "No, it is still an hour before you would normally awake."
"Then what's the problem?"
The woman clenched her jaw and looked to where Fujimura-sensei and Sakura stood in the doorway. Sakura's normal cheery face was somehow unreadable, as if her emotions were completely buried somehow. Fujimura-sensei, however looked stricken.
"There will be no school today," Fujimura noted. "Last night, some students..."
"There was a killing," Ria finished succinctly. "Several girls of the Kyudo club. Sakura-chan's brother remains missing at this point."
There was no sign of a physical response from Sakura at this, but Shirou wouldn't have noticed if there were. He was picturing the faces of the kids from yesterday and remembering Shinji asking him to do the clean up in her place.
He had said no.
Face terror-struck, Shirou stood up and rushed out of the room, passing by Fujimura and Sakura as Ria watched through grinding teeth.
"Senpai!" Sakura called out, starting to follow him.
"Let him go," Ria snapped. "He'll need time to adjust. Give it to him."
"Sakura-chan," Taiga noted. "I think we all need some breakfast..."
"Oh, right, Fujimura-sensei," the girl responded before turning back in the house toward the kitchen.
Taiga stepped into Shirou's room, sliding the door closed behind her.
"Eh, you're just going to send her off to do the work?" Ria snapped, though her words lacked the normal bite. The little blonde woman marched forward sharply toward the taller Japanese woman.
The swordswoman was mildly surprised when Taiga burst into tears and wrapped her hands around Ria, leaning her face into the English woman's shoulder as her own shoulders shook. "They were my students! I gave that duty."
Slowly, Ria's arms circled around to Taiga's back and held her. Her angry tone was almost affectionate when she spoke. "Yakuza brat. It wasn't your fault either."
It didn't take long for Ria to start to feel something else besides the shaking of the woman in her arms. And she gritted her teeth as she felt the contract forming.
Damn it! Why couldn't the blasted thing leave them alone.
Shirou slammed open the door to his storeroom and moved to the far end of the wall. There it had been, his chance to save someone and he had let it pass by.
"Damn it!" he yelled. "Damn it! I was useless. Worse than useless!"
He failed to note as the floor behind started to glow softly in response to his growing emotional state.
"Something's going on that's killing people and I'm just doing nothing!" he snapped. That's why it was his friends this time. It was punishment for standing by and just watching. "I swear, I'll find out what's going on and I'll find someway to stop it. I swear it."
And with that there was a bright flash of light behind him. Twisting in place, he turned about and watched as a figure formed in the middle of the blue light behind him. Slowly it resolved into the shape of a girl, approximately the same size and build as Ria, but the skin was soft and healthy rather than Ria's pallor. The hair was a long, soft gold rather than the faded yellow Ria had. The girl turned to look at Shirou and showed bright green eyes over a smiling face.
She was garbed in an beautiful, gleaming white armor outlined in a somber black that did little more than highlight the apparent purity of the white. There was an extravagant skirt, like the overlapping petals of a beautiful white flower and she held in her hands she carried a long, gleaming white spear and there was a smaller blade, a knife with a white hilt, upon her waist.
And she smelled familiar.
Shirou had long known that Ria Penn was not human, and this girl smelled very similar. Perhaps a relative from the same family of beings or spirits come to see the woman?
"Servant Lancer," the girl said with a smile and performing a brief curtsy. "Here I stand by your summons. Answer me. Are you my master?"
She ended the curtsy, bringing her hand to her mouth to half cover her smiling mouth and highlight the slight blush that developed as she looked him over and asked the question.
Shirou swallowed unable to speak as he took in the beauty of the girl and her seemingly shy manner.
Before he could answer, there was the sound of a crash at the front of the gate and the coquettish girlishness of Lancer faded away quickly as she darted forward, all seriousness now.
"What...wait!" Shirou shouted as he realized what the girl was doing. He didn't know what that crash was, but he didn't feel quite right at letting the woman be the one to face it. Especially if it was something innocent that brought her to the attention of everyone else.
"But this is a potential threat, Master," Lancer protested in a pouty voice that Shirou knew was partly feigned. "And good little girls protect their Masters."
Shirou moved to follow the girl quickly outside as she rushed for the gate, spear in hand. He rounded a corner and watched as the girl launched into a high leap, spear coming point down in an attempt to drive through the body of the near giant that stood there beside the destroyed gate. Shirou paused where he stood then and watched as the man shifted aside, rising a massive xiphos to turn aside the spear.
"Ah, is that anyway to treat a guest?" the man asked as he moved aside into stance. "I apologize about the gate, but it wasn't quite as strong as I thought it would be."
"That's all right," Lancer responded with a closed-eyed smile flipping her hand forward kindly as if a girl dismissing something of no concern. "I'll be sure to fix it after our little meeting is finished, Saber."
"Who are you?" Shirou demanded.
A gasp drew his attention to the side and he saw Sakura at the entrance staring forward, hands covering her mouth and her eyes wide. He could hear footsteps coming up indicating that Ria and Fuji-nee were also coming to the front.
"As your Servant has said, I am Saber," the large man answered. "And my Master sent me to suggest that her brother hurry up and summon before it was too late. But it seems this wasn't necessary."
"Her brother..." Lancer commented, glancing back toward Shirou who looked confused himself.
"Since that's done, I think I'll just test out the capabilities of your Servant, Emiya Shirou," the large man noted as he swung the sword down in a swift, efficient path. Lancer's girlish expression vanished in a flash as she put her spear to the side to block the strike and then swing the blade around to slash down through her enemy, or would have if the huge man hadn't nimbly side-stepped.
The exchange continued as Shirou watched, uncertain how to respond to what he was seeing. There was one more pass, Lancer's attack struck wide as she barely avoided the response and then a third form joined the match with a wild roar of anger, wearing black plate armor and swinging a great black sword that Shirou had only rarely ever seen.
Ria swung down at Saber managing to draw a line of blood and distracting the man just briefly enough for Lancer to duck under his massive arm, leaving one hand on her spear to keep the xiphos from splitting her open and dropping her hand to the knife at her side.
"Carnwennan!" Lancer shouted as she slashed with the knife at near point blank range. The seemingly small weapon tore open a wide slash through the man's body and showering the area in blood as the giant stumbled back and fell to his knees, a broad hand covering his chest and the other leaning the Xiphos into the ground.
Ria stepped forward then swinging her blade in a wide swing to cut the through the man's throat. Fujimura and Sakura both gasped then as the massive form fell back. Lancer and Ria both stood there, panting and eyeing each other very warily, as if searching something in the other. Lancer in her white armor and spear standing to the right side of where Shirou stood and Ria in her black armor and sword standing on the left.
Shirou tried to find a way to process what he'd just scene while Fujimura held Sakura comfortingly and stared out toward Ria and the other woman. Sakura seemed to have the same blank, emotionless expression that she'd had earlier, the surprise fading out of her body.
"Well," a voice stated, crashing the tense calm that had settled over the scene as everyone turned to watch, in sheer disbelief, the body of the defeated man rising up from the ground and rubbing at his throat as he took in the wide-eyed shock of his opponents. "My Master's estimation of her brother is a bit low. Not when he has a familiar such as this on top of Lancer."
Ria snarled as she was characterized as a familiar.
"How did you..." Lancer asked.
"One more test, I think," Saber said in a considering tone. He took a deep breath and pulled back his xiphos. "Nine Lives!"
The blade lashed out once, blasting the black sword wide from its guard position in front of her. It flashed again, almost simultaneously, throwing the white spear in Lancer's right hand aside. A third strike blasted the black sword from Ria's hand and sent it careening across the yard. A fourth strike cut through the armor of Lancer's arm, forcing her to drop the knife. A fifth strike sliced through Ria's body as she tried to bull forward with her shoulder. A sixth tossed Lancer backwards as her white armor was rent open. A seventh slammed into Ria's shoulder. The eighth swung horizontally across Lancer's stomach.
Shirou was charging forward the moment the giant had pulled his sword back and he watched as both nearly identical women were pummeled and refused to completely fall off their feet. Ria was staggering and glaring defiantly as Lancer leaned on the butt of spear and stared equally determined.
A Ninth attack was coming, sweeping to cut across both the two warrior women starting with Lancer. The white-armored woman struggled to bring her spear into position and then Shirou slammed into her back, shoving her aside.
"Shirou! No!" Ria shouted as the blade slammed hard into her charge.
The young man fell aside as the giant watched him crumple and glanced curiously toward his sword.
"Saber! This shall not be accepted!" the white-armored woman shouted as she lunged forward with her spear.
"I'm sending you back to the Throne!" Ria proclaimed viciously darting forward and the black sword somehow reforming in her hands.
The injury weakened attacks were diverted aside and a hard backhanded blow was struck across Lancer's face sending her backwards just as a powerful kick met the stomach of Ria and dented her armor inward.
The giant looked down on the three battered forms with a serious, considering expression. "You two each remained standing after four strikes from my weapon and your Master survived the ninth. Truly remarkable people. It is sad that we must be on opposite sides of this war. Maybe the next time we are summoned to the same place, it will be for a shared purpose."
He looked up toward where Fujimura stood holding Sakura tightly and nodded at them.
"I'm supposed to kill witnesses," he thought with a frown. "But allies of a Master shouldn't be a problem. Take care of them," he said. "When my Master really sends me, I might not be able to leave off on testing them." Saber glanced over toward where Lancer was struggling to stand. "And take care of the witch-killing knife, there are other enemies in this War it might be more effective against."
That said he turned around and walked off, fading away as he did so.
Instantly, Fujimura was rushing forward with Sakura.
King Arthur is associated with at least five magical weapons, six if you count Excalibur's sheath as separate.
Carnwennan "Little White Knife" appears in Culhwch and Olwen. a story where the hero Culhwch appeals to King Arthur to aid in a quest to when his lady love, Olwen. The story of the hero and the woman is used as a framework to tell many other stories of the adventures of Arthur and his men. Among them is the story of Arthur using Carnwennan to split "The Very Black Witch" in half.
Rhongomyniad is Arthur's magic spear, it's name means either "spear striker" or "spear slayer" and a search for images connected to Rhongomyniad found one of the official images of the battle between Arturia and Mordred showing that she may have used it to kill Mordred in Nasuverse.