Hello there! Important message time.

So, since 2020 began my life has gone through a number of tumultuous events that have forced me to reexamine my trajectory in life. For those of you who don't know, my chosen path is that of a writer, screenwriter specifically. And for one to even have a chance in that business, they need to produce a portfolio of original work. I have created some work, but I need to create more and fine-tune the ones I have. That, in addition to the rigors of college, has forced me to reexamine just how much time I've been putting into fanfiction. It is time I believe well spent and will continue to spend, but I must reallocate my efforts if I am to have any hope of creating a successful career. I do not intend to stop writing fanfiction, I started all my stories because I want to tell them and I intend to finish them. By some changes are necessary.

1. I will be freezing my Pat reon. To those of you who don't know, this means that the page itself will stay up and all the Teasers Chapters and Story Ideas will still be available to Patrons, but there will be no monthly payout. If my schedule is to be as mercurial and inconsistent as I expect it to be in the future, it would be unfair and irresponsible to have money involved in the equation in any manner. I will create and post the February Teaser Chapter, but after that I will likely not be active there.

2. The monthly poll stories of 'The Third Faction' and 'One to Find All' will change to a joint bi-monthly drop. This has been brewing for a while as it has become apparent that my beta for Third Faction Draconic and I simply need more than one month to produce a chapter of that story. In this manner, if all goes as planned, I will spend one month writing Third Faction, then I will send that chapter to Draconic and he will spend the next month beta-ing it while I write One to Find All, and then both stories will have their chapters posted when ready that month (Feb., April, June, etc.)

3. I will do my best to keep to my update schedule, but as mentioned in Point 1, I am doing this so that I have time to work on my original projects. Due to school, family, or those projects, it is entirely plausible that circumstances may end up causing chapters to be late, sometimes by longer periods. I will do my best to avoid such occasions, but I cannot make any promises.

All this said, I must repeat: I have NO intention of leaving any of my stories unfinished. I tell these stories because I want to tell them. They make me happy and knowing they are enjoyed by all of you just makes it even better. For Reading, I cannot thank you enough.

Now then, on with the chapter.


"Come on, come on, come on!" Rin muttered, pressing all the healing magecraft she could into Sieg's shoulder.

"There is nothing more that can be done," the female homunculus lifelessly insisted. "Even at its lowest setting, Frankenstein's lightning is powerful enough to destroy golems. And even if there was any chance that he'd survived that, being struck by her Noble Phantasm would have reduced the possibility of his survival to zero."

Frankenstein, huh? She had to admit, she didn't expect the archetypal horror movie monster to show up in a Holy Grail War, but with Dracula's inspiration already on the battlefield, she couldn't be too surprised. Still…

She fished a jewel out of her pocket and poured all its prana into her teammate. "I've replaced a heart destroyed by the freaking Gae Bolg. If you think I can't fix up a bit of damage from some static electricity that wasn't even aimed at him, you're getting one hell of a surprise!"

Her magecraft did its work. Slowly but surely, the blackened flesh around Sieg's shoulder slowly glowed a soft blue. Bit by bit, the ruined flesh turned back into a healthy pale shade. Well, for anyone else it would have still been unhealthy, but for Sieg it was normal.

A moment later, his scarlet eyes flickered open, a soft groan emanating from his lips. "What… what happened?"

The female homunculus' eyes widened. "He's…alive."

Rin sighed. "What can I say? I'm good at what I do." She smacked Sieg over the head. "And you! Don't you ever do something stupid like that again!"

Sieg flinched, rubbing the back of his head. "Push you out of the way of a deadly attack?"

It was the lack of sarcasm in his voice that infuriated her the most.

"Just… transform before you do it next time, alright," Rin insisted. "If you didn't have a dragon's heart, it would have taken everything I had left to fix you. I'm not made of jewels. I don't actually have that many left."

Wasn't that a worrying reality. She'd had to use four jewels to keep them all alive against Mordred and Frankenstein and they weren't even either's main target for half the time. Factor in the two she'd given to Shirou to power his transformation and she was down to nine for this fight.

She glanced over to the battlefield. Frankenstein had disappeared. Rider of Black was staggering out of the crater he'd been stomped into. Archer of Red was fighting some rampaging mountain of flesh in a gimp mask. And perhaps most importantly, Saber had arrived and engaged Mordred, their blades streaking through the air as flashes of gold and crimson. The Knight of Treachery was on the attack, but Rin had seen Arturia struggle before against Heracles. Her son might have been putting her all into the battle, but the King of Knights would be perfectly fine, especially if what she'd been told over their gem link was true. She would leave the family matter in her friend's capable hands.

But if Saber was fighting her son, where were the combatants they were keeping busy before—

"Hello there."

Rarely had Rin been so intimidated by such a polite greeting. She whirled around to the soft voice, three gems brandished in each hand, for all the good they'd do her.

Siegfried merely raised his hand for peace. "I have no intention of harming you, Rin Tohsaka. Rider of Red still lives and I would not handicap the King of Knights while she faces Saber of Red either."

Rin cocked an eyebrow. "You're a Heroic Spirit of the strongest class. Do you expect me to believe that you can't take me captive without killing me?"

"True," Siegfried conceded, his eyes flickering over to Sieg. "But I would not attempt such an undertaking while a sufficient threat was still before me."

Sieg's eyes widened, his crimson gaze falling to his Black Command Seals. "You mean?"

"My master has observed Shirou Emiya's transformation," the Saber of Black revealed. "Given your similar seals, it was not difficult to deduce your capabilities. Or which Servant you will become. I admit, I am curious to see how I shall fare against my own blade."

"Your own… transformation… wait one minute!" Rider of Black suddenly squealed, instantly shaking off whatever injuries he had received from Mordred and dashing over to the group, though he leaned on his lance once he arrived. He pointed an accusatory finger at Sieg. "You can turn into a Servant?!"

The young homunculus paled. "Um, yes."

"Aw man! And you didn't turn into me?!"

He folded his arms and pouted.

Rin sighed, her hand coming up to smack her face. "Really? That's what you're focused on?"

"I mean, I got you out of the castle. Sure he gave you his heart, but I put in work for it too. I've gotta be worth turning into!" Astolfo continued. Though, a moment later, his pleading expression faded, and he tapped his finger to his chin. "Though, now that I think about it, Saber's pretty much superior to me in… well, every way. Oh, except number of Noble Phantasms, I'm just awesome like that."

"Don't sell yourself short, Rider," Siegfried interjected. "It was your courage and nobility that inspired me to act at all."

"He's right. The only reason I can only transform into Sir Siegfried is because I have his heart," Sieg explained. "If I could, I would be honored to take your form."

"Oh, you two are so nice," Astolfo said bashfully, waving them off with red in his cheeks. "But seriously, Saber's got better stats then me across the board. Except Magic Resistance, but when is that gonna… matter… Master, don't!"

Rider suddenly fell to his knees, but Rin had a sinking feeling it wasn't from pain. A soft red glow shimmered over the paladin's body, his muscles squirming with agony as immensely powerful magic seeped into his very being.

"No! Master, I won't!" Astolfo screamed. "Please, master, don't make me—ah!"

"Rider!" Sieg called out, only his female kin having to hold him back from rushing to the Servant's side. Siegfried was not so encumbered and knelt beside the agonized paladin.

Rin tugged Sieg and the homunculus woman away. She recognized what Rider of Black was going through from when Saber had resisted her command to destroy the corrupted grail. And just like then, no matter how great the Heroic Spirit's Magic Resistance, it would not hold out against multiple Command Seals.

"Astolfo, what's wrong?" Siegfried begged.

"Master… she really doesn't like… argh!"

"What's happening?" Sieg asked.

"Command Seals," Rin explained. "His hellcat of a master is using Command Seals to make him kill you."

Astolfo screamed as if his limbs were being torn off one nerve ending at a time. Siegfried frowned, clearly displeased at being unable to help his comrade, but he rose to his feet, summoning Balmung into his hands.

Rin scowled. If she summoned Saber, that would only draw Mordred into this mess and put them in even more danger. Shirou wasn't responding to her hails over their gem link, though she could still sense some of her prana going to him. Though given that Archer of Red was still alive, she had no way of knowing if he was in good enough shape to come help them. And since Siegfried couldn't let them go no matter how much of a soft spot he had for them, and Astolfo was under at least two Command Seals… she had to get to the castle.

"Go."

The mage's eyes widened and darted to Sieg, who was already drawing his sword.

"I am your comrade, correct?" he said. "Then it is my duty to do whatever is necessary for our mutual cause."

"There's no way you can beat them," Rin pointed out.

"I can if you free my kin," Sieg argued. "Disrupt their magical energy supply, and I might have a chance. I don't intend to lose this new life of mine so soon. So, by my Command Seal, I order this body, Heaven's Evolution!"

There was a flash of turquoise light, and just like Shirou had been replaced with Archer, now another Siegfried appeared before Rin, his fake Balmung ready to counter the real thing.

"AAARRggh—oh, look at that, he really does look just like you," Astolfo remarked, before his agonized screaming resumed.

Saber of Black smiled. "You have chosen the name Sieg, have you not, little one? I have no doubt that you shall do that name proud."

Sieg nodded and glanced back at Rin. "Go, Madam Tohsaka. I'll hold them off."

"Can you fight them?" Rin inquired worriedly. "They saved you. Can you really bring yourself to kill them?"

Sieg cringed, an expression that looked rather awkward on Siegfried's chiseled face. "Honestly, I don't expect the opportunity to arise."

Rin looked at his opponents. Astolfo wouldn't be too much trouble on his own, but Siegfried literally had all of the same abilities as the young homunculus except he had a lifetime of experience learning how to actually use them. There was no way he could beat him.

"Don't die," she commanded him, already turning to run. "I'm not dealing with Ruler if she decides we strong-armed you into this."

Sieg tried to smirk back at her, but he was forced to raise his blade to deflect a lance strike. Astolfo's will had finally been overcome by Celenike's Command Seals, Siegfried sweeping in immediately after. Rin and the female homunculus took the opportunity to dash away from the battlefield, crossing the last stretch of field between them and Millennia Citadel.

She gritted her teeth. She wasn't one for sending her allies to their death if she could avoid it. But if there was no other way, she would kill one comrade to save the rest.

Besides, while she didn't think Sieg would last long against his former rescuers, he still had a chance if she could give him one. After all, there was no way Gordes had the magic circuits necessary to power a Saber without outside aid. So, she just had to do what they'd set out to accomplish in the first place. Free the homunculi.

That was her job. If she could do that, the others could handle theirs.


FATEFATEFATEFATE

After all the time Arturia had spent thinking about Mordred during this Great Holy Grail War, it felt almost surreal to stand before her. The last time she had, back in Bucharest, they'd both been promptly ushered away by Assassin of Black's hell world. Even now, she was waiting for the other shoe to drop and something else to intervene and steal one of them away from the other. Before Jack the Ripper, she would have even hoped for it.

But not now. There could be no more running from her past. Her failure was her responsibility. No more people could be allowed to come to harm because of what she'd turned Mordred into.

And so, they fought. They fought as they had so many times before, from friendly spars in the training courts of Camelot to their final lethal clash on the plains of Camlann, blades flying at each other's throats. A collusion of rampant powers obliterated the hills of Trifas, one tempered and honed, the other wild and raw, the earth torn asunder beneath their feet.

It was always unusual to battle Mordred. The other knights of Camelot were practiced and measured, some of the greatest masters of combat the world had ever known, with Arturia and Lancelot chief among them. The Knight of Treachery alone of her retainers was not among those elite ranks of skill. She was however, blessed with enormous talent and a natural instinct for combat that the King of Knights had seen rivaled only when she had fought the Greatest Hero of Greece in Fuyuki.

The comparison to Heracles was more than apt, as though Mordred had none of his ingrained technique, she easily matched his fury, Clarent flying more with the blind rage of a Berserker than the refined swordsmanship one would expect of a Saber. And yet, each of her impassioned blows found a chink in Arturia's defense, forcing her to stall her own assaults to move Excalibur into her child's path. She didn't know whether it was her aforementioned battle instinct or if she had simply memorized the King of Knights' fighting style, but it made her far more of an issue to combat than a more traditional Servant of Madness. It was not for nothing that the rebellious warrior had been able to disarm her at Camlann.

Of course, she had one very large advantage now that she did not possess at her final battle. One that left Mordred somewhat underwhelming as a threat.

Crimson lightning erupted off Clarent's blade and flashed towards Arturia, blazing all in its path to ash, only to shatter harmlessly against Excalibur's shining steel. The tempest didn't even have time to clear before Mordred had charged through her own attack to launch a merciless onslaught of slashes against her former sovereign. The air pressure of each slice carved the plain underneath the two warriors, chunks of dirt flying everywhere.

Through it all, Arturia kept her composure. She couldn't lose it. Not for the task she had to do. Rin and Shirou were counting on her. She couldn't dally in this battle.

And yet, she found she could not will herself to take the offensive.

"Have your skills deteriorated, King of Knights? You shouldn't be this helpless against just my warmup!" Mordred challenged, the scarlet light crackling over her horned helm to grant her a truly devilish visage. "Where is the prestigious power that built Camelot? Where is your noble spirit?"

A sneer escaped her helmet. "Or do you think me base enough that you can face me without your full strength? You insult me, father!"

Arturia sighed. Whatever other emotional turmoil she was dealing with seeing her son again, she most certainly had not missed dealing with her boasting. Really, as if she could fight Mordred without using her full strength. If she had faced the Knight of Treachery when her abilities were reduced by having Shirou as her master, she would have struggled just to stay alive.

Now, the combat was a simple matter. Navigating her own mind, her own heart, and figuring out what to say, if anything, was not.

Ugh! What was she even doing? Why was she hesitating? She was a Servant, first and foremost. Whatever their personal connection, Mordred was her enemy. If she started talking, she'd talk, but she could not focus on that to the exclusion of her duty!

Mordred's blade came down for another slash, but Excalibur struck it head-on before it could cross between the two knights. Arturia stepped forward, her sword inched past Clarent as wind coalesced around the edge. The steel could not reach her son's face with the Radiant Royal Sword locking down the lower half of her weapon, but the rest of her arsenal was not so restricted. It was no coincidence that her opponent's electricity suddenly became much more focused the moment she began the maneuver.

"Strike Air!"

"Red Thunder!"

Both legendary swords erupted with power, gale-force wind and a thunderous scarlet tempest blasting past each other in opposite directions, the air popping under the sheer power.

Mordred was sent flying back, tumbling through the sky until she righted herself to land on her feet. She skidded through the mud until her momentum was finally expended, a new trench carved into the soil of Romania. The Knight of Treachery panted hard, raising her head to regain her view of the battlefield.

Only to immediately have to leap backwards as Excalibur flickered through where her skull had been a mere moment before. Even still, the holy sword's edge came far too close.

Arturia watched as the horned helm cracked down the center, splitting into two neat halves that plummeted to the ground. Mordred's face was at last revealed, gapping in shock at her father's move.

"You charged right through? How…" the question died on her lips, her mouth twisting into an eager grin. "Of course you did. Come, King of Knights! Now that you've regained your backbone, it will be my distinct pleasure to break it over my knee!"

"You are welcome to try," Arturia muttered without thinking.

Mordred cocked an eyebrow. "Oh? You still think so little of me, father? Do you believe that the mere spawn of a witch is no threat to you? Don't forget, my blade has tasted your blood before."

"I am well aware of my own death, Mordred," Arturia chided her, deciding to be merciful and forgo mentioning that the Knight of Treachery only slew her due to being revived by Morgana's curse. And even then, only because Arturia had been critically injured after fighting the rest of the battle. "Please, my son, can we cease with this childish prattle and just fight."

"You call me childish! You call me—" Mordred's eyes widened, all aggression evaporating from her visage. "You… you call me your son? Your heir?"

"Just my son," Arturia clarified. "You have always been my son, and for not making that clear in life, you have my apologies."

"I… you thought of me… as your…" Mordred stuttered. She shook her head, looking almost like a confused kitten trying to shake off a string. It was actually rather adorable. "But then why did you disdain me so in life?"

Arturia raised an eyebrow. "I already told you. I do not, nor have I ever, hated you."

"While you were impaling me on a spear!"

The King of Knights shrugged. "I was king. You were rebelling. It was a matter of duty, not personal feelings."

"Then… then why… why did you say I did not have the capacity to be king?"

"Because you didn't."

"How?!"

"Your reaction to a matter not going exactly how you wanted it to, a matter in which you lost nothing, was to start a civil war that killed thousands and destroyed the kingdom," Arturia pointed out. "You are brash, impulsive, and ruled by anger. I was hardly the perfect king, but I—"

"But you what?!" Mordred roared, her fury reignited. "I am fully aware of the shadow you cast. I lived in it for years without complaint. And now… and now you turn around only to insult me!"

It was at that moment that Arturia realized that she was still not the best at dealing with or expressing emotions. Granted, she had not gone into this fight expecting reconciliation. She had held out hope that spending time away from her and with her new master would bring Mordred peace, would bring back the earnest smile that had been on her face the day she'd revealed her identity to her king. Perhaps it would have, she'd never know.

But what she did know, was that all hope of that happening had been lost the moment she'd known Arturia was present in the Great Holy Grail War. Without her, without the 'King of Knights', Mordred would be free to be the excitable, but well-meaning knight that she was when she'd first come to Camelot. But with her, with just the knowledge of her failure of a parent's proximity…

She'd realized it when she was facing Assassin of Black, while staring at the mountains of corpses conjured by the wraiths, by the children. The children who had been turned into monsters by a world they were never even born into. Just like she'd turned Mordred into the Knight of Treachery without even realizing it.

But however they were created, both were a threat to innocents. She had stopped Jack the Ripper because the world could not. She could not hide from Mordred and pray for a miracle. She was her father. She had damned her. She had to at least take responsibility for her failure, and make sure no one else was hurt by its consequence.

And yet… it was foolish, but she hoped… she prayed that the time away from her had been enough. She had to know.

"Mordred," she spoke quietly. "Why were you summoned? What wish would you ask of the Holy Grail?"

Past experience had taught her well that the swiftest way to ascertain a Heroic Spirit's character, or at least their intentions, was to learn their wish for the Grail, the reason they had returned to the world of the living. Cu Chulainn's lack of interest had made clear that his battle lust was truly his motive. Iskandar's desire to reincarnate instead of conquering the world via the chalice had revealed that, dangerous tyrant he may have been, he was trustworthy enough to work with should a greater threat arise. One of the things that had made EMIYA so unsettling before she had learned his true identity was that he could not be understood through this method, as his lack of desire was not explained by any of his outward actions.

But Mordred, whatever she was, did not value the same cunning the Counter Guardian had. Her desire, or lack thereof, would reveal what laid in her heart.

She knew it was a fool's hope, but Arturia prayed it was an earnest smile.


FATEFATEFATEFATE

Her wish? Her wish?! All this time, all this running ragged, and she wanted to know her wish?

It was almost funny. For a moment… for a moment she'd thought the world had turned upside down. Or maybe that it had been upside down for a long time and had only just righted itself. When she'd heard those words, that acknowledgment that she'd dreamt of for so many years…

But it was a lie. Father mocked her, insulted her. Spouted such ridiculousness with no care or meaning and claimed it was the nectar she had dreamt of since the day she learned of her heritage.

And the saddest part was, she'd almost believed her. Even with the clarification that she was acknowledged only as a son and not as an heir, her heart had soared, that buried fragment she'd sworn never to recognize aflutter with absolute euphoria. But then came the lie, the enormous falsehood that made it abundantly clear that not a single word out of her former sovereign's mouth had carried an ounce of truth.

That she had not been the perfect king. Asinine! Such deception was beneath the King of Knights!

But if she wanted to know her wish, who was she to hide her inevitable ascension?

"My wish for the Grail is to claim my birthright," Mordred declared. "I shall use the chalice to arrive at the Sword of Selection before the Magus of the Flowers brought you to the stone. And then I will draw the blade and ascend to the throne!"

The King of Knights' eyes narrowed, obviously threatened by the magnificence of her design. "You plan to attempt to pull out Caliburn?"

"I will attempt to do nothing! I will pull out Caliburn!"

"How?" father asked. "Mordred, do you plan to change fate?"

"I make my own fate!" she challenged, a determined smirk spreading across her face.

"But we cannot change what has already happened," father said. "The past is the past, Mordred. We can only move forward."

Mordred grinned like a shark on the hunt. She was moving forward. Forward towards her rightful place. She had to claim the throne of Camelot, and the Sword of Selection was the only path a worthy successor like her could take.

And she would prove that worth by displaying once again that she was the only knight to ever surpass her father, the perfect king!

Granted, she didn't know what she was if she'd surpassed perfection, but that was a question for philosophers. She was a warrior.

Clarent crackled with lightning and she charged forward on the strength of a Prana Burst, her sword raised for a heavy overhead strike. Her father merely sighed and raised Excalibur, stopping the attack cold.

Mordred smirked. Exactly as planned. She was not so foolish as to think she could best her father in technique. In terms of skillful swordsmanship, there were none that surpassed King Arthur (no matter what some traitors might claim). However, her primary strength was not flowery ripostes, but ruthless pragmatism.

She removed one hand from her sword's hilt and closed it into a fist. Charged with the power of a raging tempest, she thrust her arm forward to slug her father across the face. With this, she'd catch the King of Knights off-guard and take control of the momentum of the fight.

Or at least, that was the plan before the spectral image of an intimately familiar scabbard materialized right in front of her target. Mordred's eyes barely had time to widen before her fist struck the ghostly sheath. Even through her armor, his hand throbbed with agony, as if she'd tried to punch out a hunk of solid steel.

Still, she knew perfectly well that she had no time to waste. She instantly fired another Prana Burst through her muscles and backpedaled as fast as her feet could carry her. Even then, she nearly wasn't quick enough, Excalibur sweeping down in a flash of wondrous gold.

The front portion of Mordred's armor was severed in two halves and exploded; the pristine steel torn completely asunder by the Sword of Promised Victory. The racing wind imparted by the slash slammed into the Knight of Treachery, a great cough of blood sputtering out of her mouth as she tumbled across the dirt.

Father sighed, the spectral scabbard fading from the air. "It seems battle truly is our only recourse. For whatever it's worth, I am sorry for what I turned you into."

Mordred staggered to a knee, panting hard and leveraging Clarent like a cane. Her eyes narrowed as she took stock of her new information.

Father had somehow reacquired Avalon. The Avalon that provided her with passive unlimited regeneration everywhere except her brain. The Avalon that could shield her from any and all harm if she focused and stood still. The Avalon that's sudden theft from Camelot was a significant factor in Camlann not being a complete and utter failure for the rebellious forces.

Mordred fought in a manner some might call reckless, but she wasn't stupid. She was fully aware of the titanic disadvantage she'd found herself in. She'd been driven to her knees while father didn't even have a scratch on him.

But she couldn't back down, not from this fight. Bleak as it may have been, this was an opportunity, a gift from the heavens. Long had she claimed to be the only knight to ever surpass her father, and through having taken his life, that claim was valid. But she'd never had the opportunity to face him at his apex, with all his treasured weapons and magic.

She would face the King of Knights, the perfect king, at his best, and she would overcome him, Avalon and all. And then none would be able to deny her worth. It was almost a shame that this fight would occur so soon instead of as the final duel for the grail. It would have made a magnificent capstone before she claimed her wish.

As it was, the battle would serve as a fine trial for the midway point of this war. And as the lead actor, she would push through and claim victory, no matter the odds against her.

After all, isn't that what a hero did.


FATEFATEFATEFATE

Shirou Amakusa was not familiar with whatever hero Shirou Emiya had transformed into, but he already knew it was a Servant not to be trifled.

"Oh?" the apocryphal saint intoned. "You know my true name with but a glance? Could this new form you've taken be that of a third Ruler?"

"…I'm actually not sure if he qualifies as a Ruler or not. He doesn't have a wish for the grail—that's beside the point," Emiya muttered. He resumed his glare at Amakusa. "You're the one. The reason Ruler was summoned, the reason she couldn't properly manifest. The one who sent Karna to kill her."

Amakusa dipped his head. "I confess. It was I."

"Why?" Emiya demanded. "Why would you put innocent people at risk by killing the moderator?"

"Why should he not?" a new voice declared.

Amakusa noted Emiya's eyes subtly glance at the new speaker, his flamboyant voice unsuited for the despair of the decimated battlefield, yet easily loud enough to be heard over the thunderous carnage occurring nearby. The priest didn't even have to look to know that the playwright was bowing.

"Caster of Red, William Shakespeare, at your service," the flamboyant writer announced. "But please, pay me no mind. I have not accompanied my master here with the intention of fighting. I am merely an observer, though one that is thoroughly grateful to behold your stupendous performance! To think a human could allow themselves to be possessed by a Heroic Spirit and not be incinerated in the process! Simply magnificent!"

"Indeed, it is quite a sight," Amakusa concurred, though a slight frown crossed his face as Shakespeare returned to spirit form. "Though, I do wonder why you would do so. Whatever chance connection you have with this Servant won't allow you to maintain this form for more than a few minutes, and I can't imagine the consequences being anything less than agonizing. Why would you jeopardize the purity of your own existence? Unless…"

He recalled his brother, Kirei's void that had driven him to attempt to take his own life. And how a similar aberration had simmered with the boy he'd met that day in the Sighisoara Church. In the hero that stood before him now, it was a gaping scab.

"Perhaps you felt that your being is already tainted," Amakusa finished, her expression turning far more sympathetic. "I believe I know a way to assist with that."

Emiya scowled. "I don't know what you think you're talking about, but I'll have to decline."

"Are you sure? I would be more than willing to discuss an alliance between our two factions. I don't know why the Kaleidoscope sent you, but I'm sure we can come to some arrangement that satisfies us all. I've even prepared a gift that may be of some interest to you."

"How did you know about Zel..." Emiya confusion settled into a steely glare. "I just confirmed it, didn't I?"

"I was already rather certain. It was a formality at most," the priest assured him. "As for my offer?"

"You can ask Tohsaka if you survive this, but I wouldn't get your hopes up. We don't have the best history with Servants acting as masters."

"A pity. Well, if you change your mind at any time, feel free to speak up—"

Amakusa hadn't even finished talking before he'd dashed to the side, a barrage of elegant swords obliterating the ground he'd stood upon a moment before. Emiya hadn't just been talking with him for no reason. He'd been taking advantage of the distraction to subtly conjure more the weapons he'd projected against Atalanta, having them hang in midair and then fly down to skewer his foe. It might have even worked if the saint hadn't been perfectly aware that his opponent was the scion of the Mage Killer. He'd been expecting such an underhanded strategy and never lowered his guard.

That said, he could already see scores more of the floating swords materializing above Emiya, each of a completely unique design and radiating with mystical permeance. They may have just been projections of some advanced form of graduation air, but somehow Amakusa had no doubt that the manifestations before him carried all the strength of genuine Noble Phantasms. Such a thing should have been preposterous. A Noble Phantasm was the crystallization of a Heroic Spirit's legend, a unique existence from the very peak of humanity. It should not have been possible to so casually replicate them.

But it also shouldn't have been possible for a mage to replicate a Heroic Spirit's form and powers, so not adapting to such changing circumstances seemed like a poor strategy.

Amakusa slipped several sets of black keys from his sleeve, each group laced with a different prayer. "Set!"

At his command, magic circles flashed into existence beneath each of the blades, orienting them exactly where the priest wanted them to go. A sparse few shot through the air for Emiya, only to be swiftly deflected by his handheld swords while his airborne salvo made for his enemy. Fortunately, the priest had directed the vast majority of his weapons to implant themselves into the dirt, a burst of magecraft enlarging them into a massive palisade of holy steel.

Of course, Emiya's bombardment burst through the defense with little difficulty, no modern mysticism could stand up to the history of Noble Phantasms, but the black keys did delay the barrage for the briefest fraction of a second. And since Amakusa was a Servant, that was all the time he needed to escape, deflecting the few that still came close with his Miike Tenta Mitsuyo.

In the blink of an eye, the priest was in striking distance of Emiya, his curved sword streaking for the unknown Servant's throat. However, as expected, his opponent's black and white blades deftly rose to divert the strike.

The two silver-haired men began a vicious duel, steel singing as their weapons clashed as blurs of color. Amakusa got the sense that he was faster than his opponent, but the other warrior made up for it with technique. While the priest was a perfectly adept swordsman, the man he faced was… not a savant, but dedicated. The saint had faced numerous gifted samurai in his life, and he could tell the Servant before him did not possess even a fraction of their natural talent.

And yet, talent was the ability one was blessed with when they took up a discipline, a sign of the heights they could reach. Skill was what they honed that ability into, and his current foe had that in spades.

He was not a force of nature on the battlefield, like Karna or Achilles were. But each swing was practiced, each parry efficient. Emiya could not utilize his projectiles without risking hitting himself, but as his steel-gray eyes narrowed in concentration and his blades held their ground against all assaults, Amakusa began to believe he wouldn't need them. This was not a swordsman of legend, but it was a swordsman who could contend with them, and that in turn made him a myth all his own.

If their duel continued as it was, Emiya's transformation was likely to run out before either of them claimed victory. And while that, in turn, would likely win the battle for the Red Master, Amakusa felt a vile taste in his mouth rise at the thought of defeating his opponent in such a manner. It shouldn't have mattered, his goal was too important to hesitate before, he would perform whatever evil deeds were necessary so long as they were the last a human soul would ever commit.

Yet, he felt he would not be satisfied with such a sleepout. Perhaps it was the void within him, so similar to Kirei yet so oddly different, but Amakusa felt that he needed to defeat Shirou Emiya. Something within him, some ideal he held close in his heart demanded that he act.

And so, he did. He tapped into the Noble Phantasm that had allowed him to perform miracles in life, through its Almighty Key, he accessed the gift he had prepared for Emiya. How ironic that it would be his undoing.

His speed that before had made him a blur to the human eye accelerated even further to make him a blur even to his fellow heroes. He launched an overhead strike that Emiya raised a sword to block, only to suddenly to pull away and jump back in with a thrust to his foe's chest. The dark-skinned Servant's eyes barely had time to widen as he stumbled back, his blades, short as they were, ill-positioned to counter the stab.

Of course, this became a non-issue when the swords vanished from his hands in nodes of turquoise light, quickly replaced by far more specialized weapons.

Sai, tripoint daggers made to counter lightweight longswords, flashed into his hands, crossing themselves before him and catching the Miike Tenta Mitsuyo mid-thrust. Amakusa immediately retreated, just as Emiya twisted the knives to catch his blade.

It was an excellent strategic move on the false Servant's part. Amakusa had seen more than a few ninjas wield sai in life. They were specially made to counter the katana of samurai. While their smaller size made them somewhat easier to afford, their three-point design could snap swords in half if they caught the blades in between their edges. It was the natural choice to combat the priest's weapon and Emiya had figured out how to call upon them in less than a split second. Incredible.

Unfortunately, Amakusa was rocked from admiring his opponent's abilities when his left hand exploded with pain. His eyes darted downward only to catch sight of a network of turquoise lines flashing across his arm. Several of the circuits pulsed emerald, the prana within them flowing improperly.

'Not enough time', Shirou noted internally. 'It hasn't had enough time to fully integrate with my body, and I haven't had enough time to practice with it.'

Indeed, the power within overflowed into the rest of his body, turning what was supposed to be a short pullback to prepare another strike into full retreat. Amakusa was now back to the original distance he'd been from Emiya, a fact that both men were fully aware did not favor the priest.

The false Servant narrowed his eyes and a dozen blades flashed into existence above him. Amakusa scowled, focusing all he could into controlling the new power within him. He'd need it to survive this barrage—

"Master!"

Amakusa's eyes widened when Semiramis' voice shot through his head. His control over his new magecraft slipped, though fortunately, it poured more power into him rather than less. Emiya's bombardment blazed towards him, but his body accelerated faster than even the torrent of steel could match, zooming even farther away from the other Servant.

The priest fell to one knee, clutching his left hand as it froze up, throbbing with agony. He forced himself back up in an instant though, ducking another round of swords.

'Yes, Assassin? I am quite busy. Can this wait—'

"Ruler is approaching your position! I can't stop her!"

Amakusa scowled. No, that couldn't wait. If Ruler cornered him before he had the Greater Grail in his possession, she'd learn his identity with her True Name Discernment and focus all the forces she could on putting him down. He couldn't let himself be cornered by her before he was ready. Or let his true name become known to her.

Atop the now far off hill, he saw Emiya replace his sai with a bow, prepping another blade to act as an arrow. Under normal circumstances, he would have loved to complete his duel with the strange projection mage. But as it was, he could take no chance. Not if he was to create a world where no one cried.

"My apologies, Shirou Emiya. It seems I must take my leave of you," he called, turning his back. "Caster! The stage is yours!"

"Hold on!" Emiya yelled, his arrow crackling to full length. "We're not done—"

"Oh, but I'm afraid we are, my good impossible man! Drawing out a scene longer than is necessary is truly a characteristic of poor work," Shakespeare proclaimed, appearing behind the false Servant, his leather-bound book already open as soon as he emerged from spirit form.

Emiya whirled about, but Caster's Self-Preservation skill would keep him from harm so long as he did not engage the enemy in combat. And the writer's Noble Phantasm could not truly be called combat. Already, the pages of his tome were flying out circling around the false Servant until he was consumed in a typhoon of paper.

"But fear not! For the curtain rises on a new act!" Shakespeare cheered, a grin of madness over his jolly face. "All the world's a stage, and you are my player!"

Amakusa did not waste the opportunity his ally had given him. He wrangled his new magic to his will and shot off into the night, a flying skeleton warrior already descending to return him to the Hanging Gardens, his adversary trapped in his own mind.

From his airborne position, he spotted the distinctive blue blur of Jeanne D'Arc racing across the battlefield. If he had stayed even a moment more, even to kill Emiya himself, she would have arrived at the battlefield in time to see him.

That said, the mage of the Periwinkle Faction could not be allowed to live.

'Assassin, as soon as Caster is out of the way, bombard Emiya's position.'


FATEFATEFATEFATE

As soon as he saw the titanic gears and soot-covered sky, not to mention the endless field of swords, Shirou knew exactly where he was. What he didn't know what how the hell he'd gotten there? He hadn't dared attempt to invoke his Reality Marble (Archer's Reality Marble) against Amakusa, the priest was moving too fast, faster than he should have been able to, faster than any Servant the sword mage had ever seen. If he'd been even an instant slower conjuring his sai…

Regardless, his bow and arrow were absent from his hands now. And a brief look downward confirmed that his skin was once again his natural lighter shade, Archer's body armor and crimson mantle replaced with his own casual ensemble. Yet, he could still feel the drain of his transformation on his magical energy, the power of Rin's gems depleting at the same pace.

So why did he look like himself? Or at least, the him of now? And what did Caster of Red have to do with this?

He tried to summon Kanshou and Bakuya into his hands but found something blocking his magecraft, a discomforting experience if he'd ever had one. He surveyed the desolate plain of weapons, flashes of sunlight splintering through the firmament of ash and soot. Before long, he spotted a familiar towering figure standing atop the hill of swords.

"Archer?" Shirou called, warily striding up the slope. "What's going on? Is this part of our connection—"

A dozen blades, swords, spears, and shattered javelins sprouted out of Archer's back. The Counter Guardian fell to his knees, a flood of blood erupting from his flesh.

"Archer!" Shirou shouted, dashing up the hill.

He circled around to his future self's front, a dribble of blood streaming down from his lips. He had no shroud, clad only in his black armor, his silver hair ruffled instead of slicked back, his steel eyes staring blankly into the distance.

"There is nothing at the end of helping people. It is a false life that can save neither yourself nor others," Archer murmured. "An ideal is only an ideal after all. As long as you embrace that ideal, the friction with reality will continue to increase. So you will someday face reality and have to pay the price for your compromises."

Shirou's eyes narrowed. He whirled away from Archer and glared off into the smoke. "You're a writer, aren't you, Caster? You should know better than to steal other people's words. Especially to someone who's listened to the original."

"Oh, contrary, my impossible man," a jolly voice rang out. "The finest of authors knows that one of the greatest tools at his disposal is his peers. Or in this case, the world around you."

Shirou turned back and found the greatest playwright in history leaning on his dying alternate self like a bar counter, a smug grin plastered across his face.

"Besides," he said. "Should one whose very existence is built off a borrowed ideal really criticize for plagiarism?"

The sword mage stared impassively at the Englishman, though inside he was already trying to figure out how his foe had learned such a specific detail about him. "What's going on? Is this some kind of illusion?"

"Illusion? Perish the thought!" Shakespeare spread his arms to the sky and twirled around as if he were at a carnival. "This is the greatest of all illusions! My wondrous stage upon which even the most stupendous tales in all myth and legend shall be outshone!"

"So it's your Noble Phantasm?"

The playwright immediately deflated, shaking his head like Shirou had just popped his favorite balloon. "Must you refer to it so pedestrianly, my good fellow?"

"I had an English teacher for a guardian. Believe me, your plays could use a bit less embellishment."

"Oh, so you've read my work? Excellent! It is always good to know one's enemy is a person of good taste."

Shirou didn't feel he needed to respond that. He felt his unamused stare was sufficient.

"So, what now?" he inquired. "I can't hurt you like this. And if I could be harmed, your master would have already stabbed the real me."

Shakespeare grinned. "Quite astute, my impossible man! Violence in the theater would be truly deplorable. So as long as you are within my First Folio, you need only relax and enjoy the show!"

Shirou scoffed, his eyes narrowed on Archer's dying form. "You call this a show? My alternate self dying and reprimanding me for wanting to save everyone? Sorry, but I've been through the real deal. This isn't even worth the price of admission."

"But of course not! What sort of charlatan would demand full price for just the prologue?" Shakespeare chuckled, stroking his hand through Archer's wild hair, looking so similar to Shirou's own orange. "But just as the chorus must prime the audience for Henry the Fifth's glorious campaign across France, so too must the mood be set in this production. And who better to do so than the Heroic Spirit EMIYA?"

Shirou's eyes widened. He'd suspected before, but now… "How do you know his name?"

"How? Why, because you do," the playwright replied, a mad twinkle in his eye. "Perhaps I should have mentioned. Your memories shall serve as the source material for this production. And what memories they are!"

Shakespeare stood back and flourished his arms around Archer. "I called you the impossible man for having taken the majesty of a Heroic Spirit onto your own form, but such is only natural for one such as you! A machine of a man utterly dedicated to saving everyone in front him, if only because there is nothing else that can bring him that ever sought-after peace of satisfaction!"

"Saving people because you want to… it is the height of hubris," Archer whispered. "Chasing after an impossible ideal… an ideal that will betray you…"

"And even if it did not, what would you do once you'd accomplished it?" Shakespeare queried. "Oh, you and my master would get along so well!"

Shirou scoffed. "He tried to kill Ruler, which put the lives of innocent people at risk."

"Indeed, he would have sacrificed the few to save the many," the Caster of Red concurred, placing his hands over Archer shoulders. "But when the choice is between one life and the salvation of all humanity, what Counter Guardian wouldn't make such a decision, even at the cost of a holy maiden and a few broken rules?"

"Your master isn't a Counter Guardian," Shirou noted. "And neither am I. Don't think I can't see what you're doing."

"Oh? Have you discovered the themes of this work already?"

"You're trying to get me to sympathize with Amakusa, convince me to join his side and talk Rin and Saber into doing the same," he declared, glaring at the playwright. "It won't work. No matter how much you talk about salvation, or whatever he's really planning."

For a moment, Shakespeare looked at Shirou as if he'd gone mad. Then, the Englishman threw his head back and burst out laughing.

"Something funny?" Shirou demanded.

"Hohohoho, pardon me, my impossible man. It is improper for an actor to laugh at his fellows during a performance, but your comedic timing is simply superb!" the writer professed, calming down his chortles. "Join my master? Perish the thought! It would be a dreadfully convoluted story if you did."

"Um, okay," Shirou said. "Glad we're clear on that."

His mind raced a mile a minute. He'd assumed once the playwright had started quoting Archer's reprimands and talking about how similar the Counter Guardian and Amakusa were that he was in for another round of someone trying to convince him to give up on his dream and just go along with whatever they were doing. But if that wasn't Shakespeare's goal here, what? Was it really just an elaborate distraction to allow his master to escape?

No. Shirou might not have known too much about the playwright, but Taiga had made him read enough of his work to know that nothing was ever so simple with him. 'Othello' wasn't just a revenge plot; it was a commentary on the detrimental effects of racism and sexism on individuals and society at large. 'Romeo and Juliet' wasn't just a story of star-crossed lovers, it was an analysis of the dangers idolizing love and not allowing youth to explore genuine connections. Having met the man himself, the sword mage could safely say that he was quite possibly insane, a manic tornado hidden under a veneer of gentlemanly chaos. He was a trickster with the precision of a surgeon, a child picking away at a fly's wings not out of malice, but to see how it would buzz away.

Which raised the question, if keeping him distracted was Amakusa's reason for sending the writer, what was Shakespeare's reason for talking with him?

"Now then, on with the show!" Caster of Red cheered. "A false hero forged by false ideals and set against a false saint! A sword made unlimited by their limits! Now we shall see the blade forged from a corpse!"

He clapped his hands together and Archer's head rose like a puppet on a string. The Counter Guardian raised his arms and a pair of torches spawned into his grip.

The flames surged and suddenly Shirou's vision was consumed in fire.


FATEFATEFATEFATE

"Careful, careful. Sister, please be careful—"

"I am being as careful as I possibly can, Caules! And you are not helping!"

Caules cringed and stepped back from his sister. After Saber of Red's attention had been drawn away by the other Servants, he had seized the opportunity and used a Command Seal to teleport Frankenstein back to his location. Fortunately, one of the advantages of being a Servant, or more likely half-mechanical, was that a little thing like having her chest cleaved in two, specifically her right shoulder hanging off her stomach, was a great deal more survivable than it would be for a normal person.

Now, his Berserker was laying down on his bed while his sister pressed the two slabs of her flesh and wiring together, her hands alight with turquoise healing magecraft. Frankenstein grit her teeth as her body slowly knit itself back together but given how she was created through a far more expansive but crude version of the same process, it was no surprise that she remained quiet. Though, Caules doubted the wiring itself was being repaired. Fiore was talented, but she had no aptitude for technology.

"Should I use a Command Seal?" he asked. "That could fix her, right? Ergh! Why didn't I just do that instead of transporting her here?!"

"Even if you had, what more could she have done out there?" Fiore challenged him. "Between Saber of Red, Saber of Blue, Saber of Black, Spartacus doing… whatever he's doing, what more could she have done without getting flattened in the crossfire?"

Frankenstein growled at his sister. Fiore cringed.

"No, I'm not saying you're weak but… well… just look at Rider!"

Caules glanced to the viewscreen. Indeed, Rider of Black was attempting to assist Siegfried in killing… another Siegfried? What? They'd barely looked away for a minute to care for Frankenstein, how much had they missed?!

Regardless, whether because of his own lacking parameters or because he didn't really want to kill their target, Astolfo seemed to be getting in Saber of Black's way more than he helped. Every time his lance lunged for their foe, he got in the way of his ally's slash, forcing him to abandon his assault or make a far more predictable strike.

Caules sighed, but he saw the point. Judging by the way the second Siegfried was scrambling just to survive the current hindered assault, Frankenstein being present on the battlefield at the moment would have just been a hindrance. Her greatest strength was her endurance, her ability to recycle magical energy and fight nigh-endlessly, but that was little use in a battle with foes of superior power and skill.

Well, maybe not skill, the second Siegfried barely seemed comfortable holding his towering blade, bar a few brief bursts of mesmerizing fencing that Caules could not put to words, but recognize as first-class nonetheless. Still, if he had the Armor of Fafnir, Frankenstein's strikes wouldn't be able to penetrate his defenses anyway. No, for now, the best thing was to give her a well-deserved rest.

Berserker snarled, but she glanced to the side, still dissatisfied. Caules came over to the opposite side from his sister and clasped her hand in his own.

"Don't worry. You did incredible," Caules assured her. "Astolfo would have been flattened half a dozen times without you."

"Ergh," Frankenstein growled.

"No, that wouldn't have been the better decision. He might be… excitable, but he's still our ally."

"Rugh."

"Look, at worst, we can use him as a meat shield."

"Can you two disparage our ally later?" Fiore asked. "Doing this is hard enough with Spartacus ranting in my head. Adding you guys to this isn't making it any…easier."

Caules cocked an eyebrow at his sister's sudden trailing off until he saw what had drawn her attention. A single blue rune glowed in midair, one Darnic had drilled in their head for ages. An intruder had made it into the castle.

Fiore waved her hand and Caster's familiars conjured another viewscreen in midair. The image displayed Rin Tohsaka marching into the halls of Millennia Citadel, the female homunculus she'd healed on the battlefield at her side. When the guardsmen homunculi saw them, they did not attack as they were programmed to. Instead, they lowered their weapons and their counterpart spoke. In moments, they had fallen in behind her and started marching for the basement.

That was more than a little concerning, but far more so was Tohsaka striding down the exact route to the Greater Grail.

"She's using the homunculi as a distraction," Fiore muttered. "She's going for the grail."

She snatched Caules' hands and pressed them where hers were previously, squeezing Fran's chest and ruined wedding dress back together. Her bare chest!

"Sister!"

"I've finished sealing most of the wound. You just need to keep it stable until her natural healing factor takes over. She is a Servant after all," Fiore said, wheeling herself towards the door. "Uncle Gordes and Celenike are already moving towards Tohsaka. I'll back them up."

Caules' eyes widened. The last time his sister had fought an enemy master, she'd lost her Servant and had only kept from losing her life by Shirou Emiya's intervention. He doubted the sword mage would be as charitable when she was opposing his master. Either way, he had no desire to find out just how far the Reality Marble wielder's compassion extended.

"What about Darnic?" he asked, looking for any excuse to keep her out of harm's way. "Can't he take her?"

"He won't leave the Grail Room," Fiore said, priming her Bronze Link Manipulators. "And if she gets there, either she'll kill him, or he'll kill her. And he won't be happy that we let her get to him."

Caules cringed. Yeah, that would not be pleasant. Darnic was already not too fond of either of them. If they disappointed him again, there was no telling if they would survive the encounter.

But the other option… Lancer would exact his revenge if he or Berserker killed Darnic, but if Tohsaka did it… just another casualty of war. And since the Impaler still had his wish for the Grail, the homunculi were revolting, and there was no way Spartacus was going to survive the night with how he was stampeding into Archer of Red's constant barrages, there really would be only one mage in the Black Faction capable of providing for his prana needs.

Fiore rolled out of the room, a look of determination and duty upon her face. Tohsaka could be a tremendous boon to them, but a battle was still a battle. He would need a way to ensure that he could prevent the other mage from killing his sister.

And since he had the mystical combat skills of a weak breeze, that meant he needed to get Berserker healed up. One way or another, someone was going to die tonight. If he played his cards right, he might just be able to keep Fiore from being that person.


Draconic noted some lore errors in the last chapter and we are currently working on fixing them. Apologies.

Update 6/7/2020, the lore errors in the previous chapter have been corrected. Thank you for your patience!

An extra huge thank you to my patrons: Gregg Tracton, Annaya Chan, Keith Tracton, Nora Okonus, KefkaesqueXIII, Christian Howard, SanyaBane, Matthew Blevins, and David Wayman.

Thank you for Reading! I hope you enjoy what comes next!

Go Forth and Conquer!