The Grail, the Wraith, and the God
In the cavern below the Ryuudou-temple, the very place that the Greater Grail was stored in-between Grail Wars, tensions were rising high for Sakura, Ayako, and Rin, to say nothing about Osaki and Yomaura.
Standing grouped together, with Rin and Yomaura in the front and the other three behind them, they faced off against a duo consisting of a slovenly-looking man and a beautiful young woman. The latter looked very unsure and conflicted, her head down as she stared straight at the ground, but the slovenly man had a massive grin on his face that showed he felt completely in control of the situation.
Being glared at by both a Fraga and the most powerful Magus the Tohsaka-family had seen in many generations would have made most people extremely nervous, if not outright terrified, but the man looked utterly confident, grinning in a way that really pissed off the people looking at him.
Other than angering them however, that grin also concerned Rin and Yomaura. Neither of them were as adept as Shirou at discerning deceit, but they were still quite capable of recognising when they were being lied to, and in this case, they weren't.
As far as they could tell, the man wasn't bluffing. Not when he said that he was a Wraith, not when he wasn't worried about being defeated, and not when he claimed he had a brother in the Magus Association.
A brother with an eerily familiar name.
"Grover Meluastea?" Ayako sneered from behind Rin, glaring over the black-haired girl's shoulder. "I heard about him. Didn't he get his head chopped off at the Clocktower?"
"I'm surprised you know about that." The man, who claimed to be a Wraith named Mordegai, looked less confident for a moment, before the grin returned in full. "But I suppose the Tohsaka still have many friends in the Magus Association."
If only that were true. Before Shirou had gone to the Clocktower, Rin was fortunate if she heard about big news there a month after it had taken place, that was how badly informed she was. After her father had died, just about every ally they used to have had abandoned the family, and the ones that stayed certainly weren't the cream of the crop.
But if the Wraith wanted to believe that Rin had many friends in the Magus Association, she certainly wasn't going to disabuse him of that notion.
"Yeah, I know all about what happened to Grover Meluastea." She boasted, conveniently leaving out who had told her. "You said he was your brother? Perhaps we should cut off your head as well. Make you a matching set."
"My brother was weak." The Wraith sneered, instantly making it clear that there was no love lost between the brothers. "Weak and useless. It was always a foregone conclusion he'd be killed at least once. You will find I am not so easy to defeat."
"You don't seem very broken up about your brother's death." Ayako frowned, growing ever more disgusted with the creature. "Even if you didn't like him, you could at least pretend to be sad."
"Why would I be sad about him being killed? He will be back soon, if he isn't already."
"People die when they are killed." Sakura said sharply, and for some reason, the sentence really reverberated with the other two girls.
"We aren't people, fool!" The response was little more than a beastly snarl, indicating Sakura had hit a nerve. "We are Wraiths! We are not limited like you humans! We are so far above you as to be gods!"
"Yet here you are, hiding behind a young woman for protection." Osaki spoke up, his face set in an expression of revulsion, and he kept going, even when the Wraith turned towards him with a terrifying expression. "Some Wraith you are if you cannot even fight your own battles-"
The Wraith lashed out without warning, sending a wave of pure darkness right at Osaki.
A quick intervention from Yomaura, who combined three Runes with such speed and precision it left Rin's head spinning, saved his life.
Dagaz, Algiz, and Eihwaz were spun together to form a shield made of pure light, and the wave of darkness was dispelled before it could even come close to the detectives, the remaining motes of darkness dissipating harmlessly immediately after.
"Did I hit a nerve?" Osaki grinned at the Wraith from his place behind his partner, even as a drop of sweat made its way down his temple, indicating he'd been startled quite badly. "You look angry."
That wasn't true. The Wraith didn't look angry at all anymore. Rather, he had gone completely steel-faced, not a single emotion visible anywhere. Rin had always thought she had a good poker face, but the Wraith effortlessly beat her in that department.
However, what you couldn't see was often just as interesting as what you could. The fact that the Wraith was now so emotionless was rather notable, considering his demeanour so far had been very relaxed, mischievous, and cruel.
In other words, Osaki had indeed hit a nerve, and the Wraith was at the very least frustrated now.
"You know nothing about me, man filth." The creature sneered darkly at the detective. "I do not need this girl to fight you. Not as my ally, and not as my hostage."
"Prove it! Let Hiroko go and face us yourself!" Osaki challenged him. "Cowering behind a teenager is a poor look, you know."
There was a moment of silence, and Rin nearly groaned out loud when the Wraith smiled smugly again, indicating he had gotten over his temporary bout of anger and was about to say something scathing again.
"Hiroko is not my hostage." The Wraith sniffed, his face set in a smug expression that didn't promise anything good. "Hiroko is here with me because she is on my side."
"It sure doesn't look like it." Ayako huffed, before gesturing at Hiroko, who was starting to look more and more like a caged animal. "If anything, she looks like the victim here."
The brunette had been angry with Hiroko earlier after the girl had admitted to being the one who'd almost strangled her, but after the big reveal of the Wraith and the following conversation, there wasn't much of that anger left.
Right now, the brunette wanted to get Hiroko out of there and then engage the Wraith in battle. Something Rin could definitely get behind.
The black-haired girl had given some thought earlier to attacking anyway, regardless of Hiroko's presence, but she had no doubt that detective Yomaura would never allow for the girl to be harmed. She would counter every attack Rin would make, and they really couldn't afford to fight amongst themselves right now.
"A victim?" The Wraith seemed to consider the very notion hilarious, smiling at Ayako as if she was a dim-witted child. "Hiroko is not a victim in this matter, little fool. She is more guilty than I am."
"I sincerely doubt that." The brunette wasn't easily convinced though.
"Well, since you're not going to believe anything I say, you should hear it from the girl herself." The Wraith grinned again, before lightly touching Hiroko's shoulder. "Go on, dear. Tell them how you are involved in all this."
"I-I… I d-don't…" Hiroko stuttered, looking seconds away from fainting now, a panicked look in her eyes as she desperately searched for a way out. But with the Wraith behind her and the group in front of her, there was nowhere to go.
"Tell them." The Wraith grunted, his tone having become far more threatening.
Hiroko bit her lip so hard she outright drew blood, and then she took a deep breath, her eyes becoming progressively mistier with every second.
"I killed Carlton Paris." She confessed, and the first tear made its way down her cheek. "I drugged him, lured him to the Ryuudou-temple, and I strangled him, before burying his body in the woods."
"Yeah, we suspected as much." Ayako said, pursing her lips. "Why did you do it though? Did that creepy Wraith force you into it?"
"He… H-He was…" Hiroko tried explaining, but the tears kept coming increasingly faster, and eventually, her voice was drowned by her uncontrollable sobs.
"Ugh, fine, I'll do the explaining." The Wraith rolled his eyes in the most insulting way possible, before he scratched his cheek. "That said, how do I even explain this? Hm, well, I guess I'll start by telling you that Carlton Paris was the descendant of an Incubus."
Once more, Rin and Yomaura reacted with shock, while Osaki, Sakura, and Ayako reacted with confusion.
"An Incubus?" Osaki inquired carefully, unfamiliar with the term. "What exactly might that be?"
"An Incubus is a form of demon, always male, that drains women's life force in order to increase their own Magical Energy and retain their youth." Yomaura explained as if reading from a book. "They drain energy by having intercourse with the targeted woman. Some people say they even steal emotions, though that has never been confirmed."
"Indeed, Fraga." The Wraith nodded. "Incubi are completely dependent on women, and as such, have evolved to become perfect women-hunters. Naturally, since Incubi and humans can procreate, this results in a lot of Incubus half breeds, and from there, Incubus descendants. These descendants can most easily be recognised by their incredible skill at seduction. Just the sight of them is usually enough to capture the hearts of females everywhere."
"Capture the hearts?" Yomaura perked up, her mouth falling open slightly. "You mean Paris…?"
"So that's what he used!" Ayako gasped in realisation, hitting her closed fist on her palm. "Not a magical drug, but supernatural attractiveness."
"So you are saying Paris was a demon who took the life force of women to survive?" Osaki asked, his brow creased in worry.
"He was the descendant of such a demon." Mordegai corrected him. "Not as strong as a real Incubus, not nearly as dangerous, but still quite powerful. Most likely, he stole just enough life-force to keep himself spry and energetic, but no more."
"What happened to the women he seduced and stole life-force from?" Osaki demanded to know. "Are they in danger? Was Paris bad for their health?"
"For their physical health, no. Life-force is easily refilled." The Wraith shook his head, before grinning. "For their mental health though? Definitely. The tricks of Incubi can take quite the toll of the victim's mind, especially after prolonged exposure."
Osaki gritted his teeth, as did Yomaura and Ayako. The erratic behaviour of many of Carlton Paris' clients suddenly made a lot more sense. Ayako had been right, they had indeed been addicted, to something that was potentially far worse than any standard drug, and were now going through a withdrawal process that no single psychiatrist in the world would be able to understand or help with.
"Is that how you convinced Hiroko to murder him?" Sakura asked, glancing at the crying girl for a moment. "By telling her what Paris was doing to her mother?"
None of them had missed how much Hiroko loved her mother, and as such, it was not unthinkable that she would kill to protect her, especially against a threat as terrifying as an actual demon.
"You're a clever one, aren't you?" The Wraith huffed, before looking at Hiroko. "Yes, that is what I told her. Not just that though, I also told her Paris was particularly bad for that broad of a mother of hers, more so than for the other women."
"I discovered that the Maita-family is uniquely talented at resisting the influences of Magic, including the seduction-effects of Incubi and their descendants." Once more, the Wraith readily explained, and Rin was starting to suspect it really loved the sound of its own voice. "To Paris, that was a challenge. He enjoyed seducing Maita Rei anyway, uncaring about the damage he was inflicting on her psyche by forcing his way through her natural resistance. All I did was inform little Hiroko of that, and she did the rest."
"So what? You're the good guy now?" Rin scoffed, even as she privately winced at how callous Carlton Paris had apparently been. "Are we supposed to thank you?"
"I care not for your approval." The Wraith shrugged, before looking at Hiroko. "This one does though."
"I'm sorry!" The young woman suddenly cried, taking a step forward and reaching out to them, as if begging for their forgiveness. "I'm sorry for killing Paris! I'm sorry for almost strangling you! I'm sorry for poisoning your coffee!"
"Wait! Is that why I felt so terrible yesterday?" Osaki blinked in surprise. "You poisoned me?"
"I'm so, so sorry!" Hiroko fell to her knees, pressing her forehead into the ground. "I never wanted things to end like this! I never wanted it!"
"What are you talking about?" The Wraith laughed cruelly, a sound Rin found she hated with a passion. "Are you really trying to play the innocent maiden here? You? The woman who murdered her mother's lover? Who tried to strangle a girl who'd shown her nothing but kindness? Who tried to poison a detective? What a joke!"
"Shut up!" Yomaura snapped at the creature. "All those decisions were made under duress! I have no doubt you pressured her into committing those crimes!"
"Yeah! Don't try to pin the blame on someone else now!" Ayako agreed loudly. "Leave Hiroko alone and own up to your actions!"
"Well, I guess it could be that I had some level of influence over those specific actions of hers." The Wraith admitted, sounding purposefully ambiguous, before the cruel grin became even wider. "But I can assure you I had nothing to do with the fact that little Hiroko here killed her own father."
"What?!" Osaki gasped.
"That cannot be!" Yomaura shook her head.
"It's true!" The Wraith laughed loudly, taking great amusement in their astonishment. "Little Hiroko here is a natural-born killer."
"No." Yomaura shook her head again, before looking at Hiroko. "Kid, tell me it isn't true!"
Hiroko didn't reply. She remained in her kneeling position, keeping her forehead pressed to the ground, sobs wracking her body as she cried uncontrollably.
"It was of course for the same reason that she killed Paris, to protect her mother." The Wraith explained for her, looking at the crying girl with an expression that might have contained some hint of fondness. "Her father was an abusive drunk who hated the fact his wife had a more successful career than he. He raped her, beat her, belittled her, and regularly threatened to kill her. Hiroko just decided to head him off before he made good on his threat. During an outing in the mountains, she gave him a good shove, and boom, problem solved."
For a while, no one reacted. None of them knew what to say. It was clear that the Wraith was speaking the full truth, which meant that Hiroko was indeed a murderer, and a very capable one at that.
A murderer who had killed her own father.
The girl herself had gone completely silent now, almost appearing dead if it hadn't been for the soft rising and falling of her chest. She was completely spent, and had resigned herself to her fate, whatever that may be.
But fortunately for her, she wasn't the main focus or the main priority of the group. After all, she might be a murderer, but she wasn't a creature from the Reverse Side of the World.
"…Irrespective of Hiroko's actions, you are not a good guy either, mister Wraith." Osaki ultimately spoke up again, directing his confused anger towards the creature. "You still haven't explained why you have been helping her."
"Because I wanted to lend a hand-"
"You lie, Wraith!" Sakura snapped suddenly, anger clear in her face. "I did not learn much in my youth, but I do know your kind doesn't do anything if you don't profit from it yourself. You wanted Carlton Paris dead, otherwise you would never even have acknowledged Hiroko's existence. Why did you want that man dead?!"
"…Ah, what the hell? I might as well tell you." The Wraith huffed after a moment, smiling again. "I wanted his blood."
"The Incubus-magic in his blood was extremely potent. It was just the boost I needed to gain back some of the power I lost by possessing a body." He laughed, before gesturing at the black haze that was still hanging in front of the cave's exit. "That for instance would have been impossible if I hadn't drunk his blood."
"Drinking blood will only grant temporary power at best." Rin protested, and she wasn't even mentioning the fact that gaining power through blood carried massive risks if done improperly.
"Yes, but even just a year is better than nothing at all, isn't it?" The Wraith said, sounding oddly practical all of a sudden. "Besides, a year is plenty to achieve my true goal here."
"Your true goal?" Sakura inquired, sounding almost afraid to ask.
"I want the Grail." Mordegai revealed bluntly. "More to the point, I want to take Angra Mainyu's place."
In London, Lord El-Melloi had just invited Shirou to his office for a short, unofficial meeting, to update him on the progress of the sales of the items.
Shirou's mind wasn't in it however, and Lord El-Melloi quickly picked up on that.
"Fujimaru, what's wrong?" Lord El-Melloi asked, taking place behind his desk. "You appear to be very distracted."
"…Nothing." Shirou said after a moment of hesitation, though he didn't look away from the window he'd been staring out of ever since entering the office. "I just have a very bad feeling."
"We can postpone this meeting if you have somewhere else to be." Lord El-Melloi offered kindly. "Today's matter isn't particularly pressing."
"Thank you, but no." Shirou shook his head. "I don't think there's anything I can do even if I left now."
He was just about certain that his bad feeling came from something that was happening in Fuyuki, with his girls, and that meant that even if he left right away, it would take at least eight hours for him to arrive there to help them.
Right now, there was nothing he could do except trust them, so even though he was terribly concerned, he put the matter out of his mind, choosing to focus properly on Lord El-Melloi instead.
"If you are certain." The lord nodded once, accepting Shirou's words, before he looked at Grey, who, as always, was standing behind him. "Grey, do you have Svin's report?"
"Yes, sir." The white-haired girl whispered, handing him a file.
"Thank you." Lord El-Melloi accepted it, before placing it on the desk. "Well then, mister Fujimaru. I am happy to tell you that all your items have been sold successfully, with the exception of the ones we set aside for special deals, which will be sold over the coming week."
"That's great." Shirou grinned, unable to suppress a wave of excitement. "It's amazing you were able to sell everything."
"To be honest, I never expected otherwise." The man huffed, opening the file. "The only question was how much people would pay for them."
"And how much was that?" Shirou asked, finding himself eager to hear the answer despite his general disinterest for money.
"A grand total of…" Lord El-Melloi paused for a moment for dramatic effect. "4.5 billion pounds."
"Does that meet your expectations?"
Shirou didn't reply, couldn't reply even. His mouth had fallen open, and he couldn't summon the strength to close it again. He was too baffled.
4.5 billion pounds.
Billion! With a 'B'!
It was an ungodly sum of money for someone like him. No, it was an ungodly sum period!
No wonder Illya had given him an amused look when he'd said he hoped to earn five-hundred million pounds or so with the sale of the items! She'd probably already known that they would bring in almost ten times that.
"Golden Spires of Asgard." He whispered, looking up from the file –which proudly displayed the exact numbers that Lord El-Melloi had announced– to meet his benefactor's eyes. "I can't believe this."
"You better believe it." The lord laughed, and though he was still utterly baffled, Shirou enjoyed seeing the lord happy for once. "It's a bit more than I expected, but more is always better if it's about profit."
"P-Perhaps." Shirou mumbled, sitting down in a chair as his legs became wobbly. "Odin's beard."
"I have put it in a secure account that has been waylaid all over the globe. Don't ask me how it was created, Magecraft was involved." Waver slipped him a form, on which all kinds of numbers were written. "Here are the details. Just request a bank card and you will be able to use the account anywhere in the world."
Shirou didn't react aside from accepting the form. He was still too shocked by the news.
He was a billionaire now. An actual billionaire, not with Japanese Yen, but with British pounds, which were worth more than one-hundred-and-fifty Yen each.
More than 700 billion Yen.
It was ridiculous.
What was he even going to spend it on? More pretty dresses for Sakura and Ayako? Gems for Rin? Another ten houses? Twenty expensive cars for Fuji-Nee? A tank for Illya? Was he just going to let it collect dust in an account somewhere?
"Are you going to give Sir a cut of the profit?" Grey suddenly asked, raising her head enough to look Shirou straight in the eyes. "He was the one who arranged the auction."
"Grey." Lord El-Melloi frowned, looking back at his first apprentice, who was showing a surprising amount of assertiveness.
"I'm not saying you should give Sir a lot." Grey went on, ignoring her teacher. "But five percent would be normal. I checked with lady Reines."
"I did that as a favour." Lord El-Melloi protested. "I do not expect payment just for assisting my students."
"You might not expect it." Shirou acknowledged, before crossing his arms with a smile. "But you will get it anyway. Let's split the profit fifty-fifty."
"Eh?" The lord's gaze snapped back at the redhead, and his gobsmacked stare almost made Shirou laugh. That Grey looked just as baffled only made it funnier.
"You heard me. I get 2.25 billion pounds, you get 2.25 billion pounds." Shirou clarified. "Sounds fair, no?"
"Fair?! That's way too much for the amount of work that I did!" Lord El-Melloi protested. "A-And besides, don't you need that money yourself?!"
"No, I don't need that money." Shirou replied, before regretting his frankness when he saw the mighty gears in the lord's head start to turn, gears that might very well suss out his true motives in this matter.
"This… Was this your plan all along?" Lord El-Melloi frowned deeply, clearly not happy with his theory but well aware it was the only one that made any kind of sense. "To give me the money?"
"You were unlikely to ever accept a gift from me, especially a monetary one." Shirou nodded, not surprised his sponsor had worked it out. "So I made it a business deal instead. I want to thank you for standing by me and supporting me, even when you didn't have to, so I'll give you half the profits."
"I cannot accept-"
"Sir gladly accepts your offer." Grey brusquely interrupted him, grabbing the file. "I'll deal with the paperwork."
"No, Sir." The white-haired girl snapped, sounding more assertive than Shirou had ever heard her be. "You must accept it. Think about what you can do with that money! You can pay your debts! To Reines, to the Archibald, to Melvin, to the bank, to your mother, everyone!"
"Precisely." Shirou agreed wholeheartedly. "You have helped me immensely, Lord El-Melloi, in ways you don't even know about. Please let me do this for you in exchange!"
It was only thanks to Lord El-Melloi after all that he'd been able to save Illya. He massively owed the man, and he wanted to repay him in any way he could.
After Grey and Shirou had spoken, the lord remained silent for a long time. Long enough that it actually became a bit awkward.
Only when Grey started fiddling with her fingers and Shirou began fidgeting did he reply.
"Call me Waver." He spoke.
"Pardon me?" Shirou blinked in surprise at the seemingly random remark.
"Call me Waver." The lord repeated, letting out such a big sigh his chest seemed to deflate. "If you're going to give me a present this big, you should also call me by my name."
Shirou straightened his back upon hearing that. He didn't know exactly how big a deal it was for a lord to tell you to use his given name, but considering only very few people used Lord El-Melloi's, it was safe to say it had to be quite significant.
He honestly felt flattered.
"…Very well, Waver." Shirou nodded, tasting the name on his tongue and finding that it wasn't bad. "Then please call me Shirou."
"I will, Shirou." Waver nodded as well.
Then, on an impulse, the two men shook hands again, introducing themselves to each other, just like they had in the castle in Japan, all those months ago. Back then, they had been a lord and a freelancing bounty-hunter of sorts, but now, they had taken a significant step towards friendship.
Shirou couldn't keep the smile off his face, Waver was slightly smiling as well, and Grey was outright beaming at the happy scene.
But this was the Clocktower, so happy scenes didn't get to continue for long.
"Excuse me." Hishiri Adashino sang as she walked into the office unannounced. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything."
The woman had a new look about her, wearing a beautiful kimono that Shirou hadn't seen before, brand-new geta –wooden sandals– on her feet, and her hair was done up in an elaborate style he didn't know the name of. The nails on her hands were painted red, matching her sleeves, and the nails on her feet were painted green, which matched the hem of the kimono.
The small, conniving smile was the same as ever though, and although it did nothing to detract from her stunning looks, it sent shivers down Shirou's spine.
"You are very much interrupting something, snake." Waver said bluntly, lightly glaring at the woman. "But since you're not going to leave despite that, state your business."
"Aren't you going to offer me a seat first?" Adashino asked instead, smiling teasingly as she ignored his order. "I've been working for a while now, and I'm rather tired."
"No." Waver barked, slamming his hand on the desk. "I forbid you from sitting on any of the chairs in my office. I want you to complete your business here quickly and then I want you to leave with the same haste."
"I understand." Adashino nodded obediently. She then walked up the desk, at a normal pace, and Shirou wondered for a moment whether she'd actually follow orders and conduct herself normally.
But then she walked around the desk instead, and it became clear she was planning something again.
"What are you doing?" Waver asked tiredly, also anticipating some kind of playful trick from the woman.
"Well, I have been walking all day, and my legs are very tired." Adashino sighed. "I need to sit down for a moment, and since I cannot sit in your chairs, I have only one option."
Then she turned around and sat down in Waver's lap.
"Oi!" The man protested, stiffening in shock as his eyes went very wide.
"What?" The snake-woman inquired innocently, as she overtly shifted her bottom from side to side in his lap. "I'm not technically sitting in a chair, am I?"
"That's semantics!" Waver raged, clearly acutely aware of her soft bottom, but he was too much of a gentleman to push the woman onto the ground. "Get off me!"
"This is surprisingly comfortable." Adashino once more completely ignored him.
"Grey! Help me!"
"Ah, right!" Grey spluttered, snapping out of the trance she'd been put in when Adashino sat down, hastily taking action to follow her mentor's orders.
"Oh dear." Adashino placed a finger on her chin, looking faintly worried. "I am not under the illusion that I am strong enough to hold off little Grey. Whatever shall I do?"
Grey quickly stepped in front of Waver, and she bent her knees, leaning forward to pick Adashino up in a bridal carry.
Then, quick as a viper, Adashino snapped her head forward and pressed a kiss against Grey's cheek, just at the edge of her lips, where she lingered teasingly for a few seconds. Then, she moved towards Grey's ear, which she lightly blew into, before finishing it with a nip at the earlobe.
Shirou blushed furiously at the display, but his reaction was nothing compared to Grey's.
The white-haired girl exploded in a full-body blush, and her eyes clouded over as she was put in a trance all over again, basically fainting on the spot.
"Grey! This is not the time to be a hormonal teenager!" Waver cried, but it was useless. Grey was completely paralysed, her weakness to beautiful women instantly knocking her out of the game.
"Hihihi." Adashino laughed delicately, before smirking victoriously at Waver.
That was when Shirou took action himself. Waver and he had just become friends after all, and friends had to support each other, especially with women-troubles.
Before he was even halfway to the desk though, Adashino was already standing again.
"No way I'm going to pick a fight like that." She smiled, before she turned towards Waver once more. "I am here to tell you that Millicent Raverth Archibald will be released into your care. You have likely seen her trial, where she was sentenced to ten years of imprisonment, and in light of your recent accomplishments, Policies has agreed to allow you to be her warden."
"I see." Waver nodded thoughtfully, having already reverted to his lord-mindset. "Tell your superiors she won't cause any trouble in the future. I will take full responsibility."
"There is no need to take responsibility, my lord." Adashino said soothingly, her eyes shining in dark amusement. "It has already been given to you."
"Then there is one other thing." Adashino continued, reaching into her kimono and fishing out some kind of thick piece of paper, which she threw at Waver. "The main reason I am here."
The lord caught the bundle and held it up, allowing Shirou to see that it was in fact a single sheet of paper that had been folded several times. Waver promptly unfolded it, before he started reading whatever was written on it.
Then his expression turned downcast.
"Waver?" Shirou inquired carefully, wondering if it was bad news.
"It seems it is official now." The man sighed, placing the piece of paper down on his desk. "I am to become the lord of the Department of Botany."
"So lady Marianne…"
"Will be my wife, apparently." Waver nodded. "I'll have to go and apologise to her."
"Something tells me that won't be necessary." Shirou sweatdropped, before making eye contact with Adashino, who rolled her pretty eyes. "In fact, I think she'll be happy to hear it."
Waver didn't reply, continuing to stare at the paper, and Adashino, who looked thoroughly amused again, made a shooing motion at Shirou, indicating that he should leave.
"I will take care of this." She whispered softly.
"…Don't play any tricks on him." Shirou cautioned her, and Adashino pressed her hand to her heart, giving him her most innocent look.
Shirou still wasn't quite sure about it, but as there was nothing he could do here anymore, he left the office again.
He made his way to the cafeteria to have a quick breakfast, after which he needed to go to the courtroom again, but while on the way, he came across lady Marianne.
She appeared to be rushing towards Waver's office, and if the delighted expression on her face was any indication, she not only had already heard about her upcoming marriage, but was also perfectly satisfied with it.
Now all that remained was convincing Waver of that. The man could be extremely stubborn after all.
But then again, Sakura and Ayako had managed to convince Shirou too, so it wasn't impossible.
The redhead smiled, wishing Marianne all the luck in the world.
And Adashino too, not to mention Bazett, Reines, and Grey.
Lord El-Melloi sure was a popular man.
"You mean there is a near all-powerful wish-granting device here, in this cave?" Osaki asked incredulously after Rin and Sakura shortly explained the matter of the Holy Grail to him. "A wish-granting device powered by the ghosts of famous people from the past?"
"That is correct, Osaki-san." Sakura nodded, glad the detective had understood so quickly. "But it is corrupted."
"Corrupted?!" Rin turned towards her in shock, as Sakura had already expected, but the plum-haired girl ignored her sister for now. It wasn't how she'd wanted to break the news to her, but circumstances threw those plans out the window.
"It has been changed into a monkey's paw." She elaborated, while Rin gaped at her in horror. "It will fulfil any wish made to it, but in the worst possible way."
"Worst how?" Yomaura asked, looking rather queasy at the notion that such a powerful device had been corrupted.
"An example. The man who won the previous War asked for a world without conflict, without war and suffering." Sakura explained quickly, keenly aware of the Wraith listening along with obvious interest. "The Grail offered to kill everyone in the world, except him, his wife, and his daughter, and to give them a paradise. That way, there would be no more conflict or suffering ever again."
"What kind of sick, sadistic cup is that?!" Osaki demanded, his face a curious mix of white and red. "Why would anyone make such a thing?!"
"They didn't." Sakura shook her head, glancing over at Rin, who was also listening with bated breath. "Originally, it worked precisely as intended, as a neutral wish-granter. During the Third War however, it was possessed by the world's greatest Demon, so that's why it-"
"Angra Mainyu is not a Demon!" Mordegai snapped, baring his teeth as his eyes became bloodshot. "He is a pathetic half-god with no power of his own! If it weren't for the Grail giving him power, he wouldn't be able to kill even a skilled Magus! It is completely unfair he gets to possess the Chalice of Christ while beings far more worthy struggle to even exist in this world!"
Sakura opened her mouth to tell him that the Holy Grail of Fuyuki was just a fake to begin with, absolutely not the cup that Jesus had drank from during the Last Supper, before deciding it would be wiser not to tell him that.
The Wraith already looked like he was about to murder someone, and Sakura, unlike certain other individuals she wouldn't name, drew no satisfaction from provoking people.
"I will rip him out of there and take his place." Mordegai repeated, sounding more unhinged and Wraith-like than ever before. "I will possess the Grail, and when the time comes, when the next Grail War reaches its conclusion, I will be the one to wield its power!"
"For what purpose?" Ayako asked, her pale face indicating she already had a suspicion.
"To destroy humanity once and for all and bring back the Age of the Gods."
"Typical." Ayako deadpanned.
"We cannot allow that, Wraith." Yomaura said, her voice suddenly very calm, and she glanced at Rin for support. "Second Owner?"
Rin didn't react however, staring off into the distance with a dazed look in her eyes.
It was exactly what Sakura had feared would happen once she learned that her family's heritage had been destroyed beyond repair. No, worse, it hadn't even been properly destroyed, but corrupted, converted into a sick parody of itself that spat in the face of its makers and the ones fighting for it.
The Tohsaka had staked everything they had, everything they were even, onto the Grail, just like the Matou and the Einzbern. The Grail was the reason they lived in Japan, in relative isolation, instead of in Europe, where life would have been much better to them. The Grail was their ticket to the Root, and it was the thing that kept them going after suffering setback after setback over the centuries, often coming close to complete extinction.
When that was taken into account, Rin was actually doing quite well after hearing the terrible news that her family's dream was lost forever.
Most other Magi would have broken down on the spot when confronted with something like that.
Truly, her big sister was strong.
Yomaura didn't agree with Sakura's assessment of Rin's mental state however.
"Second Owner, pull yourself together!" The redhead barked, raising a hand as if to slap her. "Worry about your heritage later! For now, we must stop the one who wants to make things even worse!"
"Nee-san, please!" Sakura also contributed, grabbing Rin's shoulder and lightly shaking her. "Nee-san!"
Fortunately for them all, Rin was made of stern stuff, and she came back to her senses fairly quickly.
Unfortunately though, the first thing she focused on wasn't the Wraith intending to kill them all. No, she focused on Sakura instead.
"How long have you known?" She demanded of the plum-haired girl, turning to face her fully.
"How long have you known that the Grail is corrupted?!" Rin clarified, raising her voice to near-shouting level.
"Since Senpai told me." Sakura replied honestly, not about to lie to her sister. "The day after he saved me from the Matou-estate."
Silence fell, and for a few seconds, nobody moved, from Yomaura to the Wraith himself.
"You have known for months, and you never told me?!" Rin's face was a mixture of numerous emotions, none of them positive. "You kept me in the dark all this time?!"
"It's my heritage!" Rin snarled, her eyes full of hurt and confusion. "I had a right to know! I deserve it!"
"You did deserve to know." Sakura nodded rapidly, not bothering to mention it was her heritage too, as Rin clearly took it far more seriously than she did. "That is why we were going to tell you."
"When?!" Rin asked bitterly, taking a step back from her. "After the next Grail War begins?"
"Right after Shirou came back." Ayako corrected, cautiously taking a step towards Rin, eyeing her like she would an upset cat who might claw at her. "We weren't going to leave you in the dark much longer, Rin, I swear."
"You should have told me right away." Rin hissed.
"It was never the right time." Sakura tried to explain herself. "We didn't know how to tell you. We… We weren't close enough."
That remark hit home, and Rin flinched.
"Not close enough yet." Sakura hastily amended, not wanting to hurt her sister. "But we are now. We were going to tell you the whole story when Senpai returned."
"We were even going to ask for your help in solving the problem." Ayako added, which made Rin raise an eyebrow. "You know, dismantle the Grail and all that."
"Dismantle my heritage?" Rin still didn't sound happy, but it was more of a grumpy annoyance now than a furious rage.
"Would you prefer it remained corrupted?" Sakura asked pointedly.
"…No." Rin admitted after a moment, appearing to be somewhat mollified at least. "I don't."
"Well then." Ayako crossed her arms with a meaningful expression, and Rin, after a few more seconds of grumpily staring off into the distance, sighed deeply.
"I want the full story about the Grail, as soon as possible." She demanded in a voice that brokered no argument.
"We can tell you right after we kicked that Wraith's ass." Ayako grinned, before cocking her head to the side. "Though we might not have all the details. Shirou is the expert on this matter."
"Just tell me what you can. Emiya-kun can fill me in on the rest when he returns." Rin accepted, before narrowing her eyes. "Don't think you are forgiven for keeping this from me though. We will have words about this later."
"Yes, Nee-san." Sakura accepted demurely, knowing that she was in the wrong here. The Grail was indeed Rin's heritage, the greatest pride of her family, and they should have told her much sooner that it had been corrupted.
But like with so many things, it had taken a backseat against Shirou's departure to London, and with him gone, neither Sakura nor Ayako were very inclined to discuss Magecraft, at all, no matter what type or in what context.
Explaining that to Rin fully mollified her, and the black-haired sighed again, placing her hands on her hips.
"Never become Magi." She told them, her voice oddly soft. "You would be utterly worthless at it."
"I don't know about that." Ayako protested. "I think it would be rather cool to be able to cast spells, and Shirou did say we both had aptitude."
"I do want to learn Healing spells at some point." Sakura agreed with her girlfriend.
"Emiya-kun can teach you as many things as he likes, I'm not talking about that!" Rin snapped, before looking away, softening her tone again. "Just don't become Magi. It would only make you miserable."
"Just… Just promise me that, please?" Rin's voice tapered off at the end, and she looked down at the ground, her cheeks slightly red.
"…We promise." Sakura said after a few moments, and though she wondered what had come over Rin all of a sudden, the fact that her sister cared so much made her feel very warm inside.
"What she said." Ayako nodded.
Their agreement got them a beautiful smile in return.
"Pft, ha, hahaha, hahahahahahahahahahaha!" The heart-warming scene was interrupted however by a scalding, mocking laugh echoing through the cave. A laugh that expressed nothing but contempt and disdain for what had just transpired. "HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"
It was the Wraith who was laughing his head off, tears of joy streaming over his cheeks, cackling with such volume that everyone took an unconscious step back, even Hiroko, who had stopped crying because of the spectacle.
It was extremely obvious that the Wraith was laughing at the girls, at their conversation just now, just as it was obvious that he was about to mock them.
Sakura and Ayako glared at him in anger and annoyance, but it was the third member of their group who had the harshest reaction to the mocking laughter.
Power raced through the girl's body, enough to level a city block. Lightning seemed to come out of her eyes, displaying her fury. Blue patterns formed across her skin, signifying the activation of Magic Circuits carrying more power than pre-Mjolnir Shirou could have produced in a month.
The Wraith, who'd finished laughing, opened his mouth, undoubtedly to make fun of the girls for being so sappy or the like, but he never got a syllable out of his mouth.
In his arrogance and malice, so typical of Wraiths, he'd made a crucial mistake.
Instead of attacking while the girls had their little discussion, which would have been the wisest thing to do and would have likely netted him an easy victory, he had laughed at a Tsundere in dere-dere mode.
Right at the time when she'd bared her soft heart to the world, he had launched a cruel attack, aimed only at insulting and belittling her.
Now he would pay with his life. That was a simple fact, and almost everyone present knew it.
Being a Wraith though, Mordegai was completely unaware of the intricacies of a Tsundere's mind. That was why, in his burst of laughter and unreasonable arrogance, he never saw the attack coming until it was too late.
The red gem was thrown with perfect precision, without a single warning, in a movement that was so smooth it made everyone's jaw drop. The gem soared through the air, sparkling from the power contained within, going faster than a hawk swooping down as it closed in on its target.
Then it made contact, and the Wraith was consumed by a massive explosion of white-hot fire.
After eating his breakfast at the main cafeteria, Shirou helped out at that very same cafeteria again, as had become his routine over the past few days. The trials wouldn't begin for another hour, so he had some time to spare.
He'd tried calling the girls, but they didn't answer the house telephone, nor did Ayako answer her mobile. He'd tried several times over the course of his meal, but either they didn't hear his calls, or they were not in a position to answer.
Shirou furiously hoped it was the former, and he made a note to get Sakura and Rin mobile phones as well, and to establish a different method of contacting them that wasn't as failure-prone as phones had turned out to be.
There was nothing he could do right now though. Nothing except trust the girls and hope for their safety.
Now he was standing in the kitchen, working furiously at preparing the food, hoping that the hard work would make his worries go away. As usual though, it didn't work, and it was only when Emmanuel, the elderly cook, came over that Shirou finally got the distraction he'd been craving.
"Shirou, me boy." The head cook sighed in his usual dramatic manner, his Italian accent extra pronounced now that he was exhausted from pulling an all-nighter. "You are a lifesaver. I don't know how we would have managed without you."
"You would have figured something out." Shirou waved away the praise however, smiling uncomfortably, as he was still very aware that their predicament was his fault.
"Maybe." Emmanual allowed, before he shook his head. "But it would have been, oh, how do you say it? 'Slap-dash'. We would have had to send customers away, or establish longer waiting times. Because of you, that was not necessary."
"I just did my part." Shirou still felt the cook was being too generous with his praise.
"You did far more than that." Emmanual patted him on the shoulder. "You did the work of twenty men, you were attentive and helpful, you cooked very well for an amateur, and your manners were impeccable. The woman who marries you, she will be the luckiest woman on Earth."
Now that compliment struck home, and Shirou lowered his head, keenly aware of how his cheeks became red.
"You astonish me, mister Fujimaru." A cool voice spoke up from Shirou's other side, and when he looked up, he found Lia standing there, holding a slew of new orders. "I never would have thought that a man with a reputation like yours would blush at a mere compliment."
"Ah, w-well, that is… eh." Shirou stuttered, feeling even more embarrassed now that the cool beauty was looking at him with lips that were twitching in amusement.
"Lia is very beautiful, is she not?" Emmanuel suddenly interrupted, making both Shirou and Lia look at him in surprise. "She is elegant, refined, and whenever she walks by, both men and women lower their heads to see more of her fine legs."
"Ha?!" Lia's face exploded in red, her mouth falling open as she took a startled step back. "Head cook, what are you saying?!"
"I am merely pointing out the hypocrisy of you telling someone else they blush easily at compliments." Emmanuel laughed, and Lia, unable to say anything in return, quickly placed the orders down and retreated, covering her cheeks in embarrassment.
"Thanks." Shirou sighed in relief as the waitress hastily left. "I thought I was done for."
"You are my star employee, I have a duty to protect you." Emmanuel grinned, before his face turned serious. "Besides, us men need to stick together. Soon, Lia will return with Syr, and they will try to overcome us in the battle of teasing. The boys against the girls."
"O-Oh." Shirou wasn't sure what to think about that. "Are you sure?"
"There they come." Was all Emmanuel had to say, and Shirou looked up, finding that Syr was indeed marching towards them with Lia in tow, her face set in a mixture of anger and eagerness. "Brace yourself, boy."
Shirou did, he braced himself.
Though it didn't help much in the end.
About fourteen hours later, after the trials were over again for the day, Shirou found himself sitting at one of the cafeteria's tables. He'd just finished helping Emmanuel out with the busy hours of the evening, and he was done for the day. The cafeteria still needed to be cleaned, but he wasn't allowed to help with that.
Emmanuel was always glad to accept his help when it came to cooking, but the clean-up was 'absolutely not something they could allow a friend of the Vice-Director to help with', or something like that.
Not wanting to make things difficult for them, Shirou relented, and as he still didn't have much to do, he'd sat down at a table with a cup of tea.
The redhead sighed as he took a sip of said tea, looking back at the kitchens. He'd been helping them out for several days now, and he likely would be welcome for two or three more, but after that, it would be over.
Shirou had been allowed to help so far because they had an immensely pressing need for manpower. The recent Purge had sent many of the common folk of the Clocktower, for a given definition of 'common', running for the hills, fearing a war between the factions. This left many cafeterias and other places desperately in need of extra staff.
However, since no civil war had started, the trials were almost over, and both the Democratic Faction and the Neutral Faction seemed to be on their best behaviour, many of those people were returning. Already, Emmanuel was much less stressed, having nearly enough workers again, and that would only get better over the coming days.
In other words, he didn't need Shirou anymore.
The redhead was of course totally fine with that. He'd be leaving soon anyway, so if they could manage without him, all the better. He'd just enjoy it while it lasted.
Tonight had been another fairly pleasant evening, and the work had eventually even managed to take his mind off his girlfriends for a while. Of course, his worry returned in full now that he had nothing to do anymore.
Or rather, almost nothing.
"It's good to see you again." Shirou smiled at the ladies sitting across from him. "It's been a while, and I was wondering how you were doing."
"We are doing perfectly well, mister Fujimaru, as are father, uncle, and mister Li." Mary Lil Fargo beamed back at him, her maid Claire following her example next to her. "What about yourself?"
"I'm fine, all things considered." Shirou replied, not about to bore them with the whole story of everything he had going on right now. This was a meeting meant for them to catch up, not to give progress reports.
Mary Lil Fargo and Claire were hardly old friends of his, the kind of people you normally caught up with, but they were some of the first people Shirou had helped during his time at the Clocktower, making them somewhat noteworthy anyway.
Prompted by the indirect machinations of Waver, who was one of Mary's teachers, he had gone to their house, supposedly to tutor Mary, and once there, had dealt with Mary's abusive home-situation, which had been messy to say the least.
Mary herself had been kept a prisoner by her father, who forced her to bear a cursed mark that bound her to him, while Claire had been regularly abused by said father, as well as Mary's cousin and the family-friend.
Of course, Shirou had resolved the situation as soon as he'd found out what had been going on, through the use of his special kind of Hypnosis. Using that technique, he'd changed the men from cruel, grasping cowards into decent human beings with a spine. Especially the cousin, Alec Fargo, had really become a good man.
Both Mary and Claire had been very grateful for this, and although Shirou hadn't seen them since that fateful day, they hadn't hesitated to join him once they'd spotted him sitting at a table in the cafeteria.
And yes, their meeting was a complete coincidence, Shirou had checked, twice even. They had no ulterior motives.
"You're fine?" Claire, the maid, asked softly after Shirou gave his response. "Mister Fujimaru, in my experience, men who say they are fine usually are not fine at all."
"That doesn't apply here, I truly am doing well." Shirou immediately replied, before amending his statement slightly when Claire gave him a disbelieving look. "A bit busy, but nothing I can't handle."
"We had expected as much." Mary's eyes twinkled in barely hidden amusement. "Tales of your exploits reached even the countryside. If you accomplished even half of what those tales claim you accomplished, you must have become quite an important man by now."
"And don't I know it." Shirou huffed, surprising even himself by how freely he talked to them.
"I have to say though, the rumours about you that are currently spreading around were a bit shocking to hear." Mary went on, tapping a finger on her chin.
"Why? What did those rumours say?" Shirou asked suspiciously, wondering what was so shocking about them.
"That you are a bloodthirsty maniac who only cares about his kill count. That you butchered yourself a way through the Department of Archaeology, leaving nothing but carnage in your wake. That you carved out a piece of the Clocktower with your bare hands and threw it into the Thames." Mary smiled innocently as she said one outrageous thing after another. "Those are but a few examples of what the lower-ranked Magi whisper about you."
"Rather." Mary's smile became even wider at Shirou's deadpan response. "We, Claire and I, didn't believe any of it though, and used several better sources to get an idea of what actually happened. Even those better sources though still said quite a few unbelievable things."
"Such as?" Shirou asked with morbid curiosity.
"That you and Lady Barthomeloi engaged in a competition about who could defeat the most opponents during the battle for Archaeology."
"That actually happened."
"EH?!" Mary's eyes boggled in shock. "W-What about you breaking all the department's Bounded Fields with a snap of your fingers?"
"That is also true."
"Ghk?!" Mary gulped nervously, before she suddenly went completely still. She just looked at him with a calculating gaze, one that indicated she was contemplating whether she should continue talking or stay silent.
"What is it?" Shirou prompted her.
"What about the most unbelievable rumour of them all?" Mary asked slowly. "The one that says you're a Sorcerer."
That one was more difficult to answer. Technically, he wasn't a Sorcerer, but the truth behind his abilities was even more unbelievable, so he had decided to just claim he was a Sorcerer and leave it at that. It was significantly easier to explain than the Outerversal Divine tool in his possession.
"I do have some level of control over the Third True Magic." He thus nodded, lying yet again.
"Oh." Mary's voice had become very small as she stared at him with eyes as wide as saucers.
"Oh?" Shirou cocked his head to the side, wondering how Mary would react to the news.
"…That is nice." Mary said hesitantly, before she fell silent again, clearly having no idea what to say.
Then Claire leaned over to her mistress to whisper something into her ear, and although Shirou could have listened along, he chose not to, as it would be rude.
Whatever Claire whispered though, it seemed to get Mary's neurons firing again, as the girl smiled once more.
"While I would love to talk more about that, we don't have much time to chat unfortunately." She said, politely abandoning the topic of Shirou being a Sorcerer. "In about thirty minutes, we have another appointment."
"This late at night?" Shirou asked curiously. It was nearing eleven in the evening after all, so any meeting that started now would have to continue until the early hours of tomorrow at least.
"It comes with the territory." Mary remarked in a whimsical tone.
"Ah, of course." Now Shirou remembered. "You are an Astromancer."
An Astromancer was a Magus who focused mainly on observing the stars and created spells through these observations. To them, night was the most important time of the day, as that was when the most stars were visible.
"I will be having a meeting with the families from the Department of Astromancy soon." The cute brunette elaborated. "These meetings are usually held at night, as it allows us to read the stars while discussing important topics. Fortune telling is not very reliable, even in the Moonlit World, but most of the old people swear by it nonetheless, and will do nothing if they don't get permission from the stars first."
"I see." Shirou nodded, not surprised at all that old Magi were being horribly traditionalist in Astromancy too. "What will you be discussing?"
"Nothing too important, I believe." Mary replied. "Funding, management, establishing the effects of the purge on the Department of Astromancy, and I heard that the head of the department, Marisbury Animusphere, also has something to say."
"So nothing you can't handle?" Shirou asked, as it all sounded pretty standard.
"…I really hope so, mister Fujimaru." Mary's smile disappeared as her shoulders slumped. "Father really threw me into the deep end when he made me the family-head. I have no idea how to conduct myself during such a meeting."
"Will this be the first time that you take part in one?" Shirou suddenly realised that that would make a lot of sense. If these department-meetings were monthly, then it stood to reason that Mary, having only been the family-head for around three weeks, had never attended one before."
"I have had several smaller meetings with a number of other families so far." Mary began scratching at the table with a fingernail, her expression turning despondent. "But never one as large as the one tonight. Oh, mister Fujimaru, I fear they will eat me alive."
Not an unreasonable fear, considering what Magi were like. But all the same, Shirou did think she was worrying too much.
"Miss Mary, you don't need to worry." He thus told her, drawing a surprised look from her. "If your father could get through those meetings without issue, then so can you. You are better than him in every way."
"D-Do you really think so?" Mary perked up, her eyes turning hopeful.
"Absolutely." Shirou nodded, before turning to the maid at the table. "Don't you agree, Claire?"
"I do." Claire nodded strongly, not a trace of doubt in her voice. "Lady Mary is far more capable than lord Fargo ever was."
"Oh, stop it, you two!" Mary was blushing now, fanning herself with her hands, her mouth set in a flattered smile. "You're making me blush!"
"It's nothing but the truth, mistress." Claire answered calmly, and the look that Mary gave her indicated quite clearly that she would have kissed the maid silly if they hadn't been in public.
Claire saw it too, and she suddenly seemed impatient, as if she wanted to drag her mistress away to a private room.
Really, those two… Shirou had no doubt they'd be standing in front of an altar as soon as it was feasibly possible.
"Should you feel overwhelmed though, you can always use my name." Shirou offered. He'd thought about it while the girls had been flirting with each other, and he was pretty sure he could trust Mary not to use his name in vain.
"Use your name?" Mary blinked at him in surprise, metaphorical question marks appearing above her head.
"In the time that we have been sitting here, numerous spies from all three Factions and all eleven main families have come and gone." Shirou informed them, making them stiffen in shock. "Simply mention that we are on good terms during the meeting, and I am rather sure that no one will give you too much trouble."
"I…" Mary boggled at him, clearly not having expected that. "Thank you. I will only use it as a last resort, and if you ever need my help, you just have to ask."
"Not a problem, miss Mary."
From there on, the conversation shifted to more pleasant subjects, right up until the girls needed to leave for their meeting.
His cup of tea finished, Shirou decided to head back to his room. Not to sleep though, but to get enough privacy to teleport himself to his Vault.
He was going to visit Illya again.
"How do you like that?!" Rin shouted as her explosion completely engulfed the Wraith, as well as most of the surrounding area, the resulting fire burning so hot that Hiroko immediately ducked away with a shriek, shielding her face from the heat.
"EEP!" Sakura squeaked in fright, far enough from the conflagration not to be influenced much yet sufficiently close to get a right scare.
"What the-!" Osaki swore in shock, his long-ingrained instincts gained over a long career of police-work making him duck for cover.
"Oi!" Ayako on the other hand did not react much aside from taking a step back, showcasing her nerves of steel.
"Miss Second Owner." Yomaura didn't move at all aside from shielding her face, stoically bearing the explosion as she glared at Rin. "Control yourself."
"Rin…" Ayako clearly agreed with the red-headed detective, giving the black-haired girl a reprimanding look. "Don't you think that was a little bit…"
"Excessive?" Osaki suggested in a shrill voice, looking with wide eyes at the bonfire that was now burning at the place where Mordegai had once stood. "Overblown?! Dangerous?!"
"I had everything under control." Rin snapped back defensively, blushing as she realised how harshly she had reacted to being mocked. "That gem contained only fire, no pressure or shrapnel. You were never in any danger."
"Still, a warning would have been nice." Ayako grumbled, looking down at the ash on her clothes. "This is going to take ages to wash out."
"Well, at least the Wraith is gone now." Sakura tried to stay positive and defend her sister, pumping her fist in an attempt at celebration, trying to forget she'd screamed like a damsel in distress only seconds before. "So that's one problem solved at least."
"Yeah, I suppose." Osaki grumbled, turning away from the fire. "I'd rather you wouldn't have killed someone who wasn't attacking us, but since it was a 'Wraith' or whatever, I'll let it slide."
"Much obliged." Rin snarked sarcastically, becoming rather annoyed with the detective's continuous remarks about arresting her.
Osaki ignored her however, and turned towards Hiroko, who was just getting up from where she'd been knocked down.
"As for you, young woman, I hope you will cease this nonsense." He spoke sternly. "Your 'friend' is gone. It would be wise to surrender."
"Ah!" Hiroko flinched at being addressed, and for a moment, there was a storm of conflict visible behind her eyes. In the end though, she seemed to realise it was all over for her, and she slumped in defeat. "Yes, I surrender."
"Good." Osaki nodded, his relief palpable, before taking out handcuffs as he cautiously approached the girl. "That's good. Stay where you are."
"That was surprisingly anticlimactic." Rin huffed, looking away from the detective and at the fire that was still burning merrily at the place where the self-proclaimed Wraith had once stood. "I guess it was just some crazy person after all."
"He still did that though." Ayako pointed at the black haze that was still hanging in front of the entrance of the cavern. "I don't know about you, but I'm not walking through that cloud. It might melt my skin off."
"Don't worry your pretty little head, I'll dispel it." Rin huffed, taking a step back in preparation for turning around.
In the end, it was that step backwards that saved her life.
It was Ayako who saw it first.
There was a flicker in the fire, one that seemed utterly out of place, and the bottom seemed to fall out of the brunette's stomach as she realised what it was.
"Rin, get down!" She screamed, before throwing herself at the black-haired girl and pulling her backwards, sending them both to the ground with Rin lying on top of her.
Just as she did that, a massive ghostly hand, easily five times the size of a human's, tipped with ridiculously large and sharp claws, slashed in an upwards movement towards Rin's head.
Had Rin still been standing, it would have split her skull open. With Ayako pulling her back, she got away with three skin-deep gashes in her forehead.
"By the Root!" Rin swore, having been taken off guard. Not so much though that she couldn't react, and she threw another gem, this one coloured white, at the ghostly hand.
It retracted at lightning speed however, and Rin didn't activate the gem, instead letting it fall down on the ground to be retrieved later. There was no sense in wasting them.
In the meantime, Osaki and Yomaura had quickly extracted Hiroko from the situation, setting her down at the edge of the cavern, before Yomaura stepped forward again and, with a wave of her hand and a muttered incantation, doused Rin's fire.
There, a horrific spectre floated about half-a-meter of the ground, previously having been hidden by the flames and the smoke.
It was grey in colour, leaning more towards white than black. It was about half again as tall as Osaki, but with ridiculously oversized hands with claws that would have given a bear pause. It wasn't quite an incorporeal skeleton, but only because something resembling skin was covering it, pulled tight over the ghostly bones to create an image that made even starvation-victims look well-proportioned and healthy.
Except for the head. The head was nothing more than a skull with a see-through veil hung over it, the dark eye-sockets somehow burning with foulness and hate.
"So he was a Wraith after all." Yomaura grumbled. "A manifestation of resentment, hatred, anger, and all that nice stuff."
"Yes." The Wraith spoke in a voice that sounded as if a hundred nails were scratching over a chalkboard, displaying no emotion in its voice or on its face, before its hollow eyes turned to Rin. "That hurt, Magus."
"It was supposed to hurt." Rin sneered, picking up the white gem, alarmed by the intensity that the being was suddenly radiating. Before, it had seemed impulsive and reckless, but now, its eyes were filled with a cool and measured intelligence. "Or rather, it was supposed to kill you."
"It did certainly destroy my borrowed body." The Wraith acknowledged, one of its oversized hands gesturing towards a scattering of ash behind it. "But since I drank the blood of the Incubus and I am aided by the power emanating from the Grail, I am powerful enough to materialise on my own."
"Not fully though." Yomaura eyed the creature up and down. "You are missing some pieces."
She didn't mean that literally, in the sense of the Wraith missing body parts, but metaphorically. When seen on a spiritual level, the Wraith was indeed incomplete.
"Once I claim Angra Mainyu's position, I will be complete." The Wraith dismissed her words, before it lifted its claws into an attack position. "Now you will die so that I can work in peace."
It seemed that the Wraith had lost its patience along with its body. It had nothing more to say, and it was going straight to combat.
Rin didn't bother speaking either. Just like before, she attacked without warning, once more throwing a white gem, which held Magical Energy infused with her Wind-Element, at the apparition.
Rin was an Average One, meaning she held the Elements of Fire, Earth, Wind, Water, and Ether. Previously, she had thrown a red gem, which had been infused with Fire, her go-to Element whenever she wasn't certain about what kind enemy she was facing. It had proven ineffective though, as fire was mostly useless against spiritual enemies.
So instead, she tried Wind, remembering from one of her books that wind-based attacks were the most effective against incorporeal beings. Ether was the least effective, being one of the main components of ghost-type enemies and basically their main source of sustenance, so she wouldn't be using that at all.
Seeing the gem coming closer, and perhaps acknowledging the threat it represented, the Wraith opened the black chasm that was supposed to pass for its mouth, at the same time reaching out with its spindly arms. The next moment, the Magical Energy was drained from the gem, and by the time it arrived, it was nothing but an ordinary piece of precious rock.
"Futile." It commented, still without displaying any kind of emotion.
Fortunately, the Wraith had no use for Magical Energy that had been infused with Wind, so it didn't grow stronger or anything like that. Still, having her attack neutralised so easily was rather vexing to Rin.
She wasn't discouraged though. The fact that the Wraith had considered it necessary to drain the Magical Energy from the gem showed clearly that it could be hurt by Wind-based attacks. Now all that was left was getting her next gem to connect with it.
She focused for a moment, imagining how a dagger was aimed straight for her heart, and then plunged said imagined dagger into her chest. The shock promptly activated her Circuits fully, and Rin was set for combat.
Yomaura was the first to act though, launching herself at the Wraith, new Runes shining on her arms, and based on the apparition's frantic dodges of her blows, those Runes made her a credible threat to it.
The Wraith wasn't a slouch though, and it phased and flickered around, almost teleporting over small distances, carefully dodging the blows, or mitigating the damage to a mere scratch whenever it couldn't dodge.
It retaliated too, and its sharp claws had already scored several glancing blows, as around five bleeding gashes had been opened up on Yomaura's body.
The Fraga ignored her wounds however, and relentlessly kept up the pressure.
Meanwhile, Rin Reinforced herself, and sped off to the side, trying to flank the creature and take it by surprise. She waited, and just when it flickered away to dodge a swing from the Fraga, threw three more gems at it, spread out in a triangle pattern to ensure maximum overlap and damage.
The Wraith wasn't taken by surprise though, and it turned blue, before lifting a clawed hand.
Rin gritted her teeth when her gems were drained of Magical Energy again, and though the Wraith wasn't able to complete the process this time, it weakened the attack enough for it not to matter when the gems connected. The creature tanked the blow and continued battling the Fraga.
The black-haired girl wasn't out of tricks though, and promptly launched several wind-blades and a small tornado at the Wraith. As those phenomena had already been created fully, they couldn't be drained of Magical Energy like the gems.
The Wraith proved itself a capable warrior however, dodging most of the wind-blades, before it hid itself behind Yomaura, forcing the woman to dispel the rest of Rin's attacks lest they struck her in the back.
This wasn't going to work. If she continued with long-distance attacks, Rin would run out of Wind-based gems long before the Wraith would sustain any significant damage. She didn't fancy getting up close and personal either though, as she would just get in Yomaura's way, and she could forget about Gandr-shots entirely, as she was pretty sure Wraiths couldn't get sick.
This needed a more creative approach.
The cry drew Rin's attention to the back of the cavern, where Sakura, Ayako, and detective Osaki had taken shelter, along with Hiroko, hiding behind several rocks jutting out of the ground.
Sakura was frantically waving at her, beckoning her to come over, and Rin, who was practical enough to know when she was fighting a losing battle, decided to indulge her. Her sister was anything but dumb, so if she wanted to talk to Rin in the middle of the battle, it was sure to be important.
"Detective-san, hold on for a minute!" She shouted at the redheaded woman, before rushing at Sakura.
She really hoped her little sister had a plan, before as things looked now, they would be worn down in a battle of attrition and killed before the night was over.
"Weeeee!" Illya laughed in delight when Shirou threw her into the air, before he safely caught her as she came down, only to throw her upwards again immediately after. "Higher! Higher!"
"Mistress." Sella groaned, standing right next to Shirou, her own arms also raised, ready to catch Illya should Shirou make a mistake. "Please, no higher than this."
"It's fine, Sella." Shirou said soothingly, almost turning to smile at the maid but remembering just in time she'd probably prefer it if he kept his eyes on Illya. "I won't drop her."
"A mistake is easily made." The maid insisted, and she didn't budge an inch, still holding her arms ready to catch the little sprite.
"Well, suit yourself." Shirou sweatdropped at her zeal, and he continued throwing Illya up in the air and catching her again, going a tad higher than before. It was a little mean to Sella, but Illya's wishes took precedence right now.
"Wahoo!" The little sprite cheered, her hair flying around her head as she went up and down, showing no signs of tiring of it yet.
Shirou had come to the Vault to spend some quality time with Illya. He didn't really have anything else to do, busy as he was to extract himself from the Clocktower's machinations, so he figured it was the perfect time to get to know his little sister a bit better.
He had expected that they would have a good talk, or perhaps play a board game alongside the maids, but once he told Illya about his intentions to spend some time with her, this 'game' had literally been the first thing she'd come up with.
He had to throw her into the air and catch her again. That was basically the whole idea. She didn't want him to fly while carrying her, she didn't want him to levitate her, she didn't even want him to lift her upwards in a miniature tornado. She wanted him to manually throw her upwards and then catch her again.
Shirou didn't see how that could be any fun at all, but since he'd been doing it for close to half-an-hour now and Illya was still jeering in delight, she clearly thought otherwise, and took great enjoyment in being thrown.
Well, that was fine. As long as she was happy, Shirou was happy.
The throwing continued for a bit longer, and then Illya had enough for the day, to Sella's immense relief.
"That was awesome!" Illya cheered as she stood on solid ground again, Sella fussing over her with a single-minded focus to ensure she wasn't scratched, bruised, or otherwise injured. "You're the best, Shirou!"
"I'm glad you enjoyed yourself." The redhead laughed, patting her head. "Was that something you did often with Kiritsugu?"
"Sometimes." Illya nodded, before holding out her hand at about the height of her middle. "When I was thiiiiiis small."
"Tiny." Shirou grinned, drawing another laugh from her. "Was that fun too?"
"It was!" Illya nodded enthusiastically. "He could never throw me as high as you, but it was still super-duper fun!"
"Super-duper fun?" Shirou grinned at the childish description, which far more matched the age she looked like rather than the age she was. "That sounds like you like being thrown."
"Yes!" Illya agreed wholeheartedly with his words, before she turned a bit grumpy. "But then I became too big, and papa could only carry me on his shoulders."
"That's too bad." Shirou patted her head again. "Especially since you're only going to get bigger from now on."
"Being tall wouldn't be bad either." Illya admitted, looking up at him. "If I could be as tall as you, that would be great."
"Hehe." Shirou did not really know how to respond to that, so he didn't. There was every chance that Illya would grow as tall as he was after Nasu's ritual, but he wasn't completely certain, so he wouldn't give her any hope that might turn out to be false.
"Say, Shirou." Illya's sudden change in tone was very noticeable, and he looked at her, finding that she was fiddling with her fingers a bit, looking everywhere but at him. "What's Fuyuki like?"
"Fuyuki?" Shirou cocked his head to the side, wondering where that question was coming from.
"I have heard about that place all my life, ever since I was old enough to understand what it was and represented." Illya explained, a complicated expression on her face. "But even though it is so important to me and my family, I barely know anything about it."
"Well." Shirou began, rubbing the back of his head, before noticing that both Sella and Leysritt, the latter of whom had appeared out of nowhere a second ago, also seemed curious. "Let's sit down first."
The small group headed over to four conveniently placed sofas that had suddenly appeared nearby, and after Sella had arranged tea and snacks, Shirou began telling them about his hometown.
"Fuyuki is a really big city, with millions of inhabitants, though I couldn't tell you how many exactly." Shirou began with the simple facts. "It is right next to the sea and is intersected by a river. As such, it has a massive harbour that provides most of its revenue. Further inland, Fuyuki is bordered by a forest, and in that forest, Mount Enzou lies, being the spiritual centre of the city, mainly because of the first-class leyline and the Ryuudou-temple."
The three Homunculi still paid attention to him, but their faces made it clear that they considered those facts to be boring. As such, Shirou tried to spice his story up a little.
"On both sides of the city, along the coast, there are vast beaches that are wildly popular in the spring and summer." He added, noting how this seemed to interest them much more. "There are many cafés and bars in the city, hosting the bustling nightlife. There is a very large bowling alley in the city-centre, and a zoo about ten kilometres away from the border."
"Ooooooh!" Illya's eyes were sparkling again, a happy blush coming to her cheeks, and Shirou, who suddenly remembered that Illya had never left the grounds of the Einzbern-castle before, made a mental note to take her to every single attraction and place of interest in Fuyuki and its surroundings as soon as he could.
At moments like these, she really seemed like nothing more than an ordinary ten-year-old girl.
"What about Magi?" It was Sella who asked the practical question. "Since the Grail War takes place in Fuyuki, it would not be unreasonable for Magi to have established their base there."
"Oh, yes, good question, Sella." Illya nodded, her expression turning serious, revealing her actual age. "I know that the Tohsaka and the Matou live in Fuyuki, but are there any others?"
"There are five Magi in total living in Fuyuki." Shirou replied, visibly taking them aback by how low the number was. "I am currently allied to two of them, on somewhat decent terms with one, and on neutral terms with the last, for now."
"That is all?" Sella blinked in surprise. "Only five Magi in the whole city?"
"Only five." Shirou confirmed. "Those Magi are Tohsaka Rin, Matou Sakura, Yomaura Taya, the priest Kotomine Kirei, and me. Rin and Sakura are the ones I am allied with."
"The Matou and the Tohsaka are doing so badly as to have only one member left each?" Sella became more and more surprised with every word Shirou spoke.
"Right! Because Shirou destroyed the Matou!" Illya recalled from one of their earlier conversations.
"Yes." Shirou nodded, feeling not a grain of remorse about killing Zouken, though he did spare a thought on Shinji, wondering where the teen could be right now. "Sakura is the only one left, though she hasn't practiced Magecraft in a while. As such, I'm not sure how much of a Magus she really is."
"What about the Tohsaka?" Sella asked. "The knowledge I received during my creation indicates they were a powerful and influential family."
"Technically, they too have only one member left, that being Rin. The Fourth Holy Grail War and the following events decimated her family in numbers and in wealth." Shirou told them. "I say 'technically', because Rin's mother, who married into the family, is also still alive, though too brain-damaged to interact with the outside world."
"Ah, that must suck." Illya winced sympathetically. "Can't you do anything about it?"
"I am planning to, as soon as we get home." Shirou nodded.
"Yay!" Illya cheered, showing an empathy and well-willingness that Shirou was very glad to see. It meant the Einzbern hadn't completely gotten to her.
"What about this Yomaura Taya?" Sella inquired, once more injecting some seriousness into the conversation. "I have never heard of the Yomaura-family before."
"That's because it doesn't exist. Yomaura Taya is a fake name. She is actually a Fraga, though I don't know her full name."
"There's a Fraga living in Fuyuki?!" Sella's eyes flew open wide, accurately displaying the weight that the reputation of the Irish Magi held. "Shouldn't you be much more concerned about that?"
"She's hiding from her family." Shirou explained, waving the matter away. "And I'm on decent terms with her. It's Kotomine I'm more worried about."
"Yes. He was a participant in the Fourth Holy Grail War, and dad's most fearsome opponent." That little fact made Illya sit up and take notice. "So far, I've had an unspoken 'live and let live'-agreement with him, but I don't know how long that will last. There have been some… concerning developments."
By which he meant Gilgamesh.
"Huh…" Illya mumbled, looking rather alarmed by his words.
"But you don't have to worry." Shirou quickly assured her, not wanting her to be stressed needlessly. "No one will harm you. I will make sure of it."
"I believe you." Illya nodded promptly, her worry disappearing like snow under the sun. "What about your third girlfriend though? Ayako, I believe her name was. Is she not a Magus?"
"Mitsuzuri Ayako, and no, she isn't. She knows about the Moonlit World, but she isn't a Magus herself." Shirou shook his head, before freezing when Illya's words really registered. "Wait, hold on! Third girlfriend?"
"Tohsaka Rin, Matou Sakura, and Mitsuzuri Ayako." Illya summed up, looking not at all like she was joking.
"EH?!" Shirou's mouth fell open in shock, and he could feel very clearly how he was blushing again. "W-Why would you think Rin is also my girlfriend?"
"Because you talk about her in the same way you talk about your other girlfriends." Illya informed him, and when Shirou looked at Sella, she nodded in agreement.
"W-Well, even if that is so, Rin is not my girlfriend." Shirou pulled on the collar of his shirt, swallowing heavily. "I-I am fond of her, of course, b-but we aren't in a relationship."
"Ah, don't worry, big bro!" Illya seemed to have completely misinterpreted his embarrassment, and she gave him a thumbs-up. "I'm sure you'll conquer her heart soon as well."
"Japan's greatest love machine." Leysritt suddenly decided to contribute something after having been silent for the entire conversation so far, homing in on Shirou's weakness like a shark on blood.
"L-Love m-machine?!" Shirou spluttered, while Illya burst into laughter and even Sella cracked a smile.
"You do still need to add a queen to your harem, Shirou." Leysritt informed him with utter seriousness. "Ideally a Russian one, though other nationalities would work just fine."
"A-A queen?" Shirou had no idea anymore what she was on about.
"Then it will be like the song."
"Ra-Ra-Rasputin." Leysritt sang softly, and then she began humming an upbeat tune.
"Chichichichichi!" Illya giggled delicately, while Sella's smile became wider and wider, and Shirou began feeling more and more put upon.
Ultimately, it took him close to ten minutes to restore order, and even then, Illya still had a huge smile on her face, while Leysritt looked utterly neutral, but since that was her default state, she might very well be laughing at him on the inside.
At least Sella was a bit more understanding, kindly looking anywhere but at him with a professional expression that spoke of no judgement whatsoever.
"Okay, okay, Rin isn't your girlfriend." Illya said, though in such a sarcastic tone that it was clear she didn't mean a word of it. "I'll believe you, and I won't tease you anymore."
"Please do." Shirou said, deciding to ignore his sister's tone.
"In exchange, there is something I want you to do." Illya then said eagerly.
"What would that be?"
"I'll show you." The little sprite got up from her sofa, before grabbing his hand and pulling him along. "This way!"
Shirou obediently followed her, glad that she had something in mind that wasn't teasing him, and soon after, they arrived at a bouncy castle. An inflatable castle in all colours of the rainbow.
It seemed like an odd thing for inside a mythical vault, but Shirou didn't bat an eye. He'd seen far stranger things after all, both inside his Vault and outside of it.
"Do you want me to jump with you on that?" Shirou guessed, before lifting an eyebrow when Illya shook her head resolutely.
"I want you to throw me against the wall." She said instead.
"I want you to pick me up." Illya began, looking at him with sparkling eyes. "And throw me against the wall of the bouncy castle."
"Mistress!" Sella wailed, dark clouds gathering above her head to signify her depression. She didn't say anything else though, perhaps recognising that her protests wouldn't change anything.
"If you're sure." Shirou shrugged, and with a last look of apology towards the maid next to him, he reached down and picked Illya up again, the girl's eyes shining in anticipation and eagerness. Then, he shifted Illya to his right arm entirely, cocked said arm back, and underhandedly threw her into the bouncing castle, where she collided with the far-end wall.
"Mistress, are you alright?!" Sella asked frantically, running up to the edge of the bouncy castle.
"That was awesome!" Illya cheered in response, picking herself up, and when she ran back to Shirou, her grin huge enough to almost split her face in two, the redhead already knew what she was going to say. "Harder!"
Sella didn't even speak anymore at this point, she just wailed wordlessly in concern and consternation.
Shirou didn't listen though, and proceeded to fling his sister against the wall of the bouncy castle again, drawing another bout of delighted laughter from her.
Little sisters sure were odd.
Yomaura Taya had a bit of experience with fighting Wraiths.
That was not at all unusual for someone with the kind of profession she used to have, as Wraiths were incredibly common in the Moonlit World.
Wraiths were basically an accumulation of humanity's negative feelings that had been granted a consciousness, so it wasn't surprising that there were many around now that the total human population could be measured in the billions.
There was just so much negative emotion around in recent times that Wraiths were formed almost daily, all over the world, as humanity cursed, sinned, and fought its way to the future.
Every Enforcer, Executor, and Exorcist alive, almost without exception, had faced down at least one Wraith over the course of their career, and by now, entire books had been written on the subject of how to take on down quickly and easily. That, combined with the fact they were usually not that powerful or clever, meant that they were generally considered more like pests than genuine monsters. The fact that it was exceedingly rare for someone to get hurt at all during a Wraith-hunt only contributed to that reputation.
This Wraith, this 'Mordegai', was different though.
It was intelligent, ruthless, cunning, and able to plan ahead. It had possessed a human, on itself not unusual for Wraiths, but unlike most other Wraiths, it hadn't gone on an immediate killing spree, but bided its time and increased its power before it did anything. It had even used others as pawns, and had set traps, demonstrating a concerning amount of patience and cunning.
Worse, the usual tricks to destroy them did not work on this Wraith. The Tohsaka-girl had tried to use Wind against it earlier, which should have done the trick, but the apparition had neutralised her attack with little difficulty. Yomaura herself had tried several exorcizing methods, but those too had done nothing. Even her attempt to manually shred the Wraith to pieces wasn't working, partially because it was very adept at dodging and partially because it kept reforming.
Yomaura hadn't really known at first what drinking the blood of an Incubus' descendant would do for a Wraith, but clearly, the blood had given it a massive boost that made it near undefeatable for such a small group.
Or perhaps that was the influence of the Holy Grail, located nearby. The Wraith had hinted at such a thing earlier, and Yomaura was more than willing to believe it on that front, even if she couldn't be entirely certain.
What was certain however was the fact that she was losing. Not quickly, not easily, and certainly not without a fight, but the Wraith definitely had the upper hand.
It seemed to have an unlimited source of energy that allowed it to keep fighting on and on, as it neatly dodged almost every one of Yomaura's blows and easily tanked the rest. Furthermore, although most of its retaliatory swipes didn't land, some did, meaning that the redhead now had numerous wounds all over her body.
She had already applied Healing Runes to herself of course, which were working at full tilt, but the Wraith was wounding her faster than she could recover. To make matters worse, the blood loss was slowing her down, which meant more and more attacks started to connect, and to top it all off, her increasing exhaustion also made her healing less effective.
She was stuck in a vicious downwards cycle, and the Wraith knew it too, judging by its satisfied expression.
But even though she was being driven back, Yomaura wasn't worried. She had noticed that the Tohsaka-girl had been called over by Matou earlier, and she had every expectation that they would hatch a good plan between them to get rid of this monster.
She just needed to last until they took action again.
In the end, she only needed to wait a few more minutes.
Tohsaka's short Aria, coupled with another gem flying towards the creature, was all the indication Yomaura needed to know that a plan had finally been created and that the first phase had been initiated.
With three quick steps, she distanced herself a bit from the Wraith, not wanting to get caught up in what was going to happen.
Just like before, the Wraith promptly drained the Magical Energy from the gem, before tanking the small whirlwind that formed when the gem made contact with its form.
Yomaura didn't believe for a second though that that would be the end of it.
"Ich kann dich fesseln! Ich soll dich gefangen halten!"
Indeed, when Tohsaka's voice sounded through the cavern again, there was not a trace of panic or worry audible in it, only a strong confidence.
"Du bist hilflos! Du bist verzweifelnd!"
Another gem flew at the Wraith, but rather than hitting it directly, it kept its distance and began flying around the creature in an orbit.
"Mein Vorfahre ist der große Zelretch! Mein Vater ist der Narr Tokiomi!"
A second gem joined the first, and then a third, and a fourth, a fifth, and finally a sixth, all of them circling the Wraith in a makeshift cage. At the same time, Tohsaka herself walked forward until she was standing beside Yomaura, holding out her hand towards the Wraith.
"Meine Schwester ist die Königin der Geister! Die Herrscherin der Vorstellungskraft!"
Of course, the Wraith wasn't just going to let the black-haired girl do as she pleased, and it opened its mouth again, glowing blue as it tried to drain the Magical Energy from the gems. For some reason though, it couldn't this time, as the gems appeared immune to its efforts.
"Du bist nur ein Geist! Du wirst jetzt verschwinden!"
That was the final piece of Tohsaka's Aria, and she brought her hand down, like a queen ordering her guards to take a criminal's head.
The gems snapped into position. One right above the Wraith, one right under it, and the other four in one of the Cardinal Directions each. Beams of light and lightning then shot out from the gems and created a cage around the Wraith, a cage that promptly began growing smaller and smaller.
"What is this?!" The Wraith cried, sounding panicked in spite of its emotionless voice. "What have you done, Tohsaka?!"
"Your ability to drain Magical Energy is insanely annoying, but it seems Ten-Point Incantations work just fine against you." Said girl grinned confidently, wiping away a drop of sweat from her brow. "It really was a pain to absorb Sakura's Magical Energy into those gems, not to mention creating that make-shift Aria, but this sight is more than worth it."
"Damn you!" The Wraith cried, now actually beginning to get encumbered by the ever-shrinking cage.
"You used Matou's Magical Energy?" Yomaura asked, genuinely curious as to how they'd managed to restrain the Wraith so easily when it had seemed so invincible before.
"Yes." Tohsaka nodded. "Sakura's Element is 'Imaginary Numbers', or 'Hollow'. It deals with the imaginary realm. She is uniquely adept at fighting spiritual enemies, at the cost of being less effective against living ones. Since the gems are infused with her Magical Energy, they can restrain that Wraith far better than any of my own spells."
"Imaginary Numbers, you say. I have heard of it." Yomaura recalled being told about that particular Element back when she'd been with the family. It was very useful, and highly coveted by many. However, although it could be copied to a degree by skilled Magi, natural-born practitioners were vanishingly rare. "Make sure no one else hears about Matou having that Element."
"Of course." Tohsaka scoffed. "I'm not a fool."
"Can I continue my explanation, or do you have any more open doors to kick in?" The girl asked in a somewhat acerbic tone.
"You may continue."
"My own Elements don't work well against the Wraith, as it is highly resistant to Fire, Earth, and Water, it would only grow stronger from Ether, and it apparently has counters against Wind." Tohsaka indeed continued her explanation, casually revealing that she was an Average One. "But fortunately, Sakura was clever enough to remember the tiny bit she'd learned about her own Element, and called me over. After that, it was simply a matter of transferring her Magical Energy into my gems and coming up with an Aria, and then we had a hard counter to that ghost. That cage will keep it imprisoned, and by shrinking, it will crush the scumbag out of existence."
"Hold on! Are you saying that you wrote that Aria only just now?" Yomaura deadpanned at the girl, her brain momentarily blanking out at the notion that anyone could create a Ten-Point Incantation on the fly.
"I had to. With Sakura's Magical Energy involved, my own Arias wouldn't do." Tohsaka nodded, pursing her lips in annoyance for a moment, before smiling again. "Fortunately, she is my sister, which allowed me to somewhat smoothly work her into a pre-existing Aria. I didn't come up with a new one from scratch."
"Even so." Yomaura spluttered. "That was insanely dangerous! One wrong word and you would have blown us all sky-high!"
"I am fully aware of that." Tohsaka frowned at Yomaura's outburst, her body-language closing off a bit. "I just didn't see any other way, at least not one that would have gotten us all out of here in one piece."
"…" The redheaded woman was still not happy about it, but she also saw that the girl had a point. With the way things had been going, they would have lost sooner or later, so Tohsaka had been right to take a risk in an attempt to turn the tide. "Fine. Better a small chance at survival than no chance at all, I suppose."
"Precisely." Tohsaka nodded happily, before grimacing as she looked Yomaura over. "Ah, Yomaura-san, you may have a slight problem."
"If you are referring to my wounds, I am aware of them and I am taking steps to heal them." The redhead nodded. She knew that she was covered from head to toe in scratches and gashes, most of which were still bleeding, but none of them were debilitating or crippling, and her Healing Runes were working on full tilt, so she should be fine soon enough.
"I'm glad to hear that, but it isn't what I meant." Tohsaka's grimace became even more pronounced, and she gestured at Yomaura's body. "Your clothes have been-"
Whatever the black-haired girl had wanted to say was drowned out by a sudden, ear-piercing shriek from the Wraith, making everyone in the cavern jump in shock.
For a moment, Yomaura dared hope that this was its death-cry, a last scream to curse them before it disappeared, but that hope was killed in the cradle when she laid eyes on the Wraith.
The cage was still there, fully intact and still shrinking, but the Wraith…
The Wraith was free.
In a not-further-specified place in Finland, far enough North to be covered in snow all year long, an immense, stately manor stood as robust and imposing as a mountain.
Located in the middle of nowhere, with the closest town more than a thousand kilometres away, it should have been a fool's errand to live there, surrounded by polar bears and other dangers, with few natural resources and any emergency aid being over ten hours away by helicopter. Yes, it should have been a complete folly, one that would have deadly consequences.
Yet nothing was less true.
The masters of the mansion had made the landscape their own. They had survived there for hundreds of years and would continue to survive for hundreds more. The environment, as dangerous as it was, was of no consequence to them.
Mostly, this was because of their mind-bogglingly powerful Bounded Fields and Wards, that protected them not only from their enemies, but also from the wildlife and even the cold.
Even though it was the middle of the night, and a relentless snowstorm hammered the surroundings with the fury of an angry god, the manor was not touched by even a single flake of snow.
Even though the temperature was well below zero even during the day, the people in the manor were always comfortably warm, even out in the manor's gardens.
Even though the manor could not possibly be reached by mundane food trucks or ships, the larders were stocked so full that the people inside could have easily survived for another ten years at least, with intricate spells keeping the food fresh and unspoiled.
This was clearly the home of an immensely powerful family, one that had conquered countless enemies and taken those enemies' treasures from their cold, dead hands. A family that was rich even by Clocktower-standards, and was admired as much as it was hated. A family that saw the sky as the limit and spared no expense to end up at the top of the pile.
The most elegant hyenas above ground.
This was the home of the Edelfelt, and woe anyone foolish enough to attack it.
If the previously mentioned Bounded Fields wouldn't destroy the attackers, the countless traps would decimate their numbers, and the combat-Homunculi, Enchanted Statues, Golems, and enslaved Wraiths would pin them down while the numerous members of the family picked them off one by one, before stealing everything they had.
Yes, any invading army would do nothing but add to the Edelfelt's treasury. It was safe to say that aside from a scattered few irregulars, there was nothing and no one in the world who could destroy the manor, let alone wipe out the family.
They were as safe as Magi could be in the Moonlit World.
Yet with that safety came complacency, and with complacency came pride, and pride…
Pride came before the fall.
"The Democratic Faction clearly does not respect us." Mikael Edelfelt said coolly, his young features drawn tight in an expression of insulted annoyance. "First they laugh at us for weeks on end, seeing us merely as the butt of a joke, and now they wish to use us as patsies to gain information on a Sorcerer who has already wiped out several families that displeased him."
Standing inside a large and well-furnished room on the uppermost floor of the Edelfelt-manor, together with several other members of his family, Mikael made his displeasure with the recent actions of the Democratic Faction known. Having taken position just in front of the door, from where he could look everyone in the eyes, he made his argument, struggling to remain composed as he complained loudly.
He did so without worry, for not only was the room located in the most protected part of the manor, very safe against attacks from the outside, but it was also warded by so many Bounded Fields meant to stop eavesdroppers that even someone listening at the keyhole would hear nothing but a deafening static noise.
"To be fair to them on your latter point, Sofia and Eduardo are two of the very few people outside of the Aristocratic Faction who have managed to develop any kind of rapport with that particular Sorcerer." Anna Edelfelt, Mikael's younger sister, said soothingly from her position on one of the couches on the left side of the room. "Trambellio and Valualeta are not wrong to use the tools that they have."
"The Edelfelt are not tools for them to use." Mikael refuted, two red splotches appearing high on his cheeks. "We were promised a position of honour, as well as the standing that a family like ours deserves. That was why we signed the agreement to throw our lot in with the Democratic Faction."
"We only joined them recently." Anna countered, still sounding entirely respectful towards her older brother. "They don't know yet what we can contribute to the Faction, so they test us. This is not abnormal or irregular."
"I agree that it is normal for young, small families to be tested first, but that does not apply to us!" Mikael retorted in a slightly raised voice, which for him was equivalent to shouting at the top of his lungs. "We are powerful, rich, influential, and have proven ourselves in battle numerous times over the last centuries. The Democratic Faction should be thankful we deigned to join them. Frankly, I have half a mind to argue that we should leave them again."
"You seem to have an overinflated sense of ego, boy." Hannele Edelfelt grumbled, glaring at the youth from one of the corners of the room. She was of much lower standing within the family than Mikael, but as she was well over seventy years of age, she could get away with the kind of disrespect that would have gotten younger members severely punished.
Olaf and Helena, both sitting on a couch opposite of Anna, clearly agreed with Hannele, but since they were both lower in standing than Mikael and only in their upper twenties, they didn't voice their agreement. They knew better than to anger Mikael.
"Overinflated?" Mikael's voice had become low and dangerous, but while Anna quickly looked down at the floor, Olaf looked up at the ceiling, and Helena shied away from him, Hannele met his eyes without compunction.
"Yes, Mikael, overinflated." She repeated fearlessly. "The Democratic Faction got by just fine before we joined them, and they will get by just fine if we leave them again. The only ones who would lose after such an impulsive action would be us."
"We don't need the Democrats!" Mikael spluttered, his composure slowly fracturing. "We are powerful enough on our own. We have enough resources, enough knowledge, and our home is unbreachable. We need not fear retaliation, if that's what you're worried about."
"What I am worried about is our reputation." Hannele hissed, her old, milk-white eyes glaring angrily at Mikael from below her bone-white bangs. "Joining a Faction only to leave it again after barely two months will greatly increase the contempt that the Magus Association holds towards us. Far from inviting us, the Aristocrats and the Neutrals will shun us, for we will have shown ourselves nothing but whimsical children who give their word without intention of keeping it."
"They cannot attack us here." Mikael repeated. "No matter how great their contempt is."
"But they can attack us out there." Hannele looked as if she wanted to smack Mikael across the face. "They will pressure and harry us at every turn, until we have no choice but to remain here forever, prisoners in our own home. Is that what you want, boy?"
Mikael opened his mouth to retort, perhaps with a good argument, perhaps with a bad one, but he never got the chance, as someone else spoke up before he could.
"Hannele is right, Mikael." The new voice said, and Mikael's mouth snapped shut, as the owner of the voice was the highest-ranking person present in the room. "We cannot afford to antagonise the entirety of the Magus Association, no matter how angry you might feel."
The voice was elegant and refined, a perfect fit to its owner. She was a teenage girl, tall for her age, with golden blonde hair done up in elaborate coils, kept in place by adorable, blue ribbons. Her face was beautiful, and her body well-proportioned, which was accentuated by the elegant blue dress she was wearing.
Standing at the back of the chamber, just in front of a window, Luviagelita Edelfelt cut a very impressive figure despite her young age, her presence easily dominating the room. She was the one who'd called the meeting in the first place, and she was the one who held all its reins.
In terms of Magical Energy and talent, she stood head and shoulders above all the others in the room, all the others in the entire manor even, and that, combined with her aptitude for politics and power-plays, was why she was the current heir of the Edelfelt-family.
Only her great-aunt, the head of the family, was above her in standing, but that old shrew hadn't bothered to make an important decision in years, meaning that Luvia was the unquestioned leader.
As such, a single sentence from her was sufficient to strike Mikael silent. At the same time though, she didn't want him to carry a grudge, so she held out an olive branch.
"I will however write a letter to Trambellio and Velualeta to address your concerns." She promised him, making a soothing gesture. "While I cannot abide your drastic measures, you are correct in stating that the Edelfelt are not tools for them to use, at least not without considerable payment."
"Precisely." Mikael nodded, glad that Luvia understood him. "If they want Sofia to create a bond with the Sorcerer and obtain information about him, they should pay her for her efforts. She is taking a massive risk for them, and she should be properly rewarded for it."
"Hm, yes." Hannele agreed, sitting down again. She might not have approved of Mikael's suggestion to leave the Democratic Faction, but she would never say no to a reward. She might be old and weakened, but she was still a hyena. "Though of course, anything she discovers about the Sorcerer must first be relayed to us."
"Naturally." Mikael nodded, smiling at Hannele, his earlier anger with the old woman long forgotten. "Family comes first."
"Is it safe though to allow Sofia to meddle in the Sorcerer's business?" Olaf asked nervously, speaking up for the first time since the meeting had begun, the shaking of his beard betraying his anxiety. "What if she angers him and he decides to punish her whole family? We cannot stop him."
"Don't underestimate our defences." Mikael stated confidently. "We are protected by nature and by our Ancient Magecraft. He will find that assailing us here in the Far North will be far more difficult than wiping out a Ruling Family with its base and all its assets in the Clocktower."
His confidence wasn't shared though, and all the others in the room looked at Luvia, wondering what she was thinking.
"I instructed Sofia to focus all her efforts on establishing good relations with the Sorcerer." Luvia told them, crossing her arms with a pensive expression. "Information gathering is but a secondary objective. First, we must indeed make sure not to rouse his wrath."
"Can we not just leave him alone? Ignore him?" Helena inquired carefully, before promptly falling silent again when Luvia shook her head.
"We cannot ignore him." The blonde stated firmly. "A Sorcerer who involves himself in politics is like a hurricane. You must carefully plan for it and account for its movements, lest you find yourself blown away by a storm you never saw coming."
"Can we bribe him then, to leave us alone?" Olaf suggested.
"It is exceedingly difficult to bribe Sorcerers." It was Anna who countered him. "They usually can get everything they want by themselves."
"That would be extraordinarily dangerous, as well as difficult."
"What about offering our services as mercenaries to him for a reduced fee?" That was Helena again. "If we show we can be useful, he might be inclined to take our side in political issues, or at the very least refrain from meddling in our business."
"That has some promise, provided he needs our services." Luvia rubbed her chin. "Which we cannot assume lightly. I will keep it in mind however."
"We should just show him we are not to be messed with." Unsurprisingly, Mikael wanted to use a forceful approach. "We should stand up to him and defeat him in a sparring match, to earn his respect."
His suggestion was summarily ignored by all others present.
"All this talk is academic." Hannele groused, the old woman looking very unimpressed by their suggestions. "As long as we don't have any information on the Sorcerer, we cannot make plans to deal with him."
"Gathering that information is a work in progress, Hannele." Luvia said soothingly, giving the elderly woman a smile. "And it's early days yet."
"Well, let's have Sofia continue her information-gathering then, along with Isabel and Nikolas." Hannele said, referring to the members of the Edelfelt-family who were currently at the Clocktower. "It isn't like there is much else we can do, is there?"
"…No." Luvia replied after a moment, having to admit that, despite her insistence on discussing that infamous figure, there wasn't much to say yet. They simply didn't have enough information at the moment to come to any meaningful conclusions.
"Then let us shelve the matter for now." Hannele suggested. "I'm sure there are many other things to talk about now that the Neutral Faction has suffered a terrible blow and the Aristocrats are riding high on their newfound power."
Following Hannele's suggestion, the small group talked for a while about all the recent shifts in the political landscape. They discussed measures to mitigate the damage these shifts would do, as well as possible avenues to profit from it. They were Edelfelt after all, so they needed to make money from the recent upheavals. They had a reputation to uphold.
As they talked however, there was one member of the group who didn't say anything. In fact, she hadn't said anything from the very beginning, not even while they had been discussing the Sorcerer.
With a sigh, Luvia looked over at her twin sister, Marjatta. The girl was seated in a corner of the room with her nose buried in a book. She was completely absorbed in her reading, and had been since the start, and Luvia took some comfort in the fact that even a Sorcerer who'd wiped out a Ruling Family was not enough to draw Marjatta away from her precious books.
Aside from the small amount of comfort though, the sight also filled her with irritation.
Marjatta had always been Luvia's staunch ally, which she dearly appreciated, as it meant they could use the Scales-effect of the family's Crest to its full potential, massively increasing its power, but outside of that, Marjatta wasn't worth much.
It was Luvia who did the politicking, Luvia who organised the meetings, Luvia who did the networking and the gathering of allies, while Marjatta just spent all her time reading. Today's situation, in which Luvia managed everything while Marjatta sat in a corner with a book was par for the course for the siblings, and Luvia didn't know how much longer she could bear it.
It had been alright, in the beginning, when Luvia had been brimming with energy and motivation, but as time went on and she had more and more responsibilities piled onto her, Marjatta's laziness had begun to get on her nerves. Essentially, Luvia was working for two, and after ten years of doing so, without any kind of reward or expression of gratitude, she was starting to wonder why she still bothered.
Was it too much to ask for a sister who was motivated? Who would engage in gem-research as ardently as Luvia herself? Who would make for interesting conversation? A sister whom Luvia could tease and be teased by? A sister with whom she could lie under a tree and talk about boys?
But no, Luvia got Marjatta instead.
The blonde, realising she was getting off-track, shook her head inwardly, before she sighed deeply, though also only inwardly. She wasn't about to show such an obvious sign of weakness to the others, that would only invite trouble.
Yes, everyone in the room was nominally her ally, but only because Luvia was currently the strongest and most powerful person in the manor. If that was no longer so, at least half of them would jump ship without a second of hesitation.
Not because they disliked Luvia –the blonde liked to think she got along with just about everyone– but because that was how things worked in the Edelfelt-family.
The Edelfelt were in any and every way a competitive family. Not just with outsiders, but also with each other, constantly and without mercy. To call the family dysfunctional would be an insult to dysfunctional families everywhere.
Factions within the family were formed and dissolved constantly. Pacts were made and broken almost daily. Two family-members could be fighting together in the morning and at each other's throats, literally, in the evening.
Though deaths were relatively uncommon during conflicts within the family, serious injury was very normal, as were public humiliations, incarceration, theft, bribery, blackmail, and far more.
The manor, which was so safe against attacks from the outside, was often home to veritable battlegrounds as its inhabitants waged their petty wars. Not having to worry about a potential enemy at the gates made them all the more willing to fight each other, so that was what they did.
This constant infighting was mostly caused by the way in which the family as a whole had been structured. Unlike the Valualeta, who had one main line and several branch-families, or the Tohsaka, who practiced the principle of always having only one child per generation to avoid infighting, the Edelfelt had five 'main' lines within the family.
Of course, only one of them could be the actual main line, and that would be the line that had proven itself the strongest in the endless competitions. At the moment, that was Luvia's and Marjatta's line, meaning that the other four were considered branch-lines. That was why she was the heir, and her cousins were not.
If Luvia faltered or failed however, the power could very well shift to another line entirely, leaving her line a mere branch instead of the main line. If that happened, most of Luvia's current allies would abandon her in favour of the new heir without a second of hesitation.
It was a principle that was very reminiscent of an Asian practice called 'Gu'. Gu involved putting venomous snakes, spiders, and other critters together in a big vase and letting them fight to the death. Whatever critter remained at the end would have the strongest venom of them all.
This was also the reason for the Edelfelt's tendency to scour battlefields for everything they could steal. In the battles that were fought at home, every single Mystic Code, Spell, Curse, Enchantment, or piece of blackmail material could make a world of difference.
It was a terribly cruel and utterly unforgiving environment, and though it created Magi who were brutal, cunning, and willing to do anything to win, one could wonder if the price was worth it.
Many Edelfelt had taken to spending most of their time elsewhere, and some of them had even just plain thrown the towel in the ring entirely.
Sofia Edelfelt for instance, the one who was making inroads with the Sorcerer. She was Luvia's second cousin, and frankly quite terrible at the games that were played within the family. That didn't matter anymore though, as she had successfully managed to snatch herself a decent man and had moved in with him as soon as she could.
Juhani, Luvia's uncle on her mother's side, had done much the same, having married a Chinese Magus with whom he had built a house not far away from Beijing. He too had managed to extract himself from the Edelfelt. He hadn't been home for years, and probably never would come home again either.
Leaving wasn't an option for Luvia though. She had spent too much time and effort on becoming heiress to leave now. Instead, she hoped she could change the system itself.
Rather than the Gu-principle, Luvia would vastly prefer a system like the Valualeta were using, with one main family and several branch-lines who all did their own thing. It would be much more relaxed and also much more fitting for the modern age.
All that infighting might have gone decently well in the old days, but in the modern age, where Magical Power was already sparse, it was downright foolish to constantly engage in a battle of attrition like that. It drained resources they couldn't afford to lose, and was a waste of time and energy that was better spent elsewhere.
Putting an end to the system was Luvia's plan for the future, but a plan was all it was right now. She hadn't yet had the opportunity to even begin implementing it, nor would she for quite some time.
But one day, she would change the family, or she would die trying.
"And that concludes the matter of the Aristocrats' influence on the gold-trade, which has proven rather limited so far." Hannele signed a document with a flourish, before handing it over to Luvia. "You know, now that I look at all these forms, I can only conclude that the damage we have suffered because of the purge is much less than I anticipated."
"It seems we've gotten off rather easily, despite being members of the Democratic Faction." Olaf agreed. "The Aristocrats aren't pushing us nearly as hard as they could."
"The Aristocratic Faction likely doesn't want to ruffle too many feathers during the reconstruction efforts." Anna said, looking at her own golden rings. "The price of gold for instance is extremely important to the markets, and it should not be disturbed merely for a short-lived advantage in politics."
"Lady Montmorency is smarter than that." Mikael agreed.
"What about the gem market?" Luvia asked, being an avid gem user herself and as such, dependent on said market. "How are things there?"
"As we expected, there have been large fluctuations." Helena reported, pursing her lips in irritation. "The Meluastea were one of the biggest suppliers of gems in the market, and with them gone, the available supply has dropped almost forty percent in total, and is still falling fast. Many Magi who study Gemcraft have begun hoarding them, fearing that the supply will soon dry up entirely, and that has driven the price through the roof."
"Will that be a problem for us?" Mikael asked sharply, now really paying attention to the conversation, as it was about money. "We have considerable riches, so we can afford to pay more than the usual price for a while, if the increase isn't too steep."
"These new prices…" Helena hesitated for a moment, which was not a good sign at all, before she held up a report. "We can afford to pay them, yes, but if we continue buying gems at the speed we did before the Meluastea's fall, it will hurt the treasury quite badly. If the new prices persist for longer than six months, even we will be scraping the bottom of our coffers."
"Show me." Luvia ordered, and Helena quickly handed over the report, allowing the blonde to take a look.
She did not like what she saw.
"Judging by your horrified expression, I take it we will mainly be using our own gem reserves in the near future?" Hannele asked dryly.
"Yes." Luvia nodded frantically, returning the report to Helena. "Yes, we will. I'll speak to my great-aunt tomorrow, so we can put limits on both the purchase of new gems and the number of gems we can use in our research for the foreseeable future. The entire family will have to start being sparse, or we will soon have no gems left."
"The situation is that dire?" Hannele raised an eyebrow.
"It is." Luvia confirmed darkly, already thinking deeply about which projects of hers weren't essential and could be paused for an indefinite amount of time, so she could save on gems.
"That is bad news." Hannele grumbled, before letting out a slow breath. "Let us hope then that some brave new merchant will soon fill the hole that the Meluastea left behind."
"If there's no visible improvement in three months, I will address the situation myself at the Clocktower." Luvia promised, not willing to leave something so important to chance. "Surely, there are many more Magi who don't like the current state of the gem market."
"Undoubtedly." Hannele concurred.
"Uhm…" They were interrupted by a soft hum from Helena, who hesitantly raised a hand, drawing everyone's attention back to her.
"What is it, child?" Hannele asked, not unkindly.
"T-There is something else about this report." Helena replied, holding said report up again. "It's a note from one of our spies."
"What does this spy have to say?" Luvia prompted her when she fell silent.
"The Tohsaka aren't buying gems anymore." Helena replied, shrinking in on herself in preparation for a bad reaction.
Indeed, the reaction of the room to the mention of that name could not be called positive in any way.
"The Tohsaka." Mikael let out a breath through his nose, showing his utter contempt.
"Petty thieves." Hannele grumbled, displaying a shocking amount of hypocrisy by daring to dismiss another family as 'thieves'.
"Tsk." Olaf didn't react with words, but he did make a sound that showed how little he thought of the Edelfelt's rival-family.
"Enough." Luvia demanded, cutting off any further expressions of hatred and contempt. "I want to hear this. What do you mean when you say the Tohsaka aren't buying gems anymore, Helena?"
"I-I mean just that." The girl held up the report like a shield, cowering before the angry glares of her family-members. "The number of gems they were purchasing had already steeply declined in recent years, but since a few months ago, they aren't buying any gems whatsoever anymore."
"Maybe the family died off." Mikael suggested in a hopeful tone.
"It could be that they are now fully impoverished." Anna smirked at the thought.
"Or they found another source of gems, one that we are not aware of." While Luvia would love to assume that their rival-family had either ceased to exist entirely or had fully sunken into irrelevance, she wasn't going to believe either theory until she had conclusive proof. "I will instruct our spies to delve deeper into this sudden irregular behaviour. If they are using another source, we may be able to discover it."
And, naturally, take it for themselves.
"To the point of sending those spies directly to Fuyuki?" Anna questioned her sharply.
"If necessary." Luvia nodded coolly, fully aware that they had never gone to such lengths before outside of Grail Wars. "I want to know why they have ceased gathering materials."
Although Magi were generally an unpredictable lot, there was one thing that they all did, without exception. That one thing was gathering resources and materials. They couldn't practise their craft without the required means after all.
For centuries, the Tohsaka had been consistent in their acquiring of materials. They regularly and consistently purchased as many gems as they could afford, together with some other minor materials that were hardly relevant. In this, they were very similar to the Edelfelt-family.
That they showed no more interest in the gem market at the exact time that said market was going through a crisis unnerved Luvia more than she would admit, even to herself, and though it was of course possible that the rising prices had completely finished them off, the mere possibility that they had another source was enough for Luvia to look into the matter herself.
"Perhaps the spies can find some decent blackmail material while they're there anyway." Mikael said hopefully.
"Perhaps." Luvia nodded, agreeing that such material would be good to have, especially if the Tohsaka did have a new source of gems. "I will arrange this later."
"Then let us move on." It was again Hannele who changed the subject. The elderly lady hated idle talk, and when she considered a topic to be wrapped up, she showed no compunction about forcefully starting a new conversation. "We must discuss the recent death of lord Gabsburg, and how we are going to take advantage of it."
From there on, they only discussed topics they'd already discussed a thousand times before. How they were going to take advantage of this, how they were going to shield themselves from that, and so on and so on.
Utterly boring, yet sadly so very necessary.
In the end, it was already three o'clock in the morning when they finally wrapped up the meeting. It had been a productive time, fortunately, so when everyone said their goodbyes, it was in good spirits.
They left the room one by one, until only Marjatta and Luvia remained inside.
But even now, with just the two of them, Marjatta did not acknowledge Luvia's existence. She kept her nose buried in her book, a different one than at the beginning of the meeting, and said not a word.
Luvia was used to that however, and just collected her paperwork, before making to leave to her room.
For a moment though, when she was already standing at the door, Luvia wondered if she should say something, perhaps wish her sister a good night. But as Marjatta continued looking at the book without giving Luvia another glance, she realised that any attempt at conversation would be futile.
Luvia fully left the room to head back to her own chambers. They were on the same floor as the meeting-room, but in the West-side of the manor instead of the East-side. It was not far when compared to the distances the others had to walk to get to their rooms, but any normal person would have considered her travel-time utterly ludicrous.
When she finally arrived at the door of her room, about fifteen minutes later, Luvia stood still for a few seconds to allow the Bounded Fields to recognise her. Only when they had, did she step inside, after which she promptly closed her door again, allowing the Bounded Fields to set themselves back to fully active.
One couldn't be careful enough after all, inside the Edelfelt-manor.
She had Bounded Fields for just about every purpose. To Reinforce her door and walls, to disguise her Magecraft, to suppress sounds coming from inside, to prevent unwelcome guests from entering, to disable or kill unwelcome guests that had come in anyway, and even to summon Wraiths she herself had subjugated over the years.
After having ascertained that they all functioned like they should and that there were no holes in her defences, Luvia turned around again and walked to her bed.
The meeting just now had been extremely tiring, and Luvia was just about ready to call it a day. She stripped off her clothes, neatly folding them and placing them on a chair, before putting on the frilly negligee she used as sleeping wear.
Then, she opened a secret compartment in her bed, and retrieved a plushie from it, setting it down on one of her many pillows. From the same compartment, she also took a pink toiletry bag, containing a set of special brushes and combs.
From the set, Luvia very carefully selected a soft brush and a tiny comb. The rest she set aside. She then laid down sideways on the bed, leaning on her elbow, while pulling up her legs slightly and making sure the plushie was well within her reach.
Then she began grooming the plushie with the brush and the comb, using the brush for the back, the front, and most of its head, while using the small comb for its ears, its nose, its tail, and the space between its eyes.
While the brush was making soft passes through the plushie's fur, Luvia cooed at it, repeatedly kissing it on the top of its head, fawning over it like one would over a beloved pet, at one point even rubbing her cheek against its nose, speaking nonsensical words of love as she did so.
Taking care of her plushie like this was something she did quite often, almost every evening in fact. It was relaxing to her, to spend some time lovingly taking care of something, and she did not care one whit that it could be considered childish and immature.
She'd had the plushie for over a year now, and though she did have others, many others, this one was her absolute favourite.
It was a dog plushie, with red fur, golden eyes, and a sturdy body that was nevertheless absolutely adorable.
It was a character from a kids' TV show. An anthropomorphic dog that liked cooking, but when push came to shove, would become a knight in shining armour. A superhero who protected everyone, from cute little babies and beautiful maidens to toothless old men and even sometimes the villains themselves. Above all else though, he would valiantly protect and serve his beloved princess.
It was truly a thing meant to make little girls' dreams come true.
Luvia loved that show, to the point where she made sure to watch it every single week. No matter what else she had to do, meetings, discussions, projects, or even fights, she would put it all on hold to watch the TV. Similarly, she had spared no expense to get her hands on the plushie.
Perhaps it was foolish of her, wasting so much time on a children's show, but Luvia just couldn't rip herself away from it. The show appealed to her baser desires, and though she'd never admit it to anyone, she felt that if there was a man out there who resembled Sir Dog in character and demeanour, she would instantly fall for him, completely and utterly.
Yes, she was fully aware she was the heiress of the Edelfelt-family, meaning that she'd have to marry a powerful gentleman of standing and wealth, but until the day of her wedding arrived, she was fully entitled to fantasise as much as she pleased.
Luvia was drawn for her blissful state however when someone approached her chambers. It was someone she recognised though, someone she trusted, so with a wave of her hand, Luvia opened the door for him, uncaring that her nipples were poking through her negligee and that said negligee had ridden up so far that her panty-clad bottom was visible in its entirety.
"My lady." The one who entered was Luvia's second most trusted and capable bodyguard, Clown. He was a huge, burly man, with pitch-black skin and combat-skills that made even Luvia take him seriously, making his odd name utterly unfit for him. He wore it with pride however, and no one ever dared mock him over it. "I have a report from Sofia and her husband."
"Fiancé." Luvia corrected him absentmindedly, as Eduardo di Stanza had not actually married Sofia yet.
"Fiancé." Clown repeated obediently. His training had been incredibly thorough and utterly merciless, so no snarky remark about how that was merely semantics came from his lips. "They report that the Sorcerer has tentatively agreed not to attack the Edelfelt if he is not attacked first. They are even hopeful that an actual agreement covering more than just mutual non-aggression can be struck with him in time."
"That is good news." Luvia smiled with some relief. It wasn't that she had doubted Sofia's commitment to the cause, or Eduardo's for that matter, but Sorcerers were unpredictable at the best of times. It seemed this one was calmer and more even headed than most of his peers though. "Clown, you have much improved my evening."
Unlike with Magi, Luvia didn't worry about the Sorcerer's agreement having been a lie. Magi would lie or fudge the truth to gain an advantage, but Sorcerers had no need for that. All ancient records agreed on it, Sorcerers generally meant what they said.
"I am glad that this has put you in a better mood." Clown's eyes softened ever so slightly as he looked at her. "It seems you have been under a lot of stress."
"Oh, why do you think that?"
"Because you only ever groom Sir Dog with such energy and dedication when you are stressed, my lady." Clown replied, pointing at the plushie.
"…Oh." Was she truly that easy to read? "Just… Just leave the report on the desk, and then you are dismissed, Clown."
"Yes, my lady." The man followed her orders, as always, and then excused himself, leaving Luvia alone.
For a moment, there was silence, as Luvia thought deeply about everything she still had to deal with.
The new Sorcerer who had no compunction about making waves, two of her cousins plotting against her, the collapsing gem-market, the rapidly dwindling wealth of her family, the strange behaviour of the Tohsaka, and many, many other matters.
"Oh yes, Sir Dog! I wuv you! I wuv you so much!"
Luvia energetically continued the grooming of Sir Dog, leaving the report and everything else for tomorrow.
Osaki really missed the time when he hadn't known about the Moonlit World.
It had been a much simpler time, much more reasonable and logical. A time when he would only ever pursue human criminals, with sometimes a dangerous animal added to the mix. A time when he at least still felt somewhat in control of his surroundings. A time when any mention of Magic had been nothing but a joke or a fairy tale.
A sharp contrast with the present, in which he found himself in a cavern under Mount Enzou, trapped by a wall of shadows that blocked the exit, looking on as his partner fought a terrifying Wraith alongside several wizards while he handcuffed a murderer who suddenly seemed not at all relevant to the story anymore.
Hiroko didn't resist as he dragged her behind some rocks for cover, nor did she react in any way when he cuffed both her wrists and her ankles together. She just sat there, looking dazed, unresponsive to any outside stimulus. Not even directly addressing her could get her to pay attention.
Osaki hoped it was just the information-overload rather than a result of having hit her head while falling earlier, but he had no way to check, so he laid the girl down and focused on the fight instead.
For a while, the Wraith had had the upper hand, but fortunately, Tohsaka managed to turn the tables on it, trapping it inside a Magic Cage. The fact that the black-haired girl declared with utter confidence that the Wraith would soon be destroyed lifted a massive weight from Osaki's shoulders.
Then he looked at Yomaura, and his cheeks exploded into a massive blush.
The Wraith claws had done a number on her, yes, and she was bleeding from multiple gashes, which very much concerned him, but those injuries did nothing to hide the fact that it had been her clothes, not her body, that had taken the brunt of the damage.
Nothing was left to cover her upper body, not her shirt, undershirt, or bra, except for some small pieces of cloth that covered parts of her stomach and could thus be considered utterly irrelevant. Her trousers had been torn to pieces too, but fortunately, her panties had mostly survived, as they presented too small a target for the Wraith to hit.
That still left her completely naked except for those panties and her shoes though, so Osaki promptly took off his coat to give it to her, carefully not looking at her breasts, or the nape of her neck, or her shoulders, or...
Basically, he was looking somewhere else entirely.
Before he could give her his coat however, the Wraith suddenly let out a horrific shriek.
Matou, Tohsaka, and Yomaura didn't notice it because of their innate Magic Resistance, but that shriek also carried a debilitating effect, and Osaki was forced to his knees because of it, the coat slipping from his hands. From the corner of his eyes, he noticed that Mitsuzuri also fell to the ground.
"Ayako!" Matou shouted in shock.
"Senpai!" Yomaura cried, turning to look at him, but Osaki didn't look back at her. He could only stare at the Wraith in horror, feeling as if the bottom had dropped out of his stomach.
After its shriek, the Wraith had suddenly expelled a massive quantity of blood from its mouth, as if it were vomiting. The blood impacted the inside of the cage of lightning and light that Tohsaka had so diligently erected, and somehow stuck to it. Then, somehow, the Wraith forced its way through that bloody spot, escaping from the trap.
"That's Paris-san's blood!" Matou cried, her eyes wide in fear. "It holds no spiritual component! My Element can't stop it!"
"Precisely." The Wraith uttered, its voice far weaker than before, and judging from the fact its colour had shifted from a pale grey to a deep white, it had definitely been affected in some way. "I had to sacrifice almost all of the Incubus' blood to escape your trap."
"To be so willing to sacrifice the source of your power… You are definitely not a normal Wraith." Yomaura narrowed her eyes at the creature. "Are you even a Wraith at all?"
The apparition didn't reply, but there was a hint of a grin on its bony, incorporeal face.
"It's a shame that the cage couldn't finish you off." Tohsaka sneered at the being, a sneer that was definitely among the top ten best sneers Osaki had ever seen. "But since you look weakened, we'll just deal with you the normal way."
"I am weakened." The Wraith admitted with surprising frankness. "But the loss of the blood was worth my freedom. I will just replenish my reserves now."
It moved so fast that it looked like it had teleported. One moment, it was hovering at the edge of the cavern, a good distance away from the group, and then it was in front of Tohsaka, its mouth wide open and its claws primed to pierce her through.
"You will be my feast!" It roared, before biting down.
Right into Matou's shoulder.
The purple-haired girl had jumped in front of her sister in the blink of an eye, forcefully pushing her out of the way and taking the attack herself.
"Sakura!" Tohsaka cried as Matou screamed in pain, blood streaming over her arm and torso as the cruel teeth mauled her flesh.
"You bastard!" Mitsuzuri yelled, glaring furiously at the Wraith even though, just like Osaki himself, she still couldn't get up from her kneeling position. "I'll kill you!"
But even as the girls screamed in fear and rage, the Wraith too screamed.
"It burns!" It cried as it rapidly detached itself from Matou, writhing as the purple-haired girl's Magical Energy was absorbed into its incorporeal body, where it seemed to change into ethereal purple flames that slowly but surely consumed its form. "It burns!"
It tried desperately to stop the flow of Magical Energy, to stop absorbing the painful flames, but for some reason, it was unable to. Matou's essence seemed to force itself upon the creature, entering its body on its own accord.
Then Matou herself took action.
Somehow, she managed to grab the Wraith with her bare hands, taking hold of its spindly arms, pulling it towards herself, as if she was hugging it.
"GET OFF!" The Wraith was now truly panicking, thrashing about as it desperately tried to dislodge Matou, but the purple-haired girl didn't let go. Even with her left arm mauled, she clung to the creature, forcibly feeding it more of her Magical Energy, weakening it further and further. "GET AWAY FROM ME!"
As the Wraith pulled and pulled however, she was forced to compensate to prevent herself from falling over, and she stumbled forward to the far side of the cavern, step by step, closely followed behind by Tohsaka and Yomaura, the former racking her brain for something she could do to help and the latter trying and failing to grab the Wraith herself.
Further and further they went, this ridiculous looking group, until they had come within mere metres of the ominous looking Magic Circle that the Wraith had gestured towards at the beginning of the confrontation.
The Magic Circle that represented the Greater Grail.
The Wraith Mordegai now saw its chance. It wasn't ideal, having to enter the Grail while unprepared for battle with the being already occupying it, but it was better than being chipped away by the Matou piece by piece until nothing remained.
Mordegai had no idea what was happening, why the girl's Magical Energy was such poison to it, but it did know that it needed to break free before it would be too weakened to resist anymore. If it didn't, the Matou would slowly grind it into oblivion.
So it vomited out every last bit of Incubus-blood it still possessed, using it as a catalyst to trigger a spell that blew the women away.
With the blood gone however, and the purple flames still eating away at it, Mordegai needed to act fast.
Without another moment of hesitation, Mordegai entered the nearby Magic Circle, forcibly integrating itself into the Greater Grail, hoping furiously that Angra Mainyu was every bit the pushover that he was described to be in the ancient books and the reports of the Third Holy Grail War.
The Wraith entered the Grail, and inside, it found…
Endless golden fields full of Magical Energy and Divine Might.
It was Power beyond belief. The kind of power that could reach to the Throne of Heroes. The kind of power that could fulfil decently limited wishes. The kind that would allow an angry god to wipe out humanity in an instant.
Mordegai instantly forgot all about its troubles. The purple flames were long gone, Gaia's influence was no more, its weakness was forgotten, and the women standing outside of the Grail were helpless now that Mordegai had achieved its purpose.
So the Wraith feasted on the power, absorbing it as fast as it could, feeling itself grow more powerful by the second as it consumed and consumed and consumed.
It was everything the creature had hoped for and more. It was paradise. With this power, it could finally make its dream come true! It could rise in the rankings! It could finally make the master notice it! It could evaporate humanity in its entirety! It could-
"A little morsel?"
Sakura looked on with wide eyes as the Wraith fled straight into the Grail. She might not know much about Wraiths or Grails, but she understood perfectly well that that couldn't possibly be a good thing.
"Damnit." Rin's hiss of fury only was more evidence to support that, as the black-haired girl looked at the Magic Circle with fearful uncertainty even as she frantically tried to heal Sakura alongside the female detective. "Why didn't the creators of the Grail make countermeasures against Possession?"
"Maybe they did." Sakura muttered in response, before gritting her teeth when Rin placed a hand on her wounded shoulder, sending another wave of agony flowing through her. "But Angra Mainyu destroyed those measures."
"Tch." Rin made a discontented noise, before looking at Sakura with an awfully worried expression, dropping two empty gems on the floor next to her, where they disintegrated into ash. "That wound is nasty. I think I managed to stem most of the bleeding, but this is all I can do for now."
The black-haired girl had done her very best to fix the mauled flesh on Sakura's shoulder and upper arm, but she wasn't very adept at Healing. It had cost her two gems to just stop the blood from flowing out, and she wasn't willing to use more now that the Wraith could very well return at any moment.
"My Healing Runes will take care of the rest of the wound." Yomaura assured her, before she rose to a standing position. "Come on, Second Owner. We must prepare to face that Wraith again."
"T-Take as much of my Magical Energy as you need." Sakura held out her right hand, activating her Magic Circuits and forcing them to make as much Magical Energy as they could. "It seemed effective against the creature."
"Strangely so." Rin nodded with a frown, this time out of confusion. "The last time I checked, the Element 'Imaginary Numbers' doesn't cause such an adverse reaction in spiritual beings on its own. Or at least, nothing I read about it suggested that it would burn them with purple flames."
"I… suppose so?" Sakura agreed hesitantly, as she didn't much about her own Element herself.
"Hold on!" Rin's eyes suddenly went wide, and she looked at Sakura with a strange mix of suspicion and concern. "Emiya-kun didn't do anything weird to you, did he?"
"Uh?!" Sakura drew a blank for a moment, the question throwing her for a loop.
"Sakura?" Now Rin looked really worried, taking Sakura's lack of a denial as a confirmation.
"He didn't-" Sakura started to say, but then she suddenly remembered.
When Senpai had told her about that night, when he had saved her from Zouken and vanquished the worms inside her, he mentioned that he'd had to absolutely drench her in his 'Cleansing Power' in order to safely destroy the worms around her heart.
According to him, a part of the Cleansing Power had mixed with her Magic Circuits, and though she hadn't yet noticed anything amiss about her body, he had warned her that his power mixed with her Magical Energy may lead to some esoteric effects.
Apparently, they had just discovered one of those effects.
"That… That bastard!" Rin was indeed taking her continued silence as a confirmation, and her face turned bright red in a mixture of anger and embarrassment. "I'm going to kill him-"
"Talk about killing your boyfriend later." Yomaura snapped before Sakura could try to explain to Rin what had really happened. "Right now, prepare for battle, and for Heaven's sake, get miss purple-hair away from the battlefield."
"Leave that to me." Ayako chose that moment to appear, like a knight in shining armour, and she knelt next to Sakura. "You go and fight that thing, Rin."
"Ah, yes." Rin nodded, quickly working through her confusion to find her resolve again. "I will-"
Then it happened.
The Magic Circle representing the Greater Grail turned pitch-black. At the same time, an immense aura of unimaginable evil filled the entire cavern, almost making Sakura hurl from how powerful and deeply unsettling it was.
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Sakura had thought that the Wraith was the evillest thing she'd ever encountered, the darkest, most malicious creature, but now, she was forced to acknowledge that she'd been wrong, completely and utterly wrong.
The Wraith's aura had been evil, yes, but it had been a personal kind of evil, one that suggested they were dealing with a sadist who was driven by ambition and filled with a sense of purpose. For all that the creature hadn't been human, its 'presence' was very much like a human scumbag, though dialled up to fourteen.
This new aura however was more like a force of nature. It was the entirety of humanity's evil poured out into the world to destroy without will or intent. Absolute, uncaring evil, far beyond human comprehension. An evil that could and would swallow the Earth whole.
For a moment, Sakura wondered if the Wraith had succeeded in drawing power from the Grail, and that this was its new aura now that it was incomprehensibly more powerful, but that theory was rejected immediately. This was nothing like the Wraith.
"Angra Mainyu." Someone whispered, and Sakura was shocked to discover that she had been the one to say it.
Then, a massive crunch sounded through the cavern, as if a giant had bitten into the world's largest cracker. It was followed by another crunch, and another, as if the giant was chewing calmly, thoughtfully.
And in-between the crunches, Sakura could faintly hear screams of absolute panic and torturous pain, as the Wraith was slowly eaten alive by the creature that had already inhabited the Grail, consumed by a darkness that was in any and every way superior to it.
The cries continued for several long, excruciating minutes, as the Wraith begged, pleaded, and cried for mercy, yet received none of it, until it was fully consumed.
Then everything went silent again, and the evil aura disappeared like it had never been there.
"Say, Kuzuki-Sensei?" Issei spoke up in the middle of sweeping the footpath through the garden, pausing with his work as he noticed something amiss.
"Yes, Issei-kun?" Kuzuki-Sensei looked up from where he was removing weeds from in-between the tomato plants with almost surgical precision, his long, thin fingers still clasped around a poor plant that was about to be destroyed.
"Did you also get a very dark and foreboding feeling just now?" Issei asked, looking down at the ground, tightly holding his broom, prepared to use it as a weapon should the worst come to pass. "As if a massive evil was gathering nearby?"
"I can't say I did." Kuzuki slowly shook his head, casting a look around, as if searching for this evil. "Where is it coming from? Can you still feel it?"
"I don't know exactly where it came from." Issei muttered. "It's gone now though."
"Let me know if it comes back." Kuzuki instructed his student, before returning to his job after Issei nodded. Unlike before however, when the teacher had been almost relaxed, he was now alert and watchful, ready to take action should something threaten his new home.
In the end though, the feeling didn't come back.
The rest of the night was entirely quiet and undisturbed.
Shirou sighed in relief and happiness as he fell backwards into his sofa in his room in the Clocktower. Not just because he'd gotten through another days of trials, but also because he'd received a call from Ayako that morning, telling him that Sakura, Rin, and the brunette herself were safe, that they had found and apprehended their murderer, and that they had fought a Wraith of all things.
Apparently, their mission had become very complicated very fast, and Shirou had listened with a mixture of concern and amazement as the brunette recounted everything that had happened to them over the past two days.
She was doing so alone, as Sakura was currently sedated and Rin was busy healing her.
Shirou had not at all been pleased to hear that she had been mauled by the Wraith, but after Ayako had told him about the Wraith's ultimate fate, his anger had quickly changed into a feeling of distinct discomfort.
Yes, he was angry with the Wraith for hurting Sakura and threatening Rin and Ayako, and he did think it deserved to be punished for it, but being slowly eaten alive by Angra Mainyu…
That went too far in his opinion, something Ayako agreed with.
But that was what had happened, and there was nothing they could do about it now.
What they could also do nothing about was the fact that Rin now knew that the Grail was corrupted. It was something Shirou had wanted to bring gently, yet it seemed the cat had been let out of the bag by the Wraith already.
According to Ayako, Rin wasn't really angry anymore about being kept out of the loop, understanding that there hadn't been a good time to tell her about the corruption of the Grail yet, but she would probably still yell at him at least a bit when he got home.
Shirou could live with that though. Right now, he was very happy Rin was able to yell at him at all.
They'd discussed a few more things, mainly about Maita Hiroko being the murderer, Carlton Paris being the descendant of an Incubus, and about the fact that it was confirmed once and for all that Angra Mainyu had survived an attack from the world's most famous Noble Phantasm and was still inhabiting the Grail.
Yet another thing to deal with when he got back home.
Then, Ayako told him the truth about Grover Meluastea, about what he truly was, and although Shirou was a bit surprised to learn the man had been a Wraith similar to Mordegai, he had to acknowledge it made sense.
It also confirmed though that he wasn't going to find Grover, or Belisarius rather, in the Clocktower, no matter how hard he searched. Undoubtedly, the creature had long since fled, recognising that there was nothing for it anymore in the Magus Association.
He would still have to tell Lady Barthomeloi about it though, even if only to make sure she understood what she was dealing with and wouldn't be caught unawares a second time.
After wrapping up the conversation with Ayako, Shirou put away the phone, before preparing to head to the main cafeteria. According to Emmanuel, today was the last day that Shirou's help was even remotely needed, so the redhead planned to make the most of it.
Before he could leave however, he was interrupted by a knock on the door.
"Waver." Opening the door, Shirou was surprised to find it was the lord himself who'd come to visit him, something that had never happened before. Usually, it would be Grey, Svin, or Flat who came to visit him, as it was beneath Waver, the lord of the department, to personally visit a mere student's room. Evidently though, the man had made an exception. "Please come in."
"Much obliged." Waver nodded, stepping into Shirou's room for the first time ever. "I hope I'm not interrupting something?"
"I was about to head to the cafeteria to work in the kitchen, but since they don't really need me anymore, I'm not in a hurry." Shirou replied, offering the lord a seat, before sitting down himself as well.
"I am glad to hear it." Waver nodded. "I wish to discuss the last items that you wanted to be sold, as well as your imminent departure from the Clocktower and its consequences, if that is alright with you?"
"Of course it is." Shirou nodded. "I'm all ears."
"Thank you. First of all, the items that we held back from the open auction have now been sold as well." Waver began, fishing a report out of his jacket. "Mostly through private channels to 'special buyers', like old man Eckhard."
Old man Eckhard was the man whom Shirou had sold his Enchanted Knife to. The elderly Magus was eccentric and reclusive, but largely harmless, and one of the very few people in the Moonlit World who were guaranteed not to use any Enchanted Knives they obtained for unsavoury purposes. He just wanted it for his collection of blade-shaped Mystic Codes, nothing more.
"The open auction already resulted in a profit of 4.5 billion pounds, and the private sales added another 2.34 billion pounds on top of that." Waver continued his report. "Plus the unusual reward you requested of old man Eckhard."
Said unusual reward was that Shirou could take a look at the old man's collection, which he'd done a few days before. Old man Eckhard had allowed him into his home and let him browse through the assortment of blades he kept in there, though under strict supervision of course, so he wouldn't steal anything.
Not that Shirou would ever bother stealing the weapons. He didn't need to. He had the ability to copy them after all, even the Magical ones, which meant that he only needed a look to add all the weapons in Eckhard's collection to his armoury.
Not that those weapons had been especially remarkable or something –the Vault had far better weapons– but they were still nice to have, if only because they added to Shirou's own 'collection'.
"I really appreciate that old man Eckhard allowed me to see his collection." Shirou decided to say after Waver remained quiet for a while. "It was worth much more to me than the money."
"I gathered as much." Waver smiled wryly. "In any case, the second sum has been split evenly between the two of us, and I have put your share in your bank accounts already. You can withdraw or otherwise use it whenever you please."
"Thank you." Shirou expressed his gratitude, though he was unlikely ever to touch that money, barring sudden emergencies. "Have you been able to put your share to good use as well?"
"Not yet." Waver shook his head, before his lips formed an eager smile. "I'm still waiting for the perfect moment to spring it on Reines and Melvin."
"I hope you find it soon." Shirou smiled back, also quite eager for the day that Waver would shake himself free from his debtors and blackmailers.
"So do I." Waver's eager smile became a bit wider, before he became serious again. "Let us not lose ourselves in pleasant daydreams though. We must quickly discuss the matter of your departure, and then you can go and help the cafeteria again."
"Ah yes." Shirou nodded, before digging into his memory for his planning for the coming week. "As things are now, I will take a plane back to Japan in four days. Lady Montmorency assured me that the trials would be over by then, and since you have sold my items already and all my other objectives have been completed, my business in England is done."
"I am happy to hear that. You often mention how much you miss your home." Waver smiled kindly, looking genuinely happy for Shirou. "I do hope it won't be a final farewell though."
"Certainly not." Shirou immediately shook his head. "Lady Barthomeloi wants me to return regularly, and even if she hadn't, I'd still come to visit you."
"I am glad to hear it." Waver seemed satisfied with Shirou's promise. "Not just because you have become so important, but also because there are many people here who would be greatly saddened if they never saw you again."
"Ah, yes, it's good that you mention that." Shirou snapped his fingers, as Waver's words had jogged his memory enough for him to remember there was another thing he'd been wanting to discuss with the lord. "I have to ask another favour of you."
"Ask away." Waver nodded immediately.
"Well, as you said, I have become quite important here at the Clocktower, and I have met many people who I have come to like."
People such as Grey, Mary Lil Fargo and Claire, Marianne and her grandmother, Emmanuel and the rest of the cafeteria-staff, and perhaps even Lady Barthomeloi and Lady Montmorency.
"As such, I do not think it would be responsible of me to disappear completely over the coming months." Shirou went on, and Waver nodded in agreement. "That is why I want to ask you to serve as my liaesonne, here in the Clocktower."
"Liaison." Waver corrected his pronunciation, before cocking his head to the side. "In what sense?"
"I will not make it publicly known where I live or who I am." Shirou explained, as that would be a horrible idea in many ways. "But, Waver, you are a trustworthy man, and reliable to the bone. Discrete as well, and you know how to keep secrets."
"Oh, stop, you're making me blush." The lord scoffed, though Shirou didn't miss how he turned his head to hide the fact that he was actually blushing.
"I want to entrust you with my contact details, so if there is ever an emergency, big or small, people can contact me through you." Shirou finished his explanation, before folding his hands together uncertainly. "If that is not too much to ask?"
"It isn't." Waver promptly assured him. "In fact, it would be my honour."
"Thank you." Shirou grinned widely, relieved that that particular issue had been resolved so easily. "I'll definitely repay you for this."
"Is it not me who is repaying you here?" Waver huffed in amusement, before he shook his head. "Whatever. Now, can I have your contact details?"
"Of course. Though before I give them to you, I have something to confess." Shirou said seriously, drawing a curious look from Waver. "You are of course aware that Fujimaru is not my real name."
"Of course." Waver agreed, the corners of his lips twisting upwards. "I think just about everyone knows that. Please don't feel ashamed about it, it is entirely understandable that you wish to protect your family."
"It was partially to protect my family, that is so." Shirou nodded, rubbing the back of his head as he tried to decide how to word the next part of his reveal. "But also because my father was a very renowned man, whose name would have made my task of getting into the Clocktower discretely a lot more difficult, to say the least."
"Oh?" Waver lifted an eyebrow, a note of interest appearing in his eyes. "That is quite the claim. Are you sure he is that infamous?"
"I am." Shirou nodded, smiling wryly at Waver's scepticism. "I even got confirmation about that on my first day here, during my conversations with you, with Grey, and with Reines. You all mentioned my father after all, on at least three separate occasions."
"We did?" Waver blinked in surprise, before the gears in that mighty brain started to turn. "Hold on, let me think."
"Let me save you some time. My father's name was Kiritsugu Emiya."
Shirou bluntly revealed the truth, ready for any reaction, and he wasn't disappointed.
Waver was gaping at him like a fish, his eyes wide as saucers, his hands slack at his sides, and his face pale as a sheet.
"I am Shirou Emiya." Shirou introduced himself by his real name for the first time in two months, feeling it was best to get it over with quickly. "Son of the Magus Killer."
"T-That… I-I… B-But that's…" Waver stammered, his eyes still so wide it looked as if they could roll out of their sockets at any moment. "Y-You are… his son?"
"That is correct." Shirou nodded, before he bowed. "I apologise for all the grief that my father caused you, both during the War and after it, by killing your teacher. I know that it has been a source of much misfortune to you."
Once more, it remained silent, and when he rose again, Shirou saw that Waver was thinking deeply, so deeply that smoke was almost coming out of his ears.
"I… I don't blame that man for what happened, not really." Waver ultimately brought out after a minute or so, some colour returning to his face. "We, that is, Kayneth, your father, and I, all participated willingly in the Grail War. The losers cannot complain to the victor, and it is ridiculous to blame a competitor for competing."
"Really?" Shirou was surprised by his words. "But I thought you hated my father."
"Yes, I do, and I hate that Servant of his too." Waver admitted frankly. "And I'm also terrified of him. But I don't really blame him, and I especially don't blame you, if that's what you're wondering. Our agreements still stand, I still consider you my friend, and I will not tell anyone else about your identity."
"…Once more, I thank you." Shirou said after a moment, smiling warmly as Waver once more showed that he was a good man.
"Well, yes, you can repay me by telling me what your father is getting up to these days." The lord replied curtly.
"Not much. He passed away several years ago." Shirou told him again, before placing a hand on his heart. "And that is the truth."
"I see." Waver had a complicated expression on his face, as if he wanted to be relieved that the Magus-killer was dead, yet at the same time, didn't want to be too happy, considering that they were discussing the death of Shirou's father. "And your business here at the Clocktower?"
"I needed to retrieve something from the Einzbern. Something my father left there and never got the chance to take back from them."
"So that's why you wanted to go to Germany." Waver realised, snapping his fingers. "I see. Now a lot of things make sense again. I had been wondering why you were so fixated on that country."
"Your powers of observation astound me." Shirou smiled, before giving Waver a curious look. "I have to say you are taking this much better than I anticipated. I expected you to run out of the room the moment I mentioned my father's name."
"Yes, well, at this point, it's hard to keep getting surprised by your actions and circumstances anymore." Waver huffed with some humour. "In fact, I'd say I was more surprised than I should have been. Of course your father would be someone as infamous as the Magus-Killer, it fits right up your alley."
"Right." Shirou tried not to get depressed at hearing that, but only partially succeeded. Then he handed the lord a piece of paper. "Here are my contact details. I have Enchanted the paper so that only you can read it, but I would still appreciate it if you kept careful watch over it."
"I will." Waver promised, putting the paper into an inner pocket of his jacket. "I'll keep it on my person at all times."
"Then, Waver, I wish you the best." Shirou said, getting up from his chair and holding out a hand towards the lord.
"Hm? Why the hurry? I thought you weren't going to leave for another four days?"
"That is correct, but considering this will likely be the last time we'll have some privacy, I wanted to say a proper goodbye now."
"Fair enough." Waver also got up, and he took Shirou's hand. "Shirou Emiya, it would be a lie to say that having you as my student was always a pleasure, but you left the Clocktower a better place than when you entered it. You have greatly helped my department, my family, and myself. I am happy to have met you all those months ago, in that castle in Japan."
"As am I, Waver." Shirou nodded, noting that Waver's grip was much stronger now than it had been back then. "As am I."
"Only two days left, and then Shirou will return!" Ayako chirped, a huge and eager smile on her face. "I can't wait!"
"Neither can I." Sakura was a lot calmer than her girlfriend, but she too was smiling brightly in anticipation. "The past months have been long, but they are almost over now."
"I just can't wait to see him again!" Ayako bounced in place, before stopping as something occurred to her. "Do you think he's changed much?"
"No, in appearance." Ayako said seriously. "I heard teenage boys can have massive growth spurts over the summer. What if he's become a full head taller than us now?"
"Would that be such a problem?" Sakura smirked slyly, seeing nothing wrong with that particular picture.
"No." Ayako shook her head after a moment of thought. "Not at all. I'm just curious."
"You'll find out soon enough anyway." Rin cut in with an irritated voice, though she didn't sound as acerbic as she usually did whenever the other two were discussing their boyfriend. "Now, are you going to get a move on or what? I'm waiting here."
"Right away, Rin."
"We're coming, Nee-san."
It was a nice evening in Fuyuki, only two days after the Wraith had been defeated, and the trio was back at the Emiya-estate.
After the Wraith had 'died', consumed by Angra Mainyu, the haze of shadows in front of the cavern's exit had fallen away, allowing the group to leave the mountain again, taking Hiroko along with them.
According to detective Osaki, Hiroko would not be prosecuted for the murder of Carlton Paris and the attempted murders of Ayako and himself. Not only would they have a hard time proving it, but it has also been mostly the Wraith's manipulations that had brought her to that point.
The detective had had a harder time though deciding what to do with the fact that Hiroko had willingly and consciously murdered her own father several years ago, without any influence from the Wraith, but in the end, with some prompting from Sakura and Ayako, he'd decided not to do anything with that either, or at least, nothing official.
He would however be informing Maita Rei of everything what had happened, up to and including the fact that Paris had been the descendant of an Incubus, that her daughter, influenced by a Wraith, had been the one to murder him, and that Hiroko had murdered her own father, Rei's husband, as well. He was even going to include the Magecraft-related parts.
Rin hadn't been very happy with the prospect of yet another person in her city knowing about Magecraft, but considering the Maita-family was apparently strangely magic-resistant, indicating they had already a relation with the Moonlit World of their own, she'd accepted that Rei had a right to know.
That Yomaura had promised to take responsibility and keep an eye on the Maita-family had completely pulled the black-haired girl over the line.
Through the combined efforts of Yomaura and Rin, Sakura's injuries had already mostly been fixed. Not fully, as the bones hadn't yet healed properly and there were still gashes in her flesh, but enough that the wounds weren't too debilitating. With enough time and rest, she would eventually recover completely.
Well, it would only take two days and then Shirou would be back to heal her, but still.
As for the Grail, it had completely settled down again, and was once more passively absorbing Magical Energy from the leyline running below the mountain. There was no trace left of the fact that there was an evil god hiding in there, yet even so, none of the girls would ever go near the cavern again if it wasn't absolutely necessary.
To put it very mildly, they had been spooked badly by what they had seen there.
The good side of the whole episode was that Rin no longer had any problem with the prospect of dismantling the thing. In fact, if she'd known a way to do it, she would already have been working on it, heritage or not. The Grail was just too evil now to be allowed to exist anymore.
Unfortunately, there was no way to dismantle the Grail outside of a Grail War. To try and mess with the construct while it was on non-active absorbing mode would be the same as messing with an overcomplicated bomb that was one wrong tap away from going off.
Perhaps Shirou would be able to think of something, but even with his powers, the chance of that happening was low. If they wanted to do something, it would have to be during the next Grail War.
Fortunately, they still had around fifty years to prepare.
However, despite the fact that Rin had now come to see that dismantling the Grail was indeed very necessary for the safety of the world, she still wasn't happy that Sakura and Ayako had kept its corruption quiet from her for so long.
The girls had properly apologised already, and they had genuinely good reasons for their silence, so Rin wasn't too angry, but she'd still demanded some form of recompense from them.
Which was why she was currently seated in a chair at the dining table in the living room of the Emiya-estate, a rich assortment of plates and cutlery in front of her, while Ayako and Sakura were wearing their maid outfits, made to serve her every whim.
One evening during which the girls had to do everything Rin said while wearing those outfits. That was the compensation Rin had demanded, something the other two girls had complied with without fuss.
Of course, Rin had first made several 'adjustments' to the maid outfits. For one, she had used Alteration to make the skirts briefer, a lot briefer. As they hadn't been very long to begin with, that meant they barely came past the girls' hips now, giving Rin an excellent view of their panties –they had been made to wear the sexy ones– with every other step.
Furthermore, the bodices were a lot looser, greatly enhancing the girls' cleavage, especially when they reached out to grab something off the table, which Rin thus made them do as often as possible. The fact that they didn't wear bras –those didn't go with the maid outfits to begin with, as the bodice was supposed to fulfil that role– made it even worse for them.
Lastly, as a coup de grace, Rin had made them wear collars around their necks and wrists, giving the scene an even more erotic tint that it already had.
Frankly, Sakura was deeply impressed by her sister's creativity, and had made copious mental notes, while Ayako was smiling naughtily at the thought of serving Shirou like this. Both agreed that they should have Rin take a look at their other outfits too.
The thought of what that devious girl would be able to do with their teacher outfits, nurse outfits, and office lady outfits was extremely appealing.
"You know, I had expected you two to be a little more embarrassed now." Rin groused after a few minutes, during which Sakura and Ayako had served her a few cups of tea, the appetisers, and the first course of the meal. "But you aren't even blushing."
"Why would we be embarrassed? These outfits are amazing." Ayako laughed, twirling in place, allowing her skirt to flip up for several long seconds, giving the other two a perfect view of her maroon-coloured panties. "Besides, the only others here are people I love, so it's no problem at all."
"O-Oh." Rin was visibly taken aback by that, before she smiled wickedly. "Then would you mind getting me something from the store real quick? I just noticed I forgot to buy soap yesterday."
"Ah, n-now that would be embarrassing." Ayako muttered, her hands promptly pulling her skirt down, as the thought of strangers seeing her like this quickly doused her enthusiasm. "Please don't make me do that."
"Nee-san." The glare Sakura gave her sister was utterly withering, and more than enough to get the girl to relent in an instant.
"I was joking of course! I'm not going to share this sight with anyone else!" She immediately held up her hands in surrender, and Ayako let out a sigh of relief. "A-Anyway, h-how is your arm, Sakura?"
It was a desperate attempt at a distraction, but it proved successful.
"My arm is fine." Sakura said, before rotating her shoulder a few times, proving that she could still move it. "A little stiff, and it does hurt a bit, but nothing I cannot handle."
Most of her upper arm and shoulder were still encased in bandages, hiding the fact that the skin underneath looked like someone had taken a cheese grater to it. Rin and Yomaura had, as said before, done their very best, but there was a limit to what Magical Healing could do for a wound caused by the bite of a Phantasmal Creature.
Sakura was dealing with it as best as she could, and she tried to stay positive, but those bandages were still a very clear reminder of the fact that she could have died if her Magical Energy hadn't proven to be a poison to the Wraith.
That it was crystal clear that Sakura was massively downplaying the pain she was feeling only made it worse, and every time Rin and Ayako saw her wince in discomfort, it became a little harder to feel bad about what had happened to the Wraith.
"Don't strain yourself." Rin cautioned her, having already completely forgotten that her question was only supposed to be a distraction. "If the wound opens up again…"
"I won't strain it, Nee-san." Sakura promised, giving her sister a reassuring smile. "I carry all weight with my right arm, and nothing with my left. It's a bit inconvenient sometimes, but I'll manage somehow."
"Just two more days and then Shirou will be able to fix it." Ayako said, in an effort to comfort Sakura as well as herself, before she almost automatically picked up her phone, which she had placed in a nearby closet, as her current outfits had no pockets.
"Emiya-kun is at the trials now, you cannot call him." Rin admonished her, before holding out her hand. "Give me that thing."
Ayako meekly obeyed, stepping closer and placing the phone in Rin's hand. Rin studied it for a moment, unable to hide the glimmer of interest in her eyes, before she turned towards Sakura…
And inserted the phone into her cleavage.
"O-Oh." Sakura blinked in surprise, looking down at the phone, which was now securely held between her boobs.
"You might as well make those honkers useful somehow." Rin groused, as Sakura had by far the largest breasts of the three of them. "That thing stays there until the end of the evening."
"I-I understand." Sakura smiled uncomfortably, before holding up a finger, trying to rally herself. "But remember, Nee-san, it's not about their size, it's about the person they are attached to."
"That's easy for you to say." Rin snapped, before taking a deep breath to calm herself down. "Whatever. I finished eating the first dish you cooked for me. What else do you have?"
"Ah, right." Sakura perked up, before she rushed to the kitchen, where the main dish, a hearty stew with beef and various vegetables, was being kept warm on a low fire.
From there on, the main course was served, along with a few bite-sized snacks. It was followed eventually by the dessert, and lastly, a final, sweet drink. Then, Sakura and Ayako cleaned the table and washed the dishes, before they came to stand in front of their temporary mistress again.
"Is there anything else you'd like us to do?" Sakura asked, puffing out her chest, showing that she'd managed to keep Ayako's phone safely tucked away in her bosom so far.
"Nothing immediately comes to mind…" Rin trailed off, her face set in a pensive expression. Sunken in thought, she took a coin from her pocket and rubbed a few circles on it with her thumb, before, in a particularly bad show of acting, she 'accidentally' dropped it on the floor, where it rolled several metres away before coming to a stop. "Ah, drat. Sakura, can you pick up that coin for me?"
"Of course, Nee-san." The plum-haired girl nodded with some confusion, exchanging a quick look with Ayako, who shrugged, showing she didn't understand either.
She then walked up to the coin Rin had thrown on the ground, before preparing to pick it up…
"No bending your knees, Sakura."
"Huh? B-But, N-Nee-san-"
"No buts! More butts!" Rin cut her off. "Pick up that coin for me!"
"Oof." The plum-haired girl muttered, before she wrapped her arms around her midriff to ensure the phone wouldn't fall out from between her boobs, and then bent down, keeping her legs perfectly straight as she did so.
This had very predictable results for her skirt and the amount of coverage it could provide to her bottom.
Namely, no coverage at all, something Rin and Ayako eagerly took full advantage of, to the point where Sakura could almost feel their gazes burn into the flesh of her rear.
"Uhm, Nee-san. The coin is stuck." The plum-haired girl complained after a moment, futilely trying to pick up the coin, which for some reason refused to part with the floor.
"Of course it's stuck, I Enchanted it to remain glued to the ground." Rin huffed, the smug smile clearly audible in her voice.
"What?! But Nee-san-"
"It's nothing you can't pry loose with some effort. Just apply yourself a bit more." Rin instructed her, keeping her voice as innocent as possible. "Oh, but make sure the phone doesn't fall."
"Uuuh." Sakura whined, desperately trying to both keep the phone between her boobs and pry the coin off the floor, all while her panty-clad bottom was completely exposed to leering eyes.
"Now that is a sight for sore eyes." Ayako let out a soft whistle of appreciation, her tongue slowly wetting her lips as she studied her girlfriend's shifting rear end in great detail. "You are a depraved genius, Rin."
"Yes, I am." Rin agreed with an arrogant smile, also very much enjoying the sight. "What a view indeed. I'd say that if any boy from either of our schools saw this, they'd die in an instant."
"From the stimulation?"
"That, or because I'd kill them for staring at Sakura with their lustful eyes." Rin nodded, clenching her fist.
"This is indeed a sight we should hog to ourselves." Ayako was so absorbed in the wonderful view she didn't even react to Rin's violent rhetoric. In fact, she wholeheartedly agreed. The sight of Sakura's defenceless butt was not one to be shared with anyone but Shirou.
Eventually, it took Sakura another ten minutes to get the coin off the ground, ten minutes filled with numerous lecherous comments from the other two girls. By the time she put the coin back in Rin's hand, her face was completely red in embarrassment and her eyes were glowing with the desire to get even.
It was a glow that made goosebumps break out all over Rin's skin, and she suddenly deeply regretted pushing her sister that far.
"Now that you are here anyway, Nee-san, we have something for you." The tone of Sakura's voice was very dangerous, indicating there would be no negotiation, and Rin's eyes flitted to the door, wondering if she could make a break for it. Unfortunately, Ayako saw her look, and placed herself in the way, smiling innocently. "It's a gift you will like very much."
The plum-haired girl then retrieved something from the kitchen, a bundle of cloth, before she brought it to the table and laid it out before Rin.
It took the black-haired girl two seconds to realise what it was.
It was another copy of the maid outfits Sakura and Ayako were wearing, completely similar to theirs, down to the shortened skirt and the loose bodice. It even had the collars, as well as a set of lacy, red panties included.
It was also very clearly meant for her.
"When Shirou comes home in two days, Sakura and I want to wear these outfits to give him a proper first dinner back home." Ayako purred into her ear. "We would be honoured if you would join us."
"Don't even think about refusing." Sakura purred into her other ear. "You always talk so much about wanting to pay him back for everything he's done for you, you would be a hypocrite and liar to skip this wonderful opportunity."
"You know you want it, Rin." Ayako giggled, and Rin almost jerked when the brunette stroked her cheek with a fingertip. "You want it badly."
"Just a try won't hurt, would it?" Sakura agreed. "Just wear it for Senpai, and see how it makes you feel. I promise you will love it."
"Not to mention we are his girlfriends, Rin." Ayako smirked like a cat on the prowl who'd just seen a mouse. "Yet here you are, doing perverted things to us without even asking for his permission. Are you not ashamed of yourself? How are you going to repay Shirou for this, Rin?"
"I-" Rin still desperately tried to come up with something, anything, to assert herself again, but as the other two smirked confidently at her and her mind remained blank, she slowly came to a horrible conclusion.
The battle about whether she'd have to wear the costume or not…
She had lost it the moment she failed to reject the idea from the very beginning.
Instead, she had listened to them, allowed them to make argument after argument as they wore down at her resolve, and now, it was all over for her.
"Glad you see it our way, Nee-san." Sakura smiled beautifully once she saw Rin had capitulated. "I have no doubt you'll look beautiful in this."
Looks like Shirou will get the surprise of a lifetime once he gets back. What motivation!
In all seriousness, this was the last real chapter of the Clocktower-arc. The next one deals with the return home, and after that, the new arc can begin. Maybe a small interlude or two in-between, but that will be all.
So, the eventual conclusion of the murder case involved not just a Wraith, but also the Grail itself. I hope I did Angra justice. It's his turf, and any Wraith trying to muscle in on it is going to get eaten.
Now, some of you may wonder where Grover/Belisarius is, but that guy has long since fled the Clocktower, and is now beyond Shirou's reach. He'll return at a later date.
To clarify, Shirou cannot purge the Grail of Angra Mainyu with his Cleansing Power. At this point, Angra is the Grail and the Grail is Angra. He exists on his own plane of existence, where Shirou cannot reach him, yet. It is for the same reason that Rin cannot dismantle the Grail.
To do that, they have to wait until the Grail enters our reality again, during the Grail War. They think it's fifty years away, but people who know canon know that it will barely take another eighteen months for it to start.
Also, Shirou is now a billionaire. Not to the level of Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, but those two are so rich it's utterly disgusting. How individuals can be allowed to hoard so much wealth while paying their employees so badly is something that will always escape me.
But I'm not here to talk politics. Instead, I will say that Rin is definitely going to join the relationship shortly after Shirou returns. With the way things are going, I cannot delay it much longer.
Then, we get the confrontation with Kirei, the healing of Rin's mother, we get Illya arriving at her new home, the ritual to change her into a Real Girl, and of course, school.
The life of a teenage Hero-in-Training is hard, though it definitely also has its fun sides.
Ted now sneaks out through the backdoor. He has a lot of work to do.