The Quest of the Moon Princess


Shirou was no stranger to dead bodies.

Of course he wasn't. Even if you discounted the Great Fire, where he'd seen enough burned corpses to last him four human lifetimes, he'd also spent enough time at the Clocktower to see firsthand the atrocities Magi and their ilk were capable of, the bloodbaths they could enact.

The Meluastea had ruled their fiefdom with an iron fist, their cronies had created dens of sin and evil that wouldn't be out of place in Hell itself, and even the 'good' Magi, like lady Barthomeloi and Waver, thought nothing of utterly destroying their enemies when the possibility presented itself.

The Purge of the Clocktower had killed almost as many people as the Great Fire, wounded scores more, and later condemned dozens upon dozens to the gallows, and Shirou had born witness to it all, standing next to lady Barthomeloi, who had changed a functioning Department into a scorched battlefield within hours and had near a hundred people condemned to death without blinking an eye.

And he couldn't claim innocence in the matter himself either. He might have been a victim in the Great Fire, but he'd very much been a willing participant in the Purge, and although he had tried to restrain himself in the fighting, he had killed a number of people as well, in quite graphic and disturbing ways at that.

So no, dead bodies were nothing new, nor were they at all disturbing to Shirou. They had never been before and certainly weren't now.

Which was fortunate, because otherwise, the sight of the woman's mutilated body, maimed and mauled beyond recognition, might have caused his breakfast to come up again.

Instead, Shirou merely lifted an eyebrow in surprise, before he approached the body, keeping a careful eye on his surroundings in case whatever had killed her was still around.

He did not call the police, nor did he sound the alarm. Instead, he used a few minor Runes to create a small Bounded Field around him, one that would discourage any passersby from getting closer, so there would be no witnesses to this event.

Witnesses might scream and shout after all, or they might attack him if they believed he was responsible for the woman's mutilated state. Worse, they might even call the police on him, further complicating matters.

All very understandable reactions for mundane people of course, but rather inconvenient to Shirou and in fact actively detrimental to the resolution of the situation as a whole.

Because this was no matter for mundane law-enforcement and regular police-officers. This wasn't a case of some slasher-villain cutting an innocent and defenceless woman to pieces for his own sick amusement.

Or well, the perpetrator might still be a slasher-villain, Shirou couldn't rule that out for sure, but in any case, this woman was certainly not a defenceless victim.

Rather, she was an inhuman creature of unknown origins.

The closer he got, the better he could smell it. An overpowering, intense scent of Mystery hung over the body like a fog, so strong that it made the back of his throat itch and almost made it hard to breathe. A scent more intense that anything he'd ever smelled in the past, up to and including lady Barthomeloi.

This was definitely the scent he'd picked up at the entrance of the park only minutes before. There was no denying it now. This woman was the origin. She was the inhuman creature he'd been looking for.

She smelled like dirt, sea water, and blood, which was a foreboding combination, and if the intensity was anything to go by, she was more powerful than any inhuman creature he'd ever seen before.

Fighting her would not have been fun.

Which made it almost fortunate that someone else had seemingly gotten to her first.

Someone had already defeated the woman, and quite recently at that. Shirou couldn't say who with any certainty, but it could have been a retainer of the Tohno, or possibly an agent of the Burial Agency. After all, if Dead Apostle Ancestors were indeed wandering about in the city, it wouldn't be strange for the Church to have a strong presence here as well.

However, as Shirou approached the woman, he slowly started to notice more and more oddities about the scene in front of him that did not add up, things that did not make sense.

For one, there was no damage to the surroundings. The pavement was still intact, the trees and shrubbery seemed no worse than they should in late autumn, and all the blood lying around belonged to the woman only.

Even though she was clearly a creature of immense might, it seemed as if she hadn't put up a fight at all when she'd been killed. As if she'd let herself be slaughtered without even an attempt at defending herself.

Additionally, the cuts that had sliced the woman up were strangely inefficient, to the point where it seemed either amateurish or viciously cruel.

When Enforcers or Executors fought Mystical creatures, it was standard practice for them to slice their opponents to ribbons, and preferably even to mincemeat. Usually, it was one of the few things that worked against beings with an innate Healing Factor, like Dead Apostles, Wraiths, and minor Phantasmals, alongside burning them or killing them with special weapons. It served to overwhelm or negate their pesky Self-Regeneration.

But such was not the case here. Yes, the woman had been cut into seventeen pieces, which was a good start, but not in an even, controlled way.

Rather, it was chaos.

Her entire torso was still intact for instance, as was her head, but the killer had in fact taken the time and effort to sever three fingers and two toes, to split her left arm in two, and to cut her right leg into three.

It was, as said before, very inefficient, and also counter-productive when fighting against beings with Self-Regeneration. Flesh wounds were useless, everyone knew that.

…Except that in this case, they seemed to have worked just fine.

That was already strange enough, but the last odd thing Shirou noticed was that there seemed to be no trace of the person or persons who had killed the woman. He could only smell her on the air, with not a trace present of any other kind of Magecraft or Mystery.

But… that would mean the killer was either so stealthy they could fool all of Shirou's senses, which was a stretch, or that they were in fact not Magical at all, which was an even further stretch.

But if it wasn't either of those options, it would mean that there hadn't been an attacker at all.

Had the woman done this to herself?

It was terribly confusing, and no matter how hard Shirou looked around, he could find no clear answer, not even when he stood right next to her.

"Who has done this to you?" He mused out loud to the woman, not expecting a response, before he knelt down next to her and placed his hand on her lower arm to take a better look-

She was still alive?!

Shirou shot back to his feet like he'd been stung, his heart leaping into his throat as Mjolnir manifested itself in his grip and thunderclouds gathered so fast overhead it seemed as if they'd teleported onto the scene.

Had anyone tried to ambush him at that moment, they would have been vaporised by divine power within the blink of an eye. Crushed by the overwhelming might of a startled Demigod.

But nothing happened.

All remained still, and the woman remained in pieces.

Several seconds ticked by with nothing happening, and eventually, once the first shock had passed, Shirou slowly dismissed the thunderclouds again and calmed his raging heart, though he kept Mjolnir with him.

This situation had just become far more dangerous, far more uncertain, and being armed was likely a good idea in light of that.

With his faithful hammer's comforting weight in his hand, Shirou knelt down again to resume his investigation, leaning over the woman to inspect her better, though he did not touch her yet.

The revelation that she was still alive made the already odd situation a thousand times stranger. Like he'd said, it wasn't uncommon for Magical beings to have self-regenerating powers and thus survive being chopped to bits, but even if this woman was the slowest healer in existence, she should have made at least some progress during the time Shirou had had his eyes on her.

But she hadn't.

Instead, she just laid there, alive yet in pieces, showing no signs of healing.

Normally, that would indicate the presence of some kind of Curse or spell, one that prevented her wounds from mending, but Shirou detected none of that on or around her body, even when he focused fully on finding Magecraft of that nature.

In other words, based on everything he'd seen so far, there should be nothing standing in the woman's way of healing herself. Nothing at all.

Shirou pursed his lips in confusion, before he reached out and picked up one of the woman's severed fingers to take a better look.

Once more, the sensation of her still being alive hit him full on, and this time, he also noticed that she was fully conscious on top of that, even if she couldn't show it.

"Odin's Beard!" Shirou swore, before looking the woman in the eyes, now knowing she was in fact looking back at him, trapped in her own body and unable to move or produce a sound.

That completely changed matters!

If she was still fully conscious and able to register how she was in literal pieces, this was no longer just some oddity he wanted to investigate, but a form of horrendous torture he needed to stop instead.

To be so terribly wounded and mutilated yet unable to heal herself even as she was forcibly kept conscious by her own inhuman nature…

Shirou shuddered, only able to imagine how much pain she had to be in.

Her intense and inhuman smell was quickly forgotten as a sense of pity rose in his chest, and it was that pity that prompted his next action.

He placed Mjolnir down next to him, took hold of the hand that had lost the two fingers, and placed the severed finger in his other hand against the corresponding stump.

Immediately, he could sense how the woman's Healing Factor tried to re-attach the flesh, but to no avail. Something seemed to be blocking its efforts, something that was no Curse, no spell, but far more sinister.

Then something clicked in his mind, and Shirou understood.

By some kind of Magic, some kind of unknown craft, the woman's assailant had not only cut her finger from her hand, but had also managed to convince both the hand and the finger that they had never even been part of the same body to begin with. That they were completely different objects that had nothing to do with each other, either in the past or the present.

A perfect separation, down to the deepest layers of Reality.

No wonder the Healing Factor wasn't working! At the moment, holding the finger to the stump was as effective as picking up any random rock and holding that to the stump instead. To Reality, the one was precisely as associated with the woman's body as the other, which was to say not at all.

She wasn't healing, because seemingly, there was nothing to heal.

It was a wonderous sight, fascinating even, to the point where even Shirou, uncaring for research as he was, couldn't help but stare for a moment.

But he quickly shook it off, and pressed the finger a bit harder against the stump.

"Tsk."

He made a dissatisfied sound however when that too failed to do anything, and on an impulse, he began using his own Healing Powers, encompassing the finger and the hand with a golden glow.

By now, his actions were driven as much by pity as they were by a desire to win from this unknown craft. He had set out to heal this woman, and he was not going to back down at the first sign of trouble. One way or another, he was going to fix her.

Unwise perhaps, considering he'd already marked this woman as an inhuman creature of immense power and unknown origin, but no one deserved to be tortured like this. If she turned out to be evil, he'd deal with her after he put her back together.

At first however, his Healing Power had no effect either. The unknown assailant really had made sure that anyone trying to help their victim would be met with failure, as Reality stubbornly kept denying that the finger and the hand belonged together in any way, shape, or form.

But Shirou was having none of that.

He increased the potency of his Healing Power, and focused all of his attention on the wound.

This woman needed his help, and by the Spires of Asgard, he wasn't going to give up until he'd succeeded in helping her. He wasn't going to be put off by some unknown craft, no matter how esoteric or powerful.

And if helping her involved denying Reality itself, well…

That was what heroes did best.

As he kept on trying to heal her though, he soon realised that he might have underestimated the mysterious assailant. He'd thought them to be a Magus or Magecraft-user, but to cut so deep, down to the very fundamentals of existence, was not something that could be achieved with a mere craft.

Something like this required Authority, the right to shape the World itself in a particular way, normally beholden only to gods and god-like beings.

To see such a power in the Modern Age was exceptional, and although Shirou knew he was being hypocritical, it was also supposed to be impossible. Only very few beings had any measure of Authority left, and even then, it was mostly stored in weapons or Mystic Eyes.

But he could not deny what he saw in front of him. The mysterious assailant had used Authority to butcher this poor, inhuman woman, thereby ensuring that Healing her would be next to impossible.

But that was alright. Shirou had Authority too, and quite a lot of it at that.

He was someone who distorted reality with his very presence, but more than that, he was the successor of an Allfather, a King of Gods. When it came to Authority, there were few who could hope to match him, even in his fledgling-state.

And whoever this assailant was, they were not one of those few.

Under Shirou's Authority, his laser-like focus, the perfect separation was soon undone, and the finger was reattached to the hand perfectly, as if it had never been cut at all.

He had won the first battle.

Now only sixteen more remained to make her whole again.

He probably should save her head for last though.

Just to be safe.


"Hm…"

"You know, I never did like it when people hum without explaining themselves."

"Huh?" Caren blinked once in confusion at Ayako's remark, before she caught up with what had been said. "Oh, I do apologise. It was not my intention to act coy."

"That would be a first." The brunette huffed, as the devious nun was normally more than happy to play out an act of false modesty. Since she was also the type to toot her own horn though, the brunette accepted the apology and walked a bit closer to the dining table, where Caren was currently seated. "Why were you humming then?"

"I was pondering matters of great importance."

"Okay, now you're actually being coy."

"Hehe." Caren smiled at the small rebuke, before holding up the very official-looking letter in her hand. "I was thinking about this."

"A letter?" Ayako narrowed her eyes a bit as she studied the piece of paper, before looking back at Caren. "Who from?"

"My bosses at the Burial Agency." Caren replied, offering it to the brunette. "You can read it if you want?"

"I'm allowed to do that?"

"Well, technically not. It is forbidden for outsiders to read church-correspondence at the pains of death." Caren replied glibly, as if it were no big deal, before she winked cutely at Ayako. "But I won't tell if you won't."

"Nah, I'll pass. I'd rather hear it from you. Less chance of dying."

"Coward." Caren scoffed, though without any heat. "It says that Dead Apostle Ancestors have been sighted in Japan, and that all church personnel in the country is required to support the dispatched Executors to the best of their ability in suppressing the threat."

"Right." Ayako nodded, sitting down at the table herself now. "So nothing new to us, right?"

"Well, there might be something new." Caren cautioned her, before looking back at the letter. "My bosses didn't just reveal the presence of the Ancestors, but also indicated their current number."

"Number?" The brunette cocked her head to the side, frowning in thought. "There's two, right? Vlov Arkhangel and that Roa-guy. That's what Nasu said."

"Those are the ones that Nasu-san mentioned by name, yes, but he never said there were only two." Caren shook her head, biting her lip. "According to the latest reports, there are three."

"Three?!"

"Including Roa."

"What the hell?! Are they having a party there or something?!" Ayako spluttered, her face becoming an unhealthy white. "W-We have to warn Shirou!"

"Of course." Caren agreed, placing the letter on the table again, happy the other girl was taking such prompt action. "He always carries his mobile phone with him, correct?"

"Yeah." Ayako nodded, looking around the dining room. "But where is mine?"

"Where you last left it, I presume."

"Gee, thanks. Wish I could remember where that was."

The brunette was notoriously scatterbrained when it came to remembering where she put her things, and after a bit of grumbling, she started searching for her phone in a practiced pattern that spoke of experience.

After a moment of looking on, Caren joined in, as it really was important they warned Shirou quickly.

"Say, Caren." Ayako spoke up again after a minute of silence, pausing her search for a moment. "You are knowledgeable when it comes to the Moonlit World, right?"

"I wouldn't say that I am an expert on everything, but I have had a decent education at least, yes."

"What are Dead Apostle Ancestors?"

"…?"

Now Caren paused too, looking up from her task to give the brunette a surprised look.

"Don't look at me like that." Ayako huffed in response, crossing her arms with a frown. "I know that they're basically super-vampires, and that they're currently considered the greatest threat to humanity in existence, but I don't really know anything else about them."

She was aware of the basics, but the precise ins and outs of what Apostle Ancestors actually were had never been properly explained to her. Normally, that was fine, as 'vampire-king' was description enough, but in this case, she wanted to know more. Now that Shirou was going to fight them, she wanted to understand why Ancestors were such a big deal.

To her credit, it didn't even occur to Caren to make a joke out of the matter.

"…Dead Apostle Ancestors are, as you said, the greatest of vampires, which we call Dead Apostles." She replied slowly, closing her eyes as she dug deep into her memory, back to her education at the convent. "Some call them the rulers of the 'common' Dead Apostles, using titles such as king, duke, count, and baron, but they generally don't do much actual ruling. They are largely solitary, very individualistic, and very, very strong. Partially due to their age, but mostly because of their 'Idea Blood'."

"Idea Blood? What's that?"

"If only we knew." Caren huffed, smirking slightly as she remembered how many researchers at the Burial Agency had torn out all their hair in desperation whilst trying to discover the true nature of Idea Blood. "All we know is that it is some kind of metaphorical Crown that makes an Ancestor into an Ancestor."

"So, like a power source?"

"I believe it's more akin to an Authority."

"What?! Like gods?!"

Since her boyfriend was the successor of a god, Ayako was better informed about the Divine than she was about most other aspects of the Moonlit World, and the idea of vampires holding divine might, of them having similar powers to Shirou, was decidedly not a pleasant one.

"It's almost certainly not on the level of actual gods, but yes, it is likely very similar." Caren nodded, unaware of Shirou's true nature and thus pleasantly surprised with the fact the brunette seemed to be aware of how bad it was for Dead Apostles to possess any form of Authority. "Hence, their position as strongest among Apostles."

"S-So that's why they all still exist even after thousands of years." Ayako mumbled, leaning against the wall as a dazed look appeared in her eyes. "No wonder humanity cannot defeat them."

"Hey now, do give us some credit. The Burial Agency and the Magus Association haven't been entirely powerless against them." Caren huffed, straightening her back as a bit of professional pride rose in her breast. "The Church has managed to destroy and Seal a number of Ancestors over the years. In fact, over the last decade alone, four of them have been slain."

"Oh, so you killed four?" Ayako perked up a bit at the good news. "That's not bad, I suppose. But then, why-?"

"The reason there are still twenty-seven Ancestors left now is because they always fill their ranks again after one dies." Caren replied before the brunette was even done asking her question. "If an Ancestor perishes or is Sealed, the next Dead Apostle always stands ready to take their throne."

"Ah, I understand." Ayako nodded, noting it didn't seem much different from the rankings in top-sport. There were always ten best archers in the world, or ten best football-players, or ten best golfers, and if one of them died or quit, the eleventh would rise up to become the tenth, thereby keeping the list at ten. "So if you kill one, the twenty-eighth most powerful Dead Apostle becomes an Ancestor in their place?"

"Not necessarily."

"Oh?"

But apparently, there was a problem with her metaphor.

"Personal power does play a part, but the most deciding factor to determine the next Ancestor is the inheritance of the previous Ancestor's Idea Blood."

"You can inherit Idea Blood?"

"I understand that it seems hard to believe, that an Authority can pass on from one individual to the next, but I assure you that it is possible." Caren knew that it seemed ludicrous, the idea that near-divine power could be passed on like a mere Crest, but it was the truth. "Ancestors often have a Successor in place to inherit their Idea Blood in case of their death, a Successor who is immediately raised to the level of an Ancestor and will then also take their position. For example, when the Nineteenth Dead Apostle Ancestor died recently, she passed on her Idea Blood to her right-hand man, who then became the Nineteenth himself."

"Ah, I understand." Ayako nodded, deciding not to mention that such a process of inheriting Divinity was in fact very familiar to her.

"Because of that rigid structure, Successors can sometimes be even more powerful than Ancestors." Caren continued. "Take the Successor of Ortenrosse, the King of the Ancestors. She is more powerful than many other Ancestors, but she is nevertheless not an Ancestor herself, because she has no Idea Blood."

"Can't she just take Idea Blood from one of those weaker Ancestors then?"

"She could, but she is Ortenrosse's Successor, not someone else's, and the king's favour is not lightly spurned."

"So you mean this is all politics?!"

Ayako had expected some level of intrigue within the ranks of vampire-nobility, as that seemed to be the standard in every vampire-book in existence, but this almost seemed as if they were building contrived political structures just for fun.

"Pretty much, yeah." Caren nodded, not even trying to deny or obfuscate it. It was politics, power games played by functionally immortal beings, and it should be called as such.

"Great." Ayako deadpanned, placing her hands on her sides and looking up at the ceiling for a moment, letting out a big sigh. "Well, I suppose I should just be glad that Ancestors are killed often enough for them to need such structures. Four of them in this decade alone, right?"

"Yes, though this decade is a vanishingly rare exception. Normally, we are happy if we can kill one Ancestor every century." Caren let out a sigh of her own, before she perked up a bit. "The reason the count is so high in recent times is entirely because of the illustrious Queen of the Clocktower, Lorelei Barthomeloi. Of the four slain Ancestors we mentioned, she killed three, by herself, and by all accounts, she is hungry for more."

"Damn, gorgeous and dangerous. What a combination." Ayako laughed, her mood improving by leaps and bounds at the news that Shirou's newest friend was kicking so much vampire-ass.

"Gorgeous?"

"O-Oh, never mind."

Realising she'd said too much, Ayako quickly clammed up, deciding not to mention the pictures of the Vice-Director they had received from Shirou nor the stories about racy underwear that had accompanied them.

"…Unfortunately, the ones that are killed are almost always the Upstarts." Caren continued after a moment, letting the matter of the Vice-Director being gorgeous drop for now. "They are the Ancestors from the AD-era, and much weaker than the Elders, who are from the BC-era. It's been over a thousand years since an Elder was last slain, and by all accounts, they have only grown mightier since. They have slain numerous heroes and Saints, and have nearly brought down the Church itself on several occasions. To challenge them, is to court death."

"There… There are no Elders in Misaki-Town, right?" Ayako asked nervously, thoroughly spooked by the description.

"No. Both Roa and Vlov Arkhangel are Upstarts, and if the third had been an Elder, that would have been mentioned explicitly in the letter." Caren reassured her, for once not in the mood to be teasing. "Elders are good at hiding, but if they were on the move so openly, we would have known. This can only be an Upstart."

"Phew." Ayako let out a relieved breath, sagging slightly. "Man, that's a relief. It sounds like those 'Elders' really are the worst of the worst out there, right?"

"…"

The white-haired nun suddenly went quiet, suspiciously quiet, and Ayako stiffened again.

"Caren?"

"…" She didn't reply, instead choosing to turn away slightly.

"Caren?!"

Still no reply was forthcoming, and a bead of sweat went down Ayako's temple at the sight of the other girl being so hesitant to answer.

"Caren, what are you not telling me?!"

"Well…" The nun hemmed and hewed, shuffling her feet. "Like you said, the Elders are terrible creatures of immense power, yes, but…"

"But? But what?" Ayako demanded when Caren's voice tapered off. "Please don't tell me there are even worse creatures out there?!"

"Alright, I won't tell you." The white-haired girl promptly and happily accepted.

"Caren!"

"Alright, alright! Keep your head on." The nun capitulated at last, holding up her hands in surrender. "There are anomalies on the list of the Twenty-Seven. Anomalies that are worse than any of the Elders."

"Such as?" Frankly, Ayako didn't actually want to know, but she asked all the same, well aware that the Moonlit World was her world now, and that ignorance was a dangerous thing.

"The Crimson Moon, Primate Murder, and ORT." Caren summed up, her voice almost becoming a whisper, as if invoking their names would attract their attention. "And before you ask, no, they are not in Misaki Town. None of them are."

"How do you know that?"

"Because if they were, there would be no Misaki Town anymore."

"Oh…"

The utter certainty in Caren's voice, how she saw Misaki Town's destruction as a foregone conclusion should any of those three appear there, took the wind out of Ayako's sails.

Shirou and Rin had told the brunette much about the Moonlit World, but either they had decided to leave out those three anomalies to spare her for now, or Ayako had not been paying enough attention, because while the names at least were familiar, she couldn't recall any details.

"None of those three are actually Apostles though." As if seeing her confusion, Caren continued her explanation, and Ayako gratefully paid attention again. "The Crimson Moon is the Ultimate One of the Moon, so basically a Moon God, Primate Murder is a Beast of Gaia, and ORT is also an Ultimate One, though from somewhere in deep space. To call them mere Apostles is not just incorrect, it's an insult."

"Yet they are on the list of super-vampires?"

"They are on the list because they have all beaten one or more Ancestors and thus have taken possession of their Idea Blood." Caren replied, before she smiled wryly. "Although to them, Idea Blood is merely a trifle."

"A trifle?" Ayako deadpanned, before she smiled, shakily, in a mixture of incredulous amusement and sheer disbelief. "Oh sure, why not?"

"Why not indeed?" Caren sighed, sympathising a bit with the brunette, as she'd had a rather similar reaction herself to being taught about the horrors of the world, and she kindly patted the other girl's head.

Secretly though, she couldn't help but feel a bit pleased with herself. The nature of Dead Apostles and the Ancestors was a complicated subject, even to people of the Moonlit World, but she'd just managed to successfully explain it to a layperson, and without one nasty joke or mean remark at that.

She would have to tell Shirou when he got back. He'd be so proud of her!

A bit more practice and she might get promoted from nurse to actual teacher!

…Alright, maybe she'd need more than just a bit of practice, but still. She'd done well in this instance at least.

Though technically, the explanation wasn't quite finished yet.

"Perhaps now you understand why the Burial Agency hates the Ancestors so much." Caren spoke up again, drawing Ayako's attention back to her. "They are immensely powerful, nearly impossible to kill, and even if you do manage to kill them, they have their Successor in place."

"Oh no, I fully understand." Ayako assured her, which was another happy feather in Caren's cap. "Awful creatures. I hope they'll all be killed soon."

"Quite. It would have been better of course if they'd never been created at all, but we'll settle for extermination, I suppose."

"Yeah, I suppo- Wait, created?" Ayako froze mid-sentence, before she rubbed her ear, wondering if she'd heard that correctly. "Did you just say 'created'?"

"Yes, created." Caren confirmed.

"The Ancestors were created?"

"They certainly didn't sprout up from the ground themselves."

"B-By whom? M-Magi?"

"Certainly not. I may not have a high opinion of Magi, but even they wouldn't create something as evil as the Ancestors. In fact, they probably don't even have the power to do such a thing to begin with."

"B-But then, w-who did?"

"Probably the True Ancestors, though we are not entirely certain." Caren supplied the most common theory.

"True Ancestors-? No, never mind." Ayako began asking the next logical question, before she shook her head, burying her curiosity. "You know what, I don't even want to know about them. Not today."

As important as the information might be, the brunette had had quite enough for one morning. She did not want to hear anything else about horrible creatures that were making life hell for humanity, not until Shirou was back and she could hold his hand.

"Ah, but I do think you should know-"

"No."

"It's only-"

"Nope!"

"If you would just-"

"La-la-la, I can't hear you!"

"Oh, come on now." Caren pouted, tugging on Ayako's elbow to get her to take her hands off her ears, though without success. "It's good news this time!"

"…" Ayako stilled, before she gave Caren a suspicious look, slowly lowering her arms. "Promise?"

"I promise." Caren nodded quickly, placing her hands on her heart. "I only wanted to tell you that the True Ancestors are almost extinct and are pretty much irrelevant. There's only one of them left, and to the best of our knowledge, she does not harm humans if she can at all help it."

"Oh?" Ayako perked up, her interest rekindling at the news that there was a creature out there that was not actively hostile to humanity. "Do tell me more, Caren-Sensei."

"Yes." The honorific was sweet as honey to Caren's ears, and she straightened her back in pride. "I'm talking about Arcueid Brunestud, the Princess of the Moon…"


It took Shirou about thirty minutes to completely heal the mysterious woman.

He'd reattached her fingers and toes, he'd fixed her arm and her leg, he'd reconnected her limbs to her torso, and finally, he was putting the last touches on healing her neck, thereby putting her head back on her shoulders.

With that, her once-mutilated body was once more whole, in one piece, and with a final burst of power, Shirou removed all imperfections that might have been left, restoring her to pristine condition.

The mysterious assailant might have wielded some mysterious Authority that cut right into the deepest layers of Reality, but Shirou's ability as a repairman knew no limits.

Cars, televisions, air conditioning systems, and even inhuman creatures, he could fix them all.

Whether healing her had been the right decision or whether he should have burned her to a crisp instead would soon be revealed, and Shirou was not too proud to admit he took a small step back in preparation, picking up Mjolnir again. His armour was a single thought away from being materialised, and several Mystic Codes and even Noble Phantasms were ready to be Traced in the blink of an eye.

The overpowering inhuman scent that hung over the woman like a vaporous cloud had become stronger and stronger with every piece he reattached, so strong it nearly made his nose itch, and if this was going to devolve into a fight, he needed every weapon and advantage he could possibly get.

Lest he be killed within seconds.

For a few moments after he'd reattached her head, it remained quiet. The woman lay perfectly still, with the same vacant look in her eyes as when she'd still been in pieces, with only the breeze making her hair flutter slightly.

Then she blinked.

It was her first movement, a tiny one, yet immediately after, her scent intensified so much Shirou's eyes watered and he nearly gagged.

"Hrmhn?"

After that first blink, her eyes came back into focus, and she let out a soft, almost adorable groan, before she blinked several more times, her eyes turning every which way in their sockets.

"I…"

Her lips then moved, forming a single word, but her voice broke quickly. Nevertheless, she tried again, speaking slowly and clearly.

"I… can't… move?"

Indeed, the rest of her body was still frozen in place. Not even a finger had twitched despite the recent unification of her body parts, no matter how hard she seemed to be trying.

"Ah." Her eyes then suddenly turned to him, and the pleading look was so startling that Shirou nearly took another step back. "Please… help?"

There was no inquiry as to his identity or his intentions, no suspicion or caution, and Shirou flailed in confusion for a moment, until he remembered she'd been alive and awake during the entire procedure of him putting her back together.

She knew he had been helping her, and apparently, that had gotten him enough trust and goodwill that she was willing to forgo introductions for now and hope that he would continue to aid her.

"Ah, right."

Unable to refuse a direct call for help, Shirou knelt down next to her again, placing Mjolnir aside once more.

She had already been healed, which meant there was no need to use his Healing Powers again, but if he was right about her current 'ailment', then instead…

"Uhm…?"

She made a confused sound when he began massaging her right arm, but he ignored it for now, trying to get the blood flow going again and to reactivate her nerves.

Those weren't things that inhuman creatures of such great power normally had to worry about, but after being cut to pieces in such a deep and invasive manner, it was no surprise that her neurons needed time to get firing again.

"Tell me when you feel something." He instructed her, continuing to roughly press his fingers into her muscles, hoping he was correct, because otherwise, things could get awkward real fast.

"I'm… feeling… something." Her response was nearly immediate though, if still a bit slow, as her fingers started twitching slightly, which was a hopeful sign. "It's… warm… and… A-Ah, ouch?! P-Pinpricks!?"

"Yeah, that's what happens when the blood starts pumping again." Shirou laughed, happy to know his hypothesis was correct and she was merely numb. "What else did you expect after I had to put you back together?"

"I wouldn't… know. I've… never been… injured for so long."

An ominous statement, and although he pretended not to hear it, Shirou carefully filed it away in a corner of his brain.

For a while, he continued roughly massaging her muscles, going from her arms to her legs and then her shoulders, and before long, she was mostly capable of moving again.

"The rest will recover in time." He stated confidently, getting back to his feet.

"Hm." She gave him a grateful nod, before she suddenly lifted her hand, looking expectantly at him.

Understanding what she was asking, Shirou took the hand and carefully pulled her back to her feet too. Predictably, she stumbled on her unsteady legs, but he gave her his arm to lean upon, which helped keep her upright for the few minutes she needed to recover her balance.

"Thank you very much." She beamed at him once she was steady on her feet, no longer having trouble moving or speaking.

"I-It was no trouble."

Now that she was smiling so brightly, Shirou was suddenly struck by the fact that the woman was surprisingly beautiful.

Her face was very pretty, with distinct royal features that were brought out even more by her red eyes, her hair was blonde and silky, and her body's proportions were dangerously alluring.

Her outfit was pretty simple in comparison, consisting of a long sleeve white shirt, a long purple skirt, and black boots, but they fitted her perfectly, making no secret of the fact that her breasts were bigger than any of Shirou's girlfriends or even just female friends in general.

She was, in a word, gorgeous.

Which was bad news.

Shirou was well aware of the old truth that in the Moonlit World, the more beautiful a woman was, the more dangerous she could be, which meant that this woman was dangerous indeed.

She seemed sincere enough in her gratitude, and the fact that she was having a conversation with him in the first place instead of attacking him right away was a good sign, but her beauty and her overpowering scent attested to the fact that great peril lurked underneath.

But he wasn't going to start a fight if he didn't have to, so he bowed his head in greeting instead.

"My name is Shirou." He introduced himself, once more leaving aside either of his last names. "Well met."

"Oh, right!" The woman nodded seriously, before placing a hand on her heart in a sign of respect. "My name is Arcueid. Nice to meet you, Shirou."

Arcueid… The name did ring a bell, but Shirou wasn't sure where from. It was a memory from before Mjolnir's arrival, before he had obtained nearly perfect recall, that he had half-forgotten by now.

Oh well, it could hardly be important then. It'd come to him in time.

"Allow me to thank you for healing me." Arcueid went on, beaming at him again. "I probably could have put myself back together eventually, but you really helped me! I won't ever forget it, you have my word!"

"I was glad to help." Shirou assured her, deciding not to mention he'd come quite close to burning her to cinders rather than helping her. "But why were you in such a state anyway?"

"I was attacked, by a very mean person!" Arcueid's expression turned sour at the reminder of what had happened to her, and she started pouting fiercely, her hands balling into fists. "I wasn't even doing anything! I was just walking here, minding my own business, when the mean person suddenly attacked me! I ran away, but he chased after me, and when he caught up with me, he suddenly cut me into pieces!"

There was not a single lie in her words, and Shirou relaxed, though he also found himself feeling a little sorry for her. He'd feared at first that he might have undone the hard work of some Executor who had slain a dangerous creature after a lengthy battle, but if the woman really hadn't been doing anything out of order…

"That must have been tough."

"It hurt! A lot!" She complained loudly, stomping her foot in agitation, before she raised her head, looking to the East as a vicious expression appeared on her face. "But I have his scent! I'll track him down, and then I'll give him a piece of my mind!"

"What do you mean?" The promise of impending violence made Shirou harden his heart, and he frowned at her, tightening his grip on Mjolnir.

Yes, she had apparently been attacked first, by someone who had not hesitated to either kill her or, if they'd known about her Healing Factor, to leave her in horrible agony, but that didn't mean he could just let her run off to have her revenge. Depending on what she was planning, he might have to stop her himself.

If she wanted to beat her assailant up a bit, break a few non-vital bones, he would probably let her, but he couldn't allow senseless slaughter, especially not if she was going to be callous about the lives of the innocent people in her way.

And considering she was an inhuman creature, the chances of that were unpleasantly high.

"I'll find him and I'll scold him." But Arcueid surprised him again, showing a baffling amount of self-restraint for someone of her nature. "And then I'll force him to help me."

"Help you?"

"Help me." Arcueid nodded, before, rather than explaining, she turned back to give him a pensive look. "Say, Shirou, what are you doing here in Misaki Town?"

A surprising and seemingly irrelevant inquiry, but her tone suggested it wasn't just an idle question.

"I'm here on business." Shirou thus replied honestly, though he gave no details. Not that he could give many details even if he wanted to, considering he had no idea what he was looking for, but all the same, he shouldn't be too open about his secrets. Not to strangers in general, and definitely not to inhuman creatures.

"Is it important business?"

"I'd say it is fairly important, yes." Shirou replied truthfully, as preventing the end of the world was in fact placed quite high on his list of priorities.

"Ah." That seemed to disappoint her, as she slumped a bit, but she rallied again quickly. "But you can spare some time, surely?"

"Time? For what?"

"To help me." Was her candid response, as if it were obvious. "You are very good at healing, and I can tell you are very powerful, so I want your help. Now say yes."

There was not a trace of hesitation to be found in Arcueid's voice. She confidently declared that he was to help her, and that he had little choice in the matter. It didn't seem like protesting or a polite refusal was going to be accepted.

Now, as an aspiring Hero of Justice, Shirou was normally more than happy to help others, and keeping an eye on this inhuman creature in the form of a beautiful woman was probably also a good idea. However, in this case, he hesitated to agree.

Because, as said before, he was currently working on preventing the literal end of the world, and he still had made no progress on that whatsoever.

"I am sorry, but I don't think I can spare the time." He thus replied, trying to let her down gently. "I wish you the best of luck with your endeavours, but I cannot assist you."

"What? W-Wait, but you have to help me!" Arcueid was not easily dissuaded though, and she took a step forward, looking half-panicked and half-affronted. "My business is very important too!"

"I don't doubt it." Creatures as powerful as Arcueid rarely moved unless it was for a very good reason, but that didn't change the facts. "But I have to prioritise my own matters right now. If you are ever in need of healing again, you can come find me, but I cannot help you more than that."

His piece said, Shirou made to leave before Arcueid could protest more, but he'd barely turned away when she grabbed his wrist.

Her grip was strong, too strong to easily break, so Shirou stopped, giving her a dry look.

"You have to help me." She insisted, almost petulantly. "Or I'll…"

"You will what?"

"I'll… I'll steal your hammer!"

"Huh?"

Shirou barely had time to be surprised at her words before she lashed out with immense speed and snatched Mjolnir from his hand-

-Before the hammer promptly fell to the ground, nearly dragging Arcueid along with it.

"Geh?!" The blonde woman stumbled, her eyes going wide in surprise, before she gritted her teeth and started pulling, trying to lift the divine weapon again. "Grr, come on! Up!"

Her arms shook from the exertion, beads of sweat soon appeared on her face, and the stone beneath her feet cracked ominously, but Mjolnir refused to butch an inch. It stubbornly remained in place, no matter how much Arcueid pulled and pushed.

It was a strangely adorable sight, not to mention amusing, and Shirou let her struggle for a moment, before he leaned down and picked his faithful companion up from the ground without the slightest effort.

"Wha?" Arcueid looked almost insulted by the ease with which he'd lifted the hammer again, her mouth half-open and her eyes wide. "How?!"

"It's quite simple really." Shirou smiled at her, casually flipping Mjolnir in a single hand, showing off how easy it was to handle. "It likes me more than you."

The glower she gave him in response would have sent a wild boar running for the hills.

Shirou just smiled wider though, and Arcueid eventually let up on her glare, pursing her lips in thought.

"Ehm." Now that her attempt to take Mjolnir hostage had failed, she racked her brain for another avenue of negotiation, and soon, she seemed to have come up with something new. "Then, how about I help you in return?"

"Hm?"

"You have important business, I have important business. Maybe we can help each other?"

That… was a much better attempt at getting his assistance than trying to take his hammer from him, and Shirou found himself actually contemplating the offer.

Two pairs of eyes did see more than one, and since Arcueid was so powerful, she might have something up her sleeve, an ability or a piece of knowledge, that would change his random search into a targeted hunt.

Of course, she was still a complete stranger to him, so he did hesitate to confide in her, but then, Nasu's instructions were so vague and almost meaningless that sharing them would have very little effect, even if she had bad intentions.

Hence, he gave her a small nod.

"That does sound like a good idea." He agreed, making her beam widely, her eyes sparkling in excitement. "But I want to know what exactly you are doing here in Misaki Town before I agree to anything."

If he was going to be helping her, he first wanted to know what they would be doing.

"You first." Arcueid turned it on him however, and while that aroused his suspicion at first, he soon realised it was only childish curiosity that drove her to demand he be the one to explain first.

Actually, the more he spoke with her, the more he started to get the idea she was more childish than malicious in general.

"Very well." He thus agreed once more. "I am in Misaki Town because a… friend, of mine informed me that I must seek information here. Something of great importance is set to happen soon, and apparently, the first clue to preventing it is hidden in this city. What I want your help with, should we enter an agreement, is finding this clue."

"I see." Arcueid hummed, though it was clear from her expression she still had a lot of questions. "And what is this clue?"

"That is the problem. I do not know."

His admission of ignorance caused metaphorical question marks to appear above Arcueid's head, as she stared at him in bewilderment.

"You do not know?"

"I have been assured that I will recognise the clue once I see it, but so far, I haven't had any luck." Shirou sighed, before waving a hand. "Granted, I have only been searching for a few hours, but still."

"Well, that's inconvenient." Arcueid huffed, unknowingly parroting both Rin and Ayako. "Do you have any other clues or hints?"

"I do not. I have to admit it is quite frustrating."

"I can imagine." She nodded, looking very sympathetic for a moment. "Searching for a quarry without success, without any idea where to look even, can be quite… maddening."

Her tone spoke of personal experience, and Shirou wondered if her mission in Misaki Town might be of a similar nature to his own.

"I'm sorry to be so vague."

"Oh no, I understand." She assured him kindly. "In fact, I think I might be able to help you."

"What?" That surprised him, and he unconsciously took a step closer to her. "How?"

"I have certain ways of gathering information that are exclusive to me only." She responded mysteriously, giving him an enigmatic grin. "This 'event' that you want to prevent, is it very big? Will it have a large influence on the world if it does go ahead?"

"Oh yes." Shirou nodded emphatically. Destroying the world was very much a way of influencing it after all, in a very big way.

"Perfect! Then let me gather information for a moment."

Arcueid held up a hand to motion for patience, before she closed her eyes and relaxed as much as she could while standing up, seemingly sinking into a trance on the spot.

For about a minute or so, she remained frozen in place, only her hair and her skirt fluttering in the wind.

Shirou studied her curiously, but while he could tell she was communicating with something, he couldn't say with whom or how.

Which was rather ominous, now that he thought about it. There weren't many things left in the world that could overcome his enhanced senses and his Clairvoyance, and the things that could were powerful indeed.

"Aha!" Then Arcueid came out of her trance again, grinning widely. "I got it!"

"You do?" Shirou perked up hopefully. Honestly, he hadn't expected much from this strange girl, but if she had indeed succeeded…

"You are here to prevent the destruction of the world at the hands of forces unknown." She stated confidently, hitting the mark in one.

"Y-Yes, I am indeed."

While there was a chance that it was only a lucky guess, that chance was almost infinitesimal, so he was rather startled to hear how she'd figured out his motives so suddenly.

"And you need information, information on where to find worthy weapons to fight the threat." Arcueid continued, now sharing things Shirou hadn't known before. He was looking for a weapon? "Hehe, and I know exactly where you can get that information. That clue you were looking for in this city, I know what it is."

"You do!?" Shirou almost couldn't believe his sudden luck, grinning widely when he got a confident nod in return. "What is it then?"

"Me!" Arcueid proclaimed proudly, puffing out her chest in pride. "I am the clue! I am the one who is supposed to tell you where to head next to find the things you need to prevent the destruction of our world!"

And with that proclamation, the pieces finally fell into place.

Arcueid was the clue.

She was the one who he had been looking for.

So that was why Nasu had assured him things would work out. It was because Arcueid would explain matters herself.

So that was why Shirou was on such a tight schedule, to ensure that he would find Arcueid when she needed his help. If he'd gone only hours sooner or later, he might never have found her.

Suddenly, it all made sense.

"Of course, I am willing to tell you everything you want to know." The blonde woman continued, narrowing her eyes and smiling smugly. "Buuuuut…"

"Don't tell me. I need to help you with your business first." Shirou took a stab in the dark, resigning himself to his fate with a laconic smile.

"Yes!" She cheered, looking delighted she now had something to hold over him.

The survival of his mission, and indeed the survival of the world, were now in her hands, and she clearly intended to milk it for all it was worth.

"If that is your price, I am willing to pay it." He nodded, before frowning slightly. "However, like I said before, I first need to know what you are doing here before I can agree to anything."

"Right, sure." She nodded, calming down a bit as her expression turned sour and the mood suddenly plummeted. "I am here to hunt an old enemy of mine. Are you familiar with Michael Roa Valdamjong?"

"…I am." Shirou nodded, blinking once at the immense coincidence. "You are here to hunt him?"

"Yes." Arcueid nodded grimly, growling like a big cat, thereby revealing that she had unusually long and sharp canine teeth.

"And once you have him, what do you want with him?"

"Want?" Arcueid asked, her expression turning ice-cold even as her eyes blazed with fury. "I want that traitor dead! I want him to suffer! I want him hauled before me in chains, begging for mercy, before I kill him so thoroughly he can never return!"

There was real hatred in her voice, revulsion even, and Shirou wondered what Roa had done to earn himself such ire from this seemingly good-natured woman.

Even the mysterious assailant, the one who had cut her into pieces, was only going to get a scolding, yet she wanted Roa humiliated and vanquished with prejudice. Whatever he had done, it had to have been seriously bad.

However, Shirou couldn't just let Arcueid storm off on her own. By now, he was pretty sure she was a member of the Burial Agency, as they were known to employ inhuman creatures at times, but even to the inhuman agents of the Vatican, Ancestors were formidable opponents. She wouldn't be the first to make a mistake in the pursuit of revenge, and by all accounts, Roa was mighty indeed.

"Hunting an Ancestor, even an unofficial one, is no small matter." He thus warned her, worried she might be blinded by her anger.

She was powerful, yes, but not unbeatable, as evidenced by the state he'd found her in.

"Hunting Ancestors is what I do." Arcueid spoke dismissively however, waving away his concern.

"And I am sure that you are skilled at it." Shirou allowed. "But certainly, the Burial Agency wouldn't ask you to fight one alone? Don't you have reinforcements?"

"The Burial Agency?" Arcueid blinked in confusion, before she frowned deeply. "What do they have to do with this? They don't tell me what to do."

"Oh, I am sorry." Shirou apologised, wincing as his assumption turned out to be wrong. "Are you with the Magus Association then?"

"Also no." She shook her head again, frowning even deeper. "I am not with any organisation. You must know that."

"No, I don't. I am sorry."

"Do you not recognise my name?" Arcueid asked in confusion, placing a hand on her chest as she cocked her head to the side in curiosity, her anger mostly forgotten already. "Not to sound arrogant, but I am really quite famous in the Moonlit World."

"…I do not recognise it." Shirou admitted after a moment. Yes, her name did ring a bell, but he just couldn't remember where from, no matter how hard he tried. "I apologise if that insults you."

"I'm not insulted." She assured him quickly, before daintily clearing her throat, looking rather excited all of a sudden. "I suppose I'll just have to introduce myself properly then. It's been quite a while since I last did that. It must have been five centuries, maybe more."

"Okay?" Shirou blinked, suddenly wondering just how famous this woman actually was.

"Ahem." She cleared her throat again, before she drew herself up to her full length, grinning widely as she placed her hands on her sides, looking immensely majestic against the light of the setting sun. "Greetings to you again, Shirou. My name is Arcueid Brunestud."

"!"

Shirou froze stiff at her last name, a name that invoked nightmares to all Magi around the world, but she wasn't done yet.

"I am the Executioner of the True Ancestors, the Princess of the Moon, and I am what you would call the Ultimate One of the Earth. Nice to properly meet you!"

"…"

For a few seconds after her proclamation, it remained quiet as the grave, as even the wind itself went completely still.

'THUNK'

Then the silence was interrupted by a dry impact sound, as Mjolnir slipped from a strengthless hand.


Misaki Town was quite a large city. Not at the level of Tokyo of course, that would be ridiculous, but large all the same. Its population measured in the millions, and it covered a massive area of land, making it the largest city of its region.

Like all large cities in the developed world, Misaki Town had multiple high schools within its boundaries. It needed to, because there was no way that every student in the city, numbering in the thousands if not tens-of-thousands, could fit into a single building. It would be an architectural and logistical nightmare, to say the least.

The exact number of schools in the city was a point of contention within the city council, as its members disagreed whether to count private schools or not and if schools under repair should still be included, but it was certainly well over two dozen, even by the lowest estimates.

And among all those schools, Metropolitan Misaki High School held a place of honour.

It wasn't vastly superior to the other schools, especially not in terms of its classes, which were rather average to be honest, but where it truly excelled was its many after-school clubs.

After-school club-activities were a tried and tested Japanese tradition to shape the characters of the youth, to keep the students off the streets and out of trouble, and to give the parents a few more hours they could spend on their valuable work.

Many schools organised club-activities for these reasons, and Metropolitan Misaki High School had made it into an art.

It had a track-club, an archery-club, a chess-club, a go-club, a club for all other board games, and a literature-club, but also clubs for arts, swimming, martial arts, and even tea-serving. There was something for everyone, and as a result, only very few of its students were members of the infamous going-home-club.

On this particular day, most classes at Metropolitan Misaki High School had ended at around three in the afternoon, yet the vast majority of the students were still present in and around the building several hours later, participating in the activities they had chosen for themselves.

Under normal circumstances, the clubs were allowed to continue until well into the evening, and the building itself didn't close until the sun had long since gone down. Furthermore, the school's faculty council was rather relaxed about what the students got up to after leaving, especially by the standards of a Japanese high school.

But not today.

Not anymore.

"Attention, students. Please wrap up your activities." The message was announced over the intercom when the sun had just started setting, and it was received by many disappointed and wrought looks. "All students are to leave the building as fast as possible. Staff members will oversee your departure."

Similar statements followed, but nobody was really listening anymore. All club-activities were concluded swiftly by the teachers and the club-members were hastily dismissed and sent back home.

There was nothing relaxed or laid back about it. The rapid pace with which the students were escorted off the premises was almost reminiscent of an evacuation.

It was brusque, it was unkind, and above all, it was necessary.

Because there was a serial killer wandering the streets of Misaki Town.

Over the past weeks, numerous people had gone missing, dead and maimed bodies had been found all over the city, and there had been a few major incidents as of late, incidents that had claimed the lives of many and had almost certainly been caused deliberately.

Deaths and disappearances were stacking up rapidly, in quantities that were outright unacceptable to civilised countries. People were getting scared, and the day-to-day operations that were necessary to keep a large city going were suffering from it.

As such, the city-council had had no choice but to declare an emergency situation, decreeing that civilians were no longer supposed to be outside after dark, especially not on their own. Employers were to shorten the hours at work, shops had to close before sunset, and schools were obliged to send their students home before the clock struck six.

Most people obeyed the decree, spooked by the deluge of terrible news that flooded the city, but as always, there were a few that did not properly appreciate the threat and were rather displeased with the measures that were taken to fight it.

"Goto-Sensei, do we really have to go home already?"

"Ah, Sensei, please!"

"It's still early!"

On the grounds of Metropolitan Misaki High School, just outside the gate, a small group of students were pleading with their teacher to let them stay a bit longer. This teacher was normally quite soft-hearted, and they hoped to convince him somehow.

"Yes, you have to go home." Goto-Sensei had hardened his heart however, remaining deaf to their pleas as he locked the gate behind him. "Now go, before your parents get worried."

"But-!"

"No!" Goto-Sensei barked, rage flashing across his face as he threw his hand to the side, completely fed up with the whiny complaints. "Go home! This city has become too dangerous to be outside at night! Away with you!"

His tone was harsher than it had ever been before, and that, more than anything, sent the students slinking off, though with clear reluctance. He had to keep glaring at them for a while until they all left, and even after that, he kept the expression up for a while.

Only when they were all well and truly gone did Goto-Sensei allow himself to relax, letting the anger slide off his face, before he sighed deeply.

"I wish you were all this enthusiastic about your classes." He huffed softly to himself, smiling a bit at his own joke, before he placed his hands together and bowed his head, praying softly to whatever higher being was willing to listen for his students to return home safely.

Like most teachers, Goto-Sensei only wanted what was best for his students. Though he did not like having to interrupt their fun, in this case, it was both necessary and required by law. Now that the city had become so dangerous, going home quickly was genuinely the wisest thing to do.

Unfortunately though, most of his students, especially the ones he'd just chased away, did not see it that way.

"I can't believe we have to go home already!"

"I wanted to continue drawing. I was so close to getting the second eye on paper."

"Ah, that sucks."

"Who cares about a drawing?! If they keep interrupting our track-training like that, we won't stand a chance in the nationals this year!"

A small group of girls were walking home together, merrily complaining about the new safety measures as they went. Having just been escorted off the premises by their teacher, they needed to vent a little, which was exactly what they did.

"It's ridiculous!"

"Yeah!"

"How can they do something like this when every student disagrees?!" The track-girl asked loudly, planting her fists in her hips. "Don't our voices count for nothing?!"

"We should protest!"

"Yeah! Let's prepare a petition to the student council!"

"That's a good idea! If we can get enough people to sign it, they'll have to look at it."

"I heard the president and the secretary aren't happy with the new rules either, so they'll probably support us."

"Really?! Then we might actually succeed!"

"The president will definitely force the city council to listen to us!"

"Who's going to organise the petition?"

The complaining had now turned into plotting, and the girls put their heads together to come up with a plan, but there was one who was keeping her distance a bit, having remained silent all the way so far.

"What about you, Ciel-Senpai?"

"Huh?" When she was addressed directly however, the blue-haired girl had no choice but to react, and she tried to formulate a reasonable answer. "Uhm, I think we should probably listen to the adults."

"Boo." One girl pouted at her.

"But Ciel-Senpai, don't you want to continue longer with the tea-club as well?" Another asked, raising a scolding finger in reproach. "As its captain, you have a responsibility to protect your club's interests."

"Maybe so." Ciel allowed, not intimidated in the slightest by the frustrated stares that were being sent her way. "But I think our safety is more important than my club's interests."

"Safety? We aren't in any danger, not in this neighbourhood. Nothing ever happens here." The arts-girl laughed.

The other girls quickly agreed, laughing together about the ludicrous idea of them being attacked, and Ciel had to clamp down on the urge to give them a stern lecture. It was one thing to not like being sent home early, but it was another to outright dismiss the necessity of preventive measures when there was clearly a killer walking around.

These girls were far too carefree!

However, when the sun really began setting and the shadows suddenly started getting longer and darker, most of that bravado melted away by itself, making place for a healthy sort of caution that Ciel liked much more.

"I hope they catch that serial killer soon." One of the girls mumbled, casting a nervous look at the alley they were passing by, wary of murderers hiding in the shadows. "The police will probably have an idea of who they are already, right?"

"The police? The police are useless." Another girl complained, seeking safety in the middle of the group. "If it's up to them, the killer will never be caught. They said so on the True Crime documentaries I watch."

"I wish Rakurai would come here to catch the murderer." A third girl said wistfully, gazing up at the sky with a forlorn look.

"Rakurai hasn't been seen in months though." The second girl countered, turning to frown at the wistful girl. "And besides, he's never come here before."

"There's always a first time." The wistful girl replied, not giving up hope just yet. "Right, Ciel-Senpai?"

"Right." Ciel couldn't care less about famous vigilantes, people who thought they were fighting evil but had no idea of the true malice in the world, so her reply was short and dismissive. "It'll probably be fine even without him though."

"Gosh, I hope so." The track-girl complained, rolling her eyes in a way that only teenage girls could. "I'm tired of all those warnings. The adults are scared of the dark, I get that by now, but they don't have to keep bothering us about it. I really miss the days when they weren't panicking so much."

Unlike the other girls, she had kept most of her bravado, and Ciel really hoped that it was just boastful behaviour in front of her friends rather than actual arrogance. The former was relatively harmless, but the latter would get her killed at some point, especially with murderers around.

"Oh, this is my stop, girls."

After a few minutes, one of the group's members split off, heading to her house.

"Good night, everyone!"

"Sleep well."

"See you tomorrow!"

After that, more and more of the girls left the group once they passed by their homes, and eventually, Ciel was left alone with the track-girl.

They didn't speak, preferring the companionable silence between them, and Ciel really hoped that would remain the case.

Because otherwise, the track-girl might cotton on to the fact that Ciel did not know her name, and that would be very awkward, to say the least.

But luckily for the captain of the tea-club, the track-girl did not speak until they had arrived at her house.

"Good night, Senpai." She huffed, before she hesitated for a moment, visibly agonising over what to say. "Please… Please be careful. You'll be on your own from now on."

"Oh?"

Was… Was that concern?

Yes, it was.

Ciel smiled at the girl, at the confirmation that her earlier bravado was indeed just a little posing for her friends rather than arrogance, and she inclined her head.

"Good night, my Kohai."

The track-girl smiled at the response, before she walked away, entering her house.

And Ciel was left alone in the dark.

At long last.

"Finally."

From one moment to the next, Ciel's relaxed and kind expression disappeared, making place for a hardened sneer that did not belong on a teenager's face. After a long day of having to act like a vapid girl, the decades-old woman was glad to finally be able to scowl again.

In a movement too precise to be quite human, she turned around and started marching towards the nearest alley, her purpose resounding in every step.

It was obvious from her demeanour that she was not planning on going home. Goto-Sensei had done his best in his prayers to ask the gods to guide his students home safely, but even the most powerful prayer in the world wouldn't be enough if one of those students didn't have a home to go to anymore.

Ciel the student entered the alley.

Ciel the Burial Agency operative left it again.

Her school uniform had been replaced by a nun's outfit, though greatly modified, to a point where it resembled a form of armament, with a shortened hem, shortened sleeves, and several pieces of armour covering her most vulnerable areas.

On her waist, two guns were visible, as were several knives. In her right hand, she held three Black Keys, while her left was covered in a black armoured gauntlet.

All pretence had been dropped. Her carefully crafted persona of an affable, pleasant Senpai, made to clandestinely investigate Metropolitan Misaki High School, was nowhere to be seen.

For the rest of the night, she would be naught but a weapon. A tool for hunting the inhuman, and for hunting one of them in particular.

"Roa." She growled, spitting out the name with pure venom.

Her nemesis. The one who had ruined her life. The Serpent that had dragged her down into damnation.

He was here, in Misaki Town, and by the Name of the Lord, she would slay him this time. Slay him so thoroughly that his Soul would never be able to return.

Though first, she would have to find out where he was.

Which was a common problem for those hunting Roa. The Serpent had much experience in hiding, and that meant his many hunters were always two steps behind him, often fighting without end between themselves over who would be the one to take a step closer.

Ciel had thought, at first, that Tohno Shiki, one of her supposed underclassmen at Metropolitan Misaki High School, might be Roa's current host, but that line of inquiry had gone nowhere. A bit of investigation had shown that he was in the clear, perfectly innocent of any wrongdoing as far as she could tell.

Even if his family was one of half breeds.

Pursing her lips in distaste at the thought of Tohno's inhuman sister, Ciel immediately sought the high-ground, climbing up the nearest building to get to the roof. From there, she would have a much better view of the city and the option of ambushing enemies from above, which was her preferred battle-tactic.

Tohno Shiki had turned out to be a dead end, but she was not out of options yet. She would just have to cast her net a bit wider and see what would be caught up in it.

Misaki Town might be a very large city, but tracking down Ancestors was an art that Ciel had perfected over the years.

Roa would not escape her.


"Gah, aaah, ah."

In a garden centre at the very edge of Misaki Town, squeezed in-between several hardware shops, a white-haired man stood on unsteady legs, panting hard.

"Ah, aah, argh…"

The pants were interspaced with moans of pain, as the man pressed one hand against his temple and the other against his chest, as if nursing both a headache and a heartburn at the same time.

"Guh… A-Ah…"

He was obviously not right, suffering from some kind of ailment, which was further indicated by his vacant look and excessively pale complexion.

"Hrm… Urgh…"

Since he was well-dressed, well-groomed, handsome, and clearly not a homeless bum or a drug addict, someone might have reached out to help him, another guest perhaps, or a store employee.

"Gah… Guh!"

But there was no one else in the garden centre.

No one alive anyway.

"A-Ah… Ha."

There were only corpses, in various states of dismemberment.

Everywhere around the gasping man, there were bodies and body parts strewn around, lacking rhyme or reason in the way they'd been scattered throughout the hall.

Men, women, children, even pets. They had all been killed in various gruesome ways, often involving dismemberment or even bisection, and the results of the butchery were now plain for all to see.

Blood coated nearly every inch of the floor and walls, organs were lying on the ground, guts were hanging from the plants on sale, and flesh that resembled mincemeat could be found all over.

A nightmarish scene.

But to any casual onlooker, the dead bodies and the gore, as horrible and upsetting as they were, wouldn't even be the worst of it. There was something much more terrible in the garden centre than mere corpses.

And that was that some of the bodies were moving.

Pale, silent, and often with gaping wounds and missing limbs, several dead people were scurrying around the hall, uncaring about the organs and gore that leaked out from their wounds.

It was an absolutely dreadful sight, the dead walking once more, and what made it even worse was the fact that these living dead were not just shuffling around at random, but moving from corpse to corpse in order to gather all the blood they could find, licking it from the floor if they had to, further contributing to the horrid spectacle.

They didn't collect the blood for themselves though. These zombies had no use for blood. They only collected it so they could present it to someone else.

To their master.

Every drop they licked from the floor was a burst of power to the one who had created them, every mouthful a rich nourishment. The moving corpses were but mindless drones, acting only on orders, incapable of displaying any kind of free will, but their master's hunger made them move with speed and purpose all the same.

And as they eagerly lapped up the blood of over a hundred people, together amounting to many galleons of the fluid, the handsome man in the centre began breathing more easily.

The blood that his servants gathered was the fuel that kept him going, and the balm that lightened the burden of his ailments.

He was a vampire, one that needed to feed in order to preserve his power, and he forced his undead thralls to continue drinking until every drop of blood was gone. Only then did he start moving again, his hunger having been stilled for now.

Vlov Arkhangel, the Nineteenth Dead Apostle Ancestor, could once more focus on the task at hand.

"Go." He commanded the corpses, and they obediently sped off, to gather more blood for him.

He might have just consumed over a hundred people, but to a mighty Ancestor like him, that amounted to little more than a light lunch. Soon, he would go hungry again, and he needed his thralls to gather nourishment in preparation for that moment.

He hated being hungry for long.

Once the thralls were gone, Vlov let out a long, satisfied breath, before he unleashed his dark flames upon the garden centre that he had changed into his personal feeding trough.

Like all Ancestors and senior Dead Apostles, he was meticulous about wiping his tracks. He might be more powerful than a human could ever hope to be, but the Church had proven multiple times that they were more than capable of defeating Ancestors under the right circumstances. Hence, it would be foolish to leave them any clues when he didn't have to.

His flames, products of his Principle, which some might call his Authority, which was intrinsically linked to his Idea Blood, consumed wood, stone, flesh, and metal with equal fervour. They would continue raging until there was nothing but ashes left of the once stately building.

Unbothered by his own flames, Vlov walked outside, as calm as calm could be, and he looked up at the sky, breathing in deep as he felt the cold rays of the moon on his face.

Night had just fallen completely, the hated sun having disappeared over the horizon, and Vlov felt alive again, ready to continue his mission.

He hadn't come all the way to Misaki Town on a whim. He was here for a specific purpose, one that he had sought to fulfil for quite some time already.

Though normally blessed with great patience and an ability to step back and see the bigger picture, Vlov's tolerance for further delays was running dangerously low. For many decades, he had hunted his quarries, and he was growing tired with his own constant failures.

This time, he needed to succeed.

This time, he would hunt down and kill both Michael Roa Valdamjong and Arcueid Brunestud with his own hands, without fail.

He would have his revenge upon both of them, upon the Serpent and the Moon Princess.

With the power he'd inherited from his mentor, he would ensure that Misaki Town became their grave.

But just as Vlov started heading down an alley, another presence, made curious by the roaring flames, showed up at the scene, stepping out of the shadows in that very same alley.

"Who goes there?!" Vlov barked, a blade made of ice materialising in his hand.

"…"

"Oh, it's you." Recognising the newcomer, Vlov dismissed the blade again. He didn't frown, nor did he smile. He merely acknowledged the other's presence with perfect neutrality, as they were neither enemy nor ally. "What are you doing here?"

"…" The mysterious figure smiled languidly in response.

"I do not care for your curiosity." Vlov responded coldly, understanding what the smile was meant to convey. "Leave me in peace. I have my own matters to attend to, preferably without anyone's interference."

A single eyebrow was lifted in response.

"I know you were here first, and that you have claimed Misaki Town as your own." Vlov acknowledged, as it was merely the honest truth. "But that does not mean that I now answer to you. This city is large enough for the both of us, and we have different purposes anyway."

"…?"

"You know what I want. I have never made a secret of my objectives. You must have heard of my follies? You must know what I have sacrificed, what our illustrious king demanded of me in exchange for letting me pursue my goals? I heard it made me quite the laughing stock in our circles."

The mysterious figure stilled, before they took a step forward, reaching out as if to place a supporting hand on Vlov's shoulder.

"Spare me your sympathy." Vlov took a step back however, refusing the kindness. There was a chance that his interlocutor was genuinely sympathetic to his plight, but it might just as well be a mocking façade. "Mind your own business. Don't you have your precious elixir to work on?"

A slow nod answered him.

"Then get on with it! Just make sure to stay out of my way!" Vlov barked, before he stilled, realising that he was being unnecessarily harsh.

Once upon a time, back in a former life, he'd been a knight, a proper one, and although he'd long since been changed into a monster, he liked to think he retained his sense of decorum at least.

Which was why he could tell that his current behaviour was anything but courteous.

"I apologise." He thus said, his tone curt yet polite. "My words were overly abrasive. Please forgive my rudeness."

His interlocutor smiled in response, waving away the incident, before they adopted a hopeful expression.

"No, I did not change my mind." Vlov shot their hopes down immediately however. "I stand by what I said earlier. You need to leave. I must travel in secret, and two of our kind together will draw attention from everyone within a thousand kilometres from here."

This time, his response garnered amusement from the mysterious figure, as they looked at his outfit with twinkling eyes.

With his knee-high boots, puffy pants, dress-shirt, blue tailcoat, and fur-cape, he was hardly the most inconspicuous person around, and his white hair and the garish jewellery he used to complement the outfit did nothing to remedy that. It had been an eye-catching getup in post-medieval Europe, and it was even more so in modern day Japan.

It was crystal clear that he would gather enough attention on his own, and they both knew it.

"Yes, well, it is better than walking around like a common skank, like you!" Vlov shot back, his irritation rising again.

In response, the figure cocked their hips to the side, and they leaned forward, crossing their arms in such a way that their breasts, already quite exposed, were perfectly accentuated.

To his shame, Vlov had to admit he looked, for several very long moments. Vampire he might be, but those urges were still very much present.

"…E-Enough of this!" Eventually though, he managed to tear his eyes away. "You had your fun! Now leave!"

Apparently deciding that they had indeed had enough fun for now, the figure finally nodded in acceptance, and they made to leave at last.

But before they could disappear from sight, Vlov's sense of decorum acted up again, and he found himself calling out to them.

"Be careful out there!"

The figure stopped at his call, and they turned around to give him a questioning look.

"Why do you have to be careful? Because Misaki Town is getting very busy these days." Vlov responded darkly. His former life as a human knight had given him a sense of tactics and strategy that many of his fellow Dead Apostles lacked, and because of that, he was able to tell that the city was getting very dangerous, even to creatures like them. "The Burial Agency's presence is getting stronger by the day, including the Serpent's former host, and the Moon Princess has recently arrived as well. On top of that, I can sense something else now, something I have never sensed before, wandering the streets of this city. I do not like it."

The nod he received this time was very serious indeed.

"I wish Zahria was still here." Vlov grumbled, referring to his old mentor and the one from whom he'd inherited the throne of the Nineteenth. "She would have known what to do, about everything."

"…" The figure gave him a dry look.

"That I was the one who killed her does not mean I can't miss her!" Vlov bit back, grinding his perfect teeth. "I only killed her because I was tricked! That whole affair was a travesty, and Roa will pay dearly for it!"

That got him a sniff in return, coupled with a mocking look.

"He… He will." Vlov insisted, though without his usual fire, as he knew his words rang hollow after so many failures to live up to them.

The fact of the matter was that he'd been hunting Roa for decades now, and he was still no closer than he'd been at the start. The Serpent was extremely slippery, and Vlov had no shortage of rivals hoping to claim that wretch's head themselves, Arcueid Brunestud being only one of many.

Though that did not mean he was giving up.

"You will see." Vlov hissed, casting his gaze skywards. "I will kill Roa with my own hands. I will find him, no matter where he is hiding, and I will drag him out of his lair, screaming and wailing. I will carve my every humiliation into his skin, I will visit upon him all the pain that I have suffered, and I will make him pay for every breath that Zahria was not able to draw because of him. In the name of the Nineteenth, both the former and the current, I will smite him for his crimes and bay the world in his blood. By the time I am done with him, he will be begging for eternal death! And I do not want you to get- Oh…"

He gave a rousing speech, but when he turned back to the figure, he found that they had already skittered away.

Rude.

But admittedly, completely in character for them.

Sniffing once, Vlov shrugged his shoulders, making a mental note of the fact that a good, rousing speech was apparently a decent method of chasing that particular person away, before he continued down the alley.

His quarries weren't going to hunt themselves.


"Did I really surprise you that much?"

Arcueid asked the question in a gentle tone, looking a bit guilty over her boastful words from earlier.

After she had announced her true identity, including her various titles, Shirou had gotten a bit light in the head. He'd already dropped Mjolnir, and he needed to sit down for a moment as well, to let it sink in that he was standing before, and had been having a decent conversation with, what was apparently the granddaughter of the Crimson Moon.

He also finally remembered why her name had sounded so familiar. His father had told him about her, though only in the most general sense, and with that memory finally unlocked, he started recalling some other things as well.

Just as she'd claimed, Arcueid genuinely was quite famous in the Moonlit World. Most people in the Church and the Magus Association had heard of her, and she was mentioned with some regularity in various history books, though only of the magical variety of course.

The reason that Shirou had not made the connection sooner was because those people and those books never referred to her as 'Arcueid'. They spoke of the last True Ancestor, or of the Ultimate One of the Earth, often making it sound as if she was some kind of horrible monstrosity that made the Dead Apostle Ancestors look like mewling kittens in comparison.

Never before had Shirou heard but the faintest rumour that the Earth's own Ultimate One was actually a beautiful young woman with a slightly childish personality.

Hence, the revelation that Arcueid and the Ultimate One were one and the same had knocked him flat on his back.

But although he was surprised, he couldn't bring himself to feel worried or particularly alarmed. She might be the Ultimate One of the Earth, but so far, she hadn't shown any indication that she was someone to fear.

They had been conversing peacefully for a while now, and in all that time, she hadn't emitted any kind of evil intent. Her scent, though overpowering, lacked the darkness of Dead Apostles and other unpleasant things, and she had declared, truthfully and sincerely, that she did not harm humans if she could help it.

On top of that, she was never mentioned on the lists of the most wanted fugitives of either the Enforcers or the Executors, she had no great bloodbaths to her name, and Shirou had never heard anyone speak of her in personal fear.

To be quite frank, very little was known about her, and nothing that was known hinted at the fact that she was a dangerous creature that needed to be vanquished for the good of humanity.

So Shirou quickly got back to his feet, leaving Mjolnir on the ground for now.

"Are you alright?" Arcueid asked, holding out her hands as if to support him.

"Yes, I'm fine. Just a little surprised." He nodded, giving her a shaky smile. "Don't mind me. What were we talking about?"

"…" Arcueid didn't look entirely convinced that he was alright, but she obligingly let the matter drop. "Uhm, you were going to help me with hunting down Michael Roa Valdamjong in exchange for information."

"Oh, right." Shirou nodded, remembering again. Arcueid had turned out to be the clue that he'd been searching for, and she was only willing to share her knowledge if he helped her kill her enemy. "If that is all, then I…"

"Yes?" Arcueid prompted him when he fell silent, giving him a hopeful look.

"Hm." Shirou merely hummed though, frowning deeply in concern, as he realised he had a problem.

When Nasu had given him the quest of saving the world, starting out in Misaki Town, he had explicitly demanded that Shirou would not kill Roa himself, Roa or Vlov Arkhangel. He was to focus on his mission above all else, and leave the killing to others.

But now, his mission directly involved fighting and killing Roa anyway. Shirou himself had no problem with that of course, but it clashed heavily with Nasu's instructions.

Unless… he was meant to let Arcueid deal the finishing blow?

Well, if it was just that, it shouldn't be too much of a problem.

"Very well." He thus replied out loud, looking at Arcueid again. "I accept your terms."

"Yay!" She cheered, beaming brightly as she pumped her fist into the air. "I got a companion!"

Her childish glee was infectious, and it prompted a smile from Shirou as well, before he looked around at the city surrounding them.

"Do you want to get started immediately? It's a big city, but I do have a few ways of finding Apostles."

"I have something else I need to deal with first." Arcueid shook her head however, the corners of her mouth curling up into a rather mean smile. "I have an appointment with the one who cut me into pieces. I do not need your help for that."

"Right." She'd mentioned that before. "Make sure not to involve any bystanders."

"I will not." She promised sincerely. "Ah, but what will you be doing?"

"I'm going to look for Roa." He replied, already sniffing the air for interesting scents. "I've got no time to lose after all."

"Don't attack him without me though." Arcueid practically demanded, frowning all of a sudden as she took hold of his wrist again. "I want to kill him myself."

"Of course. I won't attack him without you." Shirou promised.

With that, everything that needed to be said had been said, and after a moment of awkward silence, in which they both weren't sure what to say, Shirou slowly turned around, preparing to leave again-

'PING'

Before his phone suddenly beeped, indicating he'd received a message.

"What was that?" Arcueid asked curiously, taking a step closer with an eagerness that showed she'd been rather reluctant to say goodbye for some reason.

"My phone." Shirou replied, taking the appliance out of his pocket and unlocking it. "I just received a text, from Ayako apparently."

"Who's Ayako?"

"…My girlfriend." Shirou hesitated to respond for a moment, but then decided to be honest with her. There were many Ayakos in Japan, so it wasn't much of a clue even if Arcueid might for some reason decide she wanted to discover his true identity.

"What's a text?"

"A text is an electronic message that is sent from one phone to another. Sort of like a letter, but electronic rather than on paper."

"A letter? What does your girlfriend write?"

Arcueid's curiosity truly had been sparked, as she asked question after question, and eventually, Shirou had to push her back a little to get some room before he could actually read Ayako's text.

And what he read was alarming.

"Odin's Beard." He swore, typing a hasty thank-you to Ayako before shutting his phone off again.

"What? What does it say?" Arcueid asked promptly, now even more curious.

"Apparently, there are three Dead Apostle Ancestors in Misaki Town at this moment, according to the Church." Shirou practically growled in response, wondering what kind of bad luck this was.

"Three?" Arcueid blinked once in surprise, placing a hand on her chin. "Oh my, that is quite a lot. That hasn't really happened since the French incident."

Though a bit surprised, she didn't seem at all worried, but as much as Shirou wanted to take comfort in that, he couldn't. Not in this situation.

"I know about Roa." He said, raising a single finger, before adding another. "And Vlov Arkhangel."

"Ah yes, the Knight. I noticed him a few days ago." Arcueid nodded, pursing her lips a bit. "He can be a little troublesome if you aren't careful."

"I have no idea who the third one could be though." To be frank, Shirou knew very little about the Ancestors in general, let alone their individual members. Caren had been a treasure trove of information before he left on this mission, but even she didn't know nearly everything. Hence, he had no clue which other Ancestors could realistically be present in the city.

"Let me check." Arcueid offered, before she closed her eyes again, just like when she'd been trying to help him before.

Since the efficiency of her method had already been proven, Shirou remained completely silent, not wanting to disturb her concentration.

"Oh, I see." Arcueid grinned after a few moments, opening her eyes again. "Yes, there's a little spider crawling around too, trying to stay out of sight."

"Spider?!" Now that was alarming, and Shirou seized up, gripping Mjolnir so hard his knuckles turned white. "You mean, ORT?!"

"No! I said a little spider! Little!" Arcueid bit back, her air of easy confidence cracking as her eyes went wide and her voice rose an octave or more. "That's a big spider! Big!"

"R-Right."

Shirou heaved a massive sigh of relief that it wasn't ORT who was stalking the streets of Misaki Town. That thing wasn't so much a proper enemy as it was a nightmarish bogeyman, absolutely impossible to defeat.

Any other Ancestor was preferable over that alien creature. Literally any one of them. Shirou might still not have a clue who the third Ancestor in the city could be, but for now, knowing that it wasn't ORT was enough.

"Our priority is Roa though." Arcueid insisted, throwing her hand to the side as if brushing the mysterious third Ancestor away. "I want him dead, more than any of the others, except maybe Altrouge. I really hate her. She isn't here though, so we need to focus on Roa."

"I understand." Shirou's only goal was to obtain the information that Arcueid apparently held, so if she wanted to focus on Roa above all else, he would go along with that.

Though he would have to deal with other Ancestors as well once he had the information, or perhaps even before if the opportunity presented itself. There was no way he could ignore them, not when they were likely killing numerous people to sustain themselves.

That wouldn't be heroic at all.


Ciel had just finished her first cursory round through Misaki Town when her internal radar and her Church-provided sensory equipment both started pinging, indicating that enemies were nearby. Enemies of the undead variety.

Since no senior Dead Apostle, let alone an Ancestor, would ever expose themselves so openly, Ciel quickly deduced it had to be mere thralls. The slaves of a Dead Apostle, freshly turned, that had no mind of their own and could only follow orders.

Zombies, essentially.

They were small fries, and vanquishing them would be nothing but a waste of her precious time, but even so, Ciel adjusted her course to intercept them.

They could be Roa's thralls after all, which meant that killing them would deprive her enemy of valuable nourishment.

She tracked down the thralls to one of those stereotypical dark alleys, the kind normally inhabited by drug dealers and rapists, and she carefully peered over the edge.

"_GGGYEEE!"

"GOOOEEEE!"

"HHHSSSSHHHAAAAA!"

In the alley, a large swarm of undead minions were skittering around, making all kinds of angry noises as they crawled over the ground and the walls like big, fat spiders who'd just caught a fly and were now trying to get closer. A disgusting horde that only existed to tear innocent people apart to provide their master with human blood.

These were not just regular thralls though. Rather than the normal zombies Ciel was used to, which looked like pale, often mutilated humans, it seemed as if these particular thralls had undergone some kind of half-baked transformation.

A few of them had grown extra arms from seemingly random places on their body, others had eight eyes placed haphazardly on their faces, and more than a few had mutated in such a way that their heads resembled spider-heads, up to and including the hook-like fangs that continuously made clicking noises.

It seemed her earlier spider-comparison had been rather apt then.

Ciel wasn't afraid of spiders, never had been, but even so, the sight of those thralls, the way in which their human parts seamlessly flowed into the spider-bits, made shivers go down her spine all the same.

"GYYYEEEE!"

Another screech sounded through the alley, like so many before it, but this particular screech actually caught Ciel's attention. Rather than sounding angry, this one sounded almost… afraid?

Then she saw it.

Right there, at the centre of the swirling swarm, stood a single man, clearly still alive. He was surrounded by the spider-like monsters, completely locked in, yet he made no move to flee or protect himself even as they closed in on him.

There were many things wrong about this scene, including but not limited to the strange behaviour of the thralls, the relaxed body-language of the man, and the fact that he had managed to make it this far down the alley without dying in the first place, but Ciel didn't think about any of that. Not when a life was at stake.

Her Black Keys were set between her fingers before she even realised it, and she drew her hands back to throw them, aiming for the ones closest to the man to give him a chance to escape, tensing her legs in preparation for the jump to the ground.

"GYYYYEEEAARRGGGHH?!"

But then she paused, her arms coming to a still.

"Huh?"

Because the thralls she'd been aiming for had been vanquished already.

One moment they'd almost been upon their poor prey, the next they were halfway down the alley, crumbling into dust.

It had been impossibly swift, easy to miss, but with her inhuman eyes, Ciel had just been able to see what had happened.

In a movement so quick and smooth that it almost made her jealous, the man had swept his left arm around in an arc, knocking back five of the thralls with such force that they were sent flying through the air, falling apart into dust before they hit the ground again.

It was a feat that left Ciel gaping for a moment, as she struggled to make sense of what she'd seen.

Had he…?

Had he just…?

No, that was impossible!

The thralls of Dead Apostles might have lost all their intelligence when they were turned, all their capacity for independent thought, but they had gained great power and durability in return. That was what made them so dangerous! They had the strength of ten men, the speed of a horse, and flesh and bones that were as hard as iron.

There was no way a mundane person could hope to beat even one of them in a straight fight, let alone five at once! To achieve such a feat, they would need a large-calibre machine gun or specifically attuned Mystical Tools or something like that, not just their fists!

But that was what had just happened. The man had in fact beaten five thralls in a single punch.

Which could only really mean one thing.

This man was no mundane person.

When several other thralls rushed forward and were vanquished by a flurry of punches as well, confirming that the man's feat wasn't just a fluke, Ciel knew for sure.

This man was a Magus.

The flames he then conjured up to burn several thralls to scorched ashes, flames that were hot enough to heat up the entire alley and dry out Ciel's lips, were just the icing on the cake at this point, as were the powerful gales of wind that sent undead bodies straight into walls.

The man was clearly a user of elemental magic, one of the oldest and most straightforward crafts in existence. It was a craft with many benefits, but also many weak points, and Ciel automatically took note of the man's skill, trying to work out a few ways to kill him swiftly should it become necessary.

The bursts of lightning he eventually started unleashing forced her to reevaluate those plans though. Lightning-users were troublesome, to put it mildly.

In any case, she felt secure in standing back for now, relaxing again now that she knew her help was unneeded.

"HHHHHSSSHAAAA!"

"GYYYY!"

Faced with imminent defeat, a sparse few of the thralls, who'd apparently retained more survival instincts than their fellows, tried to turn tail and run.

However, if the Magus' lightning didn't strike them down before they'd even started running, then Ciel's Black Keys made short work of them.

Frankly, the agent was happy she could at least do something to contribute, even if she half-suspected the Magus had let those thralls escape on purpose for exactly that reason.

When more of the thralls began to break off from the pack and run however, the Magus apparently decided that enough was enough.

He held up a hand, his palm aimed straight upwards to the sky, and Ciel, who had plenty of experience with Magi of various kinds, ducked slightly, crossing her arms before her face to protect her eyes.

A wise decision, for the blast of light that followed would have completely blinded her otherwise.

It was as if the sun itself had risen again in the alley, an outpouring of harsh, white light that illuminated every nook and cranny, washing over everything in sight like a tsunami.

It did not affect the ground, the walls and the objects in the alley, nor Ciel herself, but when the light touched the thralls, it burned them to ashes in the blink of an eye.

Inescapable and inevitable, the attack wiped out the legion of undead in its entirety, allowing none to get away.

When the light died down, the battle was over, and more than five dozen thralls would never plague Misaki Town again.

A great victory by any meaning of the word.

Ciel stared for a moment at the Magus, who lowered his hand again, looking none the worse for wear, and she felt tempted to get down and confront him, to demand he shared the Craft through which he'd copied the effect of the Church's greatest Holy Weapons.

But in the end, she did not. She knew that it would be futile, as Magi never shared their secrets with anyone for any reason. They'd kill themselves long before she could beat it out of them.

And thus, now that the threat had passed and she had no more business in the alley, Ciel shuffled backwards, hoping to make a clean get-away. The Magus had probably already noticed her, but with some luck, he'd be content to ignore her.

No such luck. The Magus immediately looked upwards, at her position, meeting her eyes with his own.

For a moment, neither of them moved.

Then the Magus lifted an arm and waved at her, smiling kindly as if she were an old friend.

"Tsk." With a displeased noise, Ciel made her way down from the rooftop to say hello, knowing it would be rude to just barge off now.

And if there was anything that she'd learned over her long career as Executor, it was that being rude when you didn't need to was very unwise.

She had plenty of enemies as it was. No need to make more.

"Good evening, Executor." The Magus greeted her once she stood before him, giving her a typical Japanese bow.

"Good evening, Magus." She replied, not bowing in return, as she wasn't willing to take her eyes off him for even a moment, rude or not.

Her stiff back didn't seem to be a problem though, as the Magus kept smiling kindly.

"Did I steal your prey?"

"What?" Ciel blinked in confusion, before she huffed once as she understood what he meant. "No, you did not. Unlike some of my colleagues, I do not care who kills the thralls."

It was well-known that some Executors could get angry when someone else butted in on their fights, but Ciel was not one of them. She valued efficiency above all else, and in the entire world, there was but one enemy she wanted to kill with her own two hands. All others were irrelevant.

"That is good to hear." The Magus seemed slightly relieved she wasn't one of those annoying score-keepers, wiping some imaginary sweat from his brow, almost prompting a sympathetic half-smile from Ciel in return.

But as amusing as he was, his presence here was still an anomaly.

In Ciel's experience, Magi who went around fighting Dead Apostles did not do so out of the goodness of their hearts. They were motivated not by altruism, but either by hate or by a desire to research the vampires for their own vile purposes.

The former was still acceptable, but the latter was an offence that warranted immediate execution.

"What are you doing here, Magus?" Ciel asked sharply, getting directly to the point.

"I was killing Undead." He replied easily, gesturing at the ashes around them. "And I expect that I will be killing them for a while longer, if that was your next question."

"Why?" She challenged him, her tone demanding he elaborated. "Magi generally don't bother with such tasks. You have your Enforcers for that."

"Who says I am not an Enforcer?"

"…" Ciel didn't even dignify that with a response. The young man was clearly no Enforcer. He wasn't the type at all, she'd seen that immediately, and his feeble attempt to convince her otherwise was as weak as it was futile.

"Alright, yes, I'm not an Enforcer." To his credit, the Magus wasted no more time on the lie, holding up his hands in surrender. "And I didn't come to Misaki-Town to fight Dead Apostles. I came here for information."

"Information?" That made Ciel narrow her eyes. "What kind of information?"

"Nothing related to the Burial Agency or to Dead Apostles, I assure you." He replied quickly, perhaps sensing her suspicion. "I need the information for a project of mine, a personal project."

"Why are you killing thralls then instead of searching for it?" Magi did not easily diverge from their main goals. They were very driven and extremely focused, for better or for worse. That one would just step out to kill Undead while they were on a mission of their own was extremely unlikely and thus suspicious.

"Well, I already found someone with the information I need, but they will only share it with me if I help them to defeat the Dead Apostles in this city. That's why I was killing Undead."

"I see." Ciel hummed, nodding once to herself. "And you have no other purpose here?"

"Aside from obtaining the information and killing Dead Apostles? No, I do not."

She held his gaze for a while, staring into his eyes, searching for a flinch or a twitch, anything that showed he was being less than honest, but he remained perfectly calm all the while.

Eventually, she let up, relaxing a bit.

She'd detected no signs of lying in his demeanour or expression, and his story sounded plausible enough. Magi were always after information after all, and they were willing to go to great lengths to obtain it. The informant he spoke of, the one who would only help him if he killed enough Dead Apostles, was likely to be Tohno Akiha, a woman who had ample reason to hire people to remove the Apostle-plague from her city and who was powerful enough to have information that this Magus might need.

All in all, he wasn't as suspicious as he'd first seemed, and there was no reason for her to take any action against him for now.

Still, there was something that needed to be said. A warning she felt obliged to give.

"It would be better if you gave up now." She told him in no uncertain terms. "There aren't just thralls and normal Dead Apostles in this city, but Dead Apostle Ancestors as well."

Like any Burial Agency operative, Ciel disliked Magi on principle. They were greedy, selfish, and uncaring for any life that wasn't their own. Normally, she wouldn't care in the slightest if one of them got themselves killed.

But she hated Dead Apostle Ancestors more.

Hence, she gave the Magus the warning, unwilling to see him be torn apart by one of the most horrible monstrosities in existence.

"Yes, I know that there are Ancestors here." But then he showed himself well aware of the threat already. "I heard there were three of them."

"You are well-informed." Ciel noted, unable to stop herself from frowning at the knowledge he displayed. Even the Church had only learned about the presence of an unknown third Ancestor in Misaki Town a few days ago, so it was alarming this Magus knew already. "Your spies serve you well."

"Thank you." The smile he gave her was a bit troubled for some reason, though it soon straightened out. "So, do I pass your test? May I continue my hunt?"

"…For now." She allowed, as the Magus had given her no reason to be overly suspicious anymore. "But we will be keeping an eye on you all the same."

"I wouldn't have it any other way." He grinned, making her huff in annoyance. Immediately after however, his countenance radically shifted, becoming much more professional and serious. "Miss Executor?"

"Y-Yes?" Startled by the sudden shift and the pressure that descended upon her, Ciel unconsciously straightened her back.

"What was going on with those Undead? They were nothing like the ones I have faced before."

A question.

The Magus had just asked her a question, and now Ciel had to decide whether to reply or to wave him off and leave.

…Ah well, she was already speaking with him at this point, and if he was going to be killing thralls, which would save her time and effort, she could indulge him just this once.

Also, it didn't look like he'd accept a refusal.

"I presume you speak of the spider-like properties?" Ciel thus asked, placing her hands on her sides when the Magus nodded. "It makes sense that you don't know. You are too young to have seen them before. Those thralls are from the spider-clan."

"Spider-clan?"

"A particular sub-group of Dead Apostles with a shared obsession for spiders, led by the so-called Spider Queen, who is rumoured to be the Twenty-Sixth Dead Apostle Ancestor."

"Rumoured to be?"

"We don't know for sure." Ciel admitted frankly. "All we have are hints and puzzle-pieces, but nothing conclusive. What we do know however is that Dead Apostles within this sub-group consider spiders to be the ultimate form of life and that they have altered themselves and their servants to resemble them as closely as possible."

"I see." The Magus nodded, glancing back at the scattered ashes with a slightly perturbed look. "But you said they haven't been seen in a while?"

"Not for a good few decades." Ciel confirmed, having studied every incident involving Dead Apostles that had happened since she'd joined the Burial Agency and thus being aware that the spider-clan hadn't really been seen since the purge of Nice. "That they popped up again here, at this point in time, is alarming. I will have to report this to my superiors."

"As will I."

"You have a superior?"

Ciel's surprise was well-warranted. To the best of her knowledge, Magi generally didn't really do hierarchy in the way that the Burial Agency did. They had their lords and their patrons of course, but most Magi retained a fierce sense of independence nevertheless. They would never refer to someone else as their superior, at least not in so many words.

In fact, the only ones who might use that word were Enforcers on duty, but they had already established that the young man was no Enforcer.

"Yes, I do have a superior I need to report back to." The Magus nodded however, defying Ciel's expectations. "She's quite a bossy one too. She already gave me my marching orders, but I also need to keep her informed of what is happening, or I might be in trouble when I get back."

"I see. Good luck with that." Accepting the fact that this particular Magus did have a superior, Ciel winced in sympathy. She'd dealt with plenty of bad superiors over her many years as operative, and she knew how vexing that could be.

Though she did wonder why the look in the Magus' eyes seemed so… fond, when he spoke of his superior.

"Thank you for answering my question, miss Executor." The Magus then took the word again, bowing once more. "I will keep you no longer. We both still have things to do."

"Quite." She agreed, though there was one final thing she wanted to discuss. "Be careful out there, and if you see an Ancestor, do not engage them on your own. Inform Tohno Akiha at once and she'll inform us in turn."

It was rather similar to what she'd said earlier, to be careful of Ancestors, but this time, it wasn't out of concern for his safety, but out of her own personal interest.

She didn't think he was mighty enough to defeat an Ancestor by himself, but on the off-chance that he was, she did not want him to face down Roa and destroy that Serpent's current body. It would set her back years, if not decades, on her hunt.

And if he turned out to be capable of killing Roa permanently after all, that would be even worse! She might not care if he killed thralls, or even if he killed some random Ancestor, but Roa was hers and hers alone.

"I can make no promises on that." The Magus shook his head however, a stubborn look entering his eyes. "If they are hurting people, I will have to stop them."

"What? Why?"

"Because that is what heroes do."

"…Ha?"

Was… Was that meant to be a joke?

"As someone who wishes to become a Hero of Justice, it is my duty to help people, no matter the threat." His expression remained completely sincere however as he explained himself further, though with a small lilt in his tone that suggested it was completely logical and she was the stupid one for being confused.

Ciel was left utterly stumped. She'd thought he seemed a lot saner and more reasonable than most of his ilk, but apparently, beneath that veneer of reason, he hid a mind that was just as twisted as any Magus, if in a different way.

And if there was anything she'd learned over the past decades, it was that she shouldn't waste her time on arguing with crazy people.

"…Sure." She thus agreed, inching backwards discreetly. "Stay safe."

"You too." The Magus smiled again.

With that, Ciel climbed back onto the nearest roof again, leaving the Magus on his own.

It had been an… interesting conversation, even if he turned out to be crazier than she'd expected. Frankly, she still felt a little curious about him, but since she had more to do tonight, she suppressed that curiosity.

She needed to continue her search for Roa before he escaped and before someone else got to him first.

Both Arcueid Brunestud and Vlov Arkhangel had already arrived in Misaki Town to hunt for the Serpent, and they were both sufficiently powerful that they were very credible rivals. If Ciel dropped the ball for even an instant, they'd snatch her opportunity for revenge away from her from under her nose.

In comparison, that Magus back there was a complete non-factor, even with his strange hero-complex.

In fact, she doubted she'd ever see him again.


Shirou watched the Executor leave, looking on as she ran up the nearest building to get to the roof, after which she quickly disappeared from sight, vanishing into the darkness.

That had been an… interesting encounter, in more ways than one, and Shirou remained in the alley for a moment longer, to process everything that had taken place.

It had actually been the first time he'd ever met an actual Executor in the flesh, as Caren was an Exorcist and he'd never met Kotomine in person, and he was glad to say that their conversation had gone a fair bit better than he'd expected.

She hadn't attacked him, nor had she threatened him with fire and brimstone, or even just treated him with disdain. She had been suspicious of him, yes, but not beyond what was reasonable for the situation, and even that suspicion had lessened when he had willingly answered her questions.

Admittedly though, he hadn't always been entirely honest with her while answering. He hadn't lied outright of course, not even by omission, but he had noticed that she had completely misinterpreted several of his statements, making all kinds of incorrect mental leaps, and he hadn't bothered to correct them. Quite frankly, it was convenient for him if she had the wrong idea about certain matters, so he'd done nothing to prevent the misunderstandings.

Still, he had shown her some goodwill by being open about his motives, and as she appeared to be the honourable sort, she had answered his questions in return afterwards, before even giving him a few well-meant warnings. Warnings he wasn't going to do anything with of course, but he appreciated the thought all the same.

He also appreciated that she never made any mention of the fact that he was a Magecraft-user, negative or otherwise. He'd always heard that agents of the Burial Agency tended to be massively judgemental of Magecraft and its users, but this particular agent had been pretty respectful all things considered.

Though that might at least in part be because she would be a giant hypocrite if she did judge him for using Magecraft.

He'd seen it the moment she entered his line of sight, with his eyes that saw what lay hidden in the past. Tracing her knives, her Black Keys, after that had only confirmed it.

Ciel, for that was her name right now, was not only a proficient and powerful user of Magecraft herself, more so than many Clocktower-Magi, but she was also a being that would not exist at all if it hadn't been for the Laws of Mystery.

Once upon a time, when Ciel was still in her mother's womb, a parasite had latched onto her nascent Soul like a tick. Upon birth, she had been in full control of the body, her own body, but the parasite had been present still, growing inside of her Soul like a malignant cancer.

Slowly but certainly, it had subsumed her personality, crushing the innocent young girl in its vile claws, and it had used her body to commit all sorts of unspeakable atrocities, right up until they'd been killed, leading to the creature's escape and Ciel's untimely death.

Except that wasn't true. It couldn't have led to Ciel's untimely death, as she clearly still lived. He had just been speaking to her.

It turned out that because of their intertwined Souls, the World, Gaia herself, had come to see Ciel and the parasite as one and the same being. Even now, decades after they had been forcibly separated, the World still judged them to be the same person, intrinsically linked to a degree never seen before.

Because of that, Ciel could not die as long as the parasite still lived. A single being couldn't be dead and alive at the same time after all, that was impossible. Hence, she had been resurrected after her death, and she was now immortal until the parasite was slain forever.

The current nature of her existence was hard to explain in words, but if he had to try, Shirou would say that she was a sort of real-life duplication error. A mistake made by Gaia herself, hated and feared by all who knew what she really was.

It was a terrible fate, and it had left Ciel with but one wish in life, one burning desire that kept her moving forward after everything she once knew had gone up in flames.

To have her revenge upon the parasite who had ruined her.

Upon Michael Roa Valdamjong.

The Serpent of Akasha.

The very creature whom Arcueid was also hunting.

It really was quite the story. Taiga sometimes told Shirou that he had a lot of 'protagonist-energy', but it seemed Ciel had at least as much of that, if not more. If a book existed about her life-story, he imagined a fair few people would be interested to read it.

Compared to that, his own life was almost boring. Certainly not worth reading about.

Shirou huffed in amusement at the thought of anyone wasting their time on following his exploits, but he quickly sobered up again, realising he had a bit of a problem.

Arcueid wanted to kill Roa, which was fine, but Ciel also wanted to kill Roa, and rightly so. They were in competition essentially, and since they were both beautiful and proud women, he could already tell that the chances of him being able to negotiate some kind of compromise between them were awfully slim.

That promised to become a very… explosive, situation. He should start preparing for it well in advance if he wanted Misaki Town to be alright in the end.

Whatever he did though, he absolutely shouldn't try to vanquish Roa by himself, that was certain. He could assist, but not deal the final blow. There were plenty of candidates who wanted, and deserved, a crack at that guy themselves, and who would be very wroth with him if he beat them to it. It would mean making a lot of enemies when he didn't have to.

In other words, Nasu's advice had been right on the money, as usual.

The Watcher had forbidden him from killing Roa himself, which was now explained, and from killing Vlov Arkhangel, which would probably become clear in time as well. Maybe he was the target of someone's revenge too.

However, now that Shirou thought about it, his alien friend hadn't said anything about the mysterious third Ancestor that the redhead had just learned about from Ayako and Ciel. Nasu hadn't mentioned them at all, not even a hint, and the redhead didn't believe for a second that was because he was unaware of their presence. There wasn't a creature on Earth that could hide that well. No, the Watcher had deliberately not mentioned them, because they were not important to the mission.

And since they were not important, Shirou was free to slay them himself.

That went onto his list of priorities immediately, and Shirou found himself strangely excited at the prospect of fighting an Ancestor, of seeing how he measured up against a Vampire Lord.

More specifically, against the Spider Queen, the master of the freakish Undead he had just slain and the head of something called 'the spider-clan'.

In Shirou's mind, the word 'spider-clan' immediately invoked images and half-forgotten memories of a group of youths dressing in spider-themed spandex-costumes who fought crime whenever they weren't in school, but it appeared that the concept held a far more sinister meaning in his own world.

The rumoured Twenty-Sixth Dead Apostle Ancestor and its entire powerbase.

Vampires obsessed with spiders.

It sounded like something out of a cheap horror story, barely worthy of a B-rank film, but to Shirou, it was stone-cold reality. The spider-Apostles were real, and they were here in Misaki Town right now.

To be frank, he was very much at a disadvantage here. He knew nothing about the Spider Queen or their followers, he had no back-up, and he was in unfamiliar territory. He had no idea whether the Spider Queen had allies nearby, whether she was at all working together with Roa or Arkhangel, and to top it all off, tonight was a full moon, the time when Dead Apostles were at their strongest.

It was bad, really quite bad, but strangely enough, that only made him more excited rather than less. The promise of a great fight was a thrilling prospect, and this promised to be a great fight indeed.

He hoped that was just Thor's influence shining through rather than a yet undiscovered facet of his own personality, but he was realistic enough to acknowledge it was likely both.

Ayako was going to get a kick out of this, that was certain.

Attempting to suppress his excitement for now, Shirou knelt down and scooped up a handful of the ashes of the thralls he'd just vanquished. He studied it closely, and carefully wafted the scent to his nose, before wrinkling it when the sharp, extremely bitter smell hit his senses full-on.

He nevertheless carefully memorised the scent, making sure to sear it into his mind, before he dropped the ash, dusted off his hands, and got back up.

Then he set out, following the smell to its origin, his way illuminated by the light of the full moon.


The central heating system in the Tohno-mansion, only recently installed by the very best plumbers with the very best equipment money could buy, was roaring at full capacity, heating many litres of water every second and sending it straight into the pipes, where the hot water could heat the mansion itself, banishing the cold of an early autumn night that was already creeping into the halls.

But despite all the effort, all the energy spent on the heating, there still remained a chill inside the mansion, in its halls and rooms and chambers, a chill that could not be removed with mere technology.

Tohno Akiha, head of the family and lady of the manor, shivered as said chill crawled its way up her spine, and she tightly grasped the arm-rests of her chair, wishing she could put a warm blanket over herself.

She couldn't though. She was currently holding a successive string of meetings with various family-members, and using a blanket to stay warm was exactly the childish kind of thing they'd mock her for, that they would use to undermine her.

It was inconvenient, not to mention unspeakably petty, but it was the reality of the situation. The Tohno-family was a shark-pool, a hellhole where the slightest indulgence was punished harshly, and Akiha would just have to adjust to it, like she'd done all her life.

She could have used her inborn abilities, her inhuman heritage, to create fire and heat instead, but the very idea of using her powers for such a mundane purpose had long since been beaten out of her. It didn't even occur to her.

As such, her only option, or at least the only practical option, was to get out of her chair and do some cardio-exercises to get warm again in the ten minutes or so before the next meeting would begin.

So that was what she did.

She'd only just started with her squats however when there was a knock on the door, indicating an unscheduled visitor had come to her office, and after sitting down again and schooling her expression, Akiha responded.

"Come in."

She had half a mind to refuse, as this unknown visitor had not scheduled an appointment in advance, but since today was a day of meetings anyway, she might as well indulge this visitor.

It better be important though, or they would feel her wrath.

"Thank you, milady."

"Oh!" The one who entered was not one of her annoying relatives however, but someone much more welcome, and Akiha's stone expression melted away to make place for a small, welcoming smile. "Doctor Arach!"

"Please, milady, how often do I have to tell you to call me auntie A?" The newcomer laughed, closing the door behind her, before she sauntered over towards the desk. "I mean, I worked hard for my doctorate, so some respect is nice and very much appreciated, but I have known you since you were a babe in swaddles. You need not stand on decorum with me."

"If I call you auntie, will you start calling me Akiha?" The young woman countered.

"Oh no, I couldn't possibly, milady."

"Then so be it, doctor Arach."

"Boo!" The older woman pouted, but her smile soon returned, accompanied by a twinkle of amusement in her eyes.

This woman was doctor Arach, an old friend of Akiha's deceased father, Tohno Makihisa. She had attended university with him, studying architecture, and the two had become fast friends.

Doctor Arach did know of Magecraft, but she was not a Magus herself. When Makihisa had gone back to his family to serve as head of the Tohno and lord of the manor, she had remained at university for a while, completing a doctorate in medical science as well, at record speed.

She was clearly a very bright woman with a promising future, and when she'd entered the job-market, Makihisa hadn't hesitated for a moment to hire her as family-doctor and one of his primary advisors. He'd even allowed her to assist in raising his children.

So when the good doctor said that she was like an aunt to Akiha, she wasn't lying.

After Makihisa had died unexpectedly, Akiha had kept her on, both as the family-doctor still and for some minor architectural work when necessary.

It was doctor Arach who had designed the new central heating system for instance, as well as a smattering of other bits and bobs around the manor, and she took care of every sickness and ailment in the family without ever needing outside assistance. She truly was worth her salary three times over.

She was a fine architect and an excellent doctor, and a close confidant of Akiha's on top of that, just like she'd been for Makihisa. That she had chosen to stay with the Tohno after the latter's death was a blessing, one that Akiha was appropriately grateful for.

However, there was one downside to the woman, one negative aspect of her character, that sometimes made it hard to get others to take her seriously.

Her complete and utter disregard for professional attire.

Her lack of makeup of any kind could easily be forgiven, especially since Akiha didn't wear any either, but her hair, her long, brown, beautiful hair, was an utter mess, as if it had never seen a brush before. On top of that, doctor's Arach's lab coat was definitely not up to professional standards, as it had a yellow-and-black checkerboard pattern on the inside and was definitely not made of the appropriate fire-resistant material. Below the lab coat, she wore an orange blouse, a black mini-skirt, black-and-orange tights, and black high heels, none of which looked fit for medical practice either.

To make matters worse, her blouse was never properly buttoned up. The top was always open, to expose either her bra or, like today, a significant part of her breasts.

Akiha wouldn't say she disapproved of the outfit on principle, as it was decently tasteful, if a little daring, but it was utterly unfit for any kind of professional setting, medical or otherwise. Had this been a proper hospital or a company's board meeting, the woman would have been thrown out at once.

But then, that was probably a large part of the reason why Doctor Arach had chosen to work for the Tohno-family when her grades and top-notch thesis could have easily secured her a place as chief doctor or head professor at several prestigious institutes. She was immensely attached to the outfit, to the point where Akiha had never seen her in something else.

In fact, it sometimes seemed as if she didn't have any other clothes at all. The only thing the doctor ever changed was whether she wore underwear or not.

At the moment, Akiha had already established that she'd foregone a bra, and when Doctor Arach walked around the desk and plopped herself down on it, boldly spreading her legs without a care in the world, she noticed that today was apparently a commando-day as well.

Idly, Akiha wondered how her father had dealt with this kind of behaviour, and if he'd ever been as flustered as she was now.

"I know you're short on time, milady, so I'll make this quick." Doctor's Arach's voice, as carefree and chipper as ever, gave the young woman something to focus on, and she gratefully accepted the distraction, looking up to meet her eyes again. "I finished my survey of the manor's East-wing. I have the results here, for you to peruse."

From somewhere inside of her lab coat, the doctor retrieved several pieces of crumpled paper, which she casually threw onto Akiha's desk.

"Thank you, doctor." Despite their crumpled appearance, those pieces of paper were sure to hold valuable information, so Akiha thanked her honorary aunt sincerely. "Did you encounter any difficulties while working?"

"Nah, it was alright." Doctor Arach shook her head, waving her hand as if brushing away any mention of possible difficulties. "Just measured the sizes of the hallways and rooms, mapped the corners and baseboards, and noted down the locations of the pipes, cables, and support beams. Easy peasy. The hardest part was avoiding your relatives."

"Ah." Akiha winced a bit, before making an apologetic gesture. "I hope they did not bother you too much?"

"I didn't let them." The doctor shrugged. "Still, I got to say it's becoming rather irritating to hear them speak to me like I'm younger than them when that's not true at all!"

"I think that would be most easily solved if you just told us your actual age."

"Hold it right there! It is not polite to inquire about a lady's age, milady, even if you are a lady yourself!" Doctor Arach scolded her lightly, huffing a bit. "Just know that I am older than your father and grant me the respect of not having to spell it out."

"As you wish." Akiha nodded, gracefully backing down. "I don't see what the fuss is about though. It's just a number."

"You can say that with a straight face because you are a practical woman." Doctor Arach pointed out. "I am quite vain however, so it's a sensitive point for me."

"Right." Knowing they wouldn't get anywhere if they continued the discussion, Akiha dropped the matter. They would just have to agree to disagree. "Thank you for your hard work, doctor. Was there anything else?"

"Yeah, there is." The frumpy-looking woman nodded, now pulling out a newspaper. "Apparently, there's been a wave of rashes, flu, and whatnots in the city's schools lately, and they're searching for medical personnel to help out. Mind if I go and lend a hand?"

"Of course not. You have my permission and my blessing." At the moment, no one in the Tohno-manor was sick or otherwise in need of medical assistance, so there was no reason the good doctor couldn't step out and help children in need. "I think it's wonderful you are willing to help them."

"…Don't mention it." Doctor Arach looked away slightly, suddenly looking a bit bashful, which prompted another smile from Akiha.

There was one thing that had to be said though.

"Please, do dress properly when you step out." She told her honorary aunt, in a voice that demanded obedience and accepted no protest, a voice she'd copied from her father. "You knew perfectly well what I mean."

"Yes, of course." Doctor Arach nodded, not even making a token protest, before reaching into a pocket of her lab coat and pulling out a pair of panties, which she promptly slipped on. Then, from another pocket, she took out a bra, before turning to Akiha with a sheepish expression. "Ah, could you give me a hand with this please, milady?"

"Again?" Akiha sighed, though she did rise at once to help her honorary aunt with the piece of clothing. "Shouldn't you have learned to put them on by yourself by now?"

"I'm sorry, I'm just not used to it." The doctor apologised in a whiny tone, hanging her head as she took off her lab coat and unbuttoned her blouse. "They didn't have clothes like this where I came from."

"They didn't have bras?" Akiha asked, her tone slightly sceptical.

"…It was a rather underdeveloped place, milady." The doctor's voice had turned rather cool suddenly, and despite the fact she had her back turned to Akiha, the young woman knew her eyes had become cold. "Underdeveloped and wretched. I am happy to be away from there."

"…Indeed." Realising she had stumbled upon a landmine, Akiha spoke no more, instead focusing on the bra, swiftly putting it on properly, somewhat restoring the doctor's decency. "There, done."

"Thanks a bunch!" Doctor Arach's bad mood had already passed, and the woman turned around to give Akiha a beaming smile and a thumbs-up. "Well then, I'm off. Good luck with your relatives, and don't let them drive you crazy."

"I won't." Akiha promised, giving a pained smile in return, knowing that her aunt wasn't exaggerating in the slightest. "Good luck with the children."

"While I would love to say that I do not need luck, that would be a total lie." The woman grinned, rubbing the back of her neck. "So thanks again. I'm going to need all the luck I can get."

With that, the whirlwind of a woman left Akiha's office again, and the girl shook her head with a smile. Doctor Arach was definitely a wild type of person, but she was a decent soul at heart, and Akiha wouldn't change her for the world.

Except the perverted part. That could be dialled down massively.

With a look on the clock, Akiha returned to her chair, taking up her proper positioning as the head of the family again. Her small break was almost over, and she had to get back to the complaints and petty power plays of her relatives.

Only three more hours though. Just three more hours of gritting her teeth and making do, and then…

Then her beloved brother would wake up from his well-deserved sleep again, and they could enjoy some quality breakfast-time together.

She could hardly wait.


Shirou had spent much of the night following the bitter scent of the spider-themed Apostles through Misaki Town, hoping to find their master.

On his way, he'd found and killed several more groups of spider-like Undead, but he hadn't found any indication that more powerful Dead Apostles of their kind were about, let alone anything even approaching the level of an Ancestor.

Still, he continued his search, and after walking for several miles throughout the entire city, going from the East to the West to the North and back again, he wasn't at all amused to find himself back where he'd started.

At the Tohno-manor.

Now, to find traces of Dead Apostles at the residence of the city's Second Owner should have been alarming, a sign that something wicked was afoot, but under the circumstances, Shirou wasn't too worried about it.

Even here at the Tohno-manor, the bitter scent was but a whiff on the wind, one that could easily be explained away as the residue of Undead that had stuck to some Tohno-family members after they'd stepped out to kill a few Thralls. It was so faint that he'd barely even noticed it when he visited the place the first time around, and though it was a little stronger now, it still wasn't nearly enough to be really concerned about.

Also, any scents notwithstanding, he couldn't imagine that a family as traditional as the Tohno would ever be willing to hide and shelter a Dead Apostle, let alone an Ancestor. Tohno Akiha would never allow that.

The mere thought was ludicrous even, preposterous, so the Tohno-manor was probably a dead end too, just like all his other leads so far.

At this point, Shirou reluctantly had to admit that the third Ancestor really knew what they were doing. They were hiding so well it was as if they weren't present in the city at all.

In fact, if it hadn't been for the Burial Agency's top-notch reputation and the groups of the spider-like Undead he'd fought throughout the night, he might have dismissed the rumours of a third Dead Apostle Ancestor as incorrect already. That was how little presence they had.

His earlier excitement had all but died down by now, and although he'd tried his best to suppress it before, Shirou almost missed it now that it was gone. Its absence certainly did nothing good for his motivation if nothing else.

Letting out a deep sigh, he decided to take a break, settling down on a rooftop for now, from where he could observe the Tohno-manor without being seen in turn.

The place might almost certainly be a dead end, but even so, it was the only clue he had at the moment, so he might as well spend his break on something remotely useful.

He remained there for close to an hour, but he saw nothing of interest, save for the fact that Tohno Shiki returned home at three in the morning, and quite flustered at that, his reddened cheeks clearly visible to Shirou's eyes.

Interesting. The redhead hadn't had him down as the type that would have a secret midnight-rendezvous, but apparently, he'd underestimated his fellow teen.

Nothing else happened however, and after a while, Shirou was ready to call it a day. He had more places to search, more Ancestors to track down, so he couldn't spend all of his time on the mysterious third. As galling as it was, he'd have to admit defeat for now.

He'd better get back to his hunt for Roa, or Arcueid was never going to tell him what he wanted to know.

And who knew? Maybe he'd stumble upon a clue by accident at some point if he focused on something else.

With a reluctant sigh, Shirou prepared to leave the rooftop again, turning his back on the Tohno-manor.

But then a scent came in on the wind…

-And his muscles locked in place.

Ash.

Ash and frost.

Overbearing and overpowering, with a sharp tang of blood underneath.

A Dead Apostle, unmistakably, and not just a mere thrall, but a proper, powerful one.

An Ancestor?!

Shirou had never actually seen a real Ancestor before, or smelled one for that matter, so he couldn't be certain, but since the intensity of the smell was second only to Arcueid's, he felt secure in drawing a preliminary conclusion.

His heart rate nearly doubled on the spot, his head cleared of all unnecessary thoughts, and Mjolnir appeared in his hand by itself.

The next moment, Shirou was in the air, having launched himself from the rooftop at blistering speed.

He couldn't yet see the possible Ancestor, but the scent was easy to follow, especially since it was steadily coming closer.

Barely ten seconds later, Shirou came down in a street nearby the Tohno-manor, right in front of the Dead Apostle, blocking its way.

"Hm?"

Its reaction to Shirou's sudden descent from the sky was rather mild, a mere hum of interest and slight curiosity. A composed response, which perfectly fit with its appearance.

It was a man, or at least it looked like one, with a noble bearing.

Fairly tall and quite handsome, with white hair and whiter skin, red eyes, and an outfit befitting of a medieval courtier, he looked like an actor practising for a role, or perhaps an entertainer returning home after a busy night.

But the scent was unmistakable, even more so now that Shirou was so close.

This was a Dead Apostle Ancestor.

In the flesh.

It wasn't Roa, he seemed too dignified and stately to be him.

It wasn't the third Ancestor either. Not enough spider-like properties.

That left only one possibility.

"Vlov Arkhangel?"

"Yes." The dapper-looking gentleman casually confirmed, as if being the Nineteenth Dead Apostle Ancestor was no big deal, cocking his head to the side with a curious look. "With whom do I have the pleasure- Ho!?"

That was as far as he came before he had to throw himself at the pavement, Mjolnir sailing past exactly where his head had just been.

He recovered from the surprise attack with blinding speed however, and his body hadn't even hit the ground before he was lunging at Shirou with a sword made of ice.

It was a masterful lunge, one worthy of a true knight, but it didn't connect.

Monohoshi Zao deflected it at the very last moment, the long Nodachi redirecting the force to the side.

Mjolnir then came back, and Shirou swung it at the Ancestor, who wisely jumped back to avoid it, though the redhead couldn't say whether that was because it was proper fighting-form or because the Ancestor knew Mjolnir was a serious threat to it.

Hopefully the former.

Vlov Arkhangel then moved a hand, and a bonfire erupted between them, a fire that burned at three thousand degrees or more, coloured as red as fresh blood.

Another movement of his hand sent the bonfire barrelling towards Shirou like a tsunami, washing over everything in its way.

The redhead couldn't help but notice though that although the flames were searing hot, the stone beneath them remained untouched and pristine.

It showed a frightening amount of control on the vampire's part, and for a moment, Shirou wondered how that was possible without long, complicated spells and Arias to shape the Magic into the desired form.

But then he remembered about Idea Blood, the metaphorical Crown of an Ancestor, and he realised that Arkhangel wasn't using spells at all, but rather his Authority.

An Authority over what seemed to be fire.

Shirou quickly doused the bonfire with a massive gale of ice-cold wind, using his own Authority to crush Arkhangel's, before firing a bolt of lightning at his foe.

A bolt that was blocked by a wall of ice appearing out of nowhere, generated without a single word, just like the flames before it.

It was his Authority again!

For a moment, Shirou was dumbstruck.

How could an Authority over fire also control ice?!

It couldn't!

Unless…

Unless Arkhangel's Authority wasn't over fire, but rather heat.

Yes, that made sense. That would allow him to wield both ice and fire simultaneously, either by adding heat to something or by taking it away.

A powerful ability, but not insurmountable.

Shirou fired another bolt of lightning at his foe, and this time, his Authority overwhelmed the Ancestor's, smashing the wall of ice to smithereens.

"What?!"

Arkhangel's eyes widened at the feat, before his eyes narrowed again and three gigantic orbs of searing flame sprouted into existence around him.

They contained far more Authority than before, likely enough to contend with other Ancestors, and Shirou understood he had now been designated a credible enemy rather than a mere annoyance.

Far from being arrogant and refusing to take a mere human seriously, like most of his kind would have, Arkhangel quickly adapted to the situation, bringing to bear his full might. He wasn't taking any chances, and he went straight for his big guns.

It was unexpectedly practical for an Ancestor, and rather inconvenient for Shirou.

Doubly so because they were standing in the middle of a residential part of town, full of innocent people!

Upon remembering where they were, Shirou mentally kicked himself for picking a fight here without considering the consequences. There was no way he could keep the battle contained, not when an Ancestor was involved!

He would have to do something radical, quickly, before anyone got hurt.

…He had an idea.

Dropping both Monohoshi Zao and Mjolnir without warning, Shirou bull rushed a very surprised Arkhangel, tackling him around the middle, like one of those rugby-players in Ayako's programmes.

"You impudent-!"

Even an Ancestor couldn't remain standing when a Demigod slammed into them, and Arkhangel lost his footing, looking outraged at being touched so suddenly, before he hissed in surprise when Shirou suddenly rose into the air, taking him along for the ride.

Within a fraction of a second, they rose above even the tallest buildings in town, far away from any civilians, with Shirou holding the Ancestor tightly around the waist.

Arkhangel didn't just passively accept his forced transportation however, and the redhead gritted his teeth when an icy dagger plunged into his back. The burst of flames that enveloped them next was more soothing that painful though. Fire had long since ceased to be a problem to him.

Flying as fast as he could towards the nearest abandoned area, the decrepit park where he'd first met Arcueid, Shirou was in the air for no more than ten seconds before he plunged down again, dropping out of the sky like a stone, making sure to hold the Ancestor beneath him.

They came down like a meteor, with an almighty crash, and Shirou grinned when he felt how vampire bones were crushed under him.

Powerful he may be, Arkhangel was clearly not very durable.

"Enough, wretch!"

But then the Ancestor exploded like a bomb, literally, throwing Shirou away and freeing the vile creature from his grasp.

Shirou's wounds healed in the blink of an eye though, both the scrapes from the explosion and the knife-wound from before, and he landed on his feet, none the worse for wear, with Mjolnir arriving a moment later, having followed them to the park.

Unfortunately, his opponent healed just as quickly, as within mere seconds, the burned-out and crushed corpse had reverted to the dapper gentleman from before, though he now held a straight sword in his hand and a vexed look in his eyes.

"Who are you?!" Vlov Arkhangel demanded, with a sneer that even Gilgamesh would have considered just shy of decent. "What kind of a man attacks his opponent without even announcing the start of a duel?!"

Shirou didn't reply. He had no intention of revealing anything to this creature, so all he did was materialise his armour and brandish Mjolnir again.

"We need not be adversaries." Seeing that his outrage wasn't garnering a reaction, Arkhangel tried a different approach, adopting a reasonable tone as he lowered his sword. "I am here only to kill the vile abomination known as Michael Roa Valdamjong. I have no quarrel with you, Magus. Kindly stay out of my way."

So Arkhangel was after Roa too. Shirou wished he could say he was surprised, but he wasn't. Not anymore. That Serpent seemed to make enemies wherever he went.

Unlike Ciel and Arcueid however, Arkhangel was not someone he could just allow to leave unscathed.

"How many people have you killed since entering Misaki Town?" Shirou demanded, smelling all the fresh blood that the Ancestor had recently consumed.

"Hm?"

"How many people? It is not a difficult question."

"I did not keep count." Arkhangel admitted casually, shrugging his shoulders. "It costs too much time and effort to keep track of the cattle- ARGH!?"

At the word 'cattle', Shirou knew there was no more use in talking, and he fired another lightning bolt at the monster. This time, Arkhangel wasn't able to create a wall in time, only managing to raise his sword.

A thin sheet of ice was not going to succeed where a mighty wall had failed however, and the lightning bolt shattered the weapon and struck the Vampire Lord's shoulder, practically blasting his arm off.

It healed fast though, and Arkhangel reacted even faster, sending another wave of flames at Shirou, far hotter than the flames before.

Though still not hot enough to harm Shirou, especially not in armour.

"Very well!" Arkhangel thundered. "I accept this duel! Your head will roll!"

In response, Shirou held up Mjolnir in one hand and Monohoshi Zao, his best blade yet, in the other.

And on the inside, he readied his secret weapon, the tool that had proven itself invaluable in the battle against Dead Apostles numerous times before.

The Cleansing Power.

The power that destroyed all that Shirou considered unnatural, and thus was anathema to the vile bloodsuckers.

With both parties fully prepared, the battle began.


A decent place to end the chapter, methinks.

A lot happens in this chapter, Shirou meets a lot of people, and it ends in him facing down his first Ancestor. Will he win? You'll see next time.

Since I only gave myself four chapters, we're going through this at a decent pace. Shirou meets Arcueid, Ciel, and Vlov in this chapter and is already fighting the latter. Now let's see if I can keep up this pace.

The new Tsukihime remake also has a lot more rules and information on Dead Apostles and on Ancestors, and I included a part of the new info through Caren and Ayako's POV. Mainly on the Idea Blood.

Don't expect me to use that too much though. There needs to be creative space as well.

Shirou is now tasked with hunting down Roa, lest Arcueid doesn't tell him what he wants to know, but that suits him just fine. Hunting monsters is what a hero does after all. Ciel doesn't mind either, nor do any of the other factions. Everyone hates Apostles after all, even Apostles.

I also included a scene with Akiha and doctor Arach, both rather important characters of Tsukihime that I will need in the future. No Noel yet though, I'll have to see about that.

That's just about everything I wanted to say. Expect the next chapter much, much sooner, as it's already finished. Only needs a touch-up from the betas and then it's done.

C Ya, from Ted.