A Scuffle in the Park

In the most abandoned and derelict park of Misaki Town, a great battle was taking place between two inhuman entities.

It was a battle that shook the sky and made the Earth tremble from its intensity. One that could determine the very fate of the world, depending on its conclusion.

However, despite the magnitude of the event, the inhabitants of Misaki Town noticed none of it. Through Bounded Fields and Runic Wards, all sounds and sensations were confined to the battlefield, to a point where even the agents of the Burial Agency remained unaware of the great showdown taking place in their vicinity.

And so, in the middle of the park, Demigod and monster continued to fight undisturbed, focused only on each other and themselves.

"Have at thee!"




A sword made of ice flashed in the light of the full moon as it swung, before it shattered when it made contact with a Divine hammer.

A burst of fire followed, aiming to burn away all in its path, but it was smothered by a powerful gust of wind.

A dozen knives, also made of ice, were thrown next, in a beautiful, intricate pattern that allowed none to escape, but they were all dodged or deflected.

Vlov Arkhangel, the Nineteenth Dead Apostle Ancestor, launched attack after attack, utilising his superior physical abilities and his Mystical Power with great efficiency and skill, but although he successfully kept Shirou on the backfoot, he was unable to actually land a hit.

Arkhangel's blows were lethal, his spells were potent, and he truly showed why he was considered one of the most dangerous creatures on Earth, but Shirou's extraordinary reflexes, immense speed, and borrowed skill from Monohoshi Zao had seen to it that he remained unharmed so far.

He hadn't been able to counterattack yet, too busy dodging and deflecting the attacks coming his way, but as long as he avoided injury, he could wait patiently for an opening.

Sooner or later, one would present itself. It always did.

"Knave!" Arkhangel didn't seem to appreciate Shirou's chosen tactic though. He roared angrily as he stepped in for a lunge, forcing Shirou backwards again, looking more enraged with every failed attempt to hit the redhead. "Is this all you have?! Stop cowering and fight fairly, dog! Where is your honour?!"

It was certainly strange for a Dead Apostle Ancestor to shout about honour, which was almost exclusively a human sentiment, but then, Shirou had learned over the past few minutes that Arkhangel was a very strange individual all around.

The longer the battle continued, the more the Ancestor seemed to lean into old knight-stereotypes. At the start, he'd seemed a bit old-fashioned in his speech and demeanour, like most Clocktower-lords, but now, he was shouting all kinds of ancient insults in Old-English and Russian, swinging his blade in highly exaggerated motions that could have come straight from a low budget medieval documentary.

Less like an actual knight and more like a child's idea of one.

At first, Shirou had wondered if that was perhaps part of Arkhangel's powers, like some kind of Geass that required him to act like a stereotypical knight in order to gain strength. It certainly wouldn't be the weirdest ability he had ever heard of.

After some careful observation however, he now knew that there was no rhyme and reason to it, no underlying cause for the strange behaviour.

Arkhangel was just as mad as a hatter.

"Curse your pox-ridden mother!" Arkhangel fumed when Shirou deflected yet another strike with Monohoshi Zao while taking a step back again. "Did she raise a craven?! Were you weaned off her tit too late?!"

"…" The redhead didn't reply to this insult either. Talking in battle was a sin after all, and he was frankly puzzled that Arkhangel didn't seem to understand that.

Though his behaviour was weird, his skills were the real deal, so it was odd that he made such a basic mistake as to waste time and energy on something as useless as trash talk.

Especially since it was clear Shirou wasn't going to react anyway.

"You won't even step up to defend your own mother?!" Shirou's continued silence seemed to anger Arkhangel more than any insult ever could however. He hadn't known that Apostles could turn red in rage, but apparently, Ancestors at least could, judging by the flush that appeared on Arkhangel's cheeks. "You pest! Come here, now!"

But Shirou didn't come. He remained at a distance, still not acknowledging anything the Ancestor said.

"Say something already!"

Shirou frowned at the order, nonsensical as it was, but in the end, he decided to reply, half-hoping it might convince the Vampire Lord to shut up already.

"Words are wind in battle."

One of the quintessential lessons his father had taught him.

"…" For a moment, the Ancestor froze, gaping at Shirou with a baffled expression.

Then all the anger came rushing back in.

"CUUUUURRRRR!" With a bone-chilling roar, angrier than ever, the Vampire Lord erupted in wrathful flames.

Shirou had known that people could figuratively explode in anger, he had even seen it happen several times, but this was the first time he ever saw someone literally explode in rage.

Apparently, his carefully chosen reply hadn't so much defused the situation as they had angered the bloodsucker beyond words.

With a wordless battle cry, Arkhangel threw himself at Shirou, dropping his sword in favour of revealing his fiery claws, aiming to shred the teen to smouldering ribbons with his bare hands.

It was an intimidating attack, one that would instil terror in anyone on the receiving end, but it was also so mind-bogglingly stupid that Shirou honestly wondered whether the Ancestor had taken leave of his senses.

For this was exactly the opening that he had been looking for.

Without his sword and his spells, Arkhangel's range was drastically reduced, giving Shirou half a second in which he could reach the vampire with his nodachi but the vampire couldn't reach him.

Perfect for dealing maximum damage.

With a silver flash, Monohoshi Zao severed the claws in a downwards strike, pulling Shirou along as it joyously threw itself at the enemy, before, in a motion so smooth even the redhead couldn't quite follow it, it reversed its course and cut off Arkhangel's hands as well.

The Vampire Lord didn't even have time to be surprised at his literal disarming before Mjolnir, held in Shirou's other hand, came swinging in from the other side, hitting the bloodsucker's head full on and obliterating it to tiny chunks, while sending the rest of the body flying off like a golf ball.

A perfect one-two from the redhead, only slightly marred by the fact that Shirou had not been in full control.

"Ah?!" He stumbled, slightly off-balance from the blow, before he frowned at his weapons after regaining his balance. The attacks, while planned, had been far smoother than he'd intended, far swifter too, hinting at the fact that he'd had some help, and Shirou knew perfectly well where that help had come from.

Really, sometimes, it was as if his weapons wielded him rather than the other way around, and he had to say it was a rather unpleasant feeling.

Though he couldn't argue with the results.

Locking his gaze on Arkhangel's tumbling remains, he held up Mjolnir and fired a blast of the Cleansing Power at the monster, the harsh white light washing over everything in its path, eager to destroy the unnatural creature.

But Arkhangel was not so easily beaten.

Even without his eyes, nose, or ears, the Vampire Lord could sense the lethal attack coming at him, and with a quick twist of his body, he spun out of the Cleansing Power's way, profiting off the fact it was only a straight beam-attack, easily avoided.

He landed on his feet, only stumbling slightly, before he fled as fast as he could.

It was almost comical, seeing a headless body run away like that, like something straight out of Leysritt's American cartoons, but Shirou did not laugh.

This was not a slapstick cartoon villain whose worst crime was imprisoning the platypus hero for a few minutes, nor was it a highly ineffective cat trying to catch a mouse. This was a monster, an abomination that had slaughtered thousands and would slaughter thousands more if he managed to escape.

He could not let him get away alive.

He fired another beam of the Cleansing Power, and then another, but to no avail. Arkhangel kept avoiding them, showing the sheer resilience that Ancestors possessed by continuing the battle even with his head destroyed.

It was a painful reminder that to Mystical creatures, the head was far from the most important part of the body. Unlike mortals, they weren't dependent on their brain, and they could easily go without it for a while, regrowing it later if needed.

No, Arkhangel's vital point was definitely not the head.

It was the heart.

In the Moonlit World, the heart was the very centre of someone's being. It was the most important organ of them all. It held the greatest significance in Magecraft and to many Magical Creatures, it was their only weak point.

So too was it for Dead Apostles.

By striking Arkhangel's head instead of his chest, Shirou had wasted a golden opportunity, which was twice as frustrating since he had known all along that he should have targeted the heart for maximum damage.

But for some reason, the head had just seemed like a more logical target, and both his arm and Mjolnir had moved without further thought.

Now he was stuck fighting a headless body, trying to finish the botched job without much success.

Shirou took off in pursuit, chasing the vampire across the park while still firing off beams and lightning bolts, though with no more luck than before.

The Ancestor's movements were too quick and nimble, and the distance between them was too great.

Their roles had been reversed. Now, it was Shirou who was fruitlessly chasing Arkhangel, launching attack after attack, only to grit his teeth every time those attacks were dodged or avoided.

On top of that, the Vampire Lord's head was steadily regenerating, undoing Shirou's only success so far.

Shirou did notice though that the healing process went far slower than before. When he'd blown himself up earlier, to get Shirou off of him, Arkhangel had healed fully after a mere moment, but now, it took him many precious seconds to even just get started on the neck.

It showed just how much more powerful and effective a Divine weapon like Mjolnir was when compared to mere Magic. The sheer conceptual weight behind the hammer ensured that the wounds it caused were far harder to heal and dealt far more spiritual damage than any mortal weapon or spell. Such was the power of the gods, one of the reasons they'd been so feared in their day.

In fact, the only reason that first blow hadn't outright annihilated Arkhangel, regardless of where it landed, was because Shirou was still too weak, too human, to properly wield that conceptual weight.

In the hands of Thor, even a glancing blow from Mjolnir would have obliterated the Ancestor on the spot.

But Shirou was not Thor, so Arkhangel yet lived.

A curse almost escaped the redhead's lips when the Ancestor, now almost fully regenerated, ducked below a stream of fire and widened the distance between them even more. Time was running out, and soon, Arkhangel would be back at full strength if Shirou did not think of something fast.

It was hard to think under such pressure though, and the redhead devised and discarded several unrealistic plans in mere moments, before he was hit by a flash of inspiration.

Rather than blindly chasing after the vampire and throwing ineffective attacks its way, he should take a page from his father's book.

He should set a trap.

Easier said than done of course, but Shirou had a good idea as to how to go about it.

He continued firing off lightning bolts, so not to rouse suspicion, but rather than just running after the vampire at random, he adjusted his course slightly, forcing Arkhangel to change his accordingly. They swerved a little to the left, and then a little more, and a little more, again and again.

Soon, they were running in a rough circle, with a diameter of about fifty metres. Just large enough that the headless body didn't notice it and just small enough that Shirou's plan could work.

He then dismissed Monohoshi Zao for now, freeing up his left hand, which he then used to draw Runes at lightning speed. Runes which he embedded into the earth beneath him, spreading them out across as large an area as possible.

On their own, each of these relatively simple Runes wouldn't do much.

Together however, they were a potent weapon.

Every second, the redhead created at least five more Runes, placing them on the circle's circumference, slowly creating an improvised Magic Circle.

It wasn't perfect, far from it even, but it was enough for now.

When he had enough Runes primed for his purpose, all of them as of yet inactivated and thus largely undetectable, Shirou squeezed a bit of extra speed out of his legs, suddenly veering to the right.

Predictably, this caused Arkhangel to turn even more to the left, in an effort to avoid him.

Straight into the centre of the Magic Circle that the redhead had prepared just now.

Shirou promptly activated the trap, sending a burst of power through the Runes, and the Magic Circle lit up with bluish green light, the effects quickly taking shape.

While making the Magic Circle, the redhead could have chosen to use Magic of the offensive kind. He could have doused the area in hellfire for instance, or generated a tornado of slicing winds, or brought down the mother of all lightning bolts.

It wasn't any of that.

Hellfire, tornados, and lightning would have wounded Arkhangel, definitely, but the Ancestor would just as definitely have recovered afterwards, likely in mere moments. There was no guarantee that even his strongest attack would permanently kill the Vampire Lord. Not with how resilient he'd already proven to be.

To deal permanent damage, Shirou needed to hit Arkhangel's heart, his most vulnerable place, with Mjolnir, the redhead's most powerful weapon, preferably while the weapon was infused with the Cleansing Power.

And that meant he needed to lock the monster in place long enough to aim and swing.

Hence, the Runes. All of them variants of Isaz, the Rune of Ice and Standstill, with a single instance of Tiwaz, the Rune of the skygod Tyr, whose domain included air.

And so the Magic Circle didn't unleash a devastating attack, but instead froze the air within its borders in place, from the ground to about a metre up.

Every molecule in the affected area stilled, temporarily escaping the hold of the laws of physics, thereby locking Arkhangel's legs in place.

If the air did not move, flesh could not move either, undead or not, and so, the Ancestor was completely trapped.

A perfect opportunity.

Shirou hadn't even waited to confirm the trap's success before he'd launched himself into the air, flying over the affected area to escape the effects, and he swooped down at Arkhangel, who could no longer dodge.

Within a fraction of a second, he was almost within range, holding Mjolnir at the ready, the hammer glowing white from the sheer amount of Cleansing Power running through it.

The Vampire Lord was there, paralysed from the waist down and helpless, scrambling to escape without avail. This was a chance he was never going to get again, and he absolutely could not waste it.

By now, most of the head had regenerated, from the chin and the jaws to the ears and nose. Only the hair and the eyes were still partially missing.

Arkhangel had almost recovered.

Just in time to be obliterated again.

Time itself slowed down to a crawl as Shirou approached, and he saw, with perfect clarity, every single movement either of them made.

He felt Mjolnir's comforting weight in his hands, sensed the impulses travelling across his nerves to his muscles, and relished the familiar thrum of power in his bones.

He saw how Arkhangel tensed up in dread, observed the panicked twitches in his arms, and took in a deep breath in anticipation when the Ancestor turned his upper body towards him.

They locked eyes, as the Vampire Lord had successfully managed to regenerate them in the fraction of a second he had left before the blow landed, and Shirou gritted his teeth, anticipating a pitiable look of fear in those eyes.

Only for his stomach to drop when he saw not fear…

-But calculating indifference, followed by confident satisfaction.

And the redhead knew he had messed up.

Quick as a viper, Arkhangel's left hand shot upward, grabbing Shirou's wrist just before he could bring Mjolnir down, effectively neutralising the blow.

Had he tried to grab Mjolnir itself, he would have lost the arm for the trouble, so instead, he targeted Shirou's body directly, with success.

"No-! Ghk?!"

The redhead didn't even have time to regret his mistake before the Ancestor's other hand slammed against his chest in an open-palm blow, cracking his ribs and nearly collapsing his lungs.


Then, the Ancestor pulled on Shirou's arm, turned halfway around, and threw the redhead over his shoulder, slamming him into the ground hard enough to fracture his spine and drive all air out of his already battered lungs.

Vaguely, in a far-off corner of his mind, Shirou couldn't help but be impressed as well as horrified by the swiftness and alacrity of Arkhangel's counterattacks, and both his awe and his horror only increased tenfold when he felt how his Magic Resistance, his ability to cancel or weaken all Mystical attacks against his person, far outstripping that of the Ancestor, smashed his own Magic Circle to pieces as he came down.

The Runes immediately lost all potency, and the air molecules started moving again.

Just like that, by using his brain and a masterful shoulder-throw, Arkhangel had managed not only to get back the upper hand, but also to free himself.

Using Shirou's body as a tool.

It left the redhead absolutely gobsmacked, his brain spluttering and glitching as it tried to catch up.

How could this have happened?! The Ancestor had shown no hint of such raw intelligence before! How could he suddenly be that smart?!

Shirou was thrown in more ways than one, and then Arkhangel made it worse, by lifting his boot and slamming it down on the redhead's face.

His nose shattered, his lips split, and his skull probably fractured in multiple places as well.


Shirou tried to throw up his right arm, to swing Mjolnir at his enemy, as much to chase him away now as to harm him, but he didn't get further than a few centimetres before Arkhangel created a new sword and stabbed it into his wrist in the same motion, pinning his arm to the ground.


Then the boot slammed down again.


His other arm was pinned too.


And again the boot came down.


Durable though he may be, Shirou was almost unable to withstand the repeated blows, dark spots dancing before his eyes as the Ancestor kept stomping on his head. His strength was truly tremendous, and Shirou's bones creaked under the sustained assault.

His limbs felt heavy, as if weighted down.

His mind was clouded, darkness creeping in at the edges of his vision.

His head was spinning, and he almost missed how Arkhangel nodded in satisfaction, before he created a dagger, aiming to stab it into Shirou's heart to finish the job.

As if it was no big deal.

That could not stand!

The idea of being killed as an afterthought, of dying here and letting this creature escape to kill thousands more, instantly cleared Shirou's mind.

His confusion disappeared, and was replaced a white-hot rage that pushed everything else to the side.

The swords pinning him in place shattered.

His wounds healed.

And his eyes turned blue.


Accompanied by a deafening clap of thunder, loud enough to shake the windows and give heart-attacks to all pets in the city, a gigantic bolt of lightning descended from the heavens, falling down like the Hammer of God.

Right upon the two combatants.


Arkhangel was slammed against the ground like a mountain had come down on him. His veins exploded from how quickly his blood heated up, and his flesh was seared right of the bone.

The attack had been completely unexpected, utterly out of nowhere, and the Ancestor flailed in confusion, groaning in pain as he healed, before his eyes widened in shock when he no longer saw Shirou beneath him.

Instead, the redhead stood across from him, none the worse for wear.

He was completely healthy, not even a trace of blood left from his earlier injuries, with arcs of lightning crackling across his body. As precarious as the situation had been a few seconds before, he was now back in the fight, ready for round two.

But rather than take advantage of Arkhangel's confusion, Shirou remained at a distance, warily studying the Ancestor as he recovered from the immense blow he'd just been dealt.

He'd made a very lucky escape just now, but the past few moments were a very clear warning nonetheless not to underestimate Arkhangel if he knew what was good for him. Though the Vampire Lord might seem like a lunatic with delusions of grandeur, he was immensely powerful still, and more than worthy of his rank of Dead Apostle Ancestor.

As adept as Shirou was at killing Dead Apostles, Arkhangel was a different beast entirely. That was crystal clear now.

So when he approached the healing Vampire Lord again, it was with the appropriate caution, and he took the time to assess the situation first.

He wasn't the only one. Arkhangel too kept his distance for now, peering right back at Shirou with a similarly analytical gaze.

He had been spooked every bit as badly as the redhead by their short and furious exchange. He'd allowed his rage and insanity to control him during the battle, believing that he didn't need anything else to win, and as a result, he'd nearly died, twice.

So he kept a far tighter lid on his emotions, breathing in deep to still the rampant noises in his brain, also taking a moment to observe before he acted.

With both of them now fully healed, it seemed as if the past few minutes had been nothing but a dream. If it hadn't been for the damaged surroundings and the residual traces of Magical Energy, it really could have been.

Even Arkangel's clothes seemed to have regenerated with him, leaving him just as pristine as before, for some nebulous reason.

Perhaps because fighting naked wasn't knightly?

In any case, for the first few moments, there was silence.

Before Arkhangel broke it first.

"I am sorry."


An apology?

Shirou blinked in surprise, wondering what on Earth the vampire was referring to, but Arkhangel continued unprompted.

"I abandoned my knightly demeanour during our battle. I gave in to my rage, believing it to be sufficient to defeat you, when it evidently was not." He explained, his lips tightening in shame. "I underestimated you, and in doing so, I shamed us both. It shall not happen again. You have my word it shall not."

"…Right." Shirou had no clue what the proper response could be to such a declaration, so he didn't even try.

"This time, I shall kill you most chivalrously and without fail." Arkhangel proclaimed, brandishing his sword, holding it up above his right shoulder, pointing downwards. "Prepare yourself. This time, I won't be so easy to defeat."

In response, Shirou lifted Mjolnir, holding it before him, aimed slightly upwards.

For a single heartbeat, neither of them moved.

Then Arkhangel swung his sword.

Sending a wave of white-hot fire at Shirou.

And the battle began anew.

Although the battle between Demigod and Vampire Lord was quite intense, no one outside of the abandoned park noticed anything amiss. Not a single sound escaped the boundaries, nor a flash of light or a plume of smoke.

Shirou's Bounded Fields and Runic Wards, though hastily erected, were very potent, and more than capable of holding up against the violence inside its borders.

Of course, if either combatant had made a serious effort to break them, they would have surely smashed through the defences like they would through a thin sheet of ice, but since neither would profit from such a move, they had so far refrained from doing a thing like that, allowing the Wards to continue doing their job.

All that was to say that Shirou's efforts to keep out bystanders, limit the collateral damage, and preserve the Secrecy of the Moonlit World were wholly successful so far. Rin and Lorelei would be proud if they knew.

Unfortunately for the redhead though, he might have sealed off the area from the rest of the city, preventing any outsiders from entering the park, but he had failed to account for the beings that were already in the park when he and Arkhangel had arrived.

In particular, for the itty bitty spider that was sitting in a tree nearby, watching the fight with something as close to awe as a spider could possibly get.

It was, at first glance, a normal spider, with eight legs, eight eyes, and a hairy, black-coloured body. It wasn't unusually big, or of an unusual colour. A mundane person would not have looked twice at it, and even most Magi wouldn't give it a second glance.

But while it was indeed mostly normal, it did have something special about it. Something that elevated it above a mere arachnid the likes of which you could find at almost every place in the world.

This spider had a mental link, a link to its Queen, which granted it greater intelligence and better senses than its ordinary brethren. A form of limited sapience even, much less than a human, but far above even a dog for instance.

So when Demigod and Dead Apostle Ancestor had come down in the park with a mighty crash, it had not fled, like most other insects, but rather decided to approach the two titans to take a look.

With its greater intelligence, it had quickly deduced that something momentous was taking place right now, and that its Queen might be interested to know what was happening exactly.

Now burdened with glorious purpose, the brave little spider had climbed up a tree and used its better-than-normal senses to observe the battle for a while, bravely clinging on to the branch despite the gales of wind trying to send it flying.

When pitch-black thunderclouds began gathering overhead and lightning began falling from the skies however, coupled with roaring flames that ate everything in sight, it quickly decided that caution was the better part of valour after all and hastily retreated.

Insects didn't like fire, and this little fellow was not enhanced enough to be able to suppress those instincts.

It had collected enough information anyway. Now it just had to inform the Queen before the battle ended and the information lost its value.

It ran as fast as its little legs could carry it, away from the Earth-shattering violence and out of the park.

Had the spider possessed even a tiny bit more Mystery than it did, the Bounded Fields and Runic Wards would have detected and stopped it, ending its valiant attempt at reporting back to its Queen before it had even started.

But since it hadn't been given anything but minor sapience and better senses, it managed to slip beneath their notice, making a clean get-away.

Then, it used its mental link to its Queen to track her down, in order to bring her the information it possessed.

Already, the spider could taste the sweet flies it would surely get as a reward, drool leaking from its mouth and jaws.

Where before the battle between Shirou and Vlov Arkhangel had been a rampant and chaotic mess, with terrible explosive force, wild, unrestrained attacks, and various overt uses of Magic and Mystery, it had now turned into something much more restrained.

Arkhangel had suddenly abandoned his Berserker-like manners, and had instead begun fighting like an actual knight. His icy blade cut through the air in practised motions, his footwork was impeccable, and he'd said not a word since his change in demeanour, no longer wasting a mote of energy or attention on empty trash talk.

Meanwhile, Shirou tried to match him as best as he could, with Mjolnir, Monohoshi Zao, and whatever other weapons he could Project on the fly. Since he was not nearly as well-trained or experienced as Arkhangel however, he found it difficult to hold his ground, and needed to use various other abilities too in order to keep up with the Ancestor's rapid attacks.


With a soft grunt of exertion, Arkhangel stepped in with a masterful feint, completely throwing Shirou off-balance by pretending to target his inner thigh, before swinging his sword at the redhead's neck instead, aiming for a quick decapitation.

Shirou used his power of flight however to right himself again, before he intercepted the attack with Mjolnir, catching the blade on the handle, simultaneously priming Monohoshi Zao for a counter, a counter he had shamelessly copied from the nodachi's Third Wielder.

Before he could complete the move however, Arkhangel's blade exploded in white-hot flames that washed over Shirou and his surroundings, forcing the boy to close his eyes and disengage to avoid the bright flash, breaking his stance.

A quick lightning bolt ensured that Arkhangel couldn't press the advantage however, and with his immense resistance to fire, Shirou was able to resume the battle quickly, none the worse for wear.

He parried and blocked a couple of similar attacks after that, managing to avoid injury despite Arkhangel's impressive swordplay, though it did cost him a lot of ground, as the Ancestor kept pushing him back.

The loss of ground was worth it though, as every hit, faint, and lunge taught Shirou more about the monster's techniques, sufficiently so to somewhat accurately predict his next move.

Every attack was stopped a little easier than the one before, and after he'd successfully countered Arkhangel three times in a row by predicting his moves, Shirou decided the time was ripe for an attack of his own.

When the Ancestor stepped back a bit after another failed offensive, to get his bearings after a parry, Shirou took a brazen chance and aggressively swung Mjolnir at him, expecting him to take a step back, as he'd always done before whenever he saw the hammer coming at him.

But Arkhangel didn't take a step back.

Instead, he suddenly went down on his right knee at the very last moment, thereby ducking below Shirou's swing.

Then it was the redhead who had to scramble back when the Vampire Lord lunged at his legs.

"A valiant attempt." The Ancestor praised him after Shirou had made a narrow escape. "But your intentions are far too obvious."

…Lesson learned.

Gritting his teeth, Shirou looked at Arkhangel's sword, Tracing it again and again in the hopes of learning something useful, but as the construct had only been created half-a-minute before, it taught him nothing new.

Against normal sword-wielding opponents, or as normal as sword-wielding opponents could be in this day and age, Shirou had quite a leg up, in that he could Trace their weapon to learn about their history and their style of fighting. It made countering them significantly easier, as he would be made aware of all their tricks and wiles, which was a tremendous advantage in any battle.

Arkhangel however didn't really have a main weapon. Much like Shirou himself, he created weapons on the spot, out of ice, which meant those weapons carried almost no history for Shirou to Trace. How could they, when they were literally only seconds old?

Hence, the Ancestor's techniques remained out of sight, and his style was still an unknown. Even now, after their lengthy battle, there was almost nothing Shirou really knew about Vlov Arkhangel.

And since he was only a novice with the blade and the hammer, that put him at quite the disadvantage against the ages-old sword master.

Fortunately for the redhead however, he did have one tangible advantage over his opponent, which made protecting himself a little easier.

The Cleansing Power.

The scorching light that burned away everything that Shirou considered unnatural.

Arkhangel had been hit only once by the Cleansing Power, when Shirou had infused his hand with it and punched the Ancestor in the face during an unguarded moment, and the fact that the resulting burn mark on his left cheek was still unhealed despite his potent Regenerative Abilities was enough to make him avoid it like the plague ever since.

Being permanently wounded had evidently spooked the vampire quite badly, sufficiently so that whenever he spotted even a trace of the harsh, white light, he was quick to retreat, feeling no compunction about abandoning even golden opportunities in order to avoid Shirou's most potent weapon.

Whenever he was in a pinch, Shirou only needed to make his hands glow, and whatever attack Arkhangel was launching would be promptly aborted.

And so, neither of them was able to land a solid hit, something that increasingly seemed to annoy the Ancestor.

That frustration soon reached its peak, and with a grimace, Arkhangel locked his blade with Shirou's, before he suddenly took his left hand off the sword, aimed his index-finger at Shirou's face, and shot a tiny but highly precise burst of fire at the redhead's eyes, almost akin to a bullet.

As resistant as he was to fire, the redhead reacted on instinct, averting his face to shield his precious eyes from the flames, before he hissed when his feet were suddenly trapped in a layer of ice.

Off-balance for a fraction of a second, he had to act fast to parry the swing coming from the upper-right, but he couldn't avoid the fist that hit him on the nose, audibly breaking it again.

Shirou barely had time to register the pain though before he had to block a two-handed overhead strike that aimed to cleave him in two, grunting in exertion as he forced Arkhangel's blade back up and away from his forehead.

Only for the Vampire to ram his pommel in Shirou's face.

Another overhead strike followed, and then another, and another, coming down on him without any finesse or style.

Arkhangel was hacking at him as if he were a tree to be felled, uncaring about the damage to his sword as it came down upon Mjolnir time and again, pinning Shirou down through brute strength alone, each blow containing enough force to topple a fully-grown elephant.

Pound for pound, Shirou was stronger than the Ancestor, but through the use of torque and lift, Arkhangel aptly negated that difference. His sustained assault gave Shirou no respite, which was made even worse by the fact that he had no opportunity to break the ice currently trapping his feet.

Already, his knees were buckling from the strain, close to giving in, and when he went down, which was inevitable at this rate, Arkhangel would undoubtedly knock him on his back and finish him off.

A perfect demonstration of how an armoured knight might defeat another armoured knight.

On his own, Shirou had no way out of this predicament. Neither Mjolnir nor the Cleansing Power could help him if he simply didn't have the time to use them, which meant desperate measures were his only option.

Desperate measures that the Vampire Lord was surely anticipating.

But if Arkhangel had taken the time to look into Shirou's eyes, he would have found no desperation there, no fear.

Because Shirou wasn't alone.

Not truly.

He had Monohoshi Zao, which carried within it the legacy of its Third Wielder.

The Third Wielder, who had specialised at deflecting such powerful strikes with laughable ease.

A skill that was now at Shirou's disposal.


Letting out a primal roar, Arkhangel gripped his sword tightly, tensed his core muscles, and swung his blade down at Shirou, aiming to knock him on his back at last…

-Before he tripped over his own feet when his blade encountered not a hammer, but a long nodachi, which did not block, but flicked his sword off to the side with but a featherlight touch instead.

With such a sudden lack of resistance, Arkhangel's own strength sent him stumbling to the right, and then to his knees when the nodachi sliced through his calves in a lightning fast attack.

His flow had been interrupted.

Shirou promptly tore himself free from the ice trapping his feet, and he swept his leg at Arkhangel's knee with enough force to dent a steel wall, aiming slightly upwards.

The kneecap shattered with an extremely satisfying crunch, and Arkhangel's legs were swept up into the air, causing him to smack down onto his back as his face contorted in pure agony.

Agony which turned into terror when Shirou swung Mjolnir right at his chest, aiming for the heart.

Letting go of his current sword, Arkhangel rolled to the side just in time to avoid the lethal blow.

Gritting his teeth when Mjolnir hit nothing but dirt, Shirou lifted the hammer and tried again.

Only for Arkhangel to grab his heel and pull him off his feet as well.

Now also on the ground, Shirou made a grab for the Ancestor, hoping to get into a grappling match, where his greater strength and Cleansing Power would almost certainly see him to victory.

But Arkhangel knew that too, and rolled out of Shirou's reach again.

Opening himself up to Monohoshi Zao instead.

Shirou didn't fail to capitalise on the opportunity, and when the Vampire Lord tried to prop himself up, he sliced the creature's arm off with the nodachi, sending him back to the ground, before cutting off the other arm too for good measure.

He leapt to his feet, using his power of flight to his advantage, and kicked the Ancestor in the floating ribs to stun him, before lifting Mjolnir again.

Only to have to retreat a few steps when a veritable blizzard erupted before him, the horrid ice spikes slicing into his skin despite his immense durability, rendering him unable to finish the job.

By the time he'd suppressed the storm of icicles, Arkhangel was also standing again, looking none the worse for wear.

The shattered knee, severed arms, and broken ribs were nowhere to be seen, and despite already knowing about the Ancestor's regenerative powers, it still ticked Shirou off to see how futile his efforts had been.

Huh, so this was what that was like…

No wonder most of Shirou's enemies always seemed so cross with him. This really was plain cheating.

The shoe was on the other foot now however, and it drove home once again that victory was only possible through either Mjolnir or the Cleansing Power. The only weapons in his arsenal that could deal damage that would not be erased in a fraction of a second.

And thus the weapons that Arkhangel always made sure to avoid at any cost.

Because of that, they'd ended up in a stalemate, with neither combatant able to inflict a decisive blow.

They'd cut off each other's limbs, broken bones, and tried to pin the other down in various ways, but nothing seemed to work.

And so, they retreated for a bit, to size the other up again.

"You are a novice with the blade." Arkhangel remarked after a moment, eyeing Shirou's hands with a discerning look. "Slightly better with a hammer. You have fought mainly with your bare hands though."

"…?!" The Vampire's analysis was startlingly accurate, and Shirou couldn't stop his eyes from widening slightly in shock.

"That you managed to survive for so long against me despite being a novice is a testament to your raw talent." Arkhangel continued, complimenting both Shirou and himself in the same sentence. "But you must have realised by now that I am beyond you. This is no insult, but simply a statement of fact."

That was debatable. Shirou would readily acknowledge the Vampire Lord was a much greater warrior, with far more skill in the blade, but the gap in actual power between them had seemed rather narrow so far. Narrow enough that the battle could still go either way.

"That I will kill you eventually is a foregone conclusion. An ending that became indisputable once you challenged me. However, I shall admit that it will take some time for me to bring you down, time that I do not have." Arkhangel lamented, before he made a grand gesture with his arms, like a king granting mercy to an unruly subject. "So, as I am currently quite a busy man, I shall allow you one more chance to run away. If you do, you have my word that I will let you escape unharmed."


"I most urgently advise you to accept this offer, for your own sake."

The offer to let Shirou flee unharmed was sincere, surprisingly enough, but Shirou spotted the dishonesty in the Vampire's words all the same. Arkhangel might claim he was beyond the redhead in any and every way, but his frantic dodges of Mjolnir and the Cleansing Power, as well as the still-present burn mark on his cheek, showed that it was not only magnanimity that had prompted the offer.

Arkhangel too knew that the battle could still go either way, and he was trying to disengage, unwilling to gamble his life in an ultimately, for him, useless battle. He had nothing to gain and everything to lose from continuing his fight with Shirou, so he wanted out.

But Shirou wasn't going along with that. There was no way he was going to let an Ancestor get away from him, no matter how dangerous the battle might be.

At the risk of repeating himself, Arkhangel positively reeked of blood, and Shirou would not be surprised to learn he had killed hundreds of people already since entering Misaki Town, if not thousands.

A hero could not possibly stand for that.

"A pity." Arkhangel sighed, apparently having read Shirou's intentions off his face. "You zealots are such a troublesome bunch. Sometimes, I almost wish that-"

He attacked.

In the middle of his sentence, without the slightest change in his expression, the Vampire Lord raised his blade and fired a concentrated beam of scorching fire right at Shirou's face.

A perfectly executed surprise attack.

It might seem dishonourable, and perhaps even out of character for the knight-like Ancestor, but to attack while still speaking was actually a tried and true tactic, used even by the actual knights of old.

If you could end the fight in a single move, why wouldn't you?

Shirou had been prepared for such an old trick however, and he dispelled the flames with a mental command.

Only to then be faced with a whirlwind of razor-sharp icicles, aiming to slice him to ribbons.

Whirlwinds were no problem however, and Shirou easily directed the icicles upwards, into the sky, before he generated a pulse of flame of his own that melted them into water, which then descended onto the battlefield again in the form of a harmless summer rain.

A rain that promptly evaporated once it came into contact with Arkhangel's flames.

Within moments, the two combatants had been engulfed by massive clouds of steam, as Arkhangel tried to obfuscate Shirou's sight.

A clever tactic. It might have worked too, if it hadn't been for the fact that the redhead possessed a minor form of Clairvoyance, more than enough to see through mere mist.

So when the Ancestor tried to jump him from the side, Shirou was ready to meet him.

Their match of swordplay resumed, and once more, Shirou was swiftly forced on the defensive despite mainly using Monohoshi Zao this time.

It was getting really tiring to be pressed so hard all the time, and more than a little frustrating too, but Shirou could not deny that Arkhangel was just the superior warrior. Frankly, he should be glad he was keeping up at all.

For now, he should play it safe, and try to learn as much as possible about his opponent before attacking again.

So with that in mind, Shirou activated his Clairvoyance to the fullest and he looked.

The dawn was only a few hours away, bringing an end to another fruitless night, when Ciel, agent of the Burial Agency and former host of Roa, spotted a figure from her perch on Misaki Town's rooftops.

A most unwelcome figure.

Naturally, being a hard-headed, confrontational sort of person, she didn't hesitate to make her displeasure known.

With a flourish, she pulled a Bible from an inner pocket of her robes, a small pocket version, one of many she carried with her. This one had no real value aside from it being a copy of the Good Book, financial or otherwise, so she didn't hesitate to tear out several pages, fashioning them into a Holy trident.

It was a crude construct, hastily created with subpar materials, but like all weapons of the Burial Agency, it carried behind it the Faith of over a billion people and a history of over two-thousand years.

It wouldn't be sufficient to kill the unwelcome figure, or even seriously injure her, but if it hit, it would hurt like hell, which was enough for now.

Unfortunately for Ciel though, the moment she threw the trident, she knew it would not hit.

Her target possessed keen senses, and she noticed the attack with seconds to spare, allowing her to easily dance out of the way, displaying a grace and elegance that was wholly appropriate for someone with her supposed rank.

The grace and elegance of a princess.

The trident smashed into the sidewalk, penetrating deeply, before it fell apart into book pages again, which quickly scattered in the wind.

"How rude." The target of Ciel's anger remarked, before giving the nun-turned-temporary-student a half-smile, easily spotting her despite the darkness of the night. "Must we do this every time we meet, miss Executor?"

Arcueid Brunestud, Princess of the Moon, was treating the attack like it was naught but a prank between friends, as if Ciel had thrown a twig or a tomato at her rather than a trident, and although the nun knew it wasn't meant as an insult, that sheer nonchalance she displayed, as if Ciel were a mere fly, was extremely vexing nonetheless.

Sufficiently so to nearly tempt her into throwing another trident, an urge she only just managed to suppress.

"Leave." Was all that she said instead, the word coming out as a growl.

"No." The good humour disappeared from Brunestud's face, and she frowned a bit in disapproval, something which, paradoxically, rather gladdened Ciel to see after the previous indifference. "No, I shall not leave."

"Roa is mine."

"He is not exclusively yours. There are many others who have suffered from his atrocious deeds, me included."

That Roa had left a trail of victims in his wake was not something that Ciel could or would deny, but all the same, she wasn't willing to relinquish her claim on revenge to anyone, not even to her fellow victims.

It was by no means unusual that others came to try and claim the Serpent's head, but most of the time, she'd bribe or intimidate them into leaving, which tended to work rather well, considering she was a high-ranked agent of the Burial Agency.

Unfortunately though, her usual tactics did not work on Brunestud. Ciel didn't possess anything that the blonde might want to have, nor was she confident she could defeat the princess in battle. In fact, she'd almost definitely lose if it ever came to a confrontation between them, making any threat on her part utterly hollow.

Hence, Ciel's burning dislike for the woman.

"There are other Ancestors for you to hunt." The blue-haired nun tried another approach, knowing that Brunestud had sworn to destroy all the Ancestors. With some luck, the woman would be distracted, giving Ciel more time to find Roa herself. "In this city even."

"I know." The blonde woman nodded, pursing her lips slightly. "Two more. The Knight and the little spider."

"…So it's indeed the Spider-Queen?" Ciel asked, momentarily distracted herself by the confirmation that the rumoured Twenty-Sixth Dead Apostle Ancestor had indeed reappeared again, more than three decades after she'd seemingly disappeared from the face of the Earth. "She is here?"

"She is." Brunestud nodded, before clacking her tongue in annoyance. "Though I could not tell you where she is hiding right now."

"Hunt her down then." Ciel suggested, carefully schooling her face into a serious look. "I'm sure you can find her, and Vlov Arkhangel too. In the meantime, I will focus on Roa. We'll cover the most ground like that."

"Nice try." The half-smile returned to the Moon Princess' face as she easily saw through Ciel's ploy. "But Roa is my priority too."

"Tsk." Ciel made an unhappy noise, but that was all she did. All she could realistically do at this point.

Clearly, Brunestud wasn't going to be distracted or dissuaded from hunting down the Serpent, and that meant that Ciel's only hope was to beat her to it. To get Roa before she could.

In other words, there was no more time to waste on idle conversation.

But before she could leave, there was one more thing that had to be said.

"Leave him alone."

"Huh?" Brunestud blinked in confusion, and the sight of her deceptive doe-eyes, so pretty and seemingly innocent, rankled Ciel fiercely. "Who?"

"The boy." She clarified, her tone terse. "He is uninvolved. Don't drag him into this."

"…" Brunestud hesitated for a moment longer, still not looking too sure of who Ciel was talking about, before she responded. "Are you talking about Shiki?"

"Yes." Ciel gave a sharp nod, wondering for a moment who else she could be talking about. How many other local boys did the Moon Princess know? "You should stay away from him."

"He owes me." Brunestud gave a sharp jerk of her head, pursing her lips again. "He is assisting me with my hunt. I am confident he can be of considerable help."

"You are only putting him in danger."

"He can handle it."

"No, he cannot!" Ciel bristled. "Even if what you say is true and he can fight Dead Apostles, is that really worth ruining his innocence for?"

"Innocence?!" Brunestud nearly scoffed, her eyes going wide in disbelief. "Do you… Do you even know what he is capable of?"

"I am not talking about any abilities he might have! Regardless of how powerful you think he is, he is still a boy who is in over his head-"

Ciel promptly cut herself off, realising she was getting too heated, too emotional in her defence of her supposed underclassman at Metropolitan Misaki High School.

That wasn't good. Arcueid Brunestud might never have been described as a particularly cunning creature, but she shouldn't show her any weaknesses all the same. Especially not ones that were so easily exploited.

Ciel might have no idea what kind of feelings Tohno Shiki was eliciting from her, why she felt so warm in his presence, but she did know that she should follow her own advice and not get him involved in any way.

To him, she was just Ciel-Senpai, a mysterious but kind girl who'd suddenly appeared at his school, and she very much wanted to keep it that way.

"If you absolutely need a flunky, there's a Magus wandering around town, also hunting Dead Apostles." She changed her approach, feeling no shame or compunction whatsoever about throwing the redhead under the bus. "Feel free to involve him."

"Are you talking about Shirou?" Brunestud asked, her smile turning a bit wider. "I already asked him for his help. He agreed."

"…Is that so?"

Ciel knew that she had literally just suggested to the blonde woman that she seek the redhead out for help, but all the same, she once more felt very vexed that those wide, pretty, red doe-eyes had swindled yet another man into her service.

"Good luck on your own hunt, miss Executor." Brunestud smiled kindly at her, and the fact she was probably genuine in her kindness was more annoying than any insult could ever be. "But know that I will be the one to kill Roa, no matter what."

"…" Ciel chose not to say anything in response to that. It would only have been an angry remark or brazen insult after all, so nothing of any value. There was just one thing that she did have to say. "If you hurt Tohno-san in any way, I will repay you a thousandfold and more, granddaughter of the Crimson Moon."

"Do not call me that!"

Brunestud's dislike for her infamous grandfather was well known, and for the first time in the conversation, she looked outright agitated, taking a step back as if she'd been slapped across the face.

Satisfied with the reaction, Ciel left, turning around and heading back the way she came. She'd said everything she wanted to say, and now there was nothing to do except tracking down Roa, faster than her rivals.

But even as she walked away, taking twists and turns and hopping to and from rooftops, she continuously felt the burning sting of those fiery red eyes in her back, even when she'd long since disappeared from the Moon Princess' sight.

It seemed she had hit a nerve.


While the two inhuman ladies squabbled over who would get to kill Roa and keep Shiki for herself, Emiya Shirou and Vlov Arkhangel were still wailing on each other without end, trying to find a way to break the tedious stalemate.

By now, Shirou had learned a few more things about Vlov Arkhangel, things he hoped might help him put an end to the battle sooner, preferably in his favour.

For one, he was pretty confident in stating that Arkhangel came from Russia, or at least the area that was now called as such. His more colourful insults, uttered in old-Russian, were a reliable indication of that. Furthermore, if he had to guess based on what he'd seen with his Clairvoyance, he'd say that Arkhangel was roughly four-hundred years old, meaning he'd lived his mortal life in the heydays of the Tsardom, perhaps even under Ivan the Terrible.

The redhead had never been to Russia, much less past-Russia, so he didn't know much about the place, but he did know it was a harsh and cold land, with a lot of strife, both internal and external. A country plagued by war, famine, and disease. Doubly so in the seventeenth century, when its reckless expansion across Eastern Europe had begun in the wake of the Thirty Years' War.

Anyone who managed not only to survive but also thrive in that land, especially as a knight, had to be the hardy sort, strong and indomitable, and that was perfectly reflected in Arkhangel's swordplay.

His attacks were measured but fierce, focused mainly around lunges, strong swipes, and hard counters. He wasn't very agile, but he was swift enough to dodge Shirou's more dangerous attacks nonetheless, and several times, he'd almost succeeded at wrenching Shirou's nodachi out of his hands with a quick twist of his blade.

His stance was solid, his shoulders were squared, and his feet never lost contact with the ground for long. Every step was made with great force, and Arkhangel almost never overreached, keeping his limbs close to his person to maintain his balance at all times.

Any attacks he launched were very well aimed, adeptly targeting the weak spots in Shirou's armour, such as the hip, the elbow, the ankles, the wrists, and the inside of the hands.

On top of that, Arkhangel didn't eschew the use of Mystical Arts either. Most storybooks portrayed knights as generally being opposed to Magic of any kind, but even if those stories held a kernel of truth to them, Arkhangel had clearly never read them. Instead, the Ancestor complemented his attacks with Mystical Arts at every opportunity.

It had to be said though that there wasn't a great variety in his spells. So far, the Vampire Lord had used only fire and ice, and as far as Shirou could determine, that was all he was capable of.

The redhead had theorised at the start of the battle that Arkhangel's Principle, the power that his Idea Blood gave him, was related to heat, and so far, he'd seen no evidence to suggest he was wrong about that. The Ancestor either used great amounts of heat, in the form of his flames, or he removed heat, thereby creating ice.

Of the two elements, fire had been the Ancestor's definite favourite so far. He used it all the time, in the form of regular bursts of scorching flames whenever he saw an opening, fired from his hands, feet, eyes, and sometimes even his mouth. They were flames hot enough to melt rock and turn sand into slag, and Shirou could easily see how any Executor or Enforcer in his position would have long since been burned to a crisp.

However, as stated many times before, Shirou was very resilient against heat, and after he took a straight burst of Arkhangel's hottest flames to the face without even flinching, repaying the Ancestor with a punch to the gut that had made him heave up a few drops of blood, the fire-based attacks became much rarer, generally only used to distract anymore whenever the Cleansing Power came too close for Arkhangel's liking.

"You are stronger than I thought!" The Ancestor snarled after they disengaged again, still looking at Shirou with frustration, though there was a healthy dose of respect mixed in as well now. "I am surprised I have never heard of you before. Might I have your name?"

"…Shirou." The redhead replied after a few moments.

"Rejoice, Shirou, for I acknowledge you as a worthy opponent." Arkhangel thundered, his sword changing into a spear, as if to signify the fact they were about to enter a higher form of battle. "Know that none have been given this honour since the previous Nineteenth!"

Arkhangel's boasts spoke of his arrogance, but the boasts were not empty, nor was his arrogance unwarranted. His scent, the scent of blood, ash, and frost, intensified nearly threefold, and Shirou could almost see how Magical Energy started gathering in the Ancestor's limbs in quantities far beyond what he had seen before.

This could be dangerous, and Shirou increased his own body's Reinforcement to almost perilous levels in preparation for the intensification of the fight.

It likely wouldn't be enough however, not if Arkhangel had truly become three times as strong, and his mind raced to find something else to use to his advantage.

Then his eyes flitted upwards, and he was struck by a flash of inspiration again, as he realised he still had a weapon in reserve. One he should have used far sooner.

"Now have at thee!"

One moment, the Vampire Lord was standing at a small distance from Shirou…

-The next, he had disappeared, the ground he had been standing on cracking from the force of his leap.

Shirou didn't even have time to blink before the Ancestor had already crossed the distance between them, and then he was eye to eye with the creature, pinned down and paralysed by the bloodthirsty glare that was levelled at him.

Until he realised that a spear was heading towards his throat at supersonic speeds and that he should do something about it right now!

With a strangled shout, Shirou dropped to the ground, feeling how the spear passed through his hair, before leaping backwards so hard he came down twenty metres away, on his backside.

Arkhangel made to pursue, but before he could blitz Shirou again, the redhead counterattacked.

From above.

With the crack of thunder, lightning came down upon Arkhangel, forcing him to scramble backwards to dodge the searing bolts.

Shirou had seized control of the thunderclouds gathered overhead, and now, he began pulling down the lightning, raining it down on his opponent, who had no choice but to run for his life.

The bolts came down by the dozens, on and around Arkhangel, and the Vampire had to use every bit of his newfound speed to dodge them, having no choice but to completely abandon any attempts at attacking Shirou directly.

While the bolts might not be infused with the Cleansing Power, they were extremely powerful nonetheless, and both Shirou and Arkhangel knew that if they hit, they might cripple the Vampire Lord for long enough for the redhead to deal a more lasting blow.

But Arkhangel would never have made it to the rank of Ancestor if he let minor surprises like this bring him down.

Within mere moments, he'd acclimatised to the attacks from above, and with another masterful feint, he completely threw off Shirou's aim, making the lightning bolts go wide.

Shirou immediately adjusted, but, unfortunately, 'immediately' was not quick enough.

Once again, the Ancestor reached him so fast he could barely keep up, and then he had to use every bit of focus and strength he possessed to survive the onslaught of blows coming his way again, far swifter than ever before.

For a moment, he feared he was done for.

But then he realised he didn't feel much harder pressed than the previous time, despite the considerable increase in speed.

Arkhangel might have become stronger and faster, but his style had become much sloppier, much easier to block and avoid. In fact, based on what Shirou could glimpse of him in-between the furious attacks, it was almost as if the Vampire Lord couldn't quite keep up with his own speed either.

Strange, but Shirou definitely wasn't complaining. It was probably the main reason why he could still deflect the swords and spears that Arkhangel practically threw his way.

On top of that, Arkhangel also stuck annoyingly close to Shirou, always keeping the distance between them at less than half-a-metre at most.

That was so close that it became outright impractical for both of them, and as much as Shirou struggled with his opponent's close proximity, Arkhangel too was hindered by the small distance. Swords and spears might be weapons for close range-combat, but not that close.

Still, Arkhangel stubbornly refused to widen the distance, stoically accepting the discomfort that his clinginess brought him.

But why? It made no sense. At least not as far as Shirou could see.

Until he spied how Arkhangel's eyes flitted upwards for a fraction of a second, towards the clouds above them, and how his lips curled up in a smug smirk.

Then it dawned on Shirou.

Arkhangel was sticking so close because he was trying to avoid the lightning strikes that had hampered him so much! He was making it impossible for Shirou to use them without also hitting himself.

He thought that Shirou was afraid of his own attacks.

That… wasn't even such a strange theory. Most, if not all Magi who used lightning were in no way immune to their own Craft. A misfire could have deadly consequences for them, which meant using it at close range was out of the question.

So yes, Arkhangel's theory was quite understandable.

But also a terrible miscalculation.

Shirou was no mere Magus. He was the successor of the God of Thunder.

He couldn't be harmed by lightning, the very thing he was most associated with. To the contrary, he gained naught but strength from it.

Arkhangel should have known this. Shirou had been struck by his own lightning before, during this very battle even, and it hadn't harmed him then. It had only reinvigorated him.

But it seemed the Ancestor had already forgotten about that.

Strange, but Shirou wasn't going to complain. Not when this worked out perfectly well for him.

He waited until Arkhangel had finished another string of blows, and then reached out to the heavens…

And brought down the lightning.


For a moment, it seemed as if the dawn had come early.

A thousand lightning bolts came down upon the field, together nearly as bright as the sun, accompanied by a crack of thunder loud enough to almost drown out Arkhangel's cry of surprise and pain.

The ground exploded into bursts of dust and melted sand, the oxygen in the air ignited on the spot, and the puddles of water nearby started boiling spontaneously from the sheer heat and power that fell upon the Earth.

It was Armageddon, and when the dust settled, the tide of the battle had turned completely yet again.

Shirou still stood upright, arcs of lightning crackling up and down his body as his eyes flashed an electric blue, signifying the power that raged through his system. The power he had just seamlessly absorbed.

Arkhangel however was on the ground, lying on his stomach, with his hands on his head, curled up slightly to protect his most vulnerable areas from the violence Shirou had just unleashed upon him.

He was scorched and bloodied, large swaths of his skin having been burned away to reveal the charred muscle underneath. Most of the flesh on his back was gone, partially revealing his spine, which had blackened from the heat, and his limbs were so damaged it seemed as if someone had taken a cheese grater to them.

The smelt of burned flesh filled the air, and Shirou winced despite himself at the gruesome sight, one that resembled that of the victims of the Great Fire.

The Ancestor's breath was raspy, his body shook like a leaf from the aftershocks, and when he lifted his head, the sight of Shirou being completely unharmed by the attack that had just struck him down filled his eyes with dread and horror.


But even though he had been turned into a piece of charred meat in the blink of an eye, the Vampire Lord did not give up.

With grit and determination that were frankly inhuman, he rose again, taking a step towards Shirou, a formless icicle appearing in his hand as his wounds slowly started healing.

The Divine lightning had struck deep wounds that were difficult even for an Ancestor to heal, but the light of the full moon above gave him some respite. A measure of extra power that he desperately needed right now.


But Shirou easily slapped the icicle from his hand and knocked him over, throwing him flat on his back, before taking a step forward himself.

He advanced, raising Mjolnir overhead as he channelled the Cleansing Power through the weapon, aiming to slam it down on Arkhangel's heart. Mjolnir alone would probably already be lethal, and with the Cleansing Power added to the mix, death was guaranteed.

"No." A whisper passed through Arkhangel's lips, his eyes wide and fearful as he looked at the approaching redhead, crawling back as best as he could. "No. I cannot die here…"

His words were many things, a plea, an expression of faith, a prayer to a god, and a declaration of willpower. They were spoken not only to Shirou, but also to himself and to the cruel world that had forced him into this position. A complaint to a brutal but inescapable reality that had made him into a monstrosity to be hunted.

And despite knowing he shouldn't hesitate, they caused Shirou to pause for the slightest of moments.

For at that moment, for that mere, fleeting second, the Ancestor's eyes, filled with fear, confusion, disbelief, and awe, did not seem like the eyes of a monster.

But like those of a human.

Set in a thousand-yard stare, they seemed to look not at Shirou, but at some distant past, and the redhead stilled again, reluctant to break what seemed to be a flashback of happier times.

…Hold on.

A flashback? In the middle of a fight?

That sounded familiar.

Wasn't that what often happened in Illya's anime right before the one having the flashback rallied again?

…Oh no!

Shirou's stomach clenched and panicked sweat broke out on his forehead, and he moved as fast as he could, swinging Mjolnir at Arkhangel with every bit of speed he possessed-

"I cannot die here!"

But it was too late.

This time, the words were not a plea.

They were a command.

And then everything went wrong.

In the span of the single metre that Shirou crossed between the Vampire and himself, the temperature dropped from a normal autumn night in Japan to that of a Siberian winter, generating a pulse of displaced air that sent the redhead stumbling backwards.

Shirou's breath became a mist, all the plants that had survived the earlier violence were covered in frost, and the many small fires all across the park were snuffed out in an instant in the freezing, bone-chilling cold.

Every bit of heat disappeared in an instant, as if they'd been thrown into space, and the air distorted from the immense blow that it had done to the molecular integrity of its molecules.

Had a normal civilian been present at the scene, they would have died on the spot, and even most Magi without the appropriate measures would have perished from the shock alone.

To Shirou however, the sudden cold was unpleasant, but no more than that.

Far worse was the sudden appearance of a massive dome of ice overhead, covering the entire park with its sheer size.

From one second to the next, it appeared, out of nowhere, a titanic mass of frozen water that seemed to grow thicker by the moment, and Shirou drew in a sharp breath in alarm when he realised its purpose.

It was blocking his lightning from coming down!

It was a shield the size of the park!

Continuing his sudden demonstration of powers far beyond what he'd shown earlier, Arkhangel then blew at the ground, as if to cool it.

Within moments, the ground around him became covered in ice, ice that spread across the entire park, freezing everything it touched.

The ice encased Shirou's feet too, trapping him for a moment, but he wrenched himself loose quickly.

When he took a step backwards however, he nearly slipped, unable to get traction on the ice, which was so smooth it resembled a mirror, with not a single rougher spot where he might get some grip.

Then, the Ancestor waved an arm, and a veritable blizzard of snow and hail sprang into existence, coming straight at Shirou.

But with his own control over the wind and the sky, he managed to safely divert its course.

The spear of ice that was thrown at him next had to be blocked by Mjolnir however, and with such unstable footing, it was now Shirou who ended up flat on his back.

Raising his head, he saw how Arkhangel easily climbed to his feet, unhindered by his own ice like Shirou had been unaffected by his own lightning, before another spear appeared in his hand.

Shirou's upper hand in the fight had been very short-lived, and the tide had now turned against him again. Without warning, Arkhangel's power had grown explosively again, putting the redhead on the backfoot once more.

The redhead had wondered, at several points throughout the battle, what Arkhangel's Principle, his Authority, could be, eventually settling on heat, as that best corresponded with his shown abilities.

But now that the Vampire's control over ice had proven far, far greater than his control over fire, to the point where every previous use of flames became mere parlour tricks in comparison, Shirou realised he'd been wrong again.

The true Authority of the Nineteenth Dead Apostle Ancestor was not fire, or heat.

It was ice.

"Oh my, little one! That is very interesting indeed!"

The itty bitty spider, the very one who had spied on Arkhangel and Shirou in the park, had at last returned to its Queen to bring her the news, receiving a very warm welcome.

"You are such a good little servant!" The Queen praised it, feeding it all the sweet little flies it could want and more, just as it had hoped. "Ah, but I do wonder what I should do with your information. Should I keep myself out of this, like my dear Vlov wants? It would certainly be safest for me, wouldn't it?"

The spider did not reply. It wasn't intelligent enough to make such judgements, so it didn't even try.

"On the other hand, I do not want him to die either." The Queen continued, nervously rubbing her secondary hands together. "And I do have such a frightfully bad feeling about this. Maybe I should do something to help him after all."

There was still no reply from the spider, who merrily continued eating the flies.

"He'll be cross with me, but not for long. He might act rough, but he's such a sweetheart and a total softie underneath. He'll probably even say something like 'you helped me, so I help you'." The Queen adopted a low-pitched, overly serious voice as she parroted Vlov's likeliest answer, before giggling to herself. "And frankly, I could use his help. Yes, I could definitely use it. I'm in a spot of bother, you see."

The little spider made no sound yet again.

"Not one for conversation, are you?" The Queen looked fondly at her little, mute servant, before her gaze hardened. "Alright, I've decided. I'll send some proper Dead Apostles to help Vlov out, just in case. I don't have any with me right now, but I can make them. Simple enough."

Then she took a step forward.

"Though it will cost me a lot of power to make so many new servants so quickly, so I'll need all the nutrients I can get."

She swiped the itty bitty spider from the bench, and then she ate him.

As spiders do.


Shirou only narrowly dodged a swipe from Arkhangel's sword, and he quickly hovered back a bit, outside of the Vampire Lord's immediate range

Overhead, his thunderclouds were still unleashing lightning bolt after lightning bolt upon the park, but Arkhangel's dome of ice was withstanding the blows perfectly well, rendering the attacks ineffective.

Shirou himself also threw lightning at the Ancestor whenever he saw an opportunity, but similarly to the ice dome, Arkhangel called walls and mountains of ice into existence to neutralise the lightning, shielding himself with little effort.

With so much ice being thrown around, the ground had become covered in frost and snow, to the point where walking on it without slipping was nearly impossible for Shirou. To make matters worse, ice spikes erupted from the ground whenever his attention slipped, stabbing into his legs and lower torso at every unguarded moment.

The only way to escape these attacks was to take flight, and Shirou hadn't touched the ground in many minutes now, unwilling to expose himself to the strikes from below.

While in the air, harsh winds tried to beat him down as hail pelted him from every direction, but they were the least of his problems, as his control over the air was greater than Arkhangel's, for now at least.

But as the ever-decreasing temperature proved, the Ancestor's dominance over the surrounding area was growing more potent by the minute, a dominance that Shirou was hard-pressed to continue denying with own Authority.

It wasn't quite on the level of a Reality Marble, because then the Vampire Lord's dominance would already be complete, but all the same, Arkhangel was slowly replacing the laws of nature in the park with his own laws through his vile Principle. In fact, Shirou wouldn't have been surprised to learn that the park was already colder than the coldest place on Earth had ever been.

The temperature had gone so far below zero that even most Magi and half breeds would have been unable to withstand it. Even the strongest of protections and the most potent of counter spells wouldn't avail them for long here before the biting cold would cause their blood to start freezing in their veins and their cells to start rupturing

It made Shirou very grateful for the fact that Asgardians had been made to withstand the vacuum and the cold of space, because otherwise, he might have been in serious trouble. He might still be, if Arkhangel could cool his surroundings all the way to absolute zero.

Fingers crossed that that would not happen.

The true power of the Nineteenth Dead Apostle Ancestor, the power that made him a member of the Twenty-Seven, was most terrible indeed. Shirou completely understood now why Dead Apostle Ancestors were so feared. Why it was a policy not to engage them unless you had the support of the greatest warriors that the Church and the Magus Association had to offer.

The fact that Lady Barthomeloi, Lorelei he should say, had defeated three of them on her own, during blood moons no less, was even more impressive a feat that he had thought, and his respect for her increased by leaps and bounds every time he failed to land a hit on his own opponent.

Her incredible feat wasn't just impressive though. It was also hope-giving.

For it proved that the Ancestors weren't unbeatable, no matter their claims.

And with that knowledge in the back of his head, granting him some much needed comfort, Shirou was able to discern that Arkhangel did not seem to be coping well with his own cold either. He was shivering, he was definitely more blue in the face than at the start of the battle, and his fire-powers had pretty much abandoned him.

On one of the few occasions that Shirou had managed to get in close, Arkhangel had tried to ward him off with fire, but the plume of smoke that had been generated wouldn't have chased off a hummingbird, much less a demigod.

The veritable storm of ice spikes that followed had been harder to withstand however, forcing Shirou to retreat anyway, but his theory that Arkhangel was weak to his own cold too had been proven.

He could work with that.

The redhead focused, calling forth the power that swirled within him, and fired his biggest lightning bolt yet at Arkhangel, one that would crumble and annihilate his usual ice walls.

However, as he had remarked upon before, the Ancestor possessed keen tactical sense and a real instinct for battle, so he wasn't surprised when the Vampire Lord recognised the threat and created a veritable glacier in order to protect himself, far greater and bigger than his normal walls.

The lightning bolt smashed over half of it to pieces still, but it was unable to penetrate the massive construct completely.

Rather than dismissing the remaining ice, as he normally did, Arkhangel then threw the remnants of the glacier right at Shirou, and the redhead braced to smash it.

Only for the icy construct to break apart at the very last moment, the shards shooting off every which way, and for Arkhangel to leap straight through the chaos, his blade aimed for Shirou's throat.

Unfortunately for the Ancestor however, while such a trick might have successfully reduced the vision of any other Magus, he had failed to account for the redhead's Clairvoyance.

As such, Shirou wasn't surprised at all by the tricky move and was able to parry the blade with Mjolnir, replicating a technique he'd taken from Monohoshi Zao with the hammer.

Of course, Mjolnir's reach was far smaller than that of the long nodachi, so it was riskier, but in the end, Shirou successfully forced Arkhangel's blade to the side and stepped in close.

Arkhangel then tried to bite him, snapping at his neck with his fangs, and Shirou felt a twinge of apprehension.

While he was reasonably certain that being bitten by a Dead Apostle would have no effect on him, he couldn't be sure, so he didn't want those fangs anywhere near his neck.

But if Arkhangel was so keen on offering his head for a head-butt, Shirou was hardly going to refuse.

He rammed his forehead into the bridge of the Ancestor's nose.


Once more, the crunch of breaking bones was extremely satisfying, as was the ensuing cry of pain, and Shirou lifted Mjolnir, as if to use the moment of weakness to his advantage to finally smash the Ancestor to pieces.

But as he had expected, Arkhangel was too quick to disengage. In the blink of an eye, he'd jumped backwards over fifty metres, creating numerous walls of ice between himself and Shirou to buy himself some time, time he could use to heal his nose and wipe the blood from his eyes.

But this time, Shirou had a different plan.

Arkhangel's Principle was powerful, able to seize control over an area of land and change it into a winter-wonderland, but it also had its downsides.

For one, Arkhangel's mobility had decreased because of the cold, making it harder for him to dodge Shirou's attacks, and for two, it generated massive amounts of wasted Magical Energy, which remained in the air around them.

Most Magical creatures, Dead Apostles included, could sense Magical Energy, allowing them to detect the presence of other powerful creatures and powerful weapons. That was how Arkhangel had known from the very beginning to avoid Mjolnir for instance.

But now, with the Magical Energy in the air distorting such readings, Shirou could finally deploy a certain weapon without having to fear that Arkhangel would sense it coming from a mile away.

Arkhangel couldn't see it, because of the blood in his eyes and the many walls of ice in the way, but Shirou smiled grimly, at last seeing a path to victory in his mind's eye.

He dropped Mjolnir to the ground, for now setting the hammer aside, though it was ready to jump back into his grip at a moment's notice.

Immediately after, a white spear appeared in his hand, one that would have made the surrounding area tremble with its sheer conceptual weight if Arkhangel had not already saturated it with his vile Authority. A weapon that might very well be enough to break the Ancestor's hold over the park had Shirou unleashed its full potential.

It might only be a minor Noble Phantasm, generally unknown by most of the populace, but it was a Noble Phantasm still, and one that was at least six times as old as Arkhangel to boot.

Had Shirou deployed it earlier, the Vampire Lord might have chosen to flee, or at least become much more cautious, which was why the redhead had waited for an opportunity like this.

In pure stats and useability, the spear was inferior to both Mjolnir and Monohoshi Zao, but that was fine. Shirou had not Traced it to use in melee. He was after its special ability, the power that made it a true Noble Phantasm.

Its ability to phase through shields and armour as if they weren't even there.

Walls of ice included.

"Pierce that what lies before and throughout, SARPANITUM!"

With its accompanying chant, uttered in Ancient Sumerian, Shirou activated the Noble Phantasm and threw it at Arkhangel in one smooth movement.

Immediately, the Ancestor's hold over the park, the Authority he was leveraging to bend the laws of physics to his will, was diminished, pierced by the ancient weapon being fully activated.

There was no way Arkhangel could miss it, no way he could overlook that sudden assault on his dominance, but it was already too late to do something about it.

The spear had been thrown, and there was no avoiding it now.

The walls and domes of ice in the way would have surely stopped or delayed Shirou's other weapons, giving the Ancestor the time he needed to dodge.

But the white spear simply phased through them, unhindered by the objects in its way.

The spear flew true.

And pierced Arkhangel's heart.


Arkhangel's eyes went wide in shock and horror, his mouth opening as if he wanted to scream, though not a sound came out.

His hands immediately came up to grab the spear, as if to pull it out, but they soon fell by his sides again, utterly limp.

The strength left his legs, making his knees buckle, and it wasn't long before he fell over, unable to remain standing.

Every construct he had created with his accursed ice promptly collapsed too, from the walls to the titanic dome overhead, shattering and melting so quickly none of the fragments even made it to the ground.

The temperature, formerly so far below zero, jumped up again, from glacial, back to just a minor freeze, and up to about what it had been before.

Within mere moments, the proud Dead Apostle Ancestor at the height of his power had been diminished, leaving naught but a shadow of himself.

All by a single, debilitating blow to the heart.

It was only to be expected though. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that in matters of Mystery and Magic, the heart was the single most important body part in existence. More important than the brain, the liver, the kidneys, the lungs, and everything else. It was the centre of most faiths and religions, the lynchpin of a great many rituals, and the conduit through which Magical Energy was produced.

This was no less true for Dead Apostles.

Having their heart destroyed would be enough to kill most minor Apostles on the spot, and to have it be destroyed by a Noble Phantasm would utterly annihilate all but the most powerful among them.

Vlov Arkhangel, being an Ancestor, yet lived, but he was holding on by a thread, his power leaving him as if it were water leaking out of the gaping wound. The sheer conceptual weight of the Mystical weapon had utterly overpowered him, rendering him near harmless.

His Authority was gone, and Shirou wasted not a moment to use that to his advantage, drawing his favourite Rune into existence.

Sowilo. The Rune of the Sun.

Drawn and powered with every bit of might and Magic the redhead could muster, the Rune turned into a miniature star upon completion, burning away the ice and snow that had given Shirou such trouble before.

The frost on the ground evaporated, the icy shards on the wind disappeared, and the cold finally left Shirou's bones as the temperature in the park rose to far above the boiling point of water. A temperature every bit as lethal as that of the Ancestor, scorching the earth beneath their feet and blistering the Vampire's skin.

Shirou only found it pleasant however, like a warm bath after spending far too much time in the cold.

Once the miniature star was extinguished again, he marched over to Arkhangel, who was still futilely struggling to even just raise his arms.

"You…!" The Ancestor hissed weakly, his voice strangled and broken, before he spewed a plume of fire at Shirou.

The flames lacked any potency however, and Shirou just ignored them.

"S-Stay away."

Another burst of fire, with the same effect.

"Leave me."

Falling onto his hands and knees, Arkhangel tried to scramble away like a dog, but Shirou was faster.

"I cannot die here."

The expression on Arkhangel's face was one of pure frustration and utter powerlessness.

"Not yet. N-Not like this."

But Shirou hardened his heart. He'd been fooled once before by the Ancestor's seeming humanity, by his heart-felt pleas, and that wasn't going to happen again.

"No, please."

Shirou channelled the Cleansing Power into Mjolnir, and as he came to a halt at the Vampire Lord's side, he raised the hammer, aiming to bring it down upon Arkhangel's chest.

"Don't do it!"

It would be a quick, clean kill.


He aimed carefully, and then brought the weapon down-


-Only to be knocked away by a body slamming into him from the side.


He came down on his back, utterly befuddled by the sudden twist.



"Why you!"

Above him- no, on top of him, pinning him down, was another Dead Apostle, one that had appeared out of nowhere.

An Apostle with a spider head.


Vlov was every bit as surprised as Shirou at his sudden turn in fortune, and he became even more shocked when another spider Apostle, a second one, approached him too.

For a moment, he feared he was about to be eaten, that his weakness was going to be exploited by an enterprising rival, but then the creature knelt down next to him, preparing to lift him up, showing it held no malice.

Evidently, it was here to help him instead, and Vlov breathed a sigh of relief at that fact.

"B-Bridal carry?!" The Ancestor felt almost affronted however when he was picked up like one might pick up a princess, giving the thrall an incredulous glare. "Excuse me, I am the knight here!"

"KLKLKLCCLLKK." The spider Apostle replied, as incomprehensible as any of its kind, before it shook his head and tried again. "Best… Way… To… Carry… You."

"You talk?!" Vlov spluttered, before he realised, belatedly, that this Apostle was no mere thrall, like he'd thought at first, but a proper and mature Dead Apostle, with a will of its own.

His injury must have affected him even more than he'd though, if he had missed something as obvious as that.

"I… Talk." It affirmed.

"You are no thrall." Vlov was now certain, looking at his saviour in a new light. "Thank you for assisting me."

"Queen's orders."

"I… see." The news that it had been the Spider Queen who had come to his aid was a bitter pill to swallow for the knight-like Ancestor, but a bitter pill wouldn't kill him. The redhaired Magus however definitely would. "Will you fight with me?"

"No. The queen proposes… a strategic retreat." It clacked and clicked in response, its voice becoming smoother and clearer with every word.

"A strategic retreat? What's that?" Vlov asked, unfamiliar with the term.

"It's like fleeing, but manlier." The thrall explained obediently.

"…Do it!" Vlov ordered.

As galling as it was to abandon the battlefield, he had no hope of victory, not with his heart destroyed and the accursed white spear still lodged in his body.

He who runs away, lives to fight another day, and all that. If they ran away now, they could get a head start while the other spider Apostle distracted the redheaded youth.


The suddenly interrupted war-cry attracted Vlov's attention however, and he turned to look at the fight.

Only for his mouth to run dry when he saw said Dead Apostle, the one he'd relied upon to buy them some time, going up in flames, utterly defeated by the Magus despite having the advantage of surprise.

It shouldn't have been surprising though. As much as the spider-creature had been enhanced by its Queen to serve as rear guard, it was no match for a man who could go toe-to-toe with an Ancestor. Not on its own.

The boy was now free to pursue them, and Vlov shivered when that golden gaze was fixed upon him, a terrifying glint in the boy's eyes and that detestable hammer still in his hand.

"Go!" Vlov ordered the spider Apostle carrying him, and the creature obediently broke out into a sprint.

The redhead was faster however, easily catching up once he got going, and Vlov almost decided to make a run for it himself, to abandon his current carrier, when two more spider Apostles jumped from the bushes to ambush the accursed Magus.

A decent distraction, but they wouldn't last long, and Vlov could only hope that they could shake the redhead off in the city itself.

They soon left the park behind, and Vlov gritted his teeth when he realised it was approaching dawn. In his current depleted state, he would be no match against the sun's searing rays. If they didn't seek cover soon, he would die to his oldest enemy.

"Only… a little further." The spider Apostle grunted, heading into a small side-alley, having realised the same as Vlov. "One… more… minute."

"We don't have a minute!" Vlov snapped, seeing that the redhead had resumed his pursuit again, rapidly gaining ground on them. "Not unless you have two dozen more of your friends to stop him!"

"Yes." There was clear bloodlust in the Apostle's voice, alongside raw satisfaction. "Many… Friends."

They turned a few more corners, and then they arrived in an alley with a view that made even Vlov, wounded and grumpy as he was, break out into a smile.

Dozens upon dozens of spider-like Apostles were standing ready in the alley, on the ground, on the walls, and everywhere else. None of them were as powerful as the one carrying Vlov, but they were all far above mere thralls, together forming an army that would give even a Barthomeloi pause.

It was a magnificent display, but the Nineteenth wasn't ignorant to the sheer price the Spider Queen had to have paid in order to create so many higher-level servants so quickly, a price in blood and life-force, and it made him wonder why she was going to such lengths for him.

They got along fairly well, but they weren't friends or anything like that. They weren't like Merem Solomon and Gransurg Blackmore.

It was odd, and more than a little suspicious.

But in his current state, he had no other option than to gratefully accept her help.

After he and his carrier ran past the formation, the spider Apostles promptly raised a gigantic spider web across the alley, undoubtedly intending to catch the redhead when he turned the corner.

They seemed quite confident about their chances, looking as eager as spiders could look.

Good. The more enthusiastic they were, the more seconds they could buy before they were all slain.

Vlov had no illusions about it. They might be confident in their own power and ability, but frankly, he'd be happy if they managed to delay the Magus for a minute or so.

Vlov and his carrier didn't stick around to watch, and they were already several corners further when the sounds of battle erupted from behind them.




It started with triumphant hisses, probably because the Magus had walked into their trap.




Only for those hisses to turn into terrified cries when their attacks proved futile.

Vlov huffed once, and winced when a pillar of fire suddenly erupted from the ambush site, high enough to be seen even with the buildings in the way.

It seemed he had been right.

His current assistant became noticeably more anxious when it turned out the ambush had failed, and the sigh of relief it let out when they arrived at the edge of town was clearly audible.

Vlov himself didn't see anything noteworthy at first glance, but he did notice them passing through several Wards and Bounded Fields, none of which he'd seen from outside, testifying to how cleverly they'd been hidden. Soon after, they entered a nondescript building, an abandoned warehouse to be precise, which he took to be the Spider Queen's lair.

The warehouse in question had been stuffed to the brim with a variety of old junk, ranging from partially-broken cars and stripped dishwashers to cans of empty batteries and heaps of discarded phones.

The spider Apostle carefully manoeuvred around the trash and the junk, heading towards the very back of the building, where a small office was located.

The office had long since been stripped of anything that was even remotely valuable, but there was a door in the right wall, nearly imperceptible unless you knew it was there, which led to a long corridor that headed downwards.

At the end of said corridor, there was another door, which opened automatically to reveal a very small chamber.

No, not a chamber, an elevator, as evidenced by the fact it suddenly descended after the door had closed again, bringing them to a place deep underground.

Once they'd descended almost fifty metres, Vlov finally dared to relax, fairly sure they'd managed to shake the Magus off now. The warehouse was located in a labyrinthic area of the city, it had been hidden even more with spells and Enchantments, every door they had passed through had been hidden or concealed, and on top of that, they had passed through many Bounded Fields and other wards with every step of the way.

A very elaborate defence, but that was hardly surprising. The one awaiting them at the end considered her privacy to be of the utmost importance after all, and she hated uninvited guests.

The Spider Queen was a rather flighty individual, sometimes even careless, but when it came to her own safety, she took no chances. That was the kind of person she was.

The elevator continued going down, before it finally came to a halt. Vlov didn't have the best spatial awareness of all Ancestors, but he estimated they had to be at least a hundred metres deep at this point. Far deeper than any mortal could dig.

The door of the elevator opened slowly, and the spider Apostle, who was still carrying Vlov, stepped inside.

It was awfully casual about it too, but Vlov certainly wasn't. This was the first time in his long life that he'd ever entered the headquarters of another Ancestor, one who wasn't his former master at least.

It was an important moment, and he wished it could have been under his own power, that he could have walked inside with his head held high. Under the circumstances though, he was plenty happy with the fact there was enough of him left to be carried into the lair to begin with.

The Spider Queen had undoubtedly saved his life, and as much as he didn't like the current situation, Vlov was not so boorish as to not feel grateful for it.

Even if it had only been because the Spider Queen wanted to use him for something, which she undoubtedly did.

The spider-like Dead Apostle carrying him slowly advanced into the headquarters, and Vlov saw, to absolutely no surprise, that it was styled like a modern laboratory.

Nearly everything was pristinely white, from the walls, floor, and ceiling to the tables and workbenches that were set up in neat lines throughout the room. Even the cabinets were so white it almost burned Vlov's eyes.

The only colour in the laboratory came from countless shady fluids standing everywhere in sight, filling the shelves, cluttering the tables, and even littering the ground, a testament to both the hard-working nature of their owner, who'd created all of them herself, and to her sloppiness.

Various instruments, ranging from innocent-looking centrifuges and heaters to ominous cutting implements and blow-torches, had also been scattered around, as if their owner had just dropped them the moment she was done with them.

And everything, from the floor to the walls to the equipment, was covered in a layer of dust, grime, and filth, as if it had never been cleaned before.

It was the lair of a brilliant creature, that was beyond doubt, but the less said about her organisational skills, the better.

There were very few sources of light in the laboratory, as all Dead Apostles had perfect night-vision, but Vlov frowned when he noticed that the back wall of the laboratory was cast in shadows so dark that even he couldn't see what was there.

He wasn't overly worried though. He knew exactly why there was so much shadow there, shadow that even his eyes couldn't pierce through.

The Spider Queen was hiding there, in preparation for making a grand entrance, like the drama queen she was.

Vlov had seen it many times before, in the court of the Tsar. Ambitious young fools, with more money and power than sense, who only wanted to enter the throne room if they were accompanied by trumpets and heralds crying their names.

The Spider Queen had much in common with those nobles, more than he was comfortable with, and that meant he could sometimes predict her behaviour rather well.

Indeed. After the door of the elevator closed again, he could spot movement inside the unnatural shadow.

And then, the Spider Queen emerged.

The shadows around her pulled back as she stepped forward, and the light gained in intensity, so as to optimally present her in all her glory. Trumpet music started blaring from a radio in the corner, and countless spiders, previously hidden inside the cabinets, began scurrying around in complicated patterns.

First came her lower body, then her abdomen, followed by her chest, and then finally, her face.

Then the lights went on completely, vanquishing the shadows and revealing the Spider Queen in all her glory as the music reached a high and the spiders began clicking their jaws to mimic applause.

As far as dramatic entrances went, this one wasn't terrible, certainly better than most at Vlov's old court. There were animals, music, a good use of lighting, and even a good sense of timing.

However, there was one factor that ruined it for the Nineteenth anyway, rendering him unable to feel even slightly impressed by her efforts.


The Spider Queen was horrendously ugly.

There was no overstating it. She was simply revolting.

Her lower body was that of a gigantic, bloated, and pox-ridden spider, carried on far too many malformed spider legs, dozens of them.

Her upper body was human-like, though with three pairs of arms instead of the proper one, and a kind of hairy skin that was supposed to resemble that of a spider but came closer to melted candlewax.

And her head. Oh, her head!

It was shaped like a spider's head of course, but it had been made even more affronting than usual spiders, with over a dozen milky-white eyes, mandibles that were frayed like old paper, and a beak-like mouth that seemed made to gorge on insects and animals alike.

And the stench she emitted! Horrible!

It was enough to ruin her dramatic entrance completely.

But Vlov showed none of his revulsion on his face. She was his saviour today, and thus deserving of his utmost respect.

Besides, in his current state, he could ill-afford to insult her, and she could be surprisingly sensitive about her looks.

So he said nothing and did nothing. He merely waited.

"Mistress, I brought you Arkhangel!"

The spider-Apostle who had carried him so far was quick to place him down on the ground, practically dropping him even, in order to scurry over to its mistress, seeking her praise like a mangy dog.

"Yes." The Spider Queen replied, her voice sounding like that of a cantankerous old man who smoked three packs of cigarettes a day, gargled with gravel in the morning and the evening, and had been stabbed in the throat multiple times. "You did well, young one."

"Hihihihihi!" It was almost disturbing to hear a spider giggle like a school boy, but again, Vlov tried to ignore it. Knights had to treat their allies with respect, not disgust.

"Come." She ordered, and the young Apostle eagerly stepped forward, shivering in delight when she reached down to pick him up, holding him by his shoulders with her three-fingered hands.

She smiled, or at least Vlov thought she did, as it was hard to properly read a spider's beak, and she closed her eyes in seeming happiness.

Before she bit into his neck, sucking him dry in mere moments.


The spider-Apostle made a wretched sound of confusion and pain, its eight eyes wide open in shock, before it stilled, hanging limp in its Queen's hold as the life rapidly left its eyes.

Its husk, drained of all power and fluids, was discarded immediately after the Spider Queen was done feeding. She cast it aside, and gave it not another glance as it came down amidst her discarded experiments, where it quickly turned into dust.

"Why did you do that?!"

The question escaped Vlov's mouth before he knew it, as he stared in surprise and slight horror at the slain servant's remains.

"He outlived his usefulness." The Spider Queen replied coldly, already having directed her attention elsewhere as she rummaged through her many concoctions. "And I needed the sustenance. I have sacrificed much of my power to create enough servants to save you, Vlov Arkhangel."

"For which I am most grateful of course." Vlov replied, inclining his head as best as he could from his prone position with a spear still lodged in his chest.

"Of course." The Spider Queen tittered, which sounded like rocks being grinded together. "A knight like you wouldn't make light of my efforts, would you, my dear Vlov? You know how much I gave up for you."

Normally, when Dead Apostles created new servants, they only injected a little bit of their blood into a human victim. This victim would then turn into a mindless thrall, one that desperately sought blood to survive. Most thralls died before long, killed by the sun or by the hand of Executors and Enforcers, but there were a few who lasted a bit longer. If they were intrinsically powerful enough and suited to the Dead Apostle who had turned them, those few could, in time, increase their rank bit by bit until they became a proper Dead Apostle themselves.

It was a very lengthy process, and only a few made it to the end, but it had the benefit of not costing the master even the tiniest bit of power. Rather, they gained power from the whole procedure, as a part of the thrall's energy went straight to them.

However, no number of thralls would have been enough to save Vlov from his precarious position, so the Spider Queen had rushed the process. She had taken a number of thralls, and rather than letting them grow stronger by themselves, had strengthened them by giving them bits and pieces of her own power.

This had the benefit of being a very swift method of creating strong, reliable servants, but it was also very pricey. In more visual terms, she had cannibalised herself in order to create a strong army.

In fact, based on what Vlov could sense, the Spider Queen might be every bit as weakened right now as he was. She'd given away so much of her essence that she would need days to recover, if not weeks.

"Thank you for your sacrifice." Vlov professed his gratitude with the utmost sincerity, once more bowing his head as he realised just how much she'd given up. "You have my word I will repay you in full."

It was not a promise he made lightly, especially not since it was glaringly obvious that the Spider Queen had only saved him because she wanted something from him, but his honour demanded nothing less.

And without his honour, what would he be?

Nothing but a total failure.

He'd never be able to face his wives again, never mind his brothers.

"Well, if you are offering, there are a few things I could use your help with." The Spider Queen replied in a, for her, sweet tone, which nevertheless still sounded like a malfunctioning steamroller. "But let's get you fixed up first, no? That spear looks nasty."

"Hrm." The reminder of the weapon lodged in his chest fouled Vlov's mood, and he gritted his teeth as he looked down at it.

"It must be a weapon of considerable power to cripple you so effectively." The Spider Queen sounded very interested, and she turned towards him at last, holding twelve bottles and jars in her six hands. "Let's take a closer look, shall we-? Oh?!"

But just as she approached, her milky-white eyes set in a curious look, the spear suddenly fell apart into motes of light, which quickly scattered and disappeared.

From one second to the next, it was gone.

"Muu." The Spider Queen made a disappointed noise even as Vlov let out a breath of relief. "I wanted to study that."

"…" Vlov wisely didn't react to her statement, as he probably would have said something rather rude. That spear had hurt him fiercely, and despite the fact the damage remained, having it gone was a huge relief. There was no way her curiosity warranted his continued suffering. Not this time.

"Oh well." The Spider Queen shrugged her monstrous shoulders, before she resumed approaching him. "Let's get you fixed up, my dearest knight."

Facing the prospect of being doused in her concoctions made Vlov's throat run so dry he couldn't even swallow nervously anymore. He'd allowed her to experiment on him before, soon after his mentor, the previous Nineteenth, had passed away, leaving him with her title and an Idea Blood he was ill-equipped to handle, and that day had definitely been the most physically painful day of his life. An experience he had vowed never to repeat again.

The mere memory was almost enough to make him run away, to flee from this nightmarish basement, but his rational side knew he needed her help to heal. Besides, he was so wounded he couldn't have run away even if he'd wanted to.

So he tried to mentally prepare himself for the worst, to grit his teeth and relax as much as he could, gathering every drop of courage he possessed.

He could do this. He was an Ancestor, he had survived the battle against that fierce Magus, weathering fire, lightning, and that horrid mysterious power, all without giving up. He could handle this too.

He was ready.

But then the Spider Queen poured all twelve concoctions onto his wound at once, and Vlov discovered he was very much not ready.


His bones twisted and snapped, his skin melted and deformed, his muscles spasmed and tore, and his organs went fully haywire.

Screams of pain tore from his lips, cries of agony and despair, and soon, he tasted blood as his own teeth tore his tongue and the insides of his cheeks to chunks of meat.

He no longer had any control over his body, no more say in what he did, and he could do nothing but writhe on the dirty floor, roaring in excruciating pain as the concoctions wreaked havoc on his body.

"Oh my, how interesting." The Spider Queen muttered as she looked on with slight surprise. "That spear is even more powerful than I expected. To think you had the bad fortune of meeting someone with such tools at their disposal, my sweet Vlov... Did you break a mirror recently?"

There was not a trace of pity or mercy to be found in her voice or in her expression. Only clinical curiosity and slight concern over the fact that there was a Magus in town with weapons that could cause such damage to Ancestors that even her most powerful healing potions struggled to mend the wounds.

She'd only ever seen such wounds before after battles that involved the most powerful weapons that the Church had to offer, and although she was aware that the Burial Agency had a strong presence in Misaki Town at the moment, she hadn't heard anything about those weapons being moved recently.

"I'm sorry, treacle, but this might take a while." She apologised to Vlov, before picking up one of the many notebooks nearby. "I'll be sure to make copious notes though. This will be a learning experience for us both."

She was a true researcher, a visionary, and there was no way she was going to pass up on the opportunity to learn about new things, especially not when they concerned her fellow Ancestors.

True to her word, she calmly recorded every part of the healing process, making meticulous notes of every cell that was regrown and every bone that snapped into place. By the time Vlov was mostly whole again, her six hands had written dozens of pages full of notes.

Needless to say, Vlov was not amused.

"Da… Curs… Lit… Hat…"

"What was that, treacle? I couldn't quite hear you."



"Nothing." Vlov replied gruffly, grinding his teeth together when the last marks on his skin finally disappeared with a sensation that wasn't unlike having it sewn back together with white-hot needles.

"Oh, okay." The Spider Queen obligingly dropped the matter, before taking a step back to look him over. "Hm, seems like you're mostly fine again. How are you feeling?"

"I feel horrible." He grumbled, barely able to move yet because of the stabbing pain in literally every part of his body.

"But are you healed?"

"…Yes." He acknowledged, as he was no longer actually injured. The past minutes had been pure agony, but the medicine had done what had been promised. He had been fixed again, mostly.

"So it's a five-star review!" The Spider Queen crowed, hopping happily in place, and Vlov had to resist the urge to snap at her. He might not know what a 'five-star review' was supposed to mean, but he got the gist from the context. She regarded her medicine as perfect.

Well, it wasn't. It caused great pain, took far too long, and worst of all, sapped his little remaining power to the point where even a middling Executor would be able to beat him now.

He was exhausted, and to Dead Apostles of all ranks, from the mindless thralls to the god-like Ancestors, exhaustion was a lethal thing. Not just because of their many enemies, but also because of the World itself.

Dead Apostles were fundamentally unnatural creatures, by any sense of the word, and that meant Gaia was always trying to erase them from existence. Even though they were the descendants of the being she herself had asked for help, she was fully intent on vanquishing them, like she had vanquished the old gods and the Phantasmal Beasts.

Worse, the higher a Dead Apostle was in rank, the more they were affected by this. The only way to offset the effect was by maintaining high levels of innate power and energy, and that meant they needed to drink copious amounts of blood.

At the moment though, with his strength sapped and with little to no blood in his system, Vlov could almost feel how the World was trying to obliterate him, and he wasted no more time getting to his feet.

He needed to drink some blood, fast.

But unfortunately, he couldn't leave yet.

As said before, the Spider Queen had saved him at great expense to herself, and he would be remiss if he didn't repay the favour.

Other Ancestors wouldn't have worried about something like that. They would have stormed out again without as much as a 'thank-you', off to gorge themselves on the nearest passersby.

But Vlov wasn't like that.


"Your insistence on holding on to those knightly virtues is going to be the death of you one day." The Spider Queen warned him, sounding almost worried rather than mocking, but she shrugged again when he didn't reply. "Very well. I'm happy you decided to stay. I need your help."

"Name it."

"I need you to be my distraction." She explained, scuttering over to a corner of her laboratory, where a large cabinet full of mysterious vials was standing in prominent view. "For decades, I have been able to do my research in peace, here in this beautiful city, but with all these recent interlopers, I can barely step outside anymore without running into Executors and Magi."

"Then kill them." Vlov replied, ever the practical man. "Or wait here until they have left again."

"Oh, treacle, I do appreciate your confidence in me, but you know I am worthless in a fight." The Spider Queen bemoaned, and her jaws made a kind of movement that almost resembled a pout. "And I cannot wait for them to leave either. I am so close to a breakthrough, and I do not want to sit on my butt until you and Roa finally decide to take your fight somewhere else."

"Leave town and continue somewhere else." Vlov presented the next best solution, but again, she shook her head.

"My experiments are almost bearing fruit here, and I worked hard to create a place for myself. I do not want to leave." Spiders were mainly stationary creatures, not very fond of travelling unless they had to, and the Spider Queen had adopted that behaviour. "But with your help, treacle, I might be able to work something out."

"…What do you want me to do?"

"I'm glad you asked!" Once more, she started hopping in delight, retrieving one of the ominous vials. "Everyone knows that I have a love for potions and concoctions, you most of all, my dear."

"Yes." Vlov indeed knew that, he knew it all too well.

"And I'm especially proud of this one." She continued, holding the vial up for him to study. "A potion that will change a human into a mature Dead Apostle at once, instead of only a thrall."

"I see." Vlov frowned a bit at her boast, wondering why she seemed so proud of that potion of hers. Yes, changing a human into a mature Dead Apostle instead of a mere thrall was fairly unusual, but it wasn't unheard of. Every Ancestor could do it, provided they were willing to invest the necessary power.

By the Twenty-Seven, even the Spider Queen herself had done it just minutes ago to save Vlov from the redheaded Magus. It really was nothing new.

"No, you don't see." She shook her head however, caressing the vial like it was a newborn babe. "With this potion, I can change humans into mature Dead Apostles, Dead Apostles that seemingly belong to other Ancestors."

"What?!" Now Vlov's eyes went wide in shock.

"Yes!" The Spider Queen laughed, puffing out her hideous chest in pride. "With this concoction, I could, for instance, make a mature Dead Apostle with power over flame and frost. An Apostle that seemingly came from your line, treacle."

Now that truly shocked Vlov, at last revealing why she seemed so proud of herself.

Normally, Dead Apostles only assumed the traits of the one who had made them. The Spider Queen's minions for instance gained spider-like traits, while Vlov's minions, should he get any, would have power over frost and flame. In that sense, it was rather similar to a bloodline of Magi, passing on similar abilities to their children.

But now the Spider Queen said she could mimic the line of other Ancestors? Copy their inheritable powers?

That was huge!

And also ridiculously dangerous.

For her, that was.

If Ortenrosse found out about this, or Altrouge, they would flay her alive and shove her own bleeding spider-legs down her throat, before crucifying her on the doorsteps of the Vatican, as a warning to all who might think about doing something similar.

Even Vlov didn't like the sound of it, and he had never created a mature minion before.

"This vial contains a concoction that will mimic the bite of our beloved Rita Rozay-en." She continued, and Vlov twitched at the mention of the vilest and most hated Ancestor of them all. "I call it 'Idea Replica', after our Idea Blood."

A simple yet descriptive name. Vlov could appreciate that, even if that was the only thing about the current situation he could appreciate.

"If you, my dear Vlov, could inject one of the pesky Executors in my beautiful city with this concoction, and never mention this to any of our dear fellow Ancestors, you can regard your debt to me as paid. Preferably, you should inject the sexy teacher, Noel, or the one with the child-bearing hips and delectable butt, Ciel, but in a pinch, any of them will do."

"That seems… very little." He replied, now also suspicious on top of being frustrated and concerned, ignoring the names and descriptions for now. "Why can't you do it yourself?"

"Oh, I just don't fancy doing it." She replied dismissively.

That only fuelled Vlov's suspicions even more, and it didn't take him long to work out her reasoning.

She wanted him as an accomplice.

Once he did this, once he helped her, the other Ancestors would regard him as just as guilty to her scheme as the Spider Queen herself. He would be forever tied to her, forced to help and protect her for his own sake as much as hers.

Naturally, he wanted to refuse, he wanted to throw her poisonous offer back into her face, but he couldn't.

Because she had just saved his life. He owed her a life-debt.

She'd been right before. His knightly principles were indeed going to be the death of him.

He accepted the vial she held out to him with clenched teeth, suppressing the urge to ram it into one of those horrid eyes, before he turned around resolutely, intending on leaving without another word. Even if this was going to cement their alliance forever, he wasn't going to pretend to like it.

"Ah, wait!" But once more, she called out to him. "You must regain some strength first. Would you like to have breakfast with me before you go?"

"…" Vlov's frustrations really started to reach their boiling point when he realised he once again wasn't in a position to refuse. He needed sustenance, fast, and if she was offering it, he had no choice but to accept.

"In the building next to mine, there's a nest of Yakuza. Feel free to come with me." She explained, before a cacophony of hisses, cracks, and slimy shudders erupted from behind him. "I just need to slip into something less… noticeable."

Vlov took in a shuddering breath when her last word didn't sound like granite being crushed anymore, but like the soft, velvety tone of a beautiful, mature lady. As if she had suddenly changed forms.

Indeed. When he turned around, he no longer saw the Spider Queen's monstrous true form, the one that had sometimes given even him a nightmare or two, but rather her favourite disguise.

Her favourite disguise of a gorgeous, tantalising dame that pushed every single one of Vlov's buttons.

She was absolutely enticing, and it was maddening that he felt attracted to her despite knowing the horror that lurked beneath that stunning surface.

"Shall we?" She whispered throatily into his ear, before she went ahead, and it was all Vlov could do not to look at her swaying bottom.

This was going too far! He'd clearly been away from his wives for far, far too long, and it was getting to him!

He needed to wrap this up and go home, quickly!

Shirou ran through the maze of alleyways as fast as he could, using every one of his senses in a bid to find Arkhangel again, all while stewing in frustration over his failure to finish the monster off.

He'd had him! He had him on the ropes, victory had been near, but then it had been snatched from his hands at the very last moment by the interference of other Dead Apostles.

His own fault of course. He should have kept an eye on his surroundings, like his father had so often told him. He'd really dropped the ball on that one, and as a result, he was now desperately trying to finish the job despite knowing that his quarry had long since disappeared.

He didn't want to admit it, not when there was still the slightest chance, but when he eventually arrived in an alley next to a main street, having seen hide nor hair of Arkhangel for close to ten minutes and having completely lost his scent, Shirou was forced to acknowledge the painful truth.

The Ancestor had escaped.


Shirou spat out a curse, his anger momentarily making him forget Sakura's dislike for uncouth language, venting his frustration with the current situation.

It wasn't a Japanese curse, or an English one, or any of the other tongues of men or indeed any language ever spoken on Earth. It was an utterly alien curse, in a tongue that was only fit for evil.

A nearby puddle promptly started smoking, the shoddy paint covering a nearby wall was peeled right off the stone, and the vermin and insects crawling through the street all shuddered and died on the spot.

Shirou didn't notice any of that however, too angry to focus properly, and he stormed off again, in a last ditch effort to find anything of use.

Soon, he came across another group of the Undead, hiding in a nearby alley, and he momentarily perked up, a vestige of hope rising in his chest, before it fell again when he realised they didn't belong to either Arkhangel or the Spider, but to Roa instead. As far as traces and clues went, they were worthless.

Still, he didn't hesitate to destroy them with extreme prejudice, taking his anger out on them.

They didn't see him at first, too focused on the alley's exit, probably searching for prey, and by the time they realised he was upon them, it was too late for them to even think about fighting back or fleeing.

He smashed them into the walls, crushed their heads in his grip, and slammed them against the ground, destroying them faster than even the best Executor with the Holiest of weapons at their disposal.

In the face of such overwhelming violence, the last thrall left seemed to panic, as impossible as that was supposed to be for the mindless creatures, and it tried to run past Shirou, deeper into the labyrinth of alleyways he had just exited.

But Shirou grabbed its throat, lifted it up, grabbed hold of its hip as well, and without hesitation, tore it into two.

Had he done so with a human, it would have resulted in a squall of gore even he would have been hard-pressed to clean up afterwards.

But since it was only an Undead, all he was left with were scattered ashes, which quickly blew away in the wind.

The group of thralls had been exterminated.


Shirou's eyes flitted to the side when he spotted a sudden movement, a shadowy figure seemingly running away, but it was gone before he could pinpoint the location.

He breathed in deep through his nose, trying to find a scent that might suggest something had been there, but he came up short. All he could smell was Roa, and that was only the residue from the Undead he had just slain.

Unusually strong residue, but residue all the same. There was no one else in the alley, not anymore.

Fighting the Undead hadn't been much of a battle, more of a massacre really, but it had successfully cooled Shirou's temper a bit, and he could take a step back and look at the big picture again.

There was bad news, but there was also good news. Arkhangel had escaped, yes, but he had been weakened at least. The Spider Queen had saved her fellow Ancestor, which was annoying, but in doing so, she had also exposed herself much more than she'd probably intended too.

By sending so many higher levelled servants at him, she'd given him much more to work with in his hunt for her. He now had her Magical 'profile', he had much better samples of her scent, and he knew that she had to be lurking somewhere at the Eastern edge of the city, where he'd lost Arkhangel's trail.

With some luck, finding her would be much easier now.

But he couldn't just mindlessly storm off in pursuit. Dawn was close, the first rays of the sun already threatening to peek over the horizon, so Shirou had to make himself look presentable before he gave the upcoming morning crowd a reason to call the police on him.

He dismissed his armour and Mjolnir, removed the residual blood from his body, and used a Projected comb to straighten his hair.

But although his outward appearance had been corrected again, his mood could only be called foul still. When he left the alley in favour of the main street, it was with a firm gait and a thunderous expression.

Frankly, he wanted nothing more than a rematch, against either Ancestor, but he couldn't pursue Arkhangel or the Spider Queen during the day. They would be lying low, and the chances of civilians getting involved was much too high.

Instead, he'd return to the Tohno-manor, the place where he had first encountered Arkhangel a few hours earlier.

And, more importantly, where he had smelt residual traces of Dead Apostle activity before. Residual traces he hadn't considered important back then, believing them to be the remnants of slain Undead, but could now link directly to the Spider Queen herself, having encountered several powerful servants of hers which had given him her 'profile'.

He'd made a mistake earlier, believing that the Tohno weren't involved. With the new information at his disposal, he now knew that the Ancestor herself had definitely been inside of the walls of the Tohno-estate, and quite recently at that.

Tohno Akiha had some explaining to do, and if Shirou had to pull rank to convince her to cooperate, if he had to reveal he was a Sorcerer, then he would do so-


Shirou's dark thoughts were interrupted when he bumped into someone going the other way, effectively knocking him out of his funk.

Predictably, he knocked them over, but he managed to grab hold of their hand before they could hit the ground, pulling them back to their feet.

"Oh, pardon me!" They apologised, before letting out a small sigh of relief when he steadied them again. "And thank you for catching me."

They turned out to be a young girl, about Shirou's age if he had to guess, with brown hair done up in twin tails and brown eyes. She was rather small, though in fairly good shape, with a muscle definition that was somewhere between Sakura and Ayako, leaning more towards the latter.

"It's fine, and you're welcome." He replied, burying his last vestiges of anger so not to unduly scare her, before he frowned. "What are you doing out here so early?"


"There is a serial killer on the loose." And by serial killer, he meant countless Dead Apostles and Thralls, among them the very group he had just dealt with. "You shouldn't be out here on your own, at this hour. What are you doing here?"

"O-Oh, uh, ah." The girl spluttered, a blush of embarrassment appearing high on her cheeks. "I-I was going to a c-classmate's h-house, s-so we can w-walk to school t-together."

"This early? On your own?"

"W-Well, uhm…" The girl's mouth opened and closed as she tried to come up with an explanation, but in the end, she let her head hang in shame. "S-Sorry."

"Don't apologise to me! Just make sure it doesn't happen again!"

"R-Right!" She squeaked, her head snapping up again in acknowledgement.

Shirou was being hard on the girl, he knew that, but he felt it was warranted. Everyone knew the casualties in Misaki Town were stacking up, to the point where the city council had already issued warnings not to go outside at night, especially on your own, yet this girl had ignored all those warnings and put herself at risk anyway, all for some boy she appeared to be sweet on.

If Shirou hadn't been present, if he hadn't destroyed the group of Undead in the alley back there, she would almost definitely have been killed by them, or worse even.

So he scolded her without mercy, to ram it into her head that she had to be more careful, that it was her life at stake here.

She seemed to quickly get the message, and once he was certain that she wouldn't forget his warning any time soon, he sent her on her way. By now, there were plenty of other people out and about as well, so things should be relatively safe again.

Once she was gone, Shirou too continued on his way back to the Tohno-manor, still in a foul mood and with a bad taste in his mouth.

He'd promised the girls that it would be a short mission, a few days of work before he could come home again, but he'd been in Misaki Town for a full night already, and he hadn't made much progress at all.

It was truly vexing, and his frustrated expression made more than a few poor innocent salarymen scramble to get out of his way.

But ultimately, he was being too hard on himself.

Since entering Misaki Town, Shirou had met up with and reconciled with the city's Second Owner, he had found and healed the Ultimate One of the Earth, discovered she held the information he was after, and gotten a clear and defined end goal for his mission: killing Roa.

Furthermore, he had crippled Vlov Arkhangel, the Nineteenth Dead Apostle Ancestor, he had forced the Spider Queen to expend so much of her power she too was practically crippled, he had slain countless thralls, depriving their masters of much needed resources, and on top of all that, he had saved an innocent life.

He had saved Yumizuka Satsuki's very humanity without even knowing it, preventing her from becoming a Dead Apostle herself.

All in all, it had been an extremely successful night, even if he couldn't see it.

Waver liked to think he had become fairly accustomed over the summer to the idea of having a Sorcerer in his office.

Granted, he had been as surprised as anyone else when Shirou had turned out to be a True Magician, but by the time that came out, he and the lad had become close enough that it was more wondrous and amazing than it was shocking and alarming.

It had taught him that True Magicians, for all their power and Mystery, were just humans too, with their own needs and wants, who could be reasoned with like one could reason with most other people.

They were still standing on their pedestals, high above the petty crowds, that would never change, but they weren't gods or demons or anything like that. Their mindsets weren't inhuman by any standard.

Waver actually felt pretty good about having realised that, and it might, just might, have lulled him into a sense of complacency, feeling like he understood Sorcerers, if only a little bit.

But then a second Sorcerer had arrived in his office, and rudely shocked him out of that complacency, as he was slapped across the face with the fact that, just like with Magi, no two Sorcerers were alike.

Shirou had always been pleasant, kind even, and had thus been relatively easy to get along with. It hadn't taken long for Waver to get a handle on him, and he was pretty sure lady Barthomeloi and lady Montmorency had similar experiences. Even Grey considered the redhead a friend of sorts, though one she had a healthy respect for.

But although Waver's current guest was similar to Shirou in that they were both True Magicians, that was where the similarities ended.

"You seem to have done very well for yourself since the last time I saw you, Waver!" Kischur Zelretch Schweinorg guffawed, his laugh doing absolutely nothing to set Waver, Grey, or Bazett at ease. "I don't pay attention to you for only a few months, and you manage to pinch yourself two extra Departments and a wife on top of that!"

"Fiancée." Waver corrected him automatically, the matter of his upcoming marriage to Marianne still heavy on his mind.

"Fiancée." Zelretch accepted gracefully, grinning widely as he leaned over Waver's desk. "I trust I am invited to the wedding then? I promise to bring worthy gifts for you and the blushing bride."

Waver didn't doubt for a second that the Kaleidoscope's wedding presents would indeed be phenomenal. The man was renowned for the quality and quantity of his gifts. In fact, the left side of his desk was cluttered right now with various trinkets and baubles that the Kaleidoscope had presented to him under the guise of an apology for not checking in for so long.

The man did nothing else than give, at every conceivable opportunity, yet all the same, Waver knew he would not make himself popular in the Clocktower if he did invite Zelretch to his wedding.

Because unlike Shirou, Zelretch was utterly unpredictable, immensely capricious even on the best of days, and had a reputation for driving unworthy students mad.

No matter how hard you tried, it was impossible to get a handle on Zelretch, and that meant you couldn't help but feel scared of the man even when he was being perfectly pleasant.

Even now, after Zelretch politely entered his office, hung his coat on the rack like a normal person, sat down properly in the appropriate chair, presented lavish gifts, and had done nothing but smile, laugh, and praise, Waver still had to consciously prevent himself from trembling like a leaf.

"I'm sure you have better things to do than to attend a wedding." Waver tried to refuse politely, before he almost flinched when Zelretch threw his head back and laughed uproariously.

It was another example of how unsettling the Kaleidoscope could be. Even though it was only the amused laugh of a boisterous old man, Waver still felt like he was about to be dropped into an interdimensional hole full of Eldritch horrors.

"You can refuse to invite me if you don't want me there. I know I am not the most popular figure around." Zelretch assured him after getting his laughter under control, and this time, his words actually did provide some relief. "Though frankly, I don't want to miss it either. It's not every day a friend gets married. How about I disguise myself during the wedding itself and only come out during the afterparty to liven things up a bit?"

"…That would be acceptable." It still wasn't ideal, but if Zelretch really was set on coming to the wedding, it was probably the best deal he was going to get. Besides, with some luck, the man would be distracted by something new soon and forget all about Waver getting married.

As said before, his capriciousness was legendary.

"Splendid!" Zelretch grinned, before he quickly sobered up. "But that's not actually why I am here. I'm sorry to say this, old friend, but this is not just a social call. I am here on business."

"I see." Waver had already assumed as much, but he made sure to keep his expression neutral. He had a pretty good idea of what the Kaleidoscope wanted to talk about, but it was safer not to make any assumptions before the man had spoken.

"I heard you found yourself a new Sorcerer. I was hoping you could maybe tell me a little bit about them."

Waver's suspicions were confirmed. This was indeed the conversation he'd been expecting since Fujimaru had left the Clocktower a few months back.

"You are talking about mister Fujimaru." Waver made sure not to sound too familiar with the lad. While he didn't exactly distrust the Kaleidoscope, he also didn't just want to hand over all information he had, and the easiest way to avoid getting interrogated was by pretending not to know anything of use.

"I am indeed." Zelretch confirmed, folding his hands below his chin as he peered at Waver with a discerning gaze. "As I said, I have been off the grid for a while, pursuing some pressing matters relating to a certain Ritual. As such, I'm sure you understand I was rather shocked to hear of the appearance of a new True Magician, one who wields the Third even, a Magic I was sure had been lost forever centuries ago."

"Is that so?" Waver asked neutrally, not averting his gaze for even a fraction of a second. "He must be quite an impressive young man then."

"A young man who studied here under no one else but you, Waver." Zelretch pointed out.

"I did not teach him any True Magic."

"But you did teach him."

"Only a few lessons in Modern Magecraft."

"All the same." A slight frown parked itself between Zelretch's eyebrows at Waver's recalcitrant behaviour, before it quickly smoothed out again. "I think you are misunderstanding something here. I don't want to know how he learned the Materialisation of the Soul, or what your role in it was, nor do I want you to give me any personal information about him. All I want is for you to tell me your impression of young Fujimaru as a student and when I might be able to meet him for myself."

"As a student?" Waver blinked at those words, before he realised what the Kaleidoscope was hinting at. "You want to take him on as your apprentice?"

"Perhaps, as an unofficial one." Zelretch confirmed, before making a so-and-so motion. "If he is willing, and he is of moral character. As his senior, there might be a few things I can teach him that will make his life a bit easier."

"…" The old man sounded sincere enough, and his offer wasn't even all that bad. Likely, the only people who could effectively guide Sorcerers were other Sorcerers, so in that sense, Shirou might benefit from Zelretch's guidance. "You can guarantee that becoming your apprentice will be his choice and his alone?"

"You have my word." Zelretch swore, placing a hand on his heart.

"…He is a good student." Waver took a moment to collect his thoughts, before he began describing Shirou. "He is very sharp and intelligent, has many talents, and is very serious in his work. He is also very dedicated to justice however, to the point where he allows others to use him in the pursuit of it, and he has no compunction about dropping everything he is doing to help someone in trouble."

"Hm?" Zelretch blinked once at Waver's description so far, appearing a bit surprised.

"He is very stubborn, and thus also dedicated. If he agrees to be your apprentice, you can be certain he will work very hard." Waver continued, before rubbing the back of his head with a sigh. "Though again, helping others will always take precedence."

"Helping others?"

"He has mentioned, more than once, that his dream is to become a Hero of Justice."

"What?!" Zelretch's mouth suddenly fell open, his eyes going wide in shock, which in turn shocked Waver. "A Hero of Justice? Did he really say 'a Hero of Justice'?!"

"It is a verbatim quote." Waver nodded, wondering what had taken the Kaleidoscope aback like that. Certainly, a childish wish to become a hero wasn't the strangest thing the man had ever heard?

"Waver, I am going to ask you a question, and I want you to answer me honestly." Zelretch demanded, all traces of jovialness disappearing from his demeanour. "Fujimaru's real name, is it Shirou Emiya?"

Now it was Waver's turn to freeze in shock, and he heard how Bazett, very familiar with the legend of the other Emiya, gasped softly.

"Your reaction tells me enough." Zelretch huffed, his expression rapidly becoming too complicated to read, as if he wanted to laugh, cry, scream, and shout all at the same time. "And here I was, thinking I'd get a bog-standard version! Shirou Emiya, a Sorcerer! What's next?!"

"You know him?" Waver asked, rather redundantly.

"I know of him." The Kaleidoscope replied, already in the process of getting up from his chair. "And I must make preparations, pronto! I'll go and see him straight away."

"I don't know if-"

"I'm sorry, Waver, but this cannot wait! I must go at once." Zelretch quickly shrugged on his coat while waving away Waver's protests, before turning towards his hosts one last time. "I wish you much happiness in married life, Waver. Bazett, you be careful of scammers trying to sell you magical internet-money, and Grey, keep your chin up. Don't listen too much to your grouchy mentor. You can be proud of your appearance."

Then, there was a flash of rainbow light, and once it died down, Zelretch had left.

"…Magical internet money?" Bazett was the first to break the ensuing silence, sounding puzzled by the advice.

"…" Grey clutched her cloak even tighter than usual, as if scared it would fly away.

And Waver remained still for a while, trying to process what had just happened, before he rose from his desk.

If Zelretch really accepted Shirou as his apprentice, shockwaves would ripple through the political landscape of the Magus Association yet again. Before that happened, they needed to take measures, so he had a lot of people to talk to right now.

One of them being Shirou himself of course. If Zelretch was after him, he needed to be warned well in advance.

It seemed like another big mess was coming soon.

And with that, we end the chapter. Pretty soon after the last one, wasn't it?

So, most of it is one big battle between Ancestor and Demigod, and let me tell you, it was a lot of work to get it even remotely acceptable. Battle-scenes are a bit of a weakness of mine, so writing such a big one was quite the challenge.

Vlov puts up a good fight, and even has the upper hand most of the time, but Shirou's immense variety of weapons and attacks bring him down in the end. Ultimately, he had to be saved by the Spider Queen, which he is notably unhappy about.

For all those who are confused by Vlov's behaviour, know that he hails from the seventeenth century, when knights were all but extinct. Basically, he tries to behave like what seventeenth-century nobles imagine a knight to be like, which is actually rather different from what they were truly like.

All this stuff about keeping his word and giving his opponents fair chances is basically an elaborate cosplay on Vlov's part, which is why it seems so inconsistent. He isn't one of the Knights of the Round, or one of the Paladins of Charlemagne, he just pretends to be one.

In any case, he won't be with us for much longer. I can tell you that much.

Shirou fails to kill him, and is rather pissed about that. He does save Satsuki though, ensuring she doesn't become an Apostle in this fic. As already said in the story, it was actually a pretty successful night for him.

Other than that, this chapter has Ciel and Arcueid, who argue over various matters, and Zelretch being on the hunt for a new apprentice.

I think that's all I wanted to say for now.

Ted makes a dramatic exit, accompanied by trumpets and heralds crying his name.