Knightfall


"Shirou! Hey, Shirou!"

While on his way to the Tohno-manor to confront Akiha, Shirou suddenly heard someone call out to him, and he turned his head towards the voice, slowing his pace so they could catch up to him, which they did a few moments later.

"Lady Brunestud." He politely greeted the blonde woman in turn, trying to show the appropriate deference to the Ultimate One of the Earth, before he blinked in surprise when her face twisted in displeasure. Familiar displeasure, which he had seen before in a certain Vice-Director. "Uhm, I mean, good morning, Arcueid?"

"Hm." Her pout morphed into a satisfied smile, and she gave him an approving nod. "Good morning, Shirou. Have you found Roa yet?"

"Straight to business, I see." Shirou huffed, though without any bite, as he was yet again reminded of a certain English lady. "Unfortunately not. I found and killed many of his minions, and I fought Arkhangel, but Roa has proven elusive so far."

"You fought the Knight?!" Arcueid seemed surprised at the fact, blinking her large, red eyes in shock. "When? Where? I didn't sense anything like that!"

Her surprise was well warranted and was in fact shared by Shirou, who was also taken aback by the fact she had apparently not noticed his fight with Arkhangel at all.

As the Ultimate One of the Earth and the Archetype of Gaia, Arcueid had a very close connection to the World, one that allowed her to gather information about everything that took place in her general vicinity, as proven when she discovered the presence of the Spider Queen merely by focusing a bit.

In comparison to a Dead Apostle Ancestor in hiding, the battle between Shirou and Arkhangel had to have been like a shining beacon to her, especially since they hadn't even remotely tried to be stealthy or discreet about it.

In fact, the only reason their fight had remained somewhat contained was because of…

"My Bounded Fields." Shirou said out loud, remembering he had in fact tried to obfuscate his fight, placing various Magical Wards around the park to keep the noise in and bystanders out, before he shook his head, realising that couldn't be it. "No, they wouldn't have been able to hide anything from you. They were not strong enough."

"I have never had any trouble with piercing Bounded Fields." Arcueid agreed casually, as if it were no big deal, before she cocked her head to the side in curiosity. "But in the absence of any other plausible causes, could you perhaps show me those Bounded Fields anyway? Just to check?"

"Sure." Shirou agreed, before looking around, at the street they were walking on. It was filled with pedestrians, mostly salarymen and school children, who were not the sort who should have anything to do with Magecraft. "Though we should go somewhere private first."

"Easy peasy." Arcueid grinned, before she grabbed his wrist and pulled him along towards a nearby alley, showing off her frightening strength, which Shirou couldn't have resisted even if he'd wanted to.

Once they were in the alley, which was mostly abandoned at the moment, as pedestrians had no business here and Dead Apostles didn't operate during the day, Arcueid tapped her heel on the ground once, causing something in Reality to shift ever so slightly on its axis.

And Shirou realised with no small amount of awe that she had just exerted her Authority over the alley, claiming total dominion over the few dozen square metres, essentially separating it from the rest of the World.

No matter what they did here, no one from outside would be able to notice now or approach them, not unless they had some conceptual weight of their own.

Essentially, it was what Vlov Arkhangel had tried to do with the park during the last stage of the battle, after he'd unleashed the full potential of his Principle, but while it had taken the Ancestor many minutes just to get started, Arcueid had completed the process in an instant.

It was a feat that would have made the average Magus faint in shock, an achievement worthy of a god, and she'd done it with a mere tap of her shoe.

She wasn't even breathing hard, for crying out loud!

How on Earth had someone managed to slice her to pieces if this was the sort of power she possessed?! Had she been caught sleeping or something?!

Shirou was almost too baffled to speak, but when Arcueid gave him her full and undivided attention, his tongue loosened quickly.

"Well then, show me." She ordered him. "Create the same Bounded Fields as when you fought the Knight."

He obeyed, focusing for a moment, before he called the Bounded Fields and Runic Wards into existence.

He tried to mimic every part of the night before. His rush to create the defences, his desperation to prevent bystanders from getting caught up in the battle, his need to keep the battle contained, and even his distraction as he tried to keep Arkhangel from killing him.

As a result, he delivered fairly shoddy work, Bounded Fields that were nowhere near the best that he could do, but they were functional, and above all, nearly perfectly identical to the ones he'd created before.

A decent success, if he said so himself. Sufficiently so that Arcueid should be able to gain reliable and representative information from them.

So he turned towards the blonde princess, only to still for a moment when he saw her expression.

Surprised, that was the best way to describe her. Not totally shocked or befuddled, but her already large eyes were even wider now and her mouth was slightly open, signifying that she was taken aback at least.

It was surprisingly adorable, he had to say.

…Was it just him, or was he thinking of her as adorable quite often? Too often even, for someone of her standing.

Similarity number three with the certain lady in London then.

"Arcueid?" He gently tapped her shoulder to snap her out of it. "What do you think?"

"…You are not just a Magus, are you?" She asked, and the question would have startled Shirou if he hadn't already expected it. "You are something more."

"A Sorcerer." He nodded, giving up on one layer of secrecy, hoping that it would be enough for her not to dig any deeper, towards the more Divine layers. "I am an apprentice in the Heaven's Feel."

Just an apprentice. Not a master. Never a master.

"The Heaven's Feel…" She repeated slowly, ponderously. "I thought that Magic was lost centuries ago?"

"It's been found again." He lied, feeling rather depressed at how easy it was getting for him to be untruthful about the nature of his abilities.

"Well, that might explain what I am sensing." She allowed, though she still didn't look too certain.

"What are you sensing then? Maybe I can explain it better if you told me?"

"Well, your Bounded Fields aren't just keeping in noise and keeping out bystanders." Arcueid replied, gesturing at the small area that he had enclosed with his defences. "They are trying to overwrite my control over the area within."

"What?!" Now it was Shirou's turn to be startled, utterly shocked even.

He was overwriting the dominion of the Moon Princess herself?! With mere Bounded Fields?!

"You didn't know." Arcueid observed, pursing her lips slightly. "I was hoping you could explain what you were doing, but it seems we can only speculate."

No. No, that wasn't true. Shirou had a pretty good idea of why his spells might interfere slightly with Arcueid's abilities, and yet again, it was entirely because of Mjolnir.

Because the hammer had chosen him, he'd become the heir of Thor, and Thor had been a god of the Earth, the son of Gaia even, though by a different name. A deity that also held an Authority relating to the World itself.

Shirou had noticed that his Authority had been increasing over the past months, that his power as a god was growing quickly, so it wasn't out of the question that it was becoming noticeable to other Earthen deities, such as Arcueid. He was intruding upon their turf, so to speak.

That was a considerable shock, and a good reminder of the fact that being Thor's heir entailed more than just getting a bunch of superhero-like abilities.

This was really serious, and definitely not something he should just blurt out to anyone. Especially not to someone who might very well come to see him as a rival.

Hence, he kept his mouth shut, allowing Arcueid to speculate all she wanted.

"Perhaps the reason for this strange ability is indeed simply you being a Sorcerer, since your sort does tend to be unique, but I haven't known Sorcerers to be able to do something like this."

"You know other Sorcerers?"

"…I know one other Sorcerer." She admitted after a moment, looking a bit sheepish. "N-Not a big sample-pool, I know. S-So I suppose it could still be because you wield the Third rather than the Second."

"The Second?"

Hold on, was she saying that she knew…?

"Grandpa Kischur wields the Second True Magic." She replied, smiling as she spoke, simultaneously confirming Shirou's suspicions and massively exceeding them in any and every way.

"…Grandpa?"

"He sometimes shows me some cool tricks." Arcueid grinned like an excited teenager at the thought of her 'grandfather' putting on a show for her. "But I've never noticed anything that suggests he can overwrite my control, let alone mother's."

Mother…

That was probably Gaia then.

Gaia for a mother and Zelretch for a grandfather. What a family that had to be.

"Maybe I can visit him once I am done here, before I have to return to-" Arcueid suddenly interrupted herself, coughing gently into her hand. "Before I have to return. He might be able to provide some insight into your abilities."

"Please don't bother on my account!"

Shirou did not want the Kaleidoscope poking his nose into his business. Absolutely not! By all accounts, the man was frighteningly competent, and Shirou was not at all confident in his ability to keep things a secret from him.

"Oh, it's no trouble." She assured him kindly. "I'm curious too, and I'm sure that grandpa will be very interested once I tell him about you. Maybe he'll even teach you about being a proper Sorcerer. He said something about guiding the next generation the last time I saw him."

She wrapped up her assurance with a beaming smile, and she looked so well-willing and happy to be of use that Shirou couldn't even muster any frustration or apprehension.

He'd wondered before whether there was a correlation in the Moonlit World between a woman's power and her beauty, but now he almost felt like cuteness and adorableness might also play a significant role in that correlation.

Or was it just a coincidence that all the powerful women he knew could also be startingly cute whenever he least expected it?

In any case, he could hardly refuse her offer to ask her grandfather for help, not without looking suspicious and ungrateful, so he gritted his teeth and nodded, trying to look appreciative.

Arcueid fell for it hook, line, and sinker, visibly patting herself on the back for making him happy.

"But, in any case, you did fight the Knight?" She then brought their discussion back on track, dropping the matter of his strange abilities for now. "Did you win?"

"I did, but he fled before I could kill him." Shirou frowned, his mood fouling again at the reminder. "The Spider Queen suddenly sent her minions to help him."

"Did she? That's unexpected." Arcueid muttered with a small frown. "Ancestors usually stay out of each other's business, even when one is about to be killed. There are some famous exceptions of course, but they are famous precisely because they are rare. I haven't heard anything about the Knight and the little spider being friends or even just getting along."

"She still saved him though."

"I believe you." She assured him, before giving him a firm nod. "Then you'll just have to beat them both at the same time."

"Me?"

"Yes, I'll be too busy looking for Roa." Arcueid grinned playfully at him, linking her hands behind her back and leaning forward, thereby enhancing her cuteness by a factor of ten. "I'm counting on you, Shirou."

"…"

Truly, power and cuteness were closely intertwined. They had to be, or the world would stop making any sense at all.

"Oh, and by the way, did you perhaps, by any chance, meet a blue-haired, small, really grumpy Executor with a big butt today?" Apparently considering the matter of Arkhangel to be over, Arcueid changed the subject again.

"You mean Ciel? Yes, I met her, after defeating a group of Undead. I think we reached an understanding."

"Be careful about her. Now that she knows you are associated with me, she won't like you anymore."

"…Noted." Shirou was tempted to ask how exactly the Executor now knew that they were working together, as he certainly hadn't told her, but since he could pretty much guess the answer, he suppressed the temptation. "Was that all? Not to be rude, but I have more to do."

Such as following up on his lead on the Spider Queen.

"Could I ask you just one more question before you go?"

"If I can ask you one in turn." Shirou replied, remembering there was in fact something he wanted to know from her.

"Deal." She nodded immediately. "How did you heal me?"

"Hm?"

"I learned a bit more about how I was cut into pieces, what sort of power was used, and I now know that modern Healing Spells should never have been able to fix me." She explained, narrowing her eyes a bit to peer at him. "So how did you heal me?"

"I used the Heaven's Feel." Shirou didn't bother denying it and went straight to his go-to excuse. "I cannot Resurrect people yet, but I can heal pretty much any wound, no matter by what Magic or weapon they were inflicted."

That made sense, right? Everyone at the Clocktower had happily accepted that explanation. It wasn't even such a stretch. Anyone who could raise the dead should also be able to heal wounds. Those abilities went hand in hand.

Or at least, that was what he claimed, hoping it would prevent any more difficult questions from being asked.

Arcueid didn't look quite convinced though, likely because she knew more about Sorcerers than almost anyone else alive, but after a few tense moments, she let up on her inquisitive stare, deciding to believe him on his word.

"Alright then. Thanks again for that. I'm happy you were there."

"I'm happy about that too."

"Hehe." Her ensuing smile was positively radiant, gratitude and happiness shining through in equal measure, and Shirou felt like even more of a heel for lying to her so blatantly when she didn't deserve it in the slightest. "What did you want to ask me?"

So he gratefully accepted her question, allowing it to distract him from his own despicable actions.

"The one who cut you to pieces. Did you find them, and if so, what did you do with them?"

"That's two questions." She pointed out, playfully wagging her finger at him in reproach. "But that's alright. I did find him, quite easily, and like I said, I recruited him to help me hunt Roa. His talent is quite amazing, you see, and really, really useful."

"I see." Shirou nodded, relieved that the matter had ended peacefully. "Thank you for telling me."

He didn't have much else to say. Frankly, he wasn't sure how good an idea it was to work with someone who'd already sliced you to ribbons once, but since he didn't know the circumstances, he chose not to comment. Arcueid could look after herself, mostly.

Besides, he might have done something similar in her position. Recruit strong warriors to hunt down a false Dead Apostle Ancestor.

And if she did end up in pieces once more, he'd help her again. That went without saying.

"Oh, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate you too." Arcueid suddenly hastened to say, as if worried he might get jealous. "I'm really happy that you are helping me find Roa."

"I don't have much of a choice, do I?" Shirou huffed, referring to the fact she held crucial information he was after, before softening his tone when Arcueid's expression fell, realising his words had been a bit harsh. "But I'm also happy to help you either way of course. Roa is a monster, and as a hero, I am dutybound to hunt him down. Working together makes sense in light of that, as four eyes see more than two."

"Six eyes." She reminded him, perking up again as the spark returned to her large, pretty eyes.

"Even better." Shirou smiled, which seemed to dissolve the last of her worries about his willingness to help her. "Though I must admit that I am hunting the Spider Queen rather than Roa at the moment."

"…That's fine." It certainly wasn't ideal, judging by her frown, but it seemed she was willing to overlook his side-quest for now. "All Dead Apostle Ancestors must die. Still, I would appreciate it if-"

"I will also keep an eye out for Roa." He promised, easily able to guess what she wanted to say. "And I will destroy his Undead when I see them."

"Good. It will drive him out of hiding." Arcueid nodded approvingly, giving him a happy grin. "Alrighty then, keep up the good work. Shiki and I will continue to look for the Serpent."

"Good luck- Wait! Shiki?" Shirou stilled at the name, suddenly getting an ominous feeling in his stomach. "Tohno Shiki?"

"Yup." Arcueid nodded, her lips shaping themselves into an even happier grin. "You know him?"

"I met him once." Shirou replied, having to suppress a wince.

Tohno Akiha had been adamant that her brother not be involved with the Moonlit World, trying to protect him from its many horrors, but it seemed her efforts had been futile. The Moon Princess herself had torn his blissful ignorance to pieces, and Shirou couldn't suppress a tinge of pity, for both the brother and the sister.

"Shiki is quite interesting, isn't he?"

As she spoke, Arcueid's grin suddenly shifted. It was still bright and wide, and surprisingly adorable for an immortal creature, but now it held a darker edge, as if a tiny bit of shadow had wormed its way into the grin. A tiny false note in a beautiful composition, that promised nothing good for Tohno Shiki.

In fact, it was startlingly similar to how Sakura and Rin would smile whenever they were plotting something evil.

"Interesting?" Shirou asked, not really knowing what to do with that sudden shift in her demeanour.

"He is nothing like you." Arcueid declared with absolute certainty, suddenly stepping uncomfortably close to him, studying him thoroughly and even sniffing him once. "You are kind, and warm, and vast, like a mountain of treasure."

"Treasure?" Shirou blinked once. "You sound like a dragon."

"Heh." She seemed to consider that a compliment, giving him an appreciative look, before she turned marginally more serious again. "Shiki is not like that. He's nice and helpful, sometimes, but he's not really kind. When I asked him for help, I had to threaten him to get him to say yes."

"Threatening people usually does not endear them to you." Shirou felt obliged to point out.

"He wouldn't agree otherwise." Arcueid countered petulantly, pouting a bit. "And he did owe me for slicing me to pieces. If you hadn't been there, it would have taken me hours and most of my power to put myself back together. It is only logical that he helps me in return."

"And did you explain that to him properly?" Shirou didn't necessarily disagree with her reasoning, but he did suspect that she might have been overly short with words while recruiting Shiki. She did seem like the type who would do that.

"Yes." She nodded confidently, before that confidence slowly waned as Shirou kept holding her gaze without blinking. "…I mean, maybe?"

"…Just make sure to properly thank him when it's over." It took everything the redhead had not to palm his face, and he hoped that Tohno Shiki was the easy-going sort, lest Arcueid ended up with a knife in her back. "And be nice to him. Where is he anyway?"

"Shiki has to go to school during the day." Arcueid explained. "So I'm on my own for now. I'll pick him up when he's done."

She was going to pick him up directly from school? If Tohno's high school was anything like Shirou's own, that would surely set tongues wagging something fierce, and the redhead felt obliged to say something of it, to shield a fellow teenager's reputation.

"Maybe it would be better if you met up at a different location." He suggested, trying to sound casual. "We are trying to maintain secrecy, aren't we? That won't work if you show off your alliance so openly in front of so many people."

"You think so?"

"I know so."

"I see." She gave him an awed look, as if he'd imparted some great wisdom onto her, and Shirou hoped she would indeed take his words to heart. "I'll catch him on his way home then."

"Good idea." Shirou nodded approvingly, once more relieved that she was so well willing. "Will you be fine on your own until then?"

"I've always been on my own." There was something sad about the way she said that, even though she continued smiling. "I'll just search the city, and maybe buy something to eat while I'm doing so."

"Do you have any money?" Shirou asked, his hand already moving towards his wallet to give her some.

"I do." She surprised him yet again however, proudly pulling a heap of crumpled Yen-notes out of her pocket. Altogether, it amounted to about a thousand Yen, which wasn't a lot, but it should be enough to get her a few snacks on the way.

"Where did you get that from?" Shirou asked, blinking at the crumpled heap. He didn't think she'd stolen it from anyone, but she didn't seem like the type to work day jobs either. Had she found it on the streets perhaps? He'd heard that it wasn't unusual for people to lose money, and that the total amount could add up to considerable sums, but he couldn't imagine Arcueid on her knees, collecting the coins and bills one by one.

"From my job." Arcueid defied his expectations however. "There's this building in the centre of town where people are taking pictures of each other while wearing pretty clothes. When I looked inside, they asked me if I wanted to join, offering to pay me for it too. I have been going there a few hours every day."

"Oh, you work for a modelling agency?"

Yeah, Shirou could actually see that happen. Arcueid had that sort of unnatural beauty he'd learned to associate with powerful women, so it wasn't a surprise that magazines and the like would want her on their covers.

Of course, he was a bit concerned that it might be a predatory sort of modelling agency, preying on naïve women to force them into prostitution, but even if that was the case, Arcueid could look after herself perfectly well. He didn't think there was anyone on Earth who could force her to do something she didn't want to, making it almost impossible to take advantage of her.

"Yes! And this is what they paid me for my work yesterday! Isn't it amazing?!"

But then she bragged about her income, proudly showing off the fistful of crumpled Yen-notes, and Shirou's expression flattened, as he realised she had in fact been taken advantage of after all.

Not sexually, as she wouldn't allow that without ripping the guilty party to literal shreds, but if she thought that mere pocket-money was a decent compensation for several hours of work, she had definitely been duped financially.

That was unacceptable.

"You should demand more." He told her in no uncertain terms.

"More?"

"More money." He clarified. "At least ten times what they're paying you now."

"Huh?" Arcueid blinked dumbly, clearly confused.

"This." Shirou said, tapping her hand and thus her salary. "Is not nearly enough for your work. Tell them to pay you more, and if they don't, go to a different agency. You are worth much more than this."

"R-Really?" Arcueid appeared a little off-balance, but not averse to what he said. "W-Well, it's true that it's not enough money to buy all the snacks I want…"

"Take this for now." Shirou took about a hundred thousand Yen from his wallet and handed it to her, causing her already large and pretty eyes to go huge. "But make sure you don't get any less than a thousand Yen for every single hour you work from now on, preferably two thousand."

"Ah." The prospect of earning so much money clearly appealed to her, and she eagerly stuffed the notes back to her pocket. "I will!"

"Good." Shirou nodded sharply, before he hesitated for a moment, wondering if he could get away with being a bit rude to her. "Now, if that is all? I am following a lead and I have no time to lose."

They really had been talking for long enough by now.

"Yes, right, a lead. I have one too." Far from being insulted, Arcueid happily accepted his attempt at wrapping up the conversation, already in the process of walking away, only turning around to wave him goodbye. "Good luck with yours."

"Ah, yes, the same to you."

And so, they separated again, off to hunt their respective vampires.


It was safe to say that the situation in Misaki Town was rapidly spinning out of control.

Between multiple Ancestors present on the scene, the Burial Agency being in fierce competition with the Moon Princess, a Demigod doing his best to salvage as much as he could, and the general populace being unaware of it all, the city had become total mess by any meaning of the word.

To the inhabitants of Misaki Town, it might have seemed as if the world was coming to end. Between the many deaths and the great number of disappearances, several were already wondering if the Apocalypse had begun.

But as disastrous as things might seem, it was not actually the end of the world.

In fact, in most of the world, even as the battles in Misaki Town raged on, absolutely nothing of interest was happening.

So too in Fuyuki.

There, far away from Dead Apostle Ancestors and other horrors, Illya and Sakura were walking home from school together, safe and sound, not at all afraid of anything hiding in the alleys or the shadows.

They were not in any danger, nor under threat. It was a perfectly ordinary day in the third largest city in the region.

In fact, the only unusual thing to be seen for miles around was that those two were walking together in the first place.

Despite them going to the same school, the number of times they'd gone home together so far could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Not because they didn't get along, but because they tended to have different priorities in life.

Now that she was away from the Einzbern, Illya had rapidly developed into a social creature. She would always hang out with her friends after school, going to their houses or into town, to have fun together and do whatever came to mind, all while giggling and laughing without end.

In sharp contrast, Sakura always went either straight home to be a good housewife or to the Copenhagen café for her parttime job. She had no interest in her classmates, with the minor exception of Makise Kurisu, and could not be called social by any meaning of the word.

As such, Illya and Sakura didn't mesh well. They didn't dislike each other, certainly not, but neither did they really enjoy each other's company.

It was something that saddened Sakura, who would have liked to spend more time with Illya. The white-haired girl was her boyfriend's sister after all, and that meant she was quite eager to get along with her.

That wasn't the only reason of course, Sakura was also genuinely interested in Illya herself, but she would be lying if she said that Shirou wasn't a large part of her motivation.

And now, she finally had the chance she'd been waiting for.

So far, there had been a sort of barrier between them, but with Shirou in another town, fighting all kinds of abominations they could barely imagine, that barrier had been overcome by their shared concern for him.

Illya for one wasn't in the mood right now to hang out with children that were barely half her age, accurately recognising she'd just make things awkward by worrying and fretting all the time. Hence, she had made up an excuse of not feeling well today and went home with Sakura instead, where she was free to express her worries to her heart's content.

In turn, Sakura was more than happy to reassure the little sprite, both because it would help their bond to grow and because stepping up to be the big sister agreed with her, surprisingly.

She was more than happy to listen to Illya's worries, and once they'd created sufficient distance between themselves and other pedestrians not to be overheard, Illya finally dared to ask the question that had been nagging at her all day now.

"Hey, Sakura? Do you think Shirou is alright?"

"Yes, I'm sure he is fine." Sakura nodded immediately, doing her best to smile confidently despite her own worries. "He promised us he would come back, didn't he? So he has to be alright."

"Y-Yes, you're right." Illya nodded immediately, letting out a small breath of relief. "Shirou always keeps his promises."

"Yes, he does."

Of course, the white-haired girl knew things weren't that simple, that promises couldn't always be kept despite the best of intentions, but for now, she chose to have faith in her big brother. He'd never let her down before after all, and she didn't think he'd start now.

Sakura and Illya both knew there was no use in worrying and agonising if there was nothing you could do to change the situation anyway. They in particular knew that very well, better than anyone even.

But they were human, mostly, and that meant they were irrational sometimes. They did worry, no matter how much they tried not to, and the only thing that had worked so far to ease that worry was to focus on something else.

As luck would have it, there was in fact something Illya had been meaning to discuss with the plum-haired girl for a while now.

So she jumped on the opportunity.

"Say, Sakura, could we perhaps visit that costume shop soon?"

The costume shop that the little sprite was referring to was the one where Ayako and Sakura had bought their various high-quality dress-up costumes a few months ago, such as their maid outfits, their skin tight cat burglar suits, their European noble dresses, and their regal kimonos.

Ever since she'd heard about the place, which was now a few weeks ago, Illya had been chomping at the bit to visit it herself, and she had requested just about every member of the Emiya-household to bring her there, up to and including Rin and Fujimura-Sensei.

Of course, they were all more than willing to go with her, but unfortunately, their schedules never quite aligned well, which, by the way, was in large part caused by the former Homunculus herself.

"Sure." The plum-haired girl happily agreed with the request, before giving Illya a teasing smile. "Are you sure you can spare the time though?"

"Yes!" Illya professed, nodding rapidly. "Yes, this time for sure!"

"That's what you said last time, and then you stood me up." Sakura pouted slightly, making her lower lip wobble a bit. "You forgot all about me."

"Bwuh?! N-No, please don't cry! I'm sorry about that!" Illya apologised profusely, her eyes going wide in fear and guilt. "I-It was an accidental double-booking!"

The incident that they referred to was the time when Sakura had also agreed to take Illya to the costume shop, only for the little sprite to completely forget about her in favour of accompanying a few friends to the mall.

Poor Sakura had waited for an hour –at home, so it wasn't so bad– and although Illya had already sincerely apologised, multiple times, she wasn't going to let the white-haired girl forget about it any time soon.

"Sniff."

"I'm so sorry!"

But she shouldn't milk it too much, then it would lose its effectiveness.

"When do you want to go?" Sakura thus asked, schooling her expression again.

"T-Tomorrow?" Illya proposed, letting out a sigh of relief when Sakura stopped 'crying'.

"That's fine with me." The plum-haired girl grinned, immediately understanding why the girl wanted to go tomorrow specifically. "School will end early tomorrow, so you'll have plenty of time to shop as long as you want."

"Exactly!" Illya nodded rapidly, her eagerness to get her hands on a few costumes of her own clearly reflected in her eyes, though it was mixed with a sort of creative urge.

Perhaps it was because of the anime she watched or perhaps it had always been in her nature, but Illya had slowly started to get more and more fascinated by the concept of costumes and outfits. This went for normal clothes, mainly pretty dresses and stylish suits, as well as for dress-up costumes, such as knight-outfits, angel-costumes, and yes, Magical Girl-outfits.

So while she really wanted to buy a few costumes, she also wanted to browse the store, to get inspiration for a few creations of her own.

"I'm going to buy a Magical Girl-costume, and then I'm going to modify it to my wishes." Illya explained, breathing hard through her nose at the thrilling prospect. "I will become an actual Magical Girl! Like all those people at the Comicons!"

"Better even, I imagine." Sakura laughed, remembering how the little sprite had been glued to the television whenever a network decided to broadcast one such Comicon. "I mean, how many of those Magical Girls there can actually fly?"

"Hehe." Illya looked pleased as pie at the remark, her eyes glimmering in pride as Sakura reminded her that she already had an advantage over all the other cosplayers.

Because right at that moment, with Sakura walking next to her, Illya was hovering about a metre off the ground.

She was flying by her own power.

It turned out that being partially Asgardian had more advantages than just a longer lifespan.

"I'll be the best Magical Girl ever!" Illya cheered, adjusting her goal to better fit her high-level capabilities.

"Yay!" Sakura cheered along, trying to be a proper big sister.

"Once Shirou goes back to being Rakurai, I can fight with him!"

"Y-Yay…?"

Sakura consciously had to suppress the grimace that wanted to form on her face when Illya suddenly mentioned Shirou's alter ego, and not for the first time either.

For some reason, the white-haired girl had gotten it into her head that Shirou was inevitably going to take up the mantle of the dreaded vigilante again, and that she was going to be his Magical Girl-sidekick when he did. For weeks now, she had been training as hard as she could in order to be able to join him, and she was showing no signs of stopping any time soon.

"Are… Are you sure that is wise? You might be getting a little bit ahead of yourself there." Sakura tried to subtly warn her off.

"Yes, I know that I am not skilled enough yet." Misunderstanding what Sakura meant, Illya tried to defend herself, raising her hand and balling her fist with a look of determination in her eyes. "But I'm working on it! I'm training very hard with Leysritt every day! Even flying is going better now!"

"Yes, you have been practicing hard." Sakura had to admit that much. To do otherwise would be lying, not to mention rather mean towards the little sprite. "Your flying has improved a lot. Especially compared to the first time-"

"HABABABABABA! Don't mention that!" Illya interrupted her with a near-screech, waving her free hand up and down with clear desperation. "That never happened!"

At the moment, Illya was flying quite gracefully, with a steady pace and altitude, but that hadn't always been the case.

The first time she'd managed to fly on her own, she'd gotten too enthusiastic about her newfound power, shooting off into the sky without heeding Sella's warnings.

Only to be unable to get down again.

She'd gotten stuck in a tree, and in the end, Shirou had had to get her down.

It had been quite the embarrassing experience, and although Shirou had made sure not to laugh, Rin had no such compunctions. She'd been absolutely merciless in her expression of hilarity, to Illya's great shame.

It was not something that she wanted to repeat any time soon, which was why during the entire walk from school to the Emiya-estate, Illya had not let go of Sakura's hand even once, using her as an anchor.

Just in case.

"I just need a better costume!" Illya insisted, her teary eyes showing that she remembered her mishap perfectly well. "They say so in the anime! Costumes make everything better!"

"Well, it can't hurt to try, I suppose." Sakura allowed, wondering if she could perhaps channel that vigilante-energy into her newfound clothing hobby. It would save everyone a lot of headaches. "Outfits are important."

"Hm." Illya nodded strongly. "That's exactly what Magical Girls are! Awesome powers, a never-wavering sense of justice, and a cool costume!"

"If you say so. I must admit I don't know much about Magical Girls myself." Sakura admitted, giving Illya an apologetic smile. "The only time I ever really heard about them was when a man at the Copenhagen café asked me if I would be willing to re-enact a scene from a Magical Girls-manga for him."

"Huh? Really?" Illya blinked in confusion, a confusion that Sakura shared. It had been a man in his twenties, and in her experience, they didn't tend to like Magical Girls all that much. "Which manga?"

"Uhm, I believe it was called 'Gushing over Magical Girls', or something like that." Sakura could just about recall the title, but not much more. "I refused though. He looked a little creepy- E-Eh, I-Illya?!"

"…Gushing over Magical Girls?" From one second to the next, Illya's open, curious expression changed into a terrifying glower, her red eyes radiating bloodlust and fury. "Did you just say 'Gushing over Magical Girls'?!"

"Y-Yes." Sakura replied, actually startled by the white-haired girl's sudden intensity, before she gulped when Illya's right eye started twitching madly.

"…If that man ever comes by the café again, you must tell one of us immediately." Illya demanded after a moment. "He needs to die."

It was a clear death threat, one that left Sakura stumped.

Had Shirou made such a threat, Sakura was confident she could calm him down.

If Ayako said something like that, it would take a bit more effort, but Sakura could settle her as well.

Even Rin could be distracted or soothed when she was in such a bad mood, if with considerable effort.

None of them would be entirely serious about any uttered death threats either. Most of the time, such words were just an expression of anger and frustration on their part, and they weren't planning much more than beating the recipient up a bit, if that.

But not with Illya.

Illya was dead serious.

If Sakura ever pointed her at that man, the one who wanted to re-enact a scene from a Magical Girls-manga with her, the white-haired girl would kill him without mercy or remorse.

As sweet and social as she could be, and as much as she tried to leave her childhood behind, that part of her had not changed since she'd escaped the Einzbern. She still had a ruthless side to her.

Which was honestly one of the biggest reasons Shirou was extremely reluctant to take her along on any possible future vigilante outings. She might very well end up killing someone if she was angry enough.

"If I ever see him again, I'll let you know." Sakura lied, getting a nod from Illya in return. "But for now, let's just go home. I'm sure you have homework left to do, and you need to prepare for the trip tomorrow."

"Right." Illya mumbled, making a face at the mention of her homework, eliciting an amused smile from Sakura.

Doing homework was better than fretting over her big brother though, so Illya didn't protest, much. Only a tiny bit.

Again, there was nothing she could realistically do anyway to help Shirou, except wishing him all the luck in the world.

So that was what she did.


Tohno Akiha's first impression of Shirou the Magus had been a rather poor one. That of a grasping and manipulative man who saw no issue in taking advantage of loopholes in ancient laws when it was convenient to him.

The mere thought of his letter, the impertinence that had practically dripped off every written word, still soured her mood slightly even days after the fact. Not because it was the worst thing she'd ever seen, because it wasn't, not by a long shot, but because it had been the first time since becoming the head of the family that Akiha had been confronted by such blatant manipulation from a Magus from outside the family.

That made it rather memorable.

Surprisingly though, her second impression of him had been much better. In person, he was polite and unexpectedly kind, and generous too. He had apologised for the letter, sincerely even, and had tried to make amends. He'd even taken her scolding and insults without comment, which was a rare thing indeed for Magi.

That didn't mean she forgave him, certainly not, but she wasn't as angry anymore as before. She was even willing to accept his presence in her territory for a few days, as his purpose was obviously very important to him, and he had paid an exorbitant fee on top of that.

She hadn't expected there to be a third impression. Not after she'd shown him the door so decisively.

But then, a few minutes after she'd settled into her office to spend the afternoon working through the backlog of ancient documents her father had left her, Akiha looked up from her paperwork to find Shirou standing before her desk.

Looking very cross indeed.

Suppressing her first instinct to incinerate him and her second instinct to scream for help, Akiha calmly put down her pen, ordered the papers, and placed them aside on her desk, giving no outward indication of her racing heart.

The Tohno-manor was protected by potent Bounded Fields and many other defences. She wouldn't claim the place was impenetrable, because nothing was, but at the very least, she should have been warned well in advance if someone was trying to break in.

That the redheaded Magus was standing before her anyway, despite all the Bounded Fields in and around the property still being intact, meant nothing good, and Akiha knew, with her natural intelligence and the paranoia instilled in her over the course of her short life, that acting hasty now would be most unwise and dangerous.

For her.

So instead, she gestured at one of the chairs in the room, as if he were a welcome guest. She should probably hear him out before doing anything rash.

Her heartrate increased even more however when he ignored her gesture, remaining where he was.

Although, it might not be as much that he ignored her as that he simply didn't see the gesture. He was looking around her office, his eyes narrowed, sometimes taking a deep breath through his nose, as if trying to find a specific scent or something.

Judging by the setting of his jaw a moment later, he'd found it too.

"Lady Tohno." He then greeted her at last, though there was no bow accompanying it this time. "Why was there a Dead Apostle Ancestor in this house?"

A Dead Apostle Ancestor…?

It took a while for the question to sink in, the words bouncing around in Akiha's head without really registering, but when she realised what he was asking, her fear and nervousness evaporated to make room for unbridled fury, her hands gripping the edge of her desk so hard the wood cracked ominously.

A casual onlooker might have assumed that her fury was aimed at the redhead, who had dared to utter such a dire accusation.

But that was not the case.

Strangely enough, she actually believed him, taking him at his word that an Ancestor had been inside her home. She had no reason for her trust aside from a decent second impression, but trust him she did nonetheless.

Rather, she was furious with the only people who could have allowed an Ancestor entrance into the manor.

Her worthless relatives.

Her mind readily conjured up images and theories about them selling their pitiable souls to the Vampire Lords in an effort to gain more power and influence. A last-ditch attempt to wrestle the lordship of the family away from her.

She could easily see it happen.

It took a lot of self-control for her not to literally start breathing fire at the mere thought. She could live with some plotting and scheming, that was inherent to any Magus-family, but working together with one of mankind's greatest enemies was a crime that could see the whole family executed! To even contemplate it was an atrocity!

But they would do it anyway, consequences be damned.

Akiha wished she could have thrown her desk into the nearby wall to vent some of her anger, but she controlled herself, locking away the fury with iron self-discipline. She fully believed Shirou's claim, but that didn't mean she could admit as much to the redhead himself. As said before, this was a matter that could see her whole family summarily executed, by either the Magus Association or the Burial Agency. She needed to keep this within the family.

Hence, she forced herself to stay calm and meet the redhead's eyes again, preparing to lie like she'd never lied before.

"I know nothing about Dead Apostle Ancestors in this house." She stated clearly and decisively, using every bit of her talent for deceit, hoping it would be enough. "Nor have I ever met one."

"Your city is rife with them though." Shirou countered, crossing his arms. "The Burial Agency is here to hunt Roa, and I fought Vlov Arkhangel tonight myself, at least until the Spider Queen whisked him away. Are you sure that neither you nor your relatives ever even saw one of them?"

"I am sure." She nodded, crossing her arms too. "I am aware of the Ancestors in the city, but I planned to leave it to the Burial Agency to sort out. I do not have the necessary resources to fight even one Ancestor at the moment, let alone multiple ones. I can assure you though that I would never approach one for any sort of conversation or deal. Never."

"I see." The atmosphere in the office eased a little, as Shirou apparently decided to believe her. "I am glad to hear that, and I apologise for my accusation towards you. Nevertheless, there are still traces of the Spider Queen inside your manor."

"The Spider Queen?" Once again, that was wholly new information to Akiha, and this time, it didn't make much sense either. Of all the humanoid Ancestors, so discounting freaks like the Forest of Einnashe and Primate Murder, that one might be the least fit of all to approach for a possible deal. If her wretched relatives were going to consort with one of them, it would almost certainly be someone like Van-Fem, Blackmore, Calhin, or even Ortenrosse himself. Even Arkhangel would be a better option. "Certainly not!"

"Hm." Shirou seemed certain of his case however, very certain, and Akiha found herself believing him again. "Forgive my impertinence in saying this, but perhaps you did not notice?"

Impertinence indeed! To suggest that she had not only lost control over her territory, which she admittedly had with all the Ancestors running around, but also over the manor, her own house, was nothing short of a grievous insult!

Though it was, to Akiha's immense frustration, quite possible indeed. At the very least, she couldn't entirely dismiss the possibility, no matter how hard she tried to convince herself that even her dumbest relatives wouldn't be that stupid.

Because unfortunately, they very much were.

She really should have banished the lot of them to the city's outskirts and beyond when she took over as head of the family! It would have saved her a lot of trouble right now!

But she hadn't, for some reason she was hard-pressed to remember, and now she was stuck between a rock and a hard place.

On one hand, she really couldn't admit to the Magus in front of her that it was entirely possible that one of her relatives had consorted with one or multiple Ancestors. That was just asking to be blackmailed or strong armed later down the line, if he didn't just report her incompetence to the Clocktower directly.

At the same time, his help would be invaluable in dealing with the problem as quickly as possible. He had noticed the issue where she had not after all, and by his own admission, he'd fought an Ancestor before. He could very well do it again.

She was weighing the risks against the benefits, at one point even leaning towards the latter, but it should come to no one's surprise that the risks won out in the end. In the Moonlit World, there was no such thing as trust, especially not after only one letter and two meetings.

Akiha was on her own for this one, with only Kohaku and Hisui to support her.

Nothing out of the ordinary, the same as it had always been, though the stakes were quite a bit higher than usual this time.

She would have to make deep inquiries as soon as possible, to find the fly in the ointment before the family was doomed, but first, she needed to dismiss Shirou as subtly as possible.

She didn't think he was going to accept a point blank dismissal, not if she didn't have a very good reason, so she would have to be clever about it.

Perhaps she could pretend to work together with him, while actually keeping him away from anything important-

"It won't work."

"Huh?" Akiha blinked at the Magus' sudden statement.

"Whatever you are planning, it won't work." He repeated, leaning forward and putting his hands on her desk. "I know you want to run damage control right now, to get me out of here so you can solve your problems on your own, but we don't have time for that. Please, trust me when I say that I only wish to help, not to blackmail or shame you. All I want is to know what an Ancestor might be doing here and to make sure they won't come here again."

"…"

Had she truly been that obvious in her planning of deception? Or was it a given that a Second Owner in her position would try to deceive him in order to save face? Akiha really hoped it was the latter.

In any case, she had been well and truly cornered now. The redheaded Magus was no fool, evidently, and while she could have struggled and protested for a while longer, it would be nothing but an inelegant waste of their time.

So she relented.

Hoping that things would be alright in the end.

"If the Spider Queen has indeed been here, she was probably allowed entrance by one of my relatives." She admitted, before narrowing her eyes and accentuating her voice. "But it wasn't my brother, nor my maids! Of that, I am completely certain."

"I will trust you on that." Shirou nodded, straightening up again. "I too am reasonably certain that your brother is not in league with anyone except Brunestud, and I cleared your maids myself-"

"Brunestud?!"

Akiha bluntly and loudly interrupted him, getting up from her chair so fast it toppled over behind her.

"What do you mean Brunestud?!"

What on Earth did the Crimson Moon have to do with anything?!

For a few moments, Shirou was silent, blinking owlishly at her in confusion, before his eyes widened ever so slightly in apparent realisation, and his expression became… embarrassed?

"He didn't tell you." The Magus concluded, looking away and rubbing the back of his head. "Guess I really dropped him in it now."

"What are you talking about?! Speak plainly!" Akiha demanded again, worry and concern eroding her patience and sharpening her tongue. "Is Shiki not with his friends from school?!"

"…To the best of my knowledge, he is searching the city for Roa, the unofficial twenty-eighth Dead Apostle Ancestor, alongside Arcueid Brunestud. That is what Arcueid told me anyway."

"…" Akiha's breath hitched, her throat constricting so much she had trouble breathing, and she had to steady herself on her desk not to fall over.

"Woah! Easy there." Shirou immediately stepped forward to help, but Akiha was a resilient woman, and by the time he was close enough to place a hand on her shoulder, she had recovered enough to push it away again.

The redheaded Magus then said something else, asking a question or two, but she wasn't listening anymore.

Instead, her mind was in turmoil, as she wondered just how things had gone so terribly wrong so incredibly quickly.

She'd wanted to protect Shiki, to give him a good home again with his real family, her. She'd wanted to keep him safe, away from threats on the outside. Away from assassins and beasts and what not, all of which could have easily gotten him in the unprotected home of the branch-family he'd been staying at.

Of course, she knew that bringing him to the home of the Tohno-family, a veritable lair of plotting and scheming, would result in a whole new array of threats, many of which Shiki was ill-equipped to deal with, but that was why she had banished her relatives to the outermost wings of the manor and even expelled the most troublesome ones.

If they hadn't disliked her before, then they certainly hated her now, but it was more than worth it. Shiki mattered more to her than all her relatives put together, only slightly rivalled by Kohaku and Hisui, and there was nothing she wouldn't do to keep him safe and in blissful ignorance for now.

It was impossible to keep him ignorant of the Moonlit World forever, she knew that perfectly well, but she had hoped to delay the painful reveal for as long as possible, and to ease him into it when the time had come.

The Tohno-family had enough skeletons in the closet to fill a medium-sized graveyard after all, and she didn't want to scare him away right after she'd just gotten him back.

But apparently, the Princess of the Moon had decided that Akiha's wishes were of no importance whatsoever.

How dare she…

How dare she!?

Akiha clenched her hands so hard her nails broke the skin of her palms, and her teeth grinded together hard enough to produce unsettling sounds.

The Moon Princess was leading her brother astray, taking him away from her again!

Was that monster forcing him to help her?! Or was she actually a harlot, seducing him into serving her?!

Either way, it was unforgivable!

Akiha's Demon blood was awakening rapidly, to a point where every experienced Magus would instantly spot her inhumanity, but she didn't care. Even if Shirou was still in the room, looking on with a raised eyebrow, she didn't care.

She had to get her brother back-

"Enough."

But then a finger was placed on her forehead, and it pushed her so hard she was sent stumbling backwards.

And then her mind cleared.

From one second to the next, Akiha's anxiety and rage evaporated, leaving only slight concern.

Her hands unclenched, her jaws went a bit slack, and her knees gave out, making her fall backwards onto her chair, which was suddenly standing upright again.

She let out a massive sigh, both in relief and in surprise, before looking up, at her redheaded guest, who was looking at her with a probing gaze.

"What did you do?" She asked him, blinking a few times.

"It was a calming spell, of sorts." He explained, before making an apologetic gesture. "I am sorry for using Magecraft on you without permission, but it seemed necessary."

"You truly are a scoundrel." Using Magecraft on another Magus without permission was indeed the height of impertinence again, an insult worthy of a duel to the death, but after everything that had already happened, Akiha couldn't bring herself to be angry about it. Not truly. Not when there were far more important things to deal with. "I want the Moon Princess to stay away from my brother. She's not good for him."

"Ah." Shirou's expression became a bit complicated, probably because of the magnitude of her demand, but to her delight, he seemed understanding enough. "I agree that Tohno-san might be in over his head. I don't know him well, but if he was unaware of the Moonlit World-"

"He was." Akiha said immediately, pressingly. "He has no idea of what this family truly is, and frankly, I can't fathom why the Moon Princess would want him anywhere near her, let alone helping her hunt for Ancestors. I mean, he is kind and smart and understanding and polite, but he is not a great warrior by any means."

In fact, the Tohno Shiki she knew was a bit of a wet blanket, which, let there be no doubt, she infinitely preferred over someone who saw no issue with hurting others. He wasn't someone to take on a Dead Apostle hunt. He'd be dead weight at best.

"That is not what Brunestud experienced." Shirou shook his head however, giving her an odd look. "The whole reason she recruited him was because he attacked and wounded her."

"…Come again?"

Akiha blinked in confusion, reasoning she must have misheard something, somehow.

"Your brother, Tohno Shiki, attacked and wounded Arcueid Brunestud."

She hadn't misheard?

Akiha was flummoxed, slowly letting his words sink in, before she huffed incredulously.

Shiki attacking and wounding the Moon Princess?

"Nonsense."

"It is not. I had to heal her myself from the wounds he had dealt her."

"Impossible."

The very claim was so ridiculous that Akiha could only shake her head in denial. The Moon Princess was a creature of vast power and influence, a being created to hunt Dead Apostle Ancestors. The idea that her brother, her thin, fragile, and harmless brother, could ever put as much as a scratch on something as close to a god as the world had left in the Modern Age was laughable.

She didn't think that Shirou was lying to her, but he was definitely mistaken.

But she never had a chance to explain that to him.

"My lady!"

Hisui suddenly burst into Akiha's office, her face set in a fearful and worried expression, and Akiha rose from her chair, alarmed by the uncharacteristic behaviour from the stoic maid.

"There's an intruder in the gardens!"

Ah, that explained it.

Akiha didn't bother replying verbally. Instead, she focused deeply.

In her mind's eye, she visualised a man standing before her, and without further ado, her mental self tore out his throat.

With that, her Magic Circuits activated.

The mental ritual that Magi had to carry out in order to activate their Magic Circuits was often rather macabre. They had to envision hanging themselves for instance, or stabbing themselves in the heart, or imagine how they were dying of thirst, and Akiha, with her gruesome murder, was no exception.

The fact that the man she imagined always bore a close resemblance to her father was something she carefully ignored.

Unbeknownst to her, Shirou also activated his Magic Circuits at the same time, though far from having to imagine how he tortured or murdered himself or others, he merely cocked back the hammer of his mental gun and fired it at the threat.

"W-What are you doing here?!" Hisui gasped the next moment, finally realising her lady wasn't alone, but neither Shirou nor Akiha responded.

Instead, they rushed outside, both of them following the foreign smell they had now picked up on.

The intruder had successfully avoided the Bounded Fields on the manor's outer walls and fooled the other defences, but they couldn't fool their noses.

The hunt was on.


"Alright, thank you, people. That's all for today!"

With that shout from the production manager, the photographers and models of the Misaki Town studio all sagged in relief, easing their attractive poses and lowering their expensive cameras at long last.

The Misaki Town studio was a modelling agency of middling size and fame. It did photoshoots for clothing stores, make-up designers, and even several gyms in the city, and generally did well enough a job to keep their regular clients coming back.

The studio had a few dozen employees, mostly models, camera-men, and designers, and about a dozen more freelancers that worked there on a job-by-job basis.

These employees weren't treated in a particularly stellar fashion, nothing to really write home about, but at the same time, the studio wasn't one of those 'black companies' either. They maintained a healthy work day and discouraged reckless overtime.

And thus, since they'd all been working from five in the morning already, preparing everything for the photoshoot at dawn that had been ordered by one of their biggest clients, they could wrap up at one o'clock in the afternoon. Just in time for lunch.

"Finally! My back was killing me."

"If I have to snap one more photo today, I'll go mad."

"Yeah! People think we have such a great job, looking at beautiful women all day, but it's really challenging!"

"Being a model is not all glamour either, you know? Anyway, want to get some lunch together?"

"Always!"

The photographers and various other staff members rapidly packed away their equipment, storing it safely to use again the next time, while the models went straight to the changing rooms to get out of their work-clothes. The outfits they got from their clients might be elegant and refined, but they were often either too restrictive or niche for everyday use, or they were too scant to wear in public.

Of course, they were all chatting pleasantly as they wrapped up, reflecting on a successful and enjoyable day at work, but it was clear that they couldn't wait to get back home to the family or get into the nearest restaurant to have a good meal.

The modelling world was a demanding one, and you had to take your time off when you could.

There was, however, one exception.

Arcueid Brunestud, part-time model and full-time Moon Princess, went straight to the production manager to get her wages, not wasting a moment on chatting or lounging around, rejecting or outright ignoring every offer for lunch, as she had more to do that day.

In fact, it could be said that her main job was only just beginning.

"Ah, Arcueid." The production manager was used to her habits by now, and he didn't even blink when she popped up from behind him with an expecting gaze. No words were needed, and he pulled an envelope with cash out of his belt to place in her awaiting hand. "Your wages. As agreed, over ten times more than yesterday."

"Thank you, manager-san." Arcueid grinned happily, seeing that the envelope was indeed noticeably thicker than it was the day before. Sufficiently so that she could likely afford to buy every snack she wanted now.

"Please, Arcueid, call me Satoshi. Everyone else does." The manager laughed heartily, and Arcueid politely ignored the slightly forced nature of that laugh.

"Satoshi-san." She nodded, never one to stand on decorum, before she made to leave again without another word. Not out of rudeness of course, but because she really had more to do and nothing more to say to her temporary employer.

"Will you be here again tomorrow?" Satoshi stopped her however, his tone hopeful and almost pleading. "The editors are clamouring for more pictures of you, and several of our clients have started asking about you specifically. If you leave us in the lurch now, we'll be in trouble for sure."

It went without saying that Arcueid's beauty and grace were a cut above that of normal mortals, or rather five cuts above it. In looks, she had every other model beat by a veritable mile, and because of her boundless confidence and power, she made every outfit look good, no matter its design or colour. Her pictures didn't even need any digital touch-ups or alterations to shine. In fact, those only lessened her sheer magnificence.

She was unmatched, and people were quickly starting to take notice of her.

She'd only been working part-time as a model for a few days now, and already, the products she advertised for had seen a notable uptick in sales. The common people, of all ages and all walks of life, were simply unable to resist her inhuman charisma, and were driven to spend whatever spare money they had available on whatever she asked them to buy.

Such was the power of the White Princess.

Of course, there was no way that her current employers hadn't noticed the trend, hadn't spotted Arcueid's rising popularity, and they were desperate to keep hold of their newfound advantage. Their beautiful, graceful, cheery, and cheap advantage, who had unmatched popularity with the customers and clients alike.

Hence, Satoshi tried his hardest to make sure she kept coming back, going as far as to get down on his knees and beg.

"Please?" He repeated, his eyes misting over from sheer desperation.

It was a blatant guilt-trip on his part, so blatant that even Arcueid couldn't miss it, but since she wouldn't be leaving Misaki Town for a while at the rate her hunt was going and she would continue to need money for snacks, she went along with it, for now.

"Same time tomorrow." She grinned back at Satoshi, who sagged in relief.

"W-Would you be willing to sign a contract with us?" The man then asked, pulling said contract out of his belt and holding it out to her like a samurai would hold his sword out to the Shogun. With the utmost respect.

"A contract?" Arcueid cocked her head to the side, accepting the piece of paper and trying to read the words there, though she quickly had to give up, unable to get through the jargon.

"Just put your name there." Satoshi encouraged her, pointing at the bottom line with one hand while holding out a pencil with the other. "We'll double your pay if you do."

"!" That sounded like music in Arcueid's ears, and she was about to write down her name, before she hesitated, her Instincts suddenly warning her of a trap.

Perhaps…

Perhaps she should ask Shirou's opinion on it first.

"Maybe later." She ended up saying, taking the contract and putting it in the pocket of her jacket.

"I-I need an answer tomorrow." Satoshi pressed, and although he did an admirable job hiding his disappointment over her soft refusal, Arcueid spotted it nevertheless.

"Sure." She agreed, before turning around and leaving for real. "Bye now."

"Ah, yes, goodbye." He hastened to reply, but she had already left, as suddenly as she'd appeared in the morning, leaving him to wonder if he hadn't just made a massive mistake.

"Hehe." Exiting the agency, Arcueid laughed happily to herself as she clutched the envelope to her breast. "Let's get some snacks!"

Shirou's advice had paid off massively. She only had to hint ever so slightly at the fact she might go to another agency to get a better salary, and her production manager had rushed to increase her wages more than tenfold. Now, she could buy more snacks than ever.

It was an interesting concept to her, sheltered as she was in the ways of humankind, to work a job to get money, which you could then spend to get food. It seemed a bit… overcomplicated, to her, but then, she would be the first to admit she could be a tad slow sometimes. The humans probably had good reasons to do what they did, reasons she just didn't grasp yet.

They hadn't become the dominant species by being fools all the time after all.

Just most of the time.

In any case, although Arcueid was happy with the money, she'd spent more time at her part-time job than she'd planned, so she was too late now to pick Shiki up on his way back from school.

That was hardly an issue though. She had his scent, so she could track him down easily enough. She'd always managed before with little to no issue.

He had a curious smell, one that seemed entirely bland but hid something very spicy underneath, and she turned to the right to follow the scent, before-

"Arcueid!"

"Oh, Shiki!"

-By fortunate coincidence, he turned out to be much closer than expected, at the other side of the street even, and Arcueid smiled brightly at him, waving her hand in greeting.

"Arcueid!"

When he crossed the road to get to her however, her smile soon dropped, as she noticed that he seemed unusually agitated.

His face was splotched with red, his hands were balled, and he leaned forward as he walked, like a lion on the prowl. Even most passersby noticed his bad mood, making sure to stay out of his way and distance themselves from Arcueid, unwilling to be caught up in the inevitable clash.

Evidently, something had displeased him, but Arcueid couldn't for the life of her figure out what it could be.

"Shiki, what's wrong?" She asked once he stepped onto the sidewalk, only to frown in concern when he didn't reply. "Shiki? Are you… Are you alright?"

He still didn't reply, coming to a halt in front of her, and she reached out with an uncertain hand, probably to place it on his shoulder, like she'd seen humans do before.

She flinched however when he suddenly grabbed her wrist, tightly.

Since she was a True Ancestor, she barely felt his grip, but it was tight enough that it could very well have hurt a normal woman.

"Come with me!" He then barked, before pulling her along as he stormed off, still getting a wide berth from everyone around them.

"W-What? Why?" Arcueid floundered, letting herself be pulled along for now, too confused by his behaviour to protest or resist. "A-Are you mad?"

"You can't do that!" He yelled in response, hard enough that Arcueid flinched again.

He really was mad, and she just couldn't figure out why.

"D-Do what?" She asked, before pressing when he again failed to answer. "Do what, Shiki!?"

"Work for such agencies!" He exploded at her, the red in his face becoming even more intense.

"Huh?" Arcueid blinked in confusion at his puzzling answer, before she glanced back at the studio she worked at. "You mean the studio?"

"Yes! Stay away from there!"

"But I am working there. I'm earning money by-"

"You can't!" He interrupted her brusquely. "You can't!"

"Can't what?"

"You cannot work for such people." Shiki finally deigned to elaborate, though it still didn't explain anything. "It's not right!"

"Not right?" He wasn't making any sense, and Arcueid wondered if he wasn't perhaps completely misunderstanding the nature of her job. "They were just taking pictures of me in different outfits."

"It's not right!" He repeated, louder this time.

"But why not?" Arcueid's voice got louder too, as she was slowly starting to lose her patience with him.

"It just isn't! All men know that!"

"Shirou was fine with it though." She protested, having half a mind to wrench herself loose, as he was being rather annoying. "He said that it suits me. He even said that they should pay me more than they did before."

"Then Shirou was wrong!" Shiki roared, which annoyed Arcueid even more. "You cannot do such work!"

"You still haven't told me why, Shiki!"

"Because it's work for l-loose women!" He finally gave a reason, stumbling slightly over the words. "I don't want other men to be staring at you!"

"Oh?" Arcueid blinked again, though not in understanding. Yes, he'd finally given a reason, but it did not make things any clearer for her. Her confusion only increased, and so did her frustration with him. Him and his irritating behaviour. "But I don't mind it if men look at me-"

"I do mind!" Shiki said loudly, his anger as high as ever, and Arcueid now seriously considered getting angry in turn.

She might not get what he was talking about, why he was so angry about her chosen job, but she did understand that he was trying to control her.

What folly!

The Earth couldn't be controlled, and certainly not by a measly human.

"I just don't like it." Shiki repeated, at a softer tone this time, perhaps realising that shouting wasn't getting him anywhere. "Please don't do it again."

Arcueid's first instinct was to shove him away and refuse. Her second instinct was to make it crystal clear to him that she was not someone he could order around. Her third instinct was to just punch him.

But in the end, she suppressed all of those instincts.

"…Fine." She lied after a moment, deciding to just nod along to what he said, though she had no intention of following through. She had a nice job now, with little work and good pay, and if Shiki wanted her to give it up, he had to provide better reasons than he did now.

Better than mere personal complaints.

"Thank you." Shiki nodded firmly, looking relieved she had given in, and despite her determination not to listen to him, that relief did cause her resolve to shake. Especially since it seemed so sincere.

…Perhaps it would be wise to find Shirou and ask about his opinion before she went back to work again. He was smart, he'd know what to do.

"Did you find Roa yet?" Shiki then changed the subject, adopting his normal, business-like tone again. That tone had always amused Arcueid before, as it signified his struggle to preserve his calm and dignity despite being in way over his head, but this time, she frankly wished he'd keep his mouth shut.

Because no, she hadn't found Roa yet.

"I found and discarded several tracks so far, but I haven't been able to locate him." She admitted reluctantly, annoyed at her own failures. "Roa has Reincarnated into a new life over a dozen times and has made enemies during each and every one of them. He knows how to hide his tracks. If he didn't, he would have been slaughtered again long ago."

"Right." Shiki nodded slowly, before he reached up and scratched the back of his head. "But… if he has so many other enemies, then can't you just ask for help from those other enemies instead of me?"

"I have." She replied frankly, which visibly took him aback. "But most of them tried to kill me too, and those that didn't attack me rejected my offer out of hand. So far, only you and Shirou have ever agreed to help me with my hunt."

"Me and Shirou, huh?" Shiki huffed, looking a bit annoyed again, though once more, Arcueid had no idea why. "Well, I'm glad to help, I suppose."

That sounded a lot better than his complaining from before, and Arcueid graced him with an approving smile.

"But if you cannot find Roa, how do you know he's even here in Misaki Town anymore? What if he's already left?"

"I understand your concern, but Roa is still here in this city. That much at least, I can tell for sure." She reassured him, taking a good look around with both her eyes and her other senses, before nodding when she confirmed it again. "He can obfuscate his location, smearing his tracks all over the city like butter over a piece of bread, but he cannot hide his presence itself. Not from me and not from the Burial Agency either."

"…" Shiki didn't respond to her remark about the Church, having realised it was far from her favourite subject, and he instead changed the subject again. "Uhm, Arcueid?"

"Yes?"

"I… I might not be able to accompany you tonight, on your search."

"Hm?" That wasn't exactly welcome news, and Arcueid turned her full attention towards him, wordlessly requesting an explanation.

"My sister doesn't like it at all that I've been staying out so late all the time. I told her that I was staying with friends, and they backed up my story, but I cannot keep lying to her. So for tonight at least, I want to be home in time, to set her at ease."

"Can't you just tell her the truth?" Arcueid proposed, certain that no Magus would take issue with the concept of hunting Dead Apostle Ancestors in their city. Not unless they were actively in cahoots with them, and she couldn't imagine Shiki's family doing anything like that. "I'd be glad to help you-"

"No!" Shiki was quick to reject her proposal however, his eyes going wide in shock. "I can't do that! Akiha has got nothing to do with this! I-I don't want her to know about all this scary stuff!"

"…?"

Yet again, the conversation took a turn for the confusing for Arcueid, but this time, she was able to figure out pretty quickly what was going on.

Shiki thought his sister was unaware of the Moonlit World. He thought she was ignorant, and he didn't want her to learn about it either. In fact, it seemed he was willing to jump through various hoops and even possibly anger Arcueid, Type Earth herself, in order to preserve his sister's blissful ignorance.

Had he been correct in his belief, that would have been an admirable goal. Even Arcueid knew that mundane people should avoid the Moonlit World lest they wanted to suffer an ignoble fate, and she wouldn't have begrudged anyone that much.

But he wasn't correct in his belief.

His sister wasn't ignorant by any means.

According to Shirou, a reliable source, Tohno Akiha was in fact the Second Owner of Misaki Town, which almost certainly meant that she was perfectly aware of the true nature of the world and the actual situation in her city, far more so than Shiki. If the situation was explained to her, she would undoubtedly understand.

"Alright. We won't tell your sister."

But Arcueid decided not to share that with Shiki just yet. He was acting rather strangely today, and she'd rather not do anything to set him off again.

"Thank you." Shiki let out a sigh of relief, because he gathered his courage again, lifting his chin and setting his jaw in a determined expression. "Where do you want to go today?"

"I want to follow my latest lead." Arcueid replied, before pointing off into the distance, towards the tallest building in sight. "Over there."

"The Okura hotel?" Shiki followed her finger, before he blushed slightly. "Y-You want us to go there again, t-together?"

"Yup." Arcueid confirmed, already skipping ahead with a bounce in her step. "My Instincts tell me that the answers lie over there. If we book a room in that hotel, something's bound to happen."

"S-Something?" That word seemed to make him even more nervous, but Arcueid, who had resigned herself to his weird behaviour today, ignored it again.

"Let's go!" She proclaimed, before leading the way.

Leaving Shiki to scramble after her.


When Shirou first laid eyes on Tohno Akiha, he hadn't been too impressed with her.

He didn't mean that in a bad way of course, there was nothing wrong with her, nothing that was really lacking. She just didn't have the sheer gravitas of lady Barthomeloi, or the massive intellect of lord El-Melloi, the immense experience of lady Montmorency, or even the cruel cunning of the Meluastea and their cronies.

If anything, she seemed rather green, even more so than Rin.

That was hardly surprising though. She'd only just taken over as the head of the family, and still had to get used to her new position. No matter how talented you were, getting accustomed to leadership, whether it was in the Moonlit World or in the mundane one, was something that took time. Even the greatest leaders in history had started out as naïve youngsters, so it was hardly Tohno Akiha's fault that she wasn't equal to the likes of Waver.

At the same time however, she shouldn't be quite as green as she appeared to be.

Ideally, someone who was supposed to take charge at some point would be gradually introduced to the trials and tribulations of leadership. In companies, that meant working your way up the ladder step by step, while most rulers chose to hand down their title and responsibilities piece by piece to their heirs while they were still alive to support those heirs.

No one would dare trouble the emperor's heir while the emperor was still alive after all, alive and ready to come out of retirement at any moment. The transfer of power would happen in a controlled fashion, and rivals and enemies wouldn't dare to try and profit from the moment of perceived instability. The heir could then properly consolidate their power before they would have to stand on their own.

Unfortunately however, there were still far too many Magi who did not take such measures. Magi who did not heed their own mortality and didn't prepare for their untimely deaths. They were focused on nothing but the here and now and didn't care one whit for what would take place once they died.

Shirou had seen and heard of many of those Magi in his short life, up to and including Kayneth El-Melloi, and it seemed the former head of the Tohno was also one such individual.

He had died without making the proper preparations and thus left his daughter woefully unprepared.

Shirou would be lying if he said he wasn't slightly worried about Akiha, about whether she would be able to last on her own, with only two maids and one ignorant brother as allies. Sufficiently so that he had played around with the idea of proposing an alliance.

But now, with an intruder in the manor and an emergency on her hands, Tohno Akiha proved that in spite of her being slightly green around the gills, Shirou had nothing to worry about.

Her inhuman blood awakened in a flash, more potent and powerful than anything Shirou had ever seen before in a halfbreed, and she sped off as fast as the wind towards the threat, her Mystic Eyes glowing brightly, signifying their immense power. The scent of blood filled the office and the halls, strong enough to make Shirou wrinkle his nose, and the temperature rose considerably.

Yes, he'd worried for nothing. She might be inexperienced in matters of ruling, but she was clearly strong enough to keep her position as head of the Tohno-family anyway through nothing but sheer might. Enough of it to crush her rivals and enemies into dust.

It was quite impressive really.

Though he wasn't about to let her fight the intruder alone nonetheless.

Akiha was fast, but not faster than him, and he caught up with her quickly, before she could leave the manor. Together, they headed to the mansion's backdoor and into the back garden, where the scent was coming from.

The garden was as large as Shirou remembered, filled with trees and shrubbery of all sorts, and he looked around for the intruder…

Before his eyes widened in shock when he found them, his eyes easily piercing through all obstructions in their way.

It was Ciel!

The blue-haired nun was creeping through the underbrush on her hands and knees, seemingly following a trail. She was going at it with such focus that she hadn't even noticed Shirou and Akiha yet, and all her weapons were still securely holstered.

It was evident, even without Shirou's budding Clairvoyance, that she had no bad intentions towards anyone inside the manor.

But unfortunately for her, Akiha did not know that.

"Lady To-" Shirou began quickly, hoping to defuse tensions before someone did something they would regret, but he was too late.

Having pinpointed the origin of the foreign smell and knowing only that someone had snuck into her home without permission, Akiha snarled, before she opened her eyes wide.

Her irises flashed bloodred, and then the Magical Energy contained in her Mystic Eyes exploded outwards.

Within but a single moment, Ciel and her entire surrounding area were engulfed in searing flames.

There had been no warning.

There was no beam of fire, no wave of heat.

Not even a laser, magical or mundane.

Nothing but pure intent, and the power to make it matter.

Tohno Akiha only needed to stare at a location, and it burst into flame, seemingly by itself.

It was a power traditionally beholden to great Indian heroes and the Oni of old. An ability that was mighty and terrible enough to lay waste to whole civilisations. Mystic Eyes that were so powerful as to resemble the Authority of high-rank Phantasmal Beasts.

But not powerful enough to contend with Shirou's might.

Not a fraction of a second after lady Tohno launched her attack, the redhead exerted his will and quenched the flames before they could do too much damage, rushing forward to heal Ciel.

Only to blink when he found that she had disappeared.

"Ghk?!"

Shirou jerked around at the choked noise, and he hissed in surprise when he saw that Ciel, a hale and healthy Ciel, had just slashed at lady Tohno with one of her Black Keys.

The redhead wasted no time wondering how she had escaped the flames, and instead rushed back at the two ladies to pull them apart.

Ciel had slashed at Akiha's throat with her Black Key, undoubtedly aiming to kill, but Akiha showed that Mystic Eyes weren't the only benefit of having inhuman blood. She leaned back, avoiding the long dagger with near inhuman grace, before she straightened up, grabbed Ciel's arm, and flung her away into the vegetation, as easily as another might have thrown a hand-sized rock.

Ciel did not take that lying down though, and immediately after, half a dozen Black Keys flew at the young Second Owner, aimed at her eyes, her mouth, her throat, and her heart. It was a masterful throw, and it would have been the end of a mundane person, but Akiha danced in-between the daggers, her long skirt fluttering behind her, before glaring in the general direction which the knives had come from, her Mystic Eyes flashing again.

Once more, a significant part of the shrubbery went up in flames, but yet again, those flames had missed their mark. It was unclear how she did it, but Ciel evidently had little trouble avoiding such attacks.

A moment later, the nun burst out from the treeline, making for Akiha with three Black Keys held in both her hands, and the latter narrowed her eyes, preparing to unleash even more flames, before…

"Enough!"

-Before Shirou took Akiha in a headlock, placing his right hand squarely over her eyes, while he grabbed Ciel's wrists with his left, effectively disarming and restraining both of them in one fell swoop.

"This doesn't help anyone!" He shouted, fervently trying to put a stop to the battle. "Don't waste time on fighting each other!"

"She is an intruder!" Akiha snarled, trying to remove his hand from her eyes by any means necessary, which included clawing at it, making him very grateful for his enhanced durability, as her nails were really, really sharp. "I will not allow trespassing in my domain!"

She had a point. The Tohno-manor was Akiha's home and base of operations. It was her Sancta Sanctorum. Trespassing by a party that should know perfectly well how sacred a Magus' home was to them, like a Church Executor, was not something that could be allowed, or forgiven for that matter, not without a heartfelt apology and a royal compensation from the offending party at the very least.

Ciel was in the wrong here, definitely, by laws both mundane and Magical, and Akiha was completely within her rights to kill the nun for it.

But Shirou wasn't going to let that happen. Immolation through Mystic Eyes was a bit too heavy a punishment for him to be comfortable with. Akiha would have to be satisfied with an apology and another gift as compensation.

When he met Ciel's defiant gaze however, he saw right away that she would not offer any kind of apology, let alone compensation. The nun wasn't struggling against his grip on her wrists, perhaps recognising it would be futile, but she practically radiated defiance. A defiance that was perfectly mirrored by Akiha.

It was almost enough to make Shirou groan in despair. He knew that they were both immensely stubborn, bull-headed women, who probably didn't have the word 'apologise' in their dictionaries, but there was a difference between being stubborn and being insistent on fighting to the death.

The former was alright, but the latter was not going to happen with him around. He was an aspiring Hero of Justice, and that meant it was both his prerogative and his duty to meddle in things that weren't his business.

He had little chance of smoothing the matter over while emotions were still running so high though. Ciel and Akiha were both very agitated, highly strung, and they needed to calm down before any productive conversation could take place.

So he held them tightly for a while, ignoring their hateful glares and protests, until they both realised the futility of their resistance and ceased their struggling.

His purpose must have been clear, because it didn't take long for them to settle down. It was only after half a minute or so that Ciel rolled her eyes at him while relaxing a bit, and Akiha let out a deep and annoyed sigh, sagging slightly in his hold.

Taking that as a sign that they had calmed down, he carefully released them again, though he was ready to grab them again should it be necessary.

When they both merely took a step back and scowled at him however, he dared to relax a bit more.

Better that they be angry with him than with each other.

Now, to smooth things over.

"What are you doing here, Ciel?"

"None of your business." She responded curtly, before pressing her lips together again.

No more information was forthcoming after that, as the Executor proved every bit as recalcitrant as the history of her blades had revealed to Shirou. A small, stubborn lady who was more bull-headed than was good for her.

Fortunately, knowing her history and life story made it child's play to deduce her purpose at the Tohno-manor, so Shirou was able to infer her reasons for breaking in easily enough. They were the same reasons as for practically every other action that Ciel ever took after all.

"Do you think Roa is hiding here?" He asked, and he was proven correct when Ciel's jaw twitched.

"Roa?" Akiha's nostrils flared in indignity for a moment at the notion she was harbouring that monster, before she stilled, seemingly remembering that she and Shirou has already discussed the possible presence of another Dead Apostle Ancestor in her manor.

Her eyes then flitted over to Ciel's outfit, easily recognisable, and despite her not having Waver's intellect, she was able to connect the dots quickly enough.

"Church dog." She hissed.

"Magus scum." Ciel retorted without missing a beat, though her response lacked any heat, as if it were something she'd said a thousand times before out of sheer reflex.

"You thought a Dead Apostle Ancestor was hiding here? In my manor?"

"That's what my information says."

"Your information is wrong!"

"That is entirely possible."

"…It is?"

"We are not infallible. The Burial Agency makes mistakes, just like anyone else."

"Then… Then why are you here?"

"Why do you think? To verify whether the information I received was in fact correct or not." Ciel responded, in a tone that suggested it was obvious, which it kind of was.

"…" Akiha waited a moment longer, but when the nun said no more, she made an impatient gesture. "And? Was it correct?"

"There have been… indications, that suggest the information was correct, yes."

"Indications?" Akiha cocked her head to the side, very much interested now. "What indications?"

"…" Ciel visibly hesitated to respond, looking from Akiha to Shirou and back. "Neither of you are authorised to know."

It was another refusal, but this one sounded much less stubborn than the previous one, as if she did want to tell them but technically couldn't because of the rules of the Burial Agency.

"We won't tell anyone if you won't." Shirou proposed, and it spoke to Ciel's reluctance to follow orders that she actually considered it.

Considered it, and eventually accepted it.

"…My informants told me that… Roa's new identity is…" Ciel spoke haltingly, and it didn't escape Shirou's attention that she was mainly looking at him, as if he were the reason she was hesitating. "They told me that Roa's new host is… Tohno Shiki."

"What?" Shirou froze for a moment, suddenly doubting his own ears, before he shook his head in denial, unable to believe he'd overlooked something so major when meeting Tohno Shiki for the first time. "That's not possible! I would have noticed."

"Yes!" Surprisingly, Ciel agreed whole-heartedly with him, nodding furiously. "Y-Yes, it's not possible for him to be Roa! I tested him multiple times, and there's nothing about him that suggests he has anything to do with Dead Apostles at all! You saw it too!"

"I-I did." Her fervour took Shirou aback a bit, as did the relief in her eyes, as if his agreement had released her of some sort of terrible burden.

"So my information was definitely incorrect." Ciel concluded, a small smile gracing her face.

A small smile that expressed happiness, satisfaction, and above all, relief.

Relief that Tohno Shiki was not in fact Michael Roa Valdamjong.

Not an emotion he'd have expected from an Executor, though it did give Shirou a clue as to what might be going on here.

"Do you know Shiki?" He found himself asking, and he nodded when she winced ever so slightly. "Do you see him as a friend?"

"…I do." Ciel replied after a few moments, her expression hardening as the defiant look returned. "Do you have a problem with that?"

"Not at all."

Once more, Shirou had to adjust his opinion of Tohno Shiki. He'd seemed like an average Japanese teen at best when the redhead had first met him, but after defeating Type Earth herself and apparently also managing to befriend the most prickly woman Shirou had ever met, there was no way he could be considered average by any meaning of the word anymore.

Well, good for him. Shirou was only happy to see his fellow men rise in the world.

With the matter now largely settled, Shirou turned towards Akiha, fully expecting her to nod in agreement too, or perhaps even express anger over the fact that they had ever suspected her brother of being a Dead Apostle Ancestor in the first place. She seemed like the protective sort after all.

But he found neither agreement nor anger.

Instead, she looked as pale as a sheet, her breath coming out in short rasps.

"Lady Tohno?" Shirou asked in alarm, and she flinched ever so slightly in response.

Though to both Shirou and Ciel, she might as well have let out a cry of shock through a megaphone.

She was evidently hiding something, but she relented under the combined glares of Magus and Executor.

"Your…" Akiha began to speak, sounding both fearful and rushed, though her voice broke after the first word, forcing her to start again. "Your information wasn't incorrect."

"What?" Ciel looked equal parts surprised and offended, her hands balling again as her anger returned, but she didn't get the chance to say anything else before Akiha continued speaking.

"I have two brothers, one older and one younger than me. Y-You know the younger one." The lady revealed, making both Shirou and Ciel freeze in place. "They are both named Shiki."

Her statement rang through the air like the sound of glass being shattered, shrill, loud, and impossible to ignore.

Shirou's mind rushed to make sense of what had just been said, to connect all the dots and bits of information he'd collected so far, and with his enhanced brain, it didn't take longer than half a second before he understood.

The Burial Agency had been right all along. Roa had indeed Reincarnated in the Tohno-family, and he now bore the name of Tohno Shiki.

The elder Tohno Shiki.

"Where is he?" He demanded, his voice allowing no backtalk or protest. "Where is Tohno Shiki?"

"He escaped." Akiha replied, a helpless look in her eyes. "He was locked in the basement, but he escaped, several weeks ago."

So around the time that her father was killed. It was a connection that Shirou was able to make immediately, even if he couldn't substantiate it.

"So you don't know where he is?" He asked, just to verify, before pursing his lips when Akiha nodded. "Then we'll have to track him down. Ciel?"

"I can do it." The Executor said confidently, already studying the ground again as if it held the answers to all her questions. "Now that I know what I am looking for, and more importantly, what I am not looking for, I can find him within a few hours, tops."

"Do you want me to-?"

"No."

"…Very well." His offer of aid was rejected at once, and Shirou didn't push the issue. When she crossed the garden and hopped over the wall, he merely watched her go, reasoning that he'd catch up with her later.

At the moment, there were enough people hunting Roa anyway. Between Ciel, Arcueid, Shiki, and the other agents of the Burial Agency, they should have the matter well in hand. There was no need for him to drop everything he was doing to get involved too. Especially not since he wasn't supposed to kill Roa anyway.

Rather, he should focus on the Spider Queen and Arkhangel. They were in Misaki Town too, terrorising the populace, yet it didn't seem like anyone cared particularly much about them. Not when Roa was monopolising everyone's attention instead.

So it fell to him to deal with them. Exactly as he'd been doing before Ciel had suddenly broken into the manor.

"Lady Tohno, let's pick up where we left off." He turned back to the lady of the manor, who was still rather pale, though she snapped at attention when he spoke to her, apparently craving any kind of distraction. "There is still the matter of the Ancestor in your manor, the Spider Queen. I need to take another look around, if that is alright with you."

His reminder that her home had been infiltrated by yet another Dead Apostle Ancestor was yet another blow to poor Akiha's mental state, the latest of a great many today, but she managed to cope admirably well.

"Yes…" She nodded after a moment, taking a deep breath to calm herself down. "Yes, you should take another look around. I-If there are more Ancestors here…"

She didn't finish her sentence, unable to put it into words, but Shirou could infer the rest, giving her a reassuring nod.

"I'll take care of it."

She didn't acknowledge his words, but her shoulders did get a little less stiff.

Silently, she led him back to the manor, where the maids, Hisui and Kohaku, were standing just outside the back door, waiting for her. Frankly, Shirou had half expected them to rush into battle as well, to support their lady, but it seemed that unlike Sella and Leysritt, they had little knack for combat.

Instead, they seemed eager to take care of the post-battle treatment.

"My lady!" There was nothing left of Hisui's composed demeanour as she rushed forward to fuss over her mistress, switching between nervously rubbing her hands and coming very close to touching Akiha's skin, though she didn't dare go all the way. "A-Are you well?!"

"As well as can be expected." The maid's behaviour managed to do what Shirou could not. It eased Akiha's worries slightly, even managing to elicit a small smile from her. "In the end, we barely fought. The intruder turned out to be an… ally, of sorts."

"An ally?" Kohaku asked curiously, also coming forward, before she took Akiha's elbow to support her, deftly ignoring her sister's shocked and affronted stare at her forwardness. "Couldn't they have come through the front door then?"

"That would have been the rational thing to do, but Executors are rarely rational." Akiha huffed, and it spoke to her strong bond with the maids that she was already cracking small jokes again.

"An Executor…?" Kohaku blinked in slight surprise, and it was clear she wanted to know more, but decorum obliged her not to press her lady for answers. Instead, she merely inclined her head in acknowledgement.

"They are hunting for the Dead Apostle Ancestors that currently haunt Misaki Town."

But Akiha gave her more information anyway, readily informing her maids of everything that had taken place in the past hour.

"Lady Tohno." Shirou interrupted her however, still on a mission of his own. "Can I be excused then?"

"Yes. Feel free to search the manor for whatever trace you can find." Akiha nodded, glancing back at him, before her eyes flitted over to Hisui. "But Hisui shall accompany you at all times while you are inside. That is non-negotiable."

"Very well." That he wouldn't be allowed to turn the manor on its head without a chaperone was only logical, so Shirou accepted the condition.

"My lady?!" Hisui wasn't nearly as accepting however, clearly confused by the fact that Shirou, the immensely rude visitor they had all hated together before, was now suddenly allowed to stay in the manor.

"We have been betrayed." Akiha replied darkly, her eyes flashing an ominous red. "Betrayed and infiltrated by Dead Apostles. Shirou-san is here to find and eradicate the traitors and vampires alike. Assist him to the best of your ability."

"I… Yes, I understand, my lady." Hisui didn't seem entirely happy with the orders, but she accepted them with nary a hitch. Her mistress wanted her to serve as his tour guide and minder, so that was what she'd do. "Follow me then, Shirou-san."

Her tone was perfectly polite as she addressed him, but she could not hide her distaste and displeasure from him. The dissatisfaction of having to show him around while her sister took care of her beloved mistress.

As Shirou had said once before, this one was never going to like him.

But that was fine. As long as she wasn't actively malicious, Shirou couldn't care less about people liking him or not.

All that mattered now was finding the Ancestors and slaying them.


Deep inside one of the Burial Agency's most secret locations, in one of its most well-defended and heavily guarded bases, lay a room that most of the agency's operatives would rather pretend did not exist.

It was a room filled with all manner of tools, devices, and artefacts, each of which fulfilled important purposes for the Church, and each of which contained some manner of foul heresy.

There were relics taken from sworn enemies that had turned out to be surprisingly useful, evil pieces of machinery that fulfilled vital tasks, and even several cursed objects that had been crafted by those who had rejected God in His entirety and had embraced the Devil instead.

All of these items were foul and despised by all, and if they hadn't been so genuinely useful, they would long since have been destroyed in the Sacred Flames of the Vatican.

It rankled the Executors and Exorcists deeply to have to use them, and it was no secret that the Pope himself disapproved of their continued existence, but they had little choice if they wanted to keep the upper hand in the battle against the monsters of the dark. They had to stain their hands in order to preserve the law of God.

Among these many hated objects was a set of precisely twenty-eight infernal devices, devices that had been built for a single purpose only.

To indicate and verify the complete and total destruction of one of the Twenty-Seven Dead Apostle Ancestors, plus Roa.

Each of the devices had been linked to one of the Ancestors, and should one perish, the corresponding device would be destroyed as well. It was the most reliable way the Burial Agency had to make sure their most hated enemies were truly vanquished and thus some of the most valued objects within the secret base.

Some of the most valued, and some of the most 'popular', by lack of a better word.

They were watched over constantly by a warden appointed by the Pope himself, and not a day went by that not at least one Cardinal or Bishop inquired about the state of the devices, and whether one hadn't perhaps self-immolated since the last time they'd asked.

Most of the time, the answer was a negative, but there were instances when the news was good.

Over the past ten years, four of the devices had been destroyed, which was an unmitigated triumph for the Burial Agency, which was normally happy if they could see one destroyed every four decades. Even the fact that Lorelei Barthomeloi, the Queen of the Clocktower, had been single handedly responsible for three of those victories did nothing to numb the Burial Agency's delight every time it happened.

But even though they had scored four massive victories in the past decade alone, the infernal devices still numbered twenty-eight in total today. Though four Ancestors had been slain, they had been replaced quickly, bringing the total back to its original state and forcing the Burial Agency to craft more infernal devices.

The current warden had been overseeing them for many decades now, and in all that time, he'd never witnessed a position among the ranks of the Twenty-Seven stay empty for long. There were just too many power-hungry contenders, standing up every time a throne came to be vacant.

But even with those sad facts in mind, the Warden didn't give up hope. He continued staring at the devices, praying to the Lord that they may soon drop in number again.

Unbeknownst to him, his prayers were heard this time.


"I have no idea what you are talking about!" One of the Tohno-family members cried in a mixture of indignity and fear, attempting desperately to keep his ground even as Shirou glared threateningly at him. "I-I would never work with Dead Apostle Ancestors! Never!"

Having been suddenly ambushed in his own room by an unfamiliar Magus and one of the family-head's personal maids, the poor man was desperate to attest to his innocence. Fortunately for him, his words rang true, and Shirou let up on his glare, giving the man a small nod of acceptance.

The redhead then turned back to Hisui, ignoring the massive sigh of relief from behind him, only to find her looking rather displeased with the current situation, seemingly not at all happy with the fact that her lady's relative wasn't guilty of something that basically amounted to high-treason against humanity itself.

For the past few minutes, she'd led him around through her home, guiding him to relatives who were also staying at the manor, so that Shirou could interrogate them, using his ability to discern lies from truth to efficiently gather as much information as possible.

But by now, they'd spoken with everyone in the manor, and none of them had any knowledge about Ancestors whatsoever, let alone helped any of them into the building. They were truly innocent, at least of this particular crime.

That wasn't a relief however, not to Shirou and not to Hisui either. After all, the scent of the Spider Queen still permeated the manor, having even seeped into the walls and the furniture. It was faint, so faint that Shirou could barely smell it unless he was actively looking, but it was present everywhere he went.

And if no one had helped her get inside, that meant the Ancestor had entered the manor all by herself.

Hisui had bristled in anger at the very notion, wanting nothing more than to reject it, but in the absence of any other explanations, that was what had seemingly happened.

"Even the most powerful defences can be overcome." Shirou spoke softly to her, urging her to acknowledge the fact that no place on Earth was truly unbreachable, including the Tohno-manor. "And I imagine that Dead Apostle Ancestors are most adept at entering places where they aren't welcome."

"…" Hisui gritted her teeth, unwilling to admit weakness to a veritable stranger, even when that weakness was glaringly obvious already.

"Uhm, e-excuse me?" The man whom Shirou had just interrogated then spoke up, stepping forward with a worried look on his face. "I-Is this true? Is there a Dead Apostle Ancestor inside the manor?"

"…Not at the moment." Shirou replied when Hisui remained silent, turning towards the man to better face him. "But yes, one has been inside quite often over the past few years at least. Their traces are everywhere. You wouldn't have happened to have noticed anything amiss, have you?"

"No, sir, I have not." The man promptly shook his head, denying everything by instinct, before he actually took a moment to think, and then amended his statement. "Well, unless you count… B-But no, that's impossible."

The man almost looked contemplative for a moment, as if he had realised something of importance, but then he hastily backtracked for some reason.

That was suspicious to say the least, and Shirou was about to press him for answers, before he realised that the man was looking straight at Hisui, as if her presence was what made him clam up.

That piqued his interest, and he decided to subtly send the maid away.

"…We should search the premises more thoroughly then." The redhead suggested after a moment of thought, speaking directly to the maid, who reluctantly nodded in agreement. "Could I ask you to get me a map of this place? Preferably one on which you have marked the areas I am not welcome in?"

"A map?" The young girl blinked at him as if he'd spoken Ancient Greek, but she recollected herself with admirable speed. "Yes, right, of course. I will arrange it. Meet me in my lady's office in ten minutes."

She didn't even wait for him to nod before she stormed off, quite unwilling to remain in his presence a moment longer and all too eager to get back to Akiha's side. Any excuse was good enough, it seemed.

She really disliked him a lot, but Shirou didn't let it get to him. She was gone, as he had intended, leaving him free to conduct a proper interrogation.

"There was something you wanted to say." He spoke to the owner of the room, who froze in surprise at being addressed again.

"S-Sir?"

"Just now, you wanted to say something to me." The redhead clarified, making an impatient gesture. "Something miss Hisui wasn't supposed to hear?"

That jogged the man's memory, and he turned a bit pale for a moment at having been seen through so easily. Not for long though. After he verified that Hisui wasn't standing behind the door, listening in, he became quite eager to share what he knew, stepping closer to Shirou and leaning in to practically whisper into his ear.

"…Can I assume, sir, that you have questioned every member of the family currently living in the manor?" The man began his answer with a counter question, one that Shirou nodded to. "Then, have you also spoken to doctor Arach?"

"Doctor Arach? No, I have not spoken to anyone by that name."

"You should." The man urged, his voice becoming even softer and his eyes flitting around as if he feared that the very walls had ears. "She is… She is trouble. She has been trouble since my brother brought her here."

"Your brother?"

"Makihisa." The man clarified, before he went on, not giving Shirou even a moment to process that he was speaking to the brother of the former head of the family. A brother who had apparently been unceremoniously banished to the attic by his own niece. "Doctor Arach… She is bad news. She twisted my brother, sir. She twisted him into something unseemly, and she is doing the same to Akiha. She skulks around this place day and night, doing whatever she pleases. I-If there's anyone who would help an Ancestor, it's her, definitely."

"I see."

"She came here over twenty years ago and never left." The man continued, still looking around as if he feared being overheard. "She… She acts perfectly sensible, but there is something wrong about her. Like everything she does is just an act. She is up to something, I am sure of it."

"Have you told this to lady Tohno?" Shirou asked, though he could pretty much guess the answer already from the way the man acted.

"She won't hear of it." The man shook his head, as the redhead had expected, though the look of regret and morosity that appeared was a surprise. "Doctor Arach… She's a manipulative one. She's got Akiha all twisted around her finger, thinking she's been good to her. She hasn't been good to my niece though, sir, certainly not, she's been terrible to Akiha, but she gave her the attention she needed, the attention that others did not give her. Because of that, Akiha has now accepted her as a close confidant. If it's my word against hers, I will lose."

"Hm." Shirou made an understanding noise, though he remained on the fence for now. His ability to discern truth from lies told him that the man hadn't spoken a single lie nor omitted any vital information, but without any supporting evidence, it was still possible he was just imagining things. The only way to find out would be to investigate this 'doctor Arach' himself. "Where is the doctor's room?"

"You mean you believe me?!" Delight came to the old man's face when he realised Shirou wasn't blowing him off, and he rushed towards the door as fast as he could. "F-Follow me! I'll show you where to go!"

"Thank you." Shirou nodded politely, not commenting on whether he indeed believed the man or not.

It wasn't a long walk from the man's room to doctor Arach's, but it did lead them into a different part of the building, one much more luxurious and much closer to the manor's centre. Clearly, the doctor was indeed held in much higher regard than the other relatives, if the location of her quarters was anything to go by.

"Here it is." The man, whose name Shirou still did not know, mumbled when they arrived at their destination.

Doctor Arach's room.

Having never met the doctor before and having only heard of her existence mere minutes ago, Shirou hadn't known what to expect. She was, to him, a complete unknown. She could be a perfectly honest person, a scammer on the hunt for money, or a Dead Apostle Ancestor for all he knew.

But when he entered her room, unlocking the door with a small application of power and ignoring the Magical defences that tried to assail him, the scent in there alone was enough to tell him all he wanted to know.

It was the scent of the Spider Queen, more concentrated than anywhere else in the building. Sufficiently so that Shirou wondered how he'd overlooked this place until now.

Of course, scent alone wasn't definitive proof, but if doctor Arach turned out to be completely innocent at this point, Shirou would eat one of Issei's ridiculous monk-hats.

In any case, he needed more evidence, so he stepped further into the room to gather said evidence, taking a good look around.

It was fairly spacious, though not overly so, and although it couldn't be called tidy or neat, it wasn't exactly a dump either, nor was it poorly cared for. Nothing seemed out of place, nor were there any obvious signs of Magecraft having been practiced, let alone any dark arts.

There was a bed, a nightstand, two wardrobes filled with women's clothes, a desk and matching chair, and a bookcase holding various books on a plethora of subjects. The floor was covered by a soft, multicoloured carpet and the room was lit by a tastefully designed lamp hanging from the ceiling.

There were several pairs of high-class shoes standing near the wardrobes and a satin shawl was hanging near the door. A few pieces of expensive jewellery were lying on the nightstand, as if they'd been placed there when the owner went to bed, and the smell of expensive perfume permeated the room.

At the back, there was a door leading to a bathroom, with a huge bathtub and a couple of toothbrushes in a cup next to the sink.

The room wasn't very personal, and it didn't look very lived in, but there weren't any torture devices or mysterious substances standing around either.

All in all, it painted the picture of a moderately rich woman who didn't much care about expensive trinkets and excessive luxuries, but did like her small comforts.

But a picture was all it was.

Shirou saw it immediately. Everything in sight was just a show that had been put on for possible visitors. A front that had been carefully but artificially erected. A thin layer of veneer that was meant to hide whatever lay beneath.

The clothes in the wardrobes had never been worn, nor had the jewellery on the nightstand. The satin shawl had never touched human skin and the books had never been opened. There wasn't a drop of water in the bathtub, nor any indication it had ever been filled, and the toothbrushes were brand-new and untouched.

This room was hiding something, something dark, and Shirou was willing to bet his entire fortune that the Spider Queen was involved somehow. She had to be, considering the scent that was still permeating the room.

So he set out to pierce the layer of veneer.

He looked beneath the carpet, under the bed, behind the nightstand, and at the back of the wardrobes. He checked the floor tiles in the bathroom one by one, verifying there wasn't a loose one among them, and he meticulously inspected every inch of the walls to make sure there weren't any hidden doors or secret stashes.

Over the course of his career as a vigilante, he'd learned much about the way in which people tried to hide things, things like money, drugs, and information, and he used that knowledge to his advantage here to rapidly search the room.

Eventually, it paid off. He found something interesting, hidden in a secret compartment behind the mirror in the bathroom.

There, protected by a few minor spells, he discovered a single, sizable syringe containing a mysterious, red fluid.

Blood would be anyone's first impression, so too Shirou's, and a quick Structural Analysis confirmed that the fluid was indeed blood, which was as ominous as it was damning in the current situation.

Worse, it wasn't even human blood, but the blood of a Dead Apostle, one so powerful that they could very well be an Ancestor, though Shirou did not know that for sure yet.

There weren't many reasons why a person living inside a Magus' home would have a syringe filled with Dead Apostle-blood, and none of those reasons were legal.

This was evidence enough. It seemed Akiha's uncle was right and Doctor Arach was indeed the fly in the ointment.

Or rather, the spider in the ointment, considering her name. Arach was almost definitely based upon Arachne after all, which was the Greek word for…

Spider.

…No.

No way.

She wouldn't be that brazen!

Would she?!

Impossible!

"I knew it." Akiha's uncle suddenly muttered, having entered the room as well, looking at the syringe in Shirou's hands. "I knew it! That woman…! She's evil!"

"Perhaps." Shirou allowed, not yet willing to jump to conclusions, though he could feel sweat drops forming on his brow at the hypothesis he was now entertaining. At the thought that an Ancestor could be so immensely brazen as to do what he now suspected she'd done.

"You should take this to Akiha." The man, whose name Shirou still did not know, urged him, also looking rather off-balance, though there was a glint of determination shining through. "She needs to know what her father took into her home."

That he used the word 'what' rather than 'who' to refer to Doctor Arach was a good indication that the man also had a theory about what was going on, and Shirou nodded in agreement.

The urge to take in the syringe's scent and track down its origin immediately was strong, but he knew he could not leave now without informing the lady of the manor of his findings first. To do so would be yet another insult, and he had insulted her quite enough over the past few days.

It would be one thing if she were an irredeemable villain or a confident lady who could let insults slide off of her like water off a rock, but she wasn't either of those. She was a young woman who was in over her head, and who didn't deserve being trampled over, least of all by those who saw themselves as aspiring heroes.

So he set out to look for her, followed closely behind by her uncle.

Finding her was simple enough. She was in her office, as she had told him, together with her maids, a map of the manor lying open on the desk in front of her.

"You're late." She frowned at him, though she did not seem overly bothered, before she lifted an eyebrow when her uncle entered the office as well. "You brought him here? Why?"

"Because he provided me with some valuable information." Shirou explained, which made her other eyebrow lift as well in slight surprise. "You should have told me about Doctor Arach, my lady."

Akiha froze stiff, as did her maids, but whereas the lady of the manor looked shocked and scandalised, the maids soon adopted slightly hopeful expressions, as if hoping that he'd found some dirt on the not-so-good doctor.

"I trust doctor Arach." Akiha said eventually, her tone very short and clipped, showing that the little rapport that Shirou had built up with her was in extreme danger of being wiped out on the spot. "There was no need to investigate her."

Shirou did not reply verbally, knowing that words were naught but air in this case, and instead held out the syringe.

The young lady practically snatched it out of her hand, eager to prove her doctor's innocence, but her face soon twisted in dismay when she realised what she was holding.

"This was planted." She stated quickly, which got her incredulous looks from both her uncle and her maids.

"It was not." Her uncle replied, holding fast even when his niece glared at him. "It belongs to her, and you know it."

"No."

"Look, I know I have talked about this before-"

"You have always hated her, you mean!" Akiha suddenly snapped, her voice rising in anger and denial. "Always! From the moment father took her in!"

"Yes, and rightly so!" Her uncle raised his voice in turn, not even trying to deny the allegation. "That woman is bad news! She twisted Makihisa into a wreck of a man, she messed up this family, and she couldn't wait to get her claws into you too!"

"She helped me when father did not-!"

"She was the very reason your father treated you like he did! When he was worried about your blood acting up, she was the one who encouraged him to raise you harshly! Everything he put you through was her idea!"

"Lies! Father was an evil man-!"

"He was!" Once more, Akiha's uncle didn't even try to deny it. "But that doctor actively made him worse! She is the spider in your bosom, Akiha! Everyone can see it! Everyone but you!"

The young lady almost reared back, before her eyes flitted over to Shirou, who nodded, then to Kohaku, who nodded as well, and finally Hisui, who inclined her head in agreement.

They were indeed of one mind. Doctor Arach was bad news.

And together, they managed to crack Akiha's defensive shell at last.

Magi were generally not very emotionally healthy, quite the opposite rather, having the tendency to bottle up their emotions in self-defence, and Shirou saw that happening in real-time now, as Akiha went through the five stages of grief in record time, before she slumped in her chair, all vigour leaving her as a perfectly neutral expression settled on her face. The expression of someone who'd forcibly suppressed every emotion imaginable.

Betrayal was never easy to deal with, Shirou knew that perfectly well, and it seemed Akiha took it particularly badly.

It was awful to see, and he wanted nothing more than to help, but he had no idea how. Emotional support had never been his strong suit after all. He couldn't punch emotions like he could punch villains.

When his girls were feeling down, he'd try to cheer them up with a big hug, something that wasn't verbal, but he wasn't sure whether that would be appropriate here. He barely knew her after all.

He came quite close to hugging Akiha nonetheless, if only to do something to support her, but he was headed off by Kohaku, who took the initiative first, kneeling down and wrapping her arms around her mistress.

It turned out to be the right thing to do, as the young lady buried her face in her maid's shoulder, her body shaking from muted sobs, which only intensified when Hisui placed a hand on her back.

It was a very private scene, and Shirou felt incredibly awkward as he looked at them, quickly averting his eyes, wondering if he should leave.

"Boy." Akiha's uncle whispered into his ear, taking hold of his shoulder. "Leave this to us. You go and find that vile doctor, and make sure she never darkens our doorstep again."

"Right." Shirou whispered back, quite satisfied with that division of roles. "I will."

He quickly extracted a drop of blood from the syringe, taking in its scent, before he boiled the drop to a fine mist, eliminating all its Mystical properties. He then made to leave the office, to track down the origin of that smell.

"Please, Shirou-san…"

He stopped however when Akiha called out to him, wincing at how weak and pained her voice sounded, and he turned around to face her.

She'd lifted her head from her maid's shoulder for now to speak with him. Her eyes were already red from crying, tear tracks going down her cheeks, but Shirou pretended not to notice, waiting patiently until she managed to formulate what she wanted to say.

"My brother… Please keep him safe."

"Of course." Tohno Shiki already had a very competent guard in the form of Arcueid and an ability that would give a Phantasmal Beast pause, but nevertheless, there was no harm in keeping an eye on him. "I'll have him back here by sunrise, safe and sound."

"And doctor Arach… When you find her, please ask her… Please ask her why."

"I will." Shirou agreed, understanding immediately what she was asking. It was the least he could do after all she'd been put through, and frankly, he also wanted to know.

He wanted to know why the Spider Queen, a Dead Apostle Ancestor, would ever pose as a normal doctor and go live with a Magus-family under the name of Arach.


"Uh-oh." Arcueid's ever-present smile suddenly dropped, making Shiki freeze up in alarm next to her. "We've got trouble incoming."

"Trouble?!" Shiki asked nervously, glancing out of the window of the hotel room they had just entered, all the way up on the seventeenth floor. "What kind of trouble?!"

He had only recently learned about the existence of the horrifying monsters known as Dead Apostles, now seeing bloodthirsty vampires in every shadow, so the last thing he wanted was more trouble, especially right after sunset.

"The Ancestor-kind." Arcueid grinned, peering out of the window too. "It's the Knight. He has come to kill me, or us, rather."

"W-What?! T-Then we should run!" Shiki cried, grabbing her wrist again to pull her along to the elevator, but this time, she did not budge a millimetre. "Arcueid!?"

"Why should we run when this is an excellent time to tie up some loose ends?" The Moon Princess turned towards him with a bloodthirsty grin, her face and body-language the very picture of confidence. "Between the two of us, we can deal with him just fine. It'd be nice to have him off my back. He's been buzzing around me for far too long now."

"A-Are we strong enough for that?" Shiki asked doubtfully, before he winced again when Arcueid laughed merrily.

"I might not have been, if I'd had to heal myself from the wounds you inflicted on me." She casually and unintentionally guilt-tripped him. "But since Shirou healed me, I am in… uhm, how do you say it again? Ah, yes. I am in top-condition. I can handle one fresh-faced, Upstart Ancestor just fine, especially if you use that talent of yours to help me."

Shiki still wasn't comfortable with the idea, having been a regular civilian until mere days ago, but he also recognised he didn't have much of a choice. Even if Arcueid would let him flee, he was realistic enough to know that the Ancestor downstairs definitely wouldn't.

Monsters never let someone escape.

"Let's go and intercept him before he can prey on the other guests." If they waited too long, the hotel would turn into a bloodbath, and while Arcueid was opposed to that mainly because it would give the Knight more power, she also didn't really want other people to die needlessly.

It was a burst of empathy and pity, and although most monsters and villains would claim those emotions made you weak, Arcueid liked them well enough.

They were a strong source of motivation if nothing else.

Which was why she triggered the fire-alarm on her way downstairs.


It didn't take Shirou very long to find the scent he was looking for, the scent of the blood in the syringe.

Compared to the scents he'd been working with over the past few days, the scents of Ancestors who knew perfectly well how to hide and cover their tracks, this one stood out like a beacon in the night.

Either the Spider Queen had completely forgotten to cover this particular track, or she didn't care about hiding it. Either way, it was nice to finally have a strong lead.

The scent was so strong in fact that Shirou felt secure in taking flight rather than sticking close to the ground, and he was now soaring above Misaki Town, relying on the falling darkness of the late evening to hide him from sight.

At first, the tracks took a few twists and turns, meandering through the city without a real destination, but at some point, they suddenly straightened out, as if they'd found their target.

From that point onwards, the origin of the scent had made a straight beeline towards one of the highest buildings in town.

A hotel, by the looks of it. A high-class, stately one. It was quite the sight, even from above.

It was also on fire.

Upon seeing that, Shirou promptly accelerated, making a beeline for the building too as he put the scent out of his mind for now. People might need his help, and that took precedence over hunting Dead Apostles.

He rapidly circled the burning hotel several times, searching for anyone still stuck inside, before he breathed a sigh in relief when he confirmed that the building was empty.

All the guests had been evacuated already, standing a good distance away from the hotel, looking confused and affronted by the inconvenience.

Well, they were going to have to deal with even more inconvenience, as Shirou called forth rain clouds and made it pour, both to help the firemen douse the flames consuming the hotel and to prevent the fire from spreading.

Mentally apologising to all the people desperately seeking cover now, Shirou continued to make it rain until he was certain that the firemen had everything well in hand. Only then did he leave again, returning his attention to the scent he'd been tracking.

Only to be surprised when he realised that the origin of it was close-by. Very close-by.

In fact, if his nose could be believed, it was located in an alley adjacent to the hotel even, where it remained stationary for now.

Shirou promptly swooped down, straight at the alley in question. He came down hard, bending his knees to absorb the force of the impact, before he looked up and found…

A corpse?

Yes, a corpse. A single dead body, lying in the middle of the alley, half-covered by a black cloak.

The first thing Shirou noticed was the knightly outfit.

The second was the white hair.

Then he saw the familiar features, and he nearly gasped as he realised who it was.

It was Vlov Arkhangel!

The Nineteenth Dead Apostle Ancestor.

And he was as dead as a doornail.

A thousand emotions rushed through Shirou when he realised the Ancestor was lying dead there like a victim from a robbery-gone-wrong, from utter shock to pure delight, but the main emotion, the strongest undercurrent, was undeniably a sense of disappointment.

Disappointment that there would never be a rematch between them.

But Shirou quickly shook off that disappointment, recognising that it was ridiculous to feel that way. A Dead Apostle Ancestor dying was always good news, and he should not regret it merely because he wanted to kill this one himself.

Besides, Nasu had told him that he shouldn't kill Vlov Arkhangel, and now he hadn't. Everything was still as it should be.

But even though Arkhangel appeared to be dead, caution was still in order. He might suddenly revive after all, or he might only be pretending to be dead. Ancestors were tricky, treacherous creatures, and there was no such thing as being too careful around them.

The redhead slowly approached the body, not lowering Mjolnir until he was certain that the Ancestor was truly deceased and not about to get up again. Even then, he still placed Mjolnir on the Vampire Lord's chest, thereby pinning him down.

Only then did he dare to kneel down next to it, to study the body carefully, wondering what had killed him.

It took him a few moments to give the corpse a proper once-over, but in the end, he found but two injuries on the body. Arkhangel's right arm had been severed, and he'd been stabbed in the left kidney.

Odd. Neither of those were fatal wounds even to a mortal man, let alone a Vampire Lord, yet Arkhangel had perished all the same, his expression of terrified surprise still frozen on his face.

It was no trick, no ruse to get the drop on Shirou. Arkhangel was really, genuinely dead, from what seemed to be mere pinpricks.

It was only when Shirou placed a hand on his chest that he realised how that was possible.

These wounds… They were of the exact same nature as those that had been dealt to Arcueid! The unhealing, Reality-deep kind!

So the one who had killed Arkhangel was...

Tohno Shiki.

Shirou let out a slow breath through his nose, unsure whether this was good news or bad news. On one hand, his fellow teen had just slain a horrible monster, which was good, but at the same time, his terrifying ability, one that could deal devastating wounds to supposedly-immortal creatures, seemed to be getting stronger by the day.

As long as Tohno Shiki remained of moral character, that didn't have to be a problem, but if he did not, if he decided to use it for selfish gains…

Then Shirou might have to worry about what that power would do to him.

But that was a matter for later. For now, he had his own investigation to conduct.

Arkhangel's smell, that of frost and ash, was fading rapidly, just like his corporal body, but the scent of the blood in the Spider Queen's syringe, the scent that Shirou had tracked here in the first place, was still as strong as ever.

At first, he thought the Spider Queen herself might be around, hiding somewhere near, but he soon realised that the scent was actually coming from Arkhangel.

More specifically, from one of Arkhangel's pockets.

Now, Shirou might be quite resistant to various forms of Magic and Mystery, but that did not mean he was just going to stick his hand into an Ancestor's pocket. There could be all manner of traps in there, and even if they did not hurt him, they could very well destroy the evidence.

So he tried the simplest solution first, grabbing the Vampire Lord's leg and lifting him from the ground, upside down.

And as he'd hoped, gravity made the object in Arkhangel's pocket come falling out, allowing him to catch it before it hit the stones below.

Was it undignified towards the deceased Ancestor to have his corpse treated like that? Well, yes, certainly, but that was hardly relevant at the moment.

Now that he had successfully extracted the object, Shirou unceremoniously dropped the body again, instead focusing on his newly-obtained clue, which turned out to be another syringe, nearly identical to the one he'd found in Arach's room.

The new syringe was also filled with Dead Apostle blood, and when Shirou carefully extracted a drop, he concluded it was even more potent than the blood in the old syringe.

That was ominous, doubly so because Arkhangel had been carrying it around, likely with the purpose of using it on some poor soul. Perhaps even Shirou himself.

But did that mean Arkhangel had been the one to prepare this syringe? Or had he gotten it from the Spider Queen? And if so, was she the one who decided who their target would be?

And most of all, why didn't they just use their own blood if they wanted to change someone into a Dead Apostle? Why go through all the trouble of putting it in a syringe?

There were questions upon questions, and it seemed that with every clue he found, the web of mystery and intrigue grew a little more complicated.

Though Shirou did take solace in the fact that Arkhangel at least was dead. He would never again be an issue, nor could he muddy the waters again.

That left only the Spider Queen.

Oh, and Roa of course, but that went without saying.

In any case, Shirou should continue his search, but first, he needed to deal with Arkhangel's corpse.

Tohno Shiki's method of killing was clearly a very potent one, and the redhead estimated that the likelihood of Arkhangel somehow resurrecting, as Ancestors were sometimes wont to do, was slim to none. However, his body could still be used as a powerful catalyst in all sorts of evil rituals, for instance by the Spider Queen, who had already shown herself to be an aspiring Mystical scientist of sorts.

So Shirou burned Arkhangel's body, dousing it in his hottest flames, letting them consume it whole until there wasn't even a speck of ash left, the nearby raindrops sizzling as they evaporated from the heat.

The fire must have been more visible than he'd thought however, because a few moments later, someone came running into the alley.

For a moment, Shirou tensed, fearing he might have to deal with panicked civilians, but once he recognised the newcomer, he relaxed again.

"Shirou!" Arcueid, for it was her, called out happily, waving at him with her characteristic smile as she walked up to him, followed closely behind by a companion, one whom Shirou recognised quite well. "I thought that was you!"

"Arcueid." Shirou greeted her back, also with a smile. "You thought correctly."

"We killed the Knight!" Just like before, Arcueid wasted no time on pleasantries and got straight to business, before she blinked when she noticed the Ancestor's body was gone. "Eh, where did he go?"

"I burned the body." Shirou explained, gesturing at the scorched stones next to him. "It didn't seem like a good idea to leave it here."

"Oh, good thinking!" Arcueid praised him, before gesturing behind her, at her companion. "This is Shiki. You knew each other already, right?"

"We met once." Shirou nodded, giving the younger Tohno a friendly smile, hiding any apprehension he might have felt about the boy's extremely lethal ability beneath politeness and hospitality. "It is good to see you again, Tohno-san."

"…Yeah." It was a lukewarm agreement from Shirou's fellow teen, whose facial expression could only be described as grumpy. "I suppose."

He seemed to be in a bad mood, which Shirou understood perfectly well. Fighting a Dead Apostle Ancestor next to a burning hotel only days after first learning about the Moonlit World would wreak havoc on anyone's mind, so it was only logical that he was rather stressed at the moment. Too stressed to be polite.

On top of that, it was still raining heavily, and Tohno looked drenched to the bone, which probably didn't do his mood any good either.

As such, Shirou paid his curtness no mind, instead turning back to Arcueid, who was also drenched, yet didn't seem to care one bit.

"Your work?" He asked, jerking his chin towards the hotel.

"Ahahaha… Yeah." To her credit, the blonde looked rather remorseful over the destruction of property, fiddling a bit with her hands. "But it was the Knight's fault! He started throwing flames around everywhere! Shiki and I only tried to dodge it!"

"I understand." Yes, Arkhangel did like using fire, Shirou knew that all too well. "But it seems you got him in the end."

"Shiki did. He was amazing." Arcueid looked back at her companion again with a beaming smile, praising him into the sky, though her smile shrunk considerably when he failed to reciprocate, instead continuing to look grumpy. "Shiki?"

"That's one Ancestor down, but two more remain." Shirou said quickly, pulling her attention back to him. As nice as she was, she didn't seem very capable of reading the room, so he tried to give his fellow teen a break. "Have you found any trace of Roa or the Spider Queen?"

"No." It clearly pained Arcueid to admit it, but she didn't dance around the matter. "I still don't even know the identity of Roa's new vessel."

"I do." Shirou had just had a rather productive day, and he didn't hesitate to share what he'd learned. "Roa's new vessel is Tohno Shiki."

"Huh?"

"P-Pardon me?!"

"The elder Tohno Shiki." Shirou clarified quickly, holding up a hand to stave off their inevitable protests. "Your older brother, Tohno-san."

Within a fraction of a second, Shiki went from looking affronted and confused to going white in shock, gaping at Shirou as if the redhead had just murdered his sister in front of him.

"W-What? N-No, that can't be. I don't have… a brother? W-W-What?!"

Tohno Shiki was evidently much less aware of his family's dynamics than Tohno Akiha, for the revelation that he had an older brother almost knocked him flat on his back.

"So it was Tohno Shiki after all!" Arcueid gasped, as if everything suddenly made sense. "So that is why I got his name from mother!"

Apparently, Arcueid had, just like the Burial Agency, somehow learned that Roa's new vessel was named Tohno Shiki, and after the younger Tohno Shiki had at first put her on the wrong foot, again just like the Burial Agency, she now knew what was going on.

Shirou was just going to ignore her use of the word 'mother' however, for his own peace of mind if nothing else.

"This will make the hunt much easier." Arcueid grinned viciously, undoubtedly already imagining how she would rip Roa to pieces the moment she found him. "Does the Burial Agency know about this?"

"They do. Ciel was there when I learned of the elder Shiki's existence."

"Crud! Then I haven't a moment to lose!"

Having declared that, Arcueid made to grab Shiki's hand, probably to pull him along, but Shirou quickly stepped in between them.

"Give him a moment." He said sharply. "He just learned that he has a brother, a brother who needs to be killed. Let that sink in first before you go yanking him around."

Suddenly learning that you had a brother was not an easy thing, and learning, pretty much at the same time, that said brother was also the host of Roa could only have made it a thousand times worse. The last thing Shiki needed now was to be dragged off somewhere to go and kill what remained of his older brother before he could work out his emotions.

Arcueid didn't seem convinced however.

"He doesn't actually know the other Shiki though." She protested, showing that her childishness wasn't just cute, but could also be rather petulant. "So it shouldn't be a problem."

"It is clearly a problem!" Shirou almost couldn't believe that she thought otherwise, with how shaken poor Shiki looked, his glazed eyes a sure sign he was taking an unpleasant stroll down memory lane. "Other people have emotions too, Arcueid! And emotions aren't always logical!"

"…I knew that." Fortunately, Arcueid didn't persist in her petulance, backing down surprisingly easily. "Then… Then I'll go ahead, and the two of you can follow later."

"Very good." Shirou nodded, lowering his voice again. "Though I will be searching for the Spider Queen first and foremost. You, Ciel, and Shiki can deal with Roa."

"Aw, but I was hoping-"

"You can always call me if you need help." Shirou interrupted her, knowing what she wanted to say. "And once I'm done with the Spider Queen, I'll come to reinforce you as fast as possible."

"Hm, fine." It was clear she wanted him to come along right away, but Arcueid took what she could get. "I'll be going now then."

"Good luck. I'll stay here with Tohno-san for a while, until he's ready to go after you."

"Thank you!" Though her mood was still a bit down, Arcueid's exclamation of gratitude was as sincere as always. "Please take good care of Shiki."

Then she was off, rushing out of the alley again, in pursuit of her prey.

The redhead didn't know precisely how she'd track down the elder Tohno Shiki, but since she was the Ultimate One of the Earth, she probably had plenty of tricks up her sleeve now that she knew the name of his new vessel.

A name was a powerful thing after all.

Once Arcueid disappeared out of sight, Shirou turned to Shiki again, to see if he wanted to talk. The teen still didn't look capable of coherent speech though, so he gave him another moment, taking stock of his current situation instead.

As the fire at the hotel was now largely doused, he dismissed the clouds again, putting a stop to the rain. The fire brigade could handle it from here, so there was no need to further inconvenience the people who had just been evacuated, most of them still in their nightclothes.

Speaking of, those people were receiving aid and warm clothes at last, but even so, since he'd just drenched them, Shirou increased the temperature around them a bit, just to be on the safe side.

Meanwhile, he safely stored the syringes with Apostle blood away in his pockets, each in a separate one, to ensure they wouldn't bang together when he walked. Frankly, he'd rather destroy them, but they were valuable clues for now.

He didn't get the sense there were more of them out there, at least not as far as he could smell, so they couldn't lead him back to the Spider Queen, whose scent was actually rather different to begin with, but even so, they might come in handy, later down the line.

That pretty much wrapped up all the business he had in the alley, but Tohno Shiki was still off in his own world, looking at nothing in particular as he struggled to make sense of everything he'd learned over the past few minutes.

That had gone on for long enough now though. Shirou might have told Arcueid to let Shiki be, as properly processing one's emotions was healthy, but at some point, it just became akin to brooding.

So he prodded the other teen's shoulder to snap him out of his flashback.

"Hah?" Shiki started, looking around wildly as if only now realising that he was still in the alley with Shirou, before he stared at the redhead with eyes filled with confusion, concern, and…

Was that frustration?

"Where is Arcueid?" Was the first thing out of his mouth, his foremost priority, which would have delighted the blonde woman if she were here to hear it.

"Off to hunt down Roa." Shirou replied, gesturing in the general direction she'd stormed off to. "She said you could follow her once you felt better. On that note, how are you?"

"Fine." Shiki replied quickly, too quickly. "She left me here with you?"

There was a strange emphasis on the last word, one that Shirou didn't quite know what to think of, but the redhead ignored it again.

"I insisted on it. Arcueid would rather have taken you with her, but I asked her to give you a moment to process everything you'd learned just now."

"What?! I didn't ask you to do that!"

"…No, I suppose not." Shirou was now really starting to wonder why the other teen was being so hostile. He'd reasoned at first that it had to be a bad mood, but this went beyond mere frustration and came awfully close to enmity. "I'm sorry if I overstepped my bounds. You can still catch up with Arcueid if you hurry-"

"You should stay away from her."

"…Pardon me?"

"Y-You should stay away from her." Shiki repeated, confirming that Shirou hadn't misheard him. "I don't want you to be around her."

"Well, I am sorry, Tohno-san, but that is not up to you." Shirou slowly shook his head, not even entertaining the notion. "I don't know why you'd even ask me that-"

"You are bad for her." Shiki accused him, pointing a finger at his face. "Y-You encouraged her to let strange men take pictures of her!"

"Are you talking about her work for that modelling agency? Because I don't see anything wrong with that. She was just earning some money."

"I-It's work for l-loose women!"

"Nonsense." Shirou summarily rejected that claim, frowning at the other teen in disapproval. "And frankly, that is quite an awful thing to say."

'Loose women' might not be the worst insult ever, but from Shiki's tone, it was evident he meant it in the worst way possible. It was insulting, both to Arcueid and all other women in the business who were just trying their best to make a living, and Shirou could not let it pass without comment.

Shiki did not take the chastisement in stride however, and he blew up at Shirou.

"I am saying awful things?! What about you?! Arcueid has been suffering for hundreds of years, being forced to fight those 'Ancestors', and you just encourage her to keep doing it! Do you even care about her, or is she just a convenient weapon for you to use?!"

"What?" That Arcueid was being forced to hunt the Dead Apostle Ancestors was honestly news to Shirou, especially since she hadn't given any indication of being reluctant to carry out her duties, but… he had to admit it didn't sound entirely illogical either. "If that is true, then I am sorry, but I don't think I have that much of an influence on her. Arcueid is perfectly capable of making her own decisions-"

"Of course you have an influence!" It seemed Shiki was determined not to let Shirou finish his sentences today, once more shouting over him. "You are all she talks about! From the first moment she dragged me along on her hunt, it was 'Shirou this' and 'Shirou that'! All! The! Time! Just stay away from her!"

"…!"

Suddenly, everything clicked into place, and a lightbulb went on inside Shirou's head.

The other teen didn't shout and glare because he thought Shirou was using him and Arcueid or because he thought he was in league with the Dead Apostle Ancestors. What he saw in Shiki wasn't hostility or distrust.

It was jealousy.

He was jealous, plain and simple.

Jealous that Arcueid and Shirou were being so friendly with each other.

It made perfect sense. Jealousy would explain why Shiki was so against Arcueid working at the modelling agency, and it also explained his dislike of Shirou, after Arcueid apparently spent quite a lot of time talking about him. It explained everything the redhead had noticed about his fellow teen so far.

But that it made sense didn't mean it was okay, and Shirou's own stubborn streak flared up in response.

"Arcueid and I made a deal. I would help her find Roa, which I am doing now, and in exchange, she will give me the information I am after. That deal is still on, and you are not breaking it. Especially not over petty jealousy."

"But-"

"That is final, Tohno!"

Annoyance made him shout louder than he'd intended, and Shiki jumped back like a startled deer.

"Go!" Shirou snapped at him, pointing in Arcueid's general direction. "Make yourself useful. Find and kill Roa, preferably without endangering any more civilians!"

"Endangering civilians? I never endangered civilians!"

Shirou blinked, before he gave the other teen an incredulous look, jerking a thumb over his shoulder, towards the crowd of guests standing outside in their nightclothes, looking at the smouldering remains of the hotel.

"Oh…"

Yes, 'oh'.

To his credit, Tohno looked a bit guilty about forgetting them, and he wasted no more time afterwards. He turned around and left, to find Arcueid and help her defeat the Serpent.

Frankly, Shirou was glad to see the back of him, having realised he'd misread the teen's character.

There was a kindness in him, certainly, but also a great deal of jealousy and a callousness towards strangers that Shirou did not appreciate.

Of course, such a view on life was not unusual by any means, as most people found it hard to really care about strangers, but Shiki had great power, and that meant great responsibility. Responsibility he seemed reluctant to accept.

They were never going to be friends, that was certain, and Shirou resolutely put the other teen out of his mind, focussing on the matter at hand again.

When he had arrived in Misaki Town, three Ancestors had been roaming about, practically unchallenged. Now, about two days later, the situation had changed radically.

Vlov Arkhangel was dead, Roa had been forced out in the open and was being hunted by both the Moon Princess and the Burial Agency, and the Spider Queen had overplayed her hand.

Shirou now knew where she'd been hiding, what she'd been calling herself, and he had two syringes that had been prepared by her personally and were thus covered in her tracks.

With so much information at his disposal, and knowing that Arkhangel had likely come straight from her lair, he should be able to track her down before sunrise.

He didn't doubt however that she knew that too, so he had to hurry, before she could escape. The Ancestors were a crafty lot, and if she managed to get out of the city before he tracked her down, he'd never find her again.

With a bit of fortune and some hard work though, she too would find her end in Misaki Town.

And if Arcueid, Ciel, and Tohno Skihi also managed to kill Roa, it would be a massive, unprecedented victory for humanity.

Three Ancestors dead in one night.

Music to Shirou's ears.


Things are heating up very quickly, and there's only one chapter left before the Tsukihime arc ends.

This chapter follows very quickly on the one before, though I have to admit that I hesitated on whether to post it at all. The previous chapter received some rather bad reviews, which are pretty killing for motivation.

Not liking chapter 55 is one thing, but I don't appreciate it that people are swearing and cursing in the reviews. It's not like using all sorts of expletives and death wishes towards me and Shirou is going to change anything.

Doubly so when people who have never left a review before, never given the slightest hint of a compliment or appreciation, suddenly decide to break their silence to make it clear how much they hate the chapter, the story, and the main character.

An insult is easily written, but please do consider its impact on me and every other writer who is putting their hard work on this site for others to read.

Oh, and everyone who said they were dropping this story, please actually do so. It will save both you and me considerable time. Remember, no one is forcing you to read this.

Thank you.

Now, a lot has happened in this chapter, some of it canon and some of it not.

Vlov is dead, and he was killed off-screen to boot. The reason I did that is because the battle didn't actually differ all that much from canon, so there was no reason to waste words on it. With Arcueid at full power and Shiki to back her up, their victory was all but assured anyway.

Ciel enters the Tohno-manor, just like in canon, but whereas the two ladies fought for quite a while in canon, Shirou puts a quick end to it here. He essentially forces them to share information, and that results in Roa being unmasked a lot sooner than in the official version. Talking, negotiating, and cooperating actually produces good results. Who would have thought?

In canon, Arcueid also does some freelance work for a photographer, and it royally pisses off Shiki for some reason. Well, I say 'for some reason', but it's because he is rather possessive. It's not his fault, he is written as a 2000's harem protagonist (meaning that he is jealous, possessive, and rather rude to the women he is supposed to seduce), but even so, I dislike it.

Shirou, in canon, is a bit more relaxed about things like that (though admittedly he still doesn't like it when Cu flirts with Rin), and now that he has been 'merged' with Thor, the ultimate relaxed bro-type himbo Viking, he doesn't bat an eye at Arcueid's side-job. He just helps her get a better salary.

The small clash between Shirou and Shiki probably rankled a few of you, but Nasu himself (herself?) has stated that they wouldn't get along at all if they ever met. Not because one is a villain and the other a hero, it's not black and white like that, but because their personalities don't align. Shirou wants to be a hero of justice, protecting the innocent, while Shiki just wants a normal, happy life for himself and his loved ones. Add to that Shiki's jealousy over Arcueid and sparks were always going to fly at their first proper meeting.

That's all I wanted to say.

Ted resumes writing. Cheerio.