Chapter 36: Archer on Standby

A new day awaits me as I stand perched on top of the highest peak of a very nostalgic hospital. As I stare into the clouds, I take the bright blue sky into my lungs and took note of how they didn't burn. It was a beautiful view that everyone shared and many took it for granted. At the very least, it was much easier on the eyes than a red sky.

I had enough of a red sky.

Maybe it would have been better, if I had died under that red sky from the very beginning, but I did not die and from my foolishness I did not have the luxury of disappearing as ordinary people did. The person I was wasn't here, but the fool I became still remains. The past should be worthless to me, but I was sentimental to the core.

I still remember that man's face. The man that became my father would always retell the same story over and over again as if it was the happiest day of his life. Even if the details were clouded, the story remains. When I was old enough, he would leave me behind on journey after journey for months coming back with more tales to tell to take his mind off his own failures. The daughter he failed to save time and time again was now running through the very same hospital where I learned his name.

Emiya Kiritsugu.

As I stood on guard with no enemy in my sights across the blue horizon, Rin was busy sifting through old paper medical records. Even though computers have been around for decades, paper records would persist throughout the 21st century for redundancy.

"I hate to admit it, but when it comes to these things, Kirei is thorough, but that only makes them as artificially glaring like those new buildings in Shinto. He may be meticulous, but doctoring all those documents is a slow process. Apparently, entire servers were taken out?"

Data on a hard drive is only truly erased when the space it occupies is overwritten or the hard drive itself is destroyed. It's a fact that a lot of people don't know let alone introverted magi, but data recovery software is readily available at bookstores and the service can be done at most local repair shops. That was why it was common practice for Freelancers and Executors to destroy them in rough cover ups which merely fueled the common notion that magi hated technology. Of course, I couldn't deny that the Master that summoned me had more in common with elderly doctors than girls her own age. Without paper records, or Shirou to work the computer, she would have been completely lost.

When magi are involved, it's inevitable for things to be buried. The so called truth seekers are always the first to bury it. Despite operating outside the jurisdiction of nations, magi and politicians are cut from same cloth. When 134 buildings were destroyed and when 500 lives were lost, it wasn't magi who paved the wasteland with ugly new skyscrapers.

"A really sloppy trail of unconscious bodies from Miyama to Shinto, short of the church...I can't tell if Sakura is actually trying to follow the rules or not...what do you think Archer?"

Rules were established and enforced by the church to prevent the ritual from becoming senseless slaughter, but there hasn't been a single precedent of it working as intended. The church was the neutral ground for those competing in the Holy Grail War, but of course the overseer was only neutral in that he was out for himself. Even though the world line has diverged, from the tampered hospital records, I was certain Kotomine Kirei was still keeping something worse than skeletons in his basement. Skeletons would be an improvement. Even though the world line had diverged, I still possessed valuable intelligence from my own Grail War.

"Rules only mean something when they are followed and can be enforced. Considering how little use Sakura has for Servants, it stands to reason the priest has more countermeasures than a stockpile of old Command Spells. He's responsible for hiding what happens in this city from the greater world, so what do you think he could be hiding from us?"

"He was no older than that Miyu when he was working as an Executor, but he isn't so important that the church would give him anything good. Our Holy Grail is just 1 of 726 the church is keeping tabs on...and from Emiya's description of that other Archer, how Sakura acts under his influence, I can't imagine a scenario where that fake priest isn't executed by him immediately. In the off chance that he is working with Kirei, do you think you can take him?"

"You're not seriously planning on attacking the Church are you?"

"We've already drawn the lines in the sand. What difference would it make at this point?"

Given what she has seen of me, Rin intuitively understands how I would fare against the Babylonian King. Against Sakura, I was able to match the Gate of Babylon without issue and that arrogant king didn't have the power of her shadows which were the bane of us spiritual entities. With my support, Berserker would have no issues taking out Gilgamesh, but that might be my own arrogance. I couldn't imagine that guy working with Lancer. I couldn't imagine him pulling out his trump card for the likes of me, but Berserker was a different story. The terrifying presence quickly approaching behind me reminds me of that fact.

The door behind me swings wide open and Illya didn't seem to look too pleased with that defective Mystic Code Ruby trailing close behind.

Illya was behind me, but she doesn't answer. She simply finds a spot to sit as she rests her chin upon her knees.

"I was led to believe that rummaging through paper is half the duty of a proper magus," I say.

"I was born knowing everything I needed to know. I'm not some primitive human that needs to learn things from bundles of ink scratches. Servants are the same way. You should thank us for being able to use an electric stove top," was the girl's view.

Servants are summoned with all the necessary knowledge to operate in contemporary times not limited to every concurrently used tongue. It was a perk I never got any use out of. At the very least, no one questions my familiarity with modern kitchen appliances.

Though she bore a smile, it was one produced from her pride. The cold sterile hospital wasn't far removed from the castle she grew up in with multiple floors and operating tables. No, that was giving the Einzbern too much credit. I couldn't start to pretend to know what she went through. While she may very well hate this place, this very hospital was the place I ended up when the fire had ended. It was in this very place where I was formally introduced to the man who had saved me who just happened to be her father.

The mood was too heavy for my liking.

"I didn't think you were the type to hate books."

Illya doesn't answer. My attempt at lightening the mood had failed. In Illya's stead, Ruby flies towards me and whispers a bit of what they had discovered.

"9 months. Miyu's birthday is exactly 9 months after Illya's!" Ruby blares into my ear.

My mind drew a blank for a moment, before shifting into high gear. Even Rin and Sakura are only 13 months apart, but 9 months...

"That birth certificate has to be fake," Illya spits out.

"It's nothing to be ashamed of. Who hasn't wished for a cute little sister on their birthday?" as the winged disc performs a perfect pirouette.

"So, did you find a clue about her lineage?" I ask.

"I was expecting Sakatsuki, or maybe some "M"-iya or a Mrs. Thompson Contender...but according to that forgery her parents are...," Illya reluctantly unveils.

"The same as Illya's!" Ruby announces.

My mind stops wandering and I reflect. Would the Magus Killer be that sloppy?

For someone in Emiya Kiritsugu's line of work, tampering records and forging documents was just as critical as stocking weapons. The Magus Killer would eliminate all risks and leave nothing up to chance. Fuyuki was chosen for the Holy Grail Wars because it was considered a backwater place where the magi could act away from prying eyes, but that isn't the reality today. An infant survivor was naturally the headliner in the wake of the Great Fire and it would have caused too many problems for magi if civil workers discovered she wasn't recorded on any prior family registry. If Kirei's account of events were to be trusted, Kiritsugu registering Miyu as his daughter from the very beginning was the most expedient solution to avoid complications down the line by sidestepping the adoption process altogether. To sell this lie, he needed a wife on paper.

Irisviel von Einzbern.

"He cheated on her, let her die, abandoned me, but he couldn't write the name of some other woman on some fake paper work...," Illya says with a deadpan face.

That indeed would have made things a lot smoother for him, but remembering how he was, it was the only real option.

"He had reached his limit. Your father was a sentimental man."

Even in this world, the man in my memories was the same. At the end of his life, he was like an old stranded car with nothing left to burn.

"Are you really sure that it's just a fake...or are you feeling salty that your little sister ditched the red eyes and wished for eyes that matched Shir...," Ruby quips before Berserker materializes.

Without needing an order form his Master, a steady hand ensnares the defective toy. In a strange way, as annoying as Ruby was, I didn't dislike its company. It's funny; for the longest time I was always alone. It was only when I was with others that I was ever relaxed, but in pursuit of ideals, I threw those feelings away. I cannot take back the past, but I can pick up the present.

"Rooftops are indeed getting crowded these days," I say.

"It's the only proper way to view the sky and you're an archer. Where else would you be?" was the point she makes.

"So far, nothing but birds on the horizon."

She leans on the edge and shields her eyes with the flat of her right hand trying to see as far as she could. She did not have my vision, but that did not stop her.

"They could be familiars with cameras attached," she says.

"You want me to shoot...," were words I had to keep myself from saying as a frown forms on her face.

Growing up in a castle far above the ground, she must've have been envious of the birds that came and went from her windowsill. They were the shape her mage-craft took. The line between envy and admiration is a thin one. In short, she was a girl who really liked birds as much as she hated her supposed "sister".

"So you're an avid birdwatcher I take it?"

She doesn't say anything. She only smiles.

"With wings that can take them anywhere, from places that could be anywhere. Who doesn't like birds? Who hasn't wished to be a bird once in their life? Who doesn't want to fly?"

"That couldn't possibly be your wish on the Holy Grail?"

"...Maybe that wouldn't be so bad," she says as a joke, but her words came out sincere, "but the real reason I came up here was because I thought it would be fun to string up Shinji on a ledge."

There was much screaming coming from behind the door to the stairs, before Liz appears carrying her cargo with her one good arm.

"You have to believe me! That sow doesn't care about me at all! I'm completely worthless as a hostage!" were perfectly good points Shinji makes.

"Hostage? I only need you for stress relief," Illya says with a straight face.

"I would advise against it. Far too many onlookers down below and I'm sure you don't want to be lectured by the priest for causing a scene."

"Strange. Rin's technically the Second Owner and she gave me the go ahead," Illya explains.

I sighed. I had to confirm it.


"She doesn't need any mage-craft to string Shinji up does she?"

The fire truck came for Shinji, but Sakura didn't. Considering what she went through under the Matou family, no one would have blamed her, but a part of me expected her to show up. I could not sense any trace of her, but considering the collection of Noble Phantasms at her disposal, we couldn't rule out the notion that she was watching somewhere.

I retrieve the legless boy suspended by strait jacket and lug him over shoulder like a bag of potatoes. I was the only one who could because Berserker's silhouette would be too obvious to the eyes below. No one else in the group looked guilty at all for what they had done to Shinji, not even Emiya Shirou. We made a hasty retreat from the hospital under the cover of refracted kaleidoscopic light.

Jumping from rooftop to rooftop, we had moved a fair distance away from the very commotion we had caused. Rin was supposed to be the Second Owner of Fuyuki responsible for governing the city's supernatural underbelly, but she only had a smug look on her face over the commotion she had caused. After being handed a series of headaches after headaches, it must have been cathartic to be the one to cause the mess this time.

"At the very least, we know Shinji's honest," says Rin as she pockets the gem sword that never failed to irk me. Maybe the only thing that changed about my Master these past few days was the fact she didn't need to spend gems for cover-ups anymore.

"He speaks his mind. That's for sure," Shirou adds as feels up the baggage I was carrying.

Illya was all smiles on Leysritt's back and Sella looking mighty disappointed, but not out of sympathy for our victim. To be fair, Illya was someone who could smile even in the direst of circumstances.

"He didn't hold out for very long. How about we try the tallest building in the city this time, that Center Building? It's not too far from the bridge. Archer can probably snipe anyone that tries to cross it. Pinning down anyone trying to run from Berserker," Illya adds.

"4 kilometres," I mutter as I make note of the distance.

"I'll be the lookout if you need me," Shirou volunteers without reservation.

I could understand my Master's resentment for the Matou family from recent revelations, but even though my memories have faded, I still remember I had once thought of Shinji as a friend. Though to be fair, this iteration of Emiya Shirou didn't seem to have any.

"What are we even doing?" Rin sighs to herself.

She groomed herself to be a proper magus and in the 4th Holy Grail War, her father had lost his life. It was no question that she would take the coming days seriously. Her own birthday a few days ago wasn't even worth mentioning. No matter where her heart was, it did not change the fact that her immediate competition in the Holy Grail War consisted of her dubiously legal guardian, her own sister and a ten year old girl; her questionable allies notwithstanding.

For me at least, save for a few scares, the past few days served as something of a vacation, but those days will eventually come to an end.

"It's not a bad idea. The bridge is a natural chokepoint. Last night, Sakura stopped short of the Church and considering we could not find any trace of her here in Shinto must mean she must have retreated back across the bridge to Miyama. Not counting myself, there are at least 4 others at minimum who wield the power of an Archer class hero."

Everyone's gazes are drawn to Emiya Shirou, our secondary "Archer".

"See Rin, if we don't play on the Tengen now, someone else will," Illya chides as she juggles a white stone between her fingers; a little souvenir from a Go parlour that caught her eye.

"Do you even know the rules of that game?" Rin sighs.

According to Shinji's babbling back at the hospital, Sakura rarely crosses the Fuyuki Bridge into Shinto; not even for shopping in contrast to normal girls her age. Sakura always does all her shopping in Miyama and it was always for groceries. Even in my memories, the first time Sakura visited my house, she was dressed in a plain grey hooded tracksuit. Even that Miyu supposedly opts for animal styled hoodies. The Sakura I knew didn't care much about her own appearance until she entered high school with Fuji-nee's blessing. I wasn't so oblivious to the reason why, but I chose to ignore it back then.

I look around the bustling streets.

After the 4th Holy Grail War, Shinto was Gilgamesh's stomping grounds. He must have been a little curious about how the city's people would rebuild. Hastily built towers and shopping malls made tall for the sake of being tall as if to forget the tragedy that transpired. Our paths probably have crossed many times before the Holy Grail War, but few think of the ants they share the sidewalk with.

The very fact this Emiya Shirou knew his name implied some history and it was unclear if such a thing was a boon or our undoing.

Perched upon the tallest building in the city, I overlook the bridge that connected the two halves of Fuyuki as the sun sets under a red sky. There were no familiars when I reached this peak, but it was evidently clear that none of our enemies had that sort of expertise. None of our enemies were proper magi and that may be the reason why no Master we knew of had died so far despite Noble Phantasms being carelessly thrown about. The 5th Holy Grail War was probably the most luxurious schoolyard scuffle never recorded. The only Masters who weren't minors were probably the most childish, but it could be possible that my standards were too high.

On the never-ending battlefield, I always stood alone, but in this war, solitude had become a luxury. I wasn't alone and the legless kid in the fetal position didn't count. In some sense, maybe I was still alone.

"You've been stealing glances at me for some time Emiya Shirou."

"Just a little curious is all," he says.

"Remember, my Master paired you up with me precisely because we can't trust you."

"I can't say my situation is all that different from yours." he says gauging my response.

He understands that his treatment right now was a little strange considering the circumstances in which he entered our dysfunctional group. A normal magus wouldn't have given him so much autonomy. If he was anyone else, Rin would have no qualms forcing him to sign something like a geass scroll for insurance. By that same token, a typical Master wouldn't tolerate a Servant who claimed to have amnesia and would have risked trying to summon another one in vain. The truth was staring her in the face and Ruby had already blurted the answer out, but the truth was always unbelievably absurd. There was no blaming her for taking it as a joke. The Class Cards ended up as the most potent of red herrings.

"I warn you not to take her lightly. It was lucky for you that she summoned me and not someone else."

"Lucky for you perhaps," he counters.

Hearing him talk was quite frankly, insufferable, but I only have myself to blame. He didn't say anything out of line. It was simply of matter of who we were. The boy stares down at Shinji who was curled up in the fetal position. Coming up here, we didn't bother with the wheelchair. Both brats were both quite the burden, but at the very least, neither complained about being handled like potato sacks.

"I'm going to die. I'm going to die. I'm going to die. I'm going to die," was the mantra Shinji recites under his breath.

"Considering this thing is technically Sakura's brother, I didn't expect you to go along with this."

"Brother, huh?" he utters with a sigh.

He could not quite quell his animosity for the one crawling on the floor. From what I have gathered, this Shirou and Shinji were never friends which explained Shirou's less than flattering reputation at school. Whatever happened in the Matou manor behind closed doors was something Shirou was ignorant of and still remains ignorant of to an extent. That was why I could not understand at all where that animosity stemmed from.

They didn't drift apart; there was no history between the two. Shinji was ultimately unnecessary for this Emiya Shirou and Matou Sakura to meet. In my world and in this one, that fated meeting was nothing more than one of Zouken's machinations spurred by the weight the name "Emiya" carried. In that way, Shinji shouldn't have been anything, but the tension told me otherwise. Though we both decided against stringing Shinji up again, there was a tinge of regret on his face.

"I can't imagine this thing could ever pose a threat to you. I thought you prided yourself for being the bigger person?"

"Just blame the nightmares I have. You probably won't make fun of me for that I assume," he says with cold eyes bereft of fire.

For him, it was clear that the Fuyuki Fire did not hold the same significance as it did for me. Unlike me, he didn't lose everything in that inferno. For him, there was something more terrifying than a land of flames; a cold world with colder steel where the Sakura never blossoms.

"You may not be an Ally of Justice, but you still need to set a better example considering that you're someone's older brother."

"I'm sorry I didn't turn out like you," he says.

"I'm glad you didn't, but you still should try to pretend to be a member of humanity at least."

A smirk forms on that smug face of his as if he had heard the funniest joke in his life.

"Well, as I said before, all the people I ever cared about never seemed to be a part of that humanity," he says in a self mocking tone.

"Who are you?" I ask.

There was silence for but a moment, but here was no hesitation in that boy's voice as if he was waiting for me to ask.

"Emiya Shirou, you should know that better than anyone," he tells me.

He certainly wasn't the boy I once was, but he was just as insufferable. Though if I must confess, everyone I had ever formed a bond with were troublesome characters one way or the other. There was at least that one thing we agreed on.

While we were stuck with watch guard duty, the girls were staking out at a cafe near the bridge with Berserker overlooking the street. Rin and Illya stood opposite each other over an empty board. Rin dug her fingers into polished black slate while Illya dug hers into polished white shell. The situation was supposed to be serious, but for that very reason, Illya insisted on playing games.

"Just so you know, white doesn't get first move in this game."

I was the center piece, locking down the board's middle. I couldn't say I had much faith in the stones adjacent to me. Very much like a stone, Shinji couldn't run away. I didn't have much to say about the boy who wasn't me though it was clear he was used to staying up past curfew. There was no sign of Sakura, but she had many means to evade our detection with all of humanity's tools behind her. Scurrying around in the land below were some members of the Fujimura Group. For all the desperation that was brought to bear against the Einzbern Castle, our paths did not cross with Emiya Miyu today. Could she have used her connections to sneak around in one of Fujimura Group's cars?

Before I knew it, in the center of the bridge among the cars under the moonlight was Sakura with arms outstretched with her eyes focused squarely on the highest peak. I could not fathom her motive for putting herself in such a position and that's why I couldn't fathom my next choice of action.

"Trace On."

Behind me, Emiya Shirou held not a bow, but swords black and white.