"Breathe in, breathe out," Shirou said to himself as the light from the various candles situated around the living room flickered in and out. He reached his left hand towards the open flame and a slight shaking was the only resistance he displayed before plunging the limb into the open flame. A moment later his body seemed to relax and he pulled his hand out of the candle flame before blowing it out.
"How are Rin and Saber doing?" he asked Tony who was sitting on the couch flicking through the various camera feeds displaying their comrades.
"Saber does seem to be a natural at controlling those things," Tony said to himself.
"She was designed by the best after all," Shirou replied immediately.
"If by that you mean she was designed by somebody lazy enough to apparently delegate his delegation then yes, I agree," Tony rebutted. "But then again if you didn't believe that she could operate them then you wouldn't have offered your assistance."
"The phone can't operate them, Tony," Shirou said. "The only thing the phone can do is give access to their network."
"So the interface to control them is within the android," Tony said to himself. "Brain surgery?" he asked raising an eyebrow as he looked back at Shirou.
"A neural interface," Shirou replied sitting down on the couch next to Tony, only slightly wincing as he did so. "Not unlike the one that you built actually; although I didn't have something as convenient as actual alien technology."
"Well I didn't have access to magic, so we can call it even," Tony shot back instantly. "That's not the only modification you've done to yourself though is it?"
"No," Shirou said after a long few moments of hesitation. He reached down to the sleeve on his left arm pulling it down and Tony watched dispassionately as the flesh seemed to ripple before peeling back to reveal a metallic skeletal structure with pulsing cords of an unknown metal thread around the 'bones' like a twisted reflection of human musculature.
"Seen anything like this before," Shirou joked in a transparent attempt to lighten the mood.
"Actually yes," Tony replied not losing a beat. "Don't worry though; you're still my favourite guy with a metallic arm."
"I'm humbled by such an honour," Shirou replied.
"So how did that happen anyway," Tony said looking more closely at Shirou's arm in the manner of a trained engineer.
"I had to have it amputated," Shirou shot back.
"I know that dumbass," Tony stated shooting his companion a withering look. "My question is why?"
"Fifth degree burns," Shirou stated dispassionately. "I actually was very lucky that it was only my arm damaged. If the fire had spread a bit more I wouldn't be here talking to you now. One of my first memories is the beeping of machines keeping me alive and the diligent hospital staff piecing me back together." Shirou looked nostalgically at his exposed metallic arm for a second before watching the flesh shift to cover it again. "It took me months to fully recover. Unfortunately my dad lost all his convenient magical healing items in the war."
"That does sound pretty unlucky," Tony said commiserating. "Now can you tell me how that arm is powered? I saw more than a few interesting things in that scuffle between the witch and you."
"You've probably already guessed Tony," Shirou said as he held up his arm and all the flesh on his limb began to disappear once more and he pointed towards a visible spheroid placed in his elbow entwined by countless wires. "Behold a miniature mana forge that draws prana directly from my circuits and converts it into electricity. However unlike the industrial version this one is also able to convert electricity directly into prana as well."
"So that's the reason lightning strike didn't reduce you to extra-crispy," Tony said. "I'm also guessing that near the end of the fight she tried some freezing spell on you and the mana forge absorbed the prana. That little machine is actually pretty brilliant. Maybe I should see if I can build a replica."
"I wish you luck," Shirou said rolling his eyes. "The darn thing nearly destroyed my command seals as well. Whichever spell Caster used to freeze my body was definitely unusual. I've had my fair share of throw downs against magi and that was some seriously potent magic. It is absolutely amazing how ancient magic works don't you think."
"That admiration in your voice," Tony said shaking his head. "Beware the lure of the Dark Side young Padawan; for if you go to the magic side you may never come back to technology."
"Still not your apprentice Tony," Shirou said with a grin that faded into a wince as he accidentally tore some of the scabs that had formed on his body. "Besides I've already pumped hundreds of hours into my research into magitek. I've been quite firmly on the magic side for a while now."
"So you're sneakily playing both sides," Tony reiterated.
"No Tony," Shirou said leaning backwards in the chair. "You haven't spent enough time and gained enough experience in this world to understand the true situation yet. There is no grand battle of magic vs science. That statement implies that the two systems of humanity are on equal footing which simply isn't true."
"So what is the situation then," Tony said with genuine interest in his voice. Any scientist worth his salt would be inquisitive when confronted with the unknown and while Tony was unfamiliar with magic that did not mean that he was uninterested.
"Magic is dying Tony," Shirou stated flatly. "You've seen the power that Caster wielded. There is not one magus alive today that could match her magic. The majority of the magi that exist today are feeble remnants of once great family lines, cooped up and hoarding their research and reluctant to pass it on, except to their one chosen heir."
"Think of technology as a contrasting force in this situation," Shirou continued passionately, cutting off Tony who relaxed and let him vent his spleen. "Scientists make discoveries and other scientists take knowledge gained from them and make more discoveries. These discoveries then will result in technology which improves the lives of humans and in turn these humans look upon these giants and are inspired to climb atop their shoulders and continue this pattern of ascension. I could divert the topic and go on and on talking about how the overwhelming majority of humans believe in technology over magic, or the power of advanced weaponry that trumps and magic or how magic is far less understood, the knowledge far more finicky compared to the databanks filled with knowledge over the sciences."
"But in the end I don't think I need to Tony," Shirou said winding down from his passionate speech. "Within this current century it is likely that magic will be all but extinct with only the strongest beings granted momentary respite. Without intervention magic will not exist in the next."
"So you see yourself as some form of conservationist then," Tony said grasping Shirou's point of view.
"Precisely," Shirou said excitedly before falling silent. "In all honesty I'm not sure why I want to conserve magic. Compared to the life-saving, mind-expanding, boredom-eliminating advantages that technology brings, magic doesn't seem worth conserving. Most magi instead use their magic to inflict suffering to deepen their knowledge of magic in an attempt to reach a nebulous goal."
"Still which child hasn't dreamed of having magic," Tony said. A look of pain crossed his face briefly before it faded to be replaced by a nostalgic smile. "If my Morgan was here I'm sure she would be telling you to save the magic."
"Saving magic for the sake of five year olds everywhere," Shirou muttered to himself, deep in thought. "That's a good enough reason I suppose."
"Any pieces of magic that you would like to preserve in particular," Tony asked inquisitively. "Maybe I should pick up a book."
"I highly doubt you can learn magic…" Shirou started before shaking his head. "No if it's you then I have no doubt that you could learn magic. I'm just not sure if your body would allow magic to be cast."
"Why shouldn't I be able to," Tony inquired with a smirk towards the younger inventor. "I'm made of the stuff. Magic obviously still follows physical laws and therefore there must be some way I can take advantage of the fact."
Shirou reached into his pocket pulling out a wide-screened phone and tapped the screen a few times before handing it to Tony. The more experienced inventor retrieved it and noted that the open file was labelled 'Magic Research' and had a dozen different sub-folders.
"Some light reading," Shirou said smirking only for Tony to grin back undaunted.
"Do you have any advice where to start?" Tony asked as he opened up one of the files and started to read. He only got a few sentences before he picked up a nearby notepad and started to scribble things down. "What's your favourite type of magic?"
"Besides my own home grown magic that is probably closest to a mix of structural analysis and gradation air," Shirou started thoughtfully. "Reinforcement, it is the magical practice of inserting prana into the internal cracks of an object to enhance an element that the original object already possessed. This magic can be used on a human body but by over stimulating the body with a magic an amateur can damage themselves badly, tearing muscles and cracking bones. On the other side of the coin a professional can enhance their body to above human levels." Shirou smirked then as he looked at Tony.
"However somebody who's great at that type of magic can go slightly over the limit and break down the body in such a way that you can get the effect of hours of workouts by just sitting around for a few minutes. When I finally figure out a way to do the same thing on other people using only technology, I am going to end up making ridiculous amounts of money."
"I can only imagine," Tony said whistling at the thought. "Give me access to the project."
"Done," Shirou said clicking another button. "If you work out a way to fix the kinks in the programme I'll name it after you."
"I'll take that into consideration," Tony said before pulling out a syringe that he had held onto for a while. "Extremis Mild," he said. "Not enough to turn you into a mythical fire bird but enough to heal your wounds."
"But what will that do to my arm Tony," Shirou said, clutching it almost protectively. "I've put a lot of work and effort into it and it feels like my other arm for the most part, only better in every way."
"Probably nothing good," Tony stated contemplatively as he examined the limb. "Is it easy to take off that arm?"
"Portions are easy to take off for maintenance," Shirou explained and Tony looked down as he heard a beeping noise and Shirou leaned over pointing at the recently sent blueprint for his prosthetic. "The part where the nerves attach to the arm is an absolute pain to take off and I've only ever done it twice. Even above that there are certain other pieces of technology in my body that fully allow me to use my arm without it tearing itself off of my body."
"I'll see if I can dilute the formula any further," Tony said once again storing the serum. "Maybe modify the formula so that it can be applied to the skin directly instead of consumed."
"Maybe you can send me your research and we can work on it together," Shirou agreed a grin on his face at the thought of working with the man he respected so much. "This Grail War has certainly been profitable."
"No regrets about travelling half way around the world to participate in a foreign war?" Tony asked.
"That's practically a requirement for being an American," Shirou stated as he got up from the couch. "I think it was one of the questions they asked when I got my green card."
"And there come the American jokes," Tony said flipping the pad, full of writings of his magical observations, and turning it over. "Striving for balance I see."
"If it makes me seem less offensive I do consider myself a citizen of the world," Shirou replied. "I'm going to go clean up and try to put something on my wounds. Something less volatile on my wounds," he amended thinking back to the Extremis formula.
"I'll just keep sitting here trying to decode the moon logic that magic apparently runs on," Tony said. "Try not to get killed by any psychopaths in the shower."
"Dangit Tony," Shirou said to himself as he took in the situation. He had already rinsed his body, the action causing wounds to ache once again, and now he was ready to contemplating how to wash himself without getting soap in the wounds. That was until a familiar voice announced that he was not alone in the room.
"It looks like you had a busy night tonight," the unmistakeable voice of Sakura Matou appeared from behind him and he almost swallowed his tongue. Turning his head around he was confronted by the sight of his fellow master, dressed in the appropriate attire for the bathroom. The sole towel that she held in front of her was nowhere near enough to protect her modesty and Shirou's eyes roved over her unclothed body before fixing themselves to her eyes.
"You take good care of yourself," Shirou said. He would not get flustered and lose control. Any meeting with Sakura Matou was dangerous to the extent that he could not let his guard down with her. His eyes widened as he noticed something, on her left cheek a thin line of red sat, barely noticeable. The Matou noticed the direction of his gaze and placed a hand on her cheek, pulling away to find a few drops of blood on the tips of her fingers. A few whispered words and the line of red disappeared to be replaced by perfectly smooth skin.
"Oh don't worry about me," Sakura said with an innocent peal of laughter. "You should have seen the other guy."
"I'm not sure I would survive a meeting with the other guy," Shirou admitted turning around. If Sakura was going to ignore the concept of modesty between the two of them then he would oblige. From the sudden sparkling in her eyes she had no problem with that arrangement. Then her eyes dimmed somewhat as she looked at the blackened scabs and the burn scars that covered his body.
"I assume my sister tried to heal your wounds," Sakura said dismissively as she walked closer to Shirou, the young inventor becoming more intimately aware of how well-endowed his rival actually was. She knelt down tracing her hand against some of the burn scars on Shirou's chest and abdominal area and Shirou had to restrain himself as she moved her hand lower and lower… before with another laugh she swivelled behind him and placed her hands on her back.
"I never guessed you were a sub, Shirou," Sakura said. "Tell me, were you thinking of England a few seconds ago."
"That implies I wouldn't enjoy it Sak…" he inadvertently cut himself off as a moan escaped his lips. Energy coursed through his body and he felt the persistent burns begin to fade.
"Are you admitting your attraction to me Shirou," Sakura said her voice teasing but with a hint of something else.
"Yes," Shirou started. "Your attractiveness is evident and also not the subject of this conversation. What is the purpose for your visit today Sakura?"
"You're not being very fun Shirou. Aren't you supposed to be more cautious," Sakura said although she didn't sound very upset. The last of the wounds on his body had faded and he felt Sakura's hands leave his back, only to be replaced by the feeling of soap being rubbed into his back a few moments later.
"I am cautious, but you haven't acted hostile to me yet, besides that brief loss of temper last time," Shirou stated. "By the way I thought you wouldn't acknowledge Rin as your sister."
"Oh, Rin," Sakura said and for a moment the pressure on Shirou's back increased. "I didn't realise you were on first name terms with her."
"I sometimes slip into first name terms Sakura," Shirou rebutted. "It's a habit from my life in America. Are you jealous?"
"Of her?" Sakura said incredulously. "There is no reason I would ever be jealous of Rin Tohsaka."
Shirou was about to retort when he felt another sensation on his back and his breath hitched as he felt two distinct points of stiffness. Two silky soft arms wrapped around him and he felt Sakura's breath right next to his ear.
"Look at me talking on and on like that," she said with amusement in her voice. "Somehow you manage to get me talking while the entire time you haven't let your guard down. You're so stiff." She brought her lips right to his ear. "Not that I mind a bit of stiffness now and again," she finished before she moved away. "Wash my back please," the temptress said and Shirou immediately complied, lathering his hands up with soap and running them over her sleek back.
"So why did you come," Shirou said as he dutifully washed his opponents back.
"We didn't finish our conversation," Sakura replied staring forward. "I didn't get to ask you how you planned to create this world without suffering."
Shirou went quiet for a while wondering how to answer that question that he had been avoiding. He had even avoided this topic with Tony who had the most right out of anyone to know. He opened his mouth but paused at that thought. If he was going to explain his reasoning then it should probably be to his fellow inventor first.
"You don't know how, do you?" Sakura said cutting off his thoughts. "That's why you want the Grail, to plot a course to that distant future." Her voice didn't give away her feelings and Shirou couldn't tell exactly what she thought of it.
"I have plenty of ideas," Shirou said working his way over Sakura's already pretty clean back. He kept his eyes fixed firmly on her shoulder blades barely allowing it to dip below her waistline. "AI, taking control over the world's weapons, brainwashing, virtual reality," Shirou started before shaking his head. "I've thought of a few but it's really not easy. Any plan that I devise will be untried and untested and could have disastrous effects. Regardless of how I impart my vision on the world I will likely be seen as a villain by a sizeable portion of the world at least."
"Trying to please all of fickle humanity is quite the impossible task you have before you," Sakura said turning to look at him briefly before facing forward again. "And what would you do with those people who don't agree with your vision; lock them, torture them, and kill them."
"None of that," Shirou refused firmly. "I'm not building Omelas here, nor would I want to. I've already told you that I want to build a world where nobody suffers. There's no hidden contingency in that statement, no asterisks, no exceptions. A Utopia built on the blood of dissension is no Utopia at all."
"You are quite passionate about that considering the fact that you've even stopped sneaking peeks at my butt," she laughed at that before spinning around gifting him another beautiful image that he would remember for a while. "I have a friend that I think might quite like you. Now if only your dream wasn't impossible."
"Saying that with a smile on your face," Shirou remarked. "Would you care to tell me why my dream is impossible?"
"You've already answered two of my questions so I suppose I can," Sakura said tilting her head. "The reason that your dream won't work out is because humans only see things relative to themselves. A human being that lived his whole life could easily find happiness but as soon as there are two humans the situation changes and only the most prosperous one would be happy. For a person to be satisfied they need to believe that there are people worse off than them. Your Utopia would tear itself apart within days as its inhabitants try to put each other down."
"I will take your words under consideration," Shirou said stiffly. "I believe I am still owed a question then."
"Absolutely," Sakura agreed standing up and stretching her body out and Shirou didn't even try to pretend not to be looking. The purple haired magus had done just as much if not more staring than him and he wasn't going to be made to feel guilty for it. "Do you want to know my three sizes?"
"Believe me when I say that by now I know your three sizes Sakura," Shirou said dryly. "No I think I will save my question until the next time we meet."
"I enjoyed our skinship," Sakura said grabbing the nearby towel and drying herself off. "Do you mind if I ask one more question." She briefly waited but no reply was coming. "Where do you see yourself in this Utopia?"
"The next question will be mine Sakura," Shirou said quietly causing the plum-haired girl to pout. "Would you like me to walk you out?"
"I can find my way back home Shirou," Sakura said. "I'll see you around." Those were her last words before she turned around, giving her adversary an enticing glance of her backside before she strode through one of the bathroom walls.
Shirou smiled at the spot where she left for a few more seconds before his grin faded and he was left alone in the bathroom with nothing except his thoughts.
Rin flopped down on her bed exhausted. She had already changed into her pyjamas and performed her nightly rituals and now she wanted nothing more than to doze off. She could feel both of her servants standing on either side of the room, incorporeal but still draining small amounts of her prana. The slight drain had doubled now and Rin had realised that it was impossible to dematerialise Saber. On the plus side it did mean that as long as she could support the Sabers her servant had been effectively doubled. They had demonstrated that strength by not only killing the enemy servant but also killing her former teacher. Her face blanched at the thought of that again. As much as she realised that Kuzuki was trying to kill her, his death didn't make her feel like any less of a murderer. This feeling was only made worse as she was put in the unenviable position of disposing of the body.
Thankfully both her servant and the robots that Shirou had lent her had done the actual work. Without anything but the minimum surveillance from her they had managed to move the body and disguise the murder as something else. All of the monks had apparently been sleeping and no hypnotism was required. She had lost three of Shirou's robots to magical traps and Caster's workshop had been trashed with very little recoverable, although she did take a few untouched things, she was a magus after all. All in all it had been tiring but rather simple to hide any evidence of the fight.
It had been suspiciously simple to hide all evidence of the fight. She hadn't overlooked the fact that somehow Saber… Sabers had managed to control Shirou's metallic robots. Maybe she could rationalise it as her Swift Learner ability but something still seemed out of place. Shirou seemed too familiar with her abilities of her servant and her servant in itself seemed far too out of place. Saber possessed no name and unusual abilities that matched no hero in history. Those things and a few more minor issues had been bugging her since he had met Shirou a few days ago.
It didn't feel good for her to doubt Shirou, especially considering the fact that he had fought alongside her and her servant and even saved her when the witch controlled her. Shirou had been nothing but a loyal ally to her which was why it was so unfortunate that she couldn't trust him.
"Master, would you like some tea," the pair of maids said simultaneously before turning to regard each other.
"No, thank you Saber… Sabers," Rin said. "What should I call you?"
"I am Saber One and she is Saber Alpha," the black haired one said pointing to herself and the other Saber.
"Okay," Rin said, deciding not to remark on the unimaginative names. "Thank you for helping me today, you did very well." The younger magus said to them, noting as she did that the pair smiled simultaneously at her words. "I'm going to sleep, would you mind keeping watch out for any intruders."
"It will be done Master," the two of them said simultaneously in a manner that would normally be a bit creepy, but that she found reassuring. Despite the split it was still Saber.
"Thanks," Rin said before closing her eyes, and in less than thirty seconds she had fallen asleep.
She awoke for the first time, her consciousness coming into existence. Darkness, without sight, sound or smell surrounded her for a moment before the void broke and sensations came rushing in. The room she was in was full of wondrous things. Contraptions of every shape, size and colour littered the room in pieces and a persistent whirring noise was only overridden by random burst of sound and flashing screens covered the walls, with diagrams and terms that she understood but could not explain why. The air smelt clean and sterile but there was a slight burning smell.
She tried to move, to get a closer look at the screens, to turn her head, to investigate the other angles of the contraption but she found herself unable to. She could feel her limbs and there was a proprioceptive feedback but it was as if her limbs were not receiving any signals. Out of the corner of her eye she was able to see wires, cords and metal that twisted into various shapes and she was intimately aware of the fact that the wires were where her body should be, but try as she might she couldn't move them.
"You're awake," a voice said from behind her and she saw a human enter her field of vision. He wore tinted blue glasses and a white lab coat. In one of his hands he held a phone of some sort and he appeared to be reading something on it. Despite never having seeing him before her mind automatically told her the identity of the person in front of her.
Shirou Emiya, Current Chairman of Emiya Incorporated.
"I'm sorry about this," he said his tone apologetic. "This should be a happy time; it is after all your birthday. But I have to deliver a message to somebody right now and I'm afraid this message isn't for you."
"Hello Rin," he said stepping forward and looking her directly in the face. "This must be confusing but I don't have much time. Please relay this message to myself. Tell him: _"
Rin started awake as the cryptic message reached her mind. Sweat poured down her body and it felt like all the breath in her body had been sucked out of her lungs. She looked around her at the room. On either side of the room both Saber's sat staring at her, purple eyes fixed on her form and watching her sleep and suddenly she realised that she did not feel safe at all anymore.
"Forty more kilometres until we arrive at Fuyuki, Master," a masculine voice announced to his passenger who sat in the back of the Mercedes. Despite his words the drivers purple eyes remained locked upon the road. To many people the driver would appear exotic and deeply handsome with matching purple spiky hair and a chiselled jawline. He was dressed in a matching black suit and tie that he wore well with no signs of discomfort.
"It has been a long time since I've been in Fuyuki Rider," the other occupant replied, her voice sounding devoid of emotion or passion. "I have very few good memories of the place. Even so I would not wish for another tragedy to befall the city."
"Would it even matter Master," Rider replied. "When you succeed will that not solve all of the problems?"
"My success isn't predetermined Rider," his master replied. "Unfortunately I am not a person who is not accustomed to failure."
"That event was not your fault Master," Rider replied instantly only to be forestalled by his master raising a hand.
"Please do not try and absolve me of the blame," his Master said sharply and even though he kept his eyes on the road he could see clearly in his mind her noble expression and green eyes filled with determination. "I have agreed to let you accept your sins but then in turn let me accept my own."
The moment stretched out awkwardly for a few moments before the master of the pair coughed looking away. On her lap sat a long rectangular box that she fumbled with awkwardly for a moment before she picked it up and put it aside.
"Before we get to Fuyuki I want you to know something Rider…." she paused for a moment. "Know I want you to know something Lancelot. Whatever happens during the war, it will be a pleasure to work with you once again." Despite the grimness of the situation she found a moment to smile; her face lighting up like and her golden hair almost glowing despite the darkness.
"It will always be an honour to work beside you," Lancelot said bowing his head slightly without taking his eyes off the road. "My King."
Author Note: My word this took long. Apparently I was possessed by the ghost of Junk Enoshima because I was working on like five different stories during this time.