And I am back.

Anyway... outside of reminding anyone who's interested that I have early access available via a recurring payment site, I think I'll just let you get to the chapter.


Fujimura Taiga almost broke her alarm clock as it blared to life.

The morning was just like every other, at least until her mind brought up the events of the previous night.

Her grandfather now knew. She was no longer alone.

… and she was certain her grandfather would want her to give him her decision concerning Shirou and her inheritance.

She released a sigh as she got dressed and prepared herself for the day to come.

First she would have to go to Shirou's house and have breakfast, then she would have to go to school and hope she could focus on teaching despite the massive question hanging over her head now.

Shirou would probably do well as a Yakuza boss, for as nice as he was, he could be a snarky git at times. He was also more than capable of dealing with any challenges that might be levied at him.

Being a nigh immortal bloodsucking mass of steel tended to make you more than capable of dealing with most humans.

But it was the political and economic power that the Fujimura Group possessed that would make them a benefit to Shirou. The ability to get things arranged and make deals held its own merits.

However there was no guarantee that the Fujimura Groups benefits would carry over to the world of mages and vampires. As Tohsaka had said just the previous night 'they weren't needed, just beneficial'.

And Shirou was getting involved in the affairs of monsters that stood above the organisation Tohsaka represented.

… dammit, her head was starting to hurt again.

Walking through her family's house, she passed by several of the associates that she had grown up around. They kept their silence but their expressions were clearly concerned.

It was a look that she had grown used to since discovering the truth about Kiri, Shirou and Sumire.

She knew that they wouldn't reject her leadership if she took over but seeing them give her such looks made her question just how much she deserved to be chosen as the successor when her grandfather passed on.

It had never really been something she had been interested in doing, but until she had met Rider-san she had assumed that that was the future that was set in stone for her.

Now she was a teacher. An English teacher at that. There was no room in her life for meetings with other families of Yakuza, no time for her to focus on the day to day running of the group.

If she was to take over, it would mean having to quit her job as a teacher and she did not want that.

Perhaps letting Shirou inherit it would be the most logical thing to do.

She knew he wouldn't disown her, she was like a big sister to him. And he would probably outlive her.

Her hand reached for the door to the Emiya house and she blinked.

She hadn't even noticed she was that close.

Shaking her head clear, she opened the door.

"Shirou! Breakfast!" she cried out, there was no point in declaring she was there, he likely knew she was there before she did.

Moving into the dining area, she looked upon a table set with food and Shirou standing in the kitchen preparing more food.

She blinked.

Once, twice, then thrice.

"Uh… Shirou… why do you have four arms?"

"Oh, he's been doing that a couple of nights now," Sumire piped in, "he can do much more when he wants to though… almost makes me feel jealous of whichever lucky woman nabs him."

She spluttered, unable to produce any retort to that statement.

"I don't have any interest in that stuff," Shirou spoke up before he proceeded to stretch an arm over the counter and to the table. Taiga felt herself go queasy as she saw the flesh meld into blades that shifted, twisted and sprouted new blades as the limb extended.

Was that what the inside of his body was like every moment? A solid mass of blades that shift and contort in ways that no actual blade should?

"Sorry Fuji-nee," she heard his voice cut in, "I didn't think seeing that would make you so uncomfortable."

She hugged herself closely. As much as she kept telling herself otherwise, Shirou's nature was something she only really thought of on an intellectual level, to see what he was like without the facsimile of skin to hide behind was jarring.

"I-it's all right," she lied but she couldn't even start to convince herself of the truth behind it, let alone convince Shirou and his mentor.

"Meh, you get used to that sort of stuff after a few centuries," Sumire stated, her tone completely unconcerned by the matter.

"Some of us don't have centuries to live," she bit back.

"I could change that if you want," the vampire stated and she staggered back.

"W-w-what?!"

"I could make you a vampire-"

"I know what you mean!" Taiga shot back, "I can't believe you'd think I'd accept something like that!"

"Oh, so does that mean you don't approve of Shirou-chan's current state?" the ancient bloodsucker asked and Taiga felt her eye twitch.

"I've made no secret I don't like Shirou's in this state," she declared, "if he'd just met Tohsaka instead of you, none of this would have happened!"

"Do you honestly think Tohsaka would've taught him anything when she didn't even know he was a magus?"

She flinched.

Of course, there was the issue of Tohsaka even discovering Shirou was a wizard.

"Or how about the fact that you have already said it's your fault-"

"Enough Sumire!" a metallic voice reverberated through the room and Taiga's face shot to look at the sight that now existed within the kitchen.

To call what currently existed within the room 'monstrous' failed to do justice to just how inhuman it currently looked.

No longer was there a body with a distinct head, limbs and torso, instead there was just a mass of blades that swirled like rapids, twisting into and out of itself as it grew and any semblance of what may have been what was lost.

"Well, that's new," Sumire muttered as she stared at the mass.

"Fuji-nee is not responsible for Kiritsugu's actions," the mass stated, its voice seeming to come from every inch of the mass, "Fuji-nee, this is what I am, you cannot change that. Now cease your pointless bickering and have breakfast."

The mass shrunk down on itself before retaking a humanoid form, the blades on the outside slowly turning back into skin as the figure returned to its work in the kitchen.

Taiga however couldn't stop staring at where the mass had been. Her little brother had just become something straight out of a horror movie and she was struggling to keep herself together.

She felt a pair of hands gently touch her shoulders and she jerked to look at the person that had touched her.

Sumire offered her a strained smile before moving her into a seat.

"Let's just try and forget that happened, okay?" the drunkard said before offering her a bottle of Sake.

She very nearly accepted it. But she was a teacher and she had to get to class sober.

"I-I have work," she said before glancing at Shirou.

"I'm sorry Fuji-nee," the creature that was once her surrogate brother said, "but I don't think you really understood just what I am now."

She glanced away.

He was right.

It was one thing to hear that the boy was a mass of blades, it was another entirely to experience it.

To witness just how truly inhuman he was.

She looked at the food in front of her, an array of delicacies that she would normally scoff down without a second thought. Yet today, she didn't feel hungry.

Not anymore.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

Sumire sat, watching Taiga as the woman shook.

It was hard to imagine just what the girl was feeling, even before she had become a Vampire she had for all intents and purposes been a minor Kami… or Fey or whatever the local tradition wanted to call it.

The idea of what a human must be feeling was about as alien to her as being sober was.

Yet despite that, even she had found herself cowed by the display Shirou had put on. It wasn't a display of power that intimidated her, no, it was the sheer fact that he had managed to discard his typical form and act as a pure mass of blades.

If he could do that, even if only in non-combative scenarios at this point, then the sky was the limit.

The expansion of his mass was also noteworthy, it meant it was quite plausible that with enough magical energy the kid might be able to become Kaiju-sized like Blackmore occasionally did.

It was also an indicator that he was taking notes from his encounter with Nrvnqsr beyond just the advice the elder apostle had given him. Not that that was surprising, she already knew that much after all, but she had expected him to just add more limbs or something, not become a mass of blades that had no true form.

"Fuji-nee, you need to eat," Shirou spoke up, his voice now far closer to its original state than when he had interfered.

"… I'm not hungry," the normally hyperactive girl stated, her tone almost dead.

Shirou's movements in the kitchen stopped. The real question was exactly what was he planning on doing now?

The fact that he had so few actual tells courtesy of his obviously near complete control of his body really made it hard to judge just what he was going to do next.

"If you're uncomfortable with my presence," he started to say, "then I guess I'll have to leave."

Sumire couldn't stop herself from blinking.

Oh yeah, that was an option wasn't it?

"What?" Taiga said as she stared at the steel apostle.

"It's pointless to remain here if I scare you," Shirou stated, "we can leave."

"S-Shirou…" the brunette couldn't say more but…

But this whole situation was partly her fault.

"Let's wait a while before making that decision," she said as she looked between Shirou and Taiga, "Taiga-chan's probably in shock right now… so let's wait for it to wear off before acting."

There was something in Taiga's tone that told her she wouldn't be happy with them leaving after all… guilt.

The woman was feeling guilty about her reaction.

However she wasn't sure if Shirou even knew how to pick up on it, he was something completely separate from humanity after all and it had taken her quite some time to get the hang of reading humans.

Shirou gave nothing away with his expression.

"Y-y-yeah…" Taiga said, clearly trying to come to terms with the situation she was caught in.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

Taiga didn't know what to feel.

She was terrified of whatever Shirou had become but the idea of him leaving made her even sicker than the idea of what he was. He was her little brother, she should be looking after him and yet, here he was, considering leaving because she was terrified of him.

For once Sumire had spoken up in her favour. But she didn't know how she'd handle Shirou's presence.

"Even so…" Shirou said, "Fuji-nee is clearly distressed by my state."

"Just give it time," Sumire replied before stalling, "actually, we could probably get Tohsaka to erase her memory of this."

Taiga froze.

That… that was a possibility.

But did she really want someone messing with her memories? And how long would it be before she was exposed to something like that again?

"No," she spoke up, "no, I won't have my memories erased."

That was just running from the problem, not actually dealing with it and she wasn't a coward.

She looked at Shirou and flinched, but she kept her eyes on him as she tried to remind herself of all the good he had shown. He helped out her grandfathers group by fixing their bikes, he had bargained for Tohsaka to be spared, he had brought home the vampire in the middle of winter because he was worried about her health.

Hell, even the very reason he had taken on such a monstrous form was because he was stopping an argument from getting too personal.

Sure, he may have been a Lovecraftian horror, but he was still Shirou.

But the image of what lay beneath was seared into her mind.

"… even so, you're definitely not in a condition to be near him right now," Sumire spoke up, "so I've got an idea."

She ground her teeth. The thought of the vampire presenting a good idea was ridiculous.

"And what exactly would that be?"

"Shirou-chan needs to experience more of the world, so how about we go on a trip for a week," the drunkard said, "even if we don't actually meet with anything important, we can at least get you used to travelling."

Taiga held her tongue. Shirou wasn't human, that much was seared into her brain now. As much as she wished he would return to how he was before the vampire entered his life, she needed to accept that such a thing was likely impossible. Partly because Shirou didn't see anything wrong with his current state.

Which would mean that as much as she hated to admit it, school was not really a priority for him.

She sagged.

"I guess… you've got a point," she admitted.

"Will you take care of my absence Fuji-nee?" Shirou's voice cut in and she nodded.

"I can get you signed off as sick."

"Well then, how about it Shirou-chan? Ready to head off into the great unknown?" the drunken vampire asked and the mass of blades looked at her before nodding.

"So… where to first…" the layabout muttered, "oh, I know! Let's visit my Castle!"

"Yeah, that's a good idea," Shirou acknowledged, "where exactly is it?"

"Oh, just a few hundred miles West of Atlantis."

Taiga nearly choked.

"WHAT!"

"… did I say something wrong?" the drunkard sounded confused before a look of realisation appeared on her face, "oh yeah, I forgot most humans forgot that Atlantis was a real thing."

Taiga couldn't stop her eye from twitching.

This bloody vampire must have been doing that to piss her off.

"So… I guess we'll see in you a week or so Taiga-chan," and with that, the vampire placed a hand on Shirou's shoulder, "a word of advice, teleportation is hell on the gut."

"I don't have a gut."

"… point."

The next thing Taiga saw could best be described as the world wrapping around the pair and leaving nothing behind. It was not how she imagined teleportation to look.

Once the room was left clear, she deflated.

Shirou was gone.

He was gone because of her.

The house that held so many memories for her was now void and she had no reason to return.

At the very least, she would have time to think about everything.

Shaking her head clear she binned the food left behind, turned off the lights and locked the door behind her.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

The pressure of the ocean depths would have crushed him had he still been human.

Sumire seemed to be significantly more at home in water as the alcohol she always drank remained in the bottle, never mixing with the sea water surrounding them.

For all intents and purposes the bottle should have been crushed by the pressure, but whatever method his mentor was using to keep the alcohol separate was clearly also being used to protect the bottle itself.

"And here we are," the elder vampire said, her voice carrying through the water as easily as air, "my home!"

She had told him that most Vampire's castles were so fortified with magecraft that they effectively existed on another plane of existence. Sumire's wasn't far removed from a hollowed-out rock.

There were entrances all over the place, several chambers including a room with a soft bed of living sponge but not much else.

He focused on the water and adjusted his vocal areas, hoping he would be able to talk through the water.

"Do you actually live here?" the pitch of his voice was definitely lower, but that just helped it carry through the water.

"Not really, but it's still my castle and I sometimes come here to nap for a few decades."

Well, given the nature of her body, Shirou found himself unsurprised she could hibernate for so long.

"When was the last time you slept that long?"

"The last time I slept like that, we went from water wheels to steam engines," she stated, "that was quite the shock, haven't slept like that since."

He almost felt amused, to think that his mentor slept through the start of the industrial revolution.

He froze as something entered his analysis range. Whatever it was, it was big.

Turning to face the direction it was in, he questioned how many creatures like that existed down here.

"Oh, so you've noticed the Kraken."

Shirou stared at her.

"Oh don't worry about him, he's lost most of his power over the millennia, he's pretty much just an exceptionally big squid these days."

Well, that was one less thing to worry about.

However, now that he had come to his mentors Castle, he found that there really wasn't that much to take in about it. There was something much more interesting however.

"So, which way to Atlantis?"

"Just follow me, I'll show you all the sights."

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

Rin couldn't stop herself from frowning as the day carried on. She couldn't feel Shirou analysing her.

What was going on? Ever since she had learned the truth about the latest vampire in town, he had stopped worrying about hiding himself from her.

She was actually starting to worry about the boy… or sword… or whatever the hell he was now.

Of course, she would never actually admit that to anyone.

Lunch couldn't come soon enough and without a second thought, she rose from her seat and made her way to Shirou's classroom before pausing at the door.

It opened and she was greeted by an unfamiliar face.

"O-oh… Tohsaka-san," the boy spoke hesitantly, "Emiya-san called in sick today, so if you're looking for him then you're out of luck."

She blinked.

"Oh, thank you," she said even as her mind raced.

Emiya Shirou could not get sick.

Which meant she only really had one choice of where to look for information.

She kept a steady pace as she moved through the hallway before finally reaching the teacher's lounge and knocking.

The teacher that opened the door was an average looking man of above average height and a lean build. However it was always his eyes that stood out to her, there was something so cold and calculating about them that she just couldn't stop herself from feeling wary of the man.

"Hello Soichiro-sensei, is Fujimura-sensei available?" she asked as politely as she could manage.

"Fujimura-sensei is not feeling too well at the moment," the man responded and she felt her stomach churn before the voice of the English teacher cut in.

"It's fine Kuzuki-san… I want to speak to her about an assignment she handed in earlier," and soon the woman was at the door, walking pass the man, "come with me Tohsaka-san."

A knife stabbed her heart and her magic circuits flared to life. She didn't trust that the teacher wasn't being hypnotised so she would be ready.

Eventually they commandeered a spare room before the teacher slumped into a chair.

"Where is Emiya-kun?" she asked.

"I think he's currently at the bottom of the ocean," Fujimura-sensei said, "I really screwed up today."

"And how exactly did you screw up?" she asked, still watching for any sign.

The teacher's face fell and she started to talk.

"Well… me and the bloodsucker got into another argument… she was about to say something that would really hurt and… well, Shirou stepped in," the teacher sounded so damn tired, "I think he was trying to intimidate Sumire… I think he succeeded."

Rin frowned. Why would that be Fujimura-sensei's screw up?

… wait…

Oh…

"And now you're terrified of him so he's left town because of you?" she said, earning a nod off the older human.

It made sense. If Shirou had done something that had apparently intimidated something as old and powerful as The Water Bottle then a human with minimal actual exposure to the world of magecraft and monsters stood no chance.

She clenched her fist at that. This meant that her contract with Shirou was pointless now.

"I know he's the same Shirou I've always known… I know he's a good person… it's just," Fujimura-sensei said, her voice trailing off near the end, "I've never seen him without his skin."

She frowned. There was no way that was all there was to what he did, something as small as that wouldn't intimidate one of the Twenty-seven.

"That can't be all he did."

"That was just what triggered the argument," Fujimura-sensei said, "it's what happened after that really got to me."

She nodded.

As curios as she was, she doubted she would handle something that could intimidate one of the twenty-seven much better than Fujimura-sensei.

"I will do what I can to help you cover up his disappearance-"

"He's coming back," her teacher cut her off, "they're going away for a week to travel the world or something to give me time to process everything."

Rin couldn't stop herself from sighing at that.

So her contract hadn't been for nothing. However, there was the question of what would happen once Shirou returned.

Lightly caressing her chin she considered everything.

"I really shouldn't be doing this… but for the following week, come to my house after school," she said, causing the teacher to stare at her in confusion, "it may not be actual exposure, but I will try and help you get used to the less savoury aspects of the world of magi."

"B-but I don't want to be a witch," the teacher said, her voice filled with dread.

Rin couldn't stop herself from scoffing.

"Please, even if I was to try and teach you, there's no guarantee you'd be able to cast even the most basic of spells," she stated, "I'm not going to train you, I'm just going to help you prepare for Shirou's return… consider it my first act for our family's contract."

Fujimura-sensei's posture perked up.

She just hoped she had made the right decision.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

"And this was the observatory," Sumire said as Shirou stood in amazement. He couldn't believe that this was Atlantis, everything around him was beyond his ability to comprehend, the magic that once infused it all and the sheer level of technology made everything he knew look like a toddlers Lego set compared to a state of the art Supercomputer.

The magic was so much more advanced than Tohsaka's and there were actual Nanomachines in storage!

But despite everything, he couldn't comprehend how to fix any of it and there was nothing that could be recorded within his Reality Marble.

Meaning that as amazing as the area was, he wasn't really gaining anything out of being there except perspective.

But that perspective was more than enough.

"What even happened to it?" he asked, after all, with everything he was analysing there shouldn't have been any way for this civilisation to sink.

"Aliens."

Figures.

"Fifth or Third?" he asked, wondering which of the pair was responsible for this event.

"Neither, from what I've heard it was from much further away than those two," the eternal drunk said, "don't really know that much about it but it happened, so there's not much else to say except whatever it was, it was eventually defeated by the gods and hasn't shown up since."

Shirou would be lying if he said that wasn't a worrying prospect. From what she had told him, death and aliens had a bad habit of not mixing all that well.

And if a civilisation as advanced as this was destroyed by it, then the modern world had no hope outside of possibly the Fifth or First getting involved.

The tour of the sunken city continued slowly, Sumire had no interest in hurrying things along and while he may be handling the pressure at the bottom of the Atlantic like a champ, his movement was still hampered by the water.

"And this was where the main defences were located," the vampire said as she showed him another building.

It was certainly interesting to analyse, especially with the remnants of the magecraft and science that protected it still working even if in a reduced capacity.

"Is this why humanity still hasn't found the city?" he asked.

"Maybe, maybe it's just dumb luck," she replied, "I told you, I'm not a magus, I don't have the slightest clue how any of this works."

He nodded before his mind started to pull up one tiny little issue with this tour.

"Wait… how do you know so much about this city anyway?"

"Huh? Oh, I was around back then, though I was still a young water elemental at the time," she said, a reminiscing smile finding its way onto her face.

"A water elemental?" he asked, he hadn't heard of that one before though he had a guess in mind.

"A nature spirit, you know, like a kami or fey," she said, "I was just a minor one though… at least, until Brunestud bit me."

So she was a water fairy who was bitten by a vampire and turned into a bloodsucking alcoholic.

Certainly not the strangest thing he'd heard that day let alone in his entire life.

"So why the alcohol?"

"I'm a nature spirit that's been corrupted by an alien force," she muttered before taking a swig of her bottle, "my very nature has been tainted and twisted from what it should be… the booze helps dull the pain."

He stalled at that.

She was in pain?

Despite all the time he had known her, he had never even considered such a possibility, her body had always appeared different to everyone else so he didn't know what her baseline should be.

"I'm sorry."

"What for?" she sounded confused.

"For not noticing," he admitted.

She waved her hand dismissively.

"You're less than a century old and I've been living like this for nearly two millennia, I'd be surprised if you did notice," she responded.

It didn't make him feel any better.

In the end, he had missed that someone was in pain despite being near them for so long.

The fact that it had taken a trip to Atlantis for him to find out only made the matter worse.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

Sumire wanted to bang her head against one of the many walls that surrounded them. She had not intended on sharing that much with the kid.

But being at the bottom of the ocean, wandering the ruins of Atlantis with someone she could talk to made her lips even looser than normal.

Oh well, it was what it was.

Perhaps she should get back on dry land, being underwater with company was proving enjoyable but she'd never really had to watch what she said in the sea.

It's not like the fish talked back and the other water elementals were mostly gone from the face of the world.

Shaking her head, she thought of where else she could take Shirou before her mind turned to an idea that she was about to discard before stalling.

Shirou would have to meet her sooner or later… so why not do it while he's basically on holiday?

"So Shirou… did I tell you about my friend?" she asked.

"Do you mean the one that sent Chaos after me?" he asked, his delivery somehow even more monotonous than normal.

"So yes… well… what do you think about meeting her?" she asked, trying to keep her tone chirpy.

"What sort of monster is she?"

She blinked.

"Oh, Rita's a magus though after becoming a vampire she turned her attention towards blood magic," she informed him, "you know, using magecraft to manipulate blood to do things it shouldn't, that kind of thing."

Shirou clearly deliberated the matter for a couple of seconds before answering.

"I guess I could do with confronting them about Chaos," he finally said.

"Okay then," and with that, she swam over to the boy and put her hand on his shoulder before closing her eyes and bracing her stomach for the transfer that was about to happen.

Calling out to Gaia, she did the equivalent of politely asking it to transfer her and Shirou to another location and the world agreed.

The twisting in her stomach almost made her throw up but she pushed the queasiness down as fast as she could, she did not want to present a bad example to her student after all.

Opening her eyes, she looked at the halls that surrounded her and recognised the particular paintings before nodding.

"All right then, I know where we are," she declared, "we just have to go this way."

And without waiting for the mass of blades to respond, she started to make her way towards Rita's throne room.

"Not that way," Shirou's voice cut in and she turned to face him as he proceeded to turn a corner that led to her old friends bathroom.

So Rita was bathing.

She continued onwards before her mind jerked into awareness. Shirou was against harming innocents.

Rita was bathing in the blood of who knows how many innocents.

Fuck! She had made a serious mistake here hadn't she?

"Wait! Shirou, listen to me," she said as he continued on towards the bathroom, "Rita is mine to kill, not yours."

"I don't care."

Okay, so Shirou was not going to listen to her the nice way… in that case there was only one thing she could really do.

Grabbing his shoulder, she proceeded to ask Gaia to get them away from there and soon they were back at the bottom of the Atlantic.

"What are you doing?" Shirou demanded as his form started to lose the definition that made up his humanoid figure.

"Look, I get it, she's not someone you're willing to let go," she said even as he expanded and contorted, "but… but would you let me kill Taiga?"

His movement stopped.

"Fuji-nee hasn't murdered a dozen girls and bathed in their blood."

"I'm over fourteen-thousand years old," she declared, "I get it, you don't like human life getting wasted… but you're still young, still naïve about the value of a human life."

The mass of blades started to grind.

"Naïve about the value of a human life?" the grating could only be described as agitated, the tone he put on practically furious, "I know full well the value of a human life."

"No you don't," she spat back, "you survive a little fire that kills a few hundred and you see a tragedy… yet in the modern era millions of people die every day and millions more are born, humanity reproduce faster than any of us not named Cath Palug or the ORT can possibly kill."

"If a dozen humans held that much worth, then Alaya would be fighting back against us, sending it's Counter-Force to kill us, yet it doesn't, human lives like that don't matter," she declared, "give it a few millennia and you'll see what I mean."

He lashed out, his movement sluggish in the water.

But even had they been in air it wouldn't have been fast enough.

The water between them refused to budge as his attack attempted to strike her, shielding her from receiving even a scratch.

"Do you think a human could survive down here as easily as you do?" she asked, "do you think a human could survive even a fraction of the punishment you can? Could a human withstand even a normal punch from you if you didn't pull it?"

The water started to tear through the teenager.

"We stand above humanity, the same way humanity stands above the cattle they butcher for food," she said as his body reformed itself, "do you protest the meat in the market? Or the practises of Halal or Kosher? Have you ever stopped to consider that the reason you survived the fire wasn't dumb luck… but because your life was considered more valuable by the world?"

She doubted she would get through to him.

But she would try.

"I can't accept that," he stated, his tone just as furious as before, "slaughtering humans isn't right."

"You're not listening," she said, "there's no difference between eating a rabbit and eating a human as far as the world is concerned."

"Then the world is wrong!"

She felt herself deflate.

Shirou was just too understand the scope of what she was saying, too immature to comprehend the futility of existence for those lower on the food chain than themselves.

"Look around you!" she shouted, maybe she couldn't get him to change but she could at least try to plant the seeds of doubt in his mind, "this civilisation, one that makes the current one looks like it was made by children died fourteen thousand years ago! Can you name one person from that time?"

Shirou didn't respond but his flailing slowed down, perhaps he was starting to see that he couldn't touch her here?

"Humanity is transient, they all die soon enough," she stated, "from our perspective, it's like getting angry at someone for stepping on ants."

She shook her head to try to push back the headache.

"If you still feel this way in three centuries then I will accept it," perhaps she couldn't get through to him, but at least she could try to get him to push down some of his more zealous attitudes until he was older, "but until then, you play nice."

The mass of blades finally ceased moving and shrank back to being the red-headed boy.

"I won't change my mind," he declared.

She wasn't too sure.

There was only so much a person could experience before they lost their idealism.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

Shirou hated this.

Sumire was stopping him from killing a monster that was murdering the innocent and bathing in their blood.

She even claimed that monster was her friend. Then to make matters even worse, the vampire then went on to claim she was over fourteen-thousand years old and that he didn't understand what he was talking out due to being too young.

He had heard about the types of monsters the Ancestors were… but to see what one actually did in their downtime was another matter entirely.

Now he knew that Rita Rozay-En was not a being he could allow to exist.

Sumire herself was very much treading the line now. The only reason he hadn't crossed it completely was because she had shown that she did consider humans at least a little even if she wouldn't admit it.

In the end though, he had been forced to give up trying to take her out partly because she had been tearing him apart so easily and he couldn't even touch her, but also because his regeneration was taxing his magical reserves.

He probably should try to learn how to reattached body parts instead of just regrowing them. Hopefully it wouldn't be too difficult or taxing.

But until he had developed further, he was going to have to play nice.

He really didn't want to do so for longer than he had too though.

She swam over to him and he noted that the water surrounding her was still clinging to her like a second layer, meaning her guard wasn't down even if she was closing the distance.

"So… are you going to play nice or are we going to have to skip meeting Rita?" she asked.

"… I'll play nice," he agreed, "for now."

"All right then," she responded, "so we'll go and meet Rita and you can yell at her as much as you want as long as you don't actually try to kill her."

"Tell me, if she was anyone else, would you be so against me trying to kill her?" he asked.

She shrugged.

"It depends," she admitted, "Altrouge is definitely not someone I wouldn't let you touch, Strout, Sveltan, Blackmore, Crown, Chaos, Alcatraz and TATARI would all probably kill you if you tried to fight them… Zelretch would probably spare you… but yeah, Rita's probably one of the weakest amongst our ranks, though against you it's more a compatibility thing."

Compatibility… from what Sumire had mentioned, Rita controlled blood, but he had no blood and it wouldn't really cause him that much damage to be attacked with it… if anything his body would just absorb the magical energy contained within the blood.

Meaning he was effectively the perfect counter to Sumire's friend.

The drunken vampire proceeded to touch his shoulder once more before the world shifted around them and they were once more inside the castle.

His analysis of the location meant he knew exactly where the other vampire was. He resisted the urge to run to murder the woman. Perhaps if he focused on something that wasn't the blood of innocents he would have better luck resisting that urge.

Scanning throughout the castle he took note of a series of particular objects.

Knives.

Ceremonial, magical knives.

The magic weaved into them came to him as if instinctually, he knew what their purpose was. He understood how they were made and he knew he could replicate them without much issue.

Their purpose was also something that made him question the situation in the castle.

They weren't just weapons, they weren't just implements of torture… they extracted certain attributes from the victims, attributes such as beauty, magic circuits, vitality, strength and even intelligence.

The owner of those weapons didn't simply bathe in the blood of their victims, they stole the essence of what made their victim who they were.

Scanning the bathroom again, he noted that the bloodstained woman was no longer bathing, instead she was slowly but steadily getting dressed, unconcerned with the world around her.

It took him a few seconds to realise that she must have noticed him analysing her when he first appeared.

There was no other reason for her to be in her current state of dress.

Soon he and Sumire reached the corridor that led to the bathroom and the door to the room opened.

The woman looked at the pair before quirking an eyebrow up at the drunken vampire.

"Oh? I was not expecting this," she muttered, her tone amused, "and here I thought you were refusing to let me teach the child."

Shirou's mind stalled.

Teach.

He looked at the oldest being he knew and she just frowned.

"I'm not here to give him to you, I'm here to introduce you," she said, her tone more irritated than anything, "besides, you have no idea how much effort it took to get him to agree to not try and murder you after he noticed what you do."

The red-headed woman tilted her head, her expression bemused.

"Oh? Ah, of course," she sounded as if she had figured it out, "you mentioned he's the type that cares about others."

Shirou didn't know what to make of this woman.

She literally bathed in the blood of the innocent and had knives to steal their traits… but she seemed more amused at his existence than anything else.

"Still… I wonder how long you'll keep that innocent world view," she continued and he felt the presence of magecraft wash over him, prompting his blades to shift for combat, "especially with a nature like yours."

He paused. What did she mean by that?

"What are you talking about?" he asked.

"You're a sword," she declared, "it doesn't take a genius to see the fate of such an existence."

"Uh…" Sumire sounded just as lost as he was.

"A sword has no moral compass, it is nothing more than a tool for its wielder," the red-head declared, "the question of course, is who will come to wield you?"

Shirou couldn't move.

A sword needed a swordsman.

But… but swords didn't have a mind of their own. They couldn't make their own decisions.

But had he decided his life or had Kiritsugu?

The woman before him was an abomination he had to destroy… but was it Shirou that had decided that or had it been Kiritsugu?

Had Kiritsugu's memory still been wielding him even this long after the man's death?

"Oh, I'm sorry," the vampire that had caused his current worries spoke, her tone apologetic, "did I accidentally break you?"

He didn't answer.

Kiritsugu's shadow still loomed over him and he didn't know what to do.

"Shirou…" Sumire spoke uncertainly as her hand landed on his shoulder, "you remember the promise don't you?"

"Yes," he acknowledged. He wouldn't try to murder the woman before him, but he didn't know what to do.

His mind was stuck in a loop and he didn't know how to get out of it.

"Come, let's go to more comfortable chambers and speak there," the monstrous woman said as she started to walk away from the bath chamber, Sumire leading him to follow.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

"And that's how a magus can keep a severed head alive for years."

Taiga wanted to vomit as Tohsaka Rin finished her explanation.

She had not expected something like that as her introduction to the world of magic and monsters.

The fact she had spent so much time with a vampire and Shirou didn't really mean much in the grand scheme of things after all.

"W-w-why would someone do something like that?" she asked, not expecting an answer.

"There can be many reasons," Rin answered and she jerked, "one such reason is if the individuals brain has an abnormality that is worth studying, another would be if the person has information they need, or in the pettiest of circumstances… just because they want to torture the victim."

Taiga could do little more than stare.

She would assume Tohsaka was trying to scare her by making stuff up… but the girl had actually shown her entries in different books that supported what she had been saying.

Perhaps she was better off not knowing about the magical world.

Though… there was one thing she was grateful for. At least Shirou didn't know how to do anything like that… at least, she hoped he didn't.

Hell, the fact that Tohsaka had this sort of stuff up her sleeves was terrifying enough!

"… I'm going to assume that you've had enough for tonight," the witch said, her tone perfectly bland as she rose from her seat, the few books she had taken out of her basement in hand.

She silently wondered just what sort of horrors lurked in that basement now that she knew the sort of stuff mages could do if they wanted. The fact that Tohsaka had refused to even let her near the door to the basement spoke of things she'd rather not know.

But… but if Tohsaka did have such horrors lurking below, then that would be one way of desensitising herself to Shirou's nature.

"Wait!" she said firmly, "I want to see inside your basement."

Tohsaka gave her a cold look in response.

"Fujimura-sensei, never, I repeat never, ask to look inside a Magus's workshop," the girl stated, causing a chill to wash over her.

"I understand it might be horrific, but-"

"You misunderstand," Tohsaka cut her off and she blinked, "I have nothing down there that would so much as cause you to bat an eye."

What?

"You never ask to see inside a magus's workshop because the knowledge we keep in there is to only be passed on to our family," the girl explained, "it's like asking to dig up your parents' graves."

Oh… oh…

"S-sorry, I thought…" she started before frowning, "wait, why is it such a secret anyway?"

Tohsaka released a sigh as she returned to her seat.

"Because magecraft is not an unlimited resource," she declared, "think of it like… like a classroom. The more students you have using the space, the less each has to call their own."

Taiga frowned.

"So the more mages there are, the weaker magic is?"

"The more mages who know the same spells, the weaker the spells are," the girl clarified, "so because of that, magi families guard their research with lethal force."

She swallowed nervously before asking a question.

"And what about Shirou?"

Tohsaka sighed and slumped into the back of her chair.

"He's not normal," she declared, "his magecraft, a Reality Marble functions differently to most magecraft."

Taiga blinked.

"To put it simply, most magecraft works by interfacing with the consciousness of the Earth to enact an event out of context," the girl explained, "once the world recognises the event is happening it fights back."

"A Marble Phantasm, which is what Sumire uses is similar but different. Instead of trying to trick the world into performing an event out of context, a user of Marble Phantasm effectively asks the world to do something and it agrees… no fighting back involved."

"So… that means that the difference between what you do and what the drunkard does is that the world says no to you but yes to her?" she tried to summarise.

"Yes. However, a Reality Marble is another matter entirely," Tohsaka looked almost haunted by the conversation, "a Reality Marble is a mental landscape. Most Dead Apostles aim to develop such a thing and the reason is obvious… every Reality Marble is unique to the user, but the most important part is that even if they weren't, they don't follow the same rules that all other magecraft does."

Taiga felt her heart race as the girl said that.

What was so special about what Shirou had?

"Other magecraft is about tricking the world into performing an action out of context, but a Reality Marble is a world, a world that operates under its own rules and the act of using a Reality Marble is the act of imposing your own world onto the world," Tohsaka took a breath before continuing, "because a Reality Marble is unique to the individual, because it is directly connected to them, even if they use spells that everyone else knows, the strength of that spell is on a whole other level simply because they're interacting with their own world that they don't have to share."

Taiga wasn't sure how to summarise that explanation but she would certainly try.

"So… it's like everyone is using a computer… a really powerful computer but they all have to share its processing power… but Shirou is using his own PC instead of the really big computer… does that sound about right?"

Rin nodded.

"It sounds about right, though I've never had a computer so I can't say for certain."

Taiga started to caress her chin in thought.

"But… if a Reality Marble is a mental landscape, then shouldn't everyone have one?"

"That's… complicated," Tohsaka sounded tired, "but to put it simply, a mind needs to not only be defined sharply, but it also needs to be have a foundation different enough from the world to impose itself as something different, which is why Reality Marbles generally manifest in beings such as demons instead of humans or Apostles."

Taiga stared at the girl.

"Oh you've got to be kidding me!" she practically screamed, "first wizards, then vampires, now demons too?!"

Tohsaka snorted, her hand moving to cover her mouth.

"Well I'm happy to see you're enjoying my misery," she muttered before looking away from the girl.

"Sorry, sorry," the girl didn't sound even the slightest bit apologetic, "I didn't realise you didn't know they exist."

Taiga buried her face in her hands.

"I'm never going to get through this am I?" she was definitely beginning to regret agreeing to Tohsaka's lessons.

"You will," the girl said, "you have something you're doing this for aren't you?"

She closed her eyes and steadied herself. Opening her eyes she took her face out her palms and looked the girl in the eyes.

"Of course I do."

"Well, let's continue with the lessons then."

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

The room was certainly far cosier than he expected from the lavacious mass murderer. The walls were painted a dull rose, the walls lined with bookshelves that held tomes of all ages, including several copies of books that were handwritten before the invention of the printing press.

There was a large fireplace, currently roaring away at a trio of thick logs, the ashes of the kindling already in the tray beneath. The furniture was also impressive, hundreds of years old yet still in near perfect condition as he sunk into the cushions of a settee while both Sumire and their host sat in armchairs with tables next to them that currently held their drinks, a bottle of red wine from the seventeenth century with a fine glass to pour it into, and a much larger bottle of sake respectively.

"So, Sumire hasn't truly told me about how she discovered you Shirou," the crimson haired psychopath started, her tone light, "would you care to shed some light on the matter?"

Sumire pouted.

"Hey, I can tell my own stories," the drunkard interjected.

Rita simply swirled the wine in her glass before taking a sip, her eyes still focused on him, her eyebrow arched expectantly.

"I don't see why it matters," he declared.

The damn woman smirked as she removed the glass from her lips and held it in front of her.

"Ah, but it is far more important than you may realise," she declared.

"And why does how we met matter when what's happened since is more important?"

The woman gave an exasperated sigh before turning to her ancient friend.

"Sumire, honestly, I would've expected you to have told him about it already," the woman said, her tone sounding genuinely disappointed in the drunken amphibian.

"… I don't know if our meeting was one of those."

Wait? What were they talking about?

"Very well then Shirou," the woman said, "I believe it's time for an interesting little titbit concerning how the world works on a fundamental level."

"If you want to try and convince me of the worthlessness of human lives, then you're wasting your breath."

"Oh please, if you want to play hero then be my guest," she replied, "there are more important things going on in the world than trying to convince some child that isn't even half a century old that humanity doesn't matter."

He sat still, his mind moving to question what she felt was so important.

"Tell me, how do you think the Twenty-Seven Dead Apostle Ancestors came to be?" she asked and he tiled his head.

"I guess they discovered each other and decided to join together for some reason," he responded.

She tsked at him.

"The reality, young Shirou, is that we all had an encounter."

He stared at her blankly. That much was obvious.

"I know what you're likely thinking, 'why focus on something so obvious?', well the answer is simple," she declared before focusing on him once again, "the number of encounters and the importance of each of them is too great… if even one of those encounters hadn't happened, the Twenty-Seven would not exist as it does now."

"So it's pure luck that the Twenty-Seven is even a thing," he summarised.

"Not according to Zelretch," the woman declared and he froze, his eyes focused on the woman before him, "throughout countless possible timelines, either all of those meetings happen, or none of them do. So, with such a discrepancy, what can be summarised about the presence of the Twenty-Seven?"

He did not like where this was going and she leaned forward, her tone severe.

"To put it bluntly, we don't refer to these encounters as simply 'an encounter', we refer to them as 'Fateful Encounters'."

If she was telling the truth then that would mean that there were higher powers at play bringing the Twenty-Seven into existence. But if that was the case, then what was the purpose?

"The Twenty-Seven exist for a purpose. There is no denying that," Rita continued on before relaxing and allowing herself to sink into her chair once again, "what exactly this purpose is we cannot say, but the question we must ask now, is whether or not your meeting with Sumire was fated or sheer happenstance… so then, will you tell me everything of importance concerning your meeting with her?"

She wasn't commanding the information. Her tone was inquisitory and given what she had just told him, he questioned how she was so calm about potentially not getting the information.

But… but he needed to figure out what his own role in the world was.

"I was walking home through a park and found her lying on the ground in the middle of winter," he stated, "I took her home to make sure she didn't die of hypothermia and she caught me practising my magecraft."

He considered whether Kiritsugu's sabotage was important to the matter and found his mind wandering as he realised just how it would look with the information of 'Fated Encounters' now in the picture.

"My adopted father had sabotaged my training in magecraft, teaching me to use my nerves as magic circuits," he continued, "she told me what I was doing wrong and opened my circuits for me."

Rita rose an eyebrow and looked at Sumire expectantly.

"… I may have made the mana in the air force itself through his circuits to jumpstart them…" the drunk admitted and Rita palmed her face.

"Of course you'd do something so crude and dangerous," she muttered while shaking her head.

"What do you mean 'dangerous'?" he asked.

"Mana in the air is more plentiful than the Od a magus produces," she explained, "a seasoned magus can usually predict how much power their circuits can handle at once, but doing what Sumire did could have potentially put too much strain on your circuits… imagine a pipe with a blockage that keeps getting more water pumped into it and you get the idea."

He did indeed.

"Hey! I only used a tiny amount!" Sumire protested.

So she could have potentially caused just as much, if not more damage than what Kiritsugu had taught him.

"Still… I am curious whether she played a role in your current state," the red-head continued.

"She opened my circuits, told me that my element and origin were sword and told me I had a reality marble… and according to Tohsaka what she said was wrong," he continued.

The red head offered an amused smile as she closed her eyes.

"Well then, it certainly sounds as if your meeting with Sumire was no chance encounter," Rita's voice was laced with clear interest, "I have a strong suspicion that you will likely become the newest member of our little club at some point."

He hated this.

The idea of being a member of a group filled with beings like Rita sickened him.

But…

He had accepted Sumire into his household even after discovering what she was. He had bargained with Nrvnqsr Chaos for Tohsaka's life. And now he was sitting in a room with Rita talking about his past.

He had opened the door to joining this world the moment he didn't try to kill a Vampire that had entered his house.

Even now, he drank the blood of animals he could find in the woods around Fuyuki. How long would it be until their blood wasn't enough for him?

And if he couldn't sustain himself off animals, would he move onto humans?

Sure there were people who he wouldn't bat an eye over killing… but where would he stop? When would he reach a line he wouldn't be willing to cross and more importantly, would the line still be there when he had already inched so close to it?

"So, you mentioned you were adopted," Rita's voice cut through his thoughts before he could find an answer, "why is that?"

"I was orphaned in a fire… the man that adopted me started it," he declared.

"Oh? Any more information than that?" she asked and he decided it didn't hurt to give her more.

"It was about ten years ago in Fuyuki City," she already knew where he lived so he had no reason to hide it, "my adopted father started it, apparently the mages association covered it up. I was the only survivor and I only made it out because of the man that adopted me saving me in that fire."

The woman looked as if she was thinking.

"Well, what are the chances?" she asked, her smile turning predatory, "a young boy, survives a fire started by a magus in a location with one of the strongest leylines in the world, is saved by that same magus, then taught incorrectly but the magus doesn't take exception to the presence of a vampire-"

"He's dead," he cut her off, "the man that adopted me is dead."

"Even better!" Rita explaimed, "the magus that taught you wrong dies, then Sumire appears and corrects you in just the wrong way that you lose your original body and become a self-made apostle… there is simply too much that screams 'The Hand of Fate' in your life."

He froze.

A Vampire thought that 'The Hand of Fate' played a role in his life?

All those people died. He was the only survivor. He was the only one that was saved…

He had never managed to come to terms with that. It never seemed fair that he was the only person that had been saved that day… but if Rita was right… then that would mean that he didn't survive due to luck.

He had survived because he was more important than everyone else in the fire.

But why? Why was he more important than anyone else?

Why had he been the one singled out as worthy of not dying?

Looking at his hands, he thought of what lay beneath his facsimile of skin. The blades that churned beneath.

Was that what made him more important? Was he the only one capable of moulding himself the way he did? Was his power in someway needed in the coming era?

He didn't know.

He wasn't sure he even wanted to know.

If beings like Rita and Chaos were also around due to the machinations of fate, then what did that mean for fate itself?

Or was there some merit to what Sumire had said?

Humanity itself was constantly dying and giving birth, was there something even worse that the Ancestors were there to prevent? Or perhaps, even cause?

"I must say Rita, I'm impressed," Sumire muttered, "I didn't have anywhere near the luck you've had getting through that steel skull of his."

He looked at the drunken vampire fairy, his expression intentionally blank.

"Honestly, you couldn't get through a paper bag," the red headed vampire declared before taking another sip of win, "besides, this isn't about getting through to the child, I'm simply giving him my interpretation of events. What he chooses to do with this conversation will also be the machination of fate."

He considered the red heads statement.

If this meeting too was fated, then how he responded to it was also fated.

… it also meant that the trauma he caused to Fuji-nee may not have truly been his fault.

He clenched his fist at that.

It didn't matter what the reason was. He had scared Fuji-nee and that was all that mattered.

But Rita was a different matter.

He may not have liked the perspective she had offered but he couldn't really dispute it.

And as much as he may have started out wanting to murder the woman, the conversation had dulled that desire significantly.

"Now, if you don't mind me asking Shirou," Rita spoke up once again, "what was your adopted fathers name?"

Sumire immediately started trying to get him to keep his silence.

That just made him curious. Besides, after all the trouble she had caused him, what did it hurt to say?

"Emiya Kiritsugu."

Rita's glass shattered in her hand and wine spilled all over her gown as her fists clenched and her teeth grit against each other.

"I'm going to hazard a guess and say he hurt you pretty badly," he muttered.

"That little bastard! How dare he die before I had the chance to rip the blood out of his veins!"

Yep.

Yet another victim of Emiya Kiritsugu.


And that's all for now.

Shadow Out.