And time for the next chapter.


The night carried on for Shirou as he sat in the homely room, most of the time was spent contemplating everything he had been told, with the odd distraction as Rita and Sumire moved their catching up to matters that involved him.

Eventually however, the Water Bottle retreated to a guest bedroom and Shirou found himself alone with the blood bather.

"I could kill you right now," he declared, the temptation still there even if he wasn't quite so focused on it.

"But you won't," she responded, her tone completely nonchalant.

"And what makes you so sure of that?"

She raised an eyebrow and tilted her head.

"Don't tell me the airhead forgot to tell you about the Rose Prophecy?" her tone was exasperated as she released a sigh and shook her head, "that woman has no right trying to mentor anyone with failures like that."

He silently agreed but his mind was more focused on what she had brought up.

"And what exactly is this 'Rose Prophecy'?"

"… Rose Prophecy is a Dead Apostle with the ability to see into the future," she said, her tone indicating she was trying to pick her words carefully, "and she keeps a close eye on the Twenty-Seven Ancestors. Whenever one is due to die, she announces it via… let's just call it telepathy to keep it simple, to the Ancestor in question so they can set their affairs in order and arrange for a successor to take over once they die."

Shirou nodded.

"And why don't they try to avert their fate?" he asked.

"Because so far, all attempts have failed," she replied, "in the end though, I have not heard the Rose Prophecy concerning my death, as such, you will not kill me this meeting."

He took note that she said 'this' meeting specifically.

"And what happens when an ancestor dies?"

"Rose Prophecy announces their demise and the Apostle that will replace them within our Ranks," her tone was casual, "honestly, I've only heard the Rose Prophecy speak once and in that instance… the Apostle that killed the previous Ancestor got the position instead of their chosen successor."

"Why?" it didn't quite make sense for such an occurrence to happen if a successor was already chosen.

"Because the right of murder takes precedence over the right of succession," her tone was non-committal before he noted his blank stare, "basically, the right of succession only applies if an Ancestor is killed by a being that is unviable for the position, like the Church's executors or another Ancestor. If an Apostle that doesn't rank amongst us kills one of us, then they gain the rank by right of murder."

Shirou nodded.

He was definitely learning more about how Apostle society works in a single night with Rita than his entire time with Sumire.

But then again, Rita wasn't a useless drunk but a legitimate magus, so that was to be expected now that he thought about it.

Of course, the idea that Rita was apparently safe from him that night from the very start made him question his agency in the matter once again.

The more time he spent with Rita, the less he was certain his own decisions were indeed his own.

At the very least he got a few magical knives from his time in the castle but she had effectively attacked everything that made him who he was with no apparent effort.

He just hoped he never actually listened to what she said.

"So, what is your plan once you leave here?" she asked him.

"I don't know," he acknowledged. In an ideal world he would seek out Louvre, but he didn't have the slightest idea how to find him, "do you have any way of locating where Louvre is?"

She chuckled, her tone clearly amused.

"Louvre is known to spend his time in either his own Castle, or his masters," she said, "from what I'm aware, he tends to leave the day to day running of his operations to his children."

Shirou stalled.

"He has children?" he hadn't been expecting that statement.

"Well, children to Vampires is a different thing to humans," she commented, "those we turn take in our blood and share it."

He nodded.

Sumire had told him that much at least.

"Though, I believe he's done something particularly interesting," she continued. He tilted his head in response, "he named his two successors his own name."

"Why does that matter?"

"To put it simply, the Vampire Louvre is three different vampires whom share blood," Rita stated, presenting three fingers for reference, "now, when vampires whom share blood are near each other, they tend to gain a noticeable boost in power, generally multiplicative rather than additive."

So there were three vampires whom shared the name of Louvre, and if all three were nearby, they would each likely be three times stronger.

"Naturally he keeps the two away from Nero," she declared lightly, "he likely doesn't want his children to risk being eaten by the beast."

Shirou decided that was as good a moment as any to ask about that.

"I take it you're the one that sent him after me then," he stated, his tone intentionally bland.

The woman rolled her eyes.

"I didn't 'send him after you', I simply decided that since you apparently stole his gimmick, he should be given slightly more information about you so he could have the first look," she responded.

Wait, 'more information'?

"How many Apostles know of my existence?"

"Most of the Ancestors," she responded and he suddenly knew he was in even worse waters than he had anticipated, "with the exception of those that weren't available or never answer their orbs in the first place."

"Orbs?"

"Magical trinkets, allow those with them to contact each other so long as the other is willing to activate it on the other end."

"So who doesn't know about me?" he was definitely wary now.

"The O.R.T, Crimson Moon, The Dead Six, The Forest of Ainnash, TATARI and Enhance are definitely unaware of you right now," she declared, "Alcatraz probably doesn't know about you yet and I don't know about Zelretch, he could know you from other universes but he wasn't in the group who answered."

Shirou considered that.

From what he had heard, that would mean that both of the leaders of the two main factions would already know about him.

"So the Black Princess and Lord of White Wing know about me?" he asked.

"Yes, those two most certainly do," she answered with an amused smile, "I cannot wait to hear about their attempts at recruiting you."

… they wanted to recruit him? Oh his day was just getting better and better.

"And what if I don't want to be recruited by them?" he asked.

"That's your decision," she shrugged, "honestly I would love for you to refuse both, might make them do more interesting things."

"And what side do you fall on?" from the way she was talking he got the distinct impression that she wasn't on either side.

"Is it not obvious? I have chosen to sit back and amuse myself as they bicker like children," she replied, "oh, but we've gotten a little off topic, you wanted to learn about Louvre didn't you?"

He nodded.

"Well, as I said, Louvre spends his time between his castle and his masters," she said before frowning, "I do not know the exact location of either Castle, however I am aware that Louvre's exists somewhere in Norway… I've actually heard that the Clock Tower is getting close to discovering the location of Louvre's Castle but I cannot say for certain."

He nodded.

So the mages association may have some information he could use.

Which gave him a place to start.

"Thank you," he responded.

"You're quite welcome young Shirou," she said, her tone light, "I am quite interested in exactly what you can gain from Louvre and if Nero's interest in you is warranted."

He kept his silence.

The woman may have been amicable, but she made no secret that she wasn't nice.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

Taiga got home later than she had expected but the time wasn't that different from what she managed when going to Shirou's for dinner.

Her lessons with Tohsaka had gone on for a couple of hours and she had even ordered take-out. It was definitely not as good as the food Shirou prepared but she had driven the boy away so she would settle for what she could.

"Grandpa! I'm home!" she called out before entering the old man's room and taking a seat.

"So Taiga-chan, have you thought about what I said?" he asked and she couldn't stop herself from flinching.

"About that…" she trailed off as she tried to figure out how to tell her grandfather about what had happened earlier that day, "… I may have hurt Shirou…"

He stared at her.

"What happened?" he asked, his tone lacking any inflection she could use to predict his thoughts on the matter.

"… this morning me and the vampire got into a bit of an argument… and Shirou stepped in," she said, "he… he was terrifying and I…"

"And you're scared, possibly hurting him because of how close your relationship with him is," her grandfather finished and she nodded.

"Yeah, he's even left with the vampire for a week to give me some time to try to come to terms with what I saw," she told him, "the vampire said something about visiting her castle near Atlantis or something."

She shook her head and waited for the inevitable questions. When they didn't come she looked at him and saw him staring at her as if she had grown a second head.

Oh yeah, she mentioned a mythical city didn't she.

"Yeah, I know. Atlantis is apparently real."

Raiga shook his head.

"If Shirou is gone, where have you been?" he asked.

"Oh, Tohsaka-san offered to give me some exposure to the sort of stuff mages are involved with," she then realised how he might take it before adding, "though she's not teaching me magic, just about the stuff that exist in the world of mages and monsters and all that stuff."

Her grandfather shook his head.

"What did I do to have such a troublesome granddaughter?"

"Hey!" she cried out.

"I still want you to come to a decision for when Shirou gets back," he declared and she felt her heart sink, "the sooner I know what your answer is, the sooner I can prepare for whatever you decide."

She looked away.

She still didn't want Shirou to take over but… but he was a legitimate monster, she knew that now. Now she knew just how inhuman he truly was and the idea of putting the weight of a Yakuza family on his shoulders no longer felt so great.

After all, compared to being a giant mass of blades that shifted and writhed, running a Yakuza family must be nothing special.

"Okay, okay… I'll make my decision," she responded, "just… just let me see Shirou again before I give you it."

Her grandfather nodded.

She needed to know if Shirou would stay or not before making her decision after all.

"Now… tell me about what Tohsaka-san taught you," her grandfather said and she had to resist the urge to smirk.

How would her grandfather handle the decapitated head stuff?

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

Arturia clashed blade with spear once more.

She was still failing to gain ground against the mighty Scottish Princess, but she was keeping up with the woman's attacks better now that she was starting to get used to the strength and speed.

Getting pushed back once again, she pushed her left hand in front of her before attempting to perform one of the few Runes she had recently discovered.

She had to pull her hand back as the spear struck where it had been.

A tsk escaped her lips as she once again failed to use the magic in battle. She would have complained, except Scathach didn't when she tried to interrupt the spear woman's own attempts at casting runes.

The speed she cast them at simply made her attempts at cutting her off fail spectacularly.

She needed to increase the speed with which she could perform the signs necessary to form the runes and her newest teacher holding back would not help her in that regard.

Another blow struck her gut and she was knocked to the ground once more.

"You are improving," the purple haired woman said, "you are still too slow at casting but your speed is improving."

She nodded.

Her speed was probably good enough against most opponents but Scathach was a different matter entirely.

And as much as she wished to declare that to the ancient mentor, she knew that would only earn the woman's ire.

'Excuses' and 'good enough' were the enemies of improvement after all.

She pushed herself to her feet and took a combative stance yet again.

"Enough," she froze at her teacher's statement, "practise your casting for now, you can return to martial matters once you have recovered fully."

She nodded, though her lips were pursed.

She sought to improve as a knight, not a mage, yet there was no arguing with the Pict. Her martial training would have to wait.

She took a seat before starting to practise the signs that had been taught to her. Primordial runes, magic of the gods that possessed power far greater than anything of the modern era.

Yet no matter how much she tried to practise with them, they refused to cooperate with her fully. Scathach could perform them with such ease and power that it was no surprise the woman was known as a god-slayer.

However, the Pict woman was from a time before even her own, stuck in the Reserve Side of the World due to her solid connection to it.

Arturia doubted she would even be capable of performing the runes without Avalon connecting her to the Reverse Side.

Lost magic was lost for a reason after all.

"Master," she spoke up, causing the princess to face her with an expression that would be called 'bored' on anyone else, "I must ask, but is learning Primordial Runes worth it for me?"

"Why do you ask?" the teacher's tone did not bear any judgement yet.

"I am questioning if the reason they fail to come to me is my own ineptitude, or because of the nature of the runes and my own presence in the Land of the Living," she was certain that her teacher would not be insulted by that particular reasoning.

Silence followed as the teacher of the Hound of Ireland stared at the pale grey sky that loomed above.

"You are correct in your assessment," Scathach declared and she waited for the 'but' that was sure to come, "in the end, Primordial Runes are a powerful form of magecraft that lost their power with the death of Odin."

She nodded.

"However, even in their diminished state, they are still more powerful than what most magi are capable of in the modern era," the Scottish woman looked her in the eyes, her eyes as cold as the land around them, "your own connection to the Reverse Side of the World will prevent them from losing their full power when performed by you, however they are far more useful in preparing for a battle or dealing with a foe that cannot be defeated via conventional means."

Nodding yet again she considered what the woman knew of that could require such a powerful magic to deal with.

"However, I wish for you to be capable of performing the runes in battle, practical for most battles or not," her teacher stated and she nodded.

There was reasoning behind her goals and as the student, it was her responsibility to rise up to meet her masters expectations.

"Very well… I am recovered," she declared as she rose from her seated position and assumed a battle ready stance, "I shall do my utmost to perform a rune in battle with you."

Scathach gave a wry smirk in response.

"Very well Arturia Pendragon," she declared before readying herself for battle, "let me see how far you can progress."

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

Shirou found himself sitting alone in Rita's lounge. The owner of the castle had decided to retire to her own bedroom for the night and he found himself silently questioning just how uncommon it was for an Apostle to have no need for sleep.

Sumire slept regularly despite not being human before becoming a Vampire and Rita displayed that she too held limitations when it came to how long she could remain awake.

But he hadn't slept since the night Sumire had returned. All he needed was to supplement his magical energy via blood and that was enough.

However, that just gave him more time to consider what he was planning.

The Clock Tower had information that could narrow down his search for Louvre, but there was no way he could just walk up and ask for it. Which meant he would have to infiltrate the home base of the Mages Association.

It was a daunting task but he was certain he could pull it off.

After all, he could adjust his size, so hiding as a rat or something was well within reason, and as soon as he had an idea of where the information may be stored, he could extend his analysis when close enough to get a look at whatever information was available before retreating.

The fact that he had managed to hide his magical energy from Tohsaka when they first met would also help, he just needed to be careful about his analysis setting anyone on alert.

But it should be doable and it would put him one step closer to finding Louvre and seeing just how advanced his storage of magical blades actually was.

The knives that Rita had were safely replicated within his mind but he kept them at bay. There was something about the history of the blades that made him wish to avoid using them if at all possible.

Perhaps he might use one of the blades that could steal magic circuits on a magus that did truly heinous things… but would they interfere with his Reality Marble? He couldn't actually say for certain and the idea of destabilising himself due to greed was outright terrifying.

Rita herself held quite a few magic circuits, one-hundred and forty-seven to be exact, but she was a user of traditional magecraft, not a Reality Marble so using her as a baseline was useless.

Taking his mind off the possible complications that those knives could cause, he started to focus on himself once again. The act of meditating was becoming second nature to him by that point, though it had certainly gotten easier since he scrapped his brain for swords.

Turns out lacking chemicals to mess it up let the mind concentrate rather effectively.

He continued to practise controlling his body down to the tiniest blade, he would need to improve his motor control if he wanted to truly master adapting his form for battle.

Time passed by slowly but steadily before eventually his analysis picked up Rita rising from bed. She opened her eyes and looked straight at him with a near predatory smile.

If he had a heart, he was certain it would have skipped a beat.

She clearly knew he was 'watching' as she moved to a bathroom and he withdrew his analysis.

Thankfully that bathroom was completely unconnected to the one where she bathed in the blood of her victims, but the thought of her in a bath was not pleasant after that first look.

Sumire remained in bed, passed out from having too much drink yet again. Which would mean that he would have more time alone with the psychopath.

Oh joy.

Twitching his hand, he let claws form in place of his fingers and he considered how easy it would be to kill her at this point.

She was apparently focused on magecraft that related to blood… but she was still a magus before that, so there was no telling exactly what she would be capable of.

Was it possible that she would have some tricks that could stop him from killing her even if he tried?

After all, she was an Ancestor and from what he was aware, the Ancestors were all powerful.

He needed to think about it more. Perhaps when he was stronger he would be able to act but for now, he would simply have to bide his time and get stronger.

And his first goal for increasing his strength was currently being hunted by the Clock Tower.

Eventually Rita entered the room once again, her expression bemused.

"I must admit, I was not anticipating you removing your little detection barrier," she stated as she sat in her chair once again, her hair still wet from the bath she had taken, "most males your age wouldn't be able to resist the opportunity to see me naked."

"I'm not even truly male anymore," he declared, "plus, the idea of you in a bath is… off-putting after yesterday."

A frown marred her face for a split second before it was gone.

"Ah, of course, you don't like my recreational baths,' she said and he had to resist the urge to stab her, "fair, fair."

He continued to stare at her as she proceeded to brush her hair, taking meticulous care to ensure that every hair was untangled and straightened before she started to braid it.

"Why are you doing that?" he asked, her every action was screaming vanity yet she only had him and Sumire as guests.

"Is it not obvious?" she asked, her eyebrow raised, "I enjoy looking beautiful."

He wouldn't disagree with her looking attractive, with so much blood and magical theft of that trait, it would be near impossible for her to be anything but.

However, that beauty was very much skin deep. The ugliness that rotted her core was all he really cared about.

"What do you know about the Clock Tower?" he decided to change the subject.

"I know a fair amount," she responded, still engrossed in her hair, "I studied there in my youth after all."

"Do you have any idea where they'd keep their information on Louvre?" he asked, the more he knew going into the matter the better.

Her gaze turned frigid.

"Only that you'd be a fool to even try," she said, her tone broaching no argument, "trying to infiltrate the Clock Tower is near impossible."

He waited for her to continue, wondering how she would react if she knew he could change his size at will.

"The bounded fields that protect the campus prevent anyone from entering without the lords being made aware, the protections on each workshop are designed to destroy anything that attempts to invade, even attempting to sneak in via a familiar would fail," she continued and he stalled, "small animals are known as potential familiars so extra precautions are in place to ensure such things don't last long."

"Simply put, unless you have some way of fighting your way through, you don't stand a chance there," she finished off and he felt a tinge of annoyance plucking at the back of his mind.

So even his abilities would be worthless when it came to invading the facility.

Which meant he was once again at square one.

"Well, thank you for that information," he said, silently wondering just how badly an attempt would have gone if all these measures were in place.

But it still raised the question of how to find Louvre before the Clock Tower did.

"Is there any way you can think of for me to find Louvre?" he decided to ask the more experienced Apostle. For as much as he may not like her, she was still an experienced magus and would know more about how to do such things than Sumire.

"That depends heavily on your current skillset," she said, "though given who your mentor is, I doubt you will have the skills or resources to find him before the Executors and Enforcers arrive."

That was problematic.

Very problematic.

That was when he noted something specific about what she said.

"You said 'resources'," she nodded in response, "what do you mean by that?"

"Oh how naïve are you child?" she muttered, "the world isn't run off goodwill, you need a powerbase if you want things. Connections, finances and manpower are all valuable assets in all walks of life."

He stared in response.

"And what about your assets?" he asked.

"How do you think I know that the Clock Tower is closing in on him?" she asked and it clicked.

"You have an inside man," he said.

"That's correct," she replied, "I can give them something they want, in exchange, they share what they know with me."

"Why can't you use them to discover the information the Clock Tower has on Louvre?"

"Because they lack the clearance to learn and that information is not vital to me," she responded, "so it's more beneficial for me to let them carry on without the risk of getting caught."

Which meant he would have to find a method of getting someone on the inside of the organisation.

The only person he could think of was Tohsaka and he doubted she'd have much more luck with it than Rita's insider.

Beyond that, he didn't even know of anything he could offer to gain the aid of a magus.

So he was still stuck.

"I apologise if you didn't like what you heard, but that is the reality of the situation," she spoke up and he nodded.

"I understand."

"Now, why don't we talk about lighter matters until Sumire is awake?"

He nodded.

It wouldn't hurt.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

Sumire felt like shit. Waking up was always the same, the booze had worn off enough to leave her with the aftereffects, but not enough for her to be free of a hangover.

So she took a solid dozen or so gulps of her bottle.

Feeling the alcohol starting to fight the hangover, she proceeded to rise from her bed, taking care to not vomit all over Rita's floor before heading towards the room they had spent most of the night.

Slowly she reached it and opened to see both Shirou and Rita sitting, talking amicably.

She released a sigh of relief upon seeing her pupil resisting the urge to murder her friend. It seemed things had settled down between them and she wouldn't have to pick up any pieces of either of the pair.

"Hello!" she called out before doing what amounted as a flail when she tried to pounce on Rita.

"You're honestly pathetic Sumire," her red-headed friend muttered with a shake of her head and she released a small laugh.

"It's better than being dead Rita," she stated, "do you have any more booze I can take?"

"Go get your own," the second oldest in the room waved her off dismissively.

"Oh… that's no way to talk to a friend," she said, shaking her head in response to the cold retort.

"Sumire, I think we should probably be going now," Shirou spoke up and she pouted.

"You just don't want to be with Rita any longer," she accused.

"Of course I don't, I'm having to resist the urge to stab her as we speak," he replied, his tone blank.

"Yes, do leave," her friend piped in, "as pleasant as your company is, you are stopping me from returning to my art."

Shirou's gaze turned to Rita.

"No, I don't mean anything homicidal or sadistic," her tone expressed her irritation quite effectively, "I actually do have legitimate artistic pursuits."

Shirou's gaze did not waver, not that she expected it to, but she supposed they were right.

"Fine, fine…" she gave in, "so where to take you next…"

"Have you considered the most important people to introduce him too?" Rita asked and she blinked.

Who could Rita be talking about…

Oh… of course.

"Nuh uh," she was not taking him to them, "they won't leave me alone if I introduce him to them."

"Who is she talking about?" Shirou asked.

"Why, Altrouge and Ortenrosse of course," Rita replied and she couldn't stop the flinch that followed, "the leaders of the two main factions within the Twenty-Seven."

Shirou looked at her, his stare expectant.

"No, I am not getting involved with either of them. No way, no how," she denied.

"Yet you're fine with her," Shirou pointed out.

"Yeah, because Rita doesn't try to get me involved in the game of politics that the others do," she stated, "if I get involved with either of them, then there's going to be some power play that screws me over… and even if I take you to meet both of them, they'll hold a grudge if they're introduced after the other."

Shirou nodded.

"Not afraid I will try to murder either of them?" Shirou asked.

"You might be able to kill Ortenrosse… but Altrouge is a being of mystery, you don't have a method of killing her," she explained.

"Besides… not even I am willing to lay a finger on her," Rita added, earning a tilted head from Shirou, "even if her faction wouldn't murder me for daring to do such a thing, even I have to draw the line at killing over seven billion people."

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

Shirou froze.

What did she mean by 'killing over seven billion people'?

"Why would trying to kill Altrouge kill over seven billion people?"

"Altrouge is the only thing keeping Cath Palug on a leash," Sumire stated, "if she dies, Cath Palug will be set loose on humanity and… well, he's best described as 'human extinction given form', so he'll wipe out all of humanity without someone to keep him in line."

Rita looked almost as put off by Sumire's statement as he felt.

"Just to clarify, the drunkard means the First Dead Apostle Ancestor, Primate Murder, whenever she says that," Rita added and he tilted his head.

"Given all my exposure to the twenty-seven has been from trying to get Sumire to tell me about them, I didn't even know it had a name like that," he admitted.

From what he had heard, the First was Cath Palug, nothing else.

Rita simply rolled her eyes.

"Of course she wouldn't call him by his official designation," the woman muttered.

"How many people actually call it 'Cath Palug'?" he asked, honestly curious at the information.

"From what I am aware… in the living world only Sumire, Altrouge, Strout, Svelten and Crown," Rita declared.

That… was a much smaller list than he had expected.

"Most people lack the means of understanding him, so most just call him by his designation," she continued, "well, Strout and Svelten call him by his actual name because they're part of the same faction and Altrouge makes them, but that's about it."

Shirou found himself curious about this 'Altrouge' person. From what Sumire had mentioned she was known as the 'Black Princess' and the 'Master of Blood and Contract'.

But from this conversation, he got the impression that they were probably the only thing standing between humanity and extinction, so what were her motives? What was she like as a person?

There were so many questions but the one he found himself focusing on was the possibility of her being similar to Rita… and if she was, he would have to tolerate her existence for more reasons than just 'the drunkard didn't want him to kill her'.

"I want to meet this 'Altrouge' person," he declared.

"Like I said, no way!" Sumire declared, "I am not getting involved with either faction!"

"Except you're not the one getting involved," he declared, "just take me close by, I'll walk the rest of the way if necessary."

Sumire's frustration was clear on her face.

"Look, you aren't even calling me what I told you to call me, so why should I agree to take you anywhere?" the drunken vampire responded.

Shirou kept his mouth shut.

She still wanted him to call her 'Onee-chan'? After everything that had happened?

"You have to be joking," he muttered. The glare he received told him everything he needed to know.

"Oh? What's this? Sumire wants you to call her something in particular?" Rita sounded very curious now.

"She wants me to call her 'Onee-chan'… but after our fight in Atlantis, I didn't think she cared about that anymore," he answered.

Rita covered her mouth but the small laugh that escaped her lips would've been perfectly audible even if he was a normal human.

"S-so… Sumire wants a little brother?" Rita sounded almost as if she was going to break into laughter at that, "does spending fourteen-thousand years as a single child make you so desperate?"

Sumire simply stared at him.

"Fine… will you please take me to see Altrouge… Onee-chan," he asked.

"The answer is still no," the drunkard responded.

"What do you have against her?"

"I have nothing against her, I just don't want to get dragged into her and Ortenrosse's little game of 'who holds the most power within the twenty-seven'," Sumire replied, "if I take you to her, then even if I stay away, the fact that you're close to me would make them try to use you to recruit me."

Shirou nodded.

He supposed that made sense. But…

"But if she controls Cath Palug, shouldn't she automatically be the one with the most power?"

"That's the general consensus," she replied, "but try telling that to Trhvmn and he won't listen."

"But then why would he even have a faction?"

"Because there are some who consider his methods the more appealing ones… again, Altrouge holds the most power due to Cath Palug, but there's other ways for Trhvmn to compete with her," Sumire continued.

"For example, while Altrouge has Primate Murder and Strout on her side, Ortenrosse has Nero Chaos and quite a few others on his side," Rita piped in before her gaze turned to a random direction, "and Ortenrosse has a vested interest in a certain ritual that is being prepared."

Shirou froze.

A ritual that was being prepared?

There was no way that could be good.

"What ritual are you talking about?"

"Aylesbury Valesti," Rita spoke, her tone no longer certain, "all that we truly know is that if it works, the Second Ancestors will be revived."

Sumire had mentioned them. The Dark Six.

The idea that six different vampires held the same position was strange, but then again, apparently a forest held a rank.

So the Twenty-Seven were probably the strangest assortment of existences he had ever heard of, having a rank that was a group really shouldn't have been a surprise.

All that really mattered, was that the ritual should probably be stopped. But the idea of 'Fated Encounters' returned to his head, if fate really played a role in things, then whether the ritual succeeded or not wasn't something he could impact.

But he would have to try.

"Thank you for your patience," he decided to say, "we will leave you now."

"And where will you go next?" Rita asked.

"For now, I think returning to Su- Onee-chan's castle is probably our best course of action," he said, "after going there we can take our time deliberating."

"Okay then, back to my castle we go!" and with that, Sumire put her hand on his shoulder and teleported them back to the bottom of the ocean.

Silence reigned for several seconds after they were once again near the rocky hole that was his mentor's castle.

"So… Rita's not that bad is she?" Sumire finally said, breaking the silence.

"I want to kill her," he declared.

As amicable as she was, as pleasant as she was to talk to, the woman was still a monster in every sense of the word and he hated that he hadn't been allowed to end her existence.

Sumire simply released a sigh.

"You really are hopeless aren't you?" she muttered.

He refused to deign that with a response.

"So if you won't take me to meet Altrouge, where are we going next?" he asked, causing the woman to idly swim with her back to the ocean floor, a deep frown marring her face.

"How about we go somewhere less likely to get you murder happy," she said after a few minutes of thinking, "Manhattan!"

He stared.

Why did she think he would fit in a place like that?

"Why?"

"Let's get you some time to relax, enjoy the sights and not meet any magical folks who will make you want to murder someone too important."

He had a feeling she wasn't going to accept no for an answer with this one.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

Taiga waited with bated breath as she sat in the living room of the Emiya household.

It had been a week and she had spent plenty of time learning about the more unsavoury aspects of the magical world. But knowledge was one thing, experiencing it was another matter entirely.

She knew she shouldn't be scared of Shirou, that no matter how monstrous he may look, he would never intentionally harm her… but emotions didn't work off logic.

So she waited, her pulse racing as the clock ticked forward.

If the drunkard wasn't teleporting everywhere then she could call at the airport and make sure he was on the right plane, or nearby in a taxi or something.

But no, the drunken vampire just had to be capable of something that hadn't been possible for potentially thousands of years.

She released a sigh.

There was no use getting herself worked up, doing so would only make her reunion with Shirou even more awkward than it already would be.

But she wouldn't back down.

She was Fujimura Taiga and she was not going to let her little brother think she was scared of him!... even if she actually was.

The clock ticked by, her brain constantly running to thoughts that she needed to squash.

She did not want to drive Shirou away again.

She would not drive Shirou away again.

Eventually the air before her peeled away to reveal the pair, looking no different than when they had left.

Sumire blinked as she looked at her.

"Welcome home," she said, forcibly pushing the memories of Shirou losing his temper with the drunkard out of her head, "it's so good to see you're safe Shirou."

The young mass of blades looked at her, his eyes just as dead as they always were before moving towards her and offering his arms in a hug.

"I know I may not be the softest thing around," he started but she didn't care, she clinged to the boy as if her life depended on it.

"Don't be stupid," she muttered, "I'm your big sister, I don't care if you're not soft."

She didn't know what she would be feeling if he was a human, but she would have to let him go soon.

Releasing him she looked him in the eye and spoke.

"Shirou… we need to talk."

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

Shirou did not like that Fuji-nee said those words.

Such words would never amount to anything good.

It had been a week since he had left and Sumire had expressly refused to take him to meet anyone else who was important to the current political landscape of the magical world.

So he had been stuck as a tourist with no money, wandering cities he didn't care about, for days at a time, with the only real change of pace being when Sumire wanted to return to her castle to rehydrate after her time on land.

But to return and hear Fuji-nee say that they needed to talk… there was no way anything good could come of it.

Sitting down at the table, Sumire followed as his surrogate sister sat across from him and took a deep breath.

"So, what did you want to talk about Fuji-nee?" he asked, idly wondering if he was going to be leaving Fuyuki for good.

"… the night before… that happened," she started before taking another deep breath, "I spoke with Grandpa about you."

He nodded, he expected as much, after all, learning about the existence of magic would make it possible to open up about a lot of things she couldn't before.

"And well…" it was obvious Fuji-nee was struggling with this matter, her constant fidgeting and inability to speak the words making it impossible to miss, "he offered me a choice."

He waited, what sort of choice would the old man offer her?

"Well… I guess it's more of an ultimatum really… but… well," she took one last deep breath before closing her eyes and spitting it out, "either I inherit the family or he will make you his successor."

What?

"I'm sorry, I must of misheard," he said, "it sounded like you said he would name me his successor if you didn't take the position."

She nodded.

There was no humour in her tone, no muscles tensing to indicate she was trying to suppress a smile…

She was serious.

"So… little Shirou-chan might become a mafia boss~" Sumire piped in, her tone whimsical.

But Shirou didn't know what to think.

"Yakuza, not mafia," Taiga corrected.

"Same thing really," the drunkard declared.

"So… what do you think, Shirou?" Fuji-nee continued.

He didn't know what to do.

Rita had already given him reason to consider a power base, but would something as simple as a Yakuza family really make any difference in the world of magi and Apostles?

"What about you?" he asked, trying to divert the question.

"If I was planning on succeeding grandpa then I wouldn't be asking you about this," she pointed out and he turned his thoughts inward again.

"Do you really want to lose your family's assets?" he asked.

"Shirou, would you really stop me from using them if I wanted to?" she asked and he silently agreed that she was right.

She was his sister in all but blood and legality, the idea of cutting her off from anything associated with himself was ludicrous.

She released a sigh.

"Look, I know this isn't something you probably want," she said, "but in your position you could use something like this and I want to teach… so it's up to you whether you want to accept it or not."

Shirou kept silent.

"Either way, Grandpa wants to give you some lessons about power, so you're going to have to spend some time with him if you want a chance to learn under a swordsmith," Fuji-nee continued and he nodded.

Of course having to rely on the old man would mean some of what he wanted could be used as blackmail to make him do small things.

"It doesn't sound like I have much choice in the matter," he relented.

"Trust me, the idea wasn't easy for me to accept either," the brunette admitted, "but the more tools you have to survive in this new world, the better."

"You know… I'm surprised you're taking this as well as you are," Sumire finally chimed in, "you seemed pretty shaken up when we left."

"Y-yeah, well I took a few lessons with Tohsaka-san," Shirou suddenly had the urge to threaten the friendly magus.

"… you're learning magecraft?" Sumire sounded almost dead inside as she said that, her disbelief of the matter obvious.

"Hell no!" Fuji-nee cut in, "I'm just learning about this stuff."

"Oh, that's much more reasonable," the drunkard replied.

"Of course it is. I'm not a magus and have no intention of ever becoming one," his surrogate sister continued, "… honestly even just learning about some of this stuff is horrible."

"Oh? Did Tohsaka go over the whole 'head in a jar' thing?" Shirou found his attention drawn to Sumire at that question before Fuji-nee nodded.

"Yeah… that was in session one," okay, now Shirou knew that he was the one who didn't know what they were talking about for a change.

Regardless, he doubted it would impact him much so he decided against asking about the matter.

"So… how did your trip go anyway?" Fuji-nee asked, obviously trying to get her mind off whatever Tohsaka had told her.

"Well, we visited Sumire's castle," the drunkard glared at him, "I mean, Onee-chan's castle… then visited Atlantis."

"What was that like?" Fujji-nee sounded very interested.

"Well… there's apparently a Kraken nearby," he decided to go for the least ludicrous parts first.

"A Kraken?" Fuji-nee's voice sounded strained, "you mean those things still exist?"

"Only severely diminished," Sumire piped in.

"Yeah, it's basically just a big squid now."

Fuji-nee nodded.

"So what else?"

"Well… Atlantis was definitely ahead of the time technologically and magically," he said.

"Oh? How far ahead are we talking about?"

"If my guess is right… about a couple of hundred years ahead of where we are now."

She nodded before freezing.

"Wait, what?!"

"Well… they have technology too advanced for me to really understand," he continued, "including nanomachines in storage."

His surrogate sister's eye twitched.

"Wait… there are nanomachines left down there?" Sumire asked and he saw Fuji-nee splutter, "huh, thought all of them were destroyed during the desolation of the place."

"You really expect me to believe that some ancient civilisation is more advanced than we are now?"

"Well, they did have help from aliens," Sumire piped in.

"Wait, I thought you said it was aliens that destroyed the place?" Shirou asked.

"Yeah, but that was a different alien."

"… just how many aliens are involved in history?" Fuji-nee groaned out.

"Well… there's the Pantheon of Atlantis, the Meso-American gods, the ORT, the big one that wiped out the gods of Atlantis and Brunestud at the bare minimum."

"Hold on just a second!" Fuji-nee cut in, her tone irate, "why the hell doesn't anyone know about all these damn aliens?!"

"Because the Church and Mages Association is really good at covering things up," Sumire piped in, "I mean, they have to be for magecraft to remain such a well-guarded secret."

Fuji-nee slumped at that.

It was definitely understandable that she would be overwhelmed.

But in the end, living with such an ancient being made that a no-brainer.

"If they're so good at covering this stuff up, then why are you so familiar with it?"

"Because I was around back then."

Fuji-nee stared in disbelief.

"Apparently Sumire's a fourteen-thousand-year-old water fairy," Shirou decided to pipe in.

"… that useless layabout is a fairy?" Taiga sounded like she couldn't believe it.

"Pretty much," she admitted.

"Wait…" it finally seemed to dawn on Fuji-nee just what he had clarified, "did you just say fourteen-thousand-year-old!"

"Yes," he responded.

Fuji-nee stared, her jaw practically hitting the floor before she shook her head.

"Then that means… you've been around since before recorded history," she said, her tone indicating she was tempted to ask about it.

"Not much to say," Sumire responded, "aliens helped build Atlantis, then that other alien attacked and broke them or something, then the world was reduced to little cities where they worshiped the broken husks of the aliens that built Atlantis."

It definitely sounded like she wasn't too happy about the state of humanity in that era, but then again, as much as she may have appeared otherwise, she wasn't exactly a fan of humanity as a whole.

"So you mean…" Fuji-nee sounded almost sad at that, "that for however many thousands of years, humanity was thrown into a dark age it's still not recovered from?"

Sumire shrugged.

"For the most part. Back before Solomon died humanity was starting to reach towards that pinnacle again," she then released a tired sigh, "but then he died and magic went with him."

Fuji-nee frowned.

"But magic is still around."

"Please, don't make me laugh," the drunkard replied before taking a deep swig of her bottle, "modern magecraft is little more than a corpse on life-support, sooner or later it'll die completely and with it, magecraft will vanish from the world."

Shirou stalled.

"Wait, what will happen if that happens while I'm still alive?" that was a worrying prospect.

Very worrying.

"You'll be fine," she dismissed his concerns without an issue, "Reality Marbles don't follow those rules at all."

That… was a strange way to put it.

"But what about the magical energy requirement to sustain myself?"

"Oh, that's… actually not something I can say for sure," she responded, a grimace marring her face, "I guess… we'll just have to deal with that when we get there right?"

"Assuming you and Rita haven't killed each other first," he stated. Silently he was hoping that that happened sooner rather than later.

"You just want me to kill her now," she responded and he nodded without hesitation.

"The only reason I didn't try to kill her myself was because you got in my way the first time," he declared without any hint of shame.

"But you didn't kill her after I left," she shot back.

"…"

He fell silent at that.

Outside of possibly the Rose Prophecy, why hadn't he murdered the woman? Was it because she was still somewhat useful for knowledge?

Or was it his spite at Kiritsugu getting in the way of doing something he really should've?

"U-uh… Shirou… why did you want to murder someone?" Fuji-nee spoke up.

"Because she cut open and bathed in the blood of innocent young women," he stated without a second thought, causing his sister to flinch.

"W-why would you leave someone like that alone?" she asked before turning on Sumire, "actually, why were you defending her in the first place?!"

"Because she's my friend?" Sumire said, her tone more questioning than explanatory.

"Why are you even friends with someone like that?!"

"Why are you friends with Shirou-chan?" Sumire asked and Fuji-nee flinched.

"He's basically a little brother to me," the brunette teacher responded, "plus he isn't a blood bathing psychopath!"

"And I'm a Fourteen-thousand-year-old Water Elemental," the vampire said, "I've seen so many humans die for all sorts of stupid reasons, someone killing them to bathe in doesn't even rank in my top one-hundred worst ways humans have died."

Fuji-nee cringed at that.

"E-even so…"

"In the end, when you're as old as most Vampires, your moral compass stops resembling a human," Sumire said with a shrug, "and since I was never human to begin with, mine was already different from the start."

Shirou considered that.

He knew that the woman considered humans insignificant, that much had been made clear.

But the point of her moral compass never being the same as a human made her friendship with Rita seem far less… strange now that he considered it.

Sumire refused to get involved in the politics of the Twenty-Seven, but Rita seemed to just do her own thing without care about politics. She never tried to get Sumire to do anything for her and seemed to enjoy a friendly chat when it was presented to her.

It was a person who put no expectations on the ancient being.

The fact that Sumire had no issues with humans dying regularly to feed the woman's ego also meant that such hobbies wouldn't get in the way of any friendship that might have been there.

However, there was one thing he hadn't considered before.

"How did you even meet Rita in the first place?" he asked.

It was all well and good that the two were apparently friends, but how had they even met?

"Oh, I knew the original Rozay-En," Sumire replied, her tone dismissive, "she proceeded to turn Rita and we met because of that."

"The original Rozay-En?" he hadn't heard anything about that.

"She was one of the older Vampires, somehow who lived long before Brunestud descended," Sumire continued, "there's a few of us really, we're sometimes referred to as the 'League of The Age of Gods', but that's not such a common title these days."

That was certainly interesting.

"So there's more than just you who's old enough to have seen Atlantis before it was destroyed?"

"Oh no," she dismissed, "I'm still the oldest outside of the ORT and Cath Palug, but there are a few of us who are over four-thousand-years-old."

Shirou nodded. Over four-thousand-years-old was still ancient.

And it was much more likely for the others to have paid attention to events throughout history given how hopeless Sumire was.

"You know… the more I hear about your group, the worse it sounds," Fuji-nee cut in, her tone strained, "anyway, I'm going to go home before my brain overloads… Shirou… think about Grandpa's offer okay?"

He nodded.

He may have considered it her position but the possibility of getting a powerbase, even if only mundane was still a major step towards gaining what he needed.

He froze as a thought occurred to him.

Perhaps the family's association with Tohsaka could help him find what he needed about Louvre.

"Wait, Fuji-nee!" he called, prompting the woman to stop and turn to face him, "I think I'll accept that offer."

Her eyes widened before her expression turned grim.

"What do you want it for?" she asked and he tilted his head, "don't play dumb, I know you well enough to know that you wouldn't be so quick if you didn't already think you could use it for something specific."

He nodded.

"Yeah, I need it for something particular," he admitted.

"Tell me what it is," Fuji-nee said as she returned to her seat.

"… have you had dinner?" he asked.

"Don't try and change the subject," she responded.

"I'm serious, have you had dinner? If not I'll prepare it and we can talk over food," he said, causing her to sag and release a long sigh.

"No, I haven't."

He nodded.

First dinner, then talk.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

Waver Velvet released a sigh.

It had been too long since the ancient king had left to train in the Land of Shadows. Why had he been so quick to agree?

Oh yeah, because he didn't want a walking reminder of the fourth war hanging around. Simply having Gray was enough.

But what good was an agreement of co-operation if one side was never in a position to be contacted?

He rubbed his head.

Reines wasn't too happy that the king that they had worked so hard to gain under their influence was nowhere to be seen.

But it wasn't as if he had a way of contacting the girl.

The closest he could think of was potentially using Gray as a vessel for sympathetic magic to transfer a message… but even that wasn't likely to work given just how far away on a cosmological level the Land of Shadows was.

Meaning he would just have to wait for the king to return and hope she arrived before anything major happened.

Looking through his paperwork he saw a letter that made him raise an eyebrow. He had never seen that particular seal before.

Checking it over for any traps he found none, though whether that was because it was trap free or because he lacked the skill to find any wasn't something he was yet aware of.

Releasing a sigh, he opened the letter and felt nothing happen.

That was a good start.

Taking out the letter, he proceeded to unfold it and start reading and felt his blood run cold.

The name of the person who sent the letter was right there, spelled out clear as day.

Gransurg Blackmore.

The Sixteenth Dead Apostle Ancestor.

The thing was known to have a working relationship with the Clock Tower but this was the first time he had ever seen the being's seal.

And the message, after the flowery prose was stripped away could be summarised as 'the Twenty-first Ancestor has taken an apprentice that apparently shows incredible promise'.

That was certainly not a good sign.

That Blackmore considered it important enough to inform all the Lords of the Clocktower of spoke volumes for exactly how much promise this new Apostle was showing.

Damn… now he actually wanted the King of Knights to return.


And that's all for now.

Shadow out.