Hello everyone.

Time for the next chapter.


Shirou returned to the Emiya residence not long after Raiga went to bed.

While he would have to return early in the morning to continue his training, the night was now his to do with as he wished.

Which meant more training, this time with his magecraft.

Opening the front door he walked through the hallway before stalling.

There was a note next to the phone, scribbled in barely legible handwriting.

But he could read it and what he saw made him both partially relieved and partially uncomfortable.

Matou Zouken knew he was capable of magecraft.

According to the note Rin had spoken to the Priest and discovered that the worms were Zouken's familiars, meaning the man knew he could use magecraft.

However, there was no reason to believe the man knew he was an Apostle.

Extending his analysis field once again, he noted a distinct lack of phallic worms. What there was however, was what appeared to be an irritated drunk in his dining room.

Entering the room he saw Sumire glance in his direction before taking another swig of Sake, her face plastered into a frown of distaste.

"Did something happen while I was away?" he asked.

"You could say that," she muttered, "had a run in with a rather unpleasant individual… was hoping their soul had rotted to oblivion by this point."

He tilted his head.

Who could she possibly be talking abou- Oh… oh that was not good.

"You mean Matou Zouken?" he asked, if Shinji's grandfather had been at the Fujimura house, then it only made sense for him to check in here first.

"Who?"

He frowned.

"Matou Zouken, old guy, came with his grandson, uses phallic worms as his familiars," he described the man and she spat.

"Oh, is that what he's calling himself these days?" she responded with venom in her voice, "I only know him by his original name, Makiri Zolgen."

Original name?

Makiri?

"You mentioned his soul rotting?" he asked.

"The guy is so close to being an Apostle, the only real things stopping him from being classified as one is a technicality and the fact his soul is rotting," she replied, her tone bitter, "the guy is one of the reasons most Apostles avoid this city like the plague."

"Apostles avoid this city?" that didn't sound right.

"Yeah, me and Nero are exceptions, not the rules," she admitted, "mainly because I thought he was dead and Nero… well, Zolgen is no threat to Nero."

Shirou nodded.

It was hard to imagine anything being a legitimate threat to Chaos.

"What are the chances he'll tell the Church about us?" he asked as he finally decided to sit down.

"Pfft, the Church would put him as a bigger threat than me," she replied without hesitation, "as far as they're concerned, I'm just an annoying drunk that sometimes gets in the way."

He nodded.

As powerful as Sumire was, she wasn't exactly a massive threat to anyone from his experience.

Still, there would have to be something more to Zouken if the Church would consider the man a greater threat than one of the twenty-seven.

"So we should be safe?" he asked.

"Yeah," she assured him, "and besides, even if we're not, I can always get us out of here!"

Well… he couldn't exactly argue with that conclusion.

"I'm going to the Dojo," he said as he rose from his seat, "I'll be leaving early tomorrow."

"Okay, have fun!"

He nodded.

Sure he wouldn't have fun, but training was probably the closest thing he got to enjoyment these days.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

Rin once again found herself walking towards school, her mind focused on the question of whether Shirou got her message or not.

The fact that Zouken almost certainly knew that he was a magus was certainly not something that could wait that long.

Soon however, she found herself blinking as Shirou's analysis field once again washed over her.

She released a small sigh.

He wouldn't be putting up his analysis field if he didn't know that Zouken already knew after all.

Soon she found herself once again meeting up with him at their junction.

"Good morning Emiya-kun," she spoke, "I take it you got my message?"

He nodded.

"Yeah, though there was a complication," he said. She raised her eyebrow and he continued, "Zouken tried to find me to make Shinji apologize… he saw Sumire."

She blinked.

"Well… there's no guarantee that he recognised her," she said. He shook his head.

"No… they've apparently met before," he stated and she grimaced, "she recognised him as 'Makiri Zolgen' and he recognised her."

She felt her throat turn dry.

Makiri.

"Shirou… the name Makiri hasn't been used for hundreds of years."

"She thought his soul would've rotted from age, but apparently not," he responded casually.

So Shinji's grandfather likely wasn't even truly his grandfather, but an even older ancestor.

Damn Kirei, not telling her about stuff like that.

She took a calming breath.

"Are any of his… familiars… nearby?" she felt sick just thinking about them, the moment she knew what it was she had burned the thing to ashes.

Yes, she admitted that it was something that she could have potentially studied and it wasn't proper of her to do so… but she didn't feel comfortable with that thing lying around her house.

"No, I think he meant it when he mentioned that he didn't want to antagonise me," he replied.

She blinked and stared at him.

"Well, I am in line to inherit a Yakuza family now, combine that with my connection to one of the Twenty-Seven and it isn't surprising he doesn't want me as an enemy," he explained and she felt herself grimace.

He laid it out so simply, but the only reason he was even still there was because she had signed a Geass contract to ease his concerns.

"Emiya-kun," she needed to confirm one thing, "I signed an agreement with Fujimura Raiga about cooperation… however it was not bound by magecraft."

"Ah, don't worry about it Rin," he said, making his voice easy, "as long as you keep your end of our contract, I will keep my end."

She frowned before looking at him.

"Does that include the Fujimura contract too?" she asked and he nodded.

She felt a weight lift off her chest.

She could never quite tell what he was thinking. The fact that he had to manually express himself meant he had the ultimate poker face.

But she trusted him to speak the truth. He hadn't intentionally lied to her since she learned the truth of his nature, only doing so when he was still hiding his nature from her.

She pushed forward with a small spring in her step, at least she could be relieved that Zouken's familiars wouldn't get her when Shirou was around.

"Well, let's get to school then."

He nodded.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

"Oh? The Water Bottle has returned?" The priest's response was not what Shinji was expecting.

"Returned?" he found his voice failing him as the man spoke the title that the woman apparently held.

"She arrived in Fuyuki a few years ago," Kotomine stated, "however she proved to be mostly benign, so I chose to leave her be."

Shinji couldn't stop himself from staring in response.

"You can't be serious!" he cried out, there had to be some sick joke being played here, "she's a Dead Apostle Ancestor! How can you dismiss its presence here?!"

"Because she is known to be the last user of Teleportation," the priest responded and he frowned, "even if I did inform the Burial Agency or Clock Tower, they wouldn't waste their time sending Executors and Enforcers to this backwater country when the target could vanish at any moment."

Shinji could almost feel his teeth cracking in response.

So even the Priest won't do anything.

"And what of Emiya?" he asked.

"What of him?" Kotomine replied, "he has a Dead Apostle Ancestor sleeping at his house, one that mind you, has left no trail of bloodshed to follow. As it stands, there is no reason to go after the boy."

Shinji clenched his fists again.

So he was risking his grandfather's wrath by sneaking out despite being 'grounded' and he wasn't even getting his information considered, much less acted upon.

"B-but…" he couldn't accept this.

Emiya Shirou was a magus that was training to take over the local Yakuza, while enjoying the protection of one of the most powerful beings in the world and the Overseer of the area clearly knew about him too.

But did she know about the Vampire?

"If that is everything, I must return to my duties," Kotomine said before turning away from him.

To think that the man didn't even consider hunting an Apostle his duty.

Turning away from the man, he stormed out. He just hoped his grandfather wasn't going to punish him for this action.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

"I assume you overheard the boy."

"Of course I did," Gilgamesh replied, the priest should have known better than to ask such an obvious question.

"Do you have any intention of dealing with the Apostle?" the priest asked.

He scoffed.

The man simply wanted him to deal with his problems so he wouldn't have to.

"If it's a vampire then you can kill it yourself," he dismissed.

It wouldn't have been an issue to slaughter it, but Kotomine was treading very thin ice attempting to get him to do his job for him.

Kotomine simply smiled.

"Its presence is interesting," the man declared and he dismissed such a notion. 'Interesting' was not a word worthy of anything in the modern world, "I wish to see how it manages to complicate things."

"Then it makes no difference to you whether I choose to destroy it or not," he stated. If this was an attempt by the man to convince him to destroy it via reverse psychology, it would not work.

"Indeed," the priest responded without delay.

He turned away from the priest, he would do as he pleased.

The next time the Vampire went hunting, he would see if it was worth his time.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

School passed by quickly for Shirou.

He would once again be going with Raiga for some training. Supposedly he was still working on getting a swordsmith apprenticeship arranged for him, but the closest one was quite a trip away, meaning he would have to consider the time he would have free out of school.

Eventually he found himself back home and preparing the meal for Fuji-nee.

"Onee-chan," he called out, causing the ancient vampire to look at him, "Gramps is arranging an apprenticeship for me, but the location is quite some distance away."

She stared at him.

"… oh… are you asking for me to give you transport there?" she asked and he nodded, prompting her to frown, "well… I suppose it depends on the time."

He nodded. It made sense that she would be concerned about something like that, unlike him, she wasn't immune to the effects of the sun.

"I will see what I can do about that," he said and she nodded.

"I'm home!" Fuji-nee's voice called out as she charged into the room and immediately took a seat, "I see Shinji wasn't at school today."

Shirou nodded.

"Yeah, I guess since his grandfather knows I'm a magus he didn't want to let him off so easily," he replied, earning a nod from her.

She was about to take a drink when she froze.

"Wait… Shinji's grandfather knows you're a magus?" she was clearly struggling to come to terms with that situation.

"One of his familiars overheard me and Tohsaka talking on the roof," he explained, "I think he's worried that I'll kill Shinji."

Fuji-nee was clearly about to ask something when she froze and a grimace adorned her face.

"Y-yeah, I guess that makes sense," she replied as she put her drink down without touching it.

"Fuji-nee, did Tohsaka do something to you?" he asked, causing the woman to laugh.

"No, she didn't do anything to me, just showed me some of the common stuff mages do to people they don't like," she responded, "… it's… not pretty."

He nodded.

As long as she wasn't being harmed then it was fine.

"Will you be up to eating anything tonight?" he asked.

"Of course! I just need a few minutes that's all," she responded without delay.

He nodded.

"Speaking of eating…" Sumire piped in and he focused on her, "I need something proper to eat soon, so I'll go hunting tonight."

He froze.

Sumire wasn't like him, she admitted that she preyed on humans… but she hadn't preyed on him, or Fuji-nee, or Tohsaka, or any of the staff next door.

Hell, his first meeting with her had involved her playing easy pickings and waiting for people to try and take advantage of her.

And Raiga had mentioned that sometimes you had to work with people who did things you didn't like.

"Okay then," he chose to accept it, "but keep your fangs to people who deserve it."

It was a very loose 'command', but hopefully she would listen.

"Sure," she responded without delay before she started to rise from her seat.

"Wait!" Fuji-nee called out.

"Look, I need to eat something," the drunkard declared, "I've been on quite the diet since I arrived here."

"I know that, but…" Fuji-nee responded as she took a few calming breaths, "but I need to get used to this sort of stuff, plus Shirou doesn't want you hurting innocents… so I want to go with you."

"… eh?" Sumire sounded confused.

He couldn't blame her, he was just as confused.

"I want to go with you," Fuji-nee said once again.

"Fuji-nee, I don't think that's the best idea," he declared.

"I know," she admitted, "but if I'm going to be dealing with the bloodsucker the rest of my life, then I shouldn't shy away from seeing her actually eat."

"… you'll just get in the way of my feeding," Sumire declared, the glare Fuji-nee sent her way would have been terrifying if both him and Sumire weren't existential horrors that stalked the night, "seriously… I can't really play up the 'defenceless drunk' angle if you're hovering over my shoulder."

Fuji-nee grit her teeth so hard that they would've cracked if they weren't so well kept.

Sumire released a defeated sigh.

"Fine… fine, you can come," the drunk relented, "but if nothing happens then I'm blaming you."

Fuji-nee nodded in acknowledgement as the ancient Apostle retook her seat.

"I guess I'll have to wait for you to finish eating first won't I?"

"Well, at least it's more time to drink," Shirou deadpanned.

"True," and with that the woman took a long swig of her drink.

This was probably going to be a long night.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

The night came by quickly for Taiga, to think she was actually shadowing a vampire as they went hunting.

Not her brightest idea but she wasn't going to back out now.

Shirou was going to be a regular at her house and as much as she didn't dislike the company there, it always reminded her of what she was sacrificing to be a teacher.

It wasn't an easy choice, that much was for certain, but it was a choice she would make time and time again if she had to.

Rider-san had been quite the inspiration when she met him. So big and jolly, and despite being a foreigner he had been so fluent in Japanese.

She wished she was as fluent in English as he had been Japanese.

Shaking her head clear, she continued to walk along the road with the Yukata wearing vampire.

"Something wrong?" the drunkard asked and she was about to dismiss the matter before stalling.

Why should she hide it from the woman?

"… when I decided that I wanted to be an English teacher, I had to make a choice," she started, "being a teacher like that would get in the way of running my grandpa's family… so I could either teach, or take over."

"And you chose to teach," Sumire continued with a nod, "are you regretting that choice?"

She shook her head.

"Nah, it was hard, but I'm happy teaching," she admitted, "it's just… since we decided to get Shirou trained up to run the family, he's going to be spending most of his time there… which means I don't have the reason to stay at his house."

Sumire's face scrunched up.

"So…?"

She released a sigh.

"Being at home reminds me of what I chose to sacrifice to be a teacher," she said, "I know I said I would make the decision again and am happy teaching… but…"

She trailed off, unsure how to properly explain the matter.

"You'd rather have both instead of having to choose," the vampire finished, "yeah, I can understand that."

She felt a weight lift off her chest.

With the vampire how she was, she wasn't sure if Sumire would understand.

"Yeah. I mean, it's great that Shirou of all people is being chosen instead of me," she continued, as much as she didn't want him to be a member of the Yakuza for his own sake, there was no one she'd want taking over more than him, "but I still don't like being reminded of what I'm giving up."

The drunkard nodded. She noted the presence of a stranger walking down the street and shut her mouth. It wouldn't do for her to say something she shouldn't where someone could hear her after all.

The next thing she knew, she was walking straight past the vampire before stopping and looking at her.

The woman looked genuinely confused as the stranger walked by before looking at her drink.

"Just how drunk am I?" she muttered.

"Very," Taiga deadpanned before shaking her head, "what's gotten into you?"

"I could've sworn I just saw Gilgamesh walk by," the ancient vampire said.

She snorted.

"Please, if Gilgamesh was still alive, then I doubt you'd have gone so long without seeing him," she said.

Sumire definitely looked unsure.

"Well come on, I thought you were planning on getting something to eat," she said, causing the woman to blink.

"Y-yeah," and with that the vampire proceeded to walk on.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

The vampire would live.

She had earned that right at least, actually recognising him when all the modern rabble couldn't even come close to doing so.

He still had things he intended to do, so he would return to the church later.

But the vampire wouldn't be destroyed yet.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

The night continued on and Sumire found herself dismissing the strange encounter.

She was certain she had seen Gilgamesh walk by. But as Taiga said, he was dead, it had even been confirmed by Strout thousands of years ago.

And Strout never lied.

But there was something niggling at her from the back of her mind, something that screamed that it was important… but she just couldn't remember it.

Well, if trying to remember failed…

Distraction was always welcome.

"So Taiga-chan," she said, "why did you decide to become a teacher anyway?"

Taiga blinked owlishly before a forlorn smile crept onto her lips.

"Years ago I met a pair of foreigners. One of them was English but the other man… I don't know where he was from but he sounded a bit like a European," she said, her smile never fading, "the English one had no idea how to speak or understand Japanese, he was completely hopeless."

Sumire nodded. That wasn't that unusual for the English.

"But the other man, well, he was perfectly fluent in Japanese and English and translated for us," the teacher said, "seeing that, talking with him… it made me appreciate the existence of the language barrier and those that can break it."

"Oh? So you want to do your bit to break down the barrier?" she said, feeling a small smile tugging at the corner of her lips, she had experienced the wonders of not knowing a language on many an occasion after all.

"Yep! If I ever meet Rider-san again, I'm definitely going to show him how much I've improved!" Taiga stated with obvious enthusiasm.

It was almost contagious.

… wait.

What?

"Hold on, did you say this person's name was 'Rider'?" she asked.

"Yeah, I know it's a strange name but…" Taiga trailed.

Sumire finally noticed why.

Her own face had taken on a rather unpleasant expression.

She shook her head to try and force it off.

"Is… is that a problem?" Taiga asked.

"Not so much a problem… but it certainly helped me remember what I'd forgotten," she admitted.

"W-what do you mean?" Taiga was definitely confused.

"Let's see… if I'm remembering correctly… swordsman, spearman, archer, rider, caster, brute and assassin," she muttered, wait, that didn't quite sound right, "no… that doesn't sound quite right…"

"What are you talking about?" Taiga was obviously confused.

"The seven classes of Servants summoned in a Grail War."

Taiga blinked.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," the younger woman declared without hesitation.

"Let's go back… I don't feel safe here anymore," she said.

She wasn't surprised at her company's eyes widening in shock.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

"The swordsmith has agreed to teaching you at night."

Shirou nodded at Raiga's statement.

"Thank you gramps," he said.

Raiga offered him an easy smile before putting his mask of indifference back up.

Which meant it was serious talk time now.

"Now then, have you considered how you will expand your powerbase in the magical world?" the old man asked.

"I don't know enough to even know where to start," he admitted, "I will probably have to get lessons with Tohsaka if I ever want to do that."

Raiga nodded.

It wasn't unreasonable for that course of action to be necessary, but it would take a chunk out of the time he would have to learn under the old man.

"Well, before that, I have something I need to show you," Raiga stated, "however, that will require a trip to Monte Carlo to do properly."

A trip to Monte Carlo?

"How long will it take to see?" he asked.

"Including travel-"

"Ignore travel, I could probably get Sumire to teleport us there," he cut in, causing the man to blink.

"Even then we will have to compensate for time zones," Raiga informed him and he nodded, "but if that is the case then it may take a few hours depending on how busy it is."

He tilted his head.

"I need to introduce you to a broker," the old Yakuza said, "he trades in practically anything and for the right price, he can provide both information and whatever resources you may be in need of."

That sounded useful.

"So when is the earliest we can meet them?" he asked.

"I will arrange a meeting with him," the old man stated, "sometimes he changes locations but it shouldn't be too problematic if he has."

Shirou nodded.

Even if teleportation wasn't on the table, last second changes to flight plans wasn't unreasonable for a Yakuza family to perform if necessary.

He froze.

Why were Sumire and Fuji-nee re-entering his analysis so soon? And why was Sumire doing the drunken equivalent of powerwalking straight along the road.

"Sorry gramps, but Fuji-nee and Sumire just re-entered my range," he declared, causing the man to raise an eyebrow, "Sumire seems… almost freaked out."

The gulp that Raiga performed was perfectly visible to him.

Even if he didn't quite understand the specifics, he at least knew that Sumire was more dangerous than he was… and he'd seen what he could become if need be.

Time passed by quickly as the pair continued their walk before Sumire pulled in to the Fujimura house instead of his home.

The doorbell rang and the instant a member of staff opened it, Sumire was charging through as Fuji-nee placated the staff that were getting ready to attack the intruder.

She barged through the door to the room he was seated in before firmly planting herself on a cushion at the table, causing Raiga to blink as Fuji-nee entered uttering apologies before sitting across from the drunkard.

Shirou waited as Sumire took several deep breaths before starting to talk.

"So… Shirou… have you heard about the 'Grail War' yet?" she asked.

"Yes, Chaos told me to come back for it in about fifty years," he acknowledged.

"Okay… well… Taiga-chan here told me a little something," she said, "… the person that inspired her to become a teacher was apparently called 'Rider'."

He nodded. He hadn't heard that story before, but he'd never asked either.

"Well… Rider just so happens to be one of the Servant classes in a Grail War," Sumire stated.

"So… what exactly is a servant anyway?" he asked.

"Okay… how to explain this…" she muttered to herself, "you know myths and legends right?"

He nodded.

"Well, they have power," she stated, "as in, those myths and legends congeal together and merge with a soul that dies to become what we call a Heroic Spirit, they exist outside of time and space and generally don't get involved in the world once they're recorded."

"So a servant has something to do with them," he concluded.

"A servant is a fragment of a heroic spirit copied and placed in a container to act as a familiar for a magus," she said, "during a Grail War, seven of them are summoned by mages to fight each other for the prize."

Shirou nodded.

"So why are you freaking out about this?" he asked.

"… because I saw Gilgamesh walk by earlier," she declared, "I thought I was drunk, he's long dead after all… but if he's a servant…"

Shirou closed his fake eyes.

Sumire was currently freaking out over this ancient hero being around in the modern day.

"And why does that matter?" he asked.

"Because guess what, if Gilgamesh decides he wants me dead, I'm dead," she declared, her tone expressing a finality that he had never heard before.

"Wait, I thought you were like, super dangerous?!" Fuji-nee declared.

"This is Gilgamesh we're talking about here," the drunkard declared, "I get that you might not know this… but he owns the Prototype of everything that has ever existed! Including weapons that never existed!"

Shirou tilted his head.

"… I'm sorry, how does that work?" he asked.

She took a deep breath before attempting to relax her body.

"His treasury is known to operate a little differently to a regular treasury," she said, her voice more precise than he'd ever heard it, "basically, his treasury is hooked up to the collective consciousness of humanity and every item they have ever thought up are recorded and produced as older, more potent designs."

That… confused him.

"Why would older versions be more potent?" he asked.

"Because as things get older, the weight of their existence increases and thus, they become more magically potent," she explained.

He rubbed his chin as a thought popped into his head.

"So, he has even older and more magically potent versions of the technology we found in Atlantis?"

The blood drained from Fuji-nee's face at that.

"No," the drunkard responded without hesitation, "that was mostly designed by alien machines, so humans don't really understand them. He still has iterations of them in his treasury, but they're younger than the stuff down there."

"So their age is tied to the age of Gilgamesh?" he asked.

"Yeah," she agreed, "regardless… there is one thing in there that I never want to see."

"A Death Star?" Taiga asked.

"A what what?" the drunk replied with several blinks.

"Never mind then," Fuji-nee responded, her posture deflating ever so slightly.

"What do you never want to see?" he asked.

"… Gilgamesh had a sword… well, to call it a sword is wrong," she continued, "it's closer to a fragment of creation than an actual sword."

That piqued his interest.

A sword like that would definitely be a test of his ability to record blades.

"So he's an ancient king with a treasury filled with objects, likely including every magical blade to ever exist?" he summarised, prompting the ancient vampire to nod before freezing.

"No… please tell me you aren't planning on antagonising him… please," she muttered, despair clear on her face.

"Of course not," he replied, "as long as he doesn't cause any trouble, I'll leave him alone."

She nodded.

"And maybe he might be willing to show me some of his swords," he admitted after.

"Do not do that," she declared and he tilted his head, "this isn't like Tohsaka, Gilgamesh has top tier clairvoyance should he choose to use it, he is from an age where magecraft was advanced enough to make Tohsaka's protections look like sticks and stones. He would be able to tell exactly what you're doing if he sees you do it."

Shirou tilted his head in the other direction this time.

"Why does that matter?" he asked.

"Because even at his most relaxed and friendly, he was still an arrogant ass, he'll probably take offense at you for trying to copy his treasures and then kill you in response," she declared.

He would have argued, but she was more experienced than him and he had seen what a set of knives prepared by someone who didn't even care about them were capable of.

So it was entirely plausible that Gilgamesh may have had weapons in his arsenal that could destroy him.

"Fine, I won't ask to see his sword collection," he agreed.

Sumire released a sigh.

"So… when can we leave?" she asked.

"We're not leaving," he declared, causing her to grimace in response.

"Please… I really don't feel safe with Gilgamesh walking around the place," she moaned piteously.

"I'm training to take over a Yakuza, I'm staying," he declared.

She took a long swig of her Sake before collapsing on the table.

"Fine… if we all die then just know it's your fault."

"I'll keep that in mind," he agreed before turning to face Raiga, "let me know when the meeting is ready… is it okay to cut the lesson a little short tonight given the situation concerning," he motioned towards the drunken vampire.

"Yes, however do not make a habit of it," Raiga agreed.

"Thank you," and with that, he proceeded to lift the drunkard off the table and make his way back to his own house.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

Arturia gasped for air as she was once again given a reprieve from martial training.

She didn't waste her breath on talking, not when she could be recovering instead.

Her newest mentor stood at ease, her posture relaxed and her breathing even. It truly was amazing to see just how skilled the woman was with a spear.

Silently she wondered if she would gain greater benefit from training with her own spear before pushing that thought aside.

Even if she wanted to use it, she had no idea where Rhongomyniad may be in the modern era. So much had changed and even if it hadn't, she was wary of overusing the lance.

There was always something in her instincts that screamed doing so was a bad idea.

"I think it is nearly time," her teacher said, her tone more sullen than normal.

She nodded as she rose from her seat and prepared to fight the woman once again.

"I speak of a different matter," Scathach declared and Arturia blinked, "I believe it may be time for you to earn your right to train with me."

She nodded.

There was no need for explanation.

She had known from the start that Scathach tested applicants before training started, what she had gotten so far was purely because her new mentor wanted to relieve some boredom.

The test was sure to be perilous, most applicants died performing it after all… applicants that she had witnessed the diminished strength of first-hand.

Taking a deep breath, she looked the Scottish Princess in the eyes, her resolution firm.

"I am ready."

"Do you have any business left in the world of the living?" the purple haired woman asked.

"Whether I do or not is irrelevant, I will take your test and I will pass it," she stated. She would pass it, no other outcome as acceptable after all.

Her master stood still for a few seconds, her eyes closed but her face betraying no emotion.

"… Good," Scathach opened her eyes, "then let us go to the proving ground."

She nodded.

Slowly she followed the ancient woman through the castle grounds, watching once again as the echoes of warriors past tried to prove their strength against the woman that they had died to train under.

She would not be joining them.

Hours must have passed as they finally reached the proving ground.

Just like the rest of the Land of Shadows, it lay dead, all life that may have once flourished there withered away and turned to dust with time.

But what stood out the most, was the waterfall that fell before her. It was high, so high that she could barely see the top.

Beneath it however, lay a vast chasm, a pitch-black pit that reeked of death and decay. The tomb of countless warriors who failed to prove their worth.

She waited for the legendary teacher to speak, she was the pupil after all.

"… this is where you will prove your worth to me King of the Britons," Scathach declared, her gaze holding nothing but steel as she presented her with a spear. This was not like the spears that surrounded her throne, there was no curse, there were no wicked barbs… yet despite that, despite being a perfectly normal spear, the stench of death lathered it so thickly that she could barely breathe, "you must throw this spear. Should it reach the top of the waterfall, then you shall be trained further. Should you fail, then the chasm shall claim another life."

She nodded.

The chasm was not small, easily a dozen men between the edge and the cliff face on the other side. And she would have to throw the spear to the top of the waterfall from there.

She moved closer to the edge and felt it.

What a horrible place. There was more than just the stench of death there, there was also a wind, a harsh, cruel wind that would throw her spear off course, a wind that would cause her to fall to her death should she fail.

Closing her eyes, she focused on the wind. It was not normal that much was certain, but after several seconds of studying, she felt bile rise in her throat. The screams of the dead, the vitriol and anger, the spite and rage, it was a wind that hated her with all its being and it would do everything it could to drag her down.

Taking a deep breath, she pulled away from the ledge, shivering at the thought of getting close to it again.

But with that wind acting against her, throwing the spear would be no simple task. She would need to throw it with enough force that the wind couldn't stop it, she needed to put everything into the throw, everything and more.

Clenching her fist around the spear she walked away from the chasm. Cu Chulainn was said to have leaped to pass this test, so she would follow that example.

Build up speed, leap high and far enough that she could throw the spear with enough force to break through the wind and then land safely…

No.

That wouldn't do.

She focused on her magical core, pushing it as hard as she could as she readied herself for the task to come.

A mana burst exploded out as she propelled herself forward, pushing her output to its limit as she forced each burst to operate at full power. And when she was one step from the ledge, she pushed with all her might as she leapt.

She felt the wind trying to drag her under as she pushed her arm to throw as hard as possible, forgoing her aim and letting instinct take over.

The spear tore from her hands as the wind lashed against her, breaking skin and denting armour as she struck the cliff on the other side and with another mana burst, she pushed off and leapt back. She grit her teeth as the wind continued to lash before all of a sudden, the wind vanished and she hit solid ground once more.

She gasped for air as she felt her dragon core relaxing at the much-needed respite.

Looking up, she saw the purple haired Pict staring down at her.

"It would seem I was correct," the woman claimed and she felt a small smile creep onto her lips, "it was indeed time."

Pushing onto her back, she looked up.

There, standing almost vertically at the top of the waterfall was the spear.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

"Did you enjoy your walk?" Kotomine asked as the Golden King returned.

"It was entirely uneventful," Gilgamesh responded as he walked by, not even giving a cursory glance at him.

"I see," he responded.

It was always a fine line when dealing with Gilgamesh, one wrong step and the man could easily decide to dispose of you.

He supposed he was lucky that he allowed the children in the basement, being replaced would be inconvenient in that regard.

However, his mind was elsewhere.

There was definitely something around the Emiya Residence. It didn't resemble a bounded field, the handful of years he had training under Tokiomi let him identify that much.

But exactly what it was was beyond his ability to figure out. And without risking entering the area, he couldn't gather more information on it.

His familiar had almost passed the point before he had noticed its presence in the first place.

Which meant that unless he wanted to risk triggering whatever it was that set up the field, he would have to avoid entering. Which also translated to being unable to keep an eye on the Apostle that was currently bunking with Emiya.

Oh well, as irritating as it was, it likely didn't make much difference.

Gilgamesh likely had something that would let him keep an eye on that area, but the king appeared to be in a somewhat capricious mood at the moment so he would avoid inciting his ire.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

"So this is Monte Carlo," Shirou muttered to himself as he analysed the area. He had been to a few locations but the architecture here was… different.

More specifically the way everything was so vertical due to the land.

"Well," Raiga said as he stood next to him, Sumire's hand still on his shoulder, "that was… unpleasant."

Oh yeah, according to Sumire, teleportation wasn't a pleasant experience.

"You okay gramps?" he asked, prompting the old man to take a deep breath.

"Yes, I just needed to settle my stomach," the old Yakuza said, "now, where should we meet after the meeting is over?"

"I'll find Su-Onee-chan when we're done with our business," he cut in, "she can just go bar hopping."

"Yep, definitely a fan of that idea," Sumire agreed without a moment's hesitation, "see you when I'm even more sloshed than normal!"

She had already started to leave when she said that.

"Well… I think it's time to head down to the docks," Raiga said.

Shirou nodded.

Slowly they made their way into a more public are and then started a long walk to the docks. Eventually the docks came into view and he studied the boats, trying to find out which one Raiga's broker was located in.

Then his mind froze.

He almost stopped walking right then and there but managed to force himself to continue onwards.

What the hell was that?

It was a luxury cruise ship on the outside, that much he was certain of, but inside… he had no idea.

He couldn't analyse inside that ship.

Whatever was located there, he was sure it was dangerous.

Nearly an hour went by before they reached the docks. They carried on and Shirou continued to try and analyse the boat he couldn't read.

At least, until Raiga made a turn towards it.

"This is it," the old man said and he focused on him.

Raiga's so-called 'broker' had a ship he couldn't read. That… raised so many questions in his head. But right now, he had a meeting he needed to attend.

Upon reaching the boarding stairs, a pair of guards stopped them and Shirou focused on their attire. That was not standard bodyguard attire. Sure it looked like regular bodyguard attire, a smart business suit, headset and sunglasses… but the sunglasses were enchanted to prevent hypnosis and the suits were lined with magecraft to increase their durability and even the strength of the men wearing them.

The headsets were normal however.

"I have a meeting with the owner," Raiga declared as he flashed the VIP ticket he had been sure to bring with him.

"Of course Fujimura-san, the owner has been expecting you," one of the guards said in perfect Japanese before moving aside.

Shirou followed as Raiga walked straight into the boat, clearly oblivious to the danger that it presented.

The moment he entered the vessel, everything went blank.

Focusing on his imitations of regular senses, he managed to see and hear everything within the room they had entered, a lavishly decorated hallway.

He hated this. He was just as limited as everyone else when it came to what he could see and hear, it felt so wrong after spending so much time analysing the area surrounding him.

After walking through the door at the end of the hallway, he found himself faced with a grand hall, the decoration was top of the line, beautifully crafted chandeliers lit the room near universally, the bar was manned by master bartenders and men and women mingled around tables that didn't look quite right.

Giving one a proper look he finally understood exactly what this room was.

A Casino.

Raiga was completely unfazed by the interior as he walked through the crowds without a single wasted movement, Shirou doing his best just to not accidentally knock into anyone.

"Ah, Fujimura-san," an unfamiliar voice called out and Shirou looked at the man.

He was short, probably shorter than Fuji-nee, yet his features looked… unfamiliar, almost looking middle eastern but there was something off about them.

"I see you have brought company," the strange man said and Shirou suddenly felt uncomfortable before the man's gaze, "I assume this is the heir you mentioned."

"Indeed he is," Raiga acknowledged before turning to Shirou, "Shirou, allow me to introduce you to the most powerful broker in the world, Valery Fernand Vandelstam-dono, Vandelstam-dono this is my new heir, Emiya Shirou."

Shirou's mind stalled.

Valery Fernand Vandelstam. It was a name he had heard before, however it was typically shortened.

To Van-Fem.

"Oh? Emiya you say? And with the name of Shirou too… how fortuitous," the man said and Shirou readied himself for battle.

Or tried too.

His body refused to enter a fighting state.

"Shirou-kun? Is there something wrong?" Raiga asked.

"Oh, do not worry about that Fujimura-san," Van Fem said, his tone perfectly jovial, "I believe he has likely already heard about me from a mutual acquaintance."

"What?" Raiga sounded confused.

It was time for Shirou to enlighten him.

"Van-Fem… the fourteenth Dead Apostle Ancestor," he stated through gritted teeth.

Raiga's eyes widened in obvious shock.

"Indeed," the dark lord of the business world responded, "given your openness about that terminology, is it safe for me to assume that Fujimura-san is now aware of the mystical side of the world?"

He nodded.

"Wonderful," the ancient existence expressed obvious pleasure at that, "I cannot reveal that secret myself, after all, the Clock Tower and I are on shaky ground with each other, but it does open up so many business opportunities."

Shirou was more concerned about one thing though.

"What are you doing to me?"

"Oh? I am not doing anything to you," Van-Fem responded easily, "however, all whom enter my domains are impacted by my bounded fields. Only secrets that have been purchased may leave this ship, no lies may be told and no acts of aggression may be performed."

No secrets may leave this ship.

So the bounded fields were preventing him from learning anything he didn't already know.

It also meant that they could openly talk about magecraft related matters without anyone who isn't already in the know learning about it.

How shrewd.

"Now, forgive me if I am wrong, but am I correct to assume that you are the Water Bottle's apprentice?" the man asked.

"Yes," he admitted, there was no point in hiding it. He had things he wished to know so trying to keep his own secrets while buying others was likely not something the owner of the ship would appreciate.

"Now, if you don't mind me asking, but I was under the impression that the Emiya name was dead," the vampire asked and Shirou stalled.

The Emiya name.

"Why do you say that?" he wanted to know more.

"Well, I suppose that I can record this transaction as a family matter, however normally I charge for such things," the businessman said, his tone making it clear that this wasn't to be expected of him, "but from what I was aware, Emiya Kiritsugu was dead."

Shirou nodded.

"Yes, he died a few years ago," he acknowledged.

Van-Fem nodded.

"Yes, Fujimura-san here came to me about selling all of his old equipment after his passing," the vampire revealed.

"Wait? You sold Kiritsugu's old gear?" he asked.

"Before he died, Kiritsugu asked me to sell it for him, the majority of the inheritance you received came from that," Raiga stated.

That… made no difference.

The man had still betrayed his trust, had caused the fire in the first place… that was the least he could do.

"Yes… that's the part that confuses me," Van-Fem admitted, "from my understanding, Emiya Kiritsugu only had one child."

Shirou froze.

"What?"

"From what I managed to dig up, he spent nearly a decade at the Einzbern estate and had a child with one of their homunculi," the vampire stated while rubbing his chin, "and you are most certainly not a white haired, red eyed girl."

Shirou didn't understand.

What was going on?

Wait, no.

He did understand.

The months at a time that Kiritsugu spent away from him.

The way he didn't want to teach him magecraft.

The man already had an heir, already had a daughter that he had kept secret. The man had been leading a double life and screwing him over to do so.

His fists clenched.

"Shirou," Raiga spoke up, prompting Shirou to look at him, "are you all right?"

He nodded.

"Yes," he lied, "this is just one more betrayal."

"Oh? Now, would you kindly tell me exactly what your relationship with Emiya Kiritsugu is?" Van-Fem asked.

"Emiya Kiritsugu caused a rather devastating fire in my hometown-"

"Fuyuki City," Van-Fem piped in and Shirou stared, "come now, you are here with Fujimura Raiga, there is no other place you could be from given that connection."

He internally cringed.

If this man knew that then that would make his location much more dangerous.

"Well, after causing that fire, I was left orphaned, he found me in the rubble and adopted me," he acknowledged.

"I see, so you're adopted," the man responded, "well, I assume you won't mind me searching the adoption records then."

"It's public information so do with that as you will," he replied.

"So, Emiya Kiritsugu adopted you and then not long after his death you fell in with Sumire," the ancient being frowned, "however, what exactly did Emiya Kiritsugu teach you for you to end up how you currently are?"

"How to nearly cripple myself," he stated bluntly, earning a raised eyebrow in response, "he taught me to use my nerves as makeshift magic circuits."

"And you persevered through that pain… I must say, if that is the case then you are certainly a stubborn fool," the oldest being on the boat said with a wry grin, "I assume from that, that it was the drunkard's tutelage that caused you to reach the point you're currently at?"

"Kind of," he admitted, "she simply opened my magic circuits and taught me about reality marbles."

The expression on Van-Fem's face lost its joviality at that.

"My apologies, I have had some… less than pleasant experiences involving those whom use Reality Marbles," Van-Fem's statement caught him off guard.

The man would openly admit that he had an issue with Reality Marbles?

What was his end goal with revealing that?

"Now, can you remember exactly what she told you about reality marbles?"

"She said a reality marble is the user," he stated, "that the user and marble are tied together and are effectively the same thing."

"So exactly how did that lead to your current state?" the apostle asked.

"Well, if my reality marble is me, then shouldn't this state be natural?" he asked.

Van-Fem's face tugged into a small smile.

"Very well then," the man pulled out a mobile phone before pressing the screen for nearly a full minute before putting it away, "and that is that transaction completed."

Shirou froze.

"What transaction?" he asked.

"Well you see… what you have achieved is extremely rare, with only one other in history doing what you have," the ancient businessman declared.

"Nero Chaos," he supplied.

"Indeed," Van-Fem acknowledged, "but he was very tight-lipped about the exact process so outside of himself, only one other knows what he did to achieve his feat of magecraft."

There was another who knew how Chaos did what he did? But then… why didn't they imitate it themselves?

"However, what you have just informed me is interesting, the fact that such a faulty explanation could result in such marvellous results makes it quite the hefty secret," the apostle stated, "and a hefty secret carries with it a hefty price."

"How much?" Raiga asked.

"Since Emiya-san is going to inherit your organisation, I have transferred two and a half billion yen to your account in exchange for that secret," Van-Fem stated.

Two and a half billion yen?!

Was that really worth so much?

He pushed that thought out of his mind. From what he was aware his current physical condition was not normal, meaning that any way to imitate it would be valued.

There was one issue however.

"And why did you pay for that information?" he asked.

"I told you, didn't I? Only secrets that have been purchased can be taken from here," Van-Fem stated, "I must purchase the information in order to sell it on."

Shirou was not expecting that.

"You mean you're not exempt from the rules of your bounded fields?" he asked, he would've thought that the ancient being wouldn't have been under the same rules.

"How can a person trust another who does not operate by the same rules?" the apostle asked, "it is a show of intent on my part. I am a legitimate businessman and I want everyone to be able to trust me."

Shirou nodded before a thought came to mind.

"Is the location of Louvre's castle for sale?" It was a long shot but it wouldn't hurt to ask.

"I have Louvre's location on record, however, it is not a purchased secret and as such, I cannot reveal it," the ancient vampire admitted, "it would also be bad for business, Louvre is quite the valuable customer after all."

Of course. A collector of mystic codes would naturally be drawn to a broker.

"I see," he admitted before a thought came to mind, "if anyone wished to discover my location, would you be able to provide it to them?"

"Only should you declare it to not be a secret."

"It is a secret," he declared just to make sure it was confirmed as such.

"Indeed," the apostle nodded without a hint of irritation, "now then, I shall update my records concerning the status of the Fujimura family, are there any other matters you wish to take care of?"

Shirou considered it.

"Yes, is there any way to arrange to meet Altrouge Brunestud?" he asked, earning a raised eyebrow from the ancient vampire.

"Indeed, I could arrange one for whenever you desire," the businessman declared, "however, it must be noted that doing so will harm your standing with the Lord of White Wing."

He nodded.

"I am not intending on joining the politics of the factions, I just want to meet the person that stands between humanity and extinction," he explained.

"Ah… you're more concerned about Primate Murder," the broker said, "that detail may assuage Ortenrosse's ire at her meeting you before him."

Well, that was better than what Sumire had said.

"So, when would you like to meet her?"

"When would be an acceptable time?" he asked.

"Oh, the Black Princess has a rather empty schedule all things considered," Van-Fem stated, "however, I doubt she will take more than four hours to get here."

That… was too short.

"Why would she be here so quickly?"

"Because she is actively searching for you," the apostle stated without hesitation, "she is currently focusing all of her attention to trying to find you before Ortenrosse, should I inform her you will be here, she will head straight here as quickly as possible."

He didn't like that she was searching for him, but if it meant he could meet her sooner then he would ignore it.

"In that case, could you arrange a meeting for as soon as physically possible?" he asked.

"Of course," the ancient vampire said, "however, I will require a small finders fee."

Of course the man would want something like that.

"How much?"

"Not much, just one-hundred thousand yen," the man stated and Shirou stared.

Just one-hundred thousand yen?

He pushed that thought aside, the man before him had casually transferred over a billion yen like it was nothing.

"Gramps, you don't mind paying that for me do you?" he asked.

"Of course not," the old Yakuza replied without hesitation.

"Then it's settled," the old businessman replied with a carefree smile, "I shall inform the Black Princess of your presence here immediately."


And that's all for now.

Shadow out.