And I'm back.

Now, I generally choose to avoid doing review responses in chapters these days.

But there was one in particular that I feel I should respond to.

TITAN URANUS:

This whole "Its Kiritsugu's fault" thing is getting really stupid and tiring, especially knowing its based on assumptions and incomplete information.

It makes Shirou look like mentally challenged child who needs to find someone to blame for everything wrong in his life while also being manipulated by everyone who wants something from him.
Especially the meeting with Rita, he saw her as a monster and wanted to kill her but the second she said Kiritsugu attacked her Shirou instantly thought that the immortal monster who bather is you girls blood is a VICTIM of Kiritsugu.
Not only that but now he suddenly wants Illya to pay for what Kiritsugu did? Even if he doesn't know the full context its still pathetic to expect someone who was a child themselves at the time to pay for her father's mistakes.
Is Shirou ever gonna pull his head out of his ass and grow a brain of his own or is he gonna let other spoon feed him what he needs to know and think?

The reason I feel this is necessary to respond to can be summarised simply.

Shirou is a "mentally challenged child" as you put it.

If you don't like that, then that's fair. But acting like he shouldn't be despite:

Discovering that the man he idolised had been lying to him in a way that could've caused lasting damage to him.

Having no real role model since he was twelve.

Having nothing prompting him to mature.

Having an ancient vampire enter his life and cause him to discard his humanity.

And on top of all that, he's not exactly the most experienced person around, given he's only about sixteen years old.

So again, if you don't like that, then that's fair, not every type of main character appeals to all people. But you seem to be ignoring everything that says that the whole reason Shirou is such an abnormality in his magecraft, is the fact that he's fucked up in the head.

Anyway...

That has gone on long enough already.

On with the chapter.


Shirou sat alone in his dojo, his mind focused on one thing.

How could he narrow down where Louvre hid in Norway?

At the very least he now had a country to go off, but it was still a whole country and as much as he would love to do so, he couldn't exactly check every centimetre of the place.

Beyond that, there was the matter of how he would even know if he missed the castle, from what he was aware Louvre's castle had defences almost on the level of the defences of an Ancestor's castle.

And Sumire's castle didn't count. Hers was protected by the depth of the ocean and the proximity to Atlantis rather than the typical defences of an Apostle's castle.

The fact that Sumire didn't even really live there most of the time also contributed to her lackadaisical attempts at protecting it.

The result was the simple fact that Shirou may very well fail to notice the castle when looking straight at it.

So once again, he was presented with a simple question. How could he draw the apostle out?

Attempting to use Van-Fem wouldn't work, he couldn't lie inside Van-Fem's casino and on top of that, the ancient businessman had called Louvre a 'valuable client', so he wouldn't be willing to sell him out.

Which meant he would have to go through other channels.

Rita wouldn't be trusted, not with how Louvre knew he was Sumire's apprentice. Altrouge similarly wouldn't work because he claimed loyalty to Ortenrosse, meaning any attempt by Altrouge would be seen as an attempt at weakening Trhvmn's powerbase.

So he would have to figure out some method of getting to Louvre outside of those channels.

This was bad.

He had to find Louvre, witness a 'Grail War', meet his adopted sister and more. And he was on a time limit too.

He didn't know how long it would be before he lost his sense of being and became nothing more than a sword, or even if it was possible to stop.

That knowledge of just what was happening to him was probably the scariest part.

The clock ticked over to 5AM and he pushed those thoughts out of his mind, he would have more time to worry about it later, for now, it was time to go to the kitchen and prepare Fuji-nee's breakfast.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

Rin stretched as she started on her walk to school.

Yesterday had certainly been quite the shock. To discover that Shirou now had a connection to both Van-Fem and the Black Princess.

And he was fine with the Brunestud.

It was quite the predicament she found herself in with that one. She recognised that Emiya was a good person, he had bargained for her life after all, but beyond that he had also displayed a clear distaste of Rita Rozay-En. That was perfectly reasonable.

But Altrouge Brunestud? Apparently he was fine with her. What was it that made her more tolerable than someone like Rozay-En?

She knew Shirou wasn't attracted to girls the same way most boys were, so it wasn't beauty that made the difference. The fact that Rozay-En was considered one of the most physically attractive Apostles also showed that it wasn't appearance that mattered.

Which meant that there was something about Altrouge's personality that Shirou found to be likable.

Or more specifically, she displayed no traits that made him dislike her.

She silently considered the 9th Ancestors ownership of the 1st. Why didn't she send the Beast of Gaia after humanity? Round them up and convert them to chattel?

It was known that the 1st existed on a whole other level to the rest of the Apostles, with the possible exception of the ORT, Crimson Moon or Zelretch.

Which did raise the question of why they weren't all dead anyway?

Was there something that stopped her from doing so? Possible retaliation from Alaya? Or was there something else?

She shook her head as she felt Shirou's analysis field wash over her once again.

There was no point in trying to figure it out now. She would just have to accept that there was something that stopped the Black Princess from acting and hope that nothing happened later.

Soon enough she found herself meeting up with Shirou at their usual junction. He looked the same as always.

Pale, dry skin that wasn't quite cracking, auburn hair that was slowly losing colour and the typical school uniform covering the rest of his body.

She silently found herself wondering how long he would remain in school. He never looked healthy, it was probably why Shinji had assumed he could try to bully him, completely sure of his own physical superiority due to ignorance.

Hopefully Shinji wasn't back at school yet, the peace from his absence was pleasant.

"Hello Shirou," she called out.

"Morning Rin," he responded easily as they fell into step with each other.

"So, how is your training going?" she asked, "will you be leaving school soon?"

Shirou faced away from her, an action she knew was fully intentional but it conveyed a certain response.

"Hopefully not until I've finished," his response was honestly surprising.

"I would have thought you wouldn't care about leaving, what with your health and future career prospects."

"It's my health that makes me want to stay," he declared and she frowned, "… when I met Altrouge, she informed me that I have done something more dangerous than I realised."

Oh…

Shit.

"How bad is it?"

"I've awoken my Origin," he declared and she frowned.

Thinking back on all of her research she tried to pull up everything there was about Origins.

There wasn't much, just that it was a recurring theme within a person's life, the building block of who they were.

And if that all who awoke their Origin went mad and became beasts unable to control themselves.

"Shit," she cursed, this was a major issue, one that she couldn't recall ever seeing a way to reverse, "so you're…"

"Becoming more and more like a sword over time," he declared firmly, "from my understanding, it's this, more than replacing my original body that is causing my dulled emotions."

She grimaced.

If that was true then… then perhaps the only kindness would be to destroy him.

Destroy him…

She glanced at him, he was the same Shirou who had saved her life. She couldn't bring herself to pull the trigger and put him down.

Perhaps if he lost himself completely she might be able to, but not before then.

And just because she didn't know of a way to save him didn't mean there wasn't a method.

She would just have to find it.

"By the way Tohsaka, I need your help with something," he said again.

Raising an eyebrow she looked at him.

"I need a way to narrow down a location," he declared.

She was about to ask for more when her mind brought up something that was likely relevant.

"… this is about Louvre isn't it?"

He nodded.

She sighed in defeat.

"Is there anyone who can hear?" she asked and he shook his head, "in that case Shirou, if I knew how to narrow down the location of a near Ancestor level Dead Apostle, do you seriously think I would still be here and not down in London helping them track them down?"

He shook his head.

"I didn't think it was likely, but since I'm technically an Apostle I was thinking that I might have an advantage that regular magi don't."

She nodded.

It did make some sense, she had heard that the castles of Apostles tended to be less effective at stopping other Apostles from entering, but even so, she had no idea how to help him figure out where Louvre may have been.

"Hell, I don't even know where I'd start if I was trying to narrow it down," she declared.

"Norway."

She froze.

He already had a country?

She frowned as she started trying to remember everything she knew about Louvre.

The vampire was of an ancient lineage, what with how he was apparently turned by a True Ancestor. He'd also been hunted by the Church and destroyed near a lake in Norway, his miraculous survival was why he had been given the title 'Apostle of the Lake'.

"… if you want to find him, I would recommend searching near lakes," she stated cautiously, "I can't confirm he'll be near one, but he was supposedly destroyed at one, so he might have a connection."

Shirou nodded.

"Thank you Rin," he responded easily, "Norwegian lakes… Do you have any idea how I might pick up on any Bounded Fields that protect the area?"

She rubbed her chin.

Shirou wasn't asking about a typical Bounded Field, those were easy enough to discover if you knew how to look. He was talking about the types of Bounded Field that protect an Apostles lair, the type made by mages wielding magecraft near the level of the Age of Gods, areas so well fortified that they effectively don't exist.

But there was one thing that all Bounded Fields had in common.

"Focus on the air," she said, "if there's any point where air seems to be abruptly stopping or starting, then there's probably a Bounded Field there."

He nodded.

"Thank you Tohsaka," he replied.

She puffed her chest out.

"Would you expect any less from me?" she asked.

"Given my main exposure to you was Nero almost eating you…" he trailed off and she felt her cheeks heat up.

"S-shut up! That was one time," she shot back.

"Yeah, but it wasn't exactly the best first impression," he replied.

She turned away from him.

Trust him to bring that up.

The rest of the walk happened in silence.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

Shirou found himself unsurprised when he suddenly found himself at the bottom of a lake.

Asking Sumire for teleportation to a lake in Norway was liable to get a normal person crushed by the water pressure.

Thankfully however, he wasn't crushed so easily.

Otherwise he would have probably asked her after the first lake, let alone the seventh they were currently on.

"I'm going to go and check on the surface," he declared.

He could detect the area at the top of the lake so that wasn't such a problem. The problem was that he didn't know where exactly an Apostles castle would be. It could rest on the surface of the lake, or it could be kilometres in any direction surrounding it.

And that was assuming Louvre was near a lake in the first place.

This could easily be a wild goose chase.

Slowly he pushed his way through the depths, moving along the lakebed as he made his way to the surface to get a better analysis of the area around it.

Eventually he came to the bank and got into the air once again.

He would have to be somewhat systematic about his searching, first he would circle the lake at its edge, analysing what he could from there.

Once he was done searching so close, he would move until the bank was just within his range and repeat the process.

He would repeat that for up to eight hours, then he would have to return.

So he started to walk.

The going was slow, he didn't want to risk missing anything so he was walking, admittedly it was a fast walk, but it was still just a walk.

Hours passed by, his mind continuing to fail to pick up any sign of a bounded field when suddenly he caught something.

It was just a little further out, an area where the world stopped and he failed to analyse anything beyond it.

He marched towards the area, his mind focusing on the possibility that he had actually found Louvre's lair. But he didn't know that for certain.

He could have easily just discovered a random magus's home, or worse… the camp of mages or Executors who were searching for the same thing he was.

By the time he reached the area, he knew it was a bounded field without any hint of uncertainty. He still couldn't analyse or see beyond the wall of separated space.

Looking at his hand, he focused on the way his skin was pale, cracked and dead looking.

But most importantly, he had a face right now.

A face that could be recognised or searched for.

If this wasn't Louvre's castle, then he didn't want his face being known.

Without a second thought, he let his skin go.

Soon there was none. He was now once again a mass of blades.

A humanoid mass of blades that were now being magically reinforced to strengthen their resilience and increase his attack power should it be necessary.

Coming out from the forest that surrounded the bounded field, he launched himself straight at it, pushing through the barrier's attempt at repelling him and landing firmly on the other side.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

This was boring.

It was paying well but it was boring.

"So how much longer until we've confirmed that it isn't here?" one of the other freelancers asked, his tone clearly annoyed at their current job.

"It'll probably be a couple more nights," the actual Enforcer declared, "this is the Castle of an Apostle that's supposed to succeed an Ancestor we're looking for."

She nodded.

It was boring but sometimes that's just how the job went.

She hadn't detected anything out of the normal with her runes but that didn't mean there was nothing there. Rushing this wouldn't help anyone.

Setting up a bounded field to keep Ghouls out of their camp was also necessary, they didn't want to be caught unprepared by hordes of the undead after all.

At least if a Vampire showed up, there would just be one and whoever was on lookout at the time would be able to call for help before the camp was overrun.

"Well, I guess at least we're getting paid," the other freelancer muttered.

She was about to open her mouth when every alarm set up went off.

Jerking her head to the location of the breach her breath hitched.

It was a golem.

But Louvre didn't use golems.

"Everyone prepare for battle!" the Enforcer in charge of the expedition declared.

Immediately the golem turned to leave before a gust of wind erupted from the Enforcer and struck it.

The result was the golem being knocked off its feet and crashing into the bounded field that held firm against the impact.

She narrowed her eyes.

This wasn't right. Why would a golem turn to run?

She kicked off and charged the automaton, her fist cocked ready to strike with enough force to shatter concrete.

The golem twisted in mid-air, it's form shifting into a new shape.

But it was too little, too late.

Her fist collided with it and she heard metal shatter.

She jerked her hand out of the golem and put several feet between her and the thing that had invaded their camp before looking at her hand and grimacing.

"Fraga! What're you doing?" she moved her eyes to look at the thing before her.

She could hear her blood hitting the ground.

"Whatever that thing is, it's sharp!" she declared, "don't touch it directly!"

There was no reply, instead a spell flew at the mass and blew a chunk out of it.

Soon the space that had been emptied of mass was filled once again.

"Oh you've got to be joking," the other freelancer muttered, "do you think this is one of Van-Fem's?"

She shook her head.

"No, Van-Fem's golems are the size of castles," she declared.

The mass started to make sounds and she frowned.

"So it makes noises now?" the Enforcer declared before launching another attack at it.

"No… it's speaking," she declared, "I think it's Japanese."

"So a Japanese golem… great," the other freelancer muttered.

Taking a deep breath, she focused on healing her hand. At least whatever it was didn't seem too interested in attacking.

It turned away once again.

"Don't let it escape!" the enforcer shouted as he proceeded to blast at it yet again.

She did not like this.

Whatever it was, it was clear now that it held no interest in attacking them.

Perhaps it was there for the same reason they were? Perhaps it was seeking Louvre too.

Attack after attack struck the golem, parts of it chipping off and regrowing near constantly and she felt herself growing more and more uneasy.

"Dammit, why won't this thing break already?" the enforcer asked, his frustration evident in his tone, "freelancers, don't just stand there! Do something already!"

She released a sigh as she prepared a rune to attack the golem, the other freelancer also preparing his own spell to end this pitiful being.

All three of them stuck the golem simultaneously. She immediately readied another spell as the dust cleared and she saw it standing, half its torso blown away and missing an arm.

"Fine… if that's how it has to be, so be it."

She launched her spell but it was too late.

The golem was no longer there, it's body morphing, filling out, twisting and growing.

Now their spells were doing less visible damage, the golem being shunted back by the force of their attacks a bit less than before, though the impacts were still leaving their mark.

It was growing in mass, somehow it was getting heavier, denser and it was getting closer!

The being lashed out, it's arms no longer humanoid, but massive jagged claws, the hand the size of her torso and the claws the size of her limbs.

It's legs were now no longer humanoid, but almost spider-like as it grew an extra set, all four points digging into the ground.

And it was now sporting a series of tails, each barbed with falchion-like tips that sliced through the air.

She barely dodged one such tip.

The enforcer however, lost an arm and was knocked back into a tent.

The other freelancer turned and ran.

The beast did not follow.

Instead one of its blade like appendages lashed out, piercing the Enforcer's severed limb and pulling it towards the golem's head.

A head that soon parted into a grotesque jaw and proceeded to eat the arm whole.

Dammit… this was bad.

The golem turned its head to face her.

She stared and prepared her secret weapon, before her eyes glanced at the other Magus that was currently bleeding out for just an instant.

When she returned her gaze to the being, it was moving for the edge of the camp once again.

She allowed a sigh of relief before rushing towards the fallen and cauterising his wound before linking her perception with a familiar and sending it after the golem.

If she could discover who it belonged to, she could figure out exactly why it acted in the manner it did.

For now however, none of them had died and the golem was gone.

Seeing the Enforcer as stable as she could make him, she turned her attention to her familiar as it followed the golem from a safe distance.

The golem travelled with ease before reaching the edge of the lake.

Her breath hitched at the presence that emerged from the lake.

Fae in nature but with the appearance of a young woman, carrying a bottle of alcohol and reeking of death.

There was only one thing that she could be.

The Twenty-First Dead Apostle Ancestor.

"What are you doing up here, I thought you were going to wait on the lakebed?" the golem asked in what was definitely Japanese.

"Well, when your presence suddenly vanished, I thought you may have actually found Louvre like you wanted," the ancient apostle replied without hesitation.

"It wasn't him, it was a group of magi… and one of them is currently spying on us with their familiar, so I think we should go now," she felt her heart skip a beat at that.

Whatever it was knew she was watching?

"Fine fine…" Sumire replied before touching the golem and warping the pair of them away.

This… this was certainly not good.

The Water Bottle was well known to refuse to involve itself in any Apostle politics, so why was it here? And she still didn't have any idea of who was behind the Golem.

Still, this campsite was compromised and they had the presence of a complication to report.

Now if she could just find the other Freelancer she could get help to move the Enforcer to safety.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

Shirou didn't like this one bit.

He had just had a confrontation with magi and despite his attempts to do so, they had prevented him from breaking through their barrier and leaving them unharmed.

The only good thing he got out of it was an immense amount of magical power from that lead magus's arm. It almost reminded him of Tohsaka's arm if he was being honest.

"So… you got into a fight with some magi?" Sumire asked and he nodded.

"Yeah, it certainly didn't go how I wanted," he acknowledged before seating himself on the dojo floor and preparing himself for the somewhat challenging matter of turning his outer layer back to skin.

"Well, you got out of it," she responded dismissively, "that's all that really matters."

He kept his silence as he focused solely on his outer layer.

"… so… when are you going to return to normal?" the water elemental asked.

He ignored her and continued to focus on his outer layer.

It refused to budge.

He kept trying, focusing all of his effort into recreating his skin only to find it refusing to cooperate.

After an hour he was broken out of his focus by the drunkard piping in.

"I'm going to guess that you can't restore your skin now."

He hesitantly nodded.

He had known this would happen eventually, he had struggled to keep restoring his internal structures to flesh and bone before he finally lost it, it was likely pure luck that this hadn't happened before.

He would need to find a viable replacement soon, otherwise he would be left unable to interact with the regular world.

"I guess I should try and figure out a way to imitate a human now," he stated, he just hoped he could do something more convincing than his previous attempts.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

Taiga entered the Emiya residence just as she always did, her entrance loud and demanding food.

The moment she entered the kitchen however, she found a sight that made her internally flinch.

Shirou was standing in the kitchen, his skin nowhere to be seen.

"Good morning Fuji-nee," he spoke up, "I… need you to do something for me."

She nodded slowly, no longer certain of how the day would play out.

"I need you to inform the school that I'm sick… and tell Gramps that I can't leave the house right now," he stated and she stared.

"Shirou… what's going on?" she asked cautiously.

"I've lost my skin," he declared bluntly.

Oh shit.

"So… let me get this straight," she stated as she proceeded to look at the food that was now in the process of being laid out on the table in front of her, "you need me to get you time off for illness… because you can't find your skin?"

"Pretty much," he admitted without hesitation.

She palmed her forehead in tired resignation.

"Okay, fine, I'll do it," she agreed, "however, I have to ask you something."

"Go ahead."

"Do you think you can find it again?" she needed to know.

"No, I don't think I can get my skin back," he stated and she looked away from him, "I think it may be possible to imitate skin and hair, but I'm not quite there yet."

"And how do you plan on imitating skin?"

"Bronze blades," he replied simply, "by creating a lattice of tiny bronze blades I may be capable of imitating a harsh tan as long as no one looks too closely."

She nodded.

"And what about hair?'

"That's… I think I might be able to use Ivory to imitate white hair," he explained.

"Well… I hope you get to work practising that instead of gallivanting around Norway," she said, her tone hard.

"Louvre should be able to wait, this can't," he responded, "I don't think the Clock Tower has found him just yet."

She nodded.

"I will also be informing Tohsaka of your current state," she declared.

"I thought as much," Shirou replied easily.

"Well then… it's breakfast time," she stated before starting to devour the food in front of her.

She would just have to think of this as a typical Tuesday, the sooner she acknowledged that this stuff was that common, the easier it would get to process it.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

The first thing that Rin noted for the day was the lack of Shirou's analysis on the way to school.

That was worrying.

It had been roughly a week since she had spoken about the tale she had heard from Kirei about the death of Louvre at the hands of the church.

She knew he was leaving the country every night to search for the older Apostle, but had he actually found the Apostle of the Lake? Had he gotten in over his head because she had given him a potential method to find the older being?

That was not a pleasant thought to entertain.

The day rolled by slowly as she was given ample opportunity to stew in those thoughts.

Then lunch rolled about.

She proceeded to leave the room, it wasn't anything unusual for her, the school had come to recognise her and Shirou as an item even if it was purely for show on his part.

Soon she encountered Fujimura-sensei.

"Ah, Tohsaka-san, I have something I need to speak with you about," the teacher declared and she nodded before they made their way into an abandoned classroom.

She silently prepared herself for any moves on Fujimura-sensei's part, after all, there was no guarantee the woman wasn't being hypnotised after all.

"So… what did you need to speak with me about Fujimura-sensei?" she asked and the older woman immediately gained a haggard expression before slumping into a chair and releasing a tired sigh.

"Shirou's lost his skin," the teacher declared.

Okay, so Fujimura-sensei wasn't being hypnotised, that was a good thing.

"H-he's lost his skin?" She wanted confirmation of what exactly the English teacher meant.

"He came back last night and he hasn't been able to restore his skin," the declaration was blunt, "he says he's going to try and create an imitation but he's not quite there yet."

She nodded.

That made sense from what she knew.

Once a being lost their original body there was no getting it back without exceptional circumstances.

"Honestly, it's a surprise it's taken this long," she muttered.

"I thought that might be the case," Fujimura-sensei admitted, "so for now, he's off sick. Though if he manages to get his fake skin down… he'll look different."

She blinked.

"How different?"

"He's talking about bronze and ivory," Fujimura-sensei declared and Rin found herself blinking.

She tried to imagine Shirou with a deep tan and white hair.

It wasn't really that bad an image in her head.

"Well, I guess that could be explained away as him going through teenage rebellion," she said lightly.

"Yeah, I guess you're right."

There was an uneasy silence that fell after that. It was definitely not something she could do anything about, but Shirou was proving to be quite the tiring associate.

"Well, I will let you get on with your break," Fujimura-sensei said as she rose from the seat.

"Thank you for informing me, Fujimura-sensei," she said before they went their separate ways.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

The hospital was small, definitely not designed for large populations. They also seemed little equipped for dealing with people with the injuries that the lead Enforcer was inflicted with.

She had cauterised the wound but that just stopped the external bleeding. There had been internal bleeding from the force with which he had been struck by the golem.

"So… do you think we'll be getting paid for this?" the other freelancer asked, his tone dismissive.

She honestly couldn't blame him, in their line of work death was a constant companion.

"We did do a thorough examination of the lake, it may not have been full, but we're confident enough that it isn't the correct lake," she stated, "we probably will get paid."

He nodded, his posture relaxing.

"So, what do you think it was?" he asked.

"Obviously it was some kind of golem," she provided.

"I'm not so sure," he responded and she frowned, "if it was a golem, why did it try to leave first? Why didn't it kill us all when it was so clearly superior?"

She interlaced her fingers and rested her chin on them.

"I don't know," she admitted.

Its actions were strange, that much she would agree.

"Do you want to know why I ran?" he asked and she glared him straight in the eyes, "it was because it reminded me of something… something I pray I never get so close to again."

"What was it?" she asked.

"The Tenth Ancestor."

She stared.

"It was a routine job, everything was going fine when communications started to go down," he looked away, his eyes haunted, "I saw the Tenth Ancestor through a familiar… it was a monster, the way its body morphed, the way it tore through everything like wet tissue paper… whatever that thing was, the way it shrugged off the damage we caused it reminded me of that beast."

She frowned.

"But it wasn't the Tenth," she declared.

"I know, I know… but when I saw how it just regrew the parts we blew out of it…" he trailed off, "I don't like it… it doesn't feel like a golem to me."

She glanced away.

"So what do you think it is?" she asked.

"I don't know… all I can say is that whatever that beast of blades is, I want nothing to do with it," he replied.

Beast of Blades huh… well, she guessed that was a valid description.

Her quickly assembled bounded field went off and she looked at him, he nodded.

They could talk when there was no one else with them.

The door opened to reveal a nurse carrying a clipboard.

"Excuse me, are you the pair who came with mister Lyons?" she asked in Norwegian.

"Yes, is everything all right?" she asked.

"He's awake," the nurse responded with a shake of her head, "he's currently coming to terms with the loss of his arm but he's healthy enough to have visitors."

She nodded.

"Thank you," she said before making her way into the room he had been provided.

She kept her silence as the other freelancer followed suit.

Once the door was closed, the Enforcer spoke.

"Where is my arm?" his voice was filled with a dread she had never heard from the man before.

"… the enemy devoured it," she declared, refusing to soften the blow, "I cauterised the wound but your injuries required hospital attention."

"… you should've just killed me," Lyons said, his tone one that held nothing but defeat.

There was only one reason a magus would react in such a way.

"Your arm is where your family crest was located wasn't it?"

The silence was deafening as he clenched his single remaining fist.

"Did you kill it?" he asked.

She shook her head.

"God dammit!" he burst out, his teeth gritting so harshly that she could hear them.

"We're lucky to even be alive," she declared, knowing full well the Enforcer wouldn't see it that way, "we can at least report this incident to the Clock Tower instead of letting it get away without consequence."

He seemed to calm at that.

"And I know it may not mean much, but if you're still alive, you can rebuild your family," she said.

"Whoever created that golem will pay, I swear it," Lyons declared, "now, have you arranged for a plane back to London yet?"

"I'll do that right away," she declared before turning and leaving the room.

Silently she prayed that whatever it was that attacked them really was a golem.

The other possibility was not something she wanted to consider.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

Rin nearly let out a laugh as she looked at Shirou's current attempt at imitating skin.

"You should probably aim to make the blades simpler and smaller," she said, "and try to get rid of the handles too."

"I know," he said, with absolutely no humour in his tone despite the countless miniature handles that now lined his outer layer.

Even Fujimura-sensei seemed to find the image amusing.

"I mean, how are handles even a problem for you?" she asked legitimately, with his skin of steel he hadn't had that issue.

"It's because I'm trying to use specific weapons for my skin instead of just letting them manifest naturally," he responded, "I'm going to have to figure out how to manipulate them so that they don't include the handles."

She nodded.

So it was because he was trying to be specific with the blades.

Slowly but surely he started to reshape the blades one by one, removing the handles before slowly shrinking the blades down further and replacing any exposed steel with more bronze.

She watched him do so for nearly an hour before he was mostly passable as a heavily tanned human.

Then he started on the hair.

Again he worked on removing the handles and shrinking the blades so they were not so noticeable.

After another half an hour of watching him work, he finally passed as mostly human.

"I think that'll do," she admitted.

He nodded in response before walking over to a mirror and looking at himself through it.

"I guess this is the best I can do right now," he said before turning back towards her, "thank you for the confirmation Tohsaka."

She nodded.

It wouldn't hurt to help him blend in… well, he would stand out with his appearance like that, but he wouldn't necessarily stand out as 'not human' straight away.

"Well, I guess that means you'll be going to investigate more lakes then?" she asked.

"I think I'll wait a little longer before trying," he replied.

"Why?" she blinked in confusion.

"… because I may have had a confrontation on my last journey," he admitted.

"… you got into a fight last time?" she asked, her eyebrow raised, "with who?"

"A trio of magi," he replied and she felt her blood run cold.

"Do you know anything about the magi you fought?" she asked and he shook his head.

"Only that one of them called the other two 'freelancers'," he responded.

"How many survived?" she asked. She knew Shirou was dangerous, she also knew he wouldn't aim to kill them, which could make matters more complicated in the future.

"At least two," he replied, "though the leader worked to stop me from escaping so I ended up injuring him."

She released a breath.

Okay, so complications may arise from that.

The simple question was how severe would these complications be and would they reach their way back to Fuyuki?

"I'm going to go home now," she declared, "I will need to work out the likely scenarios from here."

Shirou nodded.

"Understood Tohsaka."

He would have the rest of the night to continue practising his imitation of the human form.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

"So that's what happened?" Lord El-Melloi asked, his tone calm despite the information that she had provided.

"Yes," she admitted, "though we have a couple of other things to bring up."

The other freelancer looked at her, his eyebrow perked up and she nodded towards him.

"… I don't know what the thing that attacked us was, but it was no golem," he stated bluntly.

"What are you trying to say?" Lord Barthomeloi asked, her gaze cold enough to cause hypothermia.

"It regenerated too well, it was too fluid in its form," he continued, "it felt more like Nero Chaos than a golem."

Oh shit.

She looked at the queen of the Clock Tower and saw her gaze turning from cold enough to freeze to hot enough to burn a man alive.

"And what of the information you have to share?" Lord El-Melloi asked, motioning to her.

She knew this was a bad idea but spoke anyway.

"After the beast left, I had a familiar follow it to discover where its master may be," she stated before taking a deep breath, "whatever it is, it appears to have some connection to the Twenty-First Dead Apostle Ancestor."

She closed her eyes and awaited the calls of how preposterous her claim was.

Silence was all that met her.

Opening her eyes she looked at the Lords of the Clock Tower, their expressions displaying obvious concern as they glanced between each other.

"Is there something I'm unaware of?" she asked hoping to break the silence.

"… we recently received news from an associate of the Clock Tower," Lord El-Melloi spoke up, his tone measured, "apparently the Water Bottle has taken an apprentice that shows great potential."

Her throat went dry.

The team she had been recruited for had just encountered an Ancestors apprentice?

She almost shivered at the possibility of having to fight the Water Bottle because of refusing to let it go.

"Given the circumstances and what you have told us, I believe you've earned your pay," Lord El-Melloi said, his tone calm.

Of course, there were others who voiced their disagreement.

"They didn't even fulfil the task they were hired for!" was the main argument being rallied against them.

"Enough," Lord Barthomeloi declared and silence fell upon the chamber, "the freelancers have done all that can be expected of them. They shall be paid as promised."

She had to withhold a sigh of relief.

The Queen of the Clock Tower was known to be quite the perfectionist, so if she was choosing to take their side then that was a good sign.

"I thank you for your understanding, Lord Barthomeloi," she said with a formal bow.

She doubted the woman held any respect for them, however the information received would likely be worthwhile in her eyes, so getting paid for doing most of their job and then returning with information concerning what was likely a new apostle was probably enough to be considered worth the money offered.

"You are dismissed," the strongest magus in the room declared.

Without another word, she left the room with the other freelancer right beside her.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

Shows promise his ass.

Waver couldn't stop himself from internally screaming at the idea that this newest apostle was already such a monster.

From what the freelancers had described, the Water Bottle's apprentice could only be described as either old and talented, or an outright genius.

"So, what are the plans concerning this 'Beast of Blades' he asked," it was such a simple and concise description that he doubted it wouldn't take off amongst the younger generation.

"At the moment we can merely speculate," a department head said, "it appears to be of Japanese descent and have some interest in Norway. Outside of that there is little that can be said about it."

He frowned.

Japanese descent.

"I will see about contacting one of our agents in that country. There might be some information we're unaware of," he stated. If he remembered correctly, the overseers of Fuyuki were the Tohsaka. He really didn't want this thing near the Grail and it was possible that the Tohsaka had sent information that had been dismissed by the bureaucracy of the Clock Tower.

"We shall continue our surveying of the Lakes in Norway, if the Water Bottle is involved with him then large bodies of water are liable to be where it appears next," another lord declared.

He frowned.

"Give them instructions on this creature," he spoke up, "from what the Fraga said, it appeared to try and retreat first."

"You expect our men to just let it run away?" the other lord said, his eyes narrowed, "what if it only tried to run because it thought it was outmatched? It already ate one family's magic crest."

"And yet it let them go once they stopped attacking," he pointed out, "it's not unreasonable to assume it isn't innately hostile."

"I agree with Lord El-Melloi," another lord spoke up, "your men should be prepared to fight but not engage unless absolutely necessary."

The first lord tsked and turned to face away.

"We don't want pointless casualties," he stated bluntly before facing the Queen of the Clocktower, "let's leave hunting it to Lord Barthomeloi."

Everyone turned to look at the woman.

She seemed perfectly content with that decision. Then again, she hated others getting to her prey first.

And this new apostle definitely felt like it should be her prey.

"I assume we should inform the Church of this meeting?" another lord asked and he nodded.

"As much as we don't like the Church, we need to maintain at least amicable relations with them," he pointed out, "if we keep them up-to-date with this apostle, they may share their own information concerning them in exchange."

There was a reluctant agreement throughout the chambers at that.

"Is there anything else that needs to be discussed?" he asked, earning no affirmations, "then I believe this meeting is adjourned."

The lords of the Clock Tower all proceeded to rise from their seats. He took to his feet along with the rest of them.

He was probably going to be the one who would inform the church, so it was better if he got it out of the way quickly.

At least the Church wasn't as anti-technology as the Clock Tower so he could just phone them up about the matter.

Releasing a sigh, he found himself questioning the course of events to come.

First King Arthur returned from the grave and now a new Apostle that could potentially reach the ranks of the Ancestors shows up?

His gut was screaming that everything was going to go to hell soon.

But what exactly would the cause be?

He just hoped it didn't happen while he was still alive.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

Shinji felt a sense of foreboding as he returned to school after his short suspension.

He would have to catch up with the work he missed. He would also have to avoid antagonising Emiya. That was the hardest pill to swallow.

The Church knew of the boy's existence and he could do nothing about it.

Slowly he walked into class and looked at Emiya's seat before blinking.

Who the hell was that?

He would have listened to the whispers to discover who this strange boy with tanned skin and white hair was, however silence fell upon his entrance.

He grit his teeth. Of course they were more focused on him given his recent suspension.

"What is everyone looking at?" he asked loudly, "mind your own damn business!"

Everyone proceeded to turn away from him but he looked at the bronze skinned person in Emiya's seat and focused.

Wait… no… that couldn't be right.

"Oi, Emiya, is that you?" he asked, refusing to deign the boy with respect.

"What does it matter Matou-san?" yes, that was definitely Emiya's voice. That same underlying grating was unmistakable.

He turned away.

His grandfather didn't want him to antagonise the magus but that didn't mean he had to be nice to him.

Instead he stormed to his seat and pointedly ignored Emiya.

If the boy wanted to get attention by changing his appearance, he wouldn't give him the satisfaction.

Soon the school day started and he was left to stew in his resentment.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

Sumire had to admit, Shirou's progress was hitting a truly amusing point now.

He had apparently fought against magi and gotten out alive.

Magi who he had spared.

Meaning they likely now knew about his nature, about how dangerous he truly was.

And to make matters even better, he had finally lost the last of his original body, leaving him with the need to imitate skin via weapons.

Though his appearance unnerved her.

There was something about it that screamed to her that she'd seen him before.

Of course she pushed that budding sense of familiarity down, she'd known him since he was a child and knew there was no way she'd encountered him before.

Beyond that, there were many humans that looked like each other, it shouldn't be a surprise that she'd encountered at least one human who looked like Shirou with that complexion and hair.

Even so, he was returning to a more normal daily life once again, focusing on getting his new fake skin and hair memorised to the point where he could recreate them without too much effort.

It meant she wouldn't have to teleport him to Norway for a little while, so she was perfectly content with that arrangement.

Honestly, if he wasn't her apprentice she'd have told him to shove it up his ass by now.

Taking another swig of her booze, her mind wandered back to the presence of Gilgamesh in the city. Why hadn't he taken action against her?

What was the actual situation here like?

She knew that Tohsaka was the overseer of the area and that there was a parish with a priest, a priest who was likely in the know about apostles due to being the legal guardian of the overseer.

She also knew that the Makiri were located in the city, as disgusting as that wretched creature that led them for however many centuries he had been alive.

Shaking her head, she dismissed those thoughts.

At this point it was irrelevant.

Shirou was the one who was choosing the current course of action after all.

And for some reason he was choosing to remain at school.

She couldn't understand his decision but then again she was an elemental so she would always have trouble understanding the minds of humans.

She heard the door open right on cue.

"Onee-chan, I'm back," Shirou called out and she put on a hollow smile.

"Hello Shirou-chan!" she called out as he entered the room, "so, anything interesting happen?"

"Not really," he declared, "today was Shinji's first day back at school, but he seemed to be avoiding me."

"Understandable," she replied.

He simply moved to the kitchen and started preparing food.

"I will be needing your help again," he declared and she let a small smile tug at her lips.

"Oh? Does that mean little Shirou is already growing tired of not hunting Louvre?" she asked.

"No, I just have my first lesson with a swordsmith tonight," he stated and she blinked.

Oh yeah, she'd forgotten he would be getting those.

"… are you sure you don't want to continue hunting Louvre?" she asked piteously. At least hunting for Louvre would give her a lake to swim in.

"Hunting Louvre could expose me to magi again," he declared, "I want to be able to shift my appearance at will before I get involved with them again."

She understood his reasoning. It made perfect sense he would seek to be able to freely switch whenever he wanted.

But it still sucked.

"So, can I rely on you to transport me there?" he asked, showing her a map with the area marked.

She blinked.

"Where did that map come from?" she asked, she was certain he didn't have it before.

Plus, she was certain it wasn't produced via magecraft either, Gaia was too calm around it for it to have been created that way.

"I projected it," he declared.

"Bullshit," she declared as she studied the map again.

"What do you mean?" he replied, confusion in his tone.

"If this was projected, Gaia would be freaking out and attacking it," she stated bluntly, "this is getting no reaction."

Shirou tilted his head.

"So you're saying that my projections are so good that even Gaia itself doesn't realise they're projections?" he asked and she froze.

Slowly she focused far more on the map than before, looking for absolutely anything that might give away the nature of the map.

After a minute of searching, she finally found it.

She blinked before looking up at the boy.

"… I don't know how you did it, but this is definitely impressive work," she said.

"So, can you teleport me to the location marked on it later or not?" he asked even as he continued to start his surgical operation of food preparation.

"Yeah yeah," she agreed dismissively, "I'm just amazed you could create something like this."

He shrugged.

"It's not really that hard, I've been doing this even before you properly opened my circuits," he declared and she just stared at him.

It was obvious that he was pointedly ignoring her.

She just released a sigh before giving up.

Shirou operated under his own rules and trying to get him to change his perception was an exercise in futility at this point.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

Louvre worried his lip as he saw the information his informant in the Clock Tower had managed to collect.

Sumire's apprentice had been encountered near a lake in Norway.

The boy was closing in on him.

For magi his Castle would be near impossible to discover but for an Apostle? The bounded fields would register him as a guest and let him see the entrance.

Perhaps he would have to adjust his defences to compensate?

No.

The boy was already being called by a moniker… 'The Beast of Blades'.

That was troublesome. It would have been one thing if he was simply being called Sumire's Apprentice, but to actually be given a title, even if only by the rabble, was important.

To be given a title like that required achievements or a nature unique enough to be worth noting.

And from the information available concerning the confrontation between the boy and the team of magi, he found himself worried.

His master had taken an interest in the boy, even going so far as to say that he may make the boy his successor if he wins.

He clenched his fist.

It seemed cowardly to do so, however he did not want to risk the child gaining too much power.

It appeared it would be time to return to his castle and collect his children.

Hopefully Sumire's apprentice would still be in Fuyuki, teleportation meant it was possible to travel halfway across the world after all.

And yes… that would be appropriate.

It wasn't often he got the opportunity to unseal that weapon.

He let a smirk grace his lips.

He would show this upstart that he was still too young to even consider fighting a superior dead apostle like him.

XXX Tainted Steel XXX

"So, the Clock Tower has provided us with some interesting information," a priest said as roughly seven more sat around a table.

"Sumire's apprentice finally has a description beyond 'stole Chaos's gimmick'," another stated easily, "apparently his gimmick is being made out of blades."

"The Beast of Blades, quite an apt nickname they have for him," a third declared, "however, do we have an actual name for it?"

"No, not yet," the first replied.

"So what should we register it as?" the third asked, "we can't record it without a name after all."

"True, that is one of the reasons we have gathered here," the first stated, "however, we should lay out all of the information we have before worrying about that."

"From what we're aware, it appears to speak primarily Japanese," the second said calmly, "it also shouldn't be ignored that if it's with the Water Bottle, then it likely doesn't suffer from the typical weakness to water that most Apostles do."

The room fell silent. It wasn't surprising, after all, all apostles that lacked a weakness could potentially lack more in conjunction.

"I say we contact all of our members in Japan and see if they know anything about this," the third spoke yet again.

"Agreed, the more we can narrow down anything the better," the first stated.

"Do we have anything else?" a fourth spoke up.

"We know that it was sighted near a lake in Norway," the second responded, "it's possible that it may be searching for Louvre."

That caused silence to fall.

Why would it be seeking out that specific apostle? More specifically, how exactly did it know of the Apostle of the Lake? Sumire wasn't the type to take an interest in such affairs after all.

And hunting Louvre was not a good idea for an Apostle that was seeking to remain non-political, what with how the apostle had been assigned to attend Chaos's needs by Ortenrosse himself.

"I don't like this," the third said, "there's too much we don't know."

The first nodded.

"I know, however it is all we have right now," he declared.

"So does that mean that we can focus on assigning it a designation now?" the third asked and the first nodded.

"Yes, we can't do anything else until we have more information," he declared, "now, does anyone have any suggestions?

"Hmm, so it is a being made of constantly regrowing blades," a fifth said, "well, according to some of my ears, mathematicians have taken to using the letter 'Aleph' to represent a certain type of infinity."

"Are you suggesting that we simply call it 'Aleph'?" the third spoke up, their voice indicating disbelief.

"Well, not Aleph alone," the fourth responded.

"Well, if it's made out of blades, then the obvious choice is a type of steel known for them," a sixth piped in, "so what do you say to Aleph Damascus as a designation?"

The room fell silent.

After a few moments, chimes of both agreement and disagreement sounded, though the agreements outnumbered the disagreements.

"Very well, unless things change, the Apostle apprenticed to Sumire shall henceforth be known as 'Aleph Damascus'," the first declared.


And that's all for this chapter.

Shadow out.