[If all the kings had Queens on the Throne]
It was snowing outside when Shirou could finally get himself out of bed. His Servant had poisoned him. Assassin may have considered it a mercy to do that. He personally would rather just tie someone up or something sensible like that. Going to his telephone, his hands quickly dialed Rin's home number. It rang, and no one picked up the phone. He couldn't even leave a voicemail on her phone, as her mailbox was full. "She might just be ignoring me."
Assassin had said that the war would be concluded this evening. She and Caster were probably going to hunt down Rin and end the war, then. There were no other Servants left. Archer alone against both Assassin and Caster was too much. Shirou had to open his phonebook, looking through it for the ancient record. "Come on, come on.." He got to the page on religious services and found the phone number for the Church. But when he dialed it, the number was no longer in service. "That priest, his name was Kotomine.. Kotomine Kirei." Searching either of the priest's names also turned up nothing.
He called Issei. He respectfully had picked up the phone by the second ring. "Moshi moshi! Ryuudo Temple, how can we assist you?"
"Issei, this is Shirou."
"Shirou!" Issei sounded quite happy to hear from him. "You missed school yesterday. I've got your homework for you."
"Thank you." Shirou admitted honestly. "I was actually calling to see if I could ask you a favor."
"Anything." Issei answered. He was a good friend, and wasn't the kind to say no.
"You know that christian church on the hill north of town? I have been trying to reach someone there and I thought your dad might know how to get in touch with them. I tried their listing in the phone book but the number was disconnected."
"Oh! I can help you more than that, Shirou. The priest from that church is with my father right now. I can get him for you, if you would like to talk to him."
"Thanks, Issei. You're a lifesaver."
"Give me a few minutes and I'll be back." Issei promised. He didn't have to wait long.
"Emiya Shirou.." The voice of the priest came across the line. "I am surprised that you sought me out. Considering you are no longer a participant."
"I am still a Master." Shirou didn't question how he knew about him losing Assassin. "And I'm calling you to ask for help."
"Your Servant took my church. I cannot provide you any sort of protection from the other participants in the Grail War." The voice had no kindness to it. "Why would I have any reason to help you, Emiya?"
"Because I know their timeline."
There was a pause. "I will entertain whatever foolhardy request you might have."
"Assassin said that everything ends tonight. They plan on finishing the war. Rin is going into a trap. She's the only Master left."
"You truly are a misguided soul to think-"
"Wait!" Shirou interrupted. "I wanted your help to stop them. I'll help you get your church back."
"You aren't asking for sanctuary?"
"No," Shirou assured him. "This is for myself. I made a mistake, and I can't live with it."
"This may sound hypocritical coming from a priest, but perhaps you should let go of the mistake and move on with your life. Whatever your intentions are, you clearly lack foresight. What makes you think that your support is going to lead to you fixing your mistake? Based on your track record, how do you see yourself faring?"
"I know what I'm up against!"
"Your sins are forgiven you," Kirei muttered.
"What did you say?"
"Sorry. Habit when dealing with repeat offenders. If you know what you are up against, why seek me out? You know I have little intention of helping you."
Shirou took a deep breath to think about it. "Because I have a plan. It's not a longshot, but I know how to defeat Assassin." And so he told him.
Kirei didn't mock his plan. He didn't laugh, or curse his efforts. "It is not a masterful plan. But it is a better plan than what Rin presented."
"What did she say?"
"Something impetuous." The priest said with disdain. "Rin is moving at sundown. There is a system of priest holes that lead into a drainage ditch on the backside of the hill. Bring a crowbar or something."
"Thank you." Shirou offered.
"Don't thank me yet. I only pray to God you are as good as your father."
"Good at what?"
"Sheer brutality. The closest I ever came to dying was at his hands." And with that, the priest hung up the phone. Shirou took a lot longer to hang up his end of the conversation, the priest's words hanging in his mind.
[To all of the Queens who are fighting alone]
It took a lot of work to get what he wanted. Favors with Copenhagen and Fujimura-san just to get what he needed. Assassin could poison the very air around her. Shirou didn't stand a chance if she just released a paralytic from her pheromones. But soon he was joined by the priest. If Shirou looked out of place in his outfit, Kirei was worse. Both were wearing full scuba gear, with small air tanks and facemasks. Over the top it may appear, but on short notice this was the best he could do to fight his own Servant.
"How much air do we have?" The older man asked.
"Ninety minutes. Enough to sneak through and get past whatever she and Caster have set up. Caster likes to use skeleton familiars, but Assassin is cunning. She can poison any surface she touches, and the air around her."
"She won't use that ability. Not until forced to."
"Surely it is obvious." Kirei intoned. "Caster would never allow her own life to be put at risk."
"It's still something that might be in the church."
"Mm." Shirou didn't quite have more to say, and the priest looked like he didn't want to talk at all. Air regulators pumping, they made their way through old tunnels of brick and mortar in near darkness. Then up a staircase that hadn't been swept in decades, the stone steps leaving thick footprints. Through it all, there was no sounds of conflict or combat. They were not too late.
But they stopped when the stairway hit a break, a small door on one side. "Emiya. I'll be in the place we discussed. Anything that happens now is dependent upon you. Take these stairs to the top and you will be behind the organ in the chapel. It will put you close enough."
The priest then separated, heading for the undercroft. He turned off his air regulator, to stop it from making noise. From there he inched his way towards the sliver of light at the top of the stairwell. Kirei had the indirect job. Shirou was the one with the real risks. But that was almost calming to him, knowing that. Taking a deep breath, he crawled into the chapel. But even as he did so, he could hear a pair of voices.
"Is black the only color you wear?"
"It's symbolic of my priesthood. Though at times I may dabble in red. With your hair color you may at least have more of a palette." That was Semiramis. Assassin.
"If it wasn't for the constant glamours keeping my ears and hair from being noticed, perhaps I could enjoy that more."
"You have less divine blood in you. But no less potential." Assassin was saying something about hair, which he could care less about. They sounded like they were close, just under the nearby railing.
"Ah ha. While true, there are two of us now. Two queens."
"But only one throne." Assassin clearly didn't trust Caster.
"Don't be petty." Caster warned. "I can sense any use of your skills, now." Shirou dared to raise his head to see above the edge of the upper floor, and looked down into the chamber below. Many of the pews had been shifted and the dias where he presumed that the christian rituals involving bread and wine was cleared of any furniture. Instead, it looked as though some kind of mystic symbol was being painstakingly drawn by Caster upon the surface. Assassin was sitting in the exact middle of the upper dias, and had summoned a large chair for that. It was an ornate dark wood, with whorls and curves in it that seemed to reflect the shape of some kind of deity. She looked like she wasn't happy to be there.
Not that he had seen her happy as his Servant. Until their last conversation, he didn't think he understood her at all. But looking at her now, it was clear she was treating Caster exactly as she had treated Shirou. A Master that did not utilize her to her fullest. Or was afraid of what she could do. "You're a prisoner here, too." He realized. "I did this to you." He was the one who gave up Assassin.
Further self shaming was interrupted by the doors being kicked open. Chunks of skeleton came sliding through the gap, and Archer stalked in. At his heels was Rin, looking deadly serious. In one of her hands was a cruel looking dagger, and Archer was holding both of his blades.
"Caster." Rin said coldly. "You've caused enough damage to my property."
"Is that all you are here to finish? Or perhaps you care little for your fellow Masters," Caster's cruel voice carried through the building. "Your pitiful Servant against me?"
"He's plenty powerful. And I'm not afraid of fighting you on my own terms, either." Rin dropped her coat to the ground, two fashionable belts around her waist. The pockets were full of crystals, much larger than the ones he had seen her use against Ilya. "Will you agree to a duel, Caster?"
"Duels are for fights between men of valor. Mages only demand that sort of attention when they are at a disadvantage." Caster tutted. "We have you outnumbered." From around Rin, more skeleton familiars rose to do battle. And behind a column, Caster's master was hiding. Suichirou-sensei. "Assassin here was also a mage in life. Perhaps she would be better to request a duel from."
Rin would never be able to handle Assassin. She had exposed skin, and wasn't ready to fight someone with that kind of speed or poisonous skills. His feet moved before he even thought about it. Down the steps, his boots slapping hard against the stone. It had the effect of getting everyone's attention. The air regulator was pumping again, it's rasp filling the area with noise that drew attention. "No." Shirou spoke to the suddenly quiet room. "Assassin will be fighting me." His voice, though slightly muffled was clear.
"Foolish boy, you have already done enough damage to yourself-" Caster began saying.
"I accept." The queen upon her throne responded. Assassin stood up on her dainty shoes. But the spike on that heel could kill as easily as any other part of her. Caster twisted, glaring at Assassin. "How did you recover from the strychnine I flooded your room with so quickly?"
"We both know the answer to that." Shirou said, gripping his blades. He stepped forwards, between the pews of the church until he stood perfectly aligned with the outer doors and the throne. It had the effect of letting Assassin look down her nose at him. "Semiramis! You weren't always a Queen!" Shirou felt the twin blades form in his hands. As good as they had ever been. The projection was strong. "And I wasn't born a Hero. But no one chooses their own mythology!" He threw her words back into her face. Last night she had said the same thing to him, speaking of her own history.
She stepped forward ever so slowly. "Don't insult me, Shirou."
"Our ideologies aren't so different." Behind him, Rin and Archer had begun their battle. But through the glass of his mask he could tell that he had succeeded. Rin had a chance, now. With Assassin fighting him, they had a chance. "I'm going to prove it to you."
Assassin laughed, the dulcet sound echoing across the space. "Fine. You are surprising me, just by coming. Though you are prepared for my poison, all it will take is a single cut and all of your preparation will be for naught. Clever as it may be, that many layers will make you slower. And I am not a human like you. This will be over soon."
Shirou couldn't let her leave the dias. His entire plan relied on her staying there. So he charged. He was wearing more layers and the air tank was heavy. But he could run. So he did. Right towards Assassin, past row after row of church pews. But instead of meeting his blade, Semiramis held up her hand, an array of symbols appearing in the air above her. "Oh no." He whispered. She had never done this when she was his Servant.
"Did you underestimate me?" Assassin laughed, as he had to roll to the side. A large explosion of energy landed behind him, washing his back with heat despite the layers he had on. The air tank rattled loudly from the shrapnel. "A man should never do that." She smiled, holding out both hands as two more symbols formed. "But they are such pigs and do it anyways."
This was his Servant? Fighting this was beyond stupid. If he had come in here without a plan this is probably the point where he would panic. Being killed by poison or by explosions seemed altogether too likely. But there was one thing he could do. He rolled again, coming up next to the massive throne she had summoned. Semiramis was only ten feet away, but it might as well have been a hundred. For all that Shirou could do. But he swung anyways. Both blades flashed out, striking the wood of the chair and the metal of the dias. The throne fell in half, broken into pieces. It was petty, but for some reason Semiramis took her chairs seriously. The metal chimed, loudly in the cavernous space. His signal to Kirei had been sent. "What's a Queen without a throne?"
Her face had pulled into a snarl. "I will go and destroy your favorite cookpot for that, Shirou. Whether you live or die." And then she stepped forwards. Shirou was meeting her charge, grinning wildly. This was it. This would be the moment that defined him. Her strike met his, the palm spike upon her hand shattering the blade of his left sword. Her other palm spike he barely deflected, keeping his remaining blade from breaking. But it was done. She was on top of the exact center of the dias. And in that moment, the stone of the old priest hole broke open, and two hands reached out of the gap in the floor to grab her ankles.
Semiramis had a look of abject surprise as she was dragged towards the floor. "What!" Kirei had struck, and with it her skirts pooled upon the floor like a puddle of silk. The lower half of her body was now below the floor, while her shoulders and arms were still above floor level. Using one hand, she slammed a spike into the floor, stopping her descent. "You know this cannot hold me for long!"
"It doesn't have to." Shirou said. And with that he turned his back to her, instead looking at the real enemy. Caster. She was facing off against Rin, who was definitely outmatched. From his own belt, he drew out the weapon that had been given to him by Kirei. Something he had called a 'sacrament'. The priest assured him it would do the job. To end this war, Kirei had told him what to do. He had seen the Command seals appear on Caster's arm when he gave up Assassin. He threw the black blade with all of his might, the object spinning through the air.
Caster tried to bring up one of her abilities to block, but Archer send an arrow her way to stop that. Shirou's heart was hammering as he watched the weapon cleave into the space, and right through the wrist of Caster. The room rattled, as something was inexorably broken. Caster screamed, as Rin brought her fist in to strike her, glowing with her own sigils. But whatever happened there didn't matter to him any longer. He turned back to his once Servant, smiling. "I did it."
"You did what." Semiramis said sternly. "She can regenerate. Cutting off her hand won't free me."
"No." Shirou watched as she tried to lift herself up, only to be denied by whatever Kirei must have been doing down below. "But there is a way." He held out his hand, towards the slumped form of Caster. "I made a promise to you. Trace On." He could see the object in question, resting on Caster's belt. He could see a million details in that instant, the wicked blade's angles finally making sense. They were a reflection of the leylines that had been manipulated by Medea in ages past. Oddly, this was the first time he had realized Caster's name. It didn't matter, except that she held the key to this war. "Rule Breaker." Every bone in his hand felt like it would shatter, but an imperfect copy of the mystic code soon rested within it.
[Baby, you're not dancin' on your own]
Semiramis had wide eyes, perhaps as wide as his own as he screamed, bringing the weapon down upon her. She met the strike, and Shirou let her hit him. It was the only way. Her spike punched through his outfit, just as the tip of Rule Breaker touched the supple skin of her collarbone. There was a flash of magic as the faked mystic code imploded, and a spark of energy flew between them. The bond they once had was restored. His hand glowed, the remaining two command seals coming back to life upon it. All was quiet for a moment between them, as if something new was felt. "You did it." She whispered. "I didn't think you could."
"I hurt you when I gave you up." Shirou murmured. "I had to make it up to you."
"I'm a Servant."
"You're my friend." Shirou took off his glove. "Come on, take my hand." Kirei was still fighting her, and Shirou's air regular coughed as it stuttered. Something was broken within it.
"You aren't afraid I'll stab you?" He hadn't ever touched her before. The spikes in her palms suggested that it was a bad idea.
"Not this time." He did grab her by the wrist, though, pulling as hard as he could. It took the both of them to finally get out of the trap he had lured her into, and her dainty shoes made contact with the dias once again. "Did you still want to win this war?"
"I am a Queen. Tyranny is my state of being." Shirou noticed that her skin was soft, softer than he expected. But she wasn't moving away from him. "I cannot refuse my own nature. I cannot tolerate losing."
"I," Shirou tore the mask from his face, some part of it no longer working right. The air tank thumped to the ground right along with it. "I want it, too." He held up his wrist, feeling the bond between them. "I order you with this command seal, that you use every gift and power in your possession to win." His first command seal upon her had been to order her to not use her ability to kill. At the time he hadn't realized how much this had hurt her. To remove such a rule, it would take something of equal potency. She was free to act, now. To fight as she was supposed to.
"Emiya? You got your Servant back!" Rin called. Something had happened to Caster and Suichirou-sensei while he had been talking, and the only people left were the four of them. Rin was covered in scratches, and her arm was bleeding. Archer stood beside her, looking worse for wear. "Congratulations." Her words weren't the excitement of someone celebrating, however.
"Tohsaka." He said quickly. Her belt was out of gems. He might have an advantage. "I had to save my friend. I thought you would understand."
"I do understand." Rin nodded, brushing off her skirt. "But now there are only two Servants and you are once again a Master." She stomped over towards the doors, so that she had a clear line of sight on him. "This was so much easier when you were not in the war! I was so close!" The girl gave him a look of focus. "I don't want to kill you, Emiya."
"You won't have to." Shirou promised. "But I have a wish that I will fight for." He looked over at Semiramis and smiled. "I don't fight to be appreciated. But I have a reason to fight."
"I've been looking forward to this." Archer cracked his neck, his stare resting upon Shirou.
"You'll not harm a hair upon his head." Semiramis glowed, her full powers returned to her. Chains were emerging from small portals near her, and she was smiling. It was a beautiful thing. Shirou could feel it deep within his soul. He felt light as a feather, and the world around him was bright. He had done what he had set out to do. "For he keeps his word. I shall not let him fall." One command seal remained upon his hand, while none remained upon Rin's. He had the slim advantage, but in order to win this war he needed everything. It would take everything he had to defeat her.
With a glance, he noticed that Kotomine Kirei was off to the side, watching the ensuing battle. But for a moment he was certain he saw a flash of red coming off of his arm, much like the command seal he had just used. But that didn't matter. Tonight, it would all end. The war would be over and Fuyuki would be at peace once again. Nothing else could cloud his vision for the battle ahead. With a yell at the top of his lungs, he charged. Right at his side was Semiramis, her smile enough to buoy his spirits. This was how it should have been, from the beginning.
Given that there was an American election recently, all that stress had to go somewhere. So from Aberron, we are happy to present to you Semiramis round two! Since the first chapter we had so many directions this could go, but this one seemed to beckon best to me. Something where even though times are rough, Shirou has a smile on his face and proves that he isn't an idiot. That he can think and execute a plan using the right principles and the right timing. Because really, that's what we all want from our friends and family. That no matter what trouble arises, we all face it together with a smile on our faces. Just happy to be with those we care for. I wish all of you the same joy with your loved ones as we enter this quarantine holiday season. We here at Saga wish you that, and hope you make it through the rest of 2020 alright.
For this lovely chapter, I prefer the song Hero of Our Time by NateWantsToBattle. It's got that rhythm that I really wanted with this piece.