Hey everyone! Another chapter. My update schedule might not be a dead giveaway, but the arc after this one's the bit that we've been build up to this whole time. I hope y'all will have as good a time reading it as I will most likely have writing it.

In the meantime, more of this. The chapter illustration certainly isn't what I thought the fellas over on pa treon would vote for, but it's certainly got its own charm lol.

Speaking of, those of you on my are getting the 2 monthly stories that I promised lol. I swear I didn't forget. I'll update the first one either before the next story update or after. (maybe HP, maybe ES, maybe LE. Haven't decided yet).

Additionally, my chapter reflection will be up sometime shortly after this chapter goes live. Some interesting things (I think) to be discussed.

Big thanks for Mr. Hect for beta reading!


Aozaki Touko did not have the greatest day yesterday.

In fact, it was horrible. Simply awful. Dreadful. Regrettable right from the moment she got out of bed that morning.

Ah. That wasn't quite true, actually. Everything was just splendid until she got to her office. Her breakfast went down quite nicely, even.

Then everything started going to shit.

It was small things, at first. Her two gophers were already there before her; they wanted a mystic code of hers for whatever reason — honestly, she just wasn't paying attention. Point being, she didn't want to just hand it over — it was expensive, probably! What if they broke it? — but it was important enough to them that they were pretty insistent on it. Eventually, it led to a huge spat and so she eventually gave in and gave them… whatever it was that they grabbed.

If only that was the worst of it.

Her computer wasn't turning on! The fucker. She spent good money on that thing, and there it was making her spend more money just to get it repaired. It wouldn't be returned to her for another few days, so all her paperwork had to be done the old-fashioned way.

Did she mention that she didn't have any working pens in the office at the time? It must have slipped her mind. Of course, her next half hour — and about four hundred Yen — was spent on the first pack of pens she could find.

By the time all of that was over and done with, it was already pretty late. A smoke break or two later and bam! Closing time. Absolutely no room for productivity. A day wasted.

If only her troubles ended there.

The two pipsqueaks and one of their maids showed up at the door of her office, uninvited, at the eleventh hour. Of course, they had used that not-really-teleportation-thing that she patented. When she had shown them how to use it, it was not with the intention of having them actually use it!

When they parted ways a few years back, it was akin to telling them "Let me know if you need any help!". Which is to say, it was a meaningless gesture. People said it to be nice; it was just like "See you later!" but with a false advertisement of giving a shit about the other person. No one actually meant to offer help when they said it. Right?



It felt like she was underselling why that was the worst day ever, somehow.

Ah, yes. The other one.

The pipsqueaks and the maid weren't alone. Of course, they weren't. There was a tagalong. An extra. An unwanted variable.

Lord Barthomeloi of the Clocktower. That lady. Yeah.

It took all of her patience and self-control to not turn them away right then and there. She worked hard for these people to leave her alone, after all. She had no intention to jeopardize that.

Then, they told her about the clusterfuck that took place in Fuyuki city.

If she retained one thing from that explanation, it was that she should be confident that today would be no better than yesterday.

Taking a deep, courageous, breath, she opened the door to her office: the place where she had those guys crash last night while she fucked off and went to sleep in her own bed.

Alas, not all problems could be put off indefinitely.

The first thing that she saw was the maid sweeping the floors without having been asked to do so. Perhaps it entered her line of sight first because it was a welcome and positive visual stimulus, but who could really say.

The second thing was the two pipsqueaks standing awkwardly behind the Clocktower Lady. Barthomeloi was almost despondent, ignoring Aozaki in favour of looking out the window behind her desk.

Faced with the odd sight of the most infamous woman in the Clock Tower brooding silently, Aozaki Touko said the first thing that came to mind.

"That's my desk. Get away."

The pipsqueaks were the first ones to turn towards her. Barthomeloi took a little longer. The movement on her part was long and drawn-out; their eyes met and Aozaki felt like it would be in her best interest to tone down her attitude.

That wouldn't be happening, obviously, but that aside, Barthomeloi didn't look great. She'd only heard of the woman in passing, but everything pointed to her being a force of nature, both in personality and in action.

She saw none of that right now.

There was an emptiness behind those eyes. An unwillingness to… huh. Actually, "unwilling" was as strong a descriptor as any despite it being so vague. Any drive or desire that might have once been there had completely vanished.

If she didn't already know exactly what happened, she'd have been curious as to what had gotten Barthomeloi lost in her own head. .

For a moment, they just stared at each other.

"So," Aozaki spoke up, ignoring the fact that Barthomeloi didn't move away from the window in favour of breaking the ice, "How fucked's the kid, do you wager?"

If she was expecting some sort of outburst, she didn't get it. Barthomeloi tisked and resumed staring out the window. The only indication that her words had any effect was her hands tightening their hold on the windowsill.

"My little brother…" the white-haired one started before pausing. "My brother will be fine. He has to be."

"I dunno. It's quite the pickle you left him in. Don't you think—"

"I said," she enforced, talking over her, "He will be fine. We told him that he had to stay safe, so he will. He won't break a promise to us. If he made us promise to look after this —Barthomeloi — above all else, then…"

She trailed off. Both of the pipsqueaks seemed uncomfortable. The purple-haired one grabbed her arm tightly and looked away— as though she would jump out of her own skin at any second.

Aozaki really hoped that she wouldn't. That skin was expensive.

Barthomeloi finally spoke.

"...You're both fools. You hold your brother's words in too high of a regard and this is where it led us."

Oh boy.

Aozaki dragged her hand down her face and sighed. She knew a strong instigation when she saw one.

Now where did her gophers move her ashtray…

"Excuse me?" the white-haired pipsqueak snapped. Hook, line and — "We did this for your benefit! You don't think we actually care about you more than Shirou, do you? You bitch."

The purple-haired one was quick to drag her sister back and hold her in place. The girl's eyes were closed, as if not seeing this would mean it wasn't happening.

Honestly, Aozaki had to admit that Barthomeloi had better control over her emotions than she would have initially given her credit for. She didn't lash out. Not physically, at least.

"You know what I wanted. That has never changed, girl." She took a step forward. "It was right in front of me. Ortenrosse was my target. You took him from me and you left your brother there to rot. Don't think for a second that whatever happens isn't on you."

"You weren't going to do shit. Ortur— Or— That vampire had you on your ass long before we did anything."

The rebuttal was met with an impressively loud silence. Aozaki had to applaud their ability to get under eachother's skin so easily.

She sifted through the pockets of her trenchcoat and pulled out her smokes.

Hm? That couldn't be right…

She shook the box a little before trying to pop one out.

Ah. They were totally crushed. She didn't bother taking her coat off after her run to the Kombini yesterday. She must've sat on them.

She tried her damndest to roll the cigarette back into shape — to no avail, unfortunately — but was quickly interrupted by a palpable shift in the ambient mana.

Things were going to go south pretty soon. It was time to step in before something happened that could not be undone.

"Hey!" Aozaki yelled, wary of the clattering she was hearing from her various nicknacks. "You break it, you buy it!"

Tensions were still rising. Maybe it was time for more drastic—



The troupe's internal conflict was momentarily put on hold as they tried to figure out what that noise was.

"Sorry," Aozaki muttered sheepishly. "That's the doorbell."

…Wait, what? Hold on…

She easily stepped past Barthomeloi and the white-haired girlie, turned on her computer and checked the security camera.

"Well, shit," she said. Aozaki only recognized one of them, but, "Your pals are here, it looks like.

There was an immediate sense of relief that washed over Barthomeloi and the pipsqueaks. Hell, even the maid seemed a little lighter, though it was kind of tough to tell.

They really shouldn't be getting their hopes up, however.

She pressed down on a key and spoke into the intercom.

"What's the password?" she asked.

She could see the family's other maid — the prissy one, as she liked to call her — immediately begin to flounder.

"Wha— hold on! What password? There are no passwords! You never gave us one! Open the door, Aozaki Touko! This is serious! You—"

"All right, all right… Jeez. I'm just messing with you. Come in."

Another key was pressed. The doors to the bottom floor were unlocked. They would be up shortly—

The door to her office burst open. The prissy maid was huffing and puffing. A blonde woman with ridiculous hair was standing behind her reservedly.

"Sella!" squeaked the white-haired pipsqueak. She ran up to the maid and hugged her. "You're— where's Shirou?"


The silence was telling.

"He was taken," explained Blondie somberly. "By Trhvmn Ortenrosse. We could do nothing to stop him. He said… if we wanted Emiya, we'd have to bring Barthomeloi to the castle in the forest surrounding Fuyuki City."

Once again, silence reigned supreme.

Aozaki wrapped her lips around a busted cig and pretended it wasn't in miserable condition.

"Well, at least the kid didn't get himself killed on the spot. That's worth some happy points, right?"

The peanut gallery wasn't willing to take it that way, unfortunately.

Any goodwill that Barthomeloi had won for herself was thrown right out the window. It was like she snapped; the woman abandoned all restraint and allowed her magecraft to do the talking for her.

Blades of wind trashed everything in sight. Her beautiful, possibly overpriced solid oak desk was flipped onto its side.

Aozaki saw red.

"Hey! You—"

It didn't stop there. The pipsqueaks and the prissy maid immediately tried to stop her, but Barthomeloi wasn't having it. The woman was intent on making her way out the door.

Aozaki grimaced.

Strands of white hair and shikigami-like apparitions surrounded the Clock Tower Lord, but they did little to stop her. The woman's magecraft, as simple in concept as it was, was simply too powerful for theirs to contain.

The grimace deepened.

"Stop, Barthomeloi! You'll be running right into a trap!" one of the pipsqueaks shouted. She didn't know which.

Aozaki balled her fists.

"Get out of my way. I will not allow a measly Dead Apostle kill Emiya Shirou, do you understand? He's my—"

"Ah… screw this!"

Aozaki kicked over the briefcase that was oh-so-conveniently lying on its side behind her.

A thing burst out of it and pounced on Barthomeloi. It caught her off guard; she could struggle all she wanted, but it wouldn't do anything.

This fact obviously came as a surprise to the woman. She wasn't used to being trapped like this, being as powerful as she was.

Sure, the girl was stronger than Aozaki in every way that mattered… Technically. That didn't mean that an older gal like her didn't have a few tricks up her sleeve still.

Now that she had everyone's attention…

She cleared her throat.

"Keep your tits on. All of you. If you want the kid alive and in one piece. You'll all do two things. First."

She lifted a finger.

"You'll cough up however much money you owe for my trashed office… and for emotional damages. Yeah. Second."

A second finger came up.

"You'll do exactly as I say, and nothing that I say or show you leaves this room without my say-so. I might have something for you, but I'm not getting any more sealing designations to help you out. Definitely not after I had that brat jump through so many hoops to get rid of the last one. Sorry, not sorry."

She gave them a moment to soak that in. The only sound that broke the silence that followed was that of a broom pushing broken glass into a dustpan.


Aozaki exchanged flat looks with the quiet maid who had at no point stopped sweeping. She liked this one.



I heard myself groan before even realizing that the noise was coming from my mouth.

Everything hurt.

I was dizzy, but still I forced myself to sit upright. It was a bit difficult; both due to my dizziness and the rough, borderline-jagged, flooring that was digging into my skin.

My eyes opened.

…I didn't know where I was, but this particular room seemed some sort of dungeon that looked like it came right out of a movie. It was the kind that most would picture a European castle to… have.

Ah. So that's where I was.

One by one, the jumbled pieces of my memories fitted themselves back into place. Recollections of what had happened with that Dead Apostle hit me like a truck.

I messed up.

I grunted and forced myself to my feet. I didn't have any time to waste; somehow, I needed to find a way to—


A soft, pained moan interrupted my thoughts. I quickly turned my head back and forth until—

"Gray. Are you all right?"

The girl was sprawled across the floor, immobile, in the corner of the cell. Her breaths were haggard; she was drenched in her own sweat.

We were practically strangers — acquaintances at best — but that was no reason to leave her here like this. I tried to get closer to her, but the very second that I did, a shrill cry escaped her lips.



I stopped.

She was delirious. The girl probably didn't even understand what was going on around her, but her urgent desire to keep me away from her was still clear as day regardless. She was in no condition for me to move her against her wishes. We were in no condition for that, rather, considering the fact that we were being held captive by an Ancient Vampire that wanted to use us as bargaining chips in exchange for Barthomeloi's life.

I needed to find a way out of here, somehow. I couldn't take Gray with me, but I'd definitely come back for her. I needed to know where Ortenrosse was right now. If the man was still in this building, there wouldn't be much that I could do, but if he was somewhere else

Regardless, the first step was to find a way to escape this dungeon. We weren't tied up, for whatever reason, so it was only right that I would take advantage of our captor's ignorance. I couldn't break anything lest he found out what I was up to, but there must have been a way for me to get out of here without resorting to that. Maybe magecraft would work.

"Let's see what we're dealing with here."

I rested my hand against the metal door—



It swung right open. Forget locked: it hadn't even been closed properly.

Cautiously, I took a step forward.

"Trace, on."

A dagger appeared in my hand. It wasn't a particularly impressive thing, but it didn't have to be. I wasn't planning on getting into any fights.

Its ability took effect right away. I could feel myself blending right into the shadows of the dimly-lit corridor as if I weren't there at all.


The name at least was a well-known one… relatively speaking. It belonged to King Arthur: the Saber class servant that I knew best. Despite its underwhelming appearance, it was actually quite a powerful item.

Supposedly, at least. I'd never actually used the real thing. I couldn't. Even though I saw it one time — not that I remember that moment with any semblance of clarity — it would never be able to be forced out of my Reality Marble. The dagger, the lance and the sword were three weapons given to the king by God. If I tried to "understand" what was explicitly a divine construct, I'd probably just die or something.

Needless to say, this wasn't the real thing; it was just a Mystic Code modelled on, and named after, it.

I liked to think that it got the job done, however. Through many grail wars and countless missions as a counter guardian, it had rarely failed me. Never when I used it as intended.

One step at a time, I moved forward. I found a set of stairs that led out of the dungeon.

Softly, so as not to allow the steps to make a sound, I rose to the floor above.

…The Einzbern Mansion in Fuyuki. That's where we were.

It wasn't that I recognized it, but it felt familiar to me in a way that could only be related to my experience throughout my previous lives. The Einzbern castle was the only thing that it could be.


I spent the next short while flurrying through the different rooms and floors. It was eerie, in a way. None of it looked lived in, but nothing looked abandoned either. There was no dust, no cobwebs… the work of magecraft, to be sure, but there was nothing to indicate whether the Dead Apostle that captured us was actually here.

Then I entered a foyer of sorts and I froze.

He was right there.

The man was sitting in a winged chair next to the fireplace. He held a glass of wine in hand and the bottle that it came from was placed on a coffee table within arm's reach.

Was he just biding his time here, then? So much for me being able to sneak Gray up the stairs and out of the mansion without getting caught. The only upside was that the man didn't know that I was up here and not locked up. That error on the man's part would have to be used to my own advantage, somehow, so I absolutely could not let him catch on to the fact that the cell doors were unlocked.

For now, I was best off just heading back down and—

"In a rush, are you? Why don't you take a moment to join me for a drink?"

A cold sweat ran down my spine. There's no way that he actually knew that I was here, right? I was invisible. I was quiet.

He was staring right at me.

"What's wrong, boy? Are you shy?"

…The jig was up. Cardwennan disappeared, and I became visible to the naked eye.

"How?" I had to ask despite the situation that I was in. This trick had worked before on people that were supposedly much more capable of unearthing spies. There wasn't a single type of magecraft that the mystic code couldn't fool.

Or at least, that's what I told myself.

"There's no such thing as empty space," the vampire said, idly admiring the contents of his glass cling to its sides. "You move. You displace air. Nothing can truly disappear without its impact being felt on the world around it."

My finger twitched.

"Are you saying you felt me?"

If he wanted to talk, I'd let him. I'd have an easier time with this than trying to fight him.

"If you want to put it that way, so be it. Regardless," he gestured to another cough facing him," let's have a quick chat, shall we? It'll be an elucidating use of our time, I'm sure."

I really didn't want to. With that said, I doubted that I had an actual say in the matter. I complied and dropped myself in the seat, careful to not allow myself to relax too much. It was a deep cushion, but not so deep that I wasn't able to jump out of it at a moment's notice.

"You seem tense," observed the vampire.

"Of course I am," I answered as evenly as possible. I didn't want any of my emotions to leak through here. "You kidnapped me. You kidnapped Gray."

There was a flicker of recognition that crossed the man's face.

"Ah, yes. Her. There's not much that I actually want from that girl. I suppose I brought her along on a whim. A shame. She's not doing too well, I take it? I'd imagine she's only getting worse."

I tensed.

"You know what's wrong with her."

It wasn't a question. He did know. Or at least, he acted like he did.

"I do. More or less."

"Let me help her," I asked. I hoped it didn't sound like I was begging. I didn't know what happened to Lord El-Meloi, but allowing his assistant to die under my watch wouldn't spell anything good for our future relationship. "You don't need her, right? Let me know what her problem is and—"

"If you don't already know then there's no point in me telling you."

"What? I don't—"

"You wouldn't get it."

The man took a sip of his wine.

He kept cutting me off.

How frustrating. Why he was acting with way, why he was saying the things that he said… I couldn't wrap my head around any of it.

The fact that he was acting like he didn't have a care in the world hadn't escaped me. I was his prisoner, technically. I wasn't in the cell. That meant that I got out somehow. He understood that much, right?

If he had any sort of plan… he was doing a poor job of showing that he was intent on following it.

I'd just come out and say it, then.

"What are you trying to accomplish, exactly? Why are you after Barthomeloi?"

He took another sip.

"It wasn't under the impression that I had any obligation to answer any of your questions."

I bit my tongue. This bastard…

I took a deep breath.

"Look. You seem reasonable. You did nothing to stop me from getting out of that cell. That was on purpose, right? Can't we just talk things through without being cryptic?"

He closed is eyes, leaned forward and gently lowered his glass back onto the coffee table.

"On purpose, hm?"


I held my ground.

Being antagonistic wasn't the right thing to do here. There was no reason to escalate an unwinnable situation for no reason whatsoever.

"Do whatever you want," he told me. "Take the girl and leave for all I care. It shall change nothing."

My heartbeat quickened. Despite myself, I was panicking.

He was bizarre. I didn't understand him and I didn't understand his motivations. How in the hell was I supposed to work around something that I didn't understand? Of course it wouldn't be as easy as picking Gray up and hightailing it out of here. This man had his reasons for acting the way that he did. No matter which way you sliced it, I was dancing in the palm of his hand right now.

"..And if I do?" I asked. "What then?"

"I'll come get you when I need you."

What a horrible thing to hear. Terrifying, actually. Did he think nothing of the effort required to do that? Did he anticipate not needing to expend any effort at all? "No," from the sound of it. Did this monster see me as a creature so beneath him that it wasn't even worth keeping tabs on what I was trying to do?

I was beginning to see our first encounter in an entirely new light.

He wanted Barthomeloi. I had to remind myself of that, because it was becoming increasingly difficult to find evidence of that fact in our prior encounter. What I first thought was an inability to reach her against our combined efforts might have just been the result of him not caring enough.

I heard a noise and I almost jumped. I calmed down once I noticed that it was just the man picking up his glass again.

Ha… I was in my own head.

What a frustrating feeling. It happened, every now and then. I wasn't used to dealing with my own emotions so forcibly. Being human sucked.

I exhaled.

I leaned back into my seat and grinned. Of however much false bravado I could muster, all of it was being worn openly.

Fuck this guy.

"I'll leave, then. I'll go right back to Barthomeloi."

"And like I said, I'll get you when I need you."

It was supposed to be a quick jab on my part, perhaps one not to the benefit of my own health, but he didn't even bat an eye. His confidence was something else.


My grin didn't waver; no matter what, I couldn't allow anything else to show on my face.

The implications of what he said didn't register at first. Maybe he didn't notice either.

I rose to my feet.

"I'll go now, then. I'm going to take Gray and leave. You said that's fine, right?"

"To a certain extent. I might need you sooner rather than later, so don't spend overly long clinging on to freedom."

I'd allow him to take my words at face value just as I'd want him to believe that I had any intention of putting any stock in his.

Silently, I closed the door behind me and made my way back down to the dungeon. Before anything else, I really needed to check on that girl.

You bizarre son of a bitch. I'm on to you.

Up until now, I'd been operating under the assumption that I knew what he wanted. Evidently, I knew very little.

However, knowing that a theory had been disproven was better than an absence of direction altogether.

Him not caring about where we were could be attributed to a form of self-confidence that was beyond my ability to understand. Maintaining that stance when I threatened to go right back to his target, however…

If l can lead you right back to Barthomeloi, what on earth would you still need me for?