Author's Note: Some have commented that there hasn't been enough action or struggle. Well, that will change in either Chapter 11 or 12 depending on length. Also, this was beta read by xenahort x, as all the chapters thus far have been. It's time I started giving credit and they're also looking to beta read other things too.

Previous chapters have seen slight adjustments. Artoria is slightly less of a doormat in Chapter 3 and instead is slightly more shrewd due to multiple comments that she was being out of character, though this has no practical change in the story's progression. I also differentiate more between Structural Grasping and Tracing. Shirou Grasps things to learn about them and Traces them to use them. The weapon Carnwennan has been adjusted to reflect that used by Fate/Grand Order's new Caster Artoria, but retains its previous abilities.

W1rath56 : The 'everyone being happy' aspect is going to hit a big bump in Chapter 11 or 12. This is also a longer-term story than Fate/Zero alone. But yes, Shirou here is going to be far stronger than canon. Merlin meddled with him so he could survive in Avalon with Artoria without dying if need be, not considering the consequences of how the world will treat Shirou (or knowingly enjoying it). Tokiomi's all "this kid's a prodigy, must try to make him my son in law someday", while Kiritsugu, Irisviel, and Illya have been fed enough information to make sure they protect Shirou and (hopefully) support Artoria. Not that this is guaranteed to go smoothly either.

Artoria revealed the entirety of Fate/Zero because not doing so endangered the World. I know there are stories where people keep the truth secret, but it did not serve her in any way to do so.

Tokiomi isn't reacting outwardly heavily to the news because, the way he sees it, his actions don't change whether the Grail is corrupted or not. If not corrupt, defeat everyone to win. If corrupt, defeat everyone to protect the World. When it's verified that the Grail is a problem, then he'll lament. In the meantime, he supports Saber and gets a Master and Servant off his back and the latter even helps him hunt down Caster while Gilgamesh focuses on defense. Really, he's getting a very sweet deal just from humoring the possibility. Also, Gilles de Rais would not even exist if the Grail were working properly. In its untampered state, 'dark' or villainous heroes aren't supposed to be possible. It was only the Einzberns' tampering with the Grail in the Third War that made it possible. (Or, in Apocrypha's case, the Yggdemillenia altering the Grail's specs). Whether they like it or not, Saber presented PROOF that the Grail wasn't working properly. Risei's reasons are explained more deeply at the end of this chapter...though not completely. Need to save some exposition for later.

Morgan le Fay? The cause of her envy, the kingdom, is gone and destroyed. Her children are, for the most part, dead. Now she's looking at an eternity in Avalon trapped with her sister while everyone in the World curses her name. She learned that victory is hollow. First, she intended just to put forth token civility so Artoria would leave her alone, but 1500 years has turned that into honest regret. That's also why she's worried about Sakura. A sister thrown away in favor of her sibling? Cast into the darkness with no fate but to be a monster unless she's saved? It's like looking into a mirror.

Gilles? You'll see why he's important soon, aside from being a driving force for the story's start. I always felt that he would have been more effective with proper direction from Zouken. Zouken's Magecraft is oh-so similar to that of his spellbook...

As for why things changed up, it's because this is a different World. Avalon was inside Shirou from birth, meaning the Einzberns had to assault a village with Camelot's artifacts (Gray's hometown) to get Rhongomyniad as a Catalyst instead. Because that area was under Einzbern attack and the hornet's nest there was stirred, Zouken could not get a Catalyst to summon Lancelot from there. He had to settle for Kariya summoning someone without a Catalyst, and his goal to protect Sakura called out Boudica (whose daughters lost their chastity to Romans and were a contributing factor to her going to war in legend). Rhongomyniad's theft by the Einzberns also resulted in the people who were stolen from to reach out to El-Melloi with Mordred's artifact, since her weapon is effective against Artoria. Every deviation in Servant can be traced back to Avalon not being where it was supposed to be.

And yes, Shirou is Artoria's Master. He's just too young to be able to make decisions for the War. He'll have his chance to shine when things go off the rails, though.


Chapter 10: The Calm Before the Storm

January 13, 1994

Einzbern Mansion

146 hours and 30 minutes to Zero

Irisviel had acted normally until Artoria left so as to let the King of Knights return to Shirou's side without concern or hesitation, but she couldn't help but break down in tears afterward. The homunculus had seen the place where she had been killed filled with the corpses of the innocent, after all. The group elected to return to their home base with the Servants driving the more conspicuous vehicles. Maiya drove a van used by Kiritsugu's team that night while husband and wife sat in the back. After much crying, the woman had finally fallen asleep in the moving vehicle. It was a good thing that Illya and Gray had been asleep when the group got home or they might have been distraught at seeing Iri in that condition. She was carried to bed under the maids' care, leaving the others to process the events of the day.

"They're at one of the Edelfelt Mansions? That makes a lot of sense." EMIYA observed when told where Kayneth's team had fled. "They've been free use for the Mage's Association since the end of the Third Grail War. El-Melloi knowing of them and choosing to stay in one isn't that far-fetched."

"Yes, but he didn't think to do so before. They were living out of an abandoned factory after I destroyed the hotel last time around. What caused the change?" Kiritsugu asked himself, attempting to ponder why Kayneth had done something so different. It was a concerning deviation.

EMIYA simply shrugged. "Who knows? Maybe he just had more time to read up on previous Wars since someone dropped a Catalyst in his lap this time. One small change can make big ones later. We're just lucky he picked a place well-away from prying eyes and that we know where to find him thanks to that mouse familiar of yours."

Kiritsugu looked at EMIYA with concern, considering the details of what he heard from El-Melloi's fiancée by way of his familiar. "Shirou," The use of that name by his father made the Archer tense. "Lord El-Melloi's fiancée mentioned a Reality Marble with infinite swords. When were you going to tell us about that?" Maiya's eyes widened slightly, as did Lancer Artoria's. Both had heard of Iskandar's own Reality Marble. To think that their ally had something similar...

EMIYA narrowed his eyes slightly in irritation. He briefly spared a glance to Maiya before giving a sigh and answering his father's question. "In private, when it wouldn't draw suspicion from Miss Hisau. This isn't exactly something you tell someone you've only known for a day, especially someone who clearly doesn't trust you. I've been betrayed before by an ally. It's what finally killed me, after all."

Maiya looked at EMIYA with an unreadable expression. "Why would informing me matter, Archer? You just revealed it to the enemy."

Lancer Artoria, however, was a bit more aware of the nuances than Maiya. As such, she was able to piece it together. "You are a living scabbard...Avalon gave you this power, did it not? And as the child version of you has carried Avalon within him since before his very birth, he too has this ability."

Maiya finally showed wide-eyed surprise, but Kiritsugu's expression was one of a man whose suspicions were confirmed. He responded with a tired sigh. "I thought so. It is not as much of a problem for an enemy to learn that a Servant somewhere has such a power. Shirou's a different story though. If they realize that he has a Reality Marble, that's an imminent Sealing Designation from the Clock Tower."

"Yes...and I'd prefer no one else know about it. I only used it this time because it was the best way to protect the kids from an enraged Clock Tower lord and maintain anonymity." EMIYA elaborated with crossed arms.

Maiya looked at EMIYA for a moment before addressing his concerns. "I may help bring in or kill Sealing Designates, but that is because of what they do with their power rather than their status. I have no interest in turning Kiritsugu's son into a bounty. If he doesn't get in Kiritsugu's way, we won't have a problem." EMIYA may not have liked Maiya's phrasing, but the matter seemed to be resolved for the time being.

"There is something else of import to discuss," Lancer Artoria interjected. "When I cut off Mordred's arm, Add attempted to absorb all prana that the Servant was supposed to be made of. However, Mordred's arm is not prana. It is genuine flesh and blood."

Kiritsugu was surprised by this fact. "What does that mean, Lancer? Was she resurrected in a new body?" Lancer Artoria shook her head. EMIYA knew the answer, though.

"A pre-death contract with the World. Saber had done that, only to give it up before getting what she desired and thus escaping the contract. Shirou had given Avalon back by then, so she managed to heal and survive her lethal wounds for her trouble." EMIYA stated, aware of his Saber's tale. He regarded Lancer Artoria for a moment. "It's the same with you, isn't it Lancer?"

"...Yes." Lancer Artoria responded. "At the moment of my death, I bore such regrets that I desired the Holy Grail's power to resolve them. I too made such a contract with the World. I suspect that my other self had similar regrets. I do not understand, as a King, how she could abandon them for a man."

Archer bore a scowl, glaring at Lancer as the information sunk in. He spoke in a deep, level tone belying his anger. "Let me clue you in as someone who made a deal with the World, Lancer. It will be a far greater regret than anything you could possibly have lamented in life. You will be forced to kill one to save ten, ten to save a hundred, hundreds to save thousands, thousands to save millions, and nations to save a World. It will happen over and over again without your being able to control your own body. You will be a tool. A sword. And nothing else ever again."

"But you-" Lancer started, her eyes widening slightly in spite of her efforts to remain stoic.

"After thousands of years of killing, I was summoned into a Grail War in my living self's past with a certain amount of free will returned to me because I was summoned as an Archer with Independent Action. I can't begin to tell you the odds of such a thing happening to a Counter Guardian. Then, against all odds again, Merlin was able to break me free from Alaya and bond me to my younger self by exploiting something I just happened to do while I was there. You and Mordred can't expect the same result. Move on, Lancer. For the sake of your own soul." The man turned and walked away, heading toward the kitchen to fix them an early breakfast.

Lancer Artoria's own eyes narrowed slightly as they followed EMIYA's withdrawal, the King of Knights not liking to be told to give up on her life's final dream. After all, even what he described was worth saving her Kingdom from her own incompetent rule...if anything, it was a fitting punishment for her mistakes.


Matou Mansion

146 hours and 13 minutes to Zero

Kariya Matou had experienced a bad day yesterday. First, they had been casually defeated by a Master/Servant pair that Saber believed that she knew. She then said the pair was holding back heavily, but she couldn't elaborate any further because Zouken could likely see and hear what she said due to the Crest Worms inside him. Then the prana drain and injuries required them to avoid joining Saber in hunting for Caster when she called upon their aid. Lancer and Rider had contacted her, saying they'd found a clue to Caster's lair and wanted all hands on deck, but it just wasn't possible. Given that he and Berserker had been hunting Caster's Master since before the start of the War, this was quite a hard pill to swallow.

When he opened the basement door to check on Sakura, though, he saw that things were worse than he could have imagined. He saw red as he recognized the man standing at the edge of the worm pit. "BERSERKER!" Not needing her enraged Master to finish his command, Boudica drew her sword and launched a burst of prana at Ryuunosuke as he stood at the edge of the worm pit, only for a tentacled familiar to leap up and intercept the blast at the cost of its life.

"Stop, Kariya." Zouken's stern voice called out. The worms within Kariya flared up and made him cry out in pain at the old man's command. He stumbled and fell from the tall staircase, snapping Boudica out of her rage.

"Master!" She leapt for him, managing to catch the falling man and land safely. Kariya would likely have broken his neck otherwise.

Zouken slowly approached, savoring Kariya's physical pain. Of course, he had every intention of adding emotional pain to it. "That's no way to treat our new allies, Kariya."

"Allies?!" Boudica yelled out in rage. "These two murder women and children! We're supposed to kill them!" The revelation made Sakura's eyes widen. She just got even more uncomfortable in the company of the pair.

Kariya stumbled to his feet and glared at his uncle. "Yes! What were you thinking?" A flash of pain warned Kariya against further disrespect as Zouken glared.

"Ungrateful brat! One Command Seal for killing them, or a pair of allies who don't want the Grail and are willing to work with us? The answer is obvious! Besides, I'm overseeing their energy collection and teaching techniques that make their previous methods obsolete. The reason the Church called for their deaths is no longer valid since we're moving to more covert methods." Zouken glared at Kariya judgmentally before delivering the emotional blow. "If you weren't so weak, I'd never have entertained the idea."

Kariya clenched his trembling fist as the seed of self-doubt was planted. Zouken grinned and chuckled before continuing. "Don't look like that, Kariya. Your job just got easier. Just let these two work and pretend they aren't even here. In fact, I forbid you and Sakura from informing anyone of the alliance or their presence. Should anyone find out, the worms will punish you both severely." Zouken watched Kariya's eyes widen as the command took root. The worm monster knew what was running through his descendant's mind. Kariya was willing to endure pain, but would not risk subjecting Sakura to it. The reverse was also true. Love was such a convenient weakness to exploit.

"Now both of you take Sakura to bed. I have business to tend to." Zouken dismissed them, letting Sakura finally leave for the night. The girl exited the pit at the opposite side from where Ryuunosuke stood, clearly wanting nothing to do with the man. Boudica aided her by leaping over and picking her up before retreating to where the girl's clothes waited. She gave Ryuunosuke a glare of fury and shielded Sakura's modesty as best she could as the girl redressed, though the maddened freeter paid it little mind. Kariya glared at the man as well before withdrawing from the basement with Boudica and Sakura, knowing full well that things were spiraling out of control.

They brought the girl upstairs to her bedroom while noting that her eyes looked distant and empty. Kariya hated when Sakura looked so despondent. She was clutching her new blindfold like a lifeline, fortunate that Zouken simply thought it was a useless gift from Kariya. Shirou also had one, so he thought it a mere trinket that was popular with kids at the moment and not worth his notice.

"U-uncle Kariya?" She asked, drawing her uncle's attention as she was tucked in by Boudica.

"Yes, Sakura?" Kariya inquired.

"The scary man and the clown...are they going to kill more people?" Sakura asked in worry.

Kariya didn't know how to answer. He wanted to say 'no', but... "Grandfather brought them here to teach them to fight without killing people, so I hope not." It was the best answer he could honestly give.

There was some sadness as Sakura noted that he wouldn't make any promises, but she knew he wasn't in control any more than her. They were suffering together. It would change soon though. Auntie Morgan had said so. A small hand grasped his and Sakura's eyes regained their life, to Kariya's surprise. "H-hang on, okay? Things look bad...but it won't be forever."

He forced a smile and patted her shoulder. "You're a strong girl, Sakura. Thank you."

Sad that she couldn't say more right now without her Grandfather finding out, the tired girl gave a yawn. "Good night, Uncle Kariya. Auntie Berserker..." Sakura fell asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow.


Avalon

146 hours to Zero

Morgan le Fay was livid. The Master and Servant that had endangered her brother-in-law-to-be and chased after Artoria as if she was theirs to claim were now intruding on Sakura's life and making her even more miserable. Yet more frustrating was that Gilles was a patron of Francois Prelati in life, who was in turn a student of hers and Vivian's. This was something she could have prevented.

After reflecting on the error in teaching Francois, she decided that she could no longer simply let things happen and hope for the best. It was time to intercede for Sakura's sake. Focusing on the black and red scabbard, her energy began to flare...but a single voice called to her.

"Stay your hand, Morgan." She glared at the source of the voice, Merlin fiddling with a 'phone' similar to Artoria's. Honestly...pretending to be a girl and toying with the humans outside? It was just like him. "On the next night, when the father's arms reach his daughter once more. Wait until that moment if you want her to survive."

The Witch of the Lake considered the clairvoyant's words. The implication was that Sakura would die if she acted now. That the child would find herself in her father's arms again in time. But should Merlin's words be taken at face value? Predictions of the future weren't always good things, and Merlin couldn't predict the future directly as much as indirectly obtain the information from those who could. He did this both by reading the present and by entering the dreams of others. It was possible that he'd even gotten the prediction from that device he was fiddling with. Did she dare to trust it? She waited for several tense moments before reaching a decision.

"One day more, Merlin. If this backfires, we will have more than mere words..." Morgan said, lowering her hand.


Tohsaka Mansion

143 hours and 30 minutes to Zero

"Remember, you oil the pan before trying to fry the bacon." Shirou spoke into the phone, working on breakfast while Boudica wrote down the recipe from next door. He had taken over the kitchen in a manner that had initially confused Rin until she sampled yesterday's dinner. It had been thousands of years since anyone had consumed properly prepared hydra meat, but Shirou had made the most of Gilgamesh's resources. It helped that Shirou could analyze the food in its entirety at a mere glance, which helped him prepare the food even more expertly.

Artoria, who had recently returned from her patrols, sat with the others sat in the dining room. She wasn't too keen on the idea that Okita had been sent to spy on the Einzberns, but she couldn't say such a thing out loud. She sipped at her tea, waiting patiently for another culinary delight.

"So the 'Meeting of Kings' is happening sooner than Saber and Lady Einzbern anticipated. Are you certain that Rider had the idea of his own accord?" Tokiomi asked of Okita.

"Yes," Okita responded. "Lancer and Einzbern-san didn't lead him toward the idea at all. Rider thought of it himself and decided to apply it toward a general 'feeling out' of the parties in the War."

"Opinions?" Tokiomi prompted before taking a sip of tea. It would be Kirei who responded.

"Rider wants a new body with which he can then fight to conquer the world, while Waver Velvet simply wants to be judged for his works rather than for his bloodline. It seems that the latter faced undue discrimination by Lord El-Melloi, his teacher and First Saber's Master, to where he was mocked openly in front of his peers. Mister Velvet was angry enough to take his teacher's catalyst and participate in the War. He is rethinking his wish, however, after its shallow nature was pointed out to him by both Rider and Lancer. Rider's team desires proof of the Grail's corruption, but they are willing to set aside their wishes and support Lancer's team to protect the World if the reported corruption proves true. They also value human life in general, as do Lady Einzbern and Lancer." The report was a bit dry and basic, though Waver's need to be accepted was something that Kirei Kotomine could at least understand.

As for any discussion of First Saber and Lancer's identities, that was shot down by Gilgamesh before Artoria had even returned. The King of Heroes wanted the pleasure of seeing Artoria's face when the time came to properly reveal them.

"So it is the tale of an elitist educator neglecting his student. I had hoped for better from a Clock Tower lord." Tokiomi believed the fault to lie with both parties, but the student needed at least some leeway. Waver Velvet was the first of his line to even attend the Clock Tower. It was El-Melloi's duty to teach class and bearing to those of lesser generations who lacked the benefit of tradition, not to condemn them.

The meals were brought out, Shirou placing the dishes while speaking with Boudica on the phone. "...so you should be able to buy the blueberries in town. Huh? You can get them year round, though they're fresher around harvest time, why?" He stopped speaking on the phone to give his full attention to serving Gilgamesh, who had hydra bacon, eggs, rice with pickles, blueberries, and barley flatbread. A beer at his ideal temperature was also provided. Only when Gilgamesh dismissed him did he move on to serving Artoria.

Artoria noted the phone and realized the opportunity. "Oh, we need to invite them to the meeting. Shirou, may I have the phone for a moment?"

Shirou nodded to Artoria. "Berserker-nee, Saber wants to talk to you!" With the handing over of the phone and Artoria accepting it before beginning to speak, Shirou was better able to use both hands to deliver the food. He served Rin her breakfast next, his earnest smile causing the girl to wear a complicated expression before adopting the smile she wore as her public face in return.

The complex expression returned when she began to eat. She would not admit that his food was better than her mother's. She would not.

"Yes, you will be expected at the meeting, then. Thank you, Berserker. I will convey your regards to Shirou." Artoria would end the phone call before smiling at her young Master. "Berserker had to go, but she thanks you for the recipe and for speaking with her. I believe that interacting with children brings out her maternal side. It is good for her." The phone was returned to Shirou and Artoria then began to enjoy her meal.

"Meeting...will I be going, Saber?" Shirou asked, giving Okita her serving.

Artoria shook her head. "If sufficient defenses remain here, I think it would be ill-advised for you to come. The Einzbern Castle is a dangerous place right now, Shirou, and your anonymity is the best protection you have. I will have to attend, though. I am the one who has to answer questions about the corruption of the Grail. The Einzberns cannot speak openly, lest they offend their family's patriarch."

Tokiomi was served next accepting the meal and giving Shirou a pat on the head. "I cannot speak for Archer, but I am wondering if Grandmother would be willing to stay and watch Shirou and Rin. She should be a sufficient deterrent against Zouken Matou." Rin shuddered a bit at the name. The old man wasn't someone she ever wanted to see again. Saber was unsure of trusting Kirei, and it sounded like he'd be staying behind.

Shirou beamed at the head pat and gave Kirei his food next, the plate's contents heavily seasoned with spices through the cooking process. Kirei had already said grace before accepting the meal, which was to his liking. "I would be willing to stay here with Grandmother. The wish doesn't concern me and destroying the Grail if it is corrupt is a foregone conclusion. Only politics prevents the Church from doing so as it is."

Okita nodded, giving her agreement. "You all know that I am in the War to prevent it from going overboard and hurting the innocent. Saber-senpai's word alone is enough for me. Protecting the home and getting to know Rin-chan would be wonderful!"

Gilgamesh enjoyed his meal while his cook set another place at the table. "Then I will attend and Tokiomi will stay behind. I see no reason for him to speak on my behalf. My stance is simply that the Grail is already mine to do with as I please. I will permit its destruction to destroy the taint that has attempted to claim it, but those who seek to steal it for themselves will face my judgment." Artoria agreed with a nod, having hoped to be able to attend. Dealing with Gilgamesh as anything but a potentially malevolent force was still strange to Artoria.

Tokiomi did not refute his Servant's decision. He preferred to stay anyway. As much as he wanted to give his student a chance to avoid his prescribed fate, trusting him alone with Rin was not something easily done. The man then noted Shirou having a seat to start his own meal, having left an extra place next to Rin. "Shirou, I believe you have set one too many places."

Shirou, in turn, smiled. "Nah, she's just shy. Sakura, just because you're here through a Familiar doesn't mean you can't join us!" Rin's eyes widened at the revelation, and nothing happened for a few moments. Soon, however, the shadows from under the table mixed and formed Sakura's Shadow Familiar. The small entity stood on the chair and was forced to climb onto the table.

In truth, Sakura didn't fully understand what was happening with the Grail War. She wanted to warn her daddy about the killer and the evil clown, but Zouken would hurt her uncle Kariya if anyone heard about it. It didn't matter if he knew she was the one who told or not, her grandfather would use any excuse to cause pain. The girl wasn't even sure if she should let anyone else know her Familiar was there before Shirou revealed her. She had decided that she would watch for trouble at the very least.

"S-Sakura?" Tokiomi asked, drawing the eyes of the familiar to him. It would be Shirou who answered, though.

"She's nervous because her grandpa doesn't know she can do this and would be mad if he found out she came here. She showed up last night. Ah, the Familiar can't talk, but I can 'see' Sakura's thoughts with my eyes if she sends them through the Familiar. I'll have to talk for her." Shirou conveyed as Sakura's familiar picked up a fork with egg white on it and pushed the food against where its mouth belonged. Nothing happened the first few tries, but the food soon vanished into the black mass and entered Imaginary Number Space...and through there, Sakura's mouth via the shadows within. Thus the foot-high creature learned to 'eat'. Sakura clearly liked what she was tasting and repeated the procedure. "Ah! She learned to send food and eat through it! That Imaginary Number Space thing is neat!" Shirou was impressed while Rin thought it was oddly cute, seeing the small black creature eating with the relatively oversized cutlery.

"I see. Such thoughts are part of the Familiar's history, so you can see them as well." Tokiomi understood, realizing that Shirou's Mystic Eyes indirectly allowed him a form of mind-reading. Though it was line-of-sight only, it was also retroactive in nature. He probably had to actively attempt to use it as such though, unless the history of the object in question was rather sparse like Sakura's Familiar. His attention, however, shifted to his daughter. "Sakura. I'm glad you could join us, regardless of form. Sending you away to the Matou was a horrible mistake. I am grateful to Kariya for revealing that to me." Tokiomi maintained his poise, but the softness of his voice conveyed his sincerity.

The familiar looked to Tokiomi and put down its fork before walking across the table. With stubby arms, it reached out to Tokiomi and gave him a hug. A surprised Tokiomi returned the embrace with a smile.


Avalon

143 hours and 12 minutes to Zero

"That embrace counts, does it not?" Morgan inquired impatiently as she watched the interaction through a crystal ball, ready to act at a moment's notice. Merlin simply looked at the Witch of the Lake with a critical and amused expression.

"My word, centuries of patience escape you for this child. You have truly taken a liking to her." Merlin's response both irritated and embarrassed Morgan, but he spared her the need to respond by continuing. "Charming as this side of you may be, it is still too soon. I've told you the hour at which she needs you to act."

"Hnn...if your predictions are so perfect regarding these children, why did you respond with such alarm and lack of foresight when Shirou was attacked by Caster's Master?" Morgan inquired of the Magus of Flowers.

Merlin responded with a smug smile. "Oh? Do you truly think that your sister would have worn such attire had I given her time to consider an alternative? Her uncertainty over her own femininity would surely have come to the fore." Morgan's eyes narrowed at the revelation of Merlin's intentions.

"This man..." The Witch of the Lake growled to herself.

"Ah, this one really is the worst kind of man, isn't he?" An unfamiliar voice snapped the entities out of their reverie. Merlin, Morgan, and even Vivian drew their eyes to a new observer. A white-haired woman with blue eyes was glaring at Merlin from his right. She was attractive, but also capable of concealing her magical power. Regardless, Merlin could tell that she was in no way human.

Before he could respond to her statement, Merlin had been dismissed from the newcomer's mind. She looked into the crystal ball in fascination. "Ah, the boy little Artoria picked can cook! He's kind, too? Hmm..." Those lively blue eyes scanned the child.

"My dear lady...who are you, and how did you get here?" Merlin asked, his unflappable facade strained as he got caught in the newcomer's pace. Morgan was curious and similarly confounded, but Vivian's eyes were wide in recognition. The Lady of the Lake knew this as the woman who Artoria helped that one time...

"Hn? I'm Artemis. I came here because things are finally getting interesting~" The Divine Spirit smiled and returned to observing as if her words alone explained everything. In fact, her identity did explain how she got here. She was a Divine Spirit and a former goddess who had used her waning influence in the World to empower Artoria back in the day. If there was anyone aside from the Fae who could get into Avalon, it was such a being. Merlin had not forseen this with his powers, though. The woman continued after a time, speaking as if in an afterthought. "I was going to punish you all for meddling, but I had to accept it for little Artoria. She saved us back then, after all."

"Punish? Did we upset you somehow?" Merlin asked, nervously.

Artemis glared at Merlin with an angry pout before slapping him hard. Hard enough to propel him straight into the inner wall of his prison. "Of course you did! You messed things up big time for me! Big! Time! When you brought Artoria here after she made a Parallel World on the surface, you made a Parallel World out of the Reverse Side of the World, too! That's not supposed to happen without humans around! When I went up to visit Orion at his constellation after that, I found another me there from the original Reverse Side! Another me!" The woman was getting angrier at the thought, ramping up her tirade. "We were not giving Orion the 'double Arty action' he wanted, so we fought and the loser had to...give up...I've gone 1500 years without him! Gah, it was so hard at first!"

Artemis sniffled at the memory, Merlin only now pulling himself free from where he'd face faulted into the magical white stone. Fortunately for him, this Land of the Fairies kept him from taking on any serious injury. The Magus' strained smile never left his face, but he did check if his nose was broken on impulse.

Indeed, the World and the Reverse Side of the world were only minimally connected in most cases. Not only was it not energy efficient for the universe if the Reverse Side of the World were to branch off into a new permutation every time the World above did, but they did not even operate under the same rules. The World made Parallel Worlds based on the decisions and actions of the most dominant life form on the surface; humans. The Reverse Side of the World lacked humans and had a far smaller population of sapient species upon which to draw permutations based on such decisions. When they brought Artoria to the Reverse Side of the World with knowledge of the future and commenced with their plan to change it, Merlin, Morgan, and Vivian had explicitly caused a deviation that reached further than they had anticipated. Parallel Worlds were certainly a fickle thing to tinker with.

"A brave man after my own heart." Merlin noted about Orion. Artemis gave Merlin a speculative glare before calling forth her bow.

"Rather than exacting more justice upon this hopeless cause, perhaps you can elaborate more regarding your purpose here?" Vivian hesitantly asked of the being. "Truly, this cannot be the most interesting thing in the Reverse Side of the World to one of Divinity such as yourself..."

Artemis sent away her bow before she smiled confidently and crossed her arms under her remarkable bust. "Of course it is! We have a plan, you see! It's a sneaky, wonderful, amazing, secret plan that the cute boy of Artoria's makes possible!"

The typical inhabitants of the land were concerned. Vivian elected to press her inquiry. "Lady Artemis, who is 'we'? Shall you tell us of this plan?"

Bringing a finger to her chin in thought, Artemis pondered for a moment. "Hmmmm...I think it'll be better if you just wait and see! It's more fun that way! Now...do you have any dumplings? Seeing the boy's skills made me want some human cooking!"

The puppet masters who had become puppets themselves had serious doubts that they would enjoy this.


Fuyuki City Streets

142 hours and 21 minutes to Zero

Fuyuki City Police and members of the Fujimura Group were both out in force patrolling the streets. However, neither gave the other any trouble. There had been a long-unspoken accord between the two groups so long as the Fujimura did not trespass too far, though the yakuza group would be given some extra leeway due to the common goal the two groups currently shared.

The fire to Caster's Workshop had not gone unnoticed. While nothing magical remained, the skeletons of missing women and children had. Dental record matching was already underway to identify the victims, paid for in part by the Fujimura Group to expedite the process. Now the police and yakuza worked together to provide security and ensure that no one else fell to the murderer's clutches while the children went to and from school. So long as the yakuza focused on this activity rather than crime, reasonable weapons and violence toward this end would be ignored. The slaughter of the police initially sent to arrest Ryuunosuke was not forgotten.

EMIYA was a bit surprised to note that the police and yakuza both took notice of him a few times, but did not approach. In fact, some of the yakuza gave him nods before moving on with their work. He may not have been Ryuunosuke, but he was hardly inconspicuous. Was it some spell cast to make him appear as one of their own?

"Still out patrolling?" EMIYA's eyes moved toward the voice as Taiga and her group approached. With her were Reikan Ryuudou and Otoko "Neko" Hotaruzuka, as they were two days prior. There was a new addition of four large men in suits surrounding the group, prepared to defend them. Clearly, Taiga's grandfather insisted on providing her protection. Torashinai was in her hand, ready to draw blood if she happened across Ryuunosuke Uryuu. How a bamboo sword would draw blood was merely an academic question. Knowing her EX-ranked luck, Taiga would find a way.

"This morning just proved that it was necessary. I'm glad to see more people keeping watch out here." He was concerned that the yakuza and police wouldn't be able to do much, but the increased number of eyes might make it more difficult for Caster to operate at least.

Taiga glanced toward her guard. "Yeah...I'm not too happy about being followed around everywhere, but Grandfather got worried. Oh, I mentioned him to you as one of the guys patrolling the place. Hope you don't mind!" EMIYA realized that to be why the police and yakuza weren't giving him any trouble.

The ex-Servant gave a smile. "I appreciate it. I know I'm not the most inconspicuous guy. I'd prefer to stop the killer, but I'm willing to be a tough looking deterrent in the meantime if it keeps the kids safe. Being able to openly patrol helps with that."

"I just wish Grandpa didn't see me as one of those 'kids'. I can defend myself." Taiga grumbled. EMIYA, however, couldn't help but chuckle. The girl looked to him with suspicion, wondering if she'd somehow been insulted. Her friends simply seemed concerned for the man's well-being. "What's with the laugh? You think I'm a 'kid' too?"

EMIYA's smile shifted into a small smirk. "Your grandfather will always see you as a kid in some way. It comes with the title. Be ready for this kind of treatment no matter how old or strong you get." The man gestured to the guards, who gave subtle nods of agreement. Everyone knew how Raiga Fujimura felt about his grandchild.

The fight left Taiga in a sigh, the girl knowing exactly what the stranger meant. "Yeah, that's what he said this morning. 'You'll always be my granddaughter, no matter how sharp your claws.' Then he gave that laugh of his and assigned me these four. I couldn't even go on patrol myself."

"If you were planning to patrol, that just means he was right to assign them to stop you." EMIYA said bluntly. "I've seen grown men and women who have trained by the sword their whole lives fall in moments due to simple surprise. Your skill with the sword doesn't make you invincible. Kendo is more self-defense and sport than combat these days, anyway."

"You take that back!" Taiga roared against the insult to her chosen art, pulling forth her weapon and drawing back for an overhead strike. Much to everyone's surprise, including Taiga's, the man simply stepped forward and grabbed the end of the hilt while it was still held over Taiga's head. He held it in an iron grip in spite of Taiga's better hand positioning, Torashinai's blood-lust flaring but meaningless against his D-ranked Magic Resistance. "H-hey! Let go of my shinai!" The girl tried to pull her blade free in her rage, planting her foot against his thigh for more leverage, but he showed no signs of strain. With a single twist, he was able to take the blade from her and make her stumble backward. Two yakuza caught her while two others drew their metal swords and pointed them at EMIYA.

Taiga saw the fearless expression and the steel in EMIYA's eyes. He was aware of the blades pointed at him, but showed no sign of caring as he began to speak. "The move set of Kendo is standardized and limited. It makes a person able to respond to your movements far more easily than other styles. Given that Ryuunosuke Uryuu was able to brutally murder multiple police sent to capture him at the same time, all trained in Kendo as well as marksmanship and hand-to-hand combat, what do you think you could do?" True, it was actually Caster who killed those men, but no one outside of the Grail War knew that.

Taiga was forced to listen, stunned at having been so effectively disarmed. She was accustomed to winning her matches rather than being humbled. Sadly, one of the younger yakuza guards interpreted EMIYA's words of teaching as disrespect toward the Fujimura family. He lunged forward with steel, but EMIYA stepped aside of the blade without concern. Torashinai's 'blade' smacked across the man's fingers hard enough to make him drop his blade, which clattered to the ground.

The other guard attacked with his own katana, committed to supporting his comrade, but it was rapidly parried. Taiga was amazed to see her own bamboo sword deflecting metal, refusing to be cut. EMIYA was simply redirecting force and managing the angles of the strikes to mitigate the power of his foe's attacks, but he did employ a bit of covert reinforcement to the blade for good measure. In seconds, he'd struck the arms and knuckles of the second guard hard enough to make him drop his blade to the ground as well. "She attacks me and you draw live steel against me for defending myself? Misguided, but decent loyalty at least..." EMIYA tossed Torashinai lazily in the air by a half-meter, flipping the hilt back toward Taiga as he caught it and held it out for her. "All I've done is tell you the truth. If any of you don't like it, train instead of blaming someone else. That's just how it works."

Part of Taiga wanted to be enraged. The other part of her was impressed by the show of strength and skill exceeding anything she'd ever known before. The conflict between them allowed the words to sink in. She accepted the offered blade and EMIYA allowed her guards to reclaim their own weapons.

"We don't want to be late. We barely made it last time." Neko offered, hoping to avoid more conflict. Not that seeing the man humble Taiga wasn't amusing, but this threatened to escalate. "Thank you for the lesson, kendoka-san!" The girl said to the seemingly nameless swordsman, to dissuade people from reporting the encounter and getting anyone in trouble. Thankfully, EMIYA was willing to play along.

"No problem. Train hard and listen to your grandpa, 'kid'." EMIYA waved as Taiga was pushed toward school by Neko again, now having a nickname she hated almost as much as 'Tiger'. However, the anger was less because of the insult and more because of the size of the gap between them.

"Hey." Taiga uttered to her guards as they walked away. "Where would you estimate that guy's strength to be?"

The pair of men who were beaten rubbed their hands, and the second man spoke in response. "That guy beat us too quickly for me to get a good idea of his skills, but I doubt my brother could handle him...and he was in the All Japan Kendo Championship." Taiga had made a similar observation but wanted it confirmed just in case she was too wrapped up in the matter. That happened to her sometimes. The man had used kendo moves alone to win easily, and his words implied that to not be the limit of his technique.

"That man is someone to watch. I want our people to keep an eye on him. Don't go picking fights with him, though." Taiga ordered, failing to register the hypocrisy of her words. When they finally entered the school gates, she registered a small dip in her energy, but it was almost imperceptible. It was something that she chalked up to the mood.

Buried underground, in the plumbing under and around the school, Magic Circles started to slowly drain the students and faculty of energy.


Matou Mansion

142 hours and 10 minutes to Zero

"This is boring. You sure this is all we can do now, Gramps?" Ryuunosuke asked, wishing he could at least watch the girl and the worms again. Even that got boring after a while, though. Zouken was a bit irritated at the man's impatience, but stayed his frustration for the moment.

"If you knew more Magecraft, you would be less bored. You'd be able to feel the energy being siphoned from the targets. Making multiple sigils and using them to create energy absorbing Bounded Fields around every school and sufficiently large workplace in the area is hardly a simple task." Zouken could tell that the energy had started to flow, charging Caster with energy for their future plans.

"Amazing! I can use this water transport system with my Familiars to make magic circles in places no Magus could even reach! Already the energy is beginning to flooooow! I need more!" Gilles was reasonably pleased, even though it was a solution with too little bloodshed for his regular tastes.

"Patience, my allies." Zouken warned. "The best way to avoid retribution is to not be noticed at all. Drain many people slowly and they will simply attribute it to natural fatigue while giving you far more energy than one person alone. We can drain them for hours or even days. Once they notice something wrong, they will try to explain it as a gas leak or some sort of other mundane cause. Only when a target is alone and unobserved should you indulge fully in your pleasure." The man spoke from extensive experience. He'd spent 500 years draining others to sustain his own life force.

"When you put it like that, I guess it makes sense..." Ryuunosuke said, the logic getting through to him. Taking a few percent of many peoples' energy was safer than taking one-hundred percent of one person's energy, and likely had the same or better results. Ryuunosuke was a bit crazy, but he still knew basic math.

Around various locations across Fuyuki, chosen for their density of human targets, Bounded Fields based on the Matou Magecraft and placed by Gilles' Familiars flooded the Servant with energy. Similar glyphs were installed around the Tohsaka estate's Bounded Field through this underground method, but they wouldn't be activated until the time was right.

For the moment, no one would be the wiser.


Tohsaka Estate Backyard

142 hours to Zero

"Yeah! Go for it!" Shirou cheered happily as the two blonde swordswomen did battle. Their techniques were a blur to most observers save for the local Mystic Eye users. The combatants were clearly enjoying themselves, the old allies measuring each others' abilities. Sakura's Familiar was sitting on her father's knee as she observed with timid excitement. Gilgamesh watched with mild amusement as well. Tokiomi and Rin observed with rapt fascination as students of the Tennen Rishin-ryu school of Kenjutsu that Okita had long since brought to the Tohsaka. Kirei watched to get a better understanding of his Servant's skills, having been taught some methods to better use his blade-heavy Black Keys from the same discipline.

"You've improved, Miss Okita! I've not had such a rousing battle of the blade since last we sparred!" Artoria smiled as she parried her opponent's blade.

"Thank you, Saber-senpai! Your skills have not dulled at all since those days!" Okita beamed, even though she was on the losing end of the fight. Few had managed to match her in raw skill even in her prime, but Saber's centuries of practice made her an opponent Okita was hard-pressed to beat. It was a rare pleasure to be pushed in such a way, in spite of over a century of experience with the sword.

Oddly, Artoria was limiting herself to techniques that were within the realm of pure-blooded humans...if only barely. No Mana Burst, no Invisible Air. In fact, the pair had asked Shirou to project some typical swords which then had Reinforcement applied to their durability concept so as to survive the levels of combat in play. Skills from Britain, France, Germany, China, Japan, and other places in the world were visible in Saber's style, albeit with the same grace and control as she was always known for.

"To think you would even learn Shukuchi..." Okita muttered when Artoria dodged a strike by using the techniques Okita herself showed during the Second Holy Grail War. Artoria closed the distance between them, clashing blades with her sparring partner again.

"Strength is never a replacement for skill. I have eagerly learned much of what you offered to me back then, though your Three-Stage Thrust still eludes me." Artoria had trained with the sword eagerly in her time in Avalon, practicing new techniques in swordsmanship as well as Magecraft. Whenever she was summoned, she learned something new. Still, aside from Lady Francis, she lacked good targets for her practice aside from constructs created by Merlin and the Fae. She was also not able to tap into the Second Magic that Okita momentarily used for her technique.

"Hnn...perhaps I should show it to you again, then. The Tohsaka have asked me to perform it regularly over the years due to their interest in the Second Magic. I am accustomed to it. Shirou-kun, would you please prepare a boulder?" Okita asked of the boy, who projected the desired disposable prop in the yard. Rin and Tokiomi watched in rapt attention, receiving their first opportunity to witness the Second Magic...and possibly the last within their lifetimes. Taking a stance, Okita stared at the target for a moment before she lunged forward. She closed the distance in a mere two steps and, in a move that broke causality and the World's logic, thrust forward three times simultaneously.

Mystic Eyes observed the rules of the world overwritten by something else as three strikes bled into one, blue-white flashes joining to cause massive and nigh-unblockable damage. This power caused Shirou to remember something...a purple-haired swordsman standing atop the steps of a temple on a mild, winter night...

"Tsubame...Gaeshi?" Shirou asked, briefly confused.

"Hmm? 'Swallow Reversal'? No, this is my 'Three-Stage Thrust'." Okita was a bit annoyed at the mistake but forgave the child. At least her move was compared to a samurai of renown.

Shirou had to think for a moment. "...Oh...Oh! Right, you merge three attacks into one...but Tsubame Gaeshi splits one attack into three. It works the same way, but backward..." The boy was deep in thought, prompting Artoria to walk over and stoop down in front of him.

"Shirou, where did you learn of this technique?" The Servant inquired.

"Sasaki Kojiro! He used it at Ryuudou Temple as Assassin!" Shirou's response surprised Artoria. She did not recall Shirou seeing any such event happening in the Fifth Grail War, but she knew who he spoke of. Perhaps Shirou saw it through the history of Assassin's sword and got confused? His memories were suppressed at the moment.

"Sasaki Kojiro. Rumored to have learned a technique to entrap and cut a swallow in mid-flight. To think that Shirou saw such a thing..." Tokiomi mused while pondering the implications. The child had clearly seen similarities between it and the technique Okita had just employed. "Shirou, does Tsubame Gaeshi also employ the Second Magic?"

For some bizarre reason, Artoria felt compelled to ask if the technique was for cutting African or European swallows. That was just silly. Why would it even matter? She forced the strange thought from her mind, unaware that it was a compulsion from her legend imposed by the Grail.

Shirou processed the entry in his Reality Marble. "I think so...when I remember Monohoshi Zao's history...err, that's his sword, its power looks and feels the same as Assassin-nee's. Just backward." The connection in Tokiomi's mind was made apparent. Shirou had the power to remember and perfectly replicate the history of objects. Weapons were objects with techniques included in their histories. Okita Souji and apparently Sasaki Kojiro's weapons served as near-perfect records of their respective and opposing applications of the Second Magic in Shirou's mind. Shirou Emiya had information on the Second Magic.

"We...will have to discuss that at length, Shirou," Tokiomi said, managing to maintain his poise. "It is important to my family's Magecraft to learn every detail you can glean from those swords regarding the Second Magic." Shirou agreed and Rin grumbled. She wasn't so happy about how much time Shirou was spending with her father.


Edelfelt Forest Mansion

138 hours and 12 minutes to Zero

"Who the hell do you think you are, my father? Because you aren't!" Mordred bellowed angrily, flinging open the front door of the mansion hard enough for it to crack before storming outside. The lord of the Clock Tower who had contracted the angry blonde followed her outside.

"But I am your Master! That means instead of treating me like your father, you should actually listen! Remember how efficiently you were disarmed yesterday? Rushing off to the Einzbern Mansion to issue a challenge right now is foolish! I forbid it!" Kayneth's enraged voice called out as he chased his disobedient Servant. Fate was probably laughing at the contrast, considering that to be exactly what Kayneth did in a different timeline. Mordred froze, looking back to the man with a murderous glare.

"...'Disarmed'...was that a pun? Am I a joke to you?" She turned and poked her finger into the man's chest. "Let me tell you something, 'Lord' El-Melloi! I am not just a Servant! If you are a 'lord', I am your King! Unless you want to use that last Command Seal, you can't forbid anything! And unlike other Masters, you aren't my prana source! I could gut you without a care in the world the first chance I get! Remember that!" Mordred yelled in his face and Kayneth couldn't help but flinch in a mix of fear and rage. That was indeed a downside to their unique Master-Servant arrangement that he hadn't thought through. Once the Command Seals were gone, Mordred only needed to keep Sola-Ui alive to keep manifesting in the World. Kayneth was truly useless to her.

"Problems at home?" A voice called out, disturbing them both. Mordred called forth her blade as the pair wondered why the Bounded Field didn't stop the intruder. Their question was answered when their target appeared, dropping her Presence Concealment and stepping out from behind a tree. She wore her Coat of Broken Oaths inside-out, keeping her from being readily identified as an ex-Shinsengumi. "No need for that. I'm just here to deliver a message."

"A Servant...you must be Assassin to sneak through the field. How did you find us?" Kayneth glared angrily at the Servant.

"Father? N-no! The hair and eyes are the wrong colors!" Mordred sputtered out in surprise and denial.

"You were observed moving here from the hotel after you escaped from Archer's barrage. As for my appearance, I was as surprised as you are when I first met your father. If I am in any way related to King Arthur, which I doubt, it would be rather distantly." Okita responded to each query in turn. Kayneth tensed up at the revelation that he was found so swiftly, but Mordred relaxed ever so slightly.

"What's your message then, Assassin?" Mordred inquired, in no mood to speak to her father's doppelganger any longer than necessary. At least the girl wasn't a blood relative of any note.

"Rider has proposed a parley between the various participants of the War, and Lancer's Master is providing Einzbern Castle as a venue free from prying eyes. Rider and his Master, Berserker and her Master, Lancer and their Master, Second Saber and Archer have all confirmed their attendance. Caster is not invited. As I have no wish of my own for the Grail and participate only to minimize casualties and contact between the civilians and the Moonlit World, I will be monitoring for Caster rather than attending." Okita finished, the Knight of Treachery's eyes widening. Mordred found that to be an impressive guest list. Assassin not showing up was hardly a surprise. They would be at a horrible disadvantage at such a venue. Still, though...

Mordred narrowed her eyes a bit at Okita. "An Assassin that only desires to minimize casualties and has no wish? I doubt that."

Okita's eyes narrowed slightly at Mordred's attitude toward her. "This is the form I took in my younger days, maintaining order and killing threats to my corrupt feudal lord, before your father personally righted my path. Were the mantle of Saber not taken twice over in this War, I would have manifested in that class as my true self. I owe everything in my life thereafter to King Arthur and trust their judgment in this matter. I have no need to attend this meeting so long as they speak."

As much as Mordred hated Arthur the parent, Mordred still admired Arthur the King. Almost under her breath, she had to begrudgingly confess, "You certainly sound like someone Father recruited along the way..."

Mordred looked to Kayneth, ready to demand to go, only to see an odd smile on Kayneth's face. The man responded with what seemed to her to be a false pleasure, albeit well-honed due to his station. "Very well, Okita Souji of the Shinsengumi." Okita's eyes widened slightly, and Mordred gave her Master a puzzled expression. "Saber will attend. Those in attendance will not be attacked until after the parley is concluded unless they attack us first. I will have to monitor the meeting across my link with Saber, though. My fiancée was the victim of an unprovoked attack even though she is a noncombatant. I need to tend to her and pick up assorted medications and food as needed. Surely, you recognize my need to manage my time optimally and will not pursue her in the interim?"

Okita recovered her composure and gave a nod of understanding. "I have no interest in harming participants or Saber's prana source during these discussions." It was Kayneth's turn to take on wide eyes before donning a grimace. The undertone of the comment was understood, or at least interpreted, by Kayneth to carry a warning. Each had pieced together one secret about the other from listening to the conversation. If Kayneth told of Okita's identity, she could tell of Sola-Ui's condition if not assassinate her while Kayneth and Mordred were elsewhere. The reverse was also true. A stalemate. Kayneth wanted to order Saber to strike Assassin down now to avoid that issue, but the agreement had just been sealed. He had his pride as a Magus to consider. Okita continued to speak. "The meeting is at nine-o'-clock this evening. If required, Rider is willing to provide you transport there and can meet you outside your Bounded Field half an hour prior."

"Very well...thank you for the opportunity, Miss Okita." Kayneth said through clenched teeth. Okita nodded and withdrew. Kayneth grumbled and retreated back into the mansion with his Servant.

"How did you know who she was? Was she lying about being influenced by my father?" Mordred asked, suspicious.

"Hnn? No. It's the fact a Japanese woman claimed to be influenced in that way that revealed her identity. I'm sure you are aware of her legend." Mordred nodded at Kayneth's statement since the Grail provided data on the legends of other Servants, but she wasn't sure what context this bore. "What her legend neglects to state is that she was a straggler that unwittingly became the Master of Saber in the Second Holy Grail War. We've long suspected King Arthur to be the identity of that Servant. It was after that when Okita Souji ceased to fight for her feudal lord and started fighting for the populace directly."

Mordred's eyes widened. "Wait! Hold up! So the reason Assassin is a Heroic Spirit now is because she summoned my father in a Grail War?"

"Perhaps. It just goes to show what sort of person your father is." Kayneth teased. He left it at that as he walked back into the building to prepare. He had his own plans to make, but letting Mordred stew over her own inadequacies compared to her father was fine revenge for her disrespect.


Fuyuki Church

137 hours and 56 minutes to Zero

Okita arrived at her next destination, the Fuyuki Church. Entering under Presence Concealment, she only allowed herself to be known once within. The woman walked down the familiar aisle, her intentionally loud steps alerting the priest within. On stepping out, Risei was mildly surprised to see her. In most cases, Risei would reject the Servant and ask them to leave. However, the rules were a bit lax...especially for his old ally.

"Risei-kun. We have to speak...not as Supervisor and Servant, but as we were years ago." Okita said to the man, who was her ally in mediating the Third Grail War and minimizing casualties.

"I see...what is on your mind, Okita-sensei?" He inquired, having known this conversation was coming. At the very least, it was Okita who had figured it out first.

"...I wanted to believe Saber-senpai, so I was willing to entertain the possibility that this World was different from the one I lived in...but that isn't the case, is it? The Third Holy Grail War that I recall, the one without Angra Mainyu...that is the 'true' history, is it not?" Okita inquired of the man, who pondered his response carefully.

"...It is as you say, Sensei." The man released a bit of a sigh.

"Then why did you not correct her?" Okita inquired, trying to understand why her long-time ally had remained silent on the matter. There was no tone of accusation in her question, only confusion.

Risei pondered his response for a time, standing before modern Japan's symbol of justice. "I almost did, Sensei. But remember, Saber was correct when she said that a Servant like Caster could not exist were the Grail working properly. Regardless of whether she remembers the 'correct' version of history, she has still shown evidence that something is very wrong with the Grail." Okita's eyes widened at the reminder of this fact as Risei continued to speak. "If we criticize Saber's account now, then the Grail will not receive the necessary scrutiny. We can count on the Einzberns and Matou to also stay silent to a point, but only because a deep rebuttal to Saber's claim would mean bringing forth some unpleasant facts that will make them lose face. We are fortunate that the current generation of Masters have been raised in ignorance. If we press too hard, though..."

"Then the very reason for questioning the Grail in the first place will be rendered moot and whatever flaw the Grail truly has will go unaddressed." Okita understood and gave a small smile. "I'm relieved that there was a good reason...I will maintain my silence as well."

Risei nodded, pleased with the outcome of the discussion. "I'm glad I can still count on your aid, Sensei. Honestly, I wish the Holy Grail Wars had ended after that mess..."

"You and I both, Risei-kun. It would have given me a more peaceful afterlife." Okita clearly said the latter part in jest. She was a warrior like many others in the Throne of Heroes and seeing how the World grew over the years after her passing was a pleasure as well.

"Doubtful. You were never the type to retire." Risei joked back, knowing his elder's attitude on life well. The two enjoyed the camaraderie, remembering old times.


Author Postscript: Regarding my interpretation of how Parallel Worlds Work (added in an edit):

hughfj08: I could have gone with the idea that "creating a Parallel World creates a matching Parallel Reverse Side of the World", but that doesn't make sense given the rules defined. I tried to determine something that made sense within these limits, though if people dislike it I can still revert it to something simpler by editing this chapter. People reading, please comment.

1. The various different worlds that exist are based on the possible outcomes presented by the race that dominates the realm. There are billions of humans, but far fewer Phantasmal Beasts or sapient beings on the Reverse Side. That means fewer possible permutations exist for the Reverse Side of the World than the World.

2. There is a finite amount of energy in the universe/multiverse, necessitating the pruning of unsuitable Parallel Worlds. It is energy inefficient to have a Parallel World for every World if there are going to be a lot of absolutely identical ones.

As such, it is more likely and energy efficient that there are a number of "Worlds" connected to a single "Reverse Side". Perhaps in a manner similar to Textures. If an event endangers the whole planet or changes its path, THAT is enough to make a Parallel Reverse Side. Cases like that include the interference of Brunestud of the Crimson Moon (Tsukihime Worlds), the depletion of Gaia's mana (Fate/Extra), etc.