(A/N) Why do we exist on this earth if all we're here for is to suffer? All I wanted was to watch Spring Song, man. Instead, they decided to dap up the brick-and-mortar movie theatres during a pandemic. Sorry, Xolef, no spring song for you.

Anyway, I created a forum. It is my hope that it can be used as a medium for open discussion for my stories that might be a little more communal than PMs. I'm new to forums, however, so if you have difficulty seeing or you think it's set up badly just lmk and I'll try to fix that.

It was brought to my attention that Olga had no business Rayshifting since she isn't dead. You are correct. I have made a mistake. I can't even say that "it was for the plot" because not only is that a big fat lie, it's also the complete opposite of the truth. If I wasn't dumb and this had occurred to me earlier, I wouldn't have Rayshifted Olga because it would have worked out better that way.

But alas, this path of mine has already been set in stone. I can do little else but apologize, and promise that I find the rest of the FGO story much easier to follow from this point on. There probably won't be a gaff of this sort again.

Another word on the gacha, if y'all don't mind. For the sake of transparency, I'll close the poll at midnight EST the day I post chapter 4. I'll then set the viewing mode to public so y'all can see the numbers for yourselves.

Thanks again for the support, fellas. I hope this story will live up to your expectations. Things start to go a little off the rails as of now, but I hope the change is received well by all of you.

Enjoy!

X

I heard that right, didn't I?

"A catalyst? Are you saying we can summon a heroic spirit right here, right now?"

His holographic image laughed uneasily.

"I sure hope so! Everything on this end is a little wonky at the moment, but that's the plan, at least."

Once again, his noncommittal attitude despite the precarious situation we were in right now managed to tick me off. I didn't say anything, but I couldn't stop myself from knitting my eyebrows.

I took a deep breath.

If nothing else, we should definitely try it. It would be difficult for two humans –and whatever Mash Kyrielight was supposed to be– to survive any encounters with a single servant, let alone many.

"…"

My eyes landed on the girl's shield.

Would it work as a proper catalyst? I couldn't begin to guess how the throne of heroes would handle a situation such as the one of the Noble Phantasm's original owner. Would it simply summon the individual who was most closely related to his legend?

Then again, I was the master here. For all I knew, the construct inside of me would overpower the catalyst that we were trying to use. That could very well be a good thing, I suppose– not to mention an outcome that I would prefer, if only for strictly personal reasons.

Of course, all of this was assuming that the summoning would work in the first place.

The shield was placed on the ground.

Doctor Roman manipulated a console outside of our field of view. Not a second after his arms stilled, a familiar blue glow emanated from our catalyst.

We waited.

And waited a little longer.

"Is this not going to work?" I wondered aloud. I didn't want to sound pessimistic, but…

Animusphere scoffed. "My Chaldea's FATE summoning system is hardly instantaneous. Sophisticated though it may be, the way it operates is fundamentally different from the likes of the Holy Grail. Show a little patience, Spellcaster."

It would seem as though she was going out of her way to avoid using my name.

"Different how?"

She didn't answer me immediately, choosing instead to stare into the swirling blue light in front of her.

"…I suppose there's no harm in explaining it in detail. If we need to wait this out either way, then we have little else but time."

Hey. At least try to not make it sound like a chore.

"It has its disadvantages, but it has many strengths as well," she started, her voice sounding almost fond. "FATE cannot manipulate the Heaven's Feel accurately, and as such, a construct like Mash's shield only works as a catalyst for the initiation of the ritual, not the invocation of a servant."

I quirked my brow. "So this summoning is completely random?"

I was starting to feel less and less sure about this. If the summoning did work and we were left with a servant that was entirely unsuited to the task of keeping us alive, then maybe I'd be better off protecting us with the extra magical energy at my disposal. At least I knew what I was or wasn't capable of.

"Don't look at me like that!" Animusphere snapped. The sudden noise made Mash straighten her back whereas I felt the compulsion to scratch behind my ear with a finger. It was a force of habit, really.

Animusphere composed herself and almost looked embarrassed for yelling– not that I expected her to apologise. I wouldn't hold it against her, though. This situation wasn't one that any of us wanted to be in.

"I said it has its advantages too, didn't I?" she added in a more subdued tone. "Chaldea bears the weight of the entire ritual. That means the master –you– will not need to worry about a servant draining magical energy. Your circuits aren't burdened in any way by Mash despite being her master, correct?"

My jaw slacked. That was…

"That's incredible! If we don't need to worry about energy costs, then we should try to summon as many–"

"Stop right there," she interrupted me with a sigh. "You think it's that easy? I only said that you didn't need to worry about energy. Do you think that my Chaldea runs on prayers and well-wishes?"

"She's right, unfortunately," added Doctor Roman. "The summoning isn't even complete yet, but we're already running out of pseudo-spiritron crystals."

"What!?" screamed Animusphere. My poor ears didn't appreciate the sudden assault.

"I don't know what that–"

I couldn't finish my thought as I needed to prioritise shoving the director to the floor as quickly as possible. Before she could direct her anger at me once more, a length of chain whipped the air where her head was just an instant earlier.

Animusphere's mouth clammed shut. She must have realized how close she was to dying.

Mash was frozen in place. Her shield –her only weapon– was still being used to summon our new servant. She likely didn't know what to do, so I made a choice for her.

"Look after the director until the summoning is finished. I'll hold off the enemy until then."

She looked ready to argue, but our assailant spoke first.

"Tell me, Archer. What exactly is it that you think you're doing here?"

She was a woman. If not by her voice, I could tell by her feminine figure standing on the roof of a nearby building. Though I couldn't make out her face due to the veil she was using as a hood, I knew the name of the scythe held in her hand on sight.

Harpe.

This was the gorgon known as Medusa, summoned to this version of Fuyuki as a lancer-class servant.

I didn't bother to think about what she had just said. The time to decipher her words was a luxury I didn't have at the moment, so instead, I traced my bow and a nameless sword.

I could hear the director complaining about something over my shoulder, but I ignored her. In this moment, all that existed was myself, my weapon, and my target.

The blade was altered just enough for me to use it effectively as an arrow, and the noise behind me stopped.

A breath.

The arrow was notched and fired in the same instant. The attack would have bested most, but against a servant, I wouldn't hold my breath.

As I thought, she didn't even bother blocking it. She was fast enough to avoid getting hit by taking a quick step to the side.

She tried to close the distance between us, but I would not let her. She was forced back to her original position when another arrow came blitzing into her path.

Such mundane weapons would never so much as put a scratch on a servant, but that wasn't my objective.

I couldn't let her get close to us without risking an interruption of the ritual. I didn't trust myself to be able to get to her faster than she could get to me, so I'd need to manage by keeping her at bay this way.

That said, I could tell that this strategy wouldn't be sustainable. She was likely much faster than these arrows, so it wouldn't take much more than for her to weave her way forward before I could get another shot off.

From the looks of it, that was exactly what she was planning on doing.

My circuits hummed as they exerted themselves to create one of my stronger assets. The Hound of the Red Plains groaned as I forced its form to bend to my will.

Lancer didn't look like she was about to give me any more time. She sprinted straight for us and wound Harpe behind her.

I grimaced. The weapon wouldn't reach full power in time, but I wasn't given a choice but to release it now.

"Hrunting!"

As I thought, it's top speed didn't approach anywhere near its full potential. My opponent managed to twist her body around the arrow without losing pace.

My expression remained firm, and my aim stayed true.

She was caught off guard and forced to throw herself in a random direction as Hrunting changed its trajectory and circled right back for her.

She backtracked, but I made sure to keep my sights on her. To my relief, she took to the rooftops once more and started to retreat in the opposite direction. She jumped down further out, however, so Hrunting lodged itself harmlessly into a wall the moment I lost track of her.

I kept my eyes peeled for the servant, and she didn't disappoint. She remerged from the sea of burning rooftops about a kilometer and a half away. Though she was nothing more than a speck in the distance, her immobility told me that she was biding her time to strike again.

I sighed in relief, if only because it gave us a moment to gather our thoughts.

"That– You…"

I turned around to find both the director and Mash staring at me wide-eyed.

"Senpai, was that a…"

"What was that!? Where were you keeping that this whole time!?" shouted Animusphere hysterically. Her hands were twitching like she was trying not to throttle me.

"Nowhere," I answered. "It was a projection."

"As if I'd believe that!" she shouted even louder than before.

Unfortunately, we didn't have time for me to start explaining my magecraft to her right now.

"I'm going to chase after her."

"Senpai. That isn't a good idea," Mash tried to caution me. Her fists were balled tightly at her sides. Though her voice sounded calm enough, her body language told me loud and clear that it bothered her to be unable to protect us from the attacker without her shield.

I looked down at the said Noble Phantasm.

"Still not finished?" I asked, changing the subject.

The director grimaced. If she wanted to tell me to be patient again, then she kept it to herself. Considering the difficulties we were currently experiencing, she probably felt that way now too.

I nodded. "I'll go now, then."

Mash tried to grab my shoulder.

"Senpai–"

I took a step away from her. "This is our only option. If we take our chances and Lancer attacks a second time to disrupt the summoning, we're doomed. I'm no heroic spirit, but I'll be able to stay alive until we can fall back on a servant of our own."

As long as I kept my distance, that is. Getting anywhere close to Harpe sounded like a terrible idea.

"…"

"…"

"…"

The first to break the silence was the doctor.

"Hold on. I'll go get someone."

I sweatdropped. The guy just said something a newbie part-timer would say when they didn't want to speak to a customer, but he was strangely resolute about it.

"…Do you know how to use that mystic code of yours, Spellcaster?" the director asked.

That's right! I completely forgot this uniform served a purpose greater than simple brand representation.

"No… sorry," I admitted sheepishly.

To my surprise, she didn't chew me out for it.

"You have three codes programmed into your vest. One on each sleeve and one over your left breast," she explained without and condescension. As she said, I felt the flow of magical energy where she said they were. "The code on your right sleeve is Momentary Reinforcement. It's an ultra-refined version of a standard reinforcement spell made with servant enhancement in mind, but since you seem to have the touch to reinforce your body just fine, it should be able to strengthen you enough to go toe-to-toe with a heroic spirit… for a little while, at least. That said, don't come crying to me if it's too much for your body to handle."

"Director!" exclaimed Mash, evidently not liking that Animusphere was supporting my decision to put myself in even greater peril.

I was too caught up in the explanation of the uniform's abilities to try to assuage the girl.

It was… incredible, actually. I had learned to cast reinforcement on myself, but it wasn't necessarily a talent of mine. If what the director was saying was true, then that alone made this mystic code invaluable to me.

"On your left sleeve you have Emergency Evasion," continued Animusphere. "If you're in a bind, the spell should be powerful enough to propel you a good distance away. Landing safely will be up to you, however."

I nodded. Definitely a good escape plan if worst comes to worst.

"The last one is a first aid spell. It wont reattach any severed limbs, but small lacerations and slowing blood-loss, it can handle. Use all of these with caution. You will need to wait roughly fifteen minutes after a single use for each spell to restore itself."

"Thank you, director," I told her honestly.

She coughed into her hand. "Just stay alive for a little while longer, understand?"

I looked to Mash.

"Please keep her safe."

The girl didn't answer me. Despite her clearly turbulent thoughts, however, she managed to give me a short yet firm nod.

Animusphere scoffed. "Of course she will. Don't underestimate Mash, Spellcaster."

I laughed.

"Of course not."

X

Saving my codes for later, I jumped from rooftop to rooftop by relying on my own reinforcement spell. It wouldn't be as powerful as my code, as I would be lead to believe, but it served my current purpose well.

About five hundred meters away from the Tohsaka manor, I stopped and frowned. Lancer kept moving back to keep the same distance between us.

I wasn't in a good spot, and I knew it. Up here there was little that I could use to shelter myself if I were ambushed, but at the same time I couldn't drop down to the streets below lest I lose track of my target. All the while, my reinforced vision felt her eyes never leaving mine.

It was likely that she was planning something. Should I try to hit her from here with another arrow? It was possible that she wanted me to wear myself down, but then again it was greatly preferred over getting myself killed immediately in close quarters. Maybe I should–

I threw myself to the side just in time for a column of flames to scorch the tiles I stood on just the moment before.

"Tch. Nimble as ever, aren't you? Bastard. I didn't think you'd be so brazen as to show yourself so openly, but hey. I won't look a gift horse in the mouth."

It was a man's voice. I got to my feet and whipped my head to the side to find a man in a blue, hooded robe with a wooden staff in hand. By looks alone, I was almost certain this was a caster-class servant.

Damnit! Caster or not, two servants to fight were two servants too many.

I activated Momentary Reinforcement despite having wanted to save it until later. The one area where I had the advantage over a caster-class was in melee, but that would only be true if I went all out. How would I manage to fight Lancer after this? Not a clue, but one thing at a time, I suppose.

My body felt lighter than ever before. In record time, I was on Caster with Kanshou and Bakuya traced in each hand.

With superhuman strength on my side, my blades came swinging down on the new servant.

THUNK

To my growing dismay, my attack was thwarted. My weapons were caught on the side of the wooden staff –somehow not even putting a scratch on it– and I was forced to backpedal as Caster countered me with a well-timed pivot and a swing.

How? Casters were not usually warriors, and they definitely weren't knight-class servants. For him to have both the strength and the skill to dismantle my first assault–

His robe fluttered, displaying glowing inscriptions lining the inside of the cloth.

Runes.

The man lowered his hood, revealing blue hair and a cocky grin.

Ah… that explained it. This wasn't good. This wasn't good at all. I guess it would make sense that this guy could be summoned to another class, but…

"Cu Chulainn."

His smile flipped into a frown.

"Hah… I had a feeling you had figured that out."

His cockiness left him. "Lancer isn't too far from us, right? Two on one isn't really fair, so I'll do my best to stop you here and now before she can intervene."

I had to count my blessings, then. Even as a caster-class servant, Cu Chulainn would rather fight his enemy one on one than gang up on them.

That wasn't to say I could relax, however. Despite not being as agile as his Lancer counterpart, the distance between us was narrowed in an instant. He thrust the narrow end of his staff towards my neck in a single smooth, well-practiced motion.

I instinctively took a step back to escape the probing strike. His triumphant smile made me uneasy.

The light from the inferno surrounding us almost made me miss the glow at my feet.

"Damnit!" I cursed aloud. Not having the time to think of any alternatives, I activated the code on my other sleeve. Much like how it was described to me by the director, an unseen force catapulted me a good fifty meters away from where I had been standing.

A jet of fire tore through the rooftop that I was just standing on.

"Hoho. Neat trick you've got there, Archer," mocked the servant as he came to find me once more.

Again with that name. Is that who they thought I was? Though I had to grudgingly admit the physical resemblances were there, there's no way that a servant couldn't tell one of their own apart from a human.

"I'm not Archer."

He was silent for a moment.

"Sure, there's something different about you… but I'm not gonna waste time wondering what the Grail has been doing to your vessel. If you think I'm about to buy into such a half-assed lie, you've got another thing coming."

I clicked my tongue because I didn't have a clue what he was talking about, but he probably interpreted it differently.

Caster laughed "Now quit messing around and fight me properly!"

We clashed again.

I grit my teeth. If this were a normal fight, current circumstances would give me the advantage. However, what this servant lacked in raw stats he more than made up for with a legendary mastery of runes and combat.

How annoying. I had half a mind to trace one of my strongest projections in order to overpower him quickly, but I couldn't afford to drain my reserves to that extent. I was lucky that Lancer hadn't jumped in yet, but I knew that our confrontation was inevitable.

As hard of a time as I was having at the moment, I knew that in Medusa was more dangerous to me as Lancer than the Hound of Culann was as Caster.

Evenly, I whispered the first count of an aria.

"Spirit and technique, flawless and firm."

Catching Caster by surprise, I threw these copies of Kanshou and Bakuya straight at his head. He dodged them, but that did little to deter me.

"What was that supposed to be, Ar–"

"Our strength rips the mountains…"

Another copy of the weapons was traced. I forced as much od into them as I could allow myself to give up, feeling their weight change as pristine blades warped into jagged, feather-like metal.

For the first time, I could sense Caster's confidence begin to waver.

"Ya didn't tell me you had something like this up y'er sleeve. Fine then. Wicker Man!"

A giant construct of burning branches blocked my path. Though I wasn't quite sure how sentient it was supposed to be, it didn't look like it wanted to keep me around.

My conviction could not falter.

"…Our swords split the water."

The overedge copies, unstable as they were, shattered against Caster's construct. The power trapped within exploded out from the broken vessel and split the towering golem in half.

Hah… that was more tiring than I hoped it would be…

I smiled assuredly once I could see Caster's snarling mug again. My job wasn't over yet.

Gotcha.

"Our names reach the imperial villa."

Two more mundane copies were traced. He didn't know it yet, but Cu Chulainn was trapped by my four-bladed attack. Restricted as he was by his class, there would be no escape.

"The two of us cannot–"

Something slammed into my side, sending me hurtling through a neighbouring house.

I almost whited out, but the cobwebs in my head cleared just in time for me to see the gleaming form of Harpe come for my head.

I saw the end come to me in slow motion.

Damn it. Was she waiting for an opening? Was I so distracted that I gave her that opening?

Fighting two servants at once would not be possible for a human. Even if I could escape the deathblow inching closer and closer to me –which I couldn't– and even if Chaldea managed to summon the servant by now –which I had no way of knowing– I still wouldn't be able to hold out long enough for that servant to get here before I would be killed.

It was my loss.

…A reckless idea came to me. More of a pipedream, really.

Then again, it was all I had. Either this worked and I lived, or it didn't and I would die.

"Trace on."

She probably wasn't expecting me to attack her instead of defending myself. After all, what was the point of striking the enemy if you wouldn't live to see your victory?

I would wager that it was for this exact reason that I was able to land a flimsy-looking dagger in her chest.

The Immortal Slaying Blade swung short, harmlessly passing in front of my nose by a hair's breadth. Like a puppet with its strings cut, Lancer crashed into me in a heap.

I felt an enormous dip in my remaining magical energy followed by a smaller, continuous trickle, and I chanced to hope that my suicidal plan had worked.

Less than a second later, whatever connection I felt vanished without a trace. My stomach dropped.

Caster had found me. He stood not ten paces away from me.

However it was that I could keep up with him earlier, I could no longer reproduce the same result. Momentary Reinforcement had worn off.

"I can't say I know why you shadow servants are going after each other now, but I'm not gonna complain. Gotta give you props, though. I didn't think that you'd be able to kill her after she caught you off guard like that. Haha! I guess I can chalk things up to luck every once in a while, too!"

Somehow, I had only then noticed that Lancer wasn't on top of me anymore. In fact, she had completely disappeared.

"Geurkkk!?"

The strangled noise came from Caster's lips. It was followed by a stream of blood bubbling out of his mouth.

The tip of Harpe's curved blade was sticking out of his chest.

Both of us were looking at it with equal amounts of incredulity.

"Damnit," he mumbled. He looked more annoyed than angry. "I guess my luck is just shitty all-round, then. Nothing new, I guess."

Upon death, Caster's body dispersed to reveal Lancer behind him.

I forced my body to its feet.

"…"

"…"

"You really aren't Archer," she commented. Lancer let her Noble Phantasm vanish into the air.

I held back a relieved sigh.

"I could've sworn I mentioned that already."

X

I returned to the manor to find a dynamic that wasn't all too unusual.

"What do you mean? Are you saying the summoning failed!?" the director screamed at the hologram.

"I can't say for sure without all the details," responded a voice that I didn't recognize. It belonged to a woman, not the doctor. "All I know is that FATE stopped burning through our Saint Quartz and ceased all primary operations. That should only happen if it has already locked onto a Spirit Origin."

"Stop calling them Saint Quartz already! How tacky can you be? More importantly, what the hell are we supposed to do now?"

Mash didn't look too interested in asking questions. Instead, she grabbed her shield and turned to leave. She only stopped when she saw that I had returned. I waved.

Her eyes widened. "Senpai– behind you!"

The shout had alerted the director. She saw me and tensed.

I hummed, pointing over my shoulder. "Oh, her? It's fine. She's here to help, I think."

"Emiya Shirou," called the unknown voice while my two companions remained speechless. It was strange to hear my surname spoken first after so many years away from my home country. "Is that Lancer with you?"

"Yeah, why?"

Introductions could wait, I suppose.

"I knew it. How did you manage to pull this off? TRISMEGISTUS has her spirit origin registered, so that means you literally stole her servant contract."

Animusphere was more concerned with a separate matter. "Explain yourself, Da Vinci. Why didn't you inform me of a new data entry?"

"Because something like this just isn't supposed to happen. TRISMEGISTUS being a machine that I have not made with my own two hands, I would have had to assume that the entry was a bug until proven otherwise."

Mash stared at Lancer wearily. The woman just stared back with no clear expression visible under the shade of her veil.

"Senpai has a new servant then?" asked the younger girl. "He was able to... defeat Lancer?"

She sounded like she couldn't believe her own words.

"From what I'm seeing, that's correct. In short, FATE found that its currently active master Emiya Shirou formed a contract with an Unregistered Spirit Origin, so instead of summoning a servant of its own, it simply passed on the rights of the unregistered servant to Chaldea. 'How' remains the question, but interrogations will have to wait until everything here is over and done with."

"Is that why I don't feel any strain on my circuits?"

"That's right. Chaldea will do all the heavy lifting for you."

Huh. That explains a lot then.

"That said, I did a little digging through Emiya Shirou-kun's record."

Hm?

"He was supposed to be a top-of-the-list priority back when we were assembling the A-Team. How is it that his recruitment file had been brushed to the side until a week and a half ago?"