Chapter 8

The Mist Within: Of Churches and Headaches.

To be a Cardinal was a heavier duty than it seemed.

This was a lesson Vasco Strada had learnt sooner than he wished to.

It was not the fog of war which he dreaded, nor the severe lack of information on enemy positions and numbers. Not even facing off against beings so far beyond human that their very presence would crush a regular man, would faze him. But this thing… it brought him pain like no other.


It felt like it never ended.

It was also the first thing that greeted Strada when he walked into his temporary office after being escorted from the airport.

The Cardinal let out a heavy sigh, garnering concerned looks from his fellow clergymen.

"I'm fine." He said, dismissing their worries with a wave of his hand and a reassuring smile. Though beneath the facade, Strada was absolutely dreading the moment he'd have to sit down and sift through the mountain of files.

And dread he did, for about five hours straight.

Each file was an eye straining amount of bureaucracy, something that was expected when three formerly hostile factions occupied the same territory. Each signature was crucial, each paragraph holding details relevant to maintain their fragile peace. But that was not enough to weather his will. Instead, he chipped away at his foe until nothing but a few sheets remained.

The sight brought a small smile to his wrinkled face. He could see the end for today's work near, a light at the end of the tunnel.

With a renewed enthusiasm, the old Cardinal turned to his work. He was just a signature away from freedom.

… Only for that sentiment to disappear when a priest walked in with more stacks.

His expression dropped for a split second before returning the priest's smile.

A pious man, unwaveringly faithful to his religion and belief, humble and polite. These were some of the words that were used to describe him over the years.

But at that moment, Vasco questioned the Lord's decision to make paperwork a thing. He had fought Fallen Angels, Stray Exorcists, Devils, Monsters and so many more beings without a scratch. He even managed to defeat Kokabiel during their clash in World War II, but even during those times his wrist had never ached as it did now.

Perhaps it was his age catching up, maybe it was that medical report about arthritis he blatantly ignored. Whatever the reason, it was good enough for the Cardinal to assign himself a break.

"Your Eminence?"

"Just going out for a walk. I'll return and finish these after-" He glanced at the clock.

"-twenty minutes or so."

"Understood. Should I notify the Exorcists?" Vasco fought off a grimace at the thought of the overly stiff woman and foul mouthed child who had accompanied him, among others.

"There is no need. Let them rest. They may hide it well, but the new ones are fatigued by the journey."

A teasing smile settled on the Cardinal's face.

"Speaking of fatigue, I remember the first time we flew together. It was a trip to India if I remember correctly, you fell asleep standing at one point since you refused to rest properly after we landed. I'm pretty sure Gloria still has pictures of that time."

The priest in question groaned, his hands hiding his face at the mention of his moment of eternal embarrassment once again. All those years of being prim and proper, his hard earned reputation as an infallible and reliable person ruined because of jet-lag. At least his perverseness was still hidden.

"Your Eminence, please. Why must you bring this up again?"

The pat on the priest's back nearly made him fall to his knees. Not that Vasco had noticed, he was too busy being amused to do so.

"All in jest Touji. Eitherway, haven't I told you to stop speaking so formally with me in private? You still speak like when we first met!"

The priest, Touji Shidou, ignored the dull throbbing from his back and peeked into the hallway. There was no one there. He turned to throw Vasco a dirty look, making the Cardinal's smile widen.

"Your Eminence, you already know that our difference in position dictates that I refer to you by your proper titles."

"Oh? So you're saying that you wouldn't treat me so respectfully if you were a Cardinal as well?" He replied with a raised brow.

"I-I didn't mean it like that! I meant that I-" The younger of the two panicked and stumbled over his own words. Vasco's smile only grew larger at his friend's flustered expression. The priest's head drooped when he gave up formulating a proper response. He knew very well that if he spoke out loud, the Cardinal would find a way to turn it against him.

Vasco decided to cut his suffering short and interrupted him with an apologetic smile.

"Calm yourself Touji and my apologies, but you did look like you needed to unwind a bit. You're still worried about your wife and newborn, aren't you?"

Touji Shidou nodded with a heavy sigh. It had been a few days since his wife had given birth to his daughter, and he missed it. All because of his deployment to England of all places.

"Yeah.. It's got me worried to the point I can barely sleep. My wife even blocked my number saying that I'm worrying too much. Now I'm even more worried because I can't talk to her! I swear, I'm going to book a flight back to Japan first thing after this mission is over."

The sudden shift in speech would have surprised others. Vasco, on the other hand, held back a chuckle with a wide grin.

"Do not worry. I promise, you will be reunited with your wife soon. I will talk to the others about it."

Touji's shoulders slumped, as if a great burden had finally been lifted. His eyes were teary, his face plastered with a watery smile of gratitude. The Cardinal silently mused the difference in personality. Drop his mask or mention his wife, and his friend would turn into an overly-anxious and emotional person in the blink of an eye.

He rested a firm hand on Touji's shoulder before he could voice his thanks. "Now, hold down the fort till I get back. A walk should do me good right now."

A wordless nod was his only reply. The Cardinal twisted his back, holding back a groan of relief when several pops resounded from his spine as he walked down the corridor.

The church was eerily silent. The empty pews and shadows flickering in the candle light only added to the unnerving feeling. The air was cold, but that was natural given that winter was approaching. Vasco let his hand brush past the seats. A meaningless gesture, but a habitual one that was triggered whenever he was near a pew.

The doors opened without a creak, and shut behind him as soundlessly as they opened.

Vasco could feel the environment around him shift the moment he passed through the barriers enveloping the church. The ambient Magical Energy around him turned from a pleasant hum to a nauseating thick and oily sensation.

The reason behind that sensation was debated for a long time, before he was even born in fact. However, after nearly a century's worth of debating and testing, the unique ambient Magic Energy was attributed as lingering remnants from the battle between Ddraig and Albion, along with the presences of the numerous Supernatural beings present in the area alone.

Ironic how those two dragons ended up being the reason the Three Factions worked together once more. Or at least their Research Departments anyways.

In the end, the proposed reason was plausible and the conclusion had matched with the results from their experiments. Unfortunately that breakthrough had also resulted in experiments going wrong in ways that had experts in Magic scratching their heads. Not to mention the damage that the certain rogue researchers caused when they got too carried away.

Vasco really didn't want to face another Chernobyl incident.

On the other hand.. We might need them to run those tests again. The Cardinal thought to himself with concern. The difference was subtle, but the air was different compared to the last time he had visited England. It felt more… muddled than before.

The perceived change made no sense though. Reports had confirmed before that anything that could actively change an entire country's ambient Magic Energy would require obscene amounts of energy that was impossible to not detect. A new population of Supernatural residents would be noticed within moments, so it couldn't be a new presence influencing the Magic Energy either.

Perhaps my mind is playing tricks on me again? Wouldn't be the first time it has happened.

The Cardinal pushed away the stray thoughts and tried to enjoy his walk. He only had a few minutes left until he started abusing his wrist again after all.

And relax he did. By punching a shadowed blur leaping at him from the fog.

"What in the world?"

He looked at his fist, wondering why the reflexive action happened before realizing there was something by his foot.

It was a wolf, a corpse of a wolf to be exact. Except unlike a regular corpse, it had red and purple flesh trying to restore the head that was blown off.

A Holy Energy empowered stomp turned the body to ashes.

"...An undead?"

A ripple broke him out of his contemplation. Vasco, despite never having used much magic in his life so far, was exceedingly knowledgeable and sensitive towards it and the fluctuations it caused. It was a tad bit difficult, like trying to see an image on television through heavy static, but he was able to pinpoint the source after a second.

His face hardened at the implications. Someone was possibly in danger, or it could even be a hostile presence trying to meddle with the tentative peace. So many possibilities, so little time to consider what was more likely. With that thought, Vasco pulled out an ornate cylinder from his pocket and dropped it on the ground. He shot forward the moment it glowed.

Each step should have cracked tarmac with how fast he was moving, but it didn't. A testament to his control despite his hurry.

The mist thickened as he got closer. The Magical Energy in the air got even more sickening, something Vasco thought shouldn't have been possible.

Finally, the heavy fog parted.

In front of him was a red-headed teen, slightly battered with what looked like a burn mark across his nose.

Present Time


Each move, each step and even his breathing were defined by that word. The red headed teen wasted minimal energy dealing with each opponent that came at him. Vasco could even say that he was impressed, an occurrence that was few and far between. His experience in life and war had left him with standards on a more.. absurd scale.

And the child behind him met those standards, even if it were on the lower ends of the scales.

However, there was a problem with those machine-like movements. They only had the intent to kill, nothing else.

Vasco could not allow that. Not yet anyways.

"Restrain them young one. Keep killing as a last resort. There still may be a possibility to help them."

"Restrain them? With what? Your hair?"

He could feel the boy's gaze lock onto him, or more specifically, his wrinkled scalp. The Cardinal gave him a firm look, just before he had to turn away to dodge a light sword.

His opponent was a Stray Exorcist. One of the foot soldiers of Grigori, the organization of Fallen Angels. They were often those who were led astray, or had failed in their training and screening prior to becoming a full-fledged Exorcist.

More often than not, they were sloppy in their swordsmanship and even more lax in their discipline. But this..

This was an all time low.

His hands were still coated in a blazing aura. A gauntlet of Holy Energy, dense enough to make the light blades shatter on contact with his fists. Vasco disarmed the man and tapped him on the gut. What was a tap for him, was a full blown sledgehammer to the gut to the Stray Exorcist. He flew backwards and slammed into a lamp, denting the structure and fell unceremoniously onto tarmac.

Strange. Vasco frowned in contemplation. He didn't recognize me. Is that thing inside them that deeply rooted?

It was not a matter of arrogance, but merely a fact. Vasco Strada was (in)famous in the world of Magics, Mythical Beings and across several Pantheons. There was no person worth their salt who hadn't heard his name. It also wasn't a well kept secret that both human and inhuman beings feared him for his anomalous strength, no matter their origin. So it was indeed a strange thing when someone, especially one from Grigori, did not recognize him at all.


It was the sound of metal piercing flesh, something he was well accustomed with. The Cardinal glanced back and stifled a sigh.

"I would really appreciate it if you could subdue them by not turning them into porcupines."

Vasco could not help but look at the peculiar looking blades the boy used. They were more like heavily imbalanced rapiers than proper blades. They even seemed familiar for whatever reason.

"Well sorry for not being a mountain of muscle like you. Don't exactly have your absurd strength to just knock them out like that."

Shirou could project the weapons, but that didn't exactly mean he had it on hand at that immediate moment. Mayhaps he could have procured a whip or chains or some other tool that would have made his task several times easier. If it weren't for the presence of the unknown man fighting beside him that is.

Vasco narrowed his eyes a fraction. He sensed no lies, but had the feeling that the boy was not telling the entire truth. Either way, he didn't show any hostility for now, nor did his eyes have any true killing intent despite his brutal methods. In any other moment, he would have taken the boy into custody for therapy and questioning, but he had to focus on the problem at hand.

"I understand, but please have some consideration for them. I'd rather not have two dozen people from various factions turn cripple overnight."

Shirou's expression remained unchanged as he dodged a rotting bird. It was split apart mid flight by a silver blur and crashed into a person's face. The beak pierced her eye, but there was no reaction. Her charge went on unhindered.

Vasco chopped the back of her neck, followed by a blur of movement. The initial blow didn't render her unconscious like his last victim, so he focused on her limbs instead. The woman skidded to a stop, face first on asphalt, bones shattered and twisted. The difference in his opponent's durabilities raised his concerns.

Had he overlooked something?

"I'd suggest you start investing in glasses if you haven't noticed them regenerating."

As if the young man had read his mind, he jabbed at the Cardinal's lapse in attention. Vasco looked around and found the boy's words to be true.

Even through the fog, the Cardinal could see his newfound companion's opponents recovering from their injuries. Those rapiers were pierced at the joints, lodged into the bone to hinder the movements. It was rather brutal, but the self-knitting flesh covered up whatever gorey scene there should have been. Instead, it gave turn to sickening masses of writhing flesh and pus wherever the blades were.

It was a crucial detail that would have cost any normal person in the battlefield. Unfortunately for them, Vasco was far from normal. So it was excusable for him to participate in fighting them half heartedly. In the Cardinal's mind, it was far more important to figure out how deeply the Vatican and Grigori had been compromised.

"…That could be problematic."

Vasco's grumble held a tinge of worry.

His head was still throbbing. It was not a result of that lightblade grazing past his face, that pain had dulled a minute ago. This was more… intrinsic.

His Prana was unusually erratic. Spontaneous bursts with no warning that forced him to focus a significant amount of his attention to not break his bones via excessive reinforcement. For now, it did not affect his battle potential, but that was not necessary considering the monster of a man behind him.

The pain was pushed aside, as hard as it was. Shirou's eyes flitted across the battlefield. Enemy positions were taken in, the situation of the battle was assessed. He confirmed the enemy's abilities from prior observation: Regeneration, most possibly mind-controlled bodies, no sense of pain, some still able to be knocked out.

The last segment stood out.

Why are only some of them unable to get back up?

He pushed Prana into his eyes. His vision sharpened beyond its normal capacity, everything was observed in startling clarity. From every speck of dirt being kicked up within a few hundred meters of him, to the subtle airflow within the heavy mist. Even the pulsations of the unnatural fleshy masses could not escape his awareness.

It was the Reinforcement that earned him his skill of Hawkeye, also known as a subset Clairvoyance. Usually he used it in conjunction with Projection Magecraft and his bow to snipe enemies from afar, but it could also be used to improve his static and dynamic visual acuity. For now, it was just another tool to figure out the question haunting him.

Shirou's eyes flickered from body to body. Some of them had clothes tattered, some were armored, but most of them still bore wounds that he had inflicted on them. Black Keys pierced their joints, the blade and its Mystery countering the regeneration to an extent while disabling their movement.

There was a flicker of a shadow on the ground, a ripple in the fog. Shirou flipped the Black Key in hand into a reverse grip and swung. An unholy screech resounded from his left, the source being an unassuming looking person that frothed at the mouth while desperately clawing at the blade pinning him to the wall.

It was a child who was perhaps barely hitting his teens, but that was a non-factor for now.

Another rapier-like blade stabbed into the flailing arm, two more into his knees. There was no mercy in those actions, nor any killing intent. In front of him was an opponent, an obstacle in his way. Shirou knew that the brutality was uncalled for, but at the moment he had no other way without revealing his Magecraft.

Or rather, he had grown complacent in his preparations, resulting in him refusing to show a smidge more than necessary instead of preparing more counter measures. A problem that he would have to rectify some time soon.

In some corner of his mind, Shirou was sickened. He shouldn't be, by all means, but the sensation was dulled. He had done things like this so many times before, things more brutal and ruthless. Logically it would make more sense if he hadn't felt anything at all, desensitization was a cruel thing at times.. But no matter how many times he killed and massacred, harming children always left him somewhat nauseous. He considered the sickening feeling a good thing.

It meant he still had his humanity.

Vasco had not been idle during that time. He had noticed the child, but like the others that had surrounded him, the boy was mindless and aggressive. The Cardinal was a compassionate man, towards his allies and his opponents. But even he knew that sometimes that was not allowed on the battlefield, no matter how much his strength could compensate for the potential consequences.

He had learned it the hard way. It was during the Second World War, he had allowed a particularly heinous group of Stray Exorcists to be captured instead of sentenced to death on spot, defying the Vatican's orders. He paid the price in blood- twenty three Exorcists and half a dozen Angels died in an suicidal explosion. More than half of his unit dead, all because he was too soft.

So, he prayed for repentance and the child's salvation and turned an eye.

The Cardinal focused his attention on the group before him. A mishmash of corpses and people that were probably still alive. The difference was obvious. Their skin tones, state of body, movement, smell and Magical Energy gave it away. Each living being had their own Energy signature, but to discern them from person to person was a difficult thing. But to differ between species was marginally easier, even though the Magic-laden mist made things more difficult than it should have.

He prioritized the undead first.

Vasco moved like a storm. Each strike was a streak of Holy Energy, each blow ripped apart the Undead like they were wet tissues. Even the unnatural flesh that held them together turned to a fine mist with the force behind each strike. What was left flailed weakly as tentacles before flopping onto dirt.

In a second, three of the corpses were turned to splatters of gore and bone. He tilted, a set of teeth brushed past his clothing. He flicked a finger at the man's gut, making him fold in half and struck him in the back of his neck. The technique was dangerous. Without the precise control he had, Vasco could have easily killed, if not outright crippled the man with that chop to the neck instead of knocking him out.

Unfortunately it didn't work.

The old Cardinal shifted back to prevent a pair of arms from wrapping around his ankle, while slashing to his left with a spear-hand. The smell of rotting flesh reached his nose with vengeance. A lunging corpse was bisected, blackened blood and entrails were seen briefly before a mass of flesh exploded out from both halves and stitched the body back together.

Shirou focused on the ones Vasco didn't target. He saw the corpse recover and glanced back at the ones impaled by his Black Keys.

The boy.. He's not healing?

Amber eyes strayed to his next targets, a businessman and janitor that reeked of alcohol. His mind raced. Why was the boy not healing? He clearly saw the wounds trying to heal when he- no, it was stabbed. So why were there no grotesque growths?

A growl brought his attention back towards the two people in front of him.

There was a way in mind for him to discover what was wrong with them. But he'd need to get close.

And so, he strode forth.

Three steps till he was in melee range. Shirou did not wait to close the distance. He threw the Black Keys in hand, keeping in mind that he only had five more hidden in his coat. They were not Projections. The Keys of Providence were crafted by hand for the purpose of having an easily-accessible weapon in order to hide his Magecraft. So he had to use them sparingly.

A tad bit hypocritical since he had opted to use more Keys than needed in subduing the controlled humans, instead of favoring efficiency so he could avoid the subsequent brutality.

One pierced through the businessman's gut and the other burrowed into the janitor's shoulder joint. The janitor had a mass writhe from the open wound in an attempt to heal, only for the blade's Mystery to deny it somewhat. The other person did not heal accordingly.

Another one? He thought to himself. Shirou crouched down into a sweeping kick, and grabbed the businessman by the throat.

"Trace, on."

Circuits glowed from the amount of Prana he was channeling. Another surge, his Reality Marble shifted with the sudden increase in Prana output. The tip of a sword pierced his skin, as if something had skewered his wrist from beneath his skin and his grip tightened slightly more. Usually he'd actively suppress the surge from his Magic Core, but he welcomed it this time. The surge only added to the mechanics of Structural Analysis via the pulse of Prana he sent through the man's body, helping him overcome the living being's natural magic resistance.

A mental image formed in his mind. His concentration peaked. The pain that constantly assaulted him was gone momentarily as he focused on the visualization of the man in front of him. It was akin to a mannequin. A hyper-detailed three dimensional picture of the human body, except instead of just having certain organs and muscles on show, it was a detailed picture on a grid of the body down to the nearest cell.

The information would have been overwhelming to most, but experience allowed the former Counter Guardian to look past the noise. Shirou felt something in his head burst, but it was tolerable. He searched for the anomaly, combing through not just the blood-flow, but the flow of Od as well.

He didn't have to look long.

There it was, an odd disruption, almost like lightning but also like a worm with how it twitched and squirmed. He traced it from where he detected it, in the person's spinal cord, and followed it to the brain. He found a concentration of Prana clinging strongly to the person's brain. There were two other concentrations as well, situated in the gut and lungs.

Turns out he was spot on in calling it a parasite. The last thing Structural Analysis showed him was it rapidly eating away at the person's Od and turning the businessman's flesh into an amalgamation of… something.

Shirou blinked. He was back on that mist-covered street. He had slammed the businessman down onto asphalt at that moment he was focused on Structural Analysis. The red-head tugged on the blade sticking out of the man's gut and threw it to his right. The undead janitor that was stumbling to stand back up fell flat on its face, courtesy of a Black Key piercing both of its knees. He left behind the other one without any form of restraints. He didn't need to, the man was knocked out cold.

A few meters down the street was a work of modern art, sprinkled with some bones, rotting body parts and ashes. Vasco stood in front of the kneeling humans, each straining to move while a Magic Circle glowed beneath them. Some of them still had oddly angled limbs from when the Cardinal had been forced to break them to keep them in place long enough to enact the magical binding.

The battle was over.

"You couldn't have done that sooner?" Shirou gestured towards the glowing Circle.

"I may be a Cardinal, but my proficiency lies in the combat aspects of things. All I have is theoretical knowledge and accounts of Magics and other Magical Phenomena. Besides, the act of spell casting is considered heretical after all." Vasco ignored the former Counter Guardian's bluntness.

They had just finished a battle after all, tensions often ran high and hot bloodedness tended to get the better of most people. He wasn't a stranger to these kinds of things… even if they weren't caused by more understandable circumstances.

Shirou raised an eyebrow, deliberately glancing back and forth between the glowing Spell Circles and the old man. The Cardinal in question shrugged.

"... Some rules are flexible."

"Do you have any idea what's wrong with them?"

"I was hoping you'd know. You were the one who said there was something controlling them after all."

"I was operating off an educated guess. Honestly, do you think a novice Magic user like me can figure out things so easily?" Shirou said, letting out an exasperated sigh while crossing his arms.

Vasco hummed in thought. He couldn't return to the Church immediately, considering that it could be compromised. At the same time, there was still a chance that some that were unaware of this problem. He knew that none of the people stationed at England would participate in this event willingly, he had tested them personally after all. Then there was also the unknown factor.

His eyes strayed towards the red-head.

"Could you be kind enough to accompany this old man? I'll need help carrying them back to the Church."

"Yeah, no. I've already heard way too many stories about choir boys and priests to follow around an old man whose name I don't even know."

The Cardinal's eye twitched, though it was not out of surprise. There was a flash of irritation across his weathered and scarred face. It was because of how seemingly bad the reputation of priests were, and the fact that he had uncovered too many events and incidents similar to aforementioned stories to properly refute the teen. Though he did not expect a skilled fighter such as him to not know who Vasco Strada was.

"..That fault falls on me. I am Cardinal Vasco Strada. And who may you be, young one?"

There was a small pause.

There was no point in lying about his name. The old man in front of him had already seen his face. Considering that identification was being digitized as of late, it would make it much easier for the person in front of him to hunt him down if he were to escape.

That is.. If he were able to escape in the first place.

Shirou had no doubts. If he were to fight this man as he were now, he would be crushed. He would probably even have a hard time even if he were a Servant, judging off sheer physical might alone. The Cardinal had shown a portion of his strength, a bare fraction of what made him known as the Strongest Human, but that was enough for Shirou to have a rough guess of how strong he was.

Besides, if the stories about him that Gabriel told about the old man in front of him were true, then he could kiss his chances of victory goodbye.

He sighed inwardly. There really was no way to get out of this.


The stern look on the old man's face disappeared, replaced with a look of recognition.

"Shirou? As in Shirou Emiya?"

Bells rung in his head. The adrenaline that was subsiding from the end of the battle rushed back full force. Even his Od circulated slightly faster in anticipation for what might be the last fight of his new life.

Vasco noticed the sudden but subtle tension rising in Shirou. He raised his arm placatingly. He must be wary. A person whom he had never met before knowing his name? I suppose that could make the caution valid. He thought to himself.

"Calm down young man, I won't do anything to you. You have my word."

Shirou did not calm down.

"How do you know my name?"

"Hm? Did you not know that Lady Gab-"

Vasco suddenly remembered a conversation with a certain Archangel he had weeks before he was deployed to England.


"Are you alright Lady Gabriel?"

"I'm fine Cardinal Strada.. It's just that.."

"Lady Gabriel, I've confided in your wisdom countless times throughout the years. It's very much alright to share your worries as well with me. After all, you were always the one pushing for me to be more casual with you." The old man sent a reassuring smile at his superior.

"Well… I suppose you're right." The Archangel sighed again. They didn't stop walking down the halls of the Vatican during their talk. The vibrantly coloured halls were empty, with barely a sight of another person nearby.

"It's just that…"

"That?" Vasco prodded at her hesitance gently.

"I miss him… and his food." There was a brief moment of confusion before the Cardinal realized who she was talking about.

"His food? Ah, may you be referring to your friend in that orphanage?"

The thought of Shirou made Gabriel smile. "Mhm! He should be in England right now. That boy… so serious, so hardworking. He never accepted any reward until it was forced onto him." Her expression fell minutely.

Sensing something wrong, Vasco aimed to change the subject.

"Hoh.. He sounds like quite the stubborn one. If that child has earned the praises of Lady Gabriel herself, then maybe I should try out his dishes one day!"

"You should! They're amazing! Ahhh.. I must say, I never really tasted anything that good… Then again Angels really don't eat in the first place." Whatever worry was plaguing her was banished by the thought of food. It showed in her expression.

"Now now, if you keep saying things like that, you're going to end up making this young man feel jealous."

"Hehe…Oh!" Gabriel froze.

"Oh no. Oh no no no. I've made a mistake." Those words made Vasco's eyebrows furrow in concern.

"Cardinal Vasco Strada." She spoke with a surprising amount of authority. The tone made his spine straighten and a serious look settled upon his face.

"Whatever you do…" The Archangel's face was several shades paler than usual. It made the Cardinal nervous.

".. if you ever meet Shirou, never EVER tell him that I told you about him." She said slowly with a wild look in her eyes.

Unbeknownst to the Cardinal, Shirou had requested the Archangel to not speak about his existence, backed up by the threat of taking away her dessert privileges again. Ironically it was the thought of said dessert that made her drop her guard momentarily, causing her to make the mistake in the first place. .

The Cardinal on the other hand blinked, struggling to process the reason behind why such a mundane request was said with such seriousness. Was that boy's cooking simply that good? He shook his head subtly. It did not matter, he trusted that the Archangel had a reason behind her actions.

Vasco clamped down on his words instantly, but it was too late. The damage was done.

It took some effort not to let the varying measures of annoyance and anger fly across his face. Shirou made a mental note to "mistakenly" forget Gabriel's portions the next time he sent gifts, with the occasional specially baked, goodies back to Italy.

But he was not surprised. In the end, she was an Archangel and her loyalties lied in Heaven and in the Abrahamic God. It was highly probable that she had to divulge in details he would have preferred to have kept hidden forever, despite his request at that time. Eitherway, he knew that his existence would be known sooner or later. It was a calculated risk, having an Archangel as an acquaintance.

On one hand, his current skill set and origins made it easy to use the Heaven Faction as a fall back plan should he ever need it. It helped that the Vatican and Heaven itself were mostly aligned with his morals and way of life. It went without saying that there was corruption in the Vatican, but the former Counter Guardian was confident he could notice people trying to use him before it was too late.

On the other hand, being affiliated with one Faction would restrict his movements greatly, not to mention missions and the formal training he would have to undergo along with constant monitoring. It was a question of freedom versus safety.

Shirou preferred to take his chances with freedom. He was already under the clutches of ALAYA, so he would prefer not to have anymore people holding his metaphorical leash.

"So… Gabriel told you."

I should not have mentioned that. The Cardinal bit back a grimace while nodding at the frigid expression.

Shirou's expression remained ice-cold. But underneath that exterior, was him suppressing the steadily growing pain that stemmed from his head. The mentality that followed battle had left, the adrenaline faded away and let the brunt of whatever he had pushed away slam into his senses again.

Each step was a fight against the red in his vision, a struggle not to stumble. Yet he did not give away any signs of discomfort.

Either way, it was time to play the unknowing-stumbled-into-something-he-wasn't-supposed Magician role. "Just what were those?"

"The corpses? Undead. Whatever's inside them trying to heal them? Well.. Even I am not certain."

"Well that doesn't sound good."

"Indeed. In all my years of service, I have come across things similar, but not quite the exact same as this. It does not get purified, yet it turns to ash when in contact with high concentrations of Holy Energy. It regenerates and fills large injuries with new flesh. Or well, some of them do."

"Well.. do you think a baptism could work? It's a purification ritual, isn't it?"

"Baptism indeed can be considered a purification ritual, but it is more concerned towards joining our religion than in cleansing. But the Church does have rituals for situations like this."

Luckily Shirou did not need to subtly nudge the Cardinal towards the ones that did not regenerate immediately. The old man made a beeline for the businessman he had pinned to the road a minute ago.

"I'd recommend you stand back. Things like this often become delicate. Could you please stand at guard while I do this?"

The red-head gave a wordless nod.

The man snapped his jaws towards the duo, only to have the Cardinal grasp his head in a gentle, yet firm grasp. It was rather comical, the man's head was easily hidden by Vasco's palm alone. A vague image of Heracles squeezing EMIYA's skull in one timeline flashed across the former Counter Guardian's head in mortifying reminiscence.

Holy Energy did not erupt, rather it gently wafted upwards in a vague pillar. The Cardinal spoke. The concentration of Prana in the air rose as the chant continued. It was almost as if the Latin words were purifying the air itself with how the mist was fading by the second.

Jeez. Just how humid was that fog? It felt like I was walking through oil or something the entire time today. Shirou thought to himself before diverting his attention back to his surroundings.

It took Shirou a few seconds to realize that he, in fact, did recognize this prayer. It was another prayer used by Church Executors for purification of spiritual impurities, ailments and expulsion of foreign entities, often used to dispel Magecraft affecting a person's psyche or in combating possession.

Huh, it seems like some things don't change. Even when it isn't Proper Human History.

Then the screaming started.

The man in Vasco's grip thrashed to the point he ripped apart his own hands, unpinning himself during his flailing. There was an oozing mud-like thing dripping from him, reminding the red-head of that unholy Grail mud. But even then, the Cardinal did not falter, ignoring the clawing hands dirtying his clothes.

The prayer continued. Shirou was tempted to use the remaining Black Keys to form a sound-proofing Bounded Field as the screams grew louder.

The old Cardinal's expression darkened by the second. Three entire minutes went by, and the fog had cleared revealing a moonless night. The street lamps were functioning still, letting Shirou finally see the street in full clarity.

Well this is gonna be a pain to clean up. He grumbled while taking note of the many pools of blood, decomposing corpses, torn up tarmac and puncture holes that he knew were going to be there once he recovered his Black Keys.

The screamings stopped by the time Shirou had collected his blades.


"Finally. Wh- Wait. You purified all of them?"

"Yes. That's the reason why it took so long after all."

Shirou hadn't even noticed. The Spell Circle remained under Vasco's feet while he was chanting, but there were small motes of Light rising from the others. What's more surprising was the speed at which he finished cleansing them. The foreign Prana was something intricately wound in their bodies, if what he had seen was the same for the others, and removing it without harm would have taken most hours, if not days.

Vasco had done it in five minutes. Not to mention, he had not detected the Prana fluctuations despite being right on top of said people.

"It seems we have another problem."

"We? I don't recall there being a 'We'."

"It has been a 'We' since I decided it so. Since you have some training in Magic, I assume you can take care of the damage? I will tend to them and call an ambulance." The Cardinal stressed the word 'we' to show his intent in having the red-head accompany him, just to make sure he was safe from whoever had attacked them.

Shirou frowned. He was being roped into something he had no wish to be part of.

… But then again, it could be something that would threaten the lives of people living where he was. Stay out of it. He told himself while kneeling down. You can still get out of this mess. There's no need to get involved.

The moment those thoughts finished, he scoffed. The former Counter Guardian knew that he would interfere, especially when there were lives at stake. To save others, that was his only path. There was no turning back, no end to it, and no deviation. That did not change, even if it was during this "vacation."

His fingers traced the ground, a faint trail of Prana followed it as he drew a Spell Circle. It was one of the more simpler Magecrafts he knew that was adapted into this world's Magic. It took Shirou far too many attempts through the age-old trial-and-failure method to succeed at just this spell alone.

He tried not to remember the other spells he had adapted. Or the property damage. Or the burns.

.. Or that one time he nearly summoned something by tweaking a summoning spell to work with Tracing. Shirou didn't let the spell complete after the first tentacle appeared and nearly slapped his head off.

Shirou shook his head, dispelling that memory and focused on the finished Spell Circle. Despite the small area the Circle covered, the scars left on tarmac closed slowly in spite of the distance from the source of Magic. Fortunately, the blood and viscera from the corpses and those who were completely taken over turned to black sludge and ashes, leaving the road as it was before.

Vasco observed the process while carefully moving the bodies, taking care not to aggravate their injuries. Without that abnormal healing, the people were left bleeding out from stab wounds over numerous joints. Some would even be crippled for the rest of their life.

But at least they wouldn't be dead.

"For a novice, I have to admit that your Spell casting is impeccable."

Not many Non-contracted Magicians could pull off a spell of that caliber. It was obvious that the boy had not made a contract, since Vasco had not noticed any sigils denoting a pact in his Spell Circle.

"Then you must not have come across many good Magicians to be impressed by this." Shirou swiped at the dirt and dispelled the Spell Circle. All signs of battle had disappeared, as if it was a bad dream all along.

"Eitherway, we should leave. They will be here soon." The Cardinal straightened himself while dusting off his clothes. It did nothing for the blood stains though.

"And leave them there like this?" Shirou questioned while raising a brow.

"This place doesn't exactly portray the best of situations. Two suspicious individuals and a half a dozen bleeding people on the street? Even I could not talk my way out of that without revealing the more mystical side of the world."

The old man walked. The sounds of sirens reached his ears, growing louder by the second. Vasco turned back, glancing at Shirou questioningly.

The red-head shot him a scowl before following.

"I assume your Master lives around here?"

Shirou considered his options. He already knew that the Three Factions kept track of the Magicians and such who resided in the areas. Problem was, he never registered in the first place.

"I'm an independent Magician. Been learning spells from an old tome I stumbled across."

It was the safest route. If the Cardinal pressed for information, he was confident he could deflect inquiries with half truths and carefully omitted answers.

"You must be talented indeed. Most self-learned Magicians end up harming themselves by getting too ahead of themselves."

"Talented? That's a good joke. I can barely pull off that spell, much less anything else in that book."

"... Putting the culmination of your efforts down like that is not a good thing. Pride in excess may be a sin, but in lacking amounts it is just as harmful."

Shirou shrugged at the frown directed at him. He just called it as he saw it. It took him over a year just to create that Spell Circle from scratch. If it were someone from the Caster class, the deed would have been completed in a week or less.

"Besides. If it weren't for my acquaintance, I would have had a much harder time."

"Your acquaintance?"

"A doctor of the local clinic. He's helped me out a few times."

"A clinic.." The Cardinal trailed off, racking his brain for the reports he had gone through earlier today.

"Ah. Takeshi Aoyama, was it not? An accomplished healer of both the mundane and phantasmal. His track record is truly impressive. It seems we owe him many thanks for how many of ours he has treated over the years."

"Huh. So the Church really does keep track of who lives here."

"Indeed. Security is of paramount importance. It is up to us to monitor the people aware of Magic and the mythical population so that no one causes trouble."

"Monitoring? Us causing trouble? The most trouble that's happened this week was that fist fight between you guys and the numbskulls from Grigori. And that happened right outside 's clinic! If anyone's been causing trouble here, it's you people."

"This week?" There was visible confusion on the Cardinal's features.

"Could you specify exactly when this happened?"

"Yesterday. Afternoon."

Vasco blinked.

Strange, I don't recall reading any reports about that.

A frown slowly crawled upon his face.

Maybe… Perhaps it wasn't a mistake that reports of that event were missing? That would mean that there's a traitor, perhaps more amongst those stationed here.

The old man glanced at Shirou. His mind raced once again, weighing his options.

Perhaps it would be too dangerous to take him along. To plan an attack of that scale, manipulating reports. Only the ones in the upper hierarchy present here could have done that. And despite what he showed earlier, it would not be enough to deal with them.

Vasco thought that the boy beside him had stumbled onto an attack, or perhaps a mere distraction with what said attack had consisted of, that was meant for him. So he held a sense of responsibility for getting Shirou into this mess, all the while unaware that he misunderstood the situation.

Now that I think of it, he did say the clinic was nearby, right?

"Shirou. You mentioned earlier that the clinic is nearby, right?"

Despite his wariness towards the Cardinal's sudden inquiry, Shirou said yes.

"Can the doctor accommodate you for a while? I fear that something may have happened at the Church. I will not be able to protect you properly if I wish to investigate thoroughly."

Vasco took the lull in conversation for Shirou contemplating the idea. In actuality, the red-head was busy schooling his expression, surprised that things went his way without requiring any further manipulation. He had been aiming to split up from the elder man ever since he let it slip that he knew Takeshi after all. But not having to bend his words made things much easier.

"He can. I'm sure he'll want to know about what happened as well."

"Good. I will meet you there later if all things go well. This is where we part."

With that being said, the Cardinal disappeared in a blur, leaving behind a crater in tarmac and swirls in the light fog. Shirou was left behind, staring at where the Cardinal was with a blank face.

". . ."

Is this what it feels like to be lucky?

His face immediately soured.

"I just jinxed myself, didn't I?"

A minute later…

Shirou knew something was wrong the moment he laid his eyes on the clinic.

". . . Me and my big mouth."

It was dark. It was never supposed to be dark. The clinic was open almost 24/7, closing with at least a day's notice given beforehand. Something that he knew was not given nor mentioned by Takeshi earlier that day. His jog turned into a short sprint.

The rest of the building came into vision. His alarm only grew.

The doors were splintered, the windows shattered. He even spied a few suspicious stains across the windowsills, the grass and on the floor in front of the entrance.

"Of-fucking-course I jinxed it." Shirou cursed under his breath while slowing down to a walk, steadily crouching to stick to the shadows as he got closer.

The place was silent. Suspiciously so. It either meant it was a trap, or the assailants had already left. Shirou's nose twitched, searching for any traces of Magecraft-no, Magic would be the appropriate term, in the air. But even that turned out to be a negative, only smelling iron and rotting meat.

He carefully watched his footing to avoid stray pieces of glass and debris. It was best he stayed silent, a quiet investigation of what happened to the place of healing and whereabouts of his student and his family were in order.

The wooden flooring and carpets were stained, torn in some places which matched the destruction littering the walls of the hallways. The furniture was shattered, alongside pictures and decorations.

It was then he noticed something in the dark.

Footprints, three people. One possibly injured, one aiding the other scouted ahead? He mused while observing the dirt marks. It was not visible earlier, but the receding amounts of damage to the surroundings as he got closer to Takeshi's office let signs of someone dragging as they bled be seen.

The blood stains led around the corner, where he knew the storage room and cleaning supplies were kept. It was hard to forget when he occasionally helped restock the chemicals and medicines, as well as tools.

..Oh who was I kidding, it's totally because I help mop the clinic. Not that I'll ever admit it though. Even as that stray thought passed his mind, his steps grew even lighter while slowly reaching into his coat.

Shirou's breathing slowed. The scent of iron grew stronger, and fresher. He could hear muffled grunts coming from an open door. Unlike most of the others, it wasn't completely shattered. Rather only the knob was broken.

A pained yelp brought his mind to focus before Shirou could contemplate any further on who, or what, was hiding in the storage room. There was a barely audible whisper of metal sliding on his clothing as he pulled out a pair of Black Keys.

The voices grew silent.

Well that can't be good. Knowing what would happen next, the red-head tensed.

The wall exploded next to him, but Shirou had already back pedaled as far as he could and dodged a glowing slash. The Black Key was brought up to deflect a blow to the neck. The Exorcist in front of him was a blond woman outfitted in a modified, form-fitting nun's dress. A small silver flash was caught in the edge of his vision.

Shirou twirled, dodging a bullet of light and lashed out with a kick. The boy's eyes widened and he barely managed to raise up his hands to block the kick. Even then, the power behind it sent him flying down the hallway.


"Bastard!" The blond nun yelled out, swinging the light sword in hand with increasing fervor. Shirou returned the favor, wielding both Black Keys between his knuckles like a single claw protruding from each of his fists.

Despite being made of Magical Energy, the blade was solid, clashing in a shower of sparks with Shirou masterfully deflecting each slash with barely a nudge or swipe while moving backwards. There was not much space in the narrow hallways to swing around the rapier-like blade, while his opponent's blade seared through wood and concrete with ease.

Each move had an undeniable power behind them, crisp and precise. Yet they failed to reach the former Servant, making visible frustration build up in the nun. Shirou noticed it immediately, making the path to victory all too visible for him. The Exorcist was definitely new, considering that her form was picture perfect and her patience was rather thin.

Usually having such accuracy in one's movements was a good thing, but there was a rather innate stiffness in her movements. A refusal to accommodate and compromise for swiftness and adaptability to surroundings, preferring to stick to practiced movements that were unsuitable for the corridor. It was only her type of weapon that allowed her to ignore the disadvantage set by the narrow hallway.

Another thing that gave away that she was new. Tunnel vision.

She hadn't noticed where Shirou was leading her, or the fact he was luring the nun in the first place. The corridor showed signs of increasing damage, aside the new scars the Exorcist left behind. Blue eyes burned with anger, she shifted her posture, changing the deflected slash into a stab with a foot moving forward for a lunge.

It was the opening Shirou was waiting for.

He hooked his foot under a tear on the mangled carpet and sharply lifted his knee. The floor-covering followed, catching the nun mid-lunge before she could find her footing.


Her balance was disrupted, her ankle being dragged along with the textile instead of landing on the floor. Shirou continued with the motion, turning the knee raise into a back kick to further throw her off balance, turning the nun's overextended lunge into a split.

What he was not expecting to see was the slit on the skirt of her clothing extending all the way to her hips. Nor for it to get caught on a jagged piece of wood and tearing.

Black lace huh? Unexpectedly risque. Never thought someone from the Church had it in them to wear that.

Of course, Shirou didn't miss the glowing blade of light rapidly approaching his face. He already had a taste of that earlier, and he had no reason to have more. He brought up a fist, letting the Black Key grate against the blade as it slipped past while getting ready to stab the woman he pulled into the air with his improvised move.

She had no footing. She was still off balance, struggling to recover mid-air. The red head aimed to stab her through the gut. An injury that would end the fight with minimal injuries while giving him control over the situation. The hand tucked at his waist shot forward, but changed trajectory mid motion to block flurry bullets of light.

There was a sound of wood shattering behind him, but Shirou focused on the hail of bullets instead. It didn't even take three seconds for it to stop.


"Fuck. Shit, I thought this shitty gun had more bullets!" A pre-pubescent voice shouted out from the end of the corridor. Red eyes and white hair, clothed in black with a rosary hanging around his neck.

A homunculus? Since when did the Church employ those?

Before Shirou could question what he saw any further, his instincts flared. There was a barely audible hum, one that he heard more times than he would have liked in the last minute alone. He parried the light sword coming from his side, earning a growl from the dust and splinter covered nun.

Shirou lunged forward without warning. The Exorcist jerked her head to dodge the Black Key thrust at her skull and shifted to counter, only to meet cold, amber eyes and an arrogant smirk. She let out a cry as she felt her headpiece and hair be grabbed suddenly. Shirou kicked the back of her knee while roughly pulling her head down, making her kneel.

"Oi asswipe, get the fuck away from her shittard!"

The boy ran down from the end of the hallway, closing the distance within a few seconds and shot a bullet at Shirou. What should have hit Shirou's shoulder merely grazed by, the bullet being dodged by simply tilting the body.

The Exorcist that Shirou kicked down reversed her grip on the light sword and stabbed behind her. The tip was stopped cold by the flat of a Black Key. She tried to push through, but the blade would not budge. It was then the nun felt something cold rest on her neck, she abandoned her attempts at overpowering Shirou and stilled immediately.

The boy stumbled to a halt, the gun still traced on Shirou's head. There was a meter's distance between them. The red-head knew that the child would not miss at this distance, but it did not matter now. The Black Key at the nun's neck assured his power. Shirou's position guaranteed the rapier-like blade would slit the nun's throat before the bullet could reach.

Unless she decides to kill herself to let the boy end me. It would end up in the same result nonetheless. He thought off handedly.

There was a tense silence. The boy and the Exorcist stared at each other, communicating silently. The former Counter Guardian would have thought they were using some form of telepathy if he were not able to sense the Prana.

"Now that we're done trying to unalive each other, what brings Exorcists such as you three to this place?" Shirou didn't even try masking the boredom lacing his voice. It was getting tiresome with all that tension in the air after all.

"..You can talk?" There was no shortage of amazement in the blonde's tone. Her response was a deadpan. What did she think he was, a monkey?

"No, it's the sound of your friend bleeding out on the floor all the way back in the storage room."

It was when the Exorcist had broken through the wall. It was a small glance, but he did manage to confirm a third person in that room, heavily bandaged with blood dyeing his clothes red.

"Shut it with the sass shithead, or else imma put a bullet in your skull." The boy snapped, but remained in place with the gun still trained at Shirou.

"You kiss your dad with that mouth kid?"

The silver haired child scowled harder. His finger twitched on the trigger, but stopped immediately when the Black Key dug harder into the girl's throat.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you."

"Try me bitch." The child's finger squ-

"Enough Freed! Stop it, the person is clearly sane." Shirou raised an eyebrow at the nun's, Griselda's, choice of words.

"But Griselda-!"

A stern glare shut the silver haired homunculus, Freed, up. The nun faced Shirou with a resolute stare. There was no longer any will to fight in her eyes.

".. I don't suppose you could agree to a ceasefire?" She said in a neutral tone, lowering the light sword as a gesture of good will.

A small pause followed.

"Well, since you asked so nicely." Shirou followed the motion, albeit slower after a moment's pause.

"Thank you." Griselda said softly, dabbing at the small cut on her neck. There was a hint of blood on her fingertips, but nothing that was fatal.

"My apologies for the late greetings, but I am Sister Griselda Quarta, an Exorcist of the Vatican. The one over there is Freed Sellzen." She bowed her head slightly as she spoke. "May I ask for your name?"

".. Shirou."

"Just Shirou? Did ya forget your last name or something ya ret-"

"Freed, silence yourself. Or else I will have to punish you."

The boy paled dramatically. Shirou would have to admit, he was rather intrigued what could make that foul-mouthed child that scared.

"..Right, please forgive my companion. We.. have not had the best of days."

The red-head sighed.

"If you have that much time to apologize, then you should be using it to tend to your friend. Not wasting it on me."

The Exorcist's eyes widened.

She totally forgot, didn't she. A subtle twitch of annoyance came over Shirou. How could anyone just forget about their ally bleeding out barely three rooms away?

These two need to learn how to keep their priorities straight.

"Father Shidou!" That was the only thing the Exorcist yelled before barrelling back where they came from. Freed threw him a dirty look before following the nun. Shirou blinked several times, then shrugged and followed the pair.

He came up to the sight of the nun delicately cutting bloodied bandages and peeling them off a brown haired man wearing a cassock. The wound was grievous. Shirou could see traces of improperly used basic healing Spells; patches of partially healed skin and scar tissue, misaligned muscles, fragments of bones lodged in tissue. He was pretty sure he saw some veins and arteries attached the wrong way.

".. How the hell he hasn't died yet is a miracle. Move aside."


The red-head didn't waste time in shoving the girl aside. He snatched the scissors from her hands and deftly cut off the rest of the wound dressing, then proceeded to cut the clothing around it. He clicked his tongue, noticing that there were places charred solid and other areas with blood sticking to the injury.

"Sister Griselda, get a pot of water and boil it. Kid, get a box labeled "Emergency S" from the clinic. The clinic is in the next hallway, the kitchen is two doors after it."

"Hold on just a second asshole, yo-"

Shirou shot him a cold look that stopped the silver-haired kid in his tracks. Even Griselda was surprised by the intensity behind it.

"Whoever botched up the healing Spell bought him time, but twisted his innards. I'll need to sever the areas the Spell worked wrong and patch it up. Now hurry, or do you want him to die?"

There was a flash of surprise, rage then guilt on the Exorcist's face before she ran out of the door, Freed glared at Shirou for a few more seconds before relenting.

"I'm not listening to you because you said so, you hear me?"

With that said, he ran out as well.

Trace, on.

The ex-Servant gently laid a palm on the unconscious man. A gentle pulse of Prana flowed through Touji, making him stir slightly. Shirou frowned at the visualized information in his mind, clicking his tongue at the extent of the damage.

He ignored the slight pressure in his skull and grabbed a nearby box. It was opened to reveal neatly arranged tools. Plucking the tweezer out of the box, Shirou grabbed a bottle of antiseptic to sterilize it.

It wasn't the best of options, nor the best of places, but it would have to do.

He carefully pulled away the clothes sticking to his skin, taking extra care in areas where it had come in contact with the wound. Thankfully the bleeding had kept things from drying, otherwise it would have been much harder to deal with. His attention to his surroundings dulled, his concentration sharpened further.

Shirou was not aware of the blood dripping from his eye, nor was he aware of when it stopped. The haze did not fade even when Griselda and Freed had returned. It was like his body was on autopilot. He was aware of what he was doing, he fully knew it was him in control of his body, but right now, it felt more machine than anything else.

The surroundings of the wound were cleaned within moments. Damp cotton was barely visible in the red tinged water by his side. Shirou would have worn a pair of gloves, but they all were in the other storage room, beside the doctor's office. A bit strange, but then again the most used necessities were always stored in the other storage room.

The red-head muttered an aria beneath his breath, lighting a tiny flame on his thumb above an equally tiny Spell Circle. He was pretty sure he heard someone say something from behind him, but it was ignored completely. He held the scalpel above the flame for a few seconds, then let the heat fade away.

Now comes the hard part. Shirou thought to himself. He would need to sever the abnormally healed parts, realign the cut intestines, blood vessels and muscles so they would connect properly and remove anything that didn't belong in there. Bone fragments included.

What happened next was an absolute blur for Shirou. In the future, he could recall accurately what he had done, but his current state of focus was divided between continually keeping track of his progress and goals via Structural Analysis and moving sharp, pointy objects around inside a person without cutting something important.

It was stressful to say the least.

Time was slipping by, and with each tissue, blood vessel and intestine segment he realigned, the more dangerous it got. But it was necessary, otherwise what he had in store next would leave the man crippled and possibly needed several surgeries later. Magical and mundane surgeries.

With the last area done, the red-head performed Structural Analysis one more time. He nodded in satisfaction, everything was in place. Shirou shot up and poured Prana into the cabinet, earning a yelp from Griselda who was observing everything closely next to him. Freed had a disturbing glint in his eye from what he just witnessed, but that would not be noticed at that moment.

The cabinet glowed, an intricate Spell Circle momentarily appearing before rotating. It faded away, along with the cabinet to reveal a new cabinet with suspicious looking flasks and concoctions. Shirou didn't hesitate at the least and grabbed a bottle with an illegible label and poured it into Touji's wound.

The man's eye shot wide open. He let out a cross between a strangled yelp and a hoarse yell while tensing his whole body, then fell limp again with eyes rolling up his head.

"Father Touji?!" Griselda practically jumped. Even Freed, who had been standing at the corner of the room was startled. They both were stopped by a raised hand.

"Back off. I need to stitch it close." Shirou didn't even look back while commanding them.

The haze wore off. The pressure on his head had grown heavier again. Shirou was familiar with it, a strain on his visualization ability due to using Structural Analysis on things at a more complex scale. He thought he had increased his threshold of complexity through practice in his younger years, but it seemed that the human body was still out of reach without a rebounding effect.

There was a light fatigue in his movements, but the red-head diligently sterilized the suturing needle and began stitching. It took him a good amount of time, including the small incisions he made at the side's of Touji's body to drain the excess blood.

"What did you do to him?"

Shirou found himself at the receiving end of two glares.

"How unreasonable can you two get? I save his life and treat him, and this is how I get rewarded?" He retorted with a raised brow. His smirk only served to incense them further.

"What. Did. You. Do. What was that thing you poured on him?"

"Asking me that after I did it, your sense of timing is astounding." Sarcasm dripped from his words. "But at least you did not interrupt, so I applaud your sense of duty. It'd be a pain redoing those stitches."

"Answer us already fuckface." Freed's grip tightened on the holster of his gun. Even Griselda was on the verge of pulling her weapon. The events of today ground away heavily at their peace of mind, turning them less patient and more cranky, to say the least, as a result. Though it was not that big of an event for anyone who knew Freed. He was always like that in the first place.

"Calm down already. What I used was a Druid concoction. A rather expensive one at that. It merely accelerates natural healing several fold."

Seeing the hesitance in their eyes, Shirou let a Black Key slip from the sleeve of his coat. The motion made the Church duo jump back with weapons drawn. Though, they could never have expected what came next.

He cut himself.

A rather shallow cut on the wrist, one that would have turned mildly worry inducing if it were even a millimeter deeper, severing an artery.

"What the hell are you doing?!"

The red-head ignored them and grabbed another flask holding a liquid similar to the one he had just used. Uncorking it with his teeth, he poured a few drops of the gunk onto the cut.

Griselda and Freed watched in decreasing amounts of wariness as the cut closed by itself.


"I.. I seem to have misunderstood… My apologies once more." She had a conflicted look on her face with hints of embarrassment and shame. Freed, once again, had a scowl plastered on his.

Shirou shook his head. It was rather amusing seeing the girl switch between politeness and barely restrained anger.

"No, it's good to be wary. But when doing so, be more restrained. It would not do good for you if your enemy sees your emotions that easily, they can take advantage of your mental state if you don't control yourself. Be moderate with your expression." Shirou slipped into a pose without thinking, leaning on a leg while holding the elbow of one hand in the palm of another, all the while waving a finger around.

"I-Yes, I understand."

"That's good." Shirou smiled gently.

Griselda stared at him. There was something on her face. It was barely visible, but the discolouration grew.

Hold on a second.. Is-Is she blushing? Oh by all things holy, not this again! Shirou's face cramped in realization. It was too late to do anything now. He let his guard down and paid the price.

After this thing is over, I'm moving out and never coming back. His resolution was made. Higher education? He could always credit transfer to another University, sentimentality be damned. A tinny voice interrupted the mental formation of his run-away plan.

"Ai. Ai! Griselda, we still need to find a place to sleep. No way in Satan's leathery ballsacks is this place safe to stay in."

"What did I tell you about cursing?" She shot a blithering glare at him. He shrunk into himself.

"..Not to do that?"

Her brow twitched in annoyance, but she let go of her stare with a heavy sigh. Freed was right after all. The rundown clinic was no place to rest safely.

Shirou closed his eyes. He thought carefully about what he was considering while scratching the back of his head. No matter how he looked at it, leaving these three behind would leave a bit of a bad taste in his mouth. He already helped them out once, and he wasn't obligated to do anything more.

.. Ah fuck it. In for a penny, in for a pound I suppose. I guess it wouldn't have an extra pair of hands to help figure out with this mess. Worst case scenario, I can talk it out with that Cardinal with those two as a bargaining chip.

"It should be safe to move him around after ten minutes. Fifteen to be safe." Shirou kneeled down and performed Structural Analysis once again to make sure the healing was going smoothly. The results made him nod in satisfaction.

"You two better get packing. Collect whatever you need from here. There should be some bags in the other storage. I'll keep monitoring him in case he awakes."

"Why? You heard Freed, we don't have anywhere to go. It'd make more sense for us to salvage whatever we can here and fortify this place in case there's another attack."

Another attack? Shirou caught onto the slip the Exorcist made. Does that mean the Church was attacked as well?

The situation turned from bad to worse for the red-head after hearing that. At first he was considering using a motel or a similar place as a temporary respite, but if whomever attacked them were able to overwhelm the Agents of the Vatican, then he would need as many advantages as possible.

That narrowed down his options to one place. The one place where he was probably at his strongest, one that he was intricately familiar with.

"That's where you're wrong. We do have somewhere to go."

Griselda's face showed hope, before remembering the lecture she received just seconds ago and tried maintaining a cool expression.

It failed.

"Well? Spit out then! Do you think you look all cool and mysterious keeping it from us like that?"

A vein above Shirou's eyebrow throbbed. He restrained the urge to smack the silver-haired kid into a wall.

"My place." He replied coolly.

"We're going to my house."

Yes. So I've been a bit busy with.. stuff. Also the chapter is longer than my usual length, but I'm not sure if I can do that consistently. So yeah… Hope you enjoy it.

P.S. I'm pretty sure I need a beta reader (or two). So if anyone's willing, lemme know in the PMs.