Hiiiii~ Another chapter is here!

Been having trouble writing as there is a cyclone in my area. power cut, choppy internet amd stores closing made it a bit difficult to focus on writing. Thankfully its gone by now, no major damage in my area other than the aftermath of heavy rain and some fallen trees here and there.

Not much to say other than thank you to my newest patrons: Nick Yates, Jack Edward, Beau Liddy, test, paladar blade, Regis, nelson carcamo, Bryan Morales, JustMegatron, Brayan Giron, Paul Sulit, Daniel Oliger, Kevin Putra Halim, Manokla Mahogany and osiykm. Y'all rock!

Next update is Fate Coiling Sword.

That's all,

Author NimtheWriter out!

Beta read by Shigiya and Paragon of Awesomeness.


Beta read by Shigiya and Paragon of Awesomeness.

.

.

.

-Romania-

Night fell once again on the region of Transylvania, yet the sky still shone brightly with countless stars and the full moon casting their luminous glow on the land below. The towering Bran Castle stood tall and proud, presenting its majestic silhouette against the canvas of darkness. Much had changed since the chaotic day of the recent unexpected earthquake, which had threatened to ruin the terrain and bring down the ancient structure. Now though, it was as if life had returned to its walls, and with it, the surrounding countryside. The entire region had become noticeably greener these past weeks, and the castle had mysteriously been reconstructed to a degree that went beyond restoring its former splendor, and making it a national symbol that once more left all onlookers in awe.

A welcome change to the castle's previous appearance, having been returned to its legendary status from centuries ago when Vlad the Impaler had still lived and ruled these lands with his infamous cruelty for any who would dare to threaten his kingdom. Yet, the newfound joy felt by the common folk residing throughout the region did not resonate within those who lived within the castle itself.

At that moment, within the main hall of Bran Castle, representatives of both the Carmilla and the Tepes stood tensely before a young woman who so very recently they had openly looked down upon.

And why would they not have? The girl was tainted by the blood of a human, impure and unfit to even hold the slightest trace of importance within their eyes. Yet now here they both stood, heads down in the form of a bow, giving a display of deference that was only fit to be shown to a king or queen.

Their blood wished to boil in anger at this unforgivable humiliation, but utter fear kept it cool and allowed them to make a smarter decision. For a greater and more terrible monster than all the vampires in this castle combined sat in an ornate darker chair beside the throne… watching their every movement with a gaze that any of them would have braved sunlight to escape from. But here, in this ancient home to their kind that was also the center of his power, there was no escape. All they could do was kneel to their new overlord.

…And to the young queen he had placed upon the throne.

They did not respect her, never someone like her. The two vampires acted as they did now solely out of fear for the tall and dark figure of the true king seated next to the girl on the throne. "Ki—Queen Valerie, we have come to inform you on the status of the coming meeting between the Tepes and the Carmilla… Queen Carmilla has agreed to meet with you to discuss the terms of a peace agreement." The woman vampire spoke, acting as representative of the Carmilla Faction.

From the hesitation in her tone, the woman failed to hide the tremors she was feeling as her very blood felt an oppressive force pushing her head down. Though in a way, she did enjoy the sight of a woman sitting upon the throne of Tepes — even though the impurity of her blood still remained a blight on their honor and dignity.

Not that she would ever dare to voice her protests on the matter, lest she desire to suffer a gruesome death by impalement, as many others already had.

.

.

.

Garbed in a luxurious dress, Valerie did her best to show as little trepidation as possible as she sat upon a throne that she felt entirely unprepared for. Her hands clenched at the throne's armrests, and her body shook as she tried to articulate an appropriate response. "Y-Yes… I'm happy to hear that Q-Queen Carmilla has agreed to continue peace talks with our faction."

To act like a Queen… she absolutely could not do it! The Damphir felt as though she was under even more pressure than the pair of representatives before her. Her hands shook, as she could still feel the scorn and disgust coming from them as they continued to judge her and find her unworthy even as they bowed to her.

"Ah," Yet that fear came to a screeching halt as a callused and warm hand came to gently rest on her forearm in a comforting gesture. Like a soothing wave of energy which calmed her nerves, she turned her shy gaze to look at the figure next to her. Yet even with the reassurance he provided her, Valerie was silently begging for him to step in and take her place. He was far more suited for the role than her! He was an actual King, after all! "Grandfa—um… L-Lord Vlad…"

Her tongue slipped, her anxiety at being on the throne like this and her desire to seek comfort from the one person who made her feel safe had caused her to forget the lessons he had been teaching her about proper conduct for a member of royalty at court. While he had no objections to her calling him such in private, he had been clear that such displays of familiarity were not appropriate before her new… vassals, if she was to maintain a respectable image.

Lancer let out a soft sigh at his Master's difficulty in striking the figure of a queen, but could not find it in himself to hold it against her and felt his expression soften as he turned his eyes away from the pair of wretches before them to look upon Valerie Tepes. His kingly aura radiated off of him in waves, as even when seated beside the throne in the lesser chair of a royal advisor, his presence alone commanded everyone to kneel. Valerie was the only person in the entire castle unaffected by his presence, a fact that elicited envy, bewilderment, and even a small amount of awe from every Vampire that witnessed it.

'You're doing well, child,' he silently informed her. 'A ruler is not born within a day, they are forged through trials and tribulations. You are learning more with every interaction, and I shall be here to guide you on your path to becoming a fine Queen that they will be proud to bow before. If you are uncertain of what should be done, you need merely command me to act on your behalf, and watch so that you may learn from my example. Just keep your back straight, and never back down from anyone, least of all these fools. Use your fear as a weapon to better yourself and temper your will.'

'R-Right.' Valerie replied. It was fine. Even if these people still despised her, she no longer had anything to fear from them because of Lancer. And if she was too nervous, all she had to do was ask him to take over. 'I'm okay. I can do this. It's easy.' she said to herself as she gave her cheeks a couple of smacks to psyche herself up.

'Master…'

"Ah!" Realizing her mistake, the girl hastily straightened her posture and sat on the throne in the way that royals were supposed to, but she felt like she'd already screwed up and there was no coming back from that. 'S-Sorry, Grandfather!' She apologized before speaking aloud. "I… I command Lord Vlad to speak on my behalf for all remaining matters."

'Hah, a pure heart the likes of yours will indeed face countless challenges if left alone.' Lancer silently noted. 'But, perhaps that is precisely the reason you summoned me.' But with her command given, he spoke to the Carmilla representative.

"Inform Queen Carmilla that she may select a number of times and locations that she deems acceptable at which to meet so that our faction's rulers might finally meet face to face and end this animosity between us. Supply Queen Valerie with a list of your queen's choices when next you return, and she shall in turn decide which of the provided selections are also agreeable to her." The Vampire woman took his words and with a bow, immediately left to carry out her instructions.

Valerie was not the only one within the castle who had been learning new things, though. In the few weeks since his summoning, Vlad III had come to learn a great deal about this strange new world and his Master's family, both of which left much to be desired. The realization that the legendary tale of the Vampire known as Dracula also existed here had been one thing. But to find out that his association with the name was not the result of slanderous fiction written long after his death, and that his counterpart in this world had in fact become such a monster and even gone on to sire others… Vlad could not recall a time where he'd ever felt such shame and disappointment.

Then came the civil war between the two factions: the male dominated Tepes and the female dominated Carmilla… Both of them apparently worshiped that version of him, their only disagreement being which of their heirs was more worthy to rule. His only saving grace in all this came in the form of his Master. Though she also possessed the blood of a vampire, she had a human mother. More importantly, the maiden's heart was of such purity it acted as a beacon of light, to the point that she wielded the power of the Holy Grail itself, to his astonishment.

That alone had convinced Vlad that despite how monstrous his 'descendants' might be, there still remained at least a few who held the potential to uphold his true legacy.

May she be from another reality or not, he recognized her as his blood, and had quickly grown rather fond of her. It didn't help that she'd developed the terrible habit of calling him 'Grandfather,' asking for affection which he could not bring himself to deny when she was clearly starved of it. Even the mightiest of Kings possessed cracks within their armor, and she had found a new one in his.

Yet that was exactly the reason why he could not afford to show kindness to those who did not deserve it. The very reason why his eyes turned towards the representative of the Tepes faction, the lad shaking more than usual with beads of sweat dripping down his forehead as he suddenly became the focus of Lancer's attention. The Heroic Spirit's Magical Energy surged with a hint of his authority. Something that he specifically held in reserve for these snakes who still sought his Master's downfall.

"Speak."

"…Lord Dracu—hurgh!" The man failed to even finish the word before obsidian-colored stakes erupted from the floor and pinned his limbs between them with two more positioned right at his jugular. Killing intent enveloped the room faster than anyone could blink, and golden eyes bored right into the young Vampire's soul as realization dawned on him at the grave mistake he'd just committed. "Forgive me! L-Lord Vlad! I-I br-bring news f-from, ugh… f-from Lord Marius!"

"D-Don't hurt him, Lancer!" Valerie spoke up. "I-It was an honest mistake!"

Slowly and silently letting out a calming breath, Vlad willed the stakes to harmlessly crumble away at the voice of his Master. He found himself pleased that she'd decided to intervene in a manner that would likely leave an impression on the young man who'd just insulted him. If the rest of the castle attempted to curry favor from Valerie so that they might earn some leniency since she alone could command him to stay his hand, that would be progress.

He would be the steel gauntlet and she, the velvet glove, and those who bowed to them would come to find out for themselves which was more pleasant to be held in the palm of.

The Tepes representative nearly fell to his knees, a shaking hand coming up to ensure his neck remained intact. He then retrieved a letter from his breast pocket, which he handed over to the Servant. The letter had originally been intended for Marius, but since word of the changes to the hierarchy of the Vampire faction hadn't left their inner circle due to Lancer keeping a tight lid on the ongoings of his new domain, Vlad was unsurprised by the intended recipient.

The symbol though… he recognized it thanks to the information provided by the Throne, and as a believer in God it rankled him. It was the sigil for one the demons of the Ars Goetia. Lancer remembered hearing of how Devils and other entities from the biblical texts along with numerous other pantheons still existed in secret in the modern era of this world, and in great numbers in many instances. "Great Marquis of Hell, Devil House of Gremory… Hoh… an invitation to a soiree?"

"Gremory?" Valerie said. "Oh, I believe I've heard of them. Apparently they're very friendly, and are known for being nice to all their servants." Words that had Lancer briefly casting a bewildered look his Master's way before he returned his attention to the invitation in his hands.

"Of all the things that this nonsensical world could have turned on its head, to think that the morality of Devils might be one of them… How interesting." He mused. "Very well, this King shall accept the House of Gremory's invitation, and see for myself the hospitality of Hell. Though I may be in attendance among Devils on behalf of the… Tepes Faction of Vampires," and what effort it took for him to say those vile words, "if they come to us offering friendship in good faith, then they are at least worth hearing out. What say you, my Master?"

He turned his head just in time to see the little miss trying to sneak away from her throne, holding up her dress and trying not to make any noise — not that she could ever skip past his enhanced senses.

"O-Oh… If you're going, then of course I'll go as well!" She said with a smile on her face.

This girl… she still had much to learn.

{Break}

-Underworld-

"Rather than an official arena, a temporary dimension was created for the match, and each participant and their belongings were teleported in by the judge, so there's no chance of anything illegal being sneaked in or prepared beforehand." A Devil in the early years of his adulthood commented while resting on a seat and helping analyze the match on captured feed from the Rating Game.

"And that wasn't a holy weapon, right?" An attractive anchorwoman with bright green hair and her wings out, sat across from her guest with two glasses of water on the table between them. "We know how the Phenex family is able to regenerate from virtually any kind of injury, but just like any other Devil, they are still vulnerable to holy damage. I confess, I am rather curious as to how members of House Phenex could have been defeated by any kind of fire unless it was holy in nature."

"It most certainly was not, according to official reports. Analysis shows that the flames created by that last attack burned so hot that it was incinerating the two Phenex siblings faster than the ability provided by their bloodline could heal them. I can only hope that Riser's other servants, especially his Queen, were all teleported on time to avoid permanent injury…" He said while the female Devil next to him gave the man a weird look. "In other news, to commemorate this victory, the House of Gremory has organized a party, though only important figures and individuals who are close to the participating families have been invited, unfortunately."

"Sad you didn't get to meet Miss Yubelluna?"

"Ye—uh—I-I-I mean…! W-We should check in with our weatherman Astol—" The screen turned dark as Serafall turned off the TV, using her phone to scroll through and read the aftermatch comments. Humming to herself, she began skipping from foot to foot as she made her way over to the red-headed member of the Four Great Satans.

"Hey, 'Zechs, everyone is curious about that Archer guy's last attack, you know?" She commented almost the moment she arrived by the much taller devil's side. "Can't say I'm not curious as well. That arrow or sword or whatever the hell it was, looked so freaking cool! If I can get him to make a guest appearance in my show, then I just know that the ratings are gonna spike like never before!"

"Of course they are, and so am I,'' Sirzechs commented with a sigh, though managing to keep ramrod straight as he looked down at his colleague and friend. "I have my suspicions, but would prefer to be wrong in this case."

"Eh~ That sounds super interesting! Can you tell me?"

"I could, but would rather do so when I am certain about it."

"Boo."

Grayfia walked over holding an empty silver platter, bowed politely to Serafall and waited for her husband to place his empty champagne flute on the plate before walking away. "My lord, we'll need to join the guests soon. They are expecting your presence."

"Hah, even Grayfia-chan refuses to tell me about what happened between her and Archer. Are you two hogging him all to yourselves!? Don't make me wave my wand at you! I'll befriend you!" She complained cutely, causing her fellow Satan to chuckle softly.

"Did you really expect her to blab about Archer's secrets behind his and Rias' back? My, my, Serafall. Here I thought staying true to one's friends and keeping promises was what magical girls were all about. Grayfia hasn't even told me all that much about the man."

Serfall puffed her cheeks at that, before letting out an audible sigh. "Eh… from the way you've been moping so much these past couple weeks… You did something to upset your little sister, didn't you? Between whatever that was and her parents moving up the date of the wedding right before all this, I doubt she's very happy with anyone in her family right now — aside from cute little Millicas of course." Serafall actually goes serious for a bit. "Actually, is she so upset that she's giving everyone the cold shoulder?"

She looked around the large room as they reached the main banquet hall, the area full of guests and representatives from the Pillar households mingling with each other while surrounded by tables full of hors d'oeuvres and tables being prepared for a celebratory feast, and noticed the conspicuously absent heroine and her peerage.

"She requested to remain absent from this little event and celebrate this event with her peerage in private rather than be forced to mingle with these people. I couldn't deny her this request, so I let it happen. The guests have been informed that she went back to handle matters involving multiple Strays roaming her territory and so on. But to tell you the truth, I suspect she indeed refuses to meet Mother and Father… not that I can blame her for it. Nothing I can do but to wait till her anger subsides and wait to have the family sit down at the dinner table with each other once again."

Serafall understood how her friend felt, "I see. Anyways, I'm going to find So-tan. I haven't seen her all day and my little sister's energy needs to be recharged with the power of yuri-yuri love that only her Onee-chan can really give her!" Without wasting any time, the Leviathan Satan disappeared into the crowd of people shouting her sister's name.

The Rating Game had turned out to be a bigger sensation than anyone had anticipated. Sirzechs and his wife Grayfia found themselves hosting a celebratory party in the aftermath of the Rating Game between Rias and Riser. Hundreds of guests filled the banquet hall, all dressed in formal attire, laughing and exchanging words amongst their peers, trying to strengthen all manner of connections between the various houses and gain the measure of upcoming younger Devils.

"It is a wonder that these same people, not a few days ago, were belittling my sister and fully supported the idea of her being married off to Riser. Calling the match between them fair when they knew she had little chance of winning with an incomplete peerage and not a single official match to her name, silently praying for her downfall. Now, those same people are present here, wanting to congratulate her with the largest grins on their faces. Quite hypocritical, don't you think so?" Sirzechs remarked as he held a new glass of champagne, watching over the crowd with an ever present smile on his face, one that did not match his rather empty gaze.

"If I remember correctly, this has always been the case not only with Lady Rias, but also long before with yourself and Lord Ajuka during the civil war. Even with your reforms, our kind don't change so easily; they remain much the same and merely adapt, always trying to tear one another down if it means they might be the one to stand taller. However, she managed to take care of this issue concerning the engagement without needing us to intervene at all, while also making a name for herself in a manner that demands respect and recognition. At this rate, I am certain that she will become very popular among the masses, more so than she already is. Noble families are coming to respect her strength and place more importance in her words than ever before."

"I am not so sure about that," replied Sirzechs without missing a beat, his wife giving him a subtly questioning gaze, making him sigh and losing that smile of his for a second. "These people will not hold Rias in much more of a favorable light than before; rather, they have someone else in mind to whom they will pay much closer attention to."

"You mean Lord Archer?" Grayfia answered without hesitation. She herself had anticipated this exact outcome long before anyone else, having dealt with the upper-class of Devil society her entire life. She understood how these people operated, their minds both complicated and simple simultaneously, their desires rendering logic irrelevant. While she had not been expecting the exact manner in which he did so, the totality of the victory he won in his Master's name was of no surprise to her in the slightest.

She had already personally witnessed and experienced a similar, even more potent attack that grievously wounded her with just a graze. Even from that, she recalled the sensation of the left side of her body forcefully twisting, flesh and bones nearly breaking apart, and her left wing being shredded. Despite having endured incredibly painful and life-threatening injuries during the course of the civil war, that single attack, though not hitting her dead-center, caused excruciating agony — though not enough to threaten her life. She didn't show it, but she knew he realized back then that in that window of time after the projectile was launched, he had her at his mercy.

Throughout the Rating Game, Grayfia had been genuinely worried that Archer might use that same devastating projectile attack. Her hands twitched at the mere appearance of a new weapon that was clearly a powerful magic sword, which he then proceeded to twist into a bizarre arrow that he then notched onto that enormous bow of his. Grayfia had been ready to forcefully remove Riser from the game even if his group wasn't yet beaten by the opposing team. She would have been more than willing to bear the consequences, as it seemed a much better outcome than risking a son of the Phenex genuinely perishing, and sparking an untreatable chasm between both families… leading one to see the other as a potential enemy. Neither the Gremory, nor Devils as a whole, could afford such an outcome.

While the Rating Game system, created and improved by its creator Ajuka, was nearly flawless, it was not perfect. The chances were less than one in a billion, but it was still possible for participants to actually die both during the matches and in real life. Archer's speed, the power of his weapons, the massive energy released upon impact, and the strange nature of the Servant's magic held a significant possibility of causing permanent damage or even accidental death. Thankfully, he used a somewhat weaker albeit more cruel attack to deal the winning blow, allowing her enough time to remove Riser and the rest when the flames had threatened to consume them until even ashes would have been incinerated.

The non-Phenex Devils had been hurt, but could be treated with minimal difficulty. Ironically enough, the Phenex siblings' regeneration made it worse for them, as the first things to heal were their nerves, making them feel all the pain of being burned by such an intense blaze. Grayfia still recalled Ravel's screams when she was called back, the girl still being able to feel the phantom pains of fire eating away at her flesh. Her powers hadn't been able to nullify it; a strong sleeping spell had been applied, and days of treatment would likely be needed for her to return to her regular state.

Meanwhile Riser, who had also needed to be put into a brief medical coma, was now awake, but he seemed to have developed a fear of fire. The sight of a flame from even a candle had made him twitch and tremble. And it would seem that his newfound pyrophobia applied even in his family's pyromancy. This outcome shocked not only Grayfia but his entire family, as a Phenex fearing fire of all things had never been so much as contemplated, much less seen before. Lord and Lady Phenex had arranged for their son to undergo therapeutic treatments to aid in his mental recovery, but this was uncharted territory for all involved.

Grayfia could only wish them the best, having seen former combatants during the civil war experience similar traumas, and even after hundreds of years, those scars remained engrained deep within their psyche even if their bodies had long since healed.

"Lady Phoenix has requested an audience with Lady Rias. I believe her husband will also accompany her, and they wish to have this done today if possible." She informed her husband.

Sirzechs once again sighed, "She is trying to protest the outcome of the Rating Game, isn't she?'" he questioned, to which the maid shook her head.

"That does not seem to be the case. Rather, she has some complaints about Rias having been permitted to bring Lord Archer along for the match. She claims that having a contract with a mage is insufficient grounds for his participation even if her son consented to such an arrangement, since the game's officials did not officially approve this change in the rules. She argues that this gave Lady Rias an unfair advantage. "

The redhead Satan scoffed, "Fair? That sounds rich coming from them, seeing as they were all too happy to allow Riser to fight my sister with a full set of peerage members, while she still has two of her backline Evil Pieces and almost all of her Pawns unused, not to mention the gap in experience. If she wants to preach about fairness, she'd likely find a more receptive audience among the angels. But if she insists on making these complaints, then I will look forward to seeing the look on her face once we inform her that Archer is actually my sister's familiar, and thus there is extensive precedent for his participation. There was nothing stopping Riser and his peerage from making use of their own familiars during the game."

"Lord Archer killed Lord Riser's familiar prior to the match," Grayfia reminded him. "And do refrain from pretending that a familiar anywhere close to Lord Archer's level of power has ever been witnessed, my lord."

"That's a technicality. Even weak familiars can serve a purpose if correctly utilized. And should the Phenex genuinely feel that Riser having a familiar available might have balanced things out a little, then he should have gotten himself a new one as soon as the Rating Game date was announced. He had ten full days to prepare however he wished just as Rias did. That he chose to waste it being pampered by his harem because he was so confident about winning is entirely on him."

As Sirzechs and Grayfia continued to speak to one another, two new figures approached the married couple – that of Seekvaria Agares, and Sirzechs' cousin, Sairaorg Bael. Both individuals were ones that the current Lucifer held good opinions of, as they were either friendly with his sister or more of a neutral but genuinely respectful party in Seekvaria's case, which was frankly more than what most Devil nobles could honestly claim prior to this little party.

"Greetings, Lord Lucifer," both of them spoke respectfully, giving him a slight bow, to which he nodded.

"How are you doing, Sairaorg? I heard you won another rating game just before this one," he asked the boy. "And it's good to see you again, Seekvaria."

Sairaorg chuckled. "Hahaha, so you heard about that? Yeah, though it wasn't that big of a deal to be honest. My opponent refused to take me seriously despite being weaker, and I wasn't willing to waste my peerage's time on opponents like them and handled everything myself. Ended the Rating Game a lot sooner than I would have liked. Felt kind of bad bringing them along at all since it felt like I just wasted their time… They deserve a proper challenge." he said calmly, not giving much thought to the matter, unlike the others around him.

The boy was strong to the point that he was practically a freak of nature, more than worthy to hold the title of the strongest Devil in the younger generation, and may very well become a Satan himself down the line. Even without demonic powers, he stood head-and-shoulders over all of his so-called peers, the difference between him and the second strongest being an entire chasm. He was said to be strong enough to even handle all but the strongest Ultimate-Class Devils with little issue. And of course, there were no such opponents in the younger generation yet with whom he could test his limits. That was why the young boy was always eager whenever he met Sirzechs, the latter knowing full well that Sairaorg wanted to duel against him in a Rating Game.

Even if such a match would end in a crushing defeat for Sairaorg, the boy wanted to at least see the peak of the mountain he was trying to climb.

If this were another occasion or if he didn't hold the title of Lucifer, the redhead would have been more than glad to personally test the limits of Sairaorg's power. But with so many snakes gazing at them from the shadows even now, waiting for the slightest opening to strike, he had to make sure to stay on guard and couldn't allow himself to engage in recreational duels.

This constant need for discretion was further emphasized by the recent disappearance of his friend's brother that still had yet to be resolved. Every day, Ajuka's state continued to deteriorate bit by bit, stress gripping the man as he continued to find no trace of his brother. Fortunately, he had some way of knowing that Diodora was at least alive. How, the current Lucifer had no idea, nor was he willing to question Ajuka's methods. But if that man was certain of it, then that had to be the truth.

"May I ask a question, Lord Lucifer?" Seekvaria spoke up for the first time. Though Sirzechs already suspected the reason why she attended this little party in the first place, as it did not correlate to her just being polite or even liking such events, as she usually wouldn't be bothered with such occasions. "Aren't Rias and her group going to attend? Given that this party was organized in their honor, it seems a bit strange that they have yet to appear, nor have I seen any members of the Phenex family present. It seems unlike them to not attend such a gathering even if their son lost the Rating Game."

The young woman was straightforward with her words, not bothering to use flowery language. She showed respect, but made her intentions clear and spoke her mind openly. No wonder she got along well with the likes of Sairaorg, Rias, and Sona, as her personality suited their dynamics.

"Of course, I fully understand why you would be curious about that. Unfortunately, my little sister and also her whole peerage have been feeling a bit drained since the Rating Game, since they've been pushing themselves quite hard for the past several days training themselves. They need some time to rest and recover after the intense match against Riser and his peerage. The same applies to the son of Phenex; his group and his parents have decided to skip this event and focus on the recovery of their children and peerage members. So, for now, this party only includes us, as Rias is most likely already back home in the human world and taking an early trip to her bed," he answered, to which Seekvaria sighed, looking a bit disappointed that she wouldn't get to meet the person she had in mind.

"Is that so? That's a shame; I really wanted to meet that Archer fellow. I've never seen a Sacred Gear like that in my life. It can't be Sword Birth, and my initial thought as to the next most likely candidate was Blade Blacksmith, but that doesn't seem right either. In any case, Rias is truly fortunate to have gotten someone like him in her group, and it is clear that she also spent considerable time and effort training to improve herself and the rest of her peerage, so I also wanted to congratulate her on a well-earned victory," Seekvaria stated, with Sirzechs agreeing wholeheartedly with her words.

"Don't look so disappointed, Seekvaria. If you really want to meet Rias, then I'm certain we could arrange a meeting between you two seeing as you're old friends. Though from the sounds of things, you're more looking forward to meeting Archer rather than my cousin, am I right?" Sairaorg said, teasing the girl a bit.

"Yes, you are correct," she answered. "I'm quite curious about his abilities and would like to learn more about them, possibly even get a closer look." The pale-green haired woman added. "Last I checked, neither Sword Birth nor Blade Blacksmith allow for the creation of bows, nor do I recall them having ever twisted the swords they create into devastatingly powerful projectiles. It may seem similar on the surface level, but if one were to examine what he did more closely, the observable differences become quite numerous, and as a result I am now left with questions. So, I would like to examine this power more closely and see if I can learn something from it, such as seeing if it was a spell rather than a Sacred Gear. With her permission, of course. I hope you don't find my intentions intrusive or offensive, Lord Lucifer; know that I have no intention of allowing my curiosity to bring harm to an old friend."

"Do not worry, Seekvaria. I am fully aware of what your goal is and that you have nothing nefarious planned. I'll pass your message on to Rias, and let her know of your request, and then inform you of what she says, okay?" To that, Seekvaria nodded, and both she and Sirzechs' cousin returned to mingling with the other Devils throughout the room.

"Archer sure is becoming popular." He commented. "I've heard many of the guests gossiping about his power. And quite a few are willing to exchange multiple pieces for him despite not being a peerage member. I can't help but think that Rias is being overshadowed at her own victory celebration."

Grayfia held the smallest hint of a smile as she couldn't help but comment, "You don't think this won't lead to her becoming even more popular amongst the masses and nobility? Even if they are more interested in Lord Archer, that Lady Rias is his Master still puts her in a higher position than before."

"A fair point. And I'm sure she's very happy to have gotten the recognition she always wanted. But she still has a long way to go and a lot left to prove. Both Seekvaria and Sairaorg already believed in her abilities from the beginning, but there remain some stubborn mules who will not have their minds changed anytime soon. But let's not burden her with this nonsense for the time being, and leave her to enjoy a much deserved period of rest." His little sister did mention she was tired and wanted to sleep.

Better to let her have her moment the way she wanted to enjoy it.

"Oh right, Grayfia, you should probably inform Serafall that Sona has already left. I don't want her to flip the whole building upside down and freeze whatever's left… again." As his wife went off to do just that and he was about to return to the search for his parents, a commotion caught his attention. "Hm?"

From the entrance, a crowd had gathered around a young blonde woman. He felt as if he'd seen her somewhere before but couldn't recall. Curious as to what was going on, Sirzechs headed over to welcome the new guest… And that's when he saw what she was. 'A Vampire?'

On closer look, he recognized the signs of who she might be. His father, being the host, was the first one to welcome the newcomer. "Welcome to the Gremory family's little gathering, celebrating my daughter's recent victory in her first official Rating Game. Might you be part of the Carmilla Faction, young lady?" He said with practiced grace.

Yet her reply nearly made the holder of the title of Lucifer spill his champagne.

"A-Ah, good evening! I-I am the current Queen of the Tepes Faction, Valerie Tepes. Thank you for having me!" Though her words came out rather weakly and with a few stutters, the words themselves had enough impact to grab everyone's attention instantly.

"…"

"…"

"…"

The entire hall turned silent as all looked to the young lady who now seemed very conscious that she was suddenly the center of everyone's attention.

Yet at the same time, a strange sense of unease rose within Sirzechs' being as his eyes momentarily gazed at the empty space behind Valerie. Though somewhat minute, for a split moment he thought he sensed someone or something watching him intently, yet there was nothing there… It felt eerie. And very dangerous.

{Break}

-Occult Research Club-

"CHEERS!"

Different from the party in the Underworld, the atmosphere back in Kuoh Academy was much more lively and joyful. The entire Gremory peerage had gathered in the clubroom; some of them wore more formal clothing, specifically Yuuto and Rias. Akeno, on the other hand, was wearing her Shinto priestess attire, while Asia, Issei and Gasper had all decided to wear their regular Kuoh Academy uniforms.

Koneko, on the other hand, was the only Devil wearing regular clothing — a small hoodie with the design of a cat and shorts. As to why she changed into these clothes, Archer couldn't say for certain. But they were clothes that he had specifically gifted her prior to the Rating Game, more specifically during the training period. Back then, each day, the little girl kept having her clothes get destroyed by either his weapons or other incidents. In the end, she wasn't left with very little to wear, despite him having warned everyone beforehand to bring enough clothes for an entire month.

Advice she clearly didn't follow or failed to take seriously.

Yet he still felt bad, deciding to instead create constructs which he gave her and warned the girl that with enough damage, they would disappear completely. It was only a temporary solution until they got back, then his Master would need to take her shopping for new clothes. Yet it seemed she did not heed that warning either, and kept those pieces of clothes with her. Perhaps this was Rias' fault after all; that redhead was starting to replace all over her current wardrobe with his Projections. An action that seriously started to worry him, given the last thing he wanted was for his Master to suddenly find herself naked in public just because her clothes got a small rip in them and that was enough to destroy the Projections. Now she had somehow found a way to corrupt her Rook with this folly, and he didn't want this practice to spread to anyone else in this group or Sona's.

Not that he didn't trust his own creations, since he himself was wearing a black long-sleeve shirt and pants that he'd Projected. But civilian clothes were nowhere near the level of durability of his weapons, let alone Noble Phantasms, which required considerable force to damage by extreme means. If he wasn't careful or didn't pay close attention, he could easily dismiss every piece of clothing he's created, including the ones his Master and Koneko were wearing at that very moment. So he made a mental note to have her change her habits tomorrow instead of today, as they came here to celebrate their winning rather than have him start lecturing them out of the blue right when they had earned the chance to enjoy the results of their recent achievement.

"Cheers," he repeated, holding up his glass and watching everyone, many of them sporting the biggest grins on their faces he'd ever seen. Of course, he made sure to not allow any alcoholic beverages for this little celebration of theirs. The refreshments present were all simple beverages like tea and juices.

Not bad. Simple moments like these… he enjoyed them. He was glad Rias had them all skip the formal soiree with the Devil nobility. Archer knew just how many people were waiting for him to show up. He was no fool, knowing full well the impact his last attack had on everyone who'd been watching, but at least it was better than them finding out about his ability to freely trace Holy weapons and even immortal-slaying weapons such as Harpe, which he'd briefly contemplated using at first.

At least with this, he had the excuse of using his Master's enormous Magical Energy reserves to power his attacks, thus enabling him to create such a big explosion. Not to mention how he couldn't discount the possibility of most of the higher ups having already learned about Caladbolg II from Grayfia.

But it was still better to remain vigilant.

Rias was the first one to start speaking after they all settled down, as expected. "From today onwards, I am free from this cage of mine and will no longer have to worry about Riser and this engagement story ever again."

"I'm certainly glad that this is a matter we can put behind us." Akeno said, pouring some tea into a cup for Asia. The former nun beamed at the taste as soon as she took a sip.

"Ah, thank you Akeno-san. I never actually enjoyed tea this good before, it's just as good as the one I had before leaving the club for the training."

"Oh my~ fufufu~ did you hear that, Saint-sama?" The Priestess of Thunder cooed at the cute expression of the blonde, projecting her voice towards an stoic-looking Servant standing to the side behind Rias. "Asia-chan finds my tea to be better than yours~!"

"E-Eh? I-I didn't me-mean to say tha—"

"—Glad to hear you've finally reached a level good enough to entice a child out of drinking soda." The Servant conceded, chuckling softly as he went over to Akeno and grabbed a teacup for himself and held it out expectantly. Akeno tensed up upon realizing what he was asking, but managed to pour him a cup without spilling a drop. When Archer brought the cup up to his lips and took a sip, his eyes widened. "Well would you look at that… you've outdone yourself."

Archer chuckled softly, smiling as he let the flavor of the tea soak in. "I'm impressed, Akeno. I look forward to your next brew. If you continue to improve at this rate, I might start to prefer yours over mine."

There was only so much one could make tea taste better compared to another using the same ingredients. At the end, he could perhaps use Reinforcement on the beverage, but that wouldn't change the taste, just improve the nourishment. Regardless, he wasn't disappointed, quite the opposite. It made him happy to see someone working so earnestly to reach his level in something they were both passionate about — it was bound to happen with how determined she was.

"—!"

The raven haired Yamato Nadeshiko was rendered speechless, having initially expected some sort of criticism on his end or having the man smirk and say something like, 'Guess I'll have to actually get serious.'

Yet those words and that face he made as he said them threw her so much out of the loop that she didn't know what to think at that moment.

"Awawa, Akeno-san! Are you feeling well? Your face is all red!" Asia exclaimed, using Twilight Healing on the Queen who remained unresponsive to her question for a while.

Koneko scoffed, then turned to focus on her snacks. "She's way too easy to tease. Even though she's such a pervert."

Rias smiled softly as she tasted her own tea, and was likewise impressed. Her Queen really had outdone herself.

"Fuck that yakitori bastard!" Issei raised his fist as well, gaining everyone's attention. "We sure showed him who the boss is around here. I just wish I could have seen his stupid face before he got burned to a crisp and became an actual fried chicken. Would have been funny if his regeneration let him last a bit longer, and I got to throw a few more insults at his face."

"If he'd burnt for much longer, we could have used him to roast some marshmallows," Koneko said, stunning the others with how dark and slightly frightening her words sounded. Though the white-haired girl didn't pay any attention to their reactions. She just casually hopped onto the sofa and started to get comfortable as she resumed eating.

Rias looked at Archer, her eyes silently asking from whom did she get influenced to behave like that. Her Servant shrugged and pleaded ignorance, certain that he wasn't that twisted… yet.

"Yes… Well, putting that grim line of thinking aside, even though Riser is no longer an issue that I have to worry about, that does not mean we can slack off in our training. It doesn't need to be as intense as before of course, but if we want to maintain our image of a strong peerage in the Underworld, we will have to battle other Devils of our generation in the future. If I had to guess, Sona is the most likely candidate to be our next opponent in a Rating Game. She may be our strongest ally currently, but she's also a rival we need to be on lookout for," Rias stated, and was glad to see Archer agreeing with her mentality. As for the Servant, he felt slightly proud at his Master for not relapsing into her prior lackadaisical attitude, choosing instead to maintain her current momentum.

Back then, her peerage members barely did any training at all, other than Kiba Yuuto, and even he largely had to just train on his own or get what experience he could fighting strays prior to Archer's summoning.

"Hell yeah! Did you see how I dealt with those twin chainsaw girls back then, Buchou?" the Pawn exclaimed, addressing the group and recalling the first opponents he'd faced. "I got seriously scared for a minute there when I saw those crazy loli chicks bring out the chainsaws, they were talking about cutting my balls off. But then that fear vanished when I remembered what this bastard put me through for ten whole days, and I realized that even if there were twenty of them, they'd still have nothing on him!" He pointed at Archer, the latter paying no attention to the voiced accusation and went inside the kitchen. Akeno tilted her head with curiosity evident in her eyes as she sneakily went to join him as well.

"Like seriously, I've lost count of the amount of times I've had my bones broken and the multiple liters of blood I must have lost in that time. Some of my clothes won't stop smelling like iron because of it, and I don't know how to explain to my parents all those cuts and tears on almost all of them. Now I have to go and buy new ones soon, or else I'll have nothing to wear tomorrow," he spoke in between sobs. Asia comforted the boy by patting his head, empathizing with him despite not having been through such training herself.

"There, there, Issei-san. It's thanks to the training that you got so powerful, right? Without you suffering and helping us, we wouldn't have been able to beat the other team."

"Uuuuuuuh, Asia-chan is an angel! Without you healing me and acting as an anchor for my sanity, I'm certain I would have gone crazy a long time ago."

"You mean you weren't right from the start?" Koneko mused, but was ignored by those who were swept up in the mood.

A hand came to rest on Issei's shoulders. Looking backward, the brown-haired boy saw that it belonged to Yuuto, who was giving him a look very similar to that of the former nun. "I understand your feelings, Issei-kun. Without you there, I'm afraid I would have also suffered a great deal in my efforts to grow. You have been an inspiration for me, and I hope that you will continue to be a crucial part of my training going forward. Also know that it is my full intention to repay you for every bit of it."

A shiver ran down Issei's spine at the Knight's words, and he hastily got away from the blonde boy. With shaky fingers he pointed at him and screamed, "You! Stop behaving so weird, Kiba! I am not into boys!"

At that, everyone laughed, amused by the perverted boy's reaction to what was clearly an earnest gesture of friendship. "But seriously, what was that explosion at the end? I almost thought I was about to get burned to a crisp and nearly shit my pants. I had no idea Archer could even do that since he never used a technique remotely like that when he was training us. Makes me think we could have just let him take care of all the opponents on his own without us needing to lift a finger."

"While it's true that he could have easily dealt with Riser and his peerage by himself, I don't believe it would have been the best course of action to just let Archer handle everything on his own," Rias replied, with Koneko and Yuuto agreeing with her. "This Rating Game served not only as an opportunity to get Riser and the engagement off my back, but also as a stepping stone for us. We worked damn hard to improve ourselves, and I believe having Archer see how far we've come was a good decision as he invested a lot of time in our advancement. And this also shows the rest of the underworld that we aren't just relying on a single person to win every Rating Game for us. Having Archer just decimate Riser's whole peerage would have served no other purpose but to have everyone else further look down upon us. I'm certain that even Sona would have found this decision less than admirable. Instead, not only do we have an incredibly powerful familiar, but we ourselves are more than capable of handling any opponents that the current generation can throw at us. That creates a bigger impact and further improves our image to the rest of our kind."

"I wanted to smash some more heads," Koneko added, an opinion that nearly everyone to some degree could relate to. In ten days, all they'd managed to ever do to the Servant was lightly scuff his clothes on one occasion, while he kept right on beating them all senseless. That alone made everything far more frustrating, so finally facing up against opponents they could not only reach but also hurt after everything they'd endured, was extremely satisfying. Issei, Koneko, Yuuto, and Akeno all felt this sensation during the match, as this wasn't just a matter concerning Rias and her engagement, but also themselves as individuals.

As the seconds ticked by, the group spent about an hour just chatting and playing random board games. Rias began teaching Asia the basics of chess, while Yuuto and Issei were busy talking about some of the contracts they had to fulfill.

Koneko on the other hand held a portable console, playing games with Gasper, with the half vampire still wearing feminine clothes.

It wasn't until Issei stretched his back did he notice someone missing. "By the way, where did that guy disappear to? I want to ask him more about that awesome fire explosion attack he did at the end,"

At the mention of her Servant, Rias also looked around for him, and realized that not only had Archer disappeared from the room, but so had her Queen.

'I have a bad feeling about this. Where did those two run off to? '

.

.

.

"It should be done by now." Inside the club room's kitchen, the bowman who now wore an apron found himself in the middle of preparing a small surprise feast for the group. Though they were celebrating with a cumber of drinks and snacks, he knew that they would get hungry sooner or later. Especially Koneko, that girl had been practically begging for him to prepare a special treat for her ever since the Rating Game came to an end. So while they were distracted with their conversations and games, he went over to the kitchen and decided to prepare a number of rice dishes, making the most out of the handful of ingredients in the fridge.

"Ara, Ara, I didn't expect to find you here preparing a feast for all of us. Koneko will be very happy to hear her favorite big brother is making something special for her," from the door appeared Akeno, having recovered from her previous shock at Archer praising her tea and returned to normal. She tiptoed closer to the Servant, peeking over his shoulder at what he was preparing with her body pressing against his, her enormous chest squishing itself against his back in a manner that Archer was certain the girl was doing deliberately.

"Mmm… It smells lovely. I'm already getting very hungry just by the scent alone. Are you making mochi? Oh, and also omurice? An odd combination, but certainly delicious."

Archer didn't push her away, having done so multiple times before on previous occasions, yet the girl seemed to never learn, and in fact would find ways to escalate her behavior if he tried denying her. In the end he decided it was easier to just let her do her own thing while he continued to ignore her little acts of mischievousness.

"Let me have a taste," Akeno then said. Archer, who was becoming familiar with this type of behavior seeing as it was virtually identical to how Rias behaved when they were together at her home, knew from experience that indulging her would be the least exhausting way to deal with this. For all their differences, the Queen and King had more than a few similarities to one another, and he wasn't even referring to their appearances.

Grabbing a small piece of the mochi, Archer held it up to the girl, and she happily ate the treat right from his fingertips. "It tastes amazing! I might try to copy your recipe as well."

"You seem awfully cheerful," Archer noted, returning his attention to the meal he was preparing.

"Well, of course I'm happy! We've not only won against Riser and saved Rias from an unhappy marriage, but for the first time ever I received a compliment from a certain someone who seems intent on being nicknamed Mr. Grumpy," she said teasingly, still not giving him any space as she continued to press herself against his back. "Who would have thought that the great chef Archer would find himself a worthy rival in the form of a young maiden. Guess even ancient Heroic Spirits aren't that impossible to overcome."

"I always give you compliments when you deserve them. In my experience, women tend to enjoy being treated as if they're younger than their actual age. Therefore, calling you a child is not only a fact, it is also a compliment," he said with a smirk on his face that made Akeno pout cutely. "More importantly though, I believe you didn't come here just to talk about reaching my level with tea making."

To that, Akeno sighed, pushing herself up the counter and taking a seat on it so she could talk to him face to face. "I won't lie, I am very happy to hear you admit that my skills have improved. This entire time I was starting to doubt myself if I would even become as good as you."

"It's simple tea making, my skills aren't so good that they surpass all forms of logic. Any trained chajin with enough experience and talent will naturally become better than me. You've still got room to grow, and tea making was never my area of expertise to begin with."

"Cause you're more of a chef? What exactly is your forte, then?"

He hummed, "I guess you could say that, and to answer your second question; Japanese and European cuisine are my strong suit. It's been a while since I seriously invested much time into my hobby but my skills haven't deteriorated that much."

"Hm, I know with Japanese cuisine I still have a long way to go. Even Rias won't stop talking about everything you make for her, I've grown jealous even. Like seriously, even the food from critically acclaimed restaurants doesn't seem to measure up! Why aren't you pampering me and the rest of the club as well as you do with Buchou?"

"Because she's my Master," he answered without hesitation, to which Akeno rolled her eyes — another aspect that she secretly envied the redhead for. Back then at the warehouse, if she had been the one to set her foot inside first rather than Rias… then maybe…

"I could also be your Master." She said, causing Archer to glance at her with a confused stare. "I mean, a Master just acts as an anchor and constant supply of Magical Energy to keep you here, right? So what's the harm in having two?"

"Well, putting aside how a Servant having two Masters is, let's say a bit… impossible. I'd then have to protect and care for the both of you rather than having to focus on Rias alone."

Akeno smirked, "Oh don't lie, I know you'd protect us as well regardless. And I'd be willing to take just as much care of you, if you'd let me."

"You sure seem willing to place an awful lot of trust in me. I can't say that's a wise decision. Even if I'm your ally, I'd like to remind you that I'm no saint. People can be nefarious with their intentions." At that, the girl hopped off the counter and looked him intently in the eyes.

"I'm quite certain that the others trust you for well founded reasons, and the same goes for me. I admit I wouldn't have been okay with you knowing about my Fallen heritage, but that wasn't your fault and it hasn't affected your opinion of me, and I'm glad for that even if I'd rather have told you myself. But it bugs me that you don't trust us at all…" her expression darkened.

"What do you mean?"

"First of all, we don't even know what your real name is." She said, causing Archer to stop what he was doing. "I understand why you kept it a secret in the beginning. I mean, you were in another world, faced with a group of teenage Devils. Anyone would be cautious. But after so long, you've gotten close to us by now. So what's the harm in us knowing who you were, Archer? Are you so afraid that we will judge you?"

"Afraid? Hn, that's not the case." The man scoffed. "The reason I've not bothered to reveal my name is because it'd be pointless even if you knew. You'll gain nothing from it, in fact I'd say the opposite is more likely. You saw the impact that just seeing a glimpse of my past had on Rias. It would invite unnecessary stress into your life, so it's better that you keep seeing me as just Archer — it's the best option."

That only invited a frown on the Queen's face. "So what? You think the only reason we want to know your name is to get more information out of you that will benefit us? That's the stupidest thing you've ever said, and you know it! We care about you and see you more than a Servant. We're more than able to help bear any kind of burdens you have from your past."

To be honest, the Servant was momentarily stunned by that response. He didn't really give them knowing his name that much of an importance, a minor aspect in the grand scheme of things. He wasn't completely against the idea of telling him his name, Emiya just was certain that they were wasting their time for a minor issue like this. Not like it would change anything since they would find no record of Emiya Shirou in history and the fact he threw that identity away also contributed to his hesitation.

"You're not going to let go of this matter, are you." He stated, preferring to just drop the subject altogether, but suspecting that wasn't going to be an option.

"We've seen each other naked, I'm seriously not understanding why a name would be that big of a deal. Even if you were a big scary villain from history, I wouldn't care. You're our Archer; someone I'm going to surpass with my cooking skills in the future, English teacher, and Koneko's unofficial older sibling."

"..."

The silence just made her even more frustrated. "Are you so stubborn that you'll keep thi—"

"Heroic Spirit EMIYA." The man spoke, making Akeno's following words get stuck in her throat as her eyes widened.

He… he actually said it?

"Em…iya?"

Emiya… Emiya… Emiya…

She repeated this name a couple of times in her head, a rather unusual name, yet it rolled off her tongue naturally — Japanese for certain. So that meant, "Yo-You were Japanese the entire time?"

At that he chuckled, "I am. My appearance can be quite deceiving. But then again, Yuuto is blonde and Koneko has white hair. The same applies for Momo and Tsubasa with rather unique hair colors of their own."

"But they aren't Japanese and the other two don't count!" She exclaimed, unable to hold her smile from blooming at the realization that a major hurdle had been overcome by him willingly sharing that piece of information with her. Even Rias didn't know his real name! This day just kept getting better and better! Many questions began to pop in her head, the question of any historical figure sharing the name having been completely thrown out of the window as all she could think about were questions such as; Where was he born exactly? What year? Why did he look so different from his childhood when he supposedly had red hair? And so much more.

"Are you happy now? Though I'd prefer you keep that information a secret. A Servant's true name being kept secret is extremely important, for if the enemy were to find out then they'd know about my weaknesses as well."

She didn't answer, this time she wrapped her arms around his abdomen while resting her face on his chest. "Thank you, Emiya." she whispered.

"Calm down, you little brat. I'm still in the middle of cooking if you somehow haven't noticed already."

Unbothered by his remarks, she just tightened her hold. "What did I tell you about treating me like I'm a kid? I am a full-blown adult, and I have more than one way to prove it to you… Would you perhaps enjoy a physical demonstration, Emiya?" she whispered into his ears, her hot breath sending a slight tingle down his spine. Meanwhile Akeno repeated his name a couple of times, enjoying the new sensation it made her feel.

But the bowman did not allow himself to react, continuing to perform his task with calm and steady hands and a heart rate to match, making Akeno just want to press further with her current line of attack. "Come on, Emiya, let's have some private time together again, just you and me. My apartment has a large enough bath that we could both relax in it, so long as we stay really close to one another. We can soak in it and enjoy ourselves anytime you want. Or if baths aren't your thing, I'm sure we could find other ways to enjoy ourselves in private."

Archer scoffed, "Again with that? And here I thought we were having a wholesome moment. But if you're going to insist on this, let me remind you that you've tried this before, and it didn't work." He reached back and gave the girl a gentle tap to her head with a wooden spoon, which at least got Akeno to let go and step back, but she didn't back down.

"Don't lie to me, Emiya. You liked the feel of my body then and you like it now, and I know you're more tempted by my offer than you let on. After all, we had a wonderful time soaking together in the hot spring, didn't we? I've never felt so relaxed and so relieved back then as when you held me in your strong arms. My body felt so light getting handled so roughly~!"

"Hah… Do you find pleasure in making even the most simple of tasks I perform needlessly difficult?"

"Yes," she admitted without a hint of shame, her voice turning rather dry and laced with slight resentment. "It's not just about tea making, I'm going to take back my throne in the kitchen and surpass you in every way possible. Then you'll have to reward me! Also, thank you for finally admitting that my offer for another bath together is in fact enticing enough to distract you."

At least now she wasn't going to bug him about his name.

"Other than bringing up the topic of taking another bath together like some broken record, what do you even have in mind if I were to take you up on that?" He asked curiously, to which Akeno pondered for a second before shrugging.

"Don't know, I honestly haven't thought about it that far. You praising my tea making to be just as good as yours caught me so off guard that I'm still trying to process it, and then the idea just came about on its own. But since you asked, why not just come to my apartment and we can find out together? I can try to win you over with my talent in cooking Japanese cuisine. Asia-chan has been my personal little critic, and I've been getting a lot better lately to the point that I'm confident in having you give your opinion. How about you come over for one morning before we head to school? Rias did say Servants don't need to sleep, so it's not like this would inconvenience you. Though Buchou will probably be mad at me for taking away her precious body pillow, that's a problem for later. And if you still find any problems with my cooking, you could always correct them by teaching me yourself. I might even call you sensei or senpai if you're into that." This scenario she described felt oddly familiar to Archer… Eerily so, in fact.

"I rather prefer sensei, or just Archer."

"Fufufu~! Then I take it that you agree with me? I'll leave my door open for you then. Ah, and as for my reward… Well, we'll see. Though it is a bit sad I won't get to spend some intimate time with you in the hot spring again, we could have gotten much closer than last time. Oh, but I haven't surpassed you in the kitchen yet. And if you're going to be teaching me… perhaps I should think of a way to thank you instead?"

"Please don't."

It was working. No matter how stoic he acted, every man possessed a breaking point. She refused to believe he was some sort of machine who would show no reaction whatsoever no matter how old, experienced or jaded he was… there has to be a limit. And if she wanted to reach her goal, she had to get a bit more bold with her actions.

"Oh but I insist! And it'll have to be something special indeed since you've seen me naked when we were in the hot spring, and you even felt my bare flesh pressing against yours… Hmm, yes this will need to be special indeed."

"You two did what!?"

At that moment though, a newcomer had appeared in the doorway. Rias was standing there with her eyes wide, filled with shock as she found her Queen having a rather intimate conversation with her Servant, and talking about them having had a bath together during the training period which she never heard about until that moment! Something she herself hadn't even done with him once!

"Ara, Buchou, I didn't hear you come in. Archer and I are just making plans so we can have some quality time together to bond. You know, get to know each other and work better together in the future." It was amazing how Akeno's words could sound so sincere, yet everything else about her was the picture of mischievousness, especially that devilish smirk on the ravenette's face. And if she wanted to provoke a reaction while playing innocent, she succeeded as Rias' face started to redden from fury. She marched right over the other side of Archer and grabbed his free hand while pressing her breast against it — much to his dismay.

"I must insist on reminding you, Akeno, that Archer is MY Servant. You're not allowed to have such a relationship with him without my permission, and I'm saying no to it."

Her Queen didn't back down. In fact she answered Rias' claim by grabbing Archer's other hand and having it grab a palmful of her breast as well.

"Oh? What gives you the right to say or decide such things? From what I can tell, Archer may be a Servant, but he's still his own person. He has the right to decide for himself what he wants to do and whom he wants to do it with. Not to mention he has been doing quite a bit for all of us and especially you ever since you summoned him. I simply decided that it's now my turn to show him a bit of gratitude for all his efforts, given that his own Master prefers to be pampered at every available opportunity rather than reward her Servant for all his hard work."

Akeno said all this with a bright smile, but Rias didn't appreciate the mockery… Or the challenge.

Tension rose as lightning flashed between both of the Devils' gazes. Rias's face turned almost the same shade of crimson as her hair while Akeno continued to smile with sparks flying around the hand that wasn't holding Archer's hand to her breast. Their Demonic Energy swirled as if they were going to start a conflict—

"—!?"

It was at that moment that Archer sensed a worryingly familiar sensation.

Just as it seemed like the pair of teenage girls might actually come to blows, he dematerialized on the spot and manifested next to the window. His face had completely changed from his previous exasperation to a much more serious and focused expression. More importantly, he was now wearing the combat attire that was his armor and shroud. This sudden action caught the girls by surprise, quickly alerting them to the fact that something far more important had just happened than their personal squabble. Rias went forward to ask him what was wrong, though his next words made her heart stop beating for a second out of pure shock and fear.

"I'm sensing a lot of Magical Energy gathering nearby, Master. It feels like a summoning."

"What!?" Rias shouted, with Akeno also going pale at Archer's words. "Are you certain?"

"Fully, Master. It's close, coming from the gymnasium I'd say. Whoever it is, they know the ley lines in this region congregate here at Kuoh Academy, and are in the midst of a genuine Servant summoning ritual."

This was bad; Rias immediately recalled all of the stories he told her about summonings of Servants, and how in some cases, the real danger turned out to be a Servant who would kill their own Master on the spot and then go off on a rampage — entities who, in this instance, would most likely immediately target Archer for the kill since they'd be able to sense him as the most powerful other being in the area. She looked at him while he sternly gazed in the distance.

"I don't know who it is, but if the summoning is still in progress, perhaps I can stop it before it's complete." He stated, having both Kanshou and Bakuya already appeared within his grasp. "If not, make sure to gather everyone in one place and be ready to teleport as far away as possible. I'm afraid I won't be able to focus on protecting all of you at the same time against another Servant."

Rias froze, unsure how to deal with his words; if he believed that he could stop it, then she was fully on board with the idea. But to leave him by himself to deal with such a dangerous opponent by himself? The redhead just couldn't bring herself to do it. Also, another part of her worried that whoever this other Servant was, they would certainly become hostile towards Archer, given the latter told her that the entire reason Servants as a concept were created was so they could be summoned to fight each other to the death in a battle royale.

At this point, she no longer cared about a Holy Grail that granted wishes even if it did exist; she had hers already partially fulfilled and was happy with the outcome. So, having this reality now in danger did not sit well with the heiress. But if this other Servant really was hostile, then Archer was the only one who could fight it.

"Stay safe, Archer… I'll be ready to use my Command Seals to help you if it comes down to it." She said, hoping her Servant would end this summoning before it was too late, or would be able to safely neutralize the other Servant if it came to a fight. Without another word, the white haired bowman disappeared from the room and rushed towards the gym.

"Akeno…"

"I'll get the spell ready." No longer caring about their previous argument, both girls were ready to do what was necessary. "Buchou, do you have any idea who else would have the ability and knowledge needed to summon a Servant? Didn't we make sure that such information wouldn't leak by hiding some key aspects?"

"I… I don't know."

A face appeared in her mind. A suspect, but she dearly wished for it not to be the case.

.

.

.

This was bad; and for some reason he was feeling a sense of déjà vu. Archer used his top speed to reach the location of the summoning before it was too late. Whoever this person that was performing the ritual was, they were clearly not thinking straight and potentially endangering everyone. Or was it part of an enemy attack who thought the Devils of this territory would be at the party in the underworld, celebrating Rias' victory? He wasn't sure, but the answers could wait for after this matter was dealt with.

"Oh no…" The Magical Energy had reached its pinnacle and then rapidly began to subside, with a new, heavy presence making itself known to his senses, which could only mean one thing… The time for him to face an enemy Servant in battle had finally come

He was almost at the door to the gym, when a shadow of a figure blurred before his eyes through one of the few windows. "—!" The appearance was so sudden that he hadn't even sensed its arrival until the very last fraction of a second. Archer let his instincts take over, moving his blades just in time to block a strong kick aimed straight for his head.

"Oof!" The force behind that attack was far beyond anything he'd ever experienced since arriving in this world, far stronger than the punch he'd taken from Grayfia. It felt as if he was once again in Fuyuki, facing an enraged Heracles. Sparks flew from his blades as they grinded against each other to defend against this entity. Thankfully they managed to do so, but with great effort and much Reinforcement on his part. His body, unfortunately, flew backwards and up from the impact, unable to stand his ground against such a force and collided harshly against the wall of the old school building, crashing into the room where the Occult Research Club members had still been relaxing.

Dust filled the room as he heard several coughs, cries of surprise, and a few people calling his name. He found himself ending up on the ground right next to a bewildered Yuuto and Issei, both of whom were taken aback by his chaotic entrance.

"Get out of here!" He shouted, getting his blades ready and shooting back to his feet in a ready stance. "It's an enemy Servant!"

'Damn it! I was barely able to intercept that attack even with my Mind's Eye. That kind of speed… has to be at least B, or most likely A rank. Strength-wise… I can still feel the tremors within my arms, meaning it's close to Berserker's level, but not quite there… which means their Strength is rank A as well. And this is a Servant who uses kicks for attacks, meaning they're adept in close quarters combat. Hm, I highly doubt this is an Assassin or Caster, and the fighting style leaves me disinclined to suspect a Saber. And with that kind of speed with such strength, I'd say the class of this Servant is more likely to be either Rider, Berserker, or god forbid Lancer. Acute senses too. They knew I was approaching less than a second after being summoned, which makes the likelihood of this being a Berserker extremely low. Rias and the others are still here, it's going to take at least a minute for the teleportation to be ready from what I remember. I can't use my bow right now, nor anything too destructive… Black Keys might help to slow down my opponent a little if I can land one on their shadow, and I can afford to distract the enemy with a massive barrage of weapons by relying on Rias' reserves and buy time for them to teleport away.'

Within a fraction of a second, Archer's mind went through every piece of information he managed to glean from that single strike. Deducing the apparent power of this Servant and potential class. Dozens of Noble Phantasms flashed through his head, each one specifically chosen for defensive or delaying purposes ready to be called at any moment, were lined up in his Reality Marble.

He couldn't afford to let his guard down for an instant, nor underestimate this opponent in the slightest.

He didn't have to wait long for his opponent to appear before him again.

She stood at the very edge of the new hole in the wall with the full moon illuminating her rather familiar feminine figure. This time he had a much clearer view of his attacker — wavy purple hair that would have reached her feet even while standing upright, a blindfold on her face to conceal a dangerous and powerful set of Mystic Eyes, clothes that tightly hugged her figure, and a pair of long chained nails held firmly in her hands.

Of all people… it had to be her!?

"Rider!?" Was all he could say before the woman pounced at him once again.

Pushing his senses to his limit, he managed to deflect one of the nails that had been aimed to restrain his arms and sweep his legs at where he suspected she was going to appear next. But it seemed she managed to anticipate his move and instead appeared right beneath him, her monotone face gazing at him without saying a word. At that moment, he whispered to no one in particular a single phrase fueled by frustration. "I see you're going to be a much bigger pain to deal with this time."

"…"

She didn't seem to like that comment… Oh well. He never managed to get a clear reading on this woman and her thoughts in the first place.

Crash!

Another impact occurred between them, easily shattering the floor and shrouding everything in a heavy cloud of dust particles once again.


The next 5 chapters of Snafu, and my other Fate fics (Fate Coiling Sword with 3 chapters, A Fake Familiar Reborn with 3 chapters, Steel Eyed Faker soon to be 3 chapters, Hound having 1 and To love a sword having 4 chapters) are already available on my P treon. With 4 more Broly chapters at /NimtheWriter. Also, I post commissioned arts on each story, already posted a few on an Archer's Promise, Broly and Snafu.