-['Master, do you read?']
-['Input confirmed, I think it's like this.']
'I can hear you clearly.'
-['Ah, affirmative. Commencing synchronization with relay network. Target has been sighted.']
'What do you think?'
-['Species: Dragon. Designation: Nidhogg to Jormungand class magic energy readings. Appearance: Fafnir. Saber and Berserker are restless.']
-['Awaiting orders. Caution is advised over engagement until suitable conditions are created. Permission to create relay body to guide the Master, Archer, and Rider to battle?']
'That's fine. We'll need a guide to get to you all anyway.
-['Input confirmed, manifesting a corresponding relay unit to return to Orario.']
'But hold your position and wait for us before fighting. We'll come to support. You may not think too much of it, but I don't plan to lose any of us. We all have something we want granted to have answered the summoning.'
-['...is Caster coming?']
'You still don't like him?'
-['To nullify the achievements of a hero in death is just- ugh!]
'Don't think too much into it.'
-['Input acknowledged, is the correct word thank you?']
'Good work Assassin.'
Shirou opened his eyes and refocused on what was ahead of him. He'd taken note of Hestia and Heracles leaving at one point, but hadn't expected them to bring back company at their return.
Apollo of all people was not someone Shirou anticipated being led to Caster, but Shirou was inclined to trust in Heracles's own judgements. A man like him who completed twelve labours thought impossible had a level of insight and wisdom Shirou had to respect.
Whether it was a good idea for Apollo to speak with Caster in private or not wasn't a matter for Shirou to pry into when it was evident that Apollo had no intention of causing Caster any harm.
That much was certain when Shirou felt a surge of divinity inside Caster's bounded field, but no signs of damage. Rather, it was controlled, and carefully used to do something that surprised Shirou more than anything else.
As a Master, Shirou had access to the parameters of his Servants.
When Shirou had first been plunged into the midst of the Fifth Holy Grail War, his incompetence, or rather his ignorance, prevented him from utilizing certain aspects as a Master.
It was different now.
Caster's parameters saw a notable rise, not in the least of which was his Divinity.
Staring towards the medical ward, Shirou hummed in thought before turning back to those who still lingered outside waiting.
Across from Shirou were Heracles and Hestia.
Heracles had his arms crossed and brows furrowed as he contemplated over matters pertaining to the Gods of this world, and the Gods he knew. The Gods here, after years of prolonged exposure to the culture and lives of mortals, had developed their own sense of self and character. They could almost be generalized as 'human.'
If Heracles could see that, there was no way Caster couldn't.
It was no wonder Rider was being awkward with Thetis. It wasn't just because he shared a strong relationship with the original Thetis, but that this Thetis truly cared for him just as much as the original had.
Try to lie to a mother who wants nothing but the best for you, and see if you're able to do it with a straight face when she can't seem to remember the day you were born.
Everything is foggy and filled with bits and pieces from dreams or visions with maternal or paternal emotion.
Logically, the obvious answer to a God was tampering.
Lady Mnemosyne, old bat Mimir, crazy Tezcatlipoca, reclusive Medhā, many could be held accountable by not just Thetis but others who would fall in the same dilemma.
Gods were also the pettiest, worse than children. If they couldn't find the culprit, the answer was clearly to blame them all.
Many grudges were being formed out of a misunderstanding Rider and the others couldn't fix as it would go against the conditions stipulated against his Master.
Heracles digressed. As he felt the burst of Divine energy and its slow dissipation, he shook his head and walked off after nodding to Shirou.
A star had departed, and a new one would take its place.
The action was too human.
Gods were logical, able to compute and weigh matters on an unbiased scale, but what did this Apollo choose?
"H-Hey where are you going?" Hestia stammered, rushing up to Heracles. "They're not out yet…?"
Heracles shook his head at Hestia. She'll soon come to understand that Apollo had never had the intention to leave that room.
What Apollo should have done was persisted with words that, although would not work, would still enable him to remain with a Caster who would never forgive. Just as a son would come to 'accept' a drunkard father or mother, blood would not lie.
And as such, so long as there was a possibility that persistence would eventually get through, a God would make that choice.
However, that wasn't the choice Apollo made.
Apollo knew that forgiveness was unlikely, but that didn't deter him from making the decision to immediately help his son rather than wait an eternity to be accepted.
The Grand Quest was recommencing.
If Caster needed help, now would be the time and not later.
What was weighed on a scale was the choice a father would make, and what a God would make.
The Apollo of this world used action to reveal where he stood.
To act in a way that defied a God's rational sense, but rather emphasized emotion…
That was why Heracles called him a fool; just like mankind striving towards the future without the guidance of the Gods.
Fools and dreamers, but entirely human with the will to move onward.
Heracles left, leaving it to Shirou to watch over Hestia who continued to nervously stare at Caster's medical ward. She too had certainly felt the surge in Divinity, but unlike Heracles, she didn't yet consider the notion that Apollo was gone.
Shirou sighed, noting that Hestia would be the least of his immediate concerns.
Glancing to a group waiting anxiously by the door, Shirou scratched the back of his head.
Clio, Daphne, Cassandra, Lissos, Luan, Alto and Loan, the current members of the Apollo Familia were still waiting for their God. And by the looks of their Falna not fading, Shirou got the distinct premonition that Caster was going to have more ammunition against his father.
Apollo was gone, but his Falna remained in his Familia members.
Said Falna was likely reacting with Caster's divinity, namely Apollo's.
-Says what he wants, does what he wants, and leaves his responsibilities behind to his kid.
Shirou sweat dropped, a shudder going down his back.
Apollo was not doing himself much favors.
When Caster eventually realizes the extent of his father's 'gift,' he may even try to return it.
Suddenly, Shirou caught on to why Heracles had left without another word. His wisdom and intuition were too honed not to consider what would come next.
Caster was the grumpiest of all his Servants.
Shuddering, Shirou followed Heracles suit.
"…why are they leaving?" Hestia puffed her cheeks out, hands on her hips with indignation.
Apollo was in the room with Caster and his friends couldn't even stay to provide moral support when the meeting was over?
A day later, and Finn bolted upright, grabbing his neck and screaming.
His shouts filled the near empty hall of the Loki Familia building, but he didn't seem to realize until a sharp voice snapped him out of his bewilderment.
"Glad to see you're up." Riveria said, offering a glass of water to Finn who stared at her dubiously.
The last Finn remembered; he was…
"Riveria?" He murmured, staring at his hands in shock. "Wasn't I-?"
Riveria's expression flickered with various emotions. She hadn't gone with Loki to see how all this was done, but the results were speaking for themselves. Dead men don't talk after all.
"You should thank Loki later," Riveria glanced to the left where Tione was still unconscious. "The both of you."
Finn took a moment to process Riveria's words, and it was only after seeing Tiona crying tears of joy while holding onto her sister's hand that it clicked all at once.
"I-I died, didn't I?" Finn rasped, recalling that chilling sensation at the point of death. "Tione did too?"
Riveria pursed her lips, not wanting to stay on this topic.
"Does it matter?" She glanced away and threw a travel bag at Finn, her own slung over her shoulder. "Loki needs you to prepare for a joint subjugation mission. You and I are going as top members of the Loki Familia."
"What?" Finn racked his brain, trying to organize everything. There was a literal blank spot in his memory from when he died and now, like he'd just woken up from a dream. "Can't you just explain? You weren't the type to exclude information."
"Maybe I just don't want to talk about it?" Riveria balled her hands into fists.
She recalled the dreary memory of the days spent regretting things she could have done better to save her Familia.
"It's just, you died and now you're back," Riveria sighed and composed herself. "Loki must have given up a fortune with how pale she looked. So, you best return the favour and get ready."
Finn widened his eyes and slapped himself out of it. He himself was a Captain of the Loki Familia.
He got up and readied himself, no more questions asked until later.
Someone would surely fill him in.
Loki scratched at her head, frowning as Ais stubbornly stood in front of her.
"I want to go," Ais repeated.
Loki did not have time for this, but she was too sympathetic to Ais to just dismiss her. Loki knew Ais was doing this for two reasons. One was to get in contact with Caster again, and the other was that her own father had participated in the subjugation of the One-Eyed Black Dragon and died from it.
"Listen Ais, you are not ready," Loki stressed, watching her words go in one ear and out the other. Ugh. "If it's a meeting with Caster, I'll try to arrange another one. I promise. You saw the type of person Caster was. If I'd let you talk to him outside of the agreed treatment terms just to satisfy your inquires, he would have refused you. To him, patients come first, not other people's problems."
"If I'd just talked…" Ais pursed her lips.
"I know what you wanted," Loki shook her head. "And he would have asked you where the body was. It may not be impossible for him to revive the dead even without a body since Gods of death say that the soul matters more, but why should he prioritize you over others with loved ones with bodies in tact?"
"That's why I must go," Ais's expression gradually shifted with frustration. "I don't know about anything else, but my mother and father fought the Black Dragon. If it's a piece of their body, even just a bone, I'd find it there to bring to Caster!"
Loki flinched, realizing she'd shot an arrow into her own foot.
Ais's logic was sound except for the glaring disparity in required level to attempt this subjugation.
Loki was not about to just let her members go on suicide runs just because Caster existed.
"Its Riveria and Finn. That's final." Loki put her foot down, growing stern with Ais. "I still need you and Gareth to help manage the others in their absence."
"No. Enough is enough. I'm done with the conversation." Loki felt her stress building again. She already yearned for those carefree days of a couple weeks ago where she didn't have to be so high-strung and responsible.
A cough echoed before Riveria and Finn arrived, fully geared and ready to leave.
"Are we interrupting?" Riveria glanced away from Ais's thousand-yard flat stare.
"No, you're just in time," Loki took a long look at Finn to make sure he was okay before walking out of the room. "Riveria, Finn, let's go."
Riveria and Finn glanced at each other, and then at Ais who was now biting her lower lip.
In the end, they followed Loki who wilted like dandelion when Ais was finally left out of sight.
"Riveria help me!" Loki wailed, clinging onto Riveria's shoulders. "Ais looks like she hates me! You know why I can't bring her along!"
Riveria winced, awkwardly shying away from Loki, unwilling to take the hot potato out of her hands.
Meanwhile, Finn tilted his head, silently trying to gather his thoughts and piece together the situation.
His mind stopped however when Loki eventually briefed him on the 'subjugation' he and Riveria were set to aid.
Finn swallowed, wondering how death might feel for a second time?
In a group of three, Loki, Finn, and Riveria arrived on a makeshift podium made from the wreckage of the dungeon break where a sign was placed reading:
[One-Eyed Black Dragon Subjugation Recruitment! Fighting!]
The words were no surprise to the Gods that had attended Iris's banquet, but it was different for ordinary adventurers, Familia, and wandering Gods visiting Orario. The words would have been too bold to just pass up without anything to have confidence in.
Most would have shrugged and passed by without a second thought, but had to do a double take when other Gods who had been to Iris's banquet appeared intent on participating on a suicide quest.
They had no choice but to reconsider and at least spectate.
Loki noted several familiar faces in the crowd, some blatant, others far more subtle.
Ignoring Hestia and Bell, there was Freya standing with Ottar, a tall and heavily muscled beast man with boar ears. He was also the Captain of the Freya Familia at a commendable level 7.
Noticing her gaze, Freya glanced at Loki and gave her a listlessly smug side eye.
Loki scoffed, still annoyed with Freya.
Then there was Hephaestus and her Familia taking up a portion of the crowd space.
The God of Blacksmith's herself looked ruffled with the way her own Familia members kept shooting her dubious looks including Tsubaki. Hephaestus's expression constantly twitched but settled on tired and frustrated to no end.
Observing further, Loki caught a familiar shade of brown hair and a white dress. Most telling of all was Ryuu Lion trailing behind the Goddess with a mixed expression.
Loki inwardly chuckled, linking the dots as to why Astraea would be back in Orario with Ryuu Lion trying to convince her of something. Of course, Astraea looked skeptical.
Loki understood that it was only natural since Astraea had not seen Caster's work, but must have heard hearsay.
The way Astraea looked at Ryuu was akin to a mother fretting over a wayward daughter with pity and regret.
Astraea must have been worried that Ryuu got herself dragged into a strange cult.
The odd picture got Loki snickering.
However, beyond Astraea, a cloaked old man watching the scene in bafflement stood out the most to Loki.
It must have been a wandering God, but the reaction he was having to the announcement of the re-subjugation of the One-Eyed Black Dragon had his countenance falling stale.
The old man wasn't the only one, as many other wandering Gods present during the Zeus and Hera Famila's hay days were exceedingly doubtful of the current endeavor. They treated it in the same way Ares continued waging a war he'd never win on Orario.
Many pitied the foolish king acting as the Ares Familia's captain.
Loki digressed. Something else caught her eye.
For as many people who had come to spectate or participate in the re-subjugation announcement, not all appeared to come with good intentions.
For a brief moment, Loki spotted a figure weave in and out of the gathering crowd.
Now this wasn't anything out of the ordinary, but Loki's intuition as a Trickster God had her on high alert.
Who was that?
Thinking of others who would rather not have the subjugation succeed as planned, or just sought to disrupt Orario's structure, Loki could only think of one group whose members went into hiding.
Loki's complexion darkened from old memories.
Just because the Dungeon Break happened didn't mean that remnants of that group would stay silent or cease activities.
Off the to side, Loki noticed another God, Hermes, looking in the same direction as her.
Hermes tipped his hat to Loki, indicating that he'd seen the same thing.
Loki bit the nail of her thumb, and decided to watch the proceedings closely.
The recruitment campaign would start any minute.
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