Chapter 58: Premeditated Scars

I do not own Fate/Stay Night and stuffs.

o. o. o.

Not a single one of them left the living room as they watched the meeting with the Apostle Ancestor take place through one of Caster's familiars.

Not a single one of them left as the monster departed with a disaster that they could only scramble to pick up the pieces.

And now they awaited for Shirou's return.

They didn't have to for long before Saber tore through the bounded fields of the Emiya property and land in the back yard with a body in her arms. Roughly a third of the barriers would have to be remade from scratch later. It would have been more had the Servant not been keyed into the property.

"Caster," Luvia ordered, though it was unnecessary. Her Servant had been moving before Saber had even landed.

"Ryuudou-kun." Sakura swallowed heavily, seeing her classmate's literal heartless body from a distance before turning to Rin. "Do you think-"

"I don't know," her older sister cut her off tersely. "You saw it too. That asshole didn't just rip out Ryuudou-kun's heart. He tossed him into the winter sea like he was trash."

She didn't need to remind them that the vampire had "tossed" Issei with enough force to launch the boy's body an additional hundred meters away from shore, further complicating matters.

And that didn't take into account the possibility that Fina had done something to Issei before the traumatizing reveal in the first place.

Avalon was an EX level Noble Phantasm, and indeed considered "bullshit" by many there, but no one knew just where its limit were drawn. Everyone was fairly certain that it couldn't regenerate a crushed skull and brain, but the range of severe injuries between "obliterated heart and chest cavity" and "crushed skull" was surprisingly wide.

Hypothermia. Infections. Potential Apostle curses. Severe blood loss. Ripped out heart. Brain damage. The list wasn't comforting.

"Well, the way I see it, if that scabbard of Saber's was unable to do anything by this point, I'm not sure there's much that could help the poor kid now outside of a True Magic or somehow transplanting Berserker's Noble Phantasm on him." Lancer shrugged, clearly trying to lighten the mood but doing a poor job of it.

"Do be more careful with your words, Lancer. Otherwise I may be under the assumption that I have wronged you in some way." Illya remained stoic as she calmly drank some tea. The fact that Heaven's Feel and Berserker were matters under her supervision was not missed by the others.

"Lancer. Stop pissing everyone off." Bazett grimaced, clearly uncomfortable.

Cu Chulainn frowned. "Something wrong, Master?"

The Enforcer reached down and rubbed her legs. "The girls are, reacting."

"The Banshees." Luvia's eyes momentarily widened in surprise, remembering the "gifts" that Bazett received from Merem during the war. "You mean they're…"

"Crying. Yeah. You can't hear them, but they're sending chills down my entire body." It was akin to having her nerves, bones, and circuits all being used as an antenna to receive the beautiful hushed whimpers and wails of the two girls in her very soul.

It did not paint a confident outlook for Issei, and no one dared to acknowledge the fact until Caster gave her verdict. If the combined efforts of Avalon, Saber, and Medea of the Shapeless Isle were unable to save Issei, then…

"Speaking of unheard and unseen oversights," Archer spoke up for the first time since they gathered, leaning against a far wall and keeping his distance from the others. "I find it odd that the third box was missed to begin with. As much as I would like to dismiss how much everyone lauds my other's abilities, even I am skeptical that he would simply miss something like that."

"I missed it too." Sakura grimaced, knowing that her input was not all that convincing. That was until she looked around and noted that everyone else seemed to have conveniently not counted the boxes as well if the looks on their faces was any indication. "Wait, everyone else did?"

"Twice is coincidence, nearly fourteen-fold though…" Rider hummed curiously.

"A mystery then." Rin knew that Archer was trying to distract them, but she did not have it in her to call him out on it. More so when she needed something to focus on herself.

Illya agreed. "None of us missed the containers when they arrived, but it appears their exact number were shrouded from us until that boy Issei, the final captive, was revealed. An imposed ambiguity that was strong enough to get past even Caster, at least from a distance. It sounds like a childish sort of prank that novices would play around with, but if applied to something like an army or even a small number of soldiers the results would be nauseating."

"Didn't he mention something about being happy about not being a magus?" Sakura tried to grab onto any information from the meeting that might be helpful. "He could be like Shirou. Using basic or irregular pre-established thaumaturgy in his own unique way."

Rin made a face. "Please word that a little differently next time, Sakura. The last thing we need is another Shirou running around the place. Two is enough."

Lancer snorted and gave Archer a knowing look.

Archer retorted with a helpless sigh and lifted up his hands in surrender, not even bothering to defend himself.

He didn't even consider bringing up Saber's bizarre situation in the greater world of Servants. That was a whole different sort of headache all together.

"She has a point. I doubt anyone expected a pirate vampire to use basic thaumaturgy like that to hide how many people he kidnapped." Luvia got them back on track. "When someone speaks or encounters Apostle Ancestors, one usually anticipates monsters that twist reality to frankly unnecessary extents by existing, or cunning ancient figures whose plays twist the entire playing field once exposed. Petty tricks like this, it's insulting and disappointing. The whole performance was utterly pointless."

"Monsters come in all sorts packages. Apostle or not." Archer shrugged.

"You would know," Lancer quipped.

"Lancer," Bazett warned.

"No. He's right. Compared to most other Servants, I'm particularly loaded with petty tricks and gimmicks." Archer didn't bother to defend himself. "Then again. Most Assassin class Servants fall in the same boat to one degree or another."

"What about Caster classes? Don't they count?" Sakura asked.

"They do, but once spells start to fly most experienced Servants and Masters get a decent idea what they're about pretty quickly." EMIYA shrugged. "Establish a territory. Summon familiars. Make artifacts. Team up with other Servants. Set up massive chain reaction traps and distractions to prevent people from trying to kill you if you can't hold them off. That's usually how it goes. As far as I'm concerned, it's the Casters that can hold their own in a direct fight right off the bat that put me on edge the most."

Not because they're capable fighters, but because once they do set themselves up with a home field advantage, they become capable fighters that know how to work and warp the battlefield in the middle of a fight without giving their opponents a moment to rest.

"Yes, but how does that apply to Vampires?" Illya butt in before another argument could spark from EMIYA's blunt words.

Archer smiled briefly. "Bazett, you would know better than most here what dealing with older Apostles is like as an Enforcer. Why not you explain?"

The eldest human there grimaced, not liking being put on the spot. "Younger and weaker Vampires, Undead and the like, are still ruled by their instincts. Their hunger. Enough that higher functions they have will almost always be shunted to the side whenever the opportunity presents themselves or their thirst gets too much. It takes decades at bare minimum for most vampires that regained their human intellect to get these urges completely under control so long as they keep themselves fed to some extent. Older Apostles, or ones that were transformed in abnormal circumstances, retain their sentience and rule that instinct to the point that they act just like us until they actually need or desire to feed. The oldest Ancestors still need to drink at a higher frequency than the others to keep themselves together, regardless of how in control over themselves they might be."

"I assume that Onii-chan falls under the abnormal category." Illya nodded. "I don't see how that's relevant though."

Bazett shook her head. "It has everything to do with the situation. The vast majority of Apostles in full control over themselves that practice magecraft may as well just be considered heretics with limited immortality and an altered diet. Their experiences and ordeals make them crueler. Stronger. They possess less inhibitions than the average deprived magus, but the obnoxious over controlling pride that they had in life that prevents them from going completely mad. Rin. Sakura. You two must have already seen this during your encounter with Louvre and his kin."

The two sisters shifted uncomfortably as they recalled the incident from nearly three years prior.

"They maintain their will and self-control for the most part, but with their lives perpetually on the line, those that manage to survive long enough quickly learn not to disregard the petty small tricks when the situation presents itself." Bazett concluded. "That said, I do agree that Fina's display was a bit more whimsical than the norm. There was no necessity to his actions."

"He certainly did appear to be putting in an effort to enjoy and express himself for the sake of it," Luvia agreed. "Most individuals of that nature would only find pleasure in the action of establishing their dominance over their peers or accomplishing what they sought out to do, but that one clearly intended to portray a more jubilant image. Almost approachable."

"You will find that most ship captains that took to piracy and similar occupations have similar dispositions. An adventurous charisma not unlike the ruler of a garrison or army platoon that rarely interacts with the country proper." The party turned to see the King of Rats walk in with a mute disposition. "Had a Servant of those qualifications been summoned, you would no doubt have witnessed a similar individual."

"Where's Shirou?" Rin asked before anyone else could speak.

"He and my master are arriving soon. Other than addressing Fujimura-sensei and Kizuki-sensei, they had some minor matters to discuss. I admit, part of it was in order to calm Lord Emiya down from what has transpired. I fear his ire has peaked to an almost unmanageable plateau. It is concerning."

Pissed to the point that even an inhuman nameless god was worried. That was not a good sign.

"As concerning as Ryuudou's status is, I must admit I am somewhat confused." Luvia frowned. "I would understand Shirou's extreme discontent if Tohsaka, Enzbern, or Matou were the ones attacked. However, the impact of what has occurred should not be as severe as you describe."

No one missed the fact that Luvia did not count herself among those that she expected Shirou to go ballistic over, but they didn't point it out. It wasn't the time for such minor details.

"At face value, that would be the case. You have overlooked one critical detail." The Rat shook his head despondently. "The War was over. The goal, the outcome that Lord Emiya had worked years for and sacrificed so much to achieve was in his hands. He had witnessed and experienced the very peace of mind he had sought firsthand. Ever since that night against Caster, he had finally been able to, in a sense, sit and see things clearly from 'his hill'."

Archer frowned and clicked his tongue in annoyance. "So I wasn't imagining it after all."

"Wait. Wait wait wait wait. Are you saying that Shirou actually achieved his Reality Marble?" Rin's eyes widened in genuine astonishment. She didn't have to look to know that everyone else had the same expression as she did.

"We don't have any concrete evidence, but my master and I highly suspect that is the case. I am surprised you have yet to come to that conclusion earlier, Miss Tohsaka. You were there as well when he made that final hurdle."

She didn't know why or how, but she instinctively knew what the Rat was talking about.

"Ah. So that's how it is. I really am, an idiot."

It was just for a flicker of a moment, but when she sat with him at the top of the steps at Ryudoji Temple after the final battle, just before Shirou passed out from his injuries, the world around him had changed. She hadn't been sure if her eyes had played tricks on her at the time, but in hindsight…

The Rat continued, "Under normal circumstances, I would remain silent on the matter and allowed Lord Emiya to reveal his development at his leisure. However, Fina's whimsical actions have elevated the severity of the situation to an extent that I doubt even he anticipated."

"And how's that?" Lancer frowned, clearly not getting the conclusion that Merem's left hand had come to.

"It means that Shirou sees Fina a threat to everything he's built up. A threat to the image, the physical idea that he desires to bask in for as long as he exists," Kiritsugu's cold, dry voice whispered, piercing the conversation like a knife. It was the first time he had spoken to most of them in days, and it probably would have been longer if the situation wasn't so dire.

"A threat? There has to be more than that, Assassin. By that logic, he'd be treating Barthomelloi the same way." Lancer counter argued.

"No." Kiritsugu shook his head briefly. "Barthomelloi is a disgruntled employer that they share history with. A tremulous relationship, but one that can still be managed and negotiated to some extent. That relationship is not undeserved, but she is still a noble. She will aim for him, and only him. That is why she is not treated as a greater issue even if her power is uncontested.

"In contrast, that Pirate antagonized Shirou without cause, reason, or provocation, and will likely do so again, targeting those surrounding him as a jest. Fina will aim for all of you for the sole purpose of agitating Shirou for his own personal amusement whenever he so pleases."

"Ryuudou-san was an unfortunate casualty of opportunity, but from Shirou's perspective, it was an indication that it could have been any one of us." Sakura swallowed heavily. "It could still be any one of us."

"Onii-chan… won't like that." Illya nodded, understanding exactly what Kiritsugu was getting at. "He really won't like that."

"Shit. He's really going to try and kill Fina." Bazett paled, coming to the worst, and most likely conclusion given the circumstances. If there was one thing that they could count on Shirou to have in extreme situations like this, it was tunnel vision. A hyper pinpoint focus that allowed him to bear through Zouken's machinations, the Clocktower, and the war. It was what enabled him to survive as long as he had.

One of his greatest strengths, and crippling weaknesses.

"Of all the times to finally be on the same page as Barthomelloi." The King of Rats laughed bitterly, not unaware of the irony of his statement.

"What sick irony is this? We just overcame a farce of a war and he's going to drag us into another one of his own making." Luvia lamented, her complexion falling just as fast as everyone else's.

"He wouldn't drag us into a war with Apostles," Sakura cut in. "He'd try and do it all by himself and keep us all out of it if he thought he could pull it off."

"That makes things worse and you know it." Illya chastised with a pout.

"You do remember he kinda just threatened to rope us into an all-out war with one of the head Vampires less than an hour ago," Lancer pointed out factually.

"… That was to stay Altrouge Brunstud's hand." Rin slowly tried to make sense of the situation and where things were leading. "But knowing Shirou, setting up an armistice with her and killing that pirate would be two completely different matters. He'd still try and find a way to do it behind everyone's backs."

"Couldn't we just have this Altrouge force the pirate to not piss off Onii-chan during negotiations?" Illya suggested.

"We could, but I don't know how well that would hold up. We're dealing with Apostles." Bazett sighed in defeat. "Just like how the armistice and Fina are two separate matters for Shirou, Altrouge could treat it the same way as a loophole. She might even encourage it if she found out, just to see what would happen, though in a way where it would just be between those two without outside interference."

"Don't give Emiya any ideas. He might actually go with that setup if he thought he could win." Luvia shivered at the prospect. Shirou had already shown to be quite partial to Ath n'Gabla to force enemies to move as he wanted, and she doubted that he would stop using it in the future if the situation called for it.

"I'm afraid she may be more inclined to do just that out of principle," the King of Rats solemnly added. "Altrouge knows much of the White Wing and his forces. Not everything, but enough. The same cannot be said for Lord Emiya and your Servants."

"So the most likely scenario we're looking at is a potential war with one Apostle Ancestor instead of half a dozen. And company. While the rest of the world is actively paying attention to us. Lovely." Rin groaned. "I thought the whole point of the meeting was to prevent something like this happening."

"Officially, it still might. What Fina did could be considered preemptive foreplay. Meaningless tomfoolery. It will likely be excused as an unfortunate accident seeing as Lord Emiya's status was not known at the time of the kidnapping. Even afterwards, I'm afraid that the life of your friend won't be comparable to the armistice struck between the two parties by most of our peers," the King of Rats relented. "Once the final agreement is struck and known, you can be assured that many will eye your relationship with Altrouge's brood with a keener gaze."

"But would Shirou believe it would stick?" Sakura brought up the glaring question that mattered the most.

"Probably not. I don't." Illya hummed as if it wasn't her problem. Kiritsugu nodded shallowly, agreeing with his daughter. "And if he doesn't, he's likely to waste time planning the first strike so he's not put on the defensive when the jerk returns."

"He's probably doing it now for all we know." Lancer lazily waved his hand, only to pause as everyone else in the room began to pale and make faces. "… Oi. I was joking."

"My god he is planning on assassinating an Apostle Ancestor as we speak," Luvia muttered as if coming to terms with a cold reality that she didn't want to believe was true. Her mind was clearly not going in the direction Lancer intended. Her head whipped around to the others Masters. "We have to stop him."

"I'm pretty sure Saber won't mind if we break his arms and legs temporarily so he doesn't do anything when Fina returns if we explain the situation," Illya suggested with a completely serious face.

"Won't work." Kiritsugu of all people shot her down with an equally grave expression. "Even if we manage to take Avalon from him he can project another and heal himself."

"You're right. We'd have to take him out completely. I can put his soul into a doll for a while."

"We're not breaking Shirou's arms and legs! And we're not taking his soul out of his body either!" Rin snapped, pretending to ignore the slight pang of childish disappointment she felt from Archer. She almost pitied Shirou for the dysfunctional family he'd be stuck with after everything finally settled down.

"I'd put it back."

"Please be serious about this." The sad thing was that Rin highly suspected Illya was being serious about messing with his soul.

"Why don't we just try talking to Shirou first before deciding to do something ridiculous?" Sakura asked carefully. "Even if we can't get him to change his mind, we could at least manage to prevent him from getting ahead of himself."

"Getting ahead of himself…?" Bazett frowned before getting the nuance. "Wait, you want to try and convince him to play the long game against an Apostle?"

"Why not?" she replied before anyone else could cut her off, her innocent question completely at odds with the severity of the situation. "He spent two years with me right under grandfather's nose biding his time and being careful while simultaneously working at the Clocktower. If Shirou could manage that without anyone being the wiser, then it shouldn't be impossible to convince him to do it again."

The room was eerily quiet as her words sunk in.

And then Lancer barked out a laugh and gave Sakura an appraising, yet viciously hungry look. "Heh. And here I thought you were the normal one. Turns out you're as twisted as the rest."

"Lancer. I recommend you chose your words more carefully in the future. It is unbecoming to continue to provoke pointless battles even after death." Rider's cool voice chilled the air in the room.

"Cool it. All of you," Rin cut them off before turning to Sakura. "Do you really think that would work? I know Shirou's done some impressive and insane things to prepare for the War, but do you genuinely believe we could convince him to play the long game with this with what's at stake? Because I am going to be honest, I don't know if he's in a state where he'd be able to even hear us right now. You've seen what he's like when he gets pissed, Sakura. It's like trying to talk with a brick wall. That shoots swords."

"You have to cut him off early and steer him in another direction," Assassin rasped, getting a slew of confused looks in the process. "It's how I turned him away from Archer's path."

"… He's still a reckless idiot," Archer huffed, indirectly admitting that Kiritsugu did manage to do what he claimed.

The eldest Emiya there almost smiled for a brief moment. "Never said I tamed the bull. Just aimed it in a different direction. I wasn't the one that put it in the china shop in the first place."

"Tsk."

"He'll listen if he thinks that not doing it will put us in danger," Sakura reasoned. "Once we get him to sit down, we should be able to reason with him. Eventually."

"For our sakes, do try to sound more confident when the time comes, Matou." Luvia sighed, already losing faith in their new plan of action.

Rider looked like she was about to say something when she turned her head towards the entrance of the house.

As did Lancer, Archer, Assassin, and the King of Rats.

"Better muster up that courage quick then," Archer muttered as the front door opened.

A subtle chill went up their spines.

Lancer whistled, impressed with the raw desire to murder that flooded the house. It felt less like something a human could possibly produce, and more like a genuine malicious curse radiating from an object being brought into the premises. "Well what do you know? Turns out there are a few people in this soft era that know how to get properly pissed after all."

o. o. o.

Out in the open waters, Fina was having a staring contest with the phone in the captain's quarters. He was losing badly.

It wasn't often that he was uncomfortable giving any sort of news, but the sheer absurdity of the situation left him with a bad taste in his mouth. As the saying went in this era, the ball was in his court now. Well, it was really in Altrouge's, but he was no doubt the one that was going to have to do the heavy lifting in the end regardless.

Half an hour out at sea was long enough. Any more and he'd have to keel haul himself for being a coward out of sheer principle.

Even if the technology was there, he didn't have to dial anything once he picked up the receiver. This was his ship after all. It was an extension of himself, and every activity it manifested was one on his will.

The line rung several times before it was answered.

"So?" the voice of a young girl in her teens hummed. She didn't bother asking who it was. Only a handful of people could access her this way, and none other than him had reason to use it this night. "How did it go?"

"It went. I'll give you that much," Fina replied in a tone that indicated that something clearly went down. "Solomon was good on his word. He threw one hell of a curveball though."

"How so? I trust there won't be any issues contacting this Ash of Miracles he's touted on about." Judging from her tone, Altrouge didn't seem to be particularly interested about whatever tricks Merem played. "You are on your way to see him now?"

Fina licked his lips. "No. That's just it. I'm actually on my way back to you."

"Oh?" That had her attention. "You mean to say that our new member of the Twenty Seven was at the meeting? I'm surprised Solomon would risk sneaking him into such dangerous territory."

"He didn't have to sneak anyone, Ma'am." Fina bit the bullet. "Turns out that you're not the only member of royalty that keeps an Apostle Ancestor on a leash in public."

The line was silent as his words were digested.

"The Silver Dog? The Magus Killer?" Altrouge breathed out in the sort of amused disbelief that made it difficult to tell if she was delighted or insulted. "You mean to say that the Japanese boy that Barthomelloi has been parading about is one of us?"

"Could barely believe it myself at first," he relented. "I couldn't even tell either until it was thrown in my face. Turns out Louvre's brood nicked him way back during that fiasco here in Japan, but his transformation… Solomon didn't go into detail, but the kid's not turned completely. He's a day walker, but more importantly, Ma'am, they claim he doesn't need to feed."

As expected, his words were not taken lightly. "… What?"

"They say he's alive. Solomon calls him a Living Apostle. His body doesn't fall apart because he never died in the process."

"And you just believed him?"

"Solomon swore on your father's name, Ma'am. If he believes it is true to make such a vow, then as much as I want to spit on it, I have to man up and swallow my pride. Relics like him don't make claims that big unless they can back it up. We all know that."

Technically speaking, she also fell into that relic category, but he knew better than to bring up that particular fact.

"Tch." She clearly didn't want to admit it, but had to concede that much. The only other Apostle that put Crimson Moon Brunstud in higher regard than Merem Solomon was Gransurg Blackmore. The Black Winged King worshipped her father like an all-powerful deity to the point that he was insufferably annoying every time he opened his mouth. "And what proof did he give you?"

Fina licked his lips again and looked to the side where the Silver werewolf that fought Shirou in close combat was standing. "I tested the boy out a bit. At the very least, he could handle some love taps to pass the lowest bars we have for our kind. I used my werewolves this time. One of them managed to get close."

"Olfactory based clairvoyance." Altrouge immediately understood what the pirate was getting at. It was an exceptionally niche field of extrasensory investigation, but as a result it was rarely ever prepared for. "And?"

The former German turned American turned Vampire soldier walked up, his body rigid despite still missing an arm and nursing his deep chest wound. "He is an Apostle ma'am. Different, but he carries the blood, watered down as it may be. The closest comparison made is if his body has been stained with the blood of his parent Vampire, but his human condition ultimately prevailed, somehow. It left his scent and state weaker than his peers. Even I would believe it to be from a lingering curse rather than a change of species if I passed him by chance without closer inspection."

"… I assume that you're one of the Silver wolves."

"First Class Sergent Aldolf Dreyfus Ma'am. United States Far Side Operations."

"Indeed." Given her dry response, she probably didn't care much for the posturing and just took his introduction as a yes. "Well, I suppose that might explain why Barthomelloi has yet to hoist his skull on a pike. What of his supposed Reality Marble?"

The Werewolf's stiff posture did not change. "The world he possesses is without question fully developed. If nothing else, the claims that he possesses a Reality Marble are understated. The scent that came from his body was too distinct and fresh to indicate otherwise."

"Fully… are you certain he is a child? A seventeen year old boy with a fully developed Reality Marble. Apostle or not, that is too fast to be merely convenient. Solomon is clearly hiding something." Altrouge's tone developed a keen edge. Her whimsical air disinterest was gone now.

"Had my boys do some poking around like usual as soon as I made shore, what with Servants running around and such. Can't be too sure to be frank. Kid was adopted after the previous Holy Grail War went up in literal flames and wasted a good part of the city. Problem is that there's not a paper or word of who he was or where he came from before that. Documents say trauma induced amnesia so he apparently doesn't know either. A bit too convenient, but I saw the pictures taken at the time, and he at least looked the part of a kid in the wrong place at the wrong time. Burns everywhere and everything."

"He's supposed to be some sort of weapon expert right? A blacksmith? Weren't there a few famous Japanese smiths that are known to this day? Mura-something."

"Muramasa," He corrected. "His family made a school for it, but it was always their name that the fame hugged onto. Known for some pretty nasty cursed swords if I remember right. Not exactly sure on the details though. I'm not too familiar with legends from these parts. It might be something to look into later."

"Another cursed sword Apostle. Hope Strout doesn't mind the competition."

"Cursed sword…" Fina frowned as his mind wandered.

"Something I should know?"

"The weapons he makes don't stop at mystic codes ma'am. I saw him whip out at least two genuine Noble Phantasms when I was playing with him. Damn near cut Dreyfus in half effortlessly with one. More than that though was the piece that Solomon claims is the brat's personal sword."

That had her interest. "An Apostle Ancestor that can use multiple Noble Phantasms? No wonder Solomon jumped to get his hands on the boy first. And there's more? Oh Fina, you dirty scoundrel, you should have started off with this. Stop teasing me already. What's so special about this tool? Another Noble Phantasm?"

"Not sure to be frank. I only saw it through one of my men." Fina frowned as he dredged up the memory of the Magus Killer's personal tool. "There's a genuine divine curse on it though. A real nasty bit of work that made my skin crawl even from where I was. Could tell that even Solomon wasn't too keen on pushing his luck when it was whipped out. Not powerful by any measure, not compared to the other weapons he took out, but I don't envy anyone that gets scratched regardless of what it does."

The real key note from his description was that it put himself and Merem on edge. Between the former's twisted form of immortality and the latter's diverse abilities and access to the Church, there wasn't much that could make either feel genuinely threatened in any capacity.

"Hoooh? Isn't that curious?" Altrouge nearly purred over the line, like a cat that had found something new and fun to play with. "Solomon did spread word that he might be capable of killing Strout. You think there was any weight to that claim?"

Fina's lips twitched in dry amusement. "I'm more salty by the fact that the brat himself believes he can kill me."

That had his employer burst out laughing. "Truly? A boy with a mere handful of notches on his belt thinks he can take you down for good?"

"If the glare he was giving me at the end of our talks were anything to go by. After a certain point you can tell the difference between the usual looks of blind murder and the ones of someone trying to pick you apart in order to take you down for good that isn't completely stumped. Barthomelloi wasn't being careless when she called him her dog. She just didn't emphasize that she was rearing him to be a hunting dog specifically." He relented. "Got a good stare on him, I'll admit. A real sharp pair of silver Pure Eyes."

"Silver Pure Eyes? I thought that those were just rumors." Judging from her tone, she was progressively growing more entertained. "Best be careful. For all we know, he may have been able to see through your trick with them."

"Unlikely. Though I will admit he does have good eyesight. Probably has something to do with structural grasping or the like given his reputation. Pegged several of my boys from nearly a kilometer away almost instantly…" he trailed off as a thought crossed his mind.

"Something wrong?"

"You might be onto something. He could peg my boys for what they were the moment he laid eyes on them. Or at least, for what they weren't."

"Oh? That is a rather curious feat. Even the Association has trouble detecting your little castaways."

Fina leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. "That kid, he's a walking contradiction. Not strong enough, but can make Noble Phantasms. Not inhuman enough, but has a Reality Marble. No standard underlings, but he has a damn Servant at his beck and call. Doesn't even want to be an Ancestor in the first place, but Solomon was confident enough in his decision to literally force the position on the brat. Too many inconsistencies to be just a mere coincidence."

"He doesn't want the position?"

"Couldn't care less. More like he's resigned himself to being stuck with it. Should have seen the dirty looks he was shooting Solomon. I asked him about picking up Barthomelloi's habits, and he said that hunting us was her fetish, not his. Got a good laugh from that bit."

"Is that so? Then this ordeal truly is Solomon's work entirely. That makes the matter even more curious." Her musings were not unfounded. They had gone out of the way to identify the new Tenth because Merem had vouched for him, and it turns out the boy didn't even want the spot in the first place. Even if he was remotely worthy of the position, Merem would have to have good reason to cut off everyone and jam him in there. "His name, Emiya…"

"Shirou Emiya," Fina provided. "Still in High School as much as I don't want to say it."

"Chaos replaced by a High School child. What is this world coming to?" She whimsically sighed. "Well, at least that will make negotiating with him more interesting."

"About that…" Fina grimaced. "Kid came to the meeting with his own itinerary in mind."

"Oh? You mean to tell me that you couldn't handle a single boy, Fina?"

"He didn't come with a reason for me to settle to his demands ma'am. He came with seven."

The line was dead silent for several long seconds. "The Servants? The other Masters? They know about him?"

"Oh they know all right. And they're as keen about being roped into this mess as he is. For Magi, they're surprisingly cooperative with one another. At least on this matter."

"How so? It isn't like Solomon to drag so many outsiders to a private meeting."

"He didn't have to." Fina huffed, his gaze peering over the ocean in front of him. "Brat came to the meeting with half a dozen Self-Geass scrolls to force my hand. One of which would lock him and the other Masters into direct confrontation with you if you or I tried to get clever. Saw their signatures and everything. Only the kid's remained to enact the damn thing."

"… Heh. Hehahahaha!" Much to the pirate's dismay, his superior reacted just as he thought she would. With genuine amusement. "The nerve of that child! To use contracts and the like against me?! Hahaha! Even White Wing wouldn't be so bold!"

"Well it certainly wasn't Solomon's idea."

"Haha. Of course not. Solomon trusts shallow deals enforced by magecraft as much as he does myself." Altrouge giggles slowed down, devolving into something far more malicious. "Still, this is a rather curious development. A young man, still a child even in many human eyes let alone ours, as the Tenth. With a fully realized Reality Marble. Not only that, but already possessing influence over a force that rivals some of the greatest on the planet. How could I not be interested?"

Was Solomon out of his mind? Did he plan this from the start? Was he building his own party among the Ancestors this late in the game? This sudden development was so absurd that even she would need some time to properly categorize the facts.

"You're taking this rather well."

"If that dullard Louvre could be accepted as one of us, then I don't see why another exception could be made. What the child lacks in power and history, he has already made up for in ability and resources. And the gall to demand something of myself in such an audacious way. All from underneath Barthomelloi's nose of all places. It's quite a refreshing change of pace." Her words ended that particular argument. She had already made her decision.

Still, the boy must have known just how much he'd be stirring the pot by acting out this much, let alone being exposed to this extent. Servants or not, his existence as a normal human was on an extremely limited clock as of tonight.

No. If he had any brain on him, his first major concern would probably be Barthomelloi herself. If word of his condition came out, there was a good chance that he'd actually top White Wing on her target list.

Altrouge snickered. She had half a mind to do just that to snub Ortenrosse. It wasn't every day that anyone could give a Barthomelloi reason to prioritize something over the White Winged Lord.

"Hmhm." The more she thought about it, the more she grew to like the idea of this boy's existence. It just held so many opportunities to play with. Pity Solomon found him first. "So then. What does the boy desire from me? An alliance. A partnership? A wish?"

"He wants armistice." Fina bit the bullet.

"Pardon?"

"To put it bluntly ma'am, he wants to be left alone. He and the other Masters. In his words, we didn't have anything else that interested him."

"He actually said that?"

"Looked dead in me eyes Ma'am."

"… So he has chosen a side already."

"Actually, that's his ultimatum," Fina corrected. "It's as clear as day he doesn't care a bit about any of us. Or Barthomelloi. But he will pick someone, and drag those Servants with him, if someone pushes hard enough. And since Barthomelloi is the salt ridden cunt that she is, the direction he'll go to if we poke him hard enough would be obvious."

Altrouge's good mood dried up rather quickly at that. She may have Primate Murder on her side, but Seven Servants was not a force that she could ignore. "You're right. He is a rather cheeky child. Playing a game of wills against us."

"Already gave him a taste of how great a mistake that was. Nabbed a few of the people in town he was close with for the negotiations to keep things even. He got two of them back, but I made an example of the third… though he does keep some interesting company. The boy I killed was nothing, but the woman knew her way around a gun and wasn't too affected by mental spells, and the man had perfect breathing of all things."

"Don't distract me with idle curiosities, Fina. Of course he would be interested in irregular humans." She wasn't worried by the fact that he had killed someone close to the new Tenth. If the child had any sense in him, he would know to prioritize his situation over the life of a culled cattle. Solomon did not waste time on idiots.

"What do you plan to do then? Actually leave the boy alone?"

"Of course not," she waved off the possibility. "Even if he was amicable to our cause, the fact that he has influence over Seven Servants alone requires a greater investment than that. He didn't think that he would be left alone forever with this, did he?"

Fina grimaced. "No, actually. His exact request was for the ceasefire to last for ten years."

"He's aware of the Aylesbury Valesti ritual. Of course he is. What a cheeky child." She sighed in frustration. She wouldn't be surprised if Shirou was banking on Merem to kill her during the events.

"According to Solomon, the boy is a rather proper sort. Not obnoxiously prideful like the other Magi, but does keep his word when he makes a promise. Though he does have the remnants of a child's temper still. I suppose these blasted geass scrolls underscores as much."

"You mean to say that he's what most refer to as a decent human being? How dull," she drawled.

Still, something wasn't quite falling into place about the child. The power he had amassed in such a short period of time right under Barthomelloi's nose was impressive, amusing, and concerning, but that didn't seem to be what was tugging at her curiosity so severely.

He was skilled for a youngling, but so were other "prodigy" and irregular magi humans. There were always a dozen or so every generation. Few ever carried that momentum into adulthood, if they survived that long. No doubt he had help to expand his skillset and… abilities…

Ah. So that was the source of that nagging sensation.

"Hmmm."

"Ma'am?"

"Fina. Be a dear and gather everything you can on the boy on your way back, will you? His history, who taught him and the like."

"Something caught your attention?"

"Of a sort. I was not paying attention, but if I recall correctly, there was recently some trial that took place at the Association because of how this recent Holy Grail War turned out, correct?"

"It happened last night, actually." Fina tried to hide his dry tone, but failed. His superior was many things, but her sense of time was a bit skewed on occasion. "Might take a bit longer to grab that. I'm compelled by a geass scroll to head right to you without delay."

"He made you sign a contract for something so pedestrian? And you agreed?"

"The lad didn't trust me in the slightest if the Servant that nearly unleashed her Noble Phantasm on my deck was any indication."

"Ah. That's right. He supposedly summoned King Arthur." She had nearly forgotten about that tidbit. She had never witnessed the King of Knights herself, or her holy sword, but she was fully aware of just how powerful both were supposed to be.

Having heard firsthand stories from her adorable little puppy helped put things into pretty good context. Though his stories were a tad bit biased when it came to Merlin.

"They didn't admit it, but they sure as salt didn't try to deny it either." Fina lamented. "I'd rather not get on her bad side nonetheless. Having her whip out that sword of hers was a real pain in my deck."

"How long were you waiting to use that one?"

"Not long enough." It was always a task and a half to recover any notable damage to his ships, especially if they were holy based.

"A pity. I suppose that's what one can expect when you pit a mere pirate against a renowned king," she teased, knowing how easily that would annoy her loyal knight. "If England is where you need to be to get the information, then England is where we shall meet."

Her demand clearly caught him by surprise. "You're serious? What's so special about this boy that you'd go that far out of your way?"

"Who knows? Might be nothing. Might be something. Might even be fun," she answered ambiguously as she let her mind wander.

Many would be insulted if they were thought as mere pieces on a game board. That they were toys that were played with by those that saw themselves players.

Many would not take that analogy further though, and fail to realize that very rarely were the players also the ones that manufactured the game in the first place.

Any dedicated player of a game knows that it's always best to keep tabs on a potential new official manufacturer and updates. Third party or otherwise.

o. o. o.

To say that Shirou was pissed was to say that the blades of Noble Phantasms were sharp.

Even as they entered the building, Merem made it a point to stay a certain distance away from him lest he accidentally provoke his friend into doing something unfortunate. He was fully aware of how unsettled Shirou was, and his own role in the current state of affairs.

That wasn't to say that the Twentieth Apostle Ancestor was fearful for his life. Far from it. He might wind up with a lasting injury or two. Maybe a few genuine permanent scars if Shirou did actually turn on him in that very moment, even with Saber's aid, but the end result would be something absolutely pointless. Many lines had already been crossed this night which could not be taken back. There was no need to needlessly add to that list.

Fortunately, it appears that the other Masters and Servants in the boy's home was of the same mind as they made their way to the main living room.

As expected, Shirou didn't greet them as they came into view. He didn't even meet their eyes. Instead, he walked past everyone, with Kizuki's unconscious body on his back and made his way to the main hallway.

Merem followed in suit with Taiga on his own back. It just went to show how tense the situation was that no one commented on the normally comical sight when he walked past the group.

A few minutes later, the pair returned just as quietly as before. There was little doubt that the two unconscious teachers were resting in someone's room now.

Shirou turned his head towards the back yard where Saber and Caster were still over Issei's prone body. Everyone could see a myriad of conflicting emotions flash through his face before he ultimately decided on not going outside for whatever excuse he could conjure up.

He then turned to walk out to the front door…

Rin was the one that bit the bullet first and stepped in his way, arms crossed defiantly and head held high. "Sit."

That said, even she couldn't stop her body from shivering. Staring down Shirou as is was akin facing a naked blade. Every instinct she had screamed as if she was exposing herself to the weapon otherwise known as Shirou.

But as much as she hated what she was feeling, she hated the state Shriou was in more. She had known him for years. She knew what he was like. It was natural for people to get angry, but Shirou wasn't simply expressing his displeasure.

It was something that almost resembled a Berserker's Madness Enhancement. A blind wrath that would do more harm than good if he was left to his own devices. She, no, everyone had already seen what he was willing to do when his mind was clear and were reasonably wary of that alone. No one desired to witness what boundaries he would tear apart with a clouded sense of judgement.

But more than that, they just wanted their lovable, and somewhat easy to bully, Shirou back.

"… Rin," he rasped out in an edged tone that did not feel like his own. Slowly, his gaze focused on her. His sharp silver eyes stabbed into her azure blue. "Don't."

"Shirou, you of all people should not be making any major decisions right now." She held her ground despite being on the receiving end of his pure irritation for what genuinely was the first time in their lives. "Sit. And we can talk."

"I'm not going to calm down and look away while-" He was quickly losing his normally sage-like patience. He had kept his cool when Zouken played with him. He had kept his cool when the War went sideways. He had kept his cool when Rider was stolen. He had kept his cool when he found out that Assassin was Kiritsugu. He had kept his cool when Caster had nearly ruined everything at Einzbern Castle. But even he had his limits. Even the fact that Archer was that intolerable mistake didn't compare to what had happened this night. He was not going to-

"We can go over how to kill that pirate together," she cut him off firmly, catching him off guard. While Shirou didn't catch it himself, everyone else could tell that she had more or less blurted out her words, her body language uncertain and even afraid to some extent.

"I… what?" He blinked, finally showing some distinct emotions outside of blind rage since he entered his home.

His visibly disrupted anger gave her and the others some relief and motivation to keep going.

What everyone didn't expect was for Rin to continue to run on that adrenaline and actually embrace the still very agitated assassin.

"You're not the only one pissed off by what he did Shirou. We all knew that you're stuck in a ridiculous spot. You asked us to help us earlier. There's nothing wrong with doing a bit more."

She could feel his muscles twitch and his nerves firing off with her body. She knew he was uncomfortable showing these levels of affection with anyone on a good day, even after their long relationship. She was somewhat ashamed for playing on his emotions like this, but she was simultaneously relieved that he didn't immediately rebuke her as well. It was a sign that he really was listening to her.

"… You shouldn't get any more involved than you already are." He grit his teeth, though it was difficult to tell if he was talking to her or himself.

"We're already waist deep in it. Jerk. Signatures on a soul binding contract and everything, remember? Complaining about getting dirtier isn't going to do much at this point." She tried to sound confident, but if anyone saw her face it was clear that she was just trying to put up a front. "Come on. Seven Servants is better than one. Right?"

"That girl has quite good instincts, doesn't she?" The King of Rats mentally spoke to Merem as they watched Shirou very slowly allow himself to be led by Rin back into the livingroom. "She could tell that trying to persuade him to not kill Lord Fina outright would lead nowhere and instantly came with an alternative."

"Shirou has lauded her intelligence on more than one occasion. He's not one to give high praise to others without cause," Merem agreed, taking note of the relieved and surprised expressions of the others in the room. "Still that doesn't change the issue at hand. The curse that is Shirou Emiya has been unleashed, and unfortunately our friend will not be completely at ease until the one responsible for it is punished."

"You did warn Lord Fina prior to tonight's events. Though, rather than him, I suppose we are somewhat responsible for how things devolved. We should have anticipated the fool would act the way he did. It would not be the first time the pirate has sunk to such lows."

"It is when he vowed to me prior. He knows better than to disregard my advice." Merem momentarily lost composure and allowed his displeasure to show. He was impassive a second later when Archer glanced in his direction. "From an outside perspective, that Issei child's life is inconsequential to the agreement at hand. Fina's actions were in poor taste, but ultimately shouldn't impact the outcome of the agreement."

"Except this is Lord Emiya we are talking about." The false priest mentally sighed in resignation. "The others here are already aware of the current issue at hand. This scenario. This peace that has been obtained is what is reflected in his heart. He would react violently to anything that would purposefully disrupt it significantly, and Lord Fina has already proven that he has no qualms of doing just that on a careless whim."

"As far as Shirou's concerned, regardless of what deal he strikes with Altrouge, Fina's going to keep on provoking him and attacking those he's close to until a more permanent solution is reached. There is no alternative in his eyes now," Merem lamented. "What a trial this is. And just when matters were finally settling too."

"Truth be told, I'm more concerned as to how this debacle will reach its apex." The King of Rats watched as Rin managed to get Shirou to sit down at the table. "Lord Fina is a troublesome opponent.However, Lord Shirou's tenacity and versatility is just as peculiar. If left to their own devices, I'm unsure just who would come out victorious."

Fina would without question win in a standard upfront fight. That wasn't up for debate. On the other side of the spectrum though, should Shirou drop all reservations and fight at his cruelest, or even use his Reality Marble to its fullest extent, the pirate could be put in an exceptionally uncomfortable position.

Merem knew this. Shirou most likely knew this, but Fina was only aware of the first half. So long as that was the case, the odds of the Eighth Apostle Ancestor's existence snuffed out by the Tenth in the next decade were noticeably far from zero.

And that was without taking the Servants into account.

"I am confident that regardless of who claims victory in such a confrontation, they would not come out unscathed. And not by a small margin either."

The rat briefly smiled. "What a coincidence. I was of the same mind myself. Both can be rather vicious should they ever drop their masks of hospitality."

"… That said..." Merem trailed off as he watch Shirou contemplate his situation at the table. "I admit, I will be far more at ease once my friend finds himself a stable occupation or individual to dedicate his time to. An idle Ancestor is always something to be concerned of. The present company is a good start, but he will need to attach himself to something more distinguished eventually."

Perhaps Van-Fem could set the boy up with something. Merem had been planning on introducing the two to one another for a while now. He was certain the two would get along quite well. Maybe he should pursue such a path in the next few months once the world calms down a few degrees. They could bond over how to kill Fina while they were at it.

"Indeed, however it would be best to tackle matters one at a time my Lord. There is no need to rush just yet." They settled themselves in place as the world began to turn once more.

"You're quite correct, my left arm. Thank you for keeping me on task."

"I'm… sorry, for making you worry," Shirou muttered, barely meeting the eyes of his friends and guests before lowering his gaze once more.

Lancer snorted. "Kid, you're surrounded by legends and myths. You think a single one of us hasn't gone pissed blind mad at some point before?"

"As much as I hate to agree with that statement, Lancer's right." Archer shrugged. "There's no point in apologizing when you haven't done anything yet. At least half in this house have done worse at some point. If you want pity, look somewhere else."

"Archer." Rin hissed.

"No. He's right." Much to everyone's surprise, Shirou actually stood up for his counterpart for once. "There are better things to do than dwell on pointless matters."

A good number of them would argue that being so pissed that it felt like a conceptual curse was not simply a pointless matter, but so long as they got things moving again it didn't really matter.

That said, Shirou's agitation was noticeably lessened now. If before he was a naked blade, now he was half sheathed. It was a far cry from being harmless, but at least he wasn't an open threat and hostile to everyone around him.

"Are you able to keep going?" Rider asked, her soft tone effortlessly carrying to everyone's ears. "It has been an exceptionally trying day for you."

Considering the fact that he had broken the news about him being the Tenth just this morning, run away from his home, painfully convinced everyone, and himself, to sign a Geass scroll to more or less wage war against Altrouge Brunstud if she didn't leave him alone, and then held that disastrous meeting with Fina all within said day, her observation was quite valid.

"I'll manage." He doubted he'd be able to get any decent rest now regardless.

"Are Fujimura-sensei and Kizuki-sensei all right?" Sakura asked, hoping to change the topic to something slightly more positive.

"Yeah. A bit roughed up, but they're okay." Saber had managed to get her copy of Avalon in Kizuki fast enough that there didn't seem to be any lasting damage. Taiga was clearly handled roughly and sported a few broken bones, but it was nothing that couldn't be handled later that night. They were both alive and stable.

"That's good." Luvia nodded, showing some signs of relief. "I am surprised that you got here as quickly as you did. It's quite the distance between your home and the coast."

"Merem gave us a lift." Rather, Merem's flying Left Leg gave them a lift. It just went to show just how bad the situation was that Shirou willingly traveled on the thing. He hated riding on it, and the motion sickness didn't help either.

"And nobody noticed?" Bazett's skepticism was warranted. Outside of the King of Rats, Merem's limbs were notoriously large. Night or day, a massive flying manta ray thing coasting over a populated city was bound to catch attention.

"I have my ways." The vampire brushed off her accusation and left it at that.

"Well, at the very least, you aren't hurt to the point of blacking out this time." Illya sighed.

"Weren't you responsible for at least one of those cases?" Lancer frowned.

"I think all of us were responsible for at least one of those in one form or another." Luvia smiled dryly.

The room was awkwardly quiet as they all paused to contemplate on the validity of that statement.

Except Lancer. He kept quiet because he didn't want to draw attention to the fact that he was possibly the only one there that actually didn't harm Shirou in some capacity since being summoned. He was pretty sure that something horrible would happen if he did, so he didn't. Simple as that.

"… That was intended be a joke." Luvia's good humor ebbed away into an uncomfortable grimace.

"In hindsight, maybe signing that Geass scroll to help Onii-chan really wasn't asking for too much." Illya sunk her head in depression. Now that she thought about it, Shirou had more or less the largest and most severe list of injuries and wounds out of all the participants in the Grail War, Servant or Master, save Berserker's. The latter of whom who notably had a twelve-fold revival Noble Phantasm that had been put into frequent use at the end of the War.

"We were in the middle of a free-for-all war to the death. I'm pretty sure some exceptions can be made," Shirou muttered flatly. Whether the lack of emotion in his tone was due to the situation or how little he cared about the topic in general was anyone's guess.

"Says the guy housing almost all the people that tried to kill him." A dark cloud hovered over Bazett while several more heads nodded in solemn consensus. Shirou really was too kind for his own good.

Sakura coughed, hoping to get things back on track. "Shirou, you weren't the only one that missed the container that Ryuudou-san was held in. We all missed it."

The almost whimsical mood of the room died instantly. "Everyone?"

Rin sighed. It was going to be a long night. "Even the Servants. It's pretty clear that some mystery was used. Problem is that with something as vague as what happened, the branch of magecraft used could be anything. Runes. Statistical interference. Bounded fields-"

"Resonance," Shirou cut her off.

"Resonance?" Illya blinked in confusion.

"Something basic to do with that. Harmony. Synchronization," Shirou elaborated. "Along the lines of 'multiple similar individual entities functioning in tandem with one another'."

"That would make sense. It would work well with that whole military theme he's got going," Bazett hummed in thought.

"Mmm," Shirou trailed off, getting lost in his own thoughts again.

"Stop letting everyone beat around the bush," Archer cut in with some impatience, glaring at his younger counterpart. "You clearly have something you want to get to in mind."

If the situation wasn't so serious, Shriou probably would have reacted to Archer's berating.

"Archer?" Rin was clearly confused, but knew that her Servant was onto something. "Shirou, what is he talking about?"

The accused clicked his tongue and avoided eye contact for several seconds before mustering up the courage to get the topic going.

"… I think I figured out how Fina's immortality works."

"You what?" Bazett's eyes widened in surprise. "Just like that?"

"I find that highly unlikely. That monster has been around for half a millennia at least. Entire teams of specialists have worked for decades trying to pick apart his mysteries. And you managed to do what they didn't in a single meeting?" Luvia scowled. It wasn't that she didn't trust him. It was that what he claimed was just that improbable.

"It wasn't 'just like that'." Shirou shook his head. "Merem gave me a small hint, but that alone wasn't enough. Fina, underestimated me. He showed off too much. Forgot that I'm also a Reality Marble user. My pure eyes helped as well. It's a puzzle that I simply managed to find enough of the pieces to get an idea of what the picture is supposed to look like."

"Shirou, you're confusing us. Start from the beginning. What do you mean? What hint did Merem-san give you?" Sakura tried to get everyone on the same page again before an argument could break out.

The youngest Apostle Ancestor sighed, pondered for a moment as to what he should do or say, and then got up.

"Trace. On."

He then made a stand with a blackboard and a piece of chalk, and then drawing on it.

On one side of the board appeared what looked to be an egg with shell, white, and two yolks.

On the other was a list of bullet pointed facts.

Shirou pointed to the egg. "The outside is the world. The shell is Fina. Inside is his Reality Marble Parade. The two smaller pools are the men he generates, and his ship. Or ships. Doesn't matter for now."

He looked at his audience. "That is how Fina would work if his Reality Marble worked in a conventional way. Now tell me. What's wrong about it?"

Most of his audience blinked in surprise. "Wrong?"

Archer on the other hand, picked it up immediately. "It's impossible."

"What?" Rin looked at him.

"That setup is impossible. Not if those rumors about the vampire are true." He nodded to the board. "Efficiency or not, the cost to maintain that many sentient familiars and a ship of all things perpetually is simply too ludicrous to be feasible. Even if it was a fishing ship instead of a military vessel and was perpetually feeding on the local wildlife while traveling, he wouldn't be able to keep it up all the time. He would need to constant access to something akin to a leyline to pull it off."

"I've seen Shirou project normal swords that last for days. Couldn't the pirate have done something similar? Or maybe the pirate's using a medium via possession?" Bazett frowned in confusion.

"Projection could be considered the most efficient brute force method of directly pulling something from a Reality Marble into the real world." Archer shook his head. "Even then the most basic of products don't last longer than maybe a couple of weeks. The bigger, more powerful, and more complex it is, the higher the cost to maintain and shorter they last. A simple iron sword is not equal to a several hundred megaton ship decked with cannons and engines. Magic or not."

"Normally, most with frequently active Reality Marbles use their very bodies, a substance, or some sort of mystic code to slip the contents of their inner world into the real world at a reduced cost. In a sense you could say that Archer and I are the abnormal ones for being able to simply whip out what we have without any prior setup or sacrifice." Shirou elaborated. "The previous Tenth Ancestor, Chaos, used his flesh as a medium for his Reality Marble, which was perpetually active. His entire body was a human shaped mass of sludge that formed the bodies of the monsters he could use."

"So that rules out the idea of him simply summoning out his ship and crew whenever he feels like it. No point in constantly summoning something that is already out." Bazett hummed. "What about possession or use of mediums like you said?"

"It's not possession. Or mediums." Shirou tapped the side of his head and made his eyes momentarily glow silver. "I checked."

"You structurally grasped his ship?" Luvia balked.

"And his men." He nodded, ignoring the looks he was getting. He wasn't sure what the big deal was to begin with. Sure examining the ship itself took some effort, but compared to all the times Waver had him scan what felt like half of whatever town he was visiting in its entirety for practice, it wasn't that bad. "When something's possessed, or anchored to reality, even if a new reality is imposed on the item such that it that changes its shape, history and soul, the original core would still be there in some capacity. The ship he came on wasn't altered in that capacity. It has always been a United States Cruiser built in the seventies for coastal surveillance and potential cold war operations. The insides are not only identical to what could be expected on similar ships not under his control, but it has the accumulated history as well. It is not a copy or a product, but the genuine article. Likewise, those werewolves he summoned weren't imitations either. They weren't souls or familiars imposed on anything or anyone."

"That's… impossible." Illya frowned in thought. "You saw how the ship arrived. How it was under his influence. How could a ship that modern perform as such and yet be unaltered to that extent if it's not possession?"

"That's one of the many reasons why he's driven so many mad trying to figure him out." Bazett pointed factually. "His ship. His crew. His immortality. It doesn't make sense."

"Except it sounds like he found a way that does just that," Lancer hummed curiously, his expression lazy but his crimson eyes never wavered from Shirou. "Care to go on? Just how messed up of a monster are we actually working with kid?"

Nodding, the host turned back to the board and began writing again. "To explain that, I'll have to go over his master, Altrouge Brunstud. Or rather, who she has under her influence."

Under her name, he made a list.

Primate Murder.

Rizo-Wall Strout.

Fina-Blood Svelten.

Tatari.

"Tatari is one of Altrouge's?" Bazett blinked in surprise. She barely knew anything about the Thirteenth Ancestor other than what it was called.

"Was," Shirou corrected, briefly glancing at Merem who had thankfully kept quiet since the meeting started. "He was apparently killed for good a few years ago by the White Princess."

"Fascinating, but I don't see what the relationship between those four is other than their master," Luvia said, trying to put together the puzzle he was laying out.

"I doubt you would. That's not an insult. You guys just haven't learned as much about Apostles as me. Most of what I'm telling you is common knowledge among those that deal with them as a profession." Or at least, those that are tasked to deal with the stronger ones in some capacity.

He pointed to Primate Murder. "Not actually a vampire. It just drinks blood to copy its owner."

Strout. "His immortality is from a time curse. He doesn't actually drink blood out of necessity, his sword does."

Rin quietly glanced at Archer, only for the latter to shake his head in denial. No, he didn't have Strout's sword.

Fina. "Pirate captain. Always shows up on a ship with a large crew. Been reportedly killed multiple times by multiple parties and means, but keeps on coming back. Church has had as much luck trying to capture him. Keeps on vanishing from their grasp without warning despite the security and rites holding him."

Tatari. "Altrouge turned him into a wandering phenomenon that only appeared under very specific conditions. You could say that he was more a meandering Reality Marble than an actual individual. Truth be told, I don't know much more about him than that."

Sakura crossed her arms and tilted her head to the side. "I still don't see it. Even if we take Fina off of the list…"

Rin's eyes widened. "They're all abnormal Ancestors that have irregular origins or states of being in the first place. Two of them aren't even vampires that need to feed in the first place."

"That's interesting, but how does that apply to the pirate? We know for a fact that he's an Apostle and drinks blood," Illya moaned, her mind spinning at this rate.

"It matters because of the hint Merem gave me." Shirou wrote on the board again.

Fina. Corsair as a human in the early age of Pirates roughly five hundred years ago. Crew of roughly two hundred.

"A pirate in life. And a pirate in death. I'm not surprised." Luvia frowned, not understanding what the significance was.

"… Oh." Apparently though, Archer did if his slightly surprised and progressively sickened expression was any indication.

"Archer? What's wrong?" Rin looked at him confused. She tried to get a better idea what he was thinking about, but was firmly shut out.

"I do hope that the truth isn't what you're insinuating. I hate dealing with monsters of this variety on principle," Archer coldly warned Shirou as the latter erased the egg like diagram he had made earlier and started to make a new one.

"Since when has hoping done anyone any favors?" the boy just as emotionlessly retorted.

"Can one of you two please explain what you are getting at instead of ominously talking in circles?" Illya all but demanded.

"Your brother is implying that Fina wasn't turned into a conventional Apostle from the start. No, technically speaking, Fina himself isn't even the Eighth Apostle Ancestor to begin with. That was just a half lie told to the rest of the world to facilitate another advantage to abuse." Archer grimaced. "The pirate went down a similar path as Tatari with Altrouge Brunstud's abilities from the start."

"The same path as Tatari?" Sakura frowned in thought.

"A wandering phenomena." Rider got Archer's point, having been quite intimately familiar with monsters herself. "But he wasn't completely sublimated by his Reality Marble…"

"Solomon's hint wasn't that Fina's original crew consisted of roughly two hundred members. The hint was that there was a defined number in the first place." Assassin stared at the board. "One Ship. A crew of roughly two hundred."

"… And a Captain."

The outermost circle that contained everything was labeled Parade.

Inside was a venn diagram of three circles that intersected one another in the center.

Captain. Ship. Crew.

Mind. Body. Soul.

The small section where all the circles met up was shaded in.

One Captain. One Ship. Roughly two hundred crew members.

That was what was turned into the Eighth Apostle Ancestor. That was what was allowed to naturally exist in the world at any given time. That was what Shirou encountered that night.

Fina-Blood Svelten was never the Eighth Apostle Ancestor to begin with. He was simply the best suited Captain to lead all that followed.

For five hundred years, the title of the Eighth had always belonged to the Krewe Float, the first float (ship) and all its riders of the Parade itself.

o. o. o.

Omake:

"Are we really doing this?"

"Awww. What's the matter Emiya-kun? Oh, I mean Mr. White?" DaVinci smiled innocently as she stood next to the clearly unamused vampire. "Afraid of getting along with the other Servants here?"

Ever since he had accidentally found himself in this alternate Chaldea, he had been running himself ragged trying to keep the facility up and running to his personal level of satisfaction.

Partially to ensure that he'd survive long enough to make it back home.

Partially to ensure that he wouldn't get stuck in the unusually immature and silly hijinks that took place in the facility due to so many eccentric Servants walking about.

Partially to ensure he didn't come across EMIYA and potentially blow up a part of the facility. Again.

He gave her a dry look. "I'm afraid of getting stuck in whatever madness comes of this. This isn't the first time I've been stuck as a test subject for some half assed experiment and I know full well how bad this could end up."

Elsewhere in the facility, Ishtar sneezed. Fortunately for Shirou, he was talking about Rin, not her. As a result, the Goddess was unable to find the source of her displeasure and exact her vengeance.

"Don't sound like such an old man. Where's your sense of fun?" The Caster blew off his concern and led him into the next room were several Servants were waiting for him.

BB. Meltrylis. Passionlip. Saint Martha. Kama. And Parvati.

Unfortunately, Kingprotea's ability to move in the facility was heavily restricted until further notice.

"Is there a reason why you pulled us all here?" BB crossed her arms under her chest, both to express her frustration and to provide some fanservice for the reader. "This isn't another attempt to try and dredge up some of the psyche of our original template again, is it?"

"It appears so." Melt sighed, giving Shirou a curious look. "Though I am surprised you managed to get that one to cooperate this time. Normally he's with that Saber of his."

"I don't see what will change this time." Kama yawned in her child form, clearly disinterested with the way things were turning out.

DaVinci smiled. "Now now. I just want to check something. Our friend here does after all have a strong relationship with your template, and since there has been a fair beet of unusual residual spiritual overlapping of consciousness' whenever he's around other individuals that he knows in his own world, I thought a small test was in order. The best way I thought to go through with it is to just rip off the bandaid and test you all at once. If it works, good. If not, I can write it off and try something later. That sound good?"

"I, suppose so." Passionlip blushed, avoiding to look Shirou in the eyes.

"If not arguing will get this done faster, then get on with it already." Melt rolled her eyes before turning her attention to Shirou. "This is your fault you know."

"It usually is. Somehow." He had long since accepted that whenever he was involved in a mess, he was either the reason why it happened in the first place, or related to why it suddenly got worse.

"Well? Whatever it is you're supposed to do, do it?" BB smirked. "Are you going to pat us on the head, Sempai? Hug us? Tell us how proud of us you are?"

Her attempts to tease Shirou fell flat. He had lasted years against Rin's and Sumire's teasing and he had developed some pretty tough skin as a result.

Instead, he crossed his own arms and looked at the girls in front of him. Pretty much all of them could kill him if they wanted to, and he was certain that this was not going to end well, but even he had to admit, he was slightly curious as to how much of Sakura was in these Servants.

"… In my world, the first person to die in the Fifth Holy Grail War was Zouken Matou. He did so with a cursed sword in his back, his skull caved in, his limbs mangled, his soul being torn apart, and screaming my name in utter betrayal as I walked away with a smile on my face."

The room was dead silent.

"…"

"…"

"…"

"I SAW HIM FIRST!" BB roared and dove straight towards him.

"LIKE HELL YOU DID!" Melt was right on her tail.

"SEMPAI!" Passionlip didn't even say anything outrageous. She instead just leapt at him like the others with tears in her eyes and her titanic and quite frankly terrifying claws open for a massive hug. Truth be told, no one was sure if her claws would kill him first, or being sucked into that pocket dimension between her disproportionately huge breasts would.

"FOOLS! HE DESERVES GENUINE DIVINE ATTENTION! NOT THE CARE OF CARELESS ACCIDENTS LIKE YOU!" Kama had transformed into her adult form and was already getting ready to use her powers to put the others down permanently.

"KAMA DON'T! YOU MIGHT HURT SEMPAI!" Parvati shouted in alarm.

"I'LL SAVE YOU FROM THE HEATHENS SEMPAI!" Martha charged in with her staff ready. "TARASQUE! SAVE SEMPAI!"

"ROAAAAAAAAR!"

As the world began to devolve into genuine madness and uncertainty, Shirou looked at the astounded and starry eyed DaVinci with a dead expression. "I hope you're happy with yourself."

"Are you kidding!? This is better than I thought!" The Caster swooned. "I didn't think they would all react! You really are something special Emiya-san."

The entire building shook and part of the roof gave way. Moments later, a new giant face peeked through the hole.

"SEEEEMPAAAAAIIII." Kingprotea moaned childishly.

"Oh come on. She wasn't even in the room to hear me!" Shirou threw his hands up in the air, completely missing the Caster next to him whistling innocently while hiding the camera she had snuck in with her. Purely for scientific purposes.

"Fou fou!" A familiar white beast chided from his other side, acting as if it had been there the entire time.

"Don't you start too." He glared at the Beast. "You know full well that this was going to happen. Alternate reality or not."

"Kyu."

"Mash! What's going on!?"

"I don't know Sempai! All these servants are going crazy!"

"Oh god B.B.'s done something again! There's too many of them this time! I don't have enough command spells to calm them down!"

"Watch out! Lord Camelot!"

The two white haired/furred individuals stared one another down, completely ignoring, or unwilling to pay attention as the world around them fell apart due to the free for all of Sakura-faced Servants bid to get their Sempai.

All the while, EMIYA watched it all fall apart safely from the other side of the facility and not doing a damn thing in the process.

Nope. Not a thing.

(FGO Saint Martha is a Sakuraface. Official lore be damned.)

o. o. o.

A/N:

As always, major props to Wayfarer for betaing.

FFD IS BACK BITCHES!

A bit shorter than normal, but I think it's best for pacing purposes.

So? How do you guys like what I've done with Fina? Enough twisted eldritch logic in his setup for you?

So for clarification, Fina is widely accepted to be the 8th Ancestor, but in reality, the 8th exists as a multi part entity that exists as a Ship, a Captain, and a crew of 200 at any given time. Fina just happens to be always around to play the role of the "captain", as his Reality Marble was what was used to set it up in the first place. All three parts are equally important to maintaining and sustaining the others, but Fina, the Captain, is the only one that possesses any genuine Apostle aspects. There's a whole bunch to his setup that I haven't gotten to yet, but the foundation's all there. It explains how he's able to move around so easily and why he doesn't need to drink much blood too.

That isn't to say that the main cast knows everything about him now. Far from it. As far as Shirou and the others are concerned, they only found out how Fina's immortality itself works. They don't know the full scope of his powers or how his abilities work in detail. They can guess, but that's about it right now.

To put things in another sense, they figured out what Fina's Ace is, but still don't know that much about his King through Jack.

Speaking of Shirou, don't think that he's calmed down proper just yet. He's just distracted for the time being. He's still proper pissed to an extent that only someone of his disposition could possess, and that's not going to change anytime soon.

And regardless of how he feels about matters and his own issues, the world will still turn. And people will make their own moves on their own time.

I'll just leave things at that for now.

In case you guys don't know yet, I've started a Pa-r-on. It's nothing big. Just something I decided to try and do finally after doing this for so long. I'd keep writing regardless, but for those that chip in, you get a little something extra. Some side stories that don't make it into my works, and my chapters a bit earlier than everyone else. I plan to use the money for some commissions and the like eventually. And maybe some investing on the side. Give it a look if you have the time.

Please keep in mind, I am not strapped for cash or anything like that. Don't contribute if you are in a difficult position. Your situations always takes priority over mine and fuck knows that we have enough people in rough spots after last year. This is only to show additional support for what I do if you guys feel like it.

Regardless, if you want to check out my account, just look up "Third Fang" on the website. Should be pretty easy to spot my stuff.

In other news… yeah, kinda pissed. Got tickets to see Spring Song in theatres last year, only for the state I live in to go on lockdown the same damn day I was supposed to watch it. Hopefully I'll be able to still watch the Demon Slayer movie in theatres when it comes out.

And… that's about it for now. Thanks for being patient and waiting for so long for this chapter guys. I'm glad to have such dedicated fans.

Here's to 2021 hopefully being more tolerable than 2020. God knows we need it.

SO REVIEW! WORSHIP THE LOG! FUN FACT: PRINCESS CASTER WASN'T DIRECTLY RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY OF SHIROU'S GRIEVOUS WOUNDS EITHER! AND REVIEW AGAIN!