Chapter 60: Cracked Frames

I do not own Fate/Stay Night and stuffs.

o. o. o.

From the moment he found himself a Servant in the Fifth Holy Grail War, there was one existence that Kiritsugu dreaded and yearned to encounter more than anyone else.

And it wasn't Illya.

It was unlikely to ever happen, to the point that he was unsure how it could be possible save for within the Grail itself, but he knew that it was not impossible.

"You look like when we first met. Much younger and stronger than when we met our ends." Irisviel smiled genuinely, only causing the wound in his heart to fester.

Kiritsugu didn't say anything. He just took out his Contender and held it at his side. His eyes never straying from his wife's.

She looked more beautiful than he remembered, ominously so. Clad in a black and gold garb that he immediately recognized as a twisted variant of the Dress of Heaven, the homunculus looked more like a dark priestess than a clone of a winter saint.

"Are you going to kill me again?" Her pleasant and melodious tone didn't change in the slightest, much like her warm expression. "In front of our daughter no less?"

"If I have to," he admitted without hesitation, though there was a clear reluctance in his tone.

"To save the world? Again?"

"No." He shook his head, surprising her. There was someone more suited for that job around this time. He wasn't needed to save the world anymore. "For Illya."

Irisviel's kind demeanor gave way for a gobsmacked look. "For… ha. Hahahaha."

Her surprise devolved into one of pure amusement. A melodious laugh that was pleasant to all ears that heard it.

"Hahahaha."

No.

Not amusement. Not in the slightest. It was a laugh of anger. The sort that one only let out when hearing something so infuriating that they couldn't help but laugh, lest they lash out like some wild beast.

"Kiritsugu…" Irisviel kind spoke with a faint underlying malice in her voice, her red eyes boring into his. "You have some nerve saying that after everything you've done."

"I know." He didn't shy away from a malice and killing intent that Irisviel would never have the capability of manifesting when she was alive. "But, if you truly are Iri, then can you say in good conscience that you want Illya to see you as you are now?"

The Servant clad in black and gold flinched, her smile more of a mask than ever. "That's too cruel, Kiritsugu. Even for you."

"Just seeing you like this again is cruel enough Iri." He sighed. "Neither of us is supposed to be here."

"No. I suppose that much is true." Finally dropping her smile, Irisviel looked at him with an unreadable gaze. "You really are a Servant. I suppose congratulations are in order. You managed to become a Hero of Justice after all."

This time Kiritsugu flinched. It was perhaps the vilest and insulting thing anyone had ever said to him, during life or in this existence. And the worst part was corrupted or not, Irisviel meant every word that she said.

"The fact that I somehow become one at all is an embarrassment that goes against all logic. Humanity shouldn't ever respect someone like me." He shook his head, dismissing her words. "How are you here, Iri? I might be a fluke, but I'm still a legitimate Servant in the War. What is wrong with the Grail?"

"I could ask you the same thing. The Grail is capable of many things, but only when it has sufficient power. Whatever has happened resulted in confusing the system. Enough that I have been manifested to address it, yet have not been given enough information to know what needs to be fixed in the first place." Iri looked up, breaking contact with her husband to see the Masters and Servants watching from a distance. "Judging from our audience, I assume you have something I should know about?"

Kiritsugu's grip on his gun tightened. "That depends. Do you want to complete the Grail as is Iri?"

The air between them grew heavy has his question. They both knew what the Grail was. They both knew what would happen once a wish was made. They both knew what Iri truly was. "… That is a foregone question, is what I would say had you not worded your question so. What has happened, Kiritsugu? What are you planning? The magnum opus of the Einzbern. If it were up to the current you, destroying the system would not be impossible."

"The War's been put on indefinite hold. Supported by all three families, the Church, and the Association. Enough pulled strings and thrown mud managed to get something done for once."

Iri frowned. "You aren't telling me the whole story."

"No. But it's more or less the truth. Had to kill a few errant Servants in the process. And Zouken. Kirei's gone too."

"Your doing?"

"Actually most of the work was by our son. I just helped out when I could manage."

Kiritsugu had to admit, he couldn't help but enjoy the surprised look on her face when she realized that he told her about their son.

"… Our, son?"

"Yup. Our adopted, Reality Marble using, Dead Apostle Ancestor son. That works for the Barthomelloi."

Iri wasn't amused. "Kiritsugu, I find your newfound sense of humor to be in poor taste."

He wasn't either, but he still smiled bitterly regardless. "Iri, believe me I wish I was joking. Fortunately, Illya's taken a shine to him."

Angra Mainyu or not, it was abundantly clear that Irisviel was the dominant personality. Kiritsugu had trouble believing that a deity that represented all the evils in the world could twitch their eyebrows in frustration like that on a whim.

"Perhaps we should start over from the beginning, dear. I am afraid that I am having trouble keeping up."

"Mmm. I agree." The little warmth that Assassin allowed into his body died almost instantly, leaving only a cold blooded killer. "How and why are you here specifically, Iri? Acht never told me of any function that allowed additional Servants to be summoned."

The corrupted woman sighed. "… I suppose I can inform you of this much. It is from the remains of one of the supplementary functions of the Greater Grail. Should the contestants of the War refuse to battle, seven new Servants would be summoned, alongside a Ruler class Servant to oversee it to the end. However it was never fully implemented in the system. It should not have activated in the first place. Can you answer one of my questions now, Kiritsugu? What has happened to the Greater Grail? It has clearly been altered. My existence is evidence enough of that."

For a moment, it looked like he wasn't going to answer, before relenting. "Caster tampered with the system and tried to make a Lesser Grail of her own to end the War on her terms. Zouken made one of his own using a corrupted fragment of the Grail you held."

"Three Lesser Grails?" Iri blinked in genuine astonishment before looking up to where the other Masters and Servants were. "No wonder the system is so confused. The remains of the Servants have been divided so much to the point it doesn't know which should be utilized now. My being here is less an intended response and more an unconscious wild knee-jerk reaction."

"… Is that why you can't leave the Greater Grail?"

She faltered at his accusation. Leave it to Kiritsugu to pick out a weakness of hers so quickly. She may be a Servant with additional knowledge, but her husband was the one with years of experience. "You figured it out so quickly?"

"The War's been put on hold for several days already. Caster's tampering stopped then as well. If anything was to trigger your summoning, it would be then. And yet you're still here despite supposedly called to keep things going."

"Caster…" Iri looked at the Princess of Colchis standing a distance away. "The Caster with you does not give me the impression of one that would do such things."

"A pair of Edelfelt sisters were chosen as Masters again for this war. They summoned two Casters. One of them was the cause for many of our problems in the end," he admitted. "She was also the one that summoned me."

"Mmm. I would give her my thanks, but I assume that particular Servant is no longer among us." Iri surmised before sighing in defeat. "You're correct. I'm essentially a rogue Servant. The closest thing I have to a Master is the Greater Grail itself, but the connection is so weak that I can only be sustained in here. Should any of the other Servants be executed I will be granted greater freedoms, but until then I am stuck here."

The two stared down one another for several long moments as her words sunk in.

"… You're bored out of your mind, aren't you?"

"Of course I'm bored!" the woman snapped childishly, completely out of character before realizing what she had done and regaining composure. "Ahem. I mean, there is little for me to do in my current situation other than examine and maintain the Greater Grail."

"Is the weak connection why you're more… you?"

She froze.

"I mean what I said, Iri. I will kill you for Illya's sake if I have to."

"… Killing me would only power the Grail, Kiritsugu." She looked down at him with pity, concern, and a slew of other emotions.

"Caster's from the Age of Gods. And Illya's helping. I'm pretty sure we can find a workaround with the Grail as it is."

"You can't stop the War."

"I said it before. We're under an indefinite ceasefire. All three family representatives have agreed to it. As conceited as the founders might have been, even they didn't forget to establish an emergency shut down function in the system." It was never mentioned, but with Illya possessing the memories of Justease, it was moot point. Granted, said function wouldn't have worked if the Grail was up and running (in which case they would have to go with the tried and true "blow it up" approach), but fortunately they weren't at that point yet.

"And what would become of me? I cannot leave here, and you no doubt would not risk me pairing with another Master if they are on your side."

"Mmm." He didn't have an answer to that yet. "Even if you are more you than last time, it would be a mistake to leave you alone."

Even unpowered, the cursed Grail was very slowly corrupting the cave. The stagnant mana in the air made him nauseous as a Servant. Being left in here for an extended period of time would no doubt lead to unwanted complications.

"You make it sound like I can do anything in here," Irisviel pouted childishly.

Had he not known better, he would have bought the act too.

"What have you been doing to the Grail?" Kiritsugu frowned.

"Hm? What do you mean? As weak as I am, I haven't been able to do much of anything since I was summoned." She blinked in confusion.

"My corpse was made into an artifact." His tone darkened. "The curse you killed me with has been resonating with something ever since the fighting ended."

Ever since she was summoned.

She didn't flinch.

She didn't look guilty.

She didn't shy away.

"… Haaa."

She just sighed.

"I forgot how outstanding you could be sometimes, darling. Using even your own death to your advantage is just like you." Her innocent demeanor died away, giving to a languid, almost sultry persona as she lifted a hand to her cheek and rested her head on it.

Kiritsugu wasn't surprised, but the grip on his gun momentarily tightened. "Iri…"

"Calm yourself. I wasn't lying. I have not accomplished much of anything since I was summoned, regardless of my efforts," the corrupted Iri lamented. "I may be a terminal for the Grail. However, I do not have the means nor the power to accomplish much. Even this Dress of Heaven I wear is a paltry substitute for the genuine article. Perhaps if I had another month or so I could have restructured the Grail to summon more Servants, but it appears time is another resource I lacked as well. If what you say is true, then the Einzberns or another party would have discovered and interrupted my efforts before anything was accomplished."

In other words, if they had been foolish to trust her implicitly, take her among their fold and not pay attention to her actions for long enough, Iri would have triggered the Grail War all over again from right under their noses.

She peered over her husband to see the rest of the Masters and Servants watching from a distance away. "Now that I have a better look, I see that not only Illya but that other girl is a Lesser Grail as well, and far more compatible in nature at that. Given she doesn't appear to be too rushed a job, I can presume that she is Zouken's work?"

He resisted the urge to click his teeth in annoyance. "Tokiomi Tohsaka apparently thought it was a bright idea to hand her over to Zouken as a sign of good faith, and to ensure that both of his girls get an opportunity to thrive in Magecraft. From what I have seen, it actually makes what happened to Illya look tame."

Iri's mirth quickly died, her attention briefly focusing on her daughter for a few moments before going back to Kiritsugu. "… I had moments of clarity. Over the past decade. Moments when Illya's connection with the Grail was strong. I saw what she endured. Her tears when she called out for us. I did what I could, but-"

She was cut off when her husband pointed his gun at her.

"Don't." His voice was as cold as his expression, yet just as angry. "Your curse killed me. I can accept that. But that's the only reason why she wasn't out of Acht's hands sooner. Don't pretend otherwise, Iri. Not on this. Not about Illya."

The two stared at one another for what felt like an eternity.

"You don't regret it at all, do you?" she all but whispered. "The decision you made. Even knowing what it cost us?"

"No. I don't." There wasn't a single moment of hesitation. Eight billion lives versus three. No matter how much he wanted that choice to never exist in the first place, it was one that had to be made. He hated it. Loathed it. The decision itself broke him. But the outcome would never change no matter how many times he was asked.

The fact that he could answer that question so quickly and decisively only led more credence to Kiritsugu's dedication to saving lives.

"… Of course you don't."

For a few moments it looked like he really was going to shoot her.

And then he put away his gun and turned around.

"What I regret, is listening to you that night. We… really could have run away then, Iri. We could have avoided all of it."

She recoiled as if slapped. Corrupted she might be, but she could still tell what he was talking about instantly.

The night the twisted Caster attacked the Einzbern castle. He collapsed in her arms, crying, begging to run away. And she convinced him to fight. To kill her. For the world. Or at least that was what it was supposed to have been.

It took her a moment to recover from her shock, before a small sad smile of pity formed itself. "I stand what I said, Kiritsugu. You would never have lived with yourself if you ran away."

"No. But at least that way you would have lived with Illya."

Two lives vs. eight billion.

One life vs. two.

Both outcomes were obvious to him.

This time Irisviel genuinely looked like she was shot. "… Darling…"

He didn't want to look at her right now. It hurt too much just to hear her voice. It was best to leave.

"We'll return after talking about what to do with you with the others." He didn't even try conversing now. "For Illya's sake, don't do anything else until then."

"Kiritsugu. Illya, even if she isn't sacrificed for the ritual, her body…" Iri fumbled with her words, trying to extend the reunion as long as possible.

"We know." He interrupted. "Like I said, for her sake, don't do anything for now."

It was blatantly clear that she was conflicted. Her ingrained purpose and instinct to complete the Grail rallied against her maternal love for her daughter and husband. More significantly was that their brief exchange had ignited the very fickle, yet extremely dangerous notion known as "hope" within her. The idea that her daughter might be able to survive her ordeals and live to an old age should she postpone her prerogative for a while. The miraculous fantasy that she could possibly experience being with her two loves. The idea that she could go back to that simple home and enjoy being with her family…

Wait.

"Kiritsugu! Stop! What about our son that I never met!? An Apostle Ancestor?! What on earth happened after the War?!"

Kiritsugu kept walking. Albeit at a slightly faster pace.

"Don't you dare keep quiet and run away from me! You always did that whenever you wanted to avoid a conversation! Illya! Stop your father! We're not done talking yet!"

Well, at the very least, Iri's corruption did nothing to stop some of her eccentric traits.

o. o. o.

"I'm sorry, I must have been hallucinating from all the paperwork I've had to bury myself in all day. I could have sworn you just said that Illyasviel's mother was just summoned as a Servant by the Grail and was trying to set it off behind everyone's backs," Rin spoke with the sort of calm tone that usually came before either a rampaging tirade or an order to murder someone in cold blood.

"No, that's pretty much what I just said." Sakura sighed, glad that she was having this conversation over the phone. The moment she and Illyasviel left the mountain, she had taken out the cell phone Shirou gave her and made the call. Luvia was still inside the chambers along with Caster and Berserker. Partially to do their job and inspect the grail. Partially to keep an eye on Irisviel. "And before you start about how absurd the situation is, please remember that Assassin was with us when we found out."

That clammed Rin up almost instantly. "… How is he?"

"Quiet."

"He's always quiet."

"The distracted kind." Sakura held back the urge to roll her eyes, even if nobody was watching her. "He barely responds to Illya's prodding."

"Do you think he'll be a problem?" Rin asked. It was a crude question, but one that needed to be asked.

"I don't think so. Their situation is even more complicated than ours was after I was taken in by Grandfather. It's going to take time for him… for several of us, to come to terms with this."

"No kidding. Another Servant, Shriou's going to have another episode at this. No, more importantly, how are we going to deal with her? You said she's trying to complete the Grail? If that's the case then we have to get her away from the chambers as soon as we can."

"How? We can't kill her. Even if Illya and Assassin let themselves agree to it, she's a Servant. If she dies then we'd just be playing to her plans." Sakura frowned in frustration. "The only way we can get her away from there is if we tie her to a Master."

"Good news is that we have all the eligible Masters in the War. Bad news is that they all already have Servants." Rin pinched her nose. "Well, everyone but Marjatta…"

"Her personality and comatose state aside, Merem removed her last Command Seal when she was retrieved from Caster's lair. She couldn't be a candidate even if she wanted." Sakura shook her head. She doubted Luvia's sister would be cooperative even if she was awake.

"Well it can't be you or Illyasviel." Rin didn't bother pressing the issue. "You said it yourself, Irisviel's corrupted by Angra Mainyu. We can't have either of the Lesser Grails possibly directly influenced by her. Especially you, no offense."

"None taken."

"What class did you say she was again?"

"Caster." Sakura supplied. "She said something about originally being a Ruler, but the Grail lacking the functionality and power to provide such a powerful Saint Graph with Command Spells, resulting in her in a weaker state."

"Well at least we have that much going for us." Rin let out a breath of relief. "But that still leaves the question of who would be willing to support her."

"We can't let Shirou do it." Sakura put her foot down. "He's pulled in enough directions as it is. And he doesn't have the ability to support two Servants at once reliably. He barely managed to do it with Rider and Saber at the beginning of the War. He was almost crippled for days."

"I still can't believe he managed that. But you're right. Shirou has enough to deal with. This new Caster will just distract him from his current problems." Proper management and rest aside, there was a reason why most Masters only had a single Servant.

"That just leaves Bazett-san, Luvia-san, and…"

"Me." Rin sighed, leaning back in her chair. "Ignoring the enforcer for the time being, it is possible for Edelfelt and I to handle the job. The two of us have high enough potential to pull it off…"

"What's the matter?" Sakura knew that pause. Rin was thinking about something unpleasant.

"I think I have to do it. It's not just a matter of ability. Irisviel Von Einsbern is still one of the three families. There's a prerogative that needs to be respected. If word of her gets out it's going to be a nightmare to manage, and it'll get monumentally worse if you, me, or Illyasviel are not ultimately keeping an eye on her. Even if Shirou was capable of doing it, he wouldn't have the political clout to pull it off without some serious pushback."

"I… you're right," Sakura relented with clear hesitation. "But are you sure that's for the best? We have to make a decision fast, but I still think you're rushing it. She is Assassin's wife and Illya's mother. Shirou's not uninvolved either. I think you should talk to them first before doing anything."

"Of course I'm going to talk to them first. The last thing any of us want is to piss off two difficult-to-control assassins simultaneously." Rin pinched the bride of her nose. "But it doesn't change the facts. We have limited time and options. If anyone has a better suggestion, I'm all for it, but until then…"

"We'll have a group meeting as soon as we get home. At the very least, it should be pretty straight forward. Illya and I will break the news to Shirou and calm him down enough by the time everyone else arrives. We might be able to come up with something else."

"Unlikely... is what I'm thinking, but after seeing everything go sideways from out of nowhere these past few weeks so often I'm willing to give hold out hope."

"We live in interesting times, Nee-san." Sakura mocked light heartedly.

Rin winced at the old Chinese proverb. "Please don't recite ancient curses Sakura. You might be one of the few people of the planet that might be able to enact them, intentional or not."

"Ah. You're right. Sorry." With the Grail more active than it should be and Irisviel's meddling, there was no telling what might be possible at this stage. It really was best if she was careful for the time being.

The elder sister leaned back in her seat and let out a tired sigh. Her eyes glazed down at where a steadily growing pile of paperwork and reports regarding the state and repairs of Fuyuki mocked her.

Fortunately she had gotten past the worst of the damages, things that could potentially risk the exposure of thaumaturgy. Ironically, it was thanks to Shirou constantly setting Mt. Enzo on fire that gave her the easy out for the mess. Ultimately, pretty much all the damages in the area were blamed on a "severely malfunctioning gas line system" in the area. It explained the explosions, the fires, and the collateral… so long as nobody every bothered to question how or why there was about five to ten times the amount of gas in the lines in the first place to achieve such massive destruction in the first place.

Explaining the chaos was easy. Cleaning it up was worse.

And dealing with the payroll and insurance companies was absolute hell. Bastards were more sadistic and selfish than most Magi.

"I'll cut things short over here and get back to Shirou's in an hour or two. We can coordinate from there," Rin lamented her growing pile of tasks. She had wanted to have at least make her stack of paperwork shrink in half by the time she left today. "What about Edelfelt? Do you think it's a good idea to leave her there?"

"No, but we don't have much choice. We need someone to keep an eye on Irisviel for the time being. Luvia and Caster were our best options. Berserker is just insurance."

She clicked her teeth in annoyance. She didn't like it, but all things considered, it was the right move to make. "… Are you sure you're okay? You're supposed to be more sensitive to the Grail's workings than anyone right now. Between you absorbing Gilgamesh's soul and this tampering…"

"I'm fine." Sakura soothed her sister's concerns. "I felt… there was something there, when I was in the chambers. Something was clearly reaching out to me. If Grandfather was still in me, and if I wasn't as prepared for the worst, I might have let something slip, but it didn't come to that. I won't lie, it was probably a bad idea for me to go inspect the Greater Grail now that we know what's going on. But fortunately we managed to avoid any major unfortunate turns."

"If you say so. That said, you're still going to get checked by Caster when she returns. Just in case." Rin wasn't taking any chances. Not this late into the game.

"Haaaai." The younger humored the elder. "I'll see you at home then."

"Home." That's what she said. Not "Shirou's place".

It was an urge that Rin still had yet to succumb to, much to her reluctance.

"Yeah. See you there." She hung up the line and sighed, closing her eyes. "… Archer, I know you don't do apologies, but it's a bit late to make any if you forgot to warn us of this possibility."

The Servant scoffed. "I won't say that Irisviel Von Einsbern's summoning never happened, but it was so rare and erratic that that there would be no point in bringing it up compared to the multitudes of other possibilities that might have come to pass. Even so, this iteration is outside the norm. The few times I have managed to witness her coming, the Grail would show more signs of erratic activity than what we have now prior to her coming."

"So you're saying she's a fluke."

"A bigger one than my existence, yes. But still less than Assassin's. That said, as rare as it is that she's appeared at all, it's even more uncommon for Angra Mainyu's influence on her to be so tame."

"Tame?"

"Normally when she's out she's essentially the Corrupted Grail's full power personified. Powerful enough that even Gilgamesh has to put in some effort to deal with her."

Rin paled at the thought. "Well, at least we have that going for us."

"Personally, I think it would have been better that way. At least it would save us the headache of what to do with her."

"Don't be an ass. You know as well as I do that we'd still be stuck with more work during the cleanup." Rin rolled her eyes. "Do you think Assassin's existence indirectly called her out?"

"The way things are going now, I'm willing to swallow just about anything bizarre regarding my family."

"Hoooh? You're actually willing to admit it?" As far as Rin was concerned, that was the first time Archer openly addressed the other Emiyas as kin. He always made it a point to keep them all at arm's distance whenever possible.

"Begrudgingly. There's no point in trying to argue otherwise. My counterpart may be against it, but…"

"Illya and Kiritsugu won't let it be at that." Rin smiled. "Archer, if I can make good with Sakura after everything that's happened, you could at the very least try with those two."

"… Easy for you to say." With a halfhearted mutter, the Servant went into spiritual form and vanished from sight, ending the conversation.

She sighed and shook her head. As much as he wanted to pretend like he didn't care, Archer couldn't help but be an open book to her at times.

He had watched Kiritsugu die, and promised to be a hero.

He had watched Illya die, failing to be just that.

He spent his life helping people, and getting killed for it in the end.

He spent his afterlife helping people, killing in the process and ultimately regretting and rejecting it afterwards. To the point of wanting to kill his younger self to get out of the system entirely. Even if it meant oblivion.

And here he was, with the two people he failed the most, openly accepting him for who he was.

From a certain perspective, it was no wonder why he preferred to be considered nameless if possible. For him, being considered an Emiya, even in name, was probably just a constant reminder of the failings he's had trying to support the real family members.

"You know they don't blame you. Right?" She mentally tried to console him, only to get silence and a rather vindictive mental cutoff as a response.

She knew that was the wrong thing to ask, but she had to hammer it in regardless. Alternate version or not, Shirou was still Shirou. At the end of the day the person he would always be hardest on was himself.

She sighed to herself. Glancing down, she wondered what was going to get done first, getting through to her Servant, or the paperwork.

Either way, she doubted she'd seen the conclusion anytime soon.

A short distance away, the King of Rats watched her quietly, half hidden behind his own pile of paperwork.

o. o. o.

"I'm sorry. What?"

"Mama was summoned as a Servant for the Grail and she's doing something to it." Illya didn't even try to be subtle as she told Shirou point blank what was happening as soon as she returned.

"Illya. I thought we were going to break it to him more gently than that," Sakura lamented from behind.

"I. How. What?" Shirou fumbled with his words, once more trying to make sense of what was going on.

"I would also like to know more about this new development in detail." Saber put his feelings in a more articulate request, though her expression was not much better than her Master's.

"Wait." Shirou cut in looking around warily. "Where's Dad?"

That single question sent chills down the spines of most in the house.

"Papa's not taking it well and wanted to be alone for a bit." Illya briefly smiled painfully. "He was the one that confirmed it really was her. He wouldn't let the rest of us didn't get close."

Saber allowed herself to grimace. She may still have mixed feelings about Kiritsugu, but what had just transpired was simply cruel. "What do you make of it, Illyasviel?"

"I don't know." She shook her head, her tone cold and calm. She had completely abandoned her childish persona. "Most of what I've been told about Mama and Papa and the Grail has been secondhand knowledge for the past ten years. Shirou's like a breath of fresh air in that regard. He's honest in everything he does. Even if he's trying to keep a secret, he's honest about it. But this… nobody knows except Mama…"

It was clear that she was debating something but didn't want to come out and say it for one reason or another.

"Is something wrong?" Sakura asked.

The small girl sighed and shook her head before looking at her brother. "Shirou. I need to borrow Saber for a bit."

The request caught everyone by surprise.

"For what reason?" the requested Servant inquired.

Shirou on the other hand immediately came to a conclusion. "You want to talk to her. And you don't want Dad around."

"I need to ask her something." Illya nodded, her face completely devoid of weakness. "I don't, can't make a decision on what to do about her until I find out."

"You said she's connected to the Greater Grail." He frowned. "I know you have the ability to support her magically, but please don't tell me you're thinking of making a third contract."

She scoffed. "Shirou, you're the reckless fool in the family. Not me. I'm fully aware of how stupid doing that would be."

"Had to be sure." He feebly defended himself. "… Are you all right?"

"No, but all things considered we should still be worrying about you. Your headaches are nowhere near done yet."

Shirou grimaced and made it a point not to look at Saber. "I'm… better. I had some sense knocked into me so I could think clearly again."

"Saber beat you up, didn't she?" Illya deadpanned.

"Once or twice," the King of Knights shamelessly stated.

"You stole the last hit! I did most of the work!" Lancer shouted from the side of the room.

"Work my ass. You were having fun," Bazett chided.

"Since when couldn't it be both?"

"I'm surprised the house is still intact." Sakura shook her head in resignation. Leave it to Shirou to need to be double teamed by Servants in order to get his head on straight again. "Illya, Shirou, I didn't tell you this before, but I spoke to Rin right after I got out of the cave. If we do decide to take Irisviel with us, it's likely Nee-san will be her Master unless we can find an alternative."

"Rin?" Shirou frowned in thought before realizing what they were getting at. "Ah, I see. That does make sense…"

"I don't like it." Illya grimaced. She also understood the logic behind it, but that only made her dislike of the decision more pronounced.

"We can talk about it later when you get back. We need to make a decision fast, but we can't rush it either." Shirou sighed. "You said that she's weak and can't do much in the short term as is, right?"

"Yeah, but that doesn't mean I have to agree." The albino sighed heavily before turning around again. "Come on, Saber. The sooner we see Mama again, the sooner we can decide what to do."

The Servant frowned. "Is that a wise decision? You just returned. Shouldn't you rest?"

She looked at Saber curiously. "You make it sound like we are walking there. I thought that you could carry me this time, like Berserker does. Or you could drive me on that bike Onii-chan gave you…"

"No!" Shirou snapped, his face pale and crossing his arms in denial. "Absolutely not! No way is Saber taking you on the Hayabusa!"

Sakura giggled at his frantic reaction, remembering the one time he traveled second to Saber on the bike during the war. "You still haven't gotten over your own experience yet?"

"If I could barely survive it, Illya sure as hell won't!" Shirou held his ground with a crazed look in his eyes.

"What did you do to him?" Bazett half muttered to Saber in genuine fascination. There weren't many things that got under Shirou's skin as badly as what she was seeing right now.

Saber held her head up high. "I merely showed him why he is still unsuited to be called my squire."

"Since when was being an adrenaline junkie a requirement for being a squire?!"

"Hooh? Me-thinks the King of Knights may have gotten her moniker for reasons outside of mere noble deeds." Lancer grinned knowingly.

Saber coughed and almost managed to hide the faint blush of embarrassment on her cheeks while avoiding eye contact with everyone in the room. There was no need to embarrass herself… er, regale her compatriots, with some of her more reckless former deeds on horseback. That was Kay's thing. "There is no need for anything extreme, Illyasviel. I can easily carry you quickly to the mountain from here."

"Fine." Illya was disappointed that Saber didn't try to push it a bit more, if only to tease Shirou. "We should hurry. Berserker's getting uncomfortable being stuck in there for so long."

Berserker going nuts where a potentially malfunctioning Greater Grail was. Now wasn't that a scary thought?

Apparently yes, if the fact that Illya and Saber were all but pushed out of the house moments later was any indication.

Sakura shook her head as they returned to the living room. Shirou wanted to go to the kitchen, but she stonewalled him, intent on letting him relax in a way that would recover his stamina. It was just one problem after another. Vampires. The Grail. Couldn't they have just a single day of peace?

The knock on the door ten minutes later unfortunately answered her question.

o. o. o.

Irisviel hummed to herself absently as she casually wandered around where her guests were situated. The bounded field that Caster had set up was an impressive piece, one from the Age of Gods she suspected and certainly above her ability to craft… but not eventually work around.

Well, not if she had proper resources at least.

"I'm somewhat surprised that all the Masters agreed to this ceasefire," Irisviel hummed, trying once more to strike up a conversation with the Edelfelt Master. "My experiences with the outside world are limited, but I don't think that Magi nature could change in such a short period of time."

Caster scoffed. She knew what the errant Servant was doing, but couldn't help but play along. Her attention was divided between monitoring the Grail and this new party, and it wasn't going to change anytime soon. "They haven't. If you have to blame someone, it would be Saber's Master."

"That's, my son, correct? The one that Kiritsugu mentioned?" She tilted her head, and looked genuinely curious in an innocent way that didn't fool anyone. "Can you tell me about him? It's quite jarring to know that you have a child you've never met or heard of before. Let alone one that's supposedly so capable."

"Frustrating," the Greek flatly stated without a moment of hesitation.

Luvia winced.

"Frustrating?" Iri giggled. "Well, I can't say I'm unfamiliar with the sort. Kiritsugu isn't exactly the easiest to understand at times either. I suppose they are father and son after all."

"If you mean their habits of going off and trying to manage problems on their own without telling anyone and causing headaches in the process, yes." Caster's tone didn't change. "Of course, their interpretation of 'helping' leaves much to be desired."

"The more I hear about him, the more concerned I am for Illya's safety."

"Caster stop. You know Shirou's not that difficult," Luvia chastised her Servant before faltering under the latter's cold stare. "… Most of the time."

"Definitely raised by Kiritsugu." Irisviel crossed her arms and nodded confidently. "But more importantly. Is he cute?"

"What." Caster reaction was as flat as her expression.

"You heard me. If I'm going to have a child that I was completely unaware of, he should at least be cute. Or handsome." Irisviel didn't back down.

"How, on earth did the Einsbern fabricate a Homunculus with a personality like yours?" Luvia's mind was drastically trying to connect the dots. "No. How did you ever manage to maintain a functioning relationship with the Magus Killer? There is a limit to the phrase 'opposites attract'!"

That finally managed to break the newest Servant out of her eccentricity and cause her to flinch and take a step back. "Ah. You're right about that. I am a bit different than most Einzbern Homunculi. As for my relationship with my husband, you could say the two topics are related. Originally I was a blank slate like the rest of my kind. It was only after I was introduced to Kiritsugu that things changed. I was essentially part of the payment he received for representing them in the Fourth War. He wasn't comfortable working with an empty doll, so he brought me books and movies. Taught me what the world was like. Outside of the castle and snow. It made me, curious. Insatiably so. Everything else developed from there."

"I find it incredibly ironic that Assassin of all people taught you how to have emotions. Or anyone for that matter," Caster deadpanned.

"I don't blame you. Kiritsugu isn't good at expressing himself even in the best of times…" Iri momentarily trailed off as though remembering something unpleasant before returning to her normally bubbly self. "But more importantly. Don't change the subject. Is my son cute?"

"What? I-I mean. He's certainly not terrible to look at by any means. And he is certainly nowhere near as gaudy and overbearing as most magi these days…" Luvia stammered while playing with her hair, not used to this sort of motherly treatment.

"You're blushing! You have a crush on him! That means he's cute!"

"I refuse to take any further part in this conversation." Caster turned and redoubled her focus on the Greater Grail. If she paid any more attention to this air headed woman, she'd start to suspect that Angra Mainyuu was trying to get her to kill herself with a simply overwhelming and insufferable representative. "Berserker, please do your thing if she actually does something dangerous."

"▄▄▄▄." Much to Medea's respite, Berserker remained a stoic stone tower devoid of emotion.

How far had she fallen, that she was relying on Berserker for sanity?

"Do you have any pictures? Does he look like us? When did you first meet? Are you dating?" Iri began to fire off questions rapid fire while pushing up against Caster's bounded field.

"Please stop! This is getting out of hand! If you don't calm down right now I'm will leave! Grail or not!" Luvia snapped, her face beet red.

Iri had the decency to look embarrassed as she backed away and pouted. "Fine. Fine. Have it your way. Sorry if I was being curious."

Luvia struggled to regain her composure. "You'll likely meet soon enough regardless. Shirou may be a mediocre at best magus by conventional standards, but he's been nothing but terrifyingly meticulous when it has come to the Fifth Grail War. He won't be satisfied with any decision made regarding you until he sees you for himself."

Granted, that might be because he wants to use his Pure Eyes on her and see if there's anything else going on, but her point still stood.

"Is that so?" Iri's excitement died off slightly. "Is he really that much like Kiritsugu?"

Ah. Now wasn't that a rather sobering topic? The brief image of Archer flashed through Luvia's and Caster's minds.

"That, depends," the Master started slowly. "He is known as the Second Magus Killer by most parties, and the title is well deserved. As the next head of the Edelfelt family, I can attest to his combat capabilities and tactics. There aren't many that can claim to be his equal or better by today's standards if they knew his full capacity. He's not as ruthless as his father, for the most part, but that is not a difficult achievement to make."

"No. It's not." Iri smiled sadly.

"Away from battle though, Shirou is, kind." Luvia smiled softly. "Akin to a grumpy old man in a teen's body. Incredibly accommodating and willing to go out of his way to help those that ask him for aid. No, rather, it's actually quite easy to bully him and push him around normally. With a bit of training and refining, he'd make a quality butler."

Pity that Barthomelloi turned him into her dog, but as they say, first come first served.

"An easy to tease Kiritsugu…" Irisviel's eyes started to shimmer with excitement and anticipation before she paused to think of something and looked wary. "Wait, you said he's accommodating. Does that mean he can cook too? Without the arson?"

Luvia couldn't help but snicker at the woman's trepidation. She had heard enough about Assassin's inability in the kitchen to know what was going on in the woman's head. "It's one of his favorite hobbies. And he's quite accomplished in it."

"The more I hear about him, the more I wonder if Kiritsugu simply found someone to cover all of his faults at home," Iri seriously pondered.

"Who can say?" Given Shirou's personality, Luvia was confident that the young boy had simply taught himself to cover those faults at a young age without any prompting.

"And that bit about being a Dead Apostle Ancestor? And a Reality Marble? That was a joke, right?"

Luvia flinched. "That, will take some time to put into proper context. I'm still wrapping my head around the matter myself. It is a particularly complicated series of topics. Ones that we do not particularly trust you with just yet."

"That bad?" Iri leaned back and closed her eyes. "… The world truly is an ironic place, isn't it? I'm surprised Kiritsugu is taking it so well. He does not have the best history with Apostles."

That's right. Apostles were directly linked to the events that forced him to kill his father and adoptive mother after all. To have his son, his saving grace in this mess turn into one, an Ancestor at that, was a cruelty in hindsight that couldn't be overlooked.

"I have an idea what you mean, but Shirou is, different. Even by Apostle standards, and that's not just us saying it. The Ancestor that's deigned him his position is firmly of that opinion as well. I won't say much, but I can say that the odds of him feasting on others or making undead is impossibly unlikely."

"He even knows and is on good terms with another Ancestor? Reality is more bizarre than fantasy." Iri sighed. "What of my daughter? Illyasviel?"

"There's no need to ask her about me, Mama. I'm right here." Before Luvia could speak, a new voice cut in catching them off guard.

"Illyasviel, and Saber?" Luvia blinked in surprise as the unlikely pair approached them from the cave entrance.

"Illya…" Iri trailed off her eyes taking in her daughter's approach. "I didn't think your father would let you see me so soon. Much less without him. Unless…"

"Papa's at home with Onii-chan. I didn't want him here for this," Illya casually stated before giving Luvia a pointed look.

"Forgive me, but I don't think leaving you here with minimal support is a wise idea. For several reasons." Caster shuddered to think what any of the Emiya males would do to Luvia or herself if anything happened to the girl under their watch.

"I have Saber and Berserker. If they are insufficient to protect me, then we would already be in trouble by now." Illya casually dismissed the Servant's concerns. "… This is a conversation I never thought I'd have the opportunity to have. One that I need to take advantage of. Please."

Luvia and Caster gave one another questioning looks before thinking better of pushing the matter. The Emiya family in its current state was practically defined by unresolved issues and complicated relationships that LITERALLY transcended time and space, and dabbled in some divinity at that. It was for the best if they didn't involve themselves in the mess any more than they already were.

Caster picked up a stone and whispered an ancient word to it before tossing it to Saber. "We shall be just outside the mouth of the cave to grant some privacy, but I still need to research and examine the Grail. Should you need assistance, simply break the stone and we shall return."

"You have my thanks." Saber nodded firmly as the two made their leave.

It was an awkward minute or two for the pair to finally exit the main cavern, as Illya and Iri refrained from taking their eyes off of one another the entire time, not saying a word to one another.

The silence persisted for an unknown duration after they were left alone at that.

"I heard you have a brother now." Iri broke it with a kind smile. "I've only heard bits and pieces, but he sounds interesting."

"Onii-chan's a lot of things. I think you'd like him." Despite her words, Illya's cool expression didn't change at all.

"You sound fond of him." Iri turned to Saber. "I hope you get along with him. You may not remember, but we summoned you in the previous War, Saber…"

The King of Knights smiled briefly. "On the contrary Irisviel, I remember everything. Such as the conversation we had on the beach the first night of the War, before our battle with Lancer."

The irregular Servant's eyes widened in disbelief. "Saber? It's really you? But, how?"

"You could say it's related to why I am unable to possess a spiritual form. But that discussion is not for now. I believe you have more personal matters to focus on."

"Mama," Illya cut in. "After we freed Kiritsugu, I became Papa's Master. It hasn't been for long, but the synchronization effect's let me see his past in my dreams because of our high compatibility."

Her mother clearly didn't like that. "No doubt you've seen some unpleasant things. Your father, his methods were distasteful, even to his standards…"

"I've seen what the Fourth War was like Mama." Illya cut in. "I saw you lie to him."

The cavern was ominously quiet.

"Lie?" Saber frowned in confusion. While she wouldn't consider her former Master's marriage conventional, she was certain that their love was genuine. Enough so that she doubted that Iri would ever lie to her husband.

She couldn't say the same for the other way around, but that was another matter all-together.

"I'm not sure I understand what you mean Illya." Iri seemed just as bewildered. "When did I ever lie to Kiritsugu?"

The half homunculus frowned, clearly irritated by her mother's words. "The Grail can only grant wishes by means known to the one who requests it. That's what you told Kiritsugu when you spoke to him inside the system."

Another silence pervaded the cavern, this one more damning.

"You are a Justeaze model homunculus, Mother. You have her memories just as I do. You know what the Grail, what our originator intended to use Heaven's Feel for." Illya went on coldly.

That's right.

The Holy Grail ritual, the original ritual, was all to achieve Heaven's Feel. The Third Magic.

And Heaven's Feel was sought after by the Three Families…

To save the world. For true peace. For an end to war.

Exactly what Kiritsugu had been hoping for the entire time.

Saber didn't know this. Kiritsugu didn't know this. Shirou didn't know this. But Illya did. And so did Iri.

Small hands clenched into fists. "All you had to do was tell Papa about Heaven's Feel. About what it could do and what it was intended for, and Papa would have gone with that. No, not tell, but remind him about it. There is no way you wouldn't have told him about the true intention of the ritual before the War started. You probably didn't even need that either if you wanted. If Papa just wished for humanity's salvation, you could have easily utilized Heaven's Feel with or without his intention to use that method in the first place… but you didn't do that. You went out of your way to show him the worst of his habits and methods and tortured him with what his wish might have been…"

That show at the end was probably the most damning piece of evidence next to not reminding Kiritugu about Heaven's Feel.

After all, since when did an omnipotent wish granting device have an instruction manual or a warning before being used?

It didn't. By all means, once the Grail was completed, it should have been a simple "wish" input and actualization output in most cases that didn't involve actualizing Heaven's Feel.

Tears started to fall down porcelain cheeks. Crimson eyes met crimson eyes. "You tricked Papa into rejecting the Grail, didn't you?"

Saber found it difficult to remain calm as she watched the soul wrenching scene play out in front of her.

The mother was a crude reflection of her daughter. Dressed in black and gold, but in just as much emotional distress as her daughter.

"… It was a nightmare in there," she started slowly. "The curses in the Grail were so suffocating, I was constantly drowning in them. I could barely even recognize myself, recognize what was myself and what was Angra Mainyu. I still can't tell what's me, and what came from that thing even now…"

She began to tremble and hug herself in a vain attempt to keep the chills at bay. "The only thing that I retained that I knew was true was my love for you and your father. I… I love you both so much. Even as everything warm was tainted and stolen, I still loved you two. Even after waiting in that vile eternity, I knew that I'd at least see your father again. Kiritsugu… he couldn't let my death be in vain. He wouldn't allow it… and then he was there… and I... wasn't me."

She remembered how the Grail used her as a template to speak to her husband. A half conscious puppet with the other half being supplanted by an unending ocean of curses.

She remembered him pointing his gun at her, immediately telling that the Irisviel in front of him was not his wife.

She remembered filtering through his memories and seeing what he had gone through.

She remembered knowing what would happen if his Wish was granted.

She remembered that she still loved him.

She remembered using that love to influence her logic, and prevent her husband from damning the world, in the cruelest way possible.

"It took everything I had to use his trauma and past against him, to drown him in the 'truth' of the Grail. To influence my mind and body at the time to try and appeal to his love for us to knowingly damn the world in kind. It would have made the results stronger that way. To forget just how dedicated he was to try and save the world, to forget how much he truly cared…"

"And it worked," Illya stated emotionlessly.

"And it worked." Iri nodded with a pathetic smile that had as little power as her body. "Too well. Your father rejected the Grail so viciously that I lost what little influence I had at the end. The Grail took offense to what he had done and cursed him… I take it you saw what happened."

Illya didn't say anything. She saw it all right. It was one of the first memories she dreamed after enthralling her father.

It was quite an unnerving experience, seeing your child self's head getting blown off at close range.

"Please." What little strength Irisviel had was ebbing out of her if her voice was anything to go by. "Please, don't tell your father. He's been through enough. This, this would destroy him. He doesn't deserve it. The fact that he's a Heroic Spirit. No, that he can see that you and your brother are alive and safe… this is probably the happiest he could possibly be after what he's gone through. To him, it's a greater miracle than world peace."

"What about you?" Illya could barely hear her own voice.

"I don't know. I'm dangerous, Illyaviel. The Grail's influence on me is nowhere near as strong as it was, but it's still present. If I was a helpless puppet then, I'm a conditioned dog now. I have autonomy and individuality, but my purpose is still there. I need to finish the Grail as much as I love you… I love you so much, Illya…"

How long?

How long had Illya longed to hear those words coming from that voice again? The comforting facts of her mother's affection?

It almost broke her resolve to stay in place. To not run to the woman and hug her with all the strength her pathetic body could muster.

But she couldn't. Not because she didn't want to. Or because she could vaguely remember everything her father and brother have done and risked to get to this point.

It was because Irisviel looked genuinely terrified of what might happen if she lost control over herself for even a moment when with her daughter.

"Mama…"

She didn't know what to do. She didn't know what to say. It was her mother. It couldn't be anyone else other than her mother despite the impossibility of it all. They were so close with nothing in between them, and yet they couldn't even embrace one another as they were.

"Papa… Shirou…" Her father and brother. Herself. Every one of them had suffered immensely and individually. Was there a curse on the Emiya family? Were they preordained to be separate from one another? Their scant reunions marred with nothing but a taunting feeling of what their lives should have been?

She was at a loss. She wanted to help her mother more than anything right now, but was powerless to do a damn thing about it. She wanted to so badly that she was willing to do almost anything to rectify it…

And then Saber turned her head so fast it would have broken the neck of a normal human to look in a seemingly empty portion of the cavern, taking out her sword in the same motion. "Who is there!? Show yourself!"

"Wh-what?" Illya faltered at Saber's unexpected actions. Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw Irisviel react in much the same way as her.

A subtle yet ominous sound that resembled grinding stones indicated that Berserker was on guard as well.

It took a few moments for the sound of footsteps reach her ears, but soon enough the newcomer had exposed himself without any signs of hostility.

Merem Solomon appeared from behind an outcropping of boulders, one hand up and visible for all to see, his other hand absent. "Peace, Saber. I mean no harm."

"Solomon, what are you doing here?" Saber all but demanded, her blade slightly lowered but not by much.

"The same as you, to an extent." The Vampire's eyes glanced at Irisviel momentarily before returning to the King of Knights. "I am the current Representative for the Church in Fuyuki. Investigating matters like this is part of my responsibilities, even if the rest of the participants were remiss in informing me."

It was only because the King of Rats was in the same room as Rin that he found out as soon as he did. Admittedly, he was a bit put out that everyone had forgotten about him regarding the matter but he could let it pass this time. The identity of this latest Servant would obviously cause a stir among Masters and Servants alike.

Illya and Saber flinched, realizing that Merem had a point. As much as a wildcard as he was, he did have a role and obligation to see this matter through.

"How did you get past Caster and Luvia? I doubt they would have let you in here had you asked." Saber prodded.

He looked at the girls skeptically. "Come now, you don't think that the path you used is the only method to come here, did you? The beasts of this land have a far greater understanding of the networks under this mountain than the founders. It did not take me long to find an alternate path to use."

"The rats. Of course," Illya groaned.

"Rats?!" Iri on the other hand began to freak out and look around warily. "Where?! Here?!"

"Please, calm yourself. The mysteries and influence of the Greater Grail dissuade most animals from getting far into the main cavern. Any lesser being, natural or mystic, would keep to the outer walls at the most. I would have been the first to discover your existence otherwise." Merem tried to placate the woman with his usual calm and almost pleasant tone.

"Oh, if that's the case…" Iri took in a deep breath and tried to regain her composure. "So you're the representative for the Church? You look young for the job. What happened to Kotomine?"

"Dead. By several means during the war. I had no hand in it," Merem replied honestly.

"Don't be fooled by his appearances, Irisviel." Saber frowned. "The one standing before you is the Twentieth Apostle Ancestor. Merem Solomon. If my knowledge is accurate, he's one of the oldest of his kind that still walks the world."

Irisviel's already pale composure took a new shade of white as she digested that information. "An Apostle, Ancestor?"

"He's the one that I mentioned earlier. The one that sponsored Onii-chan." Illya's expression darkened. "I hope you're not planning on doing something reckless. You know that you're on shaky ground with Shirou."

Merem shook his head. "I assure you, I am fully aware of how tremulous my relationship is with your brother and have absolutely no intention of aggravating that wound. That said, I do have my obligations, and intend to manage the situation as delicately as possible."

"I thought your father was joking when he said your brother was an Ancestor?!"

"It's a recent development," Saber flatly stated, her eyes all but accusing Merem.

"I can see it will take some time before you come to terms with my decision. I can hardly blame you." He sighed in resignation. "However, may we kindly return to the matter at hand? Ma'am, Saber has already informed you, but allow me to reintroduce myself. I am Merem Solomon. Twentieth of the Twenty Seven Apostle Ancestors, Fifth seat of the Church's Burial Agency, and temporary supervisor of the Fifth Holy Grail War. A pleasure to meet you."

Irisviel swallowed heavily as Merem politely bowed in a return greeting, realizing that her position was far more precarious than she had initially assumed. "L-likewise. I am Servant Caster, Irisviel Von Einzbern. A homunculus of the Einsbern family, wife of Kiritsugu Emiya and mother of Illyasviel Von Einzbern. Lesser Grail of the Fourth Holy Grail War."

"Well met." He nodded. "You have come at admittedly an interesting time, ma'am. I do not hold you responsible for this. However your actions and being here has agitated an already delicate situation."

"I can tell." Iri wasn't blind. From Kiritsugu to Luvia to Illya, there was an underlying uncertainty that was hard to miss. One that she wasn't responsible for. "I apologize for the inconvenience, but I cannot go against the prerogative that has been ingrained into me on summoning. The Grail is to be completed, one way or another."

"There have been discussions and motions to accomplish just that without the risk of unnecessary damages. I'm sure it has been mentioned at some point, but all three families, the Church and the Association are supporting this verdict. Is that not enough to mute these excessive instincts?"

"No. Unfortunately." Iri reluctantly shook her head. "The Grail War was only intended to last a few weeks at most. Unless I am under the impression that completion can come to pass within that time frame, I am compelled to accelerate it by whatever means necessary and available. My connection with the Grail itself prevents me from being altered in a way that goes against this logic."

"An integrated compulsion in conjunction to an external one that constantly refreshes itself. How curious…" Merem pondered, rubbing his chin in thought with his right hand. "If you were, to say make a contract with another Master, I assume that these compulsions would dampen to some extent?"

"I cannot say, but most likely. Though it would still be enough to cause problems. My very being has been integrated with the curse festering in the Grail. My connection to it may magnify the impulses; however, the origin of it will remain within me." She sighed in helplessness. "Even if I was kept weak, as a Servant I'm still more powerful than most Magi. And I cannot ascertain what sort of effects I may have on my Master for that matter, or any other Servants they may have."

"I see. I see. So you are essentially a threat to Master and Servant alike until a suitable means of curbing your influence and actions is found." The Vampire nodded, understanding what she was implying. "That may be a problem. Given the circumstances, the current Tohsaka head is convinced that she is the most suited of all the Masters to supervise you in order to separate you from the Grail. She's going to host a meeting with the other Masters to state her intentions and logic soon in fact."

"Tohsaka?" Iri blinked in surprise.

"Everyone still has their Servants, Mama. Supporting a second for an extended period of time is too difficult for most people. Sakura and I can't do it regardless because we're Lesser Grails. The only person outside of Rin that can physically pull it off is Luvia Edelfelt, and while we think we can trust her with our secrets, we can't be sure about the rest of her family."

Merem approached the group, clearly confident that Saber wouldn't attack him. "While your logic is sound, might I suggest another option available? Even if temporary?"

Illya frowned. She didn't know why but she already didn't like it. "What did you have in mind?"

The Vampire smiled and lifted his right hand. "While it is true that all of the cooperative Masters in this war have already possess Servants to support, that does not mean there are other potential candidates that can support Caster for a time…"

Three Command Spells shone on the back of his hand.

"The remaining spells from the previous Wars." Illya paled as the truth hit her sideways. At the end of the day, what qualified as a Master was not whether or not one had summoned a Servant in the first place, but whether or not one had the capacity to maintain a connection and support the Servant at all. In other words, Command Spells.

"Absolutely not." Saber put her foot down. "There's no telling what you would do with Irisviel under your wing."

"Must I repeat myself, King of Knights? I have absolutely no interest in the Holy Grail. I am fully capable of manifesting my own wishes and miracles." Merem shook his head. "The few things I desire that I can't accomplish with my own means are certainly beyond that of this faulty contraption. I truly do value my friendship with your Master. The last thing I desire at this crossroad in time is to render it irreparable. Bringing further harm to his family in any capacity would without question bring that undesired outcome to pass and then some."

"Is that why you came here to begin with? Were you waiting to contract Irisviel without any of our knowing?" Saber warned.

"Yes, but only with her consent of course." He did not so much as hesitate to admit his guilt. "From what I understand, prolonged exposure in this cave is rather detrimental to Servants, so I intended to take the initiative as a precaution. I had no intention of hiding my actions. Only my intentions to take them in the preceding time. Afterwards, should the others come to a consensus as to what Caster's fate would be, I would of course oblige without hesitation. This is after all, a deeply personal matter that needs to be made carefully. Additionally, doing it this way prevents some headaches in the future once her existence is made known with the other parties. Having the Church take priority custody over this new Servant will give the impression that we are trying to handle the matter professionally and consistently. Less painful questions will be asked this way."

Saber and Illya glanced at one another warily, questioning whether the other believed the Apostle was telling the truth.

They didn't, but they couldn't tell if he was lying either.

His comments about the Church and outside perspectives in particular rang particularly strong though. If they did try to keep Irisviel, they wouldn't be able to hide her forever. Not with the attention they had now. Any move to take the heat off their backs from the authorities later on was a move worth considering.

"Saber, ask Onii-chan about this. He'll have final say." If anyone deserved to be the tie breaker for this situation, it really could only be Shirou. He was the only person in Fuyuki that Merem would take seriously at the end of the day.

Saber was about to ask Illya to do the same with Kiritsugu before thinking better of it. Assassin wasn't in the best state of mind at the moment and likely wouldn't be for quite some time.

"That sounds reasonable enough." Merem nodded, accepting this decision with his usual pleasant smile.

"Your brother?" Irisviel looked concerned and confused. For someone to have that much of an influence on a Dead Apostle Ancestor was a rare occurrence. "Is he that dependable?"

"He is one of the few individuals, human or monster, that I truly consider a friend." Merem spoke from the heart. "I would not have recommended and elevated him to a position among the Twenty Seven if I was not convinced he was up to a certain standard."

Saber and Illya both had a few choice words to say about that, but refrained from doing so. They had greater priorities to deal with for the moment.

"Shirou. Are you awake?" Saber called to her Master through there connection. While cell phones had no reception within the cavern, mental connections were still good. "There's been a minor development that we need your input on."

There was nothing but silence for a good fifteen seconds. Long enough for Saber to worry that something was amiss before she got a response. "… Ah. Saber. Sorry. I was preoccupied with something on my side."

o. o. o.

"Anything we should be concerned about?" Saber's question rang through his mind as he inspected his surroundings.

Shirou stood in the middle of an alleyway a short distance from his home. Close enough to sprint back home in under three minutes with some magecraft. Far enough to be outside of Caster's range of detection.

A few meters before him knelt a confused and somewhat terrified European woman ensnared in golden chains. Her face was already beginning to swell from the blow she had sustained earlier, her focus scattered from the subsequent concussion. Only truly confident or foolish magi ever tried magecraft with an addled mind. Thankfully this woman was neither.

Still her condition was far better than the familiars and other magi present. Familiar and chimera carcasses littered the concrete floors, their bodies severed into several pieces at bare minimum and dozens at worst. One magus had the top half of his body compacted and crushed into the asphalt, as if he had fallen face first from a great height and turned into a failed human accordion.

Another body a short distance away was burning with a green flame that occasionally lashed out with errant electricity, some sort of copper reliant magecraft, no doubt.

A third corpse was half hanging outside a window that overlooked the battleground proper. Nothing excessive was happening with that one. Just a severely twisted neck with skin so bruised that a person could mistake the discoloration for a collar.

He sighed to himself, not tired or out of breath, but emotionally exhausted.

A quick self-examination turned up a few burns on his clothes and a small scratch on his shoulder. No poison. A few curses were imposed, but a brief prick with Rule Breaker on the points of impact got rid of those instantly. Otherwise, he was more or less untouched.

The fact that he had just brutally killed three people didn't even cross his mind.

Ever since the War started, he had needed help in one way or another to address the issues he came across. Be it Apostle or Servant related, his efforts alone weren't sufficient to get the job done. Not that he was ungrateful for his friends or their assistance and support. Just the opposite…

… It was just, it had been a while since he had come across an issue that he could simply handle himself, and not bother those around him. Even a petty one like this. It was cathartic, in a twisted sense.

Dismissing the blade in his off hand, he reached into his pocket and pulled out the letter he had been delivered.

A letter that had been sealed with the Barthomelloi insignia.

"… No." He shook his head, glancing once more at his prisoner. "Nothing unexpected that I haven't taken into account."

Not unexpected. Just sooner than he wanted.

At the very least, the bounded field that had cut off his mental connection to Saber was gone. He didn't want to imagine how much trouble he would have been in if the others had realized he had gotten into trouble again. No doubt it had fallen apart when he had killed the caster, whoever that was. Didn't matter much now regardless.

"Pardon me." He politely excused himself to the woman that he had decked just a few minutes earlier. "I need to speak to my Servant for a moment. We can conclude our discussion as to where you got your orders from afterwards."

Whoever had sent them thought that they could trick him into playing along just because they had a letter with the Barthomelloi's seal on it and claimed to be working under her.

Idiots.

As if that woman would ever waste her family seal on "the dog".

Problem was, it was still the Barthomelloi seal. The genuine article at that. Intricate and intimate mysteries, unique wax and all. It wasn't something that appeared often, nor was it easily fabricated. He knew it for a fact since he had been made to deliver a fair share when he was at the Clocktower and was trained to tell the real thing from an imitation.

Aaah. It was going to be another long night.

"Tell me. What happened this time?"

o. o. o.

Omake: The worst possible outcome.

Kiritsugu paused in the cave under Mt Enzo and turned around. It was probably better if he didn't interact with Iri anymore until he had his head on straight, but there was one thing he needed to find out before doing anything.

"Iri. Before I go, what class are you?"

Between how she was summoned and her looks, she could be practically anything that wasn't a knight class. A caster. A berserker. Hell, she could even be an Avenger or a Ruler for all he knew. He really hoped it wasn't the latter though. Illya mentioned that Rulers were granted a whole slew of troubling privileges.

His wife blinked in surprise, having not expected him to actually address her again for this conversation. "My class? Does that even matter at this point? I told you Kiritsugu, I barely have enough mana to sustain myself, let alone fight."

She was dodging the question.

"Iri. Rulers are summoned with Command Spells. You don't need support to use those if you wanted."

She pouted like a child and huffed. "Geez. You're so suspicious all the time. If I was summoned as a Ruler and had some spare Command Spells to work with, I wouldn't have had nearly as much trouble playing with the Greater Grail."

"Iri." His tone hardened.

"Stop it Kiritsugu, you're not intimidating me. And in case you're wondering, I was summoned as a dual class."

"Dual class? I've never heard of it."

"It happens, albeit rarely." She waved him off. "I'm weak by nature and am normally not supposed to be summoned in the first place. I was granted it to grant my spirit origin for some extra support. My first class is Caster, obviously. I am a magus. Originally, my secondary class was going to be Avenger, but I changed it at the last second when I was being summoned."

That had his attention. Could Servants change what class they were being called as? While being summoned no less? Or was it something Iri could do due to her intimacy with the Grail system? "Which is?"

Grinning proudly and thrusting her chest out, Iri positively glowed. "I'm surprised you haven't noticed it earlier, darling."

She turned her head to the side to look at something.

For some reason, Kiritsugu suddenly developed a sense of dread and slowly glanced in the same direction.

There, sitting completely innocuously and absolutely out of place with the current environment, was a Mercedes Benz 300SL.

"When I saw what I'd get if I went with the Rider class, it was no contest!" The woman laughed happily, so enamored with patting herself on her back that she completely missed her husband turn around and bolt towards the rest of his group.

"Eh? Kiritsugu? Where are you going?! Why are you running?! I thought you'd be happy to see that I still had that toy you got me?!"

"Papa?!" Illya blinked as she witnessed her father run past them like Gilgamesh was still alive, only to grab onto the scruff of his daughter's coat at the last possible moment and essentially kidnapped her.

"We have to get out of here. As soon as possible."

He loved his wife. He really did. But Angra Mainyu be damned, if the damage Irisviel could achieve with a vehicle had been manifested as a Noble Phantasm, then the world was still very much in greater danger than it knew.

o. o. o.

A/N:

This chapter was NOT Beta'd by Wayfarer this time. Unfortunately something has happened in his personal life. I only know a handful of things regarding it, but the picture it paints does NOT look good in the slightest. He still has his health, but… you only hear stories about people that go through the shit he's dealing with now. It's really that bad.

As a result, I'm going to focus on GAIWP for now. It might be for multiple months. I don't want to put pressure on him. Wayfarer's been helping with FFD for the bulk of its run and his input on everything as a Beta is unquestioned.

Here's hoping that everything manages out well for you man. You don't deserve that mess.

*EDIT: Wayfarer just got back to me recently and has told me that the majority of his issues have been cleared up, and he has Beta'd the chapter in the meantime. Which is fantastic. The image he painted before was bad, but ultimately it was one of the rare cases that it wasn't actually as bad as it sounded. Although it was still pretty bad for a time. Think three alarm fire vs five alarm fire. That said I'm still going to focus on GAIWP for two chapters straight for reasons, but rest assured everyone, Wayfarer is not in any form of danger or livelihood crisis anymore.

Anyways. Yeah. Shorter chapter. More linear than normal, but honestly I couldn't get anything else to fit into the story at the time. Iri's existence is a massive spanner in the works for multiple parties, and obviously people are going to react to her differently. Like I said before, her degree of corruption is far less than when she was seen in the Black Grail back in Fate Zero, but she's still influenced by it. That's never going to change.

Also, I found everyone's reaction from the previous chapter pretty amusing. Admittedly, my update rate is a bit slow, so it's understandable that this mistake was made by so many, but I need to clarify something for everyone. When Waver was talking to Lorelei and dissuaded her from the idea of Shirou being the Ash of Miracles, it wasn't because he was covering for his friend. Waver genuinely doesn't know that Shirou's the Ash of Miracles. The only people that DO know that our sword idiot is a DAA are either in Japan, Fina, and Altrouge. That's it.

Waver was just covering for Shirou being a Living Apostle. Had he known that Shirou was actually the Ash of Miracles, that conversation would have gone in a completely different direction. He's gotten good at keeping secrets and hiding things, but he wouldn't knowingly be able to hide a point blank interrogation from Lorelei Barthomelloi that easily. His lone out with being able to hide Shirou's condition was that Shirou technically isn't a Dead Apostle, so he has some mental wiggle room to work with.

So yeah. Bottom line? Depending on how things conclude, Waver either lucked out or is a dead man walking… apostle pun not intended.

As for the end of the chapter, I suppose the best way to put it is that while Shirou's problems do seem to be over his head at times to the point that he needs the aid of Servants to bail him out, the reality is that against most opponents you could say that he's viciously overpowered. To the point that most Magi would consider "dealing for a Servant" and "dealing for Shirou Emiya" to be equally costly and difficult projects to overcome.

Of course the story is different if a more competent, prepared, and exceptional magus is involved in the picture and had more information to work with, but even then Shirou has an unusually disgusting advantage over most magi. Should he experiment with his Apostle powers a bit more to increase his raw physical abilities for another… five-ish years, he could easily pass off as a monster that could evenly hold his own against a serious standard Servant for at least a few minutes in a straight up fight. This still puts him on the weaker end of the spectrum, but much like Archer he has a ton of tricks to cover for that.

Let's see. On other news, just got the first of the pfizer shots for the CV vaccine. Killed my arm and made me miserable as hell yesterday. I can only imagine what it's going to be like for the second shot.

Not sure if I said this already but got a drone. And accidentally flew it into myself on the test flight because I was an idiot and stood down wind and too close to the damn thing. It's still intact but I cut up my arm in the process.

My parents laughed at me saying that I'm a retard that got mauled by my drone.

The fools. It was a glorious battle. That I lost.

Also. Pokemon Snap. The true ASMR video game we all truly needed. Unless we're trying to progress the plot.

Anyways, that's about it for my ranting. Sorry if this chapter isn't as clean as you're used to. Like I said, Wayfarer's an amazing Beta. Even if he doesn't come back, I hope that he recovers from the mess he's stuck in atm. Please don't try to reach out to him. Poor guy does not need the distractions.

Oh, and if you feel like it, join my pa-e-on. The first commissioned fanart bought with the donations should be up soon. Haven't seen the nearing final product myself but it should be pretty epic. It's the Grand Spiral Lotus from TTRT. The giant chakra monstrosity Naruto makes to launch Kaguya and Hidan into orbit after their massive free for all.

SO REVIEW! WORSHIP THE LOG! IRISVIEL'S POTENTIAL RIDING SKILL IS RANKED G FOR GRAIL! AND REVIEW AGAIN!

o. o. o.