Chapter 63: The tapestry woven by new lines

I do not own Fate/Stay Night and stuffs.

o. o. o.

The Clocktower was in lockdown.

Chaos riddled the halls as students and teachers, researchers and familiars dashed towards either safety or their posts. Noble and commoner alike were on the move, focusing on what tasks were needed to be completed as soon as possible in the current madness. That said, it wasn't uncommon for several to simply rush to the nearest free supervisor to ask what they were supposed to do in the first place.

It was understandable after all. It wasn't often that a hostile Apostle Ancestor was seen so close to the Association.

Much less three, all of which were in the top ten at that.

The activity in the Tower was not simply as if the island of England might go up in flames at a given moment, but under the impression that it very well might.

Even Zelretch never spawned such a reaction from his magus peers. Purposefully, at least.

Lorelei Barthomelloi, the Vice-Director of the Association, the Queen of the Clocktower, and one of the Association's primary resources for combating such overwhelming adversaries, was not leading or directing the resources of the facilities at that moment. Nor was she preparing for disaster. It was still before lunch, and the sky was clear of clouds. If the Apostle did intend to overstay its welcome, it would not make its move during the daylight hours.

She had ample time to prepare. Time to plot.

Her eyes once more turned down to the rattled blonde girl that hat had arrived a mess with the news of the First, Eighth, and Ninth Apostle Ancestors' presence not even an hour ago.

She had time to learn.

"You presume that your Lord is still among humanity," she calmly questioned the uncharacteristically shaken Reines. The girl's familiar, Trimmau stood at attention behind her as usual.

"Y-yes." The girl swallowed heavily. "They were interested in him for some reason. Something about him being the teacher of Emiya."

To her credit, the Vice-Director didn't physically react. "What else?"

"They, the Princess, was curious about bro-, I mean my intended." Reines shivered, though whether it was at the slip-up or the memory was up for debate. "She brought up Emiya a few times and attributed his recent success to my Lord. She thought his ability as a teacher, regardless of the field, was a curiosity. For a moment she appeared to even offer to turn him into an Apostle herself, but stopped when she looked at him in the eyes. She, laughed for some queer reason, and pulled away. Something about being too late to make him hers."

"He has already made a deal with another abomination?" Lorelei frowned.

Reines allowed herself to let out a bitter snort. "Him? No. If there was ever a person or cause that he would ever make that sort of commitment to, one that wasn't spurned by his failings, it would be the Servant he summoned in the Fourth War that he still complains about."

Waver didn't speak about his Rider Class Servant often, even when asked, but he did sometimes let a comment or complaint slip every now and then. Then there was the fact that Waver kept Rider's relic under the highest security available, and yet still every other month or so went to inspect said relic in person as if compelled to.

Reines had done her research even before meeting Waver. Everyone that knew the man all claimed he had changed after the Fourth Grail War. He had become more reliable. Patient. Mature. His temper had improved immensely. Most people had put it simply as a result of shock from being involved in that disaster, but she doubted that as the years went on. The perpetual irrational stress, triggered reactions, and explosive erratic behaviors that were common in PTSD victims weren't present in Waver.

The Vice-Director frowned. It had been longer than a decade since the Fourth War now, and yet Waver Velvet's connection to his long defeated Rider was still present and prominent enough to dissuade the Princess of the Apostle Ancestors from turning him herself? Yet another annoying matter to investigate at a later time.

More importantly was the fact that Altrouge Brunstud knew of her dog's current condition.

The implications of that fact alone spawned a cacophony of vile tastes in her mouth that no words on the planet could ever match.

Even so, that still did not explain why Altrouge was acting this way in the first place.

Things were moving so quickly and rashly, it could be the result of either coincidence or plot at this point.

Could Brunstud be in a conspiracy with the dog and the kidnapping of Lord El Melloi be planned?

… No. She had underestimated Emiya on multiple occasions, but she still knew him well enough. The boy preferred to do things himself as much as possible when possible, and hated inconveniencing others. Especially those he had a close relation with. What just happened was the exact opposite of how he operated in nearly every way. Plus his primary associate among those monstrosities was and always has been Solomon. Anyone that did research into the Twenty Seven knew about Crown's less than positive feelings for the Princess of the Apostle Ancestors.

So the boy's condition was exposed unwillingly. Fortunate proof that he was not a complete fool… unfortunate proof that more were aware of her blunder.

How annoying. Now even if she did kill the dog, it wouldn't stem the probability of the knowledge spreading.

But… Brunstud still would not have gone out of her way like this just for some up and coming mistake. He must have done something to catch her attention, willing or not. Something that she suspected wasn't related to the current Grail War. Otherwise, Apostle activity in general would be on the rise whenever the over-glorified cup was manifested.

"How much did you hear from the conversation?" She turned her attention back to Reines.

"Not much more than that," the girl relented, ashamed. "My Lord tried to probe them for information, about why they were after Emiya in particular and how they… enthralled the guards you provided us so effortlessly."

Lorelei's hands tightened briefly into fists. Six. Six highly trained soldiers from her personal forces. Stolen and corrupted right under her nose. The mere idea of it made her want to spew bile and blood in pure fury. "And?" she asked, in a rare moment of weakness unable to hide her emotions.

Reines shook her head, too terrified to look away from her superior. "I-I wasn't there long enough. Waver thought it was odd that your men were taken but we weren't, but brushed it off with the possibility that they wanted to leave us for Brunstud or to send a message." The monsters seemed to be entertained by the rambling analysis he gave them, as though they enjoyed watching someone moderately capable try to figure them out, even if nothing would come of it.

"And you are doing that."

"N-not the way they expected," Reines denied. "H-he was negotiating and cooperating with them peacefully in exchange for my safe return. Brunstud was playing with the idea and wanted to deliver me in her own way when he enacted a hidden function of Trimmau that I didn't know about."

She could still remember the whiplash and confusion as she was smothered by her familiar and literally thrown out the window. Her world had gone black for almost an hour as she was transported miles to the nearest Association facility. It was only due to the outlandish array of mysteries embedded in the mercury by its original owner that she wasn't witnessed by the public or caught by the enemy in the process.

The mercury golem maid stood up behind her charge at attention. "Lord El-Melloi's hidden priority directive. Protect Sarah Connor. Escort and protect prime directive to nearest Association facility at all costs."

Reines would have felt happier that Waver had installed such precautions for her well-being if he hadn't given it such an embarrassing trigger aria or made Trimmau act like that.

"No doubt the monsters thought you were not worth the effort of hunting down when they already had their prime target in hand cooperating." Lorelei casually dismissed Reines' fortune of escaping the three Apostle Ancestors with her life. The idea of the El-Melloi's mystic code actually being capable of evading or nullifying Primate Murder's authority was embarrassing to even consider in the first place.

No, if anything he was banking on their satisfaction and ego to comply with their demands to allow Reines' return to the Association on his own terms. The fact that they let it pass and let her sound the alarm so soon only further underscored the presumption that the monsters really were only after Lord El Melloi II… and probably wouldn't stay in the area for long if they hadn't left already.

"Lord El-Melloi II is still alive." Trimmau factually reported. "The secondary link established between myself and him as a product of the El-Melloi family is still active and uninterrupted."

"Convenient. Can you trace his location?"

"Negative. Lord El-Melloi's current whereabouts are masked by an unknown mystery. What can be determined is that he is no longer within this familiar's extended range to estimate. Judging from the faint connection, it is assumed he is no longer in the United Kingdom."

"Pity." Lorelei dismissed the golem's report, as it had merely validated what she had assumed. She doubted finding Waver, much less encountering Brunstud and her ilk would be that simple.

A list of succinct facts were made in her mind.

The boy was an abomination.

The boy had a connection with Merem Solomon, but was taught by Lord El-Melloi II.

Brunstud went after Lord El-Melloi II claiming that the boy's progress was impressive and attributed it to the lord.

The only aspect of the boy she knew of that could impress those monsters was the development of his Reality Marble and by extension ability to project Noble Phantasms copies.

Lord El-Melloi II, had already proven to her that he had conducted research and aided in developing the boy's Reality Marble.

His Servant in the Fourth War had one as well.

Brunstud… it would not be beyond hearsay to assume that she desired El-Melloi's ability to teach and refine esoteric crafts. If not to her, then to her lesser capable followers.

No. No that couldn't be it. This was the Black Princess of the Apostles. Even if that fool's abilities in education were out of the norm, it wouldn't and shouldn't be enough to catch her attention. Not when she was capable of making monsters that occasionally had Reality Marbles of their own with minimal effort and the right resources.

Not unless she wanted him to refine the process somehow.

There had to be more to this. Something that Reines had either missed or wasn't present for.

Primarily, how Brunstud found out about the dog and his abilities in the first place. Most of her final judgement would depend on how that piece shaped the rest of the puzzle.

She needed to know more. She needed to find out how many factors needed to be dealt with. Personally if necessary.

The dog had already proven himself to be evasive at best regarding the matter though. An unreliable resource, regardless of what his comical intentions are. She would have to look elsewhere.

That said, leaving the fool completely unaware of this development would likely work against her as well.

A compromise between her desires and goals was required.

With so many Ancestors involved, perhaps it was time she took a more hands on approach.

o. o. o.

If anyone not aware of the moonlit world saw Shirou and Bazett sparring in the back yard, they'd be appalled and horrified at how fast and viciously they were going at one another.

Those of the moonlit world would be impressed by their speed and skill, blitzing one another relentlessly and yet neither one landing a solid blow on the other. Their respective magecraft protecting their bodies from the worst of the damage, even when the same spells were enhancing their speed and strength far beyond the capacity of a human being.

The Servants there saw them as midday entertainment.

Bazett's gaze didn't so much as twitch as she tilted her head to the side to avoid the enhanced wooden sword that would have gouged out part of her face, and retaliated with a series of lightning fast jabs that would have floored if not straight up murdered an MMA champion.

Each and every jab was met by a deflecting blow of Shirou's wooden blades, his own silver eyes just as steady and calm as her own.

And then her leg shot out with enough power to snap a tree in half.

Shirou flinched momentarily and raised his weapons to cushion the blow, gritting his teeth while bracing himself.

The yard shook from the impact between his arms and her leg, rattling the household slightly as the two pushed against one another for dominance. Each pressing with strength that could, if not break, then certainly put a heavy dent into a steel beam.

He managed to hold out quite well for a few seconds before the blow overwhelmed his footing and he skid back halfway across the yard.

Bazett frowned and against her normal behavior didn't pursue him. "What was that? You should have been able to handle that far better."

That was one way of putting it. His technique, spellwork, and strength overall was far ahead of the last time they fought. Truth be told, as much as she didn't want to say it, Bazett half expected to be the one being pushed back this time, if only by a small margin.

The teen gave her a mixed expression, one of frustration and some embarrassment.

Lancer snorted from a short distance away. "The kid's still soft, Master. He's distracted by your legs."

For the briefest of moments, Bazett suspected her Servant was making a jab at her lack of femininity before thinking better of it.

"My legs?" The Enforcer blinked in confusion for a second before realizing what he was probably getting at. "Wait, you don't mean you're actually distracted by the girls? They're just parts of my body like this."

"I can see them. Somewhat. The history at least." Shirou held his ground with a grimace, his silver eyes catching her attention. Admittedly, he had been practicing using them to try and trace her movements and predict what moves she would be making. At best he could maybe see, or rather predict, a quarter second ahead as things were with his eyes active, but he was certain that his limit was beyond that much. "I think they can see me in kind. It's almost like trying to hit a pair of puppies staring at you. Fae puppies that can take a hit, but, you get the idea."

Bazett frowned before momentarily looking inward. "Something I should know about, girls?"

"N-no mama." Her smaller right leg stammered.

"It's hard to ignore him," the larger left reluctantly admitted. "He can see things. We won't get hurt from your fighting mama. We're as strong as you make us. And we can protect ourselves and you if needed. But we are still aware of him."

Bazett sighed and shook her head. "Apparently you seeing them means they see you. Either you get your eyes in control or you get used to it. Just like during the apostle hunts."

Shirou frowned. The monsters he hunted were mindless undead and ghouls. Even if some looked, were children, there was a difference between the mindless stare of a bloodthirsty abomination and fully aware and sentient innocent humanoids.

… Well, as innocent as they could be being fae and made by Merem.

His musings were cut short on the count of needing to dodge the fist that nearly caved his skull in, followed by countering the following three jabs that followed in quick succession almost immediately afterwards and jumping away from the kick that tried to destroy at least a third of his ribs.

"He's improving," Saber noted as she watched from a short distance away from the other side of the back yard. At first glance it appeared that she was alone, but in actuality Assassin was hiding nearby in the shadows. "His technique and skill are greater than when I trained him a week ago."

"… The bleeding effect from being near Archer," Assassin calmly deduced. He still wouldn't reply or speak to Saber under most circumstances, but some topics were not worth being petty over.

"I suspected that as much as well. He has gained experience, but jumps in battle prowess and skill that significant don't simply happen unless one has a peculiar disposition," she agreed.

While Shirou did admittedly possess a whole mess of "peculiar dispositions", he didn't have one that resulted in accelerated learning.

Not unless it was tied to something in the shape of a sword at least.

"Will it be a problem?" Assassin didn't beat around the bush. It was no secret that Shirou barely tolerated his Counter Guardian counterpart existing. Being affected by the Servant over an extended period of time so intimately would no doubt grate against his nerves viciously.

"So long as Archer behaves himself, Shirou will do in kind. At least for now," Saber relented. "Should the bleeding effect intensify to the point that Archer's more troubling memories are transferred however, we may need to take additional steps. For now, even if he dislikes it, he will use it to his advantage to accelerate his progress for the vampire's return."

Assassin didn't reply, which was probably expected of him. Better ties or not, the two of them still didn't get along well on principle. The less they spoke with one another, the better.

Saber glanced to another part of the yard where the most recent guest of the property was watching the spar with rapt attention with all the sounds expected from such an audience. "It goes without saying, but keep an eye on Irisviel."

Partially because Kritsugu was probably the most suited for the task. Partially because the only person less trusted than Irisviel at the moment on the compound, barring the younger Edelfelt, was her Master. Merem Solomon. They couldn't trust the vampire to keep her in check. Not now at least.

"Shero!" Before any further sparring or conversations could take place though, Luvia stepped out of her room with an expression that did not promise good news. Behind her, Marjatta watched with a distrusting stare, but didn't step out of the chambers.

Rather surprisingly, the girl scowled at everyone before quietly closing the door behind her sister without any prompting. It would have garnered more attention if the elder sister wasn't drawing so much attention to herself.

Shirou frowned. Luvia only slipped into using her "preferred" pronunciation of his name these days if she was feeling playful, or if something was seriously distracting her. Had he not been a direct underling of the Vice Director, odds are that she'd rarely ever put in the effort to say his name right. "What's wrong? Did Caster find something?"

"N-no." Luvia shook her head looking rather concerned and conflicted. It was clear that she was debating whether or not to tell him the news. "I… there's been a development at the Clocktower. Lord El-Melloi II has been kidnapped."

The air around Shirou went dead cold. "… I thought that the Barthomelloi would invoke measures to ensure his security so soon after the trial."

"There was." Luvia grimaced. "It's been confirmed that, he was taken by Altrouge Brunstud and related company."

Nobody uttered a word for what felt like an eternity. They didn't need to ask to know who the "related company" was.

"For fuck's sake. Can't those monsters give us just one day off to pretend that they don't exist?" Lancer cursed from where he was standing, keeping an eye on Shirou in particular. "We just got the kid to snap out of his murder phase too. He's going to be absolutely unbearable now."

"England's on the other side of the world," Assassin spoke up. "Ancestor or not, it would take effort to get there and back in such short time. The target's too peculiar a choice as well. This was Brunstud's move. Not the pirate's."

What she wanted him for was another question all together.

"She's trying to limit my future resources. Make me fall in line." Shirou muttered quietly as his mind ran quickly.

"By taking your teacher?" Sakura frowned in confusion.

"By making herself known as the culprit and then taking him here," he pointed out with a grimace, his point quickly taking root.

"As far as anyone's concerned, there's no reason for any of them to be here. Between Solomon and the Servants, and to a lesser extent Shirou, Fuyuki should be the last place anyone would expect Altrouge Brunstud to appear. If we rescue him, people will ask questions," Assassin factually stated, looking at Shirou. "You called her bluff, and she's upping the ante."

"You see this? This is why I hate politics and nobles. Dirty shit show that leaves nothing but a mess no matter how you approach it." Lancer grimaced. "It'll be the death of you like it will me."

"He's not dying." Sakura scowled. "I thought we made it clear on that."

"One problem at a time," Shirou cut in, his voice having a sharp edge to it. "Dealing with Brunstud comes first. Then what to do with Waver-nii."

"Can't we simply hide the fact he was here to begin with once we have him?" Saber suggested.

"If her intent is for him to be noticed in Fuyuki, then nothing we can do will stop it. There's already too much attention here and it will get worse in the next few days." Shirou shook his head. "The initial meeting with Fina was kept under wraps ironically due to the Witch taking out most of the Association and Church resources in Fuyuki on top of the minimal attention to the coast. In four days, we're going to have not only those numbers somewhat replenished, but members of the Einzbern and Touko Aozaki's group here, along with whatever spies sent our way. And that's not factoring in how messy this is likely going to get."

The only silver lining that he could see in this shit show on the horizon was that he highly doubted that Brunstud would appear here in person, and in turn, Primate Murder who she kept with her near perpetually. There had been more than a few rumors going around the circles that the White Princess of the True Ancestors had made some city in Japan her stomping grounds for the past few years after killing Roa instead of vanishing like she normally did.

Given the fact that their animosity towards one another was infamous, it was a safe assumption that the Black Princess would not risk tempting a direct encounter with the White.

Not now at least. Not for him.

"Yo Caster. You think it's possible to set up a bounded field big enough to stop everyone from noticing that ship do something crazy and vampire like?" Lancer asked curiously.

"It would be one thing if it was on the coast, but setting up bounded fields over the sea is another matter altogether." The Princess of Colchis reluctantly admitted. "Even my Aunt Circe, my teacher, avoided something as complicated as that if possible. It is better to just apply bounded fields and enchantments to boats themselves rather than making an arbitrary domain over Poseidon's realm. The best we can do is set up a field around the coast to divert attention past the coast, but that would take time for such a wide range."

"Lancer, your runes can do that," Bazett suggested.

"Maybe for a decent sized beach, but for the entire coast of the city?" The Irishman scoffed. "If I was a Caster it would be possible, but that's too much Master."

"If it's just the docks and a bit to either side, then Caster can do that without issue," Luvia suggested. "Anything outside of that range can be concealed with some basic short term runes that cover the basics. Those should be easy enough to mass produce between the two of you on time."

"Ugh. Yeah, that could work. So long as Caster's fields cover the brunt of this mess, nobody should be able to find out what's happened until its long over with." Lancer grimaced. Not because he was being ordered around, but because the plan itself involved the mass production of probably hundreds of rune inscribed rocks for hours on end. It was long and tedious work that he wasn't exactly fond of.

"You really think it will be that bad?" Sakura questioned. "Like you said, with all of us here, it isn't to Brunstud's benefit to start anything."

"Who said anything about her starting anything?"

Oh no. They knew that tone.

"Shirou. I hope you are not considering declaring war on Brunstud with everyone's eyes on us." Saber asked warily.

"No." He held his ground with a cold tone and looked at her in the eyes. "I had something else in mind. Procrastinating and peaceful negotiations won't get us anywhere with monsters like them. Taking Waver-Nii proved that to everyone. Another approach is needed for them."

In short, his "Plan C" had just become "Plan A".

Fortunately, he wasn't desperate enough to go with plans D through G just yet.

The Master and Servant held one another's gaze for several long seconds, long enough for everyone else there to tell that they were having a private mental conversation.

Saber broke the silence first with a look of genuine bewilderment. "Truly? That is your plan?"

"It's that reckless?" Sakura grimaced. Saber was one of Shirou's staunchest supporters, so if his current plot had her that shaken then it must be particularly bad this time.

"If I didn't know him better I'd put our tryst against Gilgamesh at better odds."

"And because you know him better?" Luvia was almost afraid to ask.

"I withhold my judgement." To her credit, Saber didn't try to avoid eye contact with anyone, and she held the perfect poker face.

Unfortunately, said poker face didn't prevent her ahoge from twitching erratically in irritation.

A series of frustrated groans flooded the backyard.

"What's the angle?" Assassin spoke up, his eye's boring into his son's, knowing better.

"Their pride," his successor replied instantaneously. He had admittedly been playing with this plan as a backup just in case things got rough during negotiations, but Altrouge had already made her decision.

"… Then that's what we go with." With a slow nod, Kiritsugu backed away from the group and faded away from sight.

"Seriously? That's all he needed to be convinced? The boy hasn't even told us his plan yet." Caster scoffed.

"He, they, are the Magus Killers," Luvia reluctantly disagreed with her Servant. "And Magi are prideful. Apostle Ancestors, the ones that at least try to pretend to be rational, are no different. If there's anything those two are good at using against their targets, it's that." She paused. "… And their circuits."

"Might come to that too if I'm lucky," Shirou absently noted, his mind already clearly thinking of several other factors and problems he'd have to address in this latest disaster.

He didn't even bother to remind her that technically he was also an Ancestor now as well. Hell, he didn't want to remind himself.

Sakura shook her head. "Only you would be able to casually consider the possibility of permanently crippling an Apostle Ancestor, Shirou."

"The Burial Agency of the Church would take offence to that," he lightly corrected her before looking up. "Bazett-nee. Lancer. Start working on the rune array. Luvia, Caster. I still need your help with that project from earlier. Sakura, I'll talk to you later. Everyone else, stay on guard. Aozaki is supposed to show up today. We don't want to scare her off before she finishes the job. Hopefully we can get at least one thing done without it going horribly wrong."

o. o. o.

"Well aren't we being given the red carpet treatment?" Touko smirked as her van was escorted through Fuyuki by two black American made cars with tinted windows. Because of the Grail War, the city's security had been upped to the point that any vehicle bitter than a large sedan going in was to be inspected for explosives or contraband.

Officially at least.

That said, once Touko showed her papers and flashed her (fake) id, her enclosed truck was taken to the side away from everyone else, and she was met by several men in black. Suits, ties, glasses, and the works.

After verifying her actual identity, they then took her on some traffic free back roads that bypassed the bumper to bumper inbound, and gave them a scenic view of the city.

Mountains. An open view of the sea. The river that runs right through the center of the city itself. Temples. Plus there were those strong leylines in the area. Touko had to admit, the Tohsaka family certainly had some luck and taste when they managed to get a hold of this place.

Not that Shiki noticed. The lazy girl had been asleep the entire time.

It took another forty five minutes driving from the city limits before they reached their destination in the more suburban part of town, but clearly among the more affluent parts. Touko wouldn't have been surprised if she was in a historical district seeing how traditional some of these properties were.

Finally driving into one very large property and parking the truck, she whistled and looked around. The place was far bigger than she expected, at least a couple of square acres with multiple buildings and cherried out traditional Japanese aesthetics. "Not bad. I didn't expect the kid lived in a place like this. He always felt like a more private sort to me."

"This isn't his place." Shiki, having awakened at some point, frowned as she looked around. "This is a clan home."

"Yakuza eh?" Touko laughed, taking out a cigarette and ignoring the men coming to her vehicle. "I suppose you'd know better than anyone."

"Ms. Aozaki, we welcome you to the Fujimura estate." The bald man closest to her door welcomed her as soon as she opened the door.

"Fujimura eh? Ring any bells?" Touko glanced at her bodyguard.

"In passing. Nothing in particular sticks out." Shiki shrugged carelessly.

"Haha. My granddaughter would be hurt to hear that, daughter of the Ryougi family." With a dry laugh Raiga Fujimura approached them fully garbed in robe and tiger themed vest. "If she knew that her "old kendo rival" was in town and missed a rematch, she'd be absolutely unbearable for weeks."

"Hoh? Old kendo rival?" Touko gave Shiki a very entertained and sly leer.

"Don't make me cut you." Shiki riposted irritably before glaring at Raiga. "It was one time, old man. We were barely thirteen at a meeting between families. Please tell me that idiot has grown up since then."

"Depends on who you ask." The sly old man's smile widened before inspecting her in particular. "I can see that you've done some growing yourself, young Ryougi. It's good to see some emotion out of you, or any of your family for a change."

"Tch."

"Not that I don't appreciate a good dig at Shiki every now and then, or your hospitality for that matter Fujimura-san, but I do have a schedule and contract to keep. Can you care to tell me why I am not being greeted by my employer or at his estate?" Touko asked curiously.

"A woman of business. A scary one at that no doubt." Raiga's smile turned slightly predatory for a moment before relaxing and nodded his head towards one of the nearby property walls. "Please be at ease. Young Shirou is my neighbor. The boy's proven himself to be helpful and then some over the years, even before his father passed. When he came to me for help and asked that I accommodate you during your stay in Fuyuki, I could hardly deny him. That said, had I known that the daughter of the Ryougi family was in attendance as well, I would have made the offer myself regardless."

A mention of Kiritsugu Emiya. Raiga Fujimura's hands were not clean. He was involved enough to at least be aware of how things were truly done in the world. And he had utilized the younger Emiya's services enough to know of his capacity as well.

A give and take relationship. Both were resources for one another.

That said, the fact that she didn't even notice said next door property all but confirmed he was telling the truth. The bounded fields on it must be something impressive. Probably a piece of work by the Caster Servant.

"By accommodations, I assume you mean you will also provide us with a facility for my equipment?" Touko played ball, tapping her hand on her truck. "I got some pretty heavy stuff here."

"Shirou claimed as much. Be at ease, we have cleaned out one of the larger sheds I use to keep our cars in for your project." The man laughed. "I hope you don't ruin it too badly. We do intend to use it for other tasks later this year."

"Don't worry, it's not that kind of job. This time." The woman chuckled before puffing on her cigarette and looking at the men standing guard. Some of them showed displeasure at her joke, but the majority remained professional. "Speaking of which, where is the boy in question?"

"I sent a few men to get him. It shouldn't be long. That said, I am somewhat curious what this is all about. That boy isn't the sort that reaches out this far for just a favor. Even from people he knows and trusts. You must be providing quite the impressive service, young lady."

"You flatter me, Fujimura-san. You could say that I am an individual of many hats. Several of which are particularly rare and niche." She tilted her glasses to accentuate her mature look.

"Aren't we all in this business?" Walking from the main entrance, Shirou was escorted in alongside Saber in plainclothes. "Aozaki. It's been a while."

"Kid." Touko looked at him appraisingly. It was the first time she had seen him in person without his shroud up. "Interesting hair color."

To his credit, Shirou didn't react to the fact that from a distance, his hair did look rusty light pink now, with the white follicles vastly outnumbering his original auburn. He'd have to do something about that soon or he'd never hear the end of it. "I hope you didn't have any trouble on the way here."

"Nothing unexpected, if that's what you're asking. Shiki here was asleep for nearly the entirety of it. I had to do all the hard work getting here. What a terrible assistant she is." She made a careless jab at her bodyguard.

"Like you'd let me behind the wheel of anything of yours in the first place." The accused snorted, not that it mattered. She still didn't have her driver's license yet anyways.

"It would have been nice if you had offered." Toukou fake pouted, though her eyes never left the second of the new arrivals. "That said, I feel introductions are in order. Emiya Shirou, my bodyguard Ryougi Shiki."

"A pleasure." Shirou nodded, understanding the underlying insinuation. "Aozaki Touko, my partner and associate, Saber."

"Thank you for coming to assist with our problems." Saber nodded regally, never taking her eyes off of either woman.

"So that's the famous Saber, huh?" Touko's smile widened a small degree, but didn't say anything further on the matter. "Well then, since introductions are out of the way, shall we get to business? Or are accommodations first?"

"The latter, of course." Raiga interjected. "It's poor form to welcome someone from a long trip with more work. Come, we'll have food and drink set up for you. Although it pales in comparison to what your employer can scrounge up on the spot, I'll be damned before anyone claims I'm a poor host."

"Hoh? Emiya cooks, does he?"

"Hah? 'He cooks?' she says. My friend, the boy could get a job as a chef in any high class restaurant in the city on the spot if he wanted to. There's not a reputable local chef in Fuyuki that doesn't at least know of him." This time, several of Fujimura's men did laugh in tandem with their boss.

"Now I have heard everything." Touko glanced at the now annoyed teen. "Mind if I add a small addendum to our deal kid?"

"You heard old man Raiga. Food first, then business," he dryly replied. Seriously, it was just one thing after another today. He was probably going to cook for her regardless at some point, but at least this way he could treat it as an additional favor for some minor leverage.

"Hunger is the enemy." Saber sagely nodded.

"Don't you start now." He sighed.

"Hey, Saber. That bodyguard…"

"I know. The Aozaki woman appears capable, but something is peculiar about her companion. Something unsettling."

"She has a knife on her. I can't tell for certain without seeing it directly, but it's odd. It doesn't appear to be a mystic code, but it clearly has a history of use."

"The owner must possess a peculiar mystery then. Best to err on the side of caution with that one."

"Agreed… It's going to be a long day."

"All we can do is take it one step at a time. Endure, Shirou. You are not alone."

"… Thanks, Saber."

o. o. o.

It's been a long day.

And for once, Waver lamented the fact that it wasn't due to overwork or some over convoluted magus conspiracy.

Not that it being due to an over convoluted Apostle conspiracy made it any better.

"I hope you find our accommodations satisfying, Lord El-Melloi."

"I prefer to be known as Lord El-Melloi II, if you would please." Waver absently requested at the dinner table, a kneejerk reaction more than anything at this point. "And, my current situation aside, I do find your hospitality quite comfortable. Thank you."

For once he was grateful for Reines' constant pestering and teasing over the past decade. The perpetual practice and familiarity with being pushed around by a little girl made it almost easy to adapt and talk to extremely cheerful and amused Altrouge Brunstud, who currently sat just a few feet away from him on the other side of the table.

The dinner was, surprisingly exquisite. A steak cooked to perfection sat in front of him, accompanied by a quality glass of wine, complete with clean cutlery and dinner wear. The room itself they were in was outfitted almost akin to a restaurant, with one wall a giant array of windows that gave an uninterrupted view of the ocean.

If Waver hadn't known better, he would have assumed he was on an ocean liner, or a private yacht.

Actually, given the nature of his situation and his hosts, his guess might not be as far off as initially thought.

It almost made up for the fact that he was still being "guarded" by the six members of the Chelon Canticle Brigade that had been assigned to him to prevent something insane from happening in the first place.

The men and women taken over by Fina, and he was absolutely certain that the pirate was the one responsible for their change in allegiances, were still who they claimed to be. The few times he had spoken to them involved phrases and codes that only they would know. He had even managed to scrape some stray hairs and conduct some minor mysteries to verify their humanity, which only left him irritated that they were, somehow, still human.

Or at least, a fake human.

"You don't seem to be lying." The "girl" smirked slyly in an almost too childish way for an immortal monster to possess. "And you don't appear to be the sort of human that is unfamiliar with being in difficult situations. Or the sort of fool that would waste time plotting or lamenting the impossibility of escape."

He held back a dry snort of sarcasm. Where would he escape to? He was on a boat that was sailing in the middle of the ocean, or another reality for all he knew.

"A normal magus of your stature in your position would either be wasting their time trying to negotiate for information or safe passage. Or to formulate some means of sabotage. But you have not done either. You are quite the puzzle… ah! Of course! You are busy trying to discern the nature of Fina!" Altrouge clapped her hands together, proud that she's come to the supposed correct conclusion.

"It passes the time. I would be a poor excuse for a professor had I not do some investigation during this trip." Waver passively acknowledged her assumption.

"Hoh?" He pretended not to be mildly surprised as the captain of the ship approached from behind him, clearly as amused as his master. "Our guest wants to figure out how his escort sails? I'm hurt, truly. I presumed that after I showed my generous hospitality, you would have no qualms simply asking."

This time Lord El-Melloi II did snort in laughter. "My capacity as a magus for thaumaturgy may be underwhelming, but you truly expected a Lord of the Clocktower to simply ask another about their mysteries so forwardly?"

"Haha. He's right, Fina. That was quite rude of you to take away a chance for our guest to have some fun." Altrouge's eyes flashed with a bit of curiosity. "Although, now that we are on the topic, would you care to entertain your hosts with what you have garnered, Lord El-Melloi II? Considering your experience educating the Ash of Miracles, I'm expecting your prognosis to be more enlightening and entertaining compared to the usual presumptions that most magi possess."

Wonderful. He had stepped on a landmine. And judging from the intense stare of the ruby eyes aimed his way, it was going to be impossible to get out of this one.

He was being tested. If he underperformed, his value would potentially sink to qualify as "expendable", if it wasn't already. If he over performed, he may be bumped up to a liability. Or worse. A threat.

He was going to need a cigar for this one.

"Very well. I will oblige, presuming I am not executed in the process should I tread in sensitive waters unknowingly." He sighed, slowly taking out one of the few sticks he still had on his person and began to prepare it. "I have been known to divulge and delve particularly deep into the mechanics of private mysteries without thinking, and have garnered a list of irate complaints from my peers in the process."

"'Irate complaints' he says. Magi." Fina snorted sarcastically, clearly amused.

"If I can keep my adorable puppy in check, I can ensure that our host can remain civil." The deceptively young looking girl assured him.

Nobody outright called her out on the fact that she never said that she would keep Fina in line.

The kidnapped Lord mentally sighed. Very well. If that's what they want. "My first hypothesis, currently, is that the captain of this ship requires a set of minimum requirements to "obtain" new crew members. And by extension utilization. From what little I've observed, they must be of the same organization, and there must be at least three to four of them at the time of incorporation."

"Oooh?" Altrouge looked at the captain knowingly, whose smile twisted ever so slightly in a curious way. Not irritated, but not amused either. "And how did you come to that hypothesis, Professor?"

Waver pretended to ignore the teasing role playing far easier than he liked as he once again sank into his lecturing mode while lighting the end of his cigar. "It wasn't too difficult to discern when you left me to my devices upon the ship. Be it staff, guards, or soldiers, I have yet to see any individual uniform without at least two or three more in a near vicinity. Likewise, if I truly was your original target, then claiming me just as you did my guard would have been the most efficient move to make. But you didn't, or rather, couldn't integrate me into your mystery. Or my fiancée for that matter. The conditions to do so were not met. Numerical or otherwise, regardless of what means were utilized."

"Hmmmm? That's a pretty interesting train of thought, Lord El-Melloi II." Altrouge's amused expression didn't change at all, but her eyes did become slightly more predatory. "Although that can't be all that you have to support your little hypothesis."

"It's not. Rather our host provided me with the other clue that cemented my conviction upon our meeting regarding his relation to the Kaiser family."

The Pirate crossed his arms with a scoff. "Sorry to disappoint you, but I'm not one of those blowhards."

"No. But you did originate from one of their branch families. The Cremonesi family."

Fina froze. Somehow even the ship went quiet.

Waver knew he was stepping on a sore spot, but he couldn't stop here. "One of my closest associates in the Clocktower is a member of the Weins family. A notable bloodline that specializes in tuning magecraft. It was he that actually delivered your deceptive missive for the Kaiser family."

He inhaled through his cigar and continued. "As a Lord, I'm obligated to know much about those I do work and business with. Family history and all. And their associates by extension. The Kaiser family are renowned for their research in cross dimensional interaction and interference. Research that borders on the Second Magic, though it prioritizes on the more feasible and accessible "alternate" dimensions rather than the more elusive "Parallel" variants. The Cremonesi, by extension from what Melvin had informed me, were tuners that specialized in spatial and spiritual resonance. Originating from Cremonesi, Italy, where the Stradivarius family was said to make their home and produce their infamous quality violins. A peculiar craft that could harmonize one's internal circuits and their mysteries to outside bodies, the world around, them and beyond. As opposed to the standard intent to maximize efficiency and harmony between a caster and their circuits. Rumors claim that several members have been lost over the years due to their talents and projects attracting the attention of forces more… sentient than anticipated."

Supposedly, one of those rumors had even Zelretch jumping in at the last moment to fix the problem. As if the third Reich didn't cause enough problems for everyone.

"A mystery that ties if not enthralls outside parties to oneself, but requiring multiple samples of the same group to do so. If we were to continue the musical theme and apply it to my hypothetical assumption, then your magecraft's ability to "tune" and "harmonize" others is limited to the point of excluding individual targets. It would require a group "resonance" of the victims in order for the magecraft to take effect. I suspect that it follows the same logic behind the infamous "ten violins" rule, where you need ten of an instrument playing a note to get twice the volume. Thus, my suspicion is that a minimum "volume" for a certain "note" is a hard requirement for proper integration."

As for what that conceptual "note" was that Fina looked for when looking for new victims, Waver had some suspicions, but nothing he would go out on a limb to suggest. Yet at least.

Though if the cold emotionless expression of his host was any indication, he was hitting far closer to home than anyone would ever admit.

"Hahaha." Altrouge, thankfully, was more amused by his ad hoc presentation. "Wonderful. Absolutely thrilling. I don't think anyone's come up with such an interesting perspective on Fina's abilities before. Although there are some holes in it that cannot be ignored. I provide a counterargument, Professor. What of Fina himself? He stands as a counterpoint to what you just said if his Reality Marble factors and requires groups in order to enact and function properly."

"But of course he is. As the "King" of his reality, it is only natural that his existence is an outlier… though I do suspect that there is another outstanding sample that proves that the intrinsic "ten violin" requirement is non-absolute."

Both vampires seemed to take minor pleasure in his flattering wordplay. It was the way Waver had said the word "King" that resonated slightly with them. It was a weight and comprehension of it that underscored his familiarity with the older meaning and implications term.

"You're speaking of my ship." Fina didn't play Waver's game and pretend to be in suspense.

"You are known to run a pirate ship. Not a luxury yacht." Waver casually pointed out. "Not that I will or have any right to complain regardless. As stated before, your hospitality is exquisite, and my knowledge in sea shanties is desperately lacking. I'd be a terrible deckhand."

Altrouge giggled in amusement.

Fina crossed his arms and stood firmly. "You assume that I only possess the one vessel? Or that it isn't a mere production of magecraft?"

"You're a pirate." Waver repeated himself simply. "It's a part of your image. One of the few things everyone knows about you for certain. That you let everyone know. A pirate without a ship is like a general without an army. It would ruin the image. Or rather, the concept."

"You don't sound like you're remotely finished with your deductions." Altrouge leaned forward and rested her elbows on the table and her head on her hands like a small child. "Please, go on. I presume that you intend to claim that Fina's ship is a product or a medium for his Reality Marble."

Waver took in a deep breath from his cigar, held the smoke in his lungs, and breathed out slowly. "Nothing of the sort, my lady. Rather, I am more impressed and curious as to how he managed to make the ship part of his very being. If it wasn't a merging of sorts."

Both Fina's and Altrouge's eyes sharpened ever so slightly.

"Initially I did suspect that the ship was a product or some sort of grand mystic code, but I dismissed the notion during my investigation of the premises. Producing, altering, and maintaining something this large from scratch would require an irrational amount of mana to keep functioning constantly, even for a single trip. And if it was a mystic code, there would have been signs of mana and mysteries in effect. A standard magus would probably have driven themselves mad running in circles trying to prove or validate either one. However, as you have stated before, my Lady, I am somewhat more learned when it comes to the topic of Reality Marbles."

Waver looked outside at the evening sky. "Simply conjuring or producing a ship of this impressive size for long durations is clearly out of the picture, as stated before. Even at a discount, the world would exert significant pressure to correct such an abnormality constantly. However should there be not a mere mystic code, but an intimate and personal medium, something considered a portion of the user's body used as the raw material to "bring out" the ship from your Reality Marble, the idea becomes more plausible. More so if said ship is something that is still to exist to this day. In which case, so long as the vessel is mundane, the price paid for its use would be nigh negligible."

He tapped the end of his cigar into a small porcelain tray on the table. "If something as arbitrary as a Forest, a collection of trees, can be an Apostle, then the idea of a Pirate ship and crew cannot be dismissed either. The Captain serving as the thaumaturgic foundation and circuits for the mystery, a grand ritual no doubt, the ship being the physical, and the crew…"

"Are still here, just as I am." Fina cut in before Waver said something potentially unsavory, his previous jovial demeanor gone, and consequentially all but confirming Waver's assumptions.

"Haha. This is interesting." Altrouge grinned, clearly not bothering to note her subordinate's poor reaction. "Fina's nature and true mystery has evaded the Clocktower and the Church for half a millennium, and you figured it out in a single afternoon's stroll through his insides. I want you even more than I did before, Lord El-Melloi II. Your talent at picking apart the truth is wasted on the Association. Had you become one of us, I'm certain in time you would have become a living disaster for Magi."

This time the guest did laugh in amusement. "As entertaining and cathartic as it genuinely sounds to put some of my peers in their place, my lady, I am unfortunately a man of conviction and of his word. I have already made my bed and will sleep in it when the time comes. Breaking my vows would only tarnish the prize that entices you in the first place."

Altrouge sulked childishly, appearing to be unable to find a suitable counterargument for his statement. "A pity. That is the problem with your type. It is so unbearably tiring to find those with potential like you before you throw yourselves to one ridiculous cause or another instead of something more worthwhile."

"You flatter me. If anything, I like to believe that my cause is what molded me into the interesting individual that you speak to today." He had changed after meeting Rider. The Waver Velvet before and after the Fourth Grail War could not be compared.

"Humph. You even speak like the others as well. Truly, you humans are a hypocritical bunch. Am I not a princess? I thought you lot were supposed to be enthralled by royalty?"

"I'm pretty sure having the moniker of the King of Conquerors proves your point."

"Tch." Waver wasn't sure if he should be considered fortunate or ill begotten to be one of the few to see one of the leaders of the Dead Apostle Ancestors pout like an adorable child.

He was sure that he wasn't going to tell a damn soul about it should he survive the ordeal.

"Haha. Now now, Ma'am. No need to be like that." Fina tried to placate his superior, though giving Waver an unsettling glance when she wasn't paying attention. "Our dear guest has clearly made his choice. It is our role to respect at least that much."

Well that statement clearly wasn't concerning. "I thank you for your consideration. All circumstances aside, you have been most gracious and accommodating hosts. Though forgive me if I do not provide recommendations for your services later among my peers. I fear I will have enough trouble keeping myself alive after our tenure has concluded as it is."

"Oh? Now there's an idea. We can turn your ship into an official business, Fina." Altrouge smirked. "In fact, if memory serves, I do believe that Van-Fem has a casino boat. Maybe it would be good if he had some more, competition?"

"Now that sounds like fun. It's not like giving that greedy old miser another reason to despise me will change anything." The pirate was clearly amused with the idea. "Ah. Might need to diversify a bit before we venture into those waters though. I currently don't have the right resources to delve into the modern day business world. That's a war and vile bunch even our kind finds distasteful. Hahaha."

Waver held his tongue, and quietly apologized to the world in advance for potentially spawning the beginning of another disaster in the future. At the very least, the pair appeared to be in better spirits again.

Best keep quiet for now though. He had a feeling that this would only be the first "friendly" conversation of the trip that would put his life on the line. He would have to stretch out his material, at least until they made it to Japan.

Hopefully they wouldn't ask him more about Fina's powers and origins. Even he doubted they'd let him live if he divulged what he suspected of the Vampires abilities, and limitations.

As for whether or not Shirou would be able to get him out of this mess, it was a gamble. No other way to put it.

Whether or not Shirou would leave Fina something to remember him by at the end of this disaster on the other hand… not so much.

o. o. o.

"So this is the Einzbern princess you want to rescue huh? Cute." Aozaki Touko smirked as she inspected Illya as soon as she returned to the household after an afternoon of negotiations with a member of her family.

Despite only working for only a few hours, the elder Aozaki had managed to set up her workshop in Fujimura's garage to full capacity. Expensive equipment, materials, and documents of untold value was almost haphazardly set up in the building, each with an express purpose that even Shirou couldn't properly figure out with his sharp eyes.

The teen quietly apologized to his neighbor. He did not envy their electric bill by the end of this.

"I've been told that most women in current society would exchange much to retain their youthful appearance. I suppose I am fortunate that way." Illya smiled kindly, her unspoken insult not going unnoticed.

"Careful, brat. The Magus Killer's down payment didn't cover back sass," Touko muttered, pushing back the albino's sleeve as she inspected the latter's arm with a meticulous gaze.

What she didn't say was that the opportunity to inspect and examine a custom high grade Einzbern homunculus, a Justease class one at that, probably would cover the costs. As a magus of puppetry, Touko would be remiss if she passed up on such an opportunity.

To the side of the room, Shiki scoffed and rolled her eyes, but didn't say anything.

"Hmm. I can see why you'd want a body for this one kid." Touko mused clinically as she moved from Illya's arm to her head and gently moved it side to side. "She's already falling apart pretty quickly. I'd give her around a year at this rate. Three to five tops if she doesn't do anything strenuous, which doesn't look likely seeing how much mana she's constantly pumping out. She must have one hell of a Servant to maintain. I was half paying attention to the recordings of that trial from earlier. Berserker, right?"

"She summoned Heracles." Shirou flatly stated. There was no point in hiding it. The entire Association learned of his identity during the trial.

The woman whistled, clearly impressed. "I stand corrected. She'd be lucky if she made it past a year and a half. Judging from her modified circuits, that Servant of hers could have probably run over half the War without slowing down if things were different. I'm surprised barely any of you died."

"They were lucky." Illya huffed.

"I would say that most of us had taken precautions, but you are more or less right." Shirou shrugged helplessly. If Illya been colder hearted, he probably would have been killed before summoning Saber.

"Hah. Well then, if that's the case then I best make sure that I have such a monster in my debt then, won't I?" Touko smirked as she continued her inspection of the small girl. "Shirt off. I'm making you a new body, so there's no point in hiding what you got unless you want a life with mismatched hips and breasts."

"I'll just…" Shirou turned to leave before Illya cut him off.

"No. Please stay Onii-chan. I don't mind."

Shiki snorted in poorly hidden laughter, as did Touko.

"You're hilarious, Onee-chan." Shirou dryly retorted, glancing back to give his older sister a dry stare. "If you really are uncomfortable being alone for this part, I can get Saber. It's not like these two are going to do anything with Berserker here in spiritual form."

Assassin was here too, but they didn't need to know that. For now at least.

And like that the guests' smiles dropped instantly. He would be lying, poorly, if he said he didn't get a tiny bit of satisfaction from it.

"Love the dynamic." Touko huffed Shirou left and Illya pouted while taking off her clothes. "It's hard to tell who the child is between you."

"I like to think of it as making up for lost time." Illya carelessly dumped her shirt to the side and took off her skirt, her innocent child like personal completely dropped. "He really is too easy to tease sometimes."

"We noticed." The bodyguard snorted, watching Shirou leave around the corner. "For being some hotshot assassin, he's pretty terrible at hiding his thoughts."

"Well he doesn't hide his face at the Association just to mask his identity, that's for certain." Illya lamented whimsically. "From what I've seen, the only times Onii-chan's actually hard to read is when he's planning to do something reckless, usually by himself. And that's a warning sign all in itself."

"Oh? Reckless? And why's that such a bad thing?" Touko smirked.

"Because that's usually when he starts hiding bombs all over the place in paranoia without telling anyone. It's really annoying," Illya deadpanned, causing both women's smiles to drop instantly.

A moment later, Shiki started paying closer attention to her surroundings.

"Haaah. Should have thought of that. Magus Killer and all." Touko shook her head and resumed examining Illya's body. "So, do you think he knows how messed up your body really is?"

Touko hadn't been lying before. At best, Illya would only last for maybe a year and a half.

Realistically, the girl had around six to nine months left.

"He probably does. You are here in exchange for his notes on Structural Grasping after all." The albino sighed as if nothing was amiss.

"And yet something tells me that I still won't get all of the juicy bits by the end of the deal. You'd think he'd be more grateful to the person helping his sister."

"I don't recommend it unless you want to risk rampant brain hemorrhages anytime you come across something interesting. The war's pushed him past his limits several times over from what I've seen," the patient advised.

"Duly noted." Touko hummed as she clinically inspected Illya's naked chest. "Speaking of hemorrhaging, I'm genuinely surprised you haven't burst and stained the place red in general. With all these reckless modifications the Einzbern made to your body and circuits on top of your Servant, it's a miracle you're as functional as you are."

"What do you expect? This war caught almost everyone by surprise." Illya sighed, ignoring the dull throb that plagued her body. "Once it was confirmed that it would take place in ten years instead of sixty, my family rushed to "optimize" me as quickly as possible in exchange for my durability and lifespan. Shortcuts were taken."

"No kidding." With a flick of her fingers, the woman brushed up against a portion of the little girl's ribs at her side, causing her to flinch. The agitation of her nerves and circuits were more than unpleasant. "It must have been hell for your circuits to be reformed and grafted to mesh with your command spells like that. I hope you don't plan on taking these things with you to your new body. Even I have limits on what I can do."

"It's fine. We can modify the authority of my command spells to something more manageable for the new body while this one can sustain Berserker. Something similar was done during the previous war." Illya silently gave her thanks to the current Lord El Melloi for passing on the notes of his predecessor. Splitting the roles of mana provider and command seal holder was the perfect strategy for her situation.

"Fair enough." Touko leaned back and adjusted her glasses. "So what were you planning to get? Did you want to jump straight to adulthood and skip the nightmare that's puberty? Or did you want to take your time with your new body? I'm warning you ahead of time, I'm good, but even I can't replicate those monstrosities you call circuits on the fly. A custom job to get even close to what you have now would take me longer than what time you have left. Anything within the next few weeks would land you above average compared to most magi, but nowhere near what you can produce now."

"What I am now is nothing more than a battery for Berserker and a vessel for Einzbern magecraft," Illya scoffed. "Outside of a handful of overspecialized roles and tasks, this body is not suited for performing most mysteries. It is more a tool than anything."

"Sounds par the course for most homunculi, even one as peculiar as you." Touko poked the girl's ribs with a curious hum. "Very curious…"

"Something wrong?" Illya asked.

"Not sure. Like I said, you're an odd one. Homonculi are peculiar tools, but they are usually made a certain way. You're a Justease model at that, yet you claim that Emiya Sr. was your father. I'm curious how they came about making you-"

"I was born."

"Pardon?" Touko blinked.

"I was born. I wasn't made." Illya frowned with blood red eyes. "Mama was a Justease model like me. She and Papa loved each other."

"You… are a natural born homunculus born from the womb of another?" Touko clarified, clearly needing a moment to digest this information.

"I assure you, I was reminded frequently of the fact that I was an abnormality during my time in Germany." Illya's tone didn't change at all. She was still coming to terms with how her mother's family treated her for the past decade. "Is there a problem with that?"

The sister of the Blue didn't say anything for a few long moments before clicking her tongue and moving to a desk to take a look at some documents in binders she had brought and started writing in them. "Just going to ream the kid a new one for not mentioning this sooner, and recalculate half of the numbers that will be needed to make sure you don't explode in your new body. Other than that… I'll tell you when I figure it out. Take a seat. This is going to be a while. Shiki, get the green box will you? I'm going to need to get samples from the white princess."

"And here you thought this was going to be a remotely easy job," Shiki sarcastically chided her boss while grabbing the container.

"Well fortunately I didn't bring you for your ability as an assistant." Touko just as naturally riposted.

Illya looked around for a moment skeptically. "… Can I put my clothes back on or do I have to stand here naked this entire time?"

"Do whatever you want for now. Just stay in the lab in case I need you. You don't sound too bothered either way to me." Touko waved her off, a calculator already out and three more books open on the desk next to her.

The girl's eyebrow twitched. She should have kept Shirou around. It would have passed the time quicker.

"Be nice to your brother, Illya." Kiritsugu chided in a rare moment of amusement.

"Don't take his side because he's easier to tease than you Papa! You've already seen me naked and I've barely changed since when you left!" She shouted back mentally in defiance.

"You'll always be my adorable little girl."

His words would have meant more to her if she didn't literally feel his cruel satisfaction rising as she cringed.

"Really?"

"I do have a decade of being a dad to make up for."

Nobody heard Illya curse bitterly in her mind as she put on her clothes and lamenting that Shirou wasn't there, just as nobody heard Assassin allow himself to laugh in response.

Truly a bonding moment between father and daughter to make up for lost time.

o. o. o.

"Shirou. A word."

Just before he was about to enter his workshop to practice more of whatever he deemed necessary to make the pirate vampire suffer, Rider of all people called out to her host.

"Hm? Rider?" While he was in a poor mood for obvious reasons, he knew that it must be something important. Rider didn't actively reach out to others unless she felt it necessary. "What's wrong?"

Standing tall and nigh emotionless, the sultry Servant looked down on Shirou with an unreadable stare through her blindfold. "… You were faster when we fought."

"Huh?" Whatever he had expected her to say, that certainly wasn't it.

"When you were fighting Lancer's Master. You were performing worse than when we fought at the end of the War," she clarified.

Shirou frowned in thought, recalling the breakneck and essentially desperate one on one fight they had in the middle of the madness. And the fact that Rider had nearly split him in half and caved his skull in with two separate kicks. "I was using time magecraft to speed myself up, Rider. And it was during the night. You know what my body is like."

"Shirou, by the time you had faltered in our battle, I had regained over half my original speed."

Her words had the desired effect, even if they were not desirable. The teen stood frigid, as though unbelieving of what he had just heard.

"… What?"

When they first started clashing, it was understandable that he could keep up. Rider had just used all her power to try and kill him and was low on Mana. A Servant low on energy performed just as poorly. Her connection to the Witch and her nigh unlimited resources at the time meant that Rider could recharge quickly which is why she quickly turned the fight on Shirou soon afterwards, but still. A human magus managing to keep up with Rider even at half her speed was a ludicrous accomplishment to even imagine, let alone accomplish.

She understood his disbelief. Rider too had to take a moment to review her thoughts and memories in order to validate her assessment. "Your performance wasn't simply a matter of it being the ideal time, or your spellcraft. Your body, your suppressed instincts, when you were pushed to the limits they had been awakened. Unrestrained. I doubt that you noticed given the hectic chaos of that night."

Instinctively, he wanted to argue against what Rider was saying. That she was overthinking his performance that night.

But the more clinical part of his mind that always thought of the worst case scenario reminded him that Rider wasn't a conventional Servant. She was not a hero, but a monster. Or rather, the individual at a time of her life just before becoming a monster.

If there was a person in their group that knew what they were talking about when it came to matters like this, it was her.

He looked around carefully to see if anyone was listening into their conversation. "… You think I'm changing?"

"Once infected, such mutations rarely ever stop. Not on their own." Rider admitted. "The Planet Terminal is confident your infection is twisted in an unforeseen direction, but its nature is still of the moon and blood. Perhaps this trait was present since the beginning, without your knowing. The high stress is what was required for the affliction to make itself more known. Perhaps it is more recent. But it is a part of you regardless, and it is a hole that will widen in time."

Shirou looked at his left hand skeptically. The flesh on it rippled and seamlessly turned into a lattice of scale like blades before rippling back. "… What do you suggest? By your accounts it doesn't happen unless I'm pushed to my limits. If we treat it akin to your Monstrous Strength skill, the more I'm pushed, the more warped I might get."

"I merely intended to inform you of it and the inherent dangers that accompany it. We all know you are not the sort that would utilize such unreliable resources if given the choice. However, we are also aware of how frequently you are put in a position where your choices are limited." She shook her head. "Best you be aware of your strengths and faults than not."

Shirou couldn't help but smile at her admission. He knew Rider well enough to tell that she was trying to look out for him in her own way. "Yeah, you're right. You're probably the most reliable person to talk to about something like this."

He was purposefully excluding Merem when he said that. The Ancestor was a good resource for information and meant well, but his ability to empathize with others was worse than Berserker's at times.

"I would rather you go to Sakura for advice and comfort. She is closer to you than I am." He pretended to ignore the tall beautiful woman shift slightly uncomfortably at the assault of his thanks. He had long since figured out that she didn't do well when it came to receiving compliments and genuine gratitude.

"I'll keep that in mind. Seriously though, Rider, thanks. It means a lot to me when you help out with this topic. I know you're not particularly fond of it."

"… It's unnecessary. Everything I do is for Sakura's sake." Weakly deflecting his goodwill, Rider vanished from sight, ending the conversation there.

He held back a small chuckle and shook his head, knowing there was no point in pushing his gratitude any further than that.

If only gratitude was enough to solve all, or any of his problems for that matter.

His smile dying, he took a glance at his cell phone briefly before putting it away with minor annoyance when he saw there was no change. With his nervous habit of the half an hour scratched off, he walked into his workshop again to prepare for the inevitable disaster that was soon to come.

o. o. o.

"So you're Archer."

"And we have another one." EMIYA sighed, not turning to look at Irisviel walking on the roof towards him. He was going to have to set up some chairs and a tea set up here if people keep coming up here to see him. He can't go half a day without someone wanting to say something to him despite clearly wanting to be left alone.

"Is that any way to talk to your mother?" Irisviel pouted. "Humph. Then again, it's not surprising. You sulk just like your father."

His eyebrow twitched. He had eons worth of experience when it came to trash talking, but leave it to the mother he never met to blast past all of that with a single offhand observation.

"If this is some roundabout attempt to make me social or try to mend any familial bridges, I'm going to have to stop you right there," he drawled, still looking off into the distance for an enemy that wasn't, or at least shouldn't be present. "In case you haven't been informed yet, your son isn't particularly fond of me."

"With an attitude like that, I can see why." Irisviel on the other hand was not deterred as she continued to approach him. "You inherited the worst of your father's jaded personality as well. At least in his case the worst of it only appeared during the Fourth War."

"Just one among far too many for myself. Or are you trying to replace Assassin for me at the moment?" he wryly noted.

"So you were summoned in variants of the Fourth before." She picked up the slip immediately, prompting the Counter Guardian to curse violently in his head.

"Don't." This time he did turn to glare at her. "It never happened the way you're thinking. Ever."

Pass himself off as a son they never had and likely wouldn't due to his interference? For what? He wasn't pathetic or desperate enough for human interaction that would try to integrate himself into a family that didn't know he existed in the first place. At best he would try to ensure that Kiritsugu and Iri would survive the ordeal (on top of killing Gilgamesh and dealing with the Greater Grail for good measure) if only for Illya's sake.

Every once in a while he had begrudgingly saved his younger self, either from the Grail or from some other disaster, but he always put an effort to keep their interactions to a minimum due to the memory bleeding effect. The last thing he wanted was to be responsible for another Shirou Emiya to be as big of a fool as him.

On top of all that, even with his shattered memories, he was confident that his summoning in the Fourth war never happened, so taking the opportunity of paradoxing himself out of reality, killing his even younger self, was completely pointless.

Really, he couldn't tell if being summoned in the Fourth War was worse than being called for the Fifth. Tormented by the family and future that he never had, or being tormented by the false hope of escape that he now knew was another lie.

"… You even hurt like he does," Irisviel continued sadly, ignoring his warning. "That man. He is a wonderful father, but no matter how hard he tries he can't seem to properly take care of himself, much less the things he treasures the most. I assume you pushed others away as well?"

"No. I was an even bigger fool than him. I didn't want, have to, or need to push anyone away. All I did was keep walking forward until nobody was willing to follow anymore, and kept going." He didn't know why he responded, but for some reason he felt it was important for this woman, the person that hopelessly believed to be responsible for his actions in some way, to know the truth. To know that what he became and the deeds that came from it were his responsibility, his fault, and his alone.

The idea that she, or anyone else would try to claim any sort of culpability for how he went through his life and his poor decisions, filled him with such a vile feeling that it made him nauseated.

That badge of irrevocable petty foolishness was his alone, and no one else's.

Iri's eyes teared up, looking at him as though seeing something truly painful. "I see. So, you are what Kiritsugu would have become had things turned differently."

It was like a lance speared through his chest. Archer didn't realize that his hands were clenched into tight fists until his fingernails started to cut into his palms. He was beginning to reach the end of his patience. "Is there a point to all this pity?"

For a moment, Irisviel appeared to almost want to reach out to Archer, but she caught herself at the last moment and pulled back, and wiped the budding tears from her eyes. "I… no. I'm sorry. I was told who you were and a rough idea of what you were like but I couldn't… I just wanted to see what you were like. Both of you. Even if you don't get along."

"Well now you know." His curt reply was not unexpected. "Now if you don't mind, I still have to keep lookout in case another fool lets their curiosity and ego get the better of them. It seems to be a running trend these days."

The woman flinched at the backhanded insult, but she couldn't blame him. If Archer really did desire to get out of the Throne, then her questions and observations would without a doubt put him in a poor mood.

Still she wasn't dissuaded from trying to connect with her Heroic Spirit son. She had gotten through to Kiritsugu, and she could do it again. "I'll come back later and try this again. I won't leave what we have like this."

"You don't have to. You really don't." His dry reply left his thoughts on the matter left little to the imagination.

This time Iri held her ground with a stern motherly frown and crossed arms. "I could always bring Illya to make it go easier."

Judging by his sudden rigid frame, he clearly had certain thoughts about that prospect.

His reaction filled her with pride and satisfaction. She could already tell what his answer would be, but decided to end the conversation there and faded away into spiritual form.

"Just like Kiritsugu. Until later, Shirou-chan."

Archer bit back the knee-jerk reaction to tell her that he wasn't "Shirou" anymore. He knew there was no point arguing with women like that.

That said, he would have felt more uncomfortable had he been facing Irisviel as she disappeared and saw the slightly twisted smile on her face as she vanished.

o. o. o.

"For someone that is hopeless at jewelcraft, you are making remarkable progress at this." Luvia mused as Shirou focused on manipulating the practice gem in his hand to not explode from being overloaded with pure ether extracted from a copy of Balmung.

Yet, at least.

In theory what he was doing wasn't particularly special in the slightest if one were to ignore the fact that he was working with a form of energy that no longer existed naturally on the planet.

In execution though it was something most in the field wouldn't practice much due to how wasteful the practice was. Luvia was wealthy enough to indeed spam and use gems to her hearts content, but even she lacked the resources to practice overloading them beyond their natural capacity with raw power frequently.

Her sister with her Origin on the other hand was another matter entirely.

"Fortunately Rin's run me through the gauntlet when it comes to the fundamentals almost since the day we first met. And then some." Shirou sighed, not looking away from the gem. The best way to describe it in a sense was that if maintaining balance in the gem was akin to walking a tightrope, then he was incredibly top heavy, as opposed to Rin and Luvia having very low centers of gravity.

His absurd Structural Grasping and prior experience helped tremendously in the ordeal, but it was still a delicate performance for him. Managing mana flow outside his body, or a sword for that matter, was not his forte by any stretch of the imagination. The fact that he was working with pure Ether of all things didn't make it easier.

It was just another example of just how outstanding of a magus Luvia was, being able to seamlessly transfer this much power from the Noble Phantasm into another jewel already with just a quick lesson from Caster.

"Humph. You received a subpar education at best." Her backhanded snipe at Rin was more a knee-jerk reaction than anything and they both knew it. Luvia wouldn't give her rival the right time of day if she was as bad as she claimed.

"We both know I'm a peculiar case at best. As much as everyone constantly hypes me up, I'm a below average student at best when it comes to anything outside of anything utilizing swords and structural grasping in some capacity. Why do you think I'm constantly shaping the gems I work with into swords when I can't work them with a projection in some way?"

Luvia shook her head with a frustrated sigh. Humility was an endearing trait, and one of the many she appreciated greatly in Shirou, but there came a point where it was just an annoyance that only appealed to ignorant children and blind fools. One that hampered progress instead of fueling it. "You underestimate yourself far too much for your own good, Shirou. The fact that you are able to work around your condition's limitations as much as you have already is an impressive and endearing feat that others should look up to."

"Just speaking facts, Luvia. I'm not stupid. I know I'm the best at what I do, but that doesn't change the fact that it's a small niche in the grand scheme of things."

SLAM!

"This is exactly what I'm talking about!"

Shirou jumped as his guest hammered her open palms onto one of his workbenches in frustration. He almost turned to her before realizing that the gem in his hands was about to explode and frantically turned to stabilize it again. "What the hell, Luvia!?"

"Shirou Emiya, you are without a doubt one of the kindest and most selfless magus I have ever had the honor of knowing, but by extension you are just as vexing and infuriating." The blonde seethed while looking down at him. "Look at what you have done! You have mastered Projection Magic to the point of turning it into a new mystery altogether! Your name is, if not feared, then known across the entire Moonlit world at the age of seventeen! A Reality Marble! Noble Phantasms! Barthomelloi's go-to messenger! You single-handedly, and do not even try to argue otherwise, stopped a Holy Grail War! Defeated Gilgamesh! Saved my sister! And as much of an infuriating disaster and pain it is, been named an Apostle Ancestor! And yet you have the nerve to belittle yourself even now?!"

"When I can't even control or stop this shit from happening or getting others involved? YES!" He exploded back, surprising Luvia who genuinely did not expect him to react this viciously.

She had not noticed his eyebrow twitch as she began her chiding and listing his "accomplishments". Nor how it had devolved into a frown to an outright scowl as she continued to the end, betraying his true thoughts on the matter.

She did, however, notice when one of his hands clenched around the unstable small gem, causing it to explode in his grasp.

The amount of ether in it would have at the very least shred said hand to little more than chopped meat had it not been comprised of literal Noble Phantasms at that moment out of pure instinct.

"Everything I do is to try and make sure everyone gets out of this happy and in one piece, but no matter what I do or how great my supposed name gets, someone else always tries to get the bright idea to use me in whatever asinine and outright pointless plan of theirs! You would think that winning the grail, being the Master of Saber, and killing everyone that outright antagonizes me would deter these idiots from roping into this bullshit. The end of the War was supposed to be the end of the worst of this nonsense! The end of the war was supposed to bring the barest semblance of peace that all of us wanted! But I cannot go for a single DAY without some ego inflated monster, human, Vampire, Servant or whatever the fuck they are that fancies itself a world power, thinking I'm either some easy target to use or a curious toy to play with and roping everyone that matters into it! As far as I'm concerned, with the ways things are I haven't accomplished a damn thing since I was taken out of that fire by Kiritsugu!"

Luvia took a step back, not expecting him to react this heatedly to her chastising. It wasn't like Shirou to unload his frustrations like this or to admit his problems at all for that matter. They all knew he was stressed out from the accumulating disasters that seemed to fall onto his shoulders time and time again. Hell, he ran away from the house when he found out Fina was in Fuyuki. But it was blatantly clear that he was finally reaching the limits of his patience of the world.

Shirou... was kind. He was far too kind for someone of the Moonlit world.

And that kindness was reaching it breaking point. It had been exploited, ignored, abused, stressed, strained, manipulated, and grated away near constantly for years without remorse, and the damage was finally showing its ugly face.

"Master, my bounded field detected a spike in ether. Is something amiss?" Caster asked through their connection, no doubt sensing the gem that just erupted in his hand. She was currently out at Ryudouji temple setting up and maintaining bounded fields around the Greater Grail.

"… No. It's fine. Keep at your current task Caster," Luvia absently replied back after a moment to get over her shock before taking in a deep and slow breath to regain her composure. "… Do you think Sakura would believe that? After dealing with that monster Zouken?"

Her words caused him to flinch.

"Or Illyasviel? For removing the shroud that hid the truth from her for so long? And giving her a new chance at life?"

He looked away, unable to find an argument to her question.

"Or me? For dealing with my crude ignorance and temper this entire time, and going out of your way to help me rescue my sister when you were under no obligation to?" She took a step forward and reached out to gently caress his cheek.

Upon a closer look, she noticed that he was starting to fall apart from exhaustion again. His eyes were starting to sink in and he looked a bit pale despite his skin tanning like Archer's.

But the look in his silver eyes reflected something that wasn't there. Something far off into the distance that only he seemed to see.

"Just how long have you been haunted by the sight of that unreasonable future you still aim for, Shirou?"

He let out a bitter laugh. "It's not unreasonable to want those close to you to be happy, Luvia."

Had it been another timeline, those words would have held the same deceptively overwhelming weight to him had he said "It's not wrong to help people".

"It is when the people you're close to are unreasonable. Like Tohsaka." She only half meant it this time. "You're exhausted. It's unsightly of someone of your position. Be it Lord or Apostle, there is a standard of decorum to be maintained."

"For who? It's just us here. Besides, there's still too much that needs to be done. Everyone's being run ragged. Even Caster's feeling it." He excused his state as though it wasn't a big deal. Rin was managing the city with Merem. Bazett and Lancer were making runes near constantly. Illya had been with Touko all day. Sakura was minding the house. Caster was perpetually weaving mysteries all over the place to deal with the myriad of major issues that still lingered from the War itself.

And Shirou was frantically working himself to death trying to make sure the world didn't crash on them before everyone got what they wanted and could escape in one piece.

"The fact that you're comparing yourself to a Servant should be enough of a sign that you are overworking yourself again."

"It hasn't stopped me before. Or anyone else for that matter."

She couldn't argue against that. Power, mysteries, and playing with death were the fundamentals of their world, but unimaginable and nigh reckless pride was what pushed its inhabitants to keep going despite the risks.

It just so happened that pissing off Shirou was a risk that nearly everyone believed to be worth the gamble whenever they met him.

The fact that virtually everyone that did genuinely piss him off wound up dying behind the scenes was as much a boon as it was an unfortunate flaw. If there were no witnesses or known causes for a crime, then it was difficult to identify the source. Or how to avoid it.

With a heavy sigh, she shook her head and walked back to the workbench where he kept the bulk of his, from her perspective meager, jewel magecraft equipment and the copy of Balmung, and sat down on it. With an unnecessary grandiose flourish she evened out her skirt, moving her pockets so that the small jewelry store's worth of gems didn't get in the way, and crossed her arms. "I don't know what the others believe, but I feel it is my responsibility to step in to prevent you from doing something foolish again, if only for a time."

"… Huh?" Shirou blinked, utterly confused.

"Must I spell it out for you?" The noble huffed, with a hint of pink on her cheeks. "I am telling you to rest, Shirou. Since I cannot trust you to behave outside of this paltry workshop, and there are tasks in this vicinity that I also desire completed, you will have to do so here."

The teen looked at her for several long seconds. "… Are you telling me that you want me to rest on-"

"Are you going to cooperate or not?!" She cut him off with a more distinct blush on her cheeks.

"Hah. Fine. Fine. I know better than to fight a losing battle. Rejoice in your victory over an Apostle Ancestor." He shook his head in defeat, complete with a tired and wry smile.

He made it half way to Luvia before something in his pocket buzzed. It was his cell phone.

Of all the shit timing.

"Shirou?" She didn't like how quickly his body tensed on the spot like that.

"One second. It shouldn't be long." He took out the device and opened it to see what Luvia could only suspect was a text message.

Judging from his frown and deep sigh, it wasn't good news.

For almost half a moment, he appeared to be debating something with himself, weighing the pro's and con's of what he was thinking of doing, and not, before finally coming to a decision.

Instead of saying anything or making a call though, he simply started to text something himself. It took him only a minute and a half at most before it was sent, and the item went back into his pocket.

"What was that about?" She asked warily. She knew him better by now that whatever just happened wasn't just a simple exchange. Something had happened.

"Just, tying some loose ends. It was something that was going to be addressed at some point regardless. I just had to do it a bit earlier than expected." He dismissed her concerns with a tired smile, as though energy was bleeding from his body with each passing second. "I'll tell you about it later."

"Not if 'later' means 'too late'. We all know how you work by now." She frowned.

"It won't. There's still a few days left." He sat on the bench next to her and looked at the random stones and tools sitting on top of it. To a normal person it was a wide and diverse array of seemingly priceless gems and tools, and a giant sword. To him, it was just another slew of items and trinkets he had to work with to stave off nightmares and headaches…

He much rather preferred looking at his cooking appliances and ingredients. At least then what he made and conjured put smiles on people's faces and made them relax.

"Is that offer still open? A nap sounds pretty good right now."

His question came with a pathetic smile that didn't reach his eyes. One that all but nearly begged for forgiveness.

Luvia's hands tightened into fists. He had done something outrageous and stupid again.

"… I do not recall ever rescinding it."

"Thanks, Luvia."

She held her tongue as his head rested on her thighs. She had much to focus on and debate for the future.

And while some of that consisted of how she was going to hold this moment over Rin's head later, she knew that unfortunately most of her time would have to be allocated to more dire topics.

"Caster. Shirou did something again just now. I suspect it has something to do with a body outside of the town. Keep your resources open for any extraneous parties approaching the city in the next few days."

"That boy can't go a day without getting involved in more problems, can he?" Caster dryly replied. It just went to show how used to it by now that she wasn't surprised.

"No, but I fear that if this keeps up, the problems are going to see firsthand the wrath of a kind man."

"I see, sadly sometimes the wisdom of the sages needs to be witnessed firsthand. Humanity truly is a hopeless species."

o. o. o.

Unforgiveable.

Reprehensible

Sickening.

Marjatta wanted to throw up uncontrollably as she listened to the conversation between Luvia and her host via the gem that she had slipped into her sister's pockets that morning.

That, that bastard was the TENTH APOSTLE ANCESTOR?!

And Luvia knew the entire time?!

That traitor!

If she wasn't crippled, she would have torn her sister apart! If she wasn't at risk of literally exploding, she would have set this entire corrupted property ablaze! If she wasn't a liability, she would have ousted Luvia from the Edelfelt family for being the whore to a monster!

With each and every passing second, her temper grew to the point that she could only see white. Her body and mind ached as blood ran erratically through her veins and her heart pulsed so hard it hurt her ribs. Even with Caster's Bounded Field tempering the worst of her Origin running rampant, she could barely keep her mind body and soul intact.

And then the mystic code they possessed that connected them to the Clocktower activated.

Regaining a semblance of composure from the distraction, the girl managed to school her features to activate the gem powered device, enabling sound to send and receive through it much like the one she slipped on her sister.

"... This is Marjatta."

"Are you alone?" A familiar, almost imperial female voice all but demanded.

"Yes, Lady Barthomelloi." Even halfway across the world, the woman could cow her just by asking a simple question.

"You have performed as expected, and the results are satisfactory," the Queen of the Clocktower stated nigh emotionlessly. "Your report that the Masters in Fuyuki are related to Lord El Melloi II's abduction has enabled me to act accordingly. And it has already yielded results."

On the other side of the conversation, Lorelei Barthomelloi absently gazed at a small electrical device in her hand. One that displayed Shirou's recent message to her.

It had been the right move to not respond to his repeated attempts to contact her over the past sixteen hours, ever since he had learned of Waver Velvet's kidnapping. The lack of communication in such a delicate time no doubt would cause the boy to panic and prompt him to be proactive to cover his bases. Especially if time was of the essence.

She had initially intended to have the elder Edelfelt be her missive. However, the younger appeared to be far more willing to obey her orders at the dog's expense.

Marjatta excitedly spoke up, eager to report her latest findings. If the Vice Director learned that the bastard was an Apostle, let alone an Ancestor, she would without a doubt ruin that monster for the rest of his hopefully short life and earn her accolades that would more than abolish her recent failings. "My lady. I've just learned something important. Emiya is-"

"Whatever it is you wish to report, it is unnecessary."

Unfortunately for the girl, the Vice Director had other plans.

"I, beg your pardon, Ma'am?" The stunned girl blinked in confusion at the abrupt dismissal.

Sitting in her office chair, Lorelei Barthomelloi read the recently sent message once again.

It was a short and blunt missive split into three parts. A crude and inelegant thing, one that seemed to taunt her as it much tempted. But it served its purpose well.

In three nights.

The shipyard.

Don't interrupt, and enjoy.

"Whatever you discovered about the fool dog, I will find out soon enough. Rather, if I am to discover what he has been hiding that he would risk dealing with those abominations now of all times, I would rather hear it from the fool's mouth himself and make proper judgement then."

o. o. o.

Omake: Improvised stress relief:

Pop.

It was maddening.

Pop.

Being confined to this paltry chamber of a room, housed by the bastard responsible for her condition in the first place.

Pop pop.

Her magic restrained. Her body restrained. Her freedom restrained. Even if her Origin had not been going wild, such conditions would have left her infuriated within the day.

Pop pop pop.

But the worst thing? The absolute lowest point of this demeaning treatment?

Pop pop pop pop.

Marjatta glared murderously at the mass produced sheet of plastic in her hands.

Her Origin was Burst. In order to prevent herself from exploding, literally or metaphorically before Caster could conjure some method to keep herself in check, Marjatta would need to satisfy her new overwhelming instincts and urges frequently to buy time.

Pop pop pop pop pop pop pop.

Hence, the giant sheet of bubblewrap currently suffering in her aggressive grasp.

Why? Why? WHY? WHY?!

Poppoppoppoppoppoppop.

Why on earth was the only readily available method to keep herself sane so pedestrian and stupid?!

POP.

Oh, that was a satisfyingly loud one, WAIT! NO!

Fortunately, Luvia had advised Caster to soundproof her room ahead of time. Origin or not, the younger sister's blood curdling roars of fury and teenage frustration were not something she wanted the other guests of the compound to experience.

o. o. o.

A/N:

Thanks Wayfarer for betaing. As always.

Heya everyone. Sorry for the late post. This chapter would have come out over a week ago if it wasn't summer vacation season. It held back both Wayfarer and I unfortunately.

I actually have another vacation at the end of this month, so I'm using July as a short GAIWP chapter month, even though I've decided to commit to FFD for the most part until it's finally finished. Which should be in roughly another 10-15 chapters.

Yeah. You heard that right. This monster of a ride is finally ending, eventually. Sort of.

So anyways, another slow chapter with pieces moving into place and moving other pieces. A lot of interactions between different major parties in this one. Touko finally arrives in Fuyuki, and while she's a woman that does her job and does a quality job… well it's Touko. Give her some time.

Irisviel is being Irisviel, with a hint of Angry Man Jew. You can bet that some "fun" is going to come from that disaster.

Shirou's reaching the breaking point again, but at this point he's going to be productive and focus all of that frustration on a particular eldritch pirate coming in the near future. And it will be glorious.

As for how every other disaster will fit in this cacophony? Well, I'll leave that up in the air for now.

… And hope it all lands in place. I mean, I have the general outline for everything planned but uh, exact plot specifics are kinda something I tend to go over when I actually start writing the parts in question.

Yeah.

Anyways. Real world news.

I've just sold my apartment back in Connecticut for a nice sum. Only problem is that my recently exited tenant was a psycho Karen that's left me with a massive bill with the building management. Seriously, she and her brat have done the following in no order: graffiti'd the walls of the stair well, harassed the facility workers, let their dog shit in the building, somehow lost and replaced the bathroom door to my apartment with one that doesn't even fit, STOLEN THE SECURITY'S IPAD, and called the cops on my parents for no reason, twice.

Needless to say, bitch ain't getting her deposit back.

And before anyone asks, yes, we did do a background check when we first let her in. As far as I can tell, she was decent initially, but has been regressing into pure bitch tier human trash over the past 5 years. We took care of the place properly, fixed it all up on time, and gave her a VERY reasonable rent, and we were treated like shit. At the very least though, she paid her rent on time. So there's that.

Bottom line is that I got cash again, which is good because my investments and the bulk of my life's savings… just, just give me a moment, I need to cry in the corner for a bit.

It's not crypto and NFT bad, but, well I took a hit as bad as most that invest their nest egg in the market have. I just happened to sell the apartment at the right time.

Fuck. The world's falling apart. Not really surprising there. Russia being Russia. Also, not surprising in the slightest.

I'm almost tempted to touch upon the whole R.v.W. and Musk Twitter shitshows, but I don't hate myself, and all of you that much. I have thoughts. You have thoughts. Let's all just shut up and try to make life bearable for everyone by not talking about it for once, can we? Am I asking for too much?

… Three touchy topics in one A/N. Oh right, and Kazuki Takahashi, the writer for Yu-gi-oh died. FUCK, where's that Grand Order to bleach the world when you need it?

Ah. Right. FGO. I managed to luck out and get Castoria on my 3rd 10 roll which was awesome. Especially since on the summer rerun, I was trying to get Summer Melt, and I kid you not, I got 3 Bunny Artoria's AND Anastasia on 4 back to back 10 rolls. I was horrified and absolutely convinced I was going to have to whale to get Castoria due to Karma holding this against me.

Then again, knowing my luck, it's all going to explode horrifically on me eventually.

Haaah. Nothing else going on at the moment personally. Work's work. I'm working on Battery Vehicles, so I got job security, fortunately. Still writing. Still trying to be an amusing jackass to offset just how annoying and frustrating the world is becoming, AGAIN…

And then I see Uncle from Another World come out… and the announcement that Panty and Stockings is being worked on.

Hahaha. Ah. Just what I needed. Pointless stupid humor, complete with middle fingers held aloft like the cross itself.

Speaking of stupid for the sake of stupid, just a reminder, I made a "Kill Merlin" tshirt that can be bought at the following link. Complete with Saber riding Fou like a mighty steed.

www. Teepublic t-shirt/22765065-kill-merlin

And I do have a Pa-eon account in case you want to support me and what I do. Just look up Third Fang.

Anyways, that's it for now everyone. Sorry for the wait, but it should be all worth it in the end. I think. Thank all of you for being so patient with me while I worked on my other projects. Hopefully what I have planned will more than make up for it, and then some.

SO REVIEW! WORSHIP THE LOG! MARJATTA HAS FOUR DIFFERENT TYPES OF INDUSTRIAL GRADE BUBBLE WRAP TO PLAY WITH! AND REVIEW AGAIN!

Ba