Chapter 69: The Legacy of a Smile
I do not own Fate/Stay Night and stuffs.
o. o. o.
The world around Fina seemed to slow to a minute crawl as he saw the boy yanked through the air like the bait at the end of an angler's line. Reeling in on a golden chain to where the castle's (his) body was blown and shorn apart from ordinance that by all rights nobody should be able to get their hands on in this day and age.
He tried to return to the ship…
He couldn't. The blasted sword embedded into his chest anchored him to this location. To this body. To Fina Sveltzen. Tearing it out haphazardly would do more damage than he was willing to tolerate, even if he felt violated by whatever curse was radiating from the blasted thing.
He didn't bother trying to figure out how or why the boy pulled it off, only that it pissed him off.
A Captain was strongest on his ship like a King ruled from his castle.
But fortunately, neither could truly express their power without their men.
All he had to do was wake their lazy asses.
With a heavy heave that was far more painful than expected, the Vampire tore himself up from the ground and stood up tall. He could still feel that the blade that penetrated him had a clump of asphalt wedged on the blade from how said clump pressed against his back.
The boy wanted to play with the men? Fine then.
He breathed in deeply, and the surface of the ocean stilled, as if holding its own breath in anticipation for what was to come.
"AAAAAAAALLL HAAAAAAAAAAANDS~ UP!"
His rich and heavy tenor voice echoed over the expanse in a military cadence. Despite his Italian heritage and European background, he found himself attracted to the recognizable chords for the American Military, or 'Jody calls' as they were originally called.
There were older, more primal orders available to him, but he, and by extension all under his command, felt more comfortable and in tune with what the Yanks had set up in the past century for more common orders. The orders that were based on the rather childish and somewhat entertaining creative military cadences appealed to a wider range of his forces as a whole than the dry and disheartening commands that originated from most of their homelands. Orders that originated from an army and forces that prided itself on the extensively diverse background of its members, further increasing the synergy with what he was.
At the last word of his command, the ocean burst with activity.
Around the downed castle, five military grade ships exploded from the surface of the water, lights ablaze, men shouting, with bells and sirens making a loud racket.
Two United States Destroyers. A Soviet Era Frigate. A thaumaturgical enhanced German U boat from World War II.
And to top it all off, an experimental, four hundred foot long battleship from the nineteenth century that had been part of the Association's very select maritime navy… before he took out a third of them in a single evening.
Judging from the sharp hiss he heard a short distance away, Barthomelloi clearly recognized it. She should, seeing as her family was one of the biggest sponsors of the navy project at the time.
Including 'himself', it totaled well over fifteen hundred Seafarers, Marines, Morskaya Pekhota Rossii, Magi, Kreigsmarine, and associated affiliates. All with their eyes on the idiot in way over his head.
"There's more?!" The young local girl shouted in genuine horror. "I thought he was capped at being one massive over-gunned nightmare! This guy's a literal army!"
Of course not. Poor green kid. Brats these days were only familiar with the feats of the more recent and easily accessible (killed) Apostles.
Most had forgotten just how absurd the real Ancestors could get once roused.
Even if they did somehow figure out what his body was like, they didn't know his limitations or what he could manifest outside of that. Just like the boy he was facing, he could also manifest what he "held" outside of himself at a given time for a bit of a higher cost.
His existence silently thrummed with the marching and tunes of those he had called forth. Their songs all unique, and yet perfectly in pace with one another.
A tune that carried men and warriors forward. That put armies in line. That announced to the world who and what they were.
The hypnotic pull and thrill of it all was almost enough to make him forget that he was exposing some of his hand to the Association.
It would be a right trial to keep them out for long. And it was genuinely humiliating that he was going this far just to deal with a single annoying fly. But fortunately, one way or another, they wouldn't have to be.
"AAAAAAAAALL AAAAAAAAAARMS~ UP!"
Before the ships had even begun to start steadying themselves over the open waters, guns, Anti Air ordinance, cannons, missiles, and experimental thaumaturgy were raised and aimed at the fly pulled by a golden thread across the waters. At his current speed, he had not even made it a third of the way across the water yet.
Even with his stomach still reamed and run through with a twisted cursed sword that felt like it was violating him with every second it was left unattended, Fina couldn't help but smile.
… Hopefully the chorus of his forces would be enough to drown out Solomon's obnoxious laughter.
o. o. o.
Even with the bounded fields isolating the river and sea from the city, the echoes and waves of mana from the disaster taking place were still detectable by anyone with even the smallest hint of mana sensitivity.
"Hoooh? True Ether?" Rider tilted her head to the side slightly in curiosity and focusing her attention briefly on the seafront, which was the rough equivalent of literally gaping in disbelief for most people. "I did not expect to encounter that in this era."
"You sound nostalgic."
"It is hard not to be. It is akin to seeing an unexpected glimpse of home while traveling abroad. It is… refreshing. Even with such a meager sample from where we are now."
"Fufu." Sakura giggled at her Servant's reaction. She had little doubt that it was Shirou's doing, one way or another. "Regardless, I suppose that's the signal Shirou was talking about earlier."
"That child." The Servant huffed in amusement before her nails and chains materialized, and a predatory aura began to saturate the air. "Remember what we agreed upon, Sakura. Don't go beyond your limits."
Sakura sighed as she casually walked to a nearby alleyway and seemingly began to melt into the shadows… no, rather, it would be more accurate to describe it as the shadows were slowly and gently embracing her into its folds. "Don't worry Rider. I'm well aware of what I'm supposed to do and what's at stake. Please, pay me no mind…"
Sakura's almost predatory eyes and smile were the last thing to disappear from sight,, both facing the direction where a hidden squad of Fina's men were hidden and staking out the Emiya property a kilometer away.
"... And have fun like the old days."
o. o. o.
Endless sprays of bullets perforated the air above the saltwater, piercing endlessly in straight lines through the air while chasing after an errant flicker of red in the air at the end of a string of gold.
Slower, but far more noticeable were the blasts of fire, mana, lightning, and other ordinance that seemed to track onto the target's movements to the point that one could see them autocorrect their paths mid flight.["change directions" and "correct their paths" are redundant]
The missiles and cannonfire were the loudest. The percussive impact of their launches and detonations were enhanced through some means, and were powerful enough to scramble a normal human's organs from anything short of a hundred meters away.
And yet their target did not fall as it flew and flailed through the air, partially due to the massive castle it was tethered to turning like a machine and attempting to throw it off.
And yet it yielded no results.
Correction. It yielded no noticeable results.
Shirou had planned and trained for all sorts of bizarre and dangerous scenarios for the Grail War. Obviously he couldn't imagine or cover everything, but he had been confident that at the very least his foundations were covered.
Except, apparently, high velocity three dimensional motion sickness.
Not that he could blame anyone. Unless he was training to be something ridiculous like a ninja jumping around like some chunni idiot, there was no real reason for a real assassin that practiced subtle and safe kills to go overboard like that.
… And yet here he was swinging by a golden chain to a vampire castle while half an armada was firing on him in the middle of the night, about to blow chunks, one way or another.
In the scant instant Shirou had to reflect on his current predicament, the irony was not lost on him.
A swing of the generic wind element sword in his left hand pushed him out of the path of three AA turret paths, five mysteries and a missile. The nameless dagger he had in his belt loop reduced his mass by a third, reducing how much energy he needed to fly and change directions in the air.
A very brief velocity change prevented his chest cavity and legs to be perforated by some sniper fire with magically enhanced autocorrecting bullets.
'The gun in his head fired off three times.'
Three swords were projected in mid air around him, intercepting the fire he couldn't-
"Tch." He hissed as Anti Aircraft ordinance grazed his left thigh and took out a chunk out of him half the size of a fist.
Damn. He missed the fourth stream of fire coming from the opposite direction.
If he hadn't reinforced himself and his clothes, it probably would have torn his entire leg off.
He bit down on the capsule that he had slipped into his mouth before the fight started, and let the contents do their work.
His eyes were a godsend in this situation. The heightened awareness and stream of information coming to him was simultaneously overwhelming and invaluable, immediately informing him of what was coming at him, when they'd likely hit, and their general paths.
The only problem was that he couldn't look in every direction at once, and he was not able to block everything at once.
Truth be told, fighting Gilgamesh was easier than this. The ordinance didn't even compare to what was in the Gate of Babylon, but at least everything was coming from just one direction in the former. Though if there ever was a chance to mention it to the King of Heroes later in some bizarre future, he'd probably regret it instantly the moment it left his lips.
No. To be fair, he had capped off this exact issue fighting Gilgamesh by luring him inside the Einzbern estate to limit how far the Gate of Babylon could be opened.
It was ironic. Against Gilgamesh, he won by overcoming quality with quantity. And now he was being stuck on the receiving end of the exact same scenario. All these bullets and beams didn't compare to the Noble Phantasms he had, but he couldn't keep up with the rate of fire from all these angles…
Not that he couldn't try.
The gun in his skull fired off again.
His circuits flared as three copies of Gae Dearg materialized and shot off, impaling and disrupting three beams of mana that were far too intense and powerful for him to avoid or defend against conventionally. They then proceeded to fly off and impale the massive triple barreled thaumaturgical rig that fired the attacks in the first place, making it explode a moment later.
Along with the front half of the German U boat, causing it to collapse in its entirety and force it to dip into the ocean violently.
Not that he saw any of that happen, as he swung the sword in his hand to push him onto a new trajectory to avoid getting riddled with more high caliber bullets while angling his path so that the castle's turning wouldn't whip him so hard he'd snap in half from the whiplash.
He was about three quarters of th-
He barely managed to move his head out of the way before getting capped by more heavy ordinance.
He felt his heart beat.
The sting as tiny slivers of blades in his chest scratching against one another woke him up more than any of the gunfire or minor wounds he had already accumulated.
His temper flared.
This wasn't working.
He didn't know why, but being pushed by this vampire in particular pissed him off. Being near him pissed him off. Being nearly killed by him pissed him off.
Stop getting distracted. Measuring distance didn't matter if he didn't make it in the end.
The gun in his head was replaced.
Increasing surge output.
The chambers were replaced. The ammunition was changed
If he didn't stop holding back now…
The double barreled shotgun fired both rounds.
With a heavy thrum, fifteen Noble Phantasms that had pierced Berserker's thick hide when used by Gilgamesh materialized around Shirou and fired off with a concussive bang that matched the ordinance of bombs. Each projectile literally tore through the air, oncoming ordinance, and fortress level defensive bounded fields effortlessly, leaving a trail of prematurely discharged explosions and discharging mana in their wake.
Three missiles violated each ship, penetrating each and every one of them as though reinforced steel was air and rending gaping holes the size of craters on contact…
Shirou looked down on his targets, his silver eyes shone ominously in the night sky.
… Straight down, directly into the main ballasts and ammunition holds.
In an instant, the sea was on fire.
Not that Shirou bothered to wait.
Time Alter. Square Accel.
The final hundred meters blurred in the span of two seconds. What stray shots that remained airborne in his path were intercepted by cheap shields copied from Gilgamesh's armory hovering in tandem with him.
In the brief moments before he made it to the gaping hole where the castle's shoulder used to be, there were dozens of monsters and soldiers armed and ready to intercept him…
"Suppressive Heavy Ordnance. Deploy."
One second before Shirou landed, another dozen nameless Noble Phantasms fired through the air like missiles and devastated the battalions unprepared for the assault. Explosions, screams, dust, and chaos reigned over the massive breach in the castle as Fina's forces tried to recover and counter attack as soon as possible.
Bullets fired. Spells flew. Shouts were made.
But as the seconds and confusion progressed, two oddities quickly became apparent.
The first was that the dust did not recede. No, if anything, a thick black cloud that obscured all their senses seemed to grow more prevalent over the area.
The second… was that once the warriors and monsters stopped attacking… Shirou wasn't attacking them.
In fact, they couldn't find him at all.
o. o. o.
"Well, this is certainly a curious bout, if nothing else." Altrouge hummed idly from her yacht, observing the chaos with a meticulous gleam in her eyes, her voice carrying over the wind effortlessly despite the distance between them. "I must admit, I do regret letting you go prematurely, Lord El Melloi II. I would have benefited greatly from your input on what we have just witnessed."
"You give me too much credit. Much of what we have witnessed is novel for myself as well." Waver swallowed heavily. The recent use of Balmung was certainly new to him, as well as the use of those golden chains that had once ensnared the King of Conquerors.
"But not all," the Black Princess noted with a slight edge to her voice. "In what little that has been demonstrated, I counted more than twenty separate Noble Phantasms used against my dear Fina. Even if he had access to some of the Clocktowers' more diverse resources, and this Grail war was more peculiar than expected, having access to that sort of repository is quite uncommon."
"Hahaha. Ah. I'm disappointed, Imposter. Don't tell me you didn't do your due diligence before coming here." Merem, finally calming down from his hysterical laughter, wasted no time provoking Crimson Moon's eldest daughter.
"I am the sort that dislikes spoilers to my entertainment, Solomon." She dismissed his chiding before taking note of Fina still standing on the docks with a murderous glare in his eyes. "That said, what is transpiring does appear to be more than just that, I suppose. This Grail War has been rumored to be a bit of an abnormality for some time, though I never deemed to look further into the matter. Lord El Melloi II, would you be so kind as to save me some time and elaborate on some of the more relevant facts that I will come across regardless?"
Waver held back a wince, knowing all attention was on him, one way or another. Keeping quiet was not in his best interests for living long, but neither was saying too much. "To keep it succinct and to the point, among several prominent issues, the Servant that defeated mine in the previous War, Archer, managed to survive and posed an issue that needed to be dealt with. That Servant in particular had a… unique disposition and skillset, to put it mildly. One that has led Shirou to lay eyes on more Noble Phantasms than conceivable under most circumstances."
"Oh? The Servant that defeated that charismatic King of Conquerors? No doubt you must have borne quite the grudge." The news somewhat amused her. "And yet you refuse to name this presumably addressed Servant."
Waver let out a tired sigh. It was common enough knowledge at this point after the trial, but he hated talking about the matter regardless. "You dislike spoilers."
"Fufu. You are far too considerate for your own good, Lord El Melloi II. However…" She briefly glanced at Fina. "The curious divine tool that is aggravating my White Knight is notably not a Noble Phantasm."
"Haha. No, rest assured girl, that nasty piece of work is one of this era." Merem laughed from the rooftop. "Part of a set actually. Fina there already knows what another one looks like."
"Shit. You mean to tell me I'm already staked by something as nasty as that piece from earlier?" The Pirate Captain grimaced, trying to pull on the handle of the blade still embedded in his chest, to no avail. No matter what he did, he couldn't get rid of the damn thing. Even the men he summoned that were apt in magecraft couldn't dispel it, claiming something along the lines of it being fused or something to his very soul with a literal divine curse or some other nonsense.
Merem's smile widened. Eagerly. Maliciously. "Oh I'd be more worried about what's about to happen if I were you, Pirate."
"Why? Because the brat managed to get inside me? You think he's the first that's managed to pull that off?" the Captain scoffed. "He did some damage, but give that dusty miser some credit, will you? The inside of that place is a certified hellhole. Do you really think that brat's going to find some sort of hidden "weakness" of mine like some half assed game and turn this joke around?"
Trap portals into alternate dimensions. Bounded fields that twist and contort its prey into piles of meat. Familiars and demonic entities that ravage and tear apart all within sight. When Fina described his main body as a mobile fortress, he damn well meant it. Inside and out.
And Van Fem was known world wide to be the best in the business when it came to making them.
It wasn't the pirate or Altrouge that burst out laughing, but Merem.
"Ha! Haha! Did you hear what he said?! Barthomelloi?! Fraga?! He actually thinks that Shirou is-pfftahahahahaha!"
"Wonderful. It appears that age has finally caught up with him." Fina didn't bother to pay attention to the vampire's amusement.
He DID, however, develop a small chill when Barthomelloi of all people, a woman so cold that he was certain could freeze ice cubes in her snatch without a single spell, chuckled briefly.
"I see now. That dog certainly is a troublesome thing," the woman mused out loud, the tiniest of cruel smiles played on her lips.
"Solomon, what's going on?" Fina slowly asked. "You may be a traitor to our kind, but I don't think it extends to a smiling blueblood."
o. o. o.
o. o. o.
Nothing had happened to him, and he didn't feel any different, and yet something was clearly amiss.
"What's this? And here I thought you were so confident against Shirou." Merem's predatory smile grew wider. "Shall we tell him, Lady Barthomelloi?"
"No. You heard the Black Princess. She abhors spoilers." Lorelei's smug disposition didn't help matters either.
"I may be out of place to request this, but can you please not agitate the opposition." Bazett grimaced.
o. o. o.
o. o. o.
This time in conjunction to Fina's wince, a low, almost hollow rumbling could be heard over the water.
It took a moment to realize that the rumbling was coming from the titanic golem itself.
"It looks like he's finally getting started." Merem looked absolutely elated.
Rin, looked around to notice that Luvia and Waver seemed to understand what was going on themselves judging from their expressions. "Archer? Any idea what they're talking about?"
"Unfortunately no," her Servant replied from his post. "I saw the idiot bombard the area with some interesting swords that decay and generate thick clouds just before he landed, but he vanished inside the monster after that. I have to give him credit where it's due, he's not doing terribly so far, though I don't see how much longer that will last. Fighting a magus inside their workshop is dangerous at best. Doing the exact same thing when the entire workshops' an Apostle Ancestor is something I'd tell a well equipped Servant to do."
"You appear unusually amused, Queen of the Clocktower," Altrouge noted curiously. "Can you explain why? Usually, even reputable Magi like yourself are wary of haphazardly rushing into an enemy's territory. Double so when it acts as a workshop."
"Fufu." Lorelei chuckled again, sending chills down all their spines. "On the contrary, Black Princess of the Apostles. It is because the fool rushed into a workshop that I am amused. Tell me, do you know why that boy in particular has garnered such a notable reputation as the Magus Killer? In spite of all the Enforcers, Executors, specialists, and monsters, as anti magus combatants, he alone in this day and age bears the moniker?"
"Thought it was common consensus that you were just blowing smoke up everyone's asses." Fina grumbled…
o. o. o.
o. o. o.
"The hell is that brat doing?!" he hissed as another wave of discomfort seemed to echo through his very being.
The noblewoman paid him no mind. "While I originally intended to refine him a bit by putting him amongst the Enforcers before taking him for myself, I found that the boy had a peculiar gift for usurping expectations and overcoming the mysteries of others to reach his targets. No matter who they were, what they researched, their lineage, their resources, or even where they may happen to be. With notable efficiency."
It did not take a genius to understand that she was alluding to workshops. In retrospect, it made sense. A magus was without question at their most dangerous inside their own territory. So much so that even higher ranked vampires would rather not waste the time and energy getting through the more robust magical fortresses to get their target and instead conjure up more creative, cruel, and efficient ways to get to their prey.
To properly and safely invade and deconstruct a properly fortified enemy workshop with its defenses raised, it usually took a team of highly specialized magi anywhere from months to even years to address and examine.
What the general public didn't know was that Shirou had on more than one occasion done the same job within a week. At most.
It was that talent that Lorelei deemed worthy to monopolize for herself, and deemed worthy of the title of Magus Killer.
"Fulfilling my role as Lord of the Clocktower, I have witnessed all sorts of means of addressing opposing Magecraft," Lorelei monologued. "I have witnessed mysteries surpassed, evaded, circumvented, disrupted, usurped, stolen, unraveled, pervaded, altered, redefined, undermined, deconstructed, dissolved, disseminated, and so on…"
o. o. o.
o. o. o.
"And yet, to this day, I have yet to come across any craft or tool that utterly and unilaterally butchers every mystery he comes across like that child."
"Butchers?" Rin echoed, not liking the way the word left her mouth.
"You have made a rather large list of missteps when it comes to confronting Shirou," Merem chided from his lofty seat. "However, if I were to sum it up into one, it would be the same that all of his prior opponents have committed."
O. o. O.
The tenth copy of Kiritsugu embedded itself in the internal walls of the living Castle.
"You failed to take him seriously from the start."
"Preset Formalcraft Circle. Scribe."
His circuits flared, and a glowing blue circle of mana began to circle around the already afflicted and deteriorating wall around the blade.
The crude black tar-like infection around the sword instantly began to spread out in any and every direction in the hallway from floor to ceiling, reaching out as though Angra Mainyu itself was behind the vile and vicious attack rather than his own personal magecraft and methods.
A good fifteen meters in every direction. Fifteen meters of ruined traps, mysteries, and near guaranteed fates worse than death.
"The corruption's expanding! He's over here!"
The call came from down the hallway. He wasn't invisible, but he might as well have been with how many smokescreen generating swords he had impaled alongside the copies of Kiritsugu. From the enemy's perspective, he was flooding the golem with endless black smoke.
From his, the poor fools were running around blindfolded, seeing as he could peer through the customized mist without issue.
They couldn't even use their usual tactics of appearing wherever they wanted inside the structure or right around the corner to outmaneuver him due to Kiritsugu's curse messing with the magecraft of the place.
It was almost as if he was spreading a rot that numbed the Apostle from the inside out. But that would be putting it kindly.
Within seconds, a platoon of a dozen men and women formed themselves at the end of the hall with guns raised and fired without hesitation.
The bullets fell harmlessly to the ground as they crossed the bounded field he set up using time dampened daggers as a focus. They wouldn't stop fast projectiles, but they would slow down as though they encountered a wall of soft clay. The thaumaturgy was easier to cast and maintain than a wall of raw stopped time.
Then came a group of four magi that flooded the hallway with fire.
Negated by a bounded field linked to a sword that had the concept of fire removed.
Half a dozen werewolves charged in, using their keen sense of smell and thaumaturgical awareness to navigate the traps.
They collapsed, grabbing their noses after ten meters, courtesy of yet another cheap bounded field tapping to a sword that was essentially one giant smelling salt.
Honestly, that sword in particular was more useful for dealing with most familiars than the vast majority of his armaments, bar his personal blades. Not that he'd ever let Sirius know.
They stumbled so much that they didn't notice or couldn't dodge the flying salvo of black keys that impaled them and their shadows. Sometimes both.
And then he followed up the madness by firing off more smokescreen blades and black keys randomly into the enemy forces, throwing them into disarray to keep them busy and on their toes.
Between the horrid sounds of pain and anguish the monsters let loose, and the failed results of their attempts to break past Shirou's defenses so far, it was little wonder that the possessed men and women had backed up further down the hall to regroup. They likely had been expecting an overwhelming home field advantage inside the castle, but without it, they were understandably disoriented and bewildered by the turn of events.
It was almost easy. For now at least.
He didn't rush. He didn't charge forward like a berserker. He didn't go out of his way to analyze every detail around him to conjure some sort of grand scale mystery or intrinsic scheme for a brilliant victory.
His plan was simple.
Infect. Curse. Pick apart. And stay alive.
Just like in every other Workshop he had meticulously torn apart over the past few years.
There was no need to rush. Slow and steady could work so long as you knew what you were doing.
… But first.
Shirou turned around to look at the young man bound up in Enkidu a few meters back. The captive looked to be only a decade at most older than him, but the slit eyes and fanged teeth he spotted indicated that the man was an Apostle.
And, like Fina, had a copy of Natalia embedded in his stomach.
Fina didn't turn anyone into Apostles, so he had probably been one of Van Fem's underlings that had been taken with the castle itself.
Without any effort, the sword generated cloud of dust around the pair vanished instantly, leaving him standing just a meter in front of the man.
The man turned vampire twice over snarled at Shirou, finally seeing him since the teen kidnapped him on his initial arrival on the castle. "You don't actually believe I'll tell you anything useful, do you? Or were you looking for a guide? You can tell, can't you? The inside of Matri is akin to an endless Reality Marble. The rooms and hallways readjust and reposition at will. It's an entirely different reality. You're never going to get out of here brat. You should have stuck to trying to blow Matri up from the outside."
He had noticed. And he had his doubts about that outcome coming to pass. But that's not what he was going to ask.
Instead, it had been a nagging curiosity that had been stabbing him in the back of his mind ever since he had reasoned out just what the Pirate's true nature was. Something he wouldn't be able to let go until he finally heard the answer.
"This is probably the only time either of you will ever be able to answer this question and receive a result from it. Pirate, and parrot, so I'd try to make it count if I were you."
It was like dealing with Irisviel all over again. It was difficult to determine whether he was talking to the genuine article, the monster controlling it, or if both existed there at the same time.
He only had at most a little over a minute left before something bigger and more dangerous came to overwhelm his basic defenses. He didn't waste it on idle gossip.
"Do you want to die?"
The man paused and stopped in genuine confusion. "... Huh?"
A tired man sitting on the porch looked up at the full moon in the sky.
"Do you want to… hmm, no, not die in particular, exactly. But isn't this enough?" Shirou frowned, his silver eyes narrowing under his shroud. "Are you satisfied with being an exchangeable sock puppet for a pirate for eternity? Are you content with what isn't even a half life, stuck watching at most as the world passes by or burns every time you come out unable to do a damn thing except play your role? Or some nameless tool that doesn't even count as a finger to the whole? Have you had enough, and are content to stop and let the world carry on?"
In spite of his lifetime of failures and misdeeds, and dying far younger than he should have, he still managed to smile softly from the bottom of his heart at ease at the end.
He stood up, and a copy of Kiritsugu materialized in his hand. "It would be painful. Your soul would be rendered and torn apart. But it would be over."
The captive balked, as if he had been physically slapped by the inquiry.
"Ha. Hahaha. HAHAHA!"
Shirou didn't flinch as his soon to be victim burst out laughing hysterically.
"That's your question? You ridiculous child! Do I want to stop? Of all the things to ask an Apostle, that's what was on your mind?" His fangs grew, his face pale and emaciated, but the laughter didn't stop.
Shirou didn't react to the chiding.
"Of course a child wouldn't bother to appreciate the gift of immortality. To revel while observing the world play and change. To bask in it marveling in your accomplishments as you pass by, declaring your superiority over the commoners. Inspiring them to follow and join your path into glory and adventure! If you cannot tolerate that much, then you have no right to be considered an Apostle!"
"You're right. I probably don't." Shirou nodded. "But then that begs the question. If you're so dedicated to going on, why are you crying?"
Indeed. As the man ranted and proudly declared himself an immortal and wanting to continue with the Parade, his eyes progressively began twitching more and more violently, and began to cry tears of blood.
It was as if something deep inside the man was fighting as hard as it could to regain even the slightest bit of control again, and could only manage to make him weep unconsciously in desperation.
o. o. o.
Fina went still.
His men went still.
The Golem went still.
They had all felt it this time. It wasn't an annoying itch, or a numbing infection.
For the first time since the current Eighth had become an Ancestor, in spite of past experience and logic that declared that it should be impossible, one of Fina Blood Svelton's men, one of the original two hundred and seventeen members of his crew, had died.
o. o. o.
Shirou was not surprised at all when the structure around him began to rumble and creak like a howling mine. Rather, he had expected this much.
He looked down at the cause, a dead vampire with a copy of Kiritsugu through the heart. A stab straight to the soul of both puppet and puppeteer.
It sickened him.
Fina didn't just kidnap his victims. They were literally turned into flesh puppets for his original crew to wear to exist in the current era. They couldn't even be considered dead in the state they were in. If anything, they were closer to what Saber was, on the verge of death, only to be taken out into the world again when a higher power called on them and then returned immediately afterwards.
It made him want to throw up.
Even monsters deserved better. At least conventional Apostle Ancestors killed their victims. What came afterwards was a twisted amalgamation that poorly reflected their original selves, but they at least had the opportunity to die again one way or another. Or grow powerful enough to potentially free themselves afterwards. But these poor bastards didn't even have that.
"Ah. I'm glad…" Kiritsugu muttered as he leaned against the wooden supports of the porch, as though a weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
They would forever have to march on, supporting a weight and duty that wasn't even theirs to begin with and believing it was every time that bastard pirate gave their roles to one of his crew.
Every passing second dwelling on it made him almost blind with rage…
Good. He would use it to focus and play the role of the long overdue grim reaper in this deathless joke of a hell hole. It would not be painless. Or peaceful. But…
The faint smile of relief on the corpse in front of him was one he was intimately familiar with. One that was ever present in his very soul.
Yanking out his sword and dismissing the chains around the victim, Shirou turned his attention down the hallway, where Fina's men had suddenly began to reorganize themselves, and peculiar familiars that looked like bizarre massive sharks three times the size of a normal one with legs were rounding the corner…
"I see. So you were the one Solomon had been bragging about lately."
The voice coming from the corpse did not belong to a twenty something year old eastern european servant, but a far more polished, mature, deep, and older western european gentleman.
His silver eyes flickered back to the body. No conventional bodily functions. Blood is forcibly circulating via mana despite the stabbed heart…
Familiar magecraft. Puppetry.
"Van-Fem. An unexpected honor."
"Shirou Emiya, if those rumored silver eyes of yours are anything to go by. An even more unexpected surprise, and within the degenerate seafarer no less." The Fourteenth greeted with a small sardonic grin on the cadaver. "To think that Louvre's replacement would be Barthomelloi's dog of all people. The world can still manage to surprise me yet."
The mutant vampire sharks roared, and hyper concentrated jets of water shot from their enlarged maws blindly, tearing into the walls and ceiling like a hot knife through butter and just barely missing them.
"In case you haven't noticed, I'm a bit occupied." Shirou grimaced, conjuring a sword that was water resistant and generating a bounded field tied to it to bend the attack around them.
"Fufu. Come now. Surely one that's earned the Ancestor rank can hold a civil conversation and manage this much," the corpse laughed.
"Earned nothing. Merem slapped the damn thing on me and didn't tell me about it until three weeks ago."
"Ah. That explains his evasiveness when questioned."
"Can you please be brief? I have a pissed off Pirate and or crew I intend to stab liberally."
"Huhu. I like you more by the second, boy. Anyone that wants to ream and mar that vile man-child of Altrouge's has my endorsement." The corpse's dead eyes swayed left and right, examining the damages and curses that plagued the inside of his former golem. "It is an unfortunate and humiliating loss, but I had intended to use some hidden functions of Matri and her faculty to deal with Svelton at a later date. I doubt that will come to pass after tonight. Fortunately, your performance and capability interests me. True Ether, and a Divine Curse. Your potential impact on the future is not meager. Solomon truly found a curious treasure this time."
Shirou held back an annoyed groan as several dozen copies of Natalia spinning like disks formed around him and fired off at the shark monsters. Within seconds they were reduced into unappealing piles of sashimi. "Get in line if you want to use me for some annoying project. In case you haven't noticed, I still have to deal with Barthomelloi and Brunestud outside before I have a hope of surviving past this weekend."
"So you do. I seemed to have intruded on a rather private affair. And you seemed to have just cost me a long term investment to get rid of Svelton."
"I'm interesting and am currently humiliating Fina in front of his boss. Find something else to barter for and fast. You're practically the fifth world power I've had to negotiate this nonsense with in the past week. The whole clever and cunning act got stale three exchanges ago." Shirou didn't even try to be surprised or annoyed with the ancient vampire's teasing as five more smokescreen swords fired off down the hall to cause further confusion..
"Haaa. Children these days." The corpse sighed in mixed amusement and mock frustration. "Very well. Since time is short, I will be brief. I desire to speak with you in person. To see this boy that has enthralled Solomon and prompted so many of my peers to behave and move abnormally as of late. My silence for your words in person."
"The deal is for talking. We can do business after that." Shirou didn't even hesitate. Van Fem was a master puppeteer and manipulator, but a firm businessman with an iron clad code of conduct. Even Lorelei gave the ancient monster backhanded praises on how he conducted himself and his business empire, which meant she wouldn't actively go after him unless an absurdly prime opportunity happened to present itself.
Even better was that the deal would ensure that the woman would hold off on killing him for at least another week or so for him to talk to the tycoon in a worst case scenario. If he had enough time to tell her at least.
"I heard everything and will act in your place if required."
"Good. Then if you'll excuse me…" Five copies of Kiritsugu manifested around the teen, and one more in each hand, and then started to slowly walk forward, purposefully dragging the tips of the swords on the floor in the process. "I'm off to see a pirate about a peg leg."
"I'll hold you to that." With a wry smirk, the corpse's neck seemed to lose what energy it had and allowed its head to roll to its side, once more void of life.
o. o. o.
On the other side of the world, in Monaco, one of the oldest Apostles in the world opened his eyes.
"A curious development indeed." He was always aware when Svelton manifested his stolen property and employees, and was capable of observing events from a few key places that even the Pirate didn't know of…
But for once Fina was not the topic of interest.
He was all for putting that fool in his place, but for that lone child that Solomon had been teasing everyone with to be the cause was reason for interest. He had been satisfied with just observing, even with his enlightening display with Pure Ether…
… But then, he had killed one of his men. And by proxy, one of Fina's men. Permanently.
That wasn't something that simply happened with conventional magecraft.
That cursed sword was quite the peculiarity. Even he would have felt its edge had he been peering through Rabe's eyes when stabbed.
"Fufu. Barthomelloi is a bigger fool than I thought if she actually lets that one go."
The Demon Lord of the Finance World started to make some calls and send out some feelers to Japan. Should the boy manage to survive this mess, it would be profitable to keep an eye on the latest fresh source of ripples in the world.
o. o. o.
Bullets and projectiles were blocked by walls of swords enchanted with shock resistant mysteries.
Monsters and familiars torn apart by flying spinning copies of Natalia.
The hallways clouded with endless plumes of smoke with no fire.
And enemy soldiers and magi…
"What the hell is going on?! He wasn't even stabbed!"
"Fuck! Manuel's dead! He's genuinely dead! It's that black sword! He's-!?"
Shirou didn't need to run. He didn't need to rush. He didn't need to plan.
Another copy of Kiritsugu stabbed into the floor, followed by another certain surprise from his coat embedded into the wall nearby, neatly covering it up, and once more propagated the curse of Angra Mainyu throughout the castle, utterly violating any and every mystery that it came across.
"The corruption's spreading again! Someone stop that fucking bastard already!"
Rather, it was better if he took his time.
And for once, he was actually enjoying himself.
And with that, he would repeat the cycle once more, and continued down the hallway, enshrouded in a dark cloud.
From the opposition's side, it was akin to combating a nightmare in the form of a slowly oncoming fog. Bullets were blocked. Defenses were penetrated almost easily. Familiars were torn apart by Noble Phantasms of all things. Casting spells in general usually resulted in some sort of curse that literally caused their magic circuits to fry them from the inside out. AND they couldn't even rely on the internal defenses of the Golem due to what horrifying curse that seemed to corrupt, violate, and tear apart any mystery it came across.
The only things they could make out every now and then were the brief flickers of light that occasionally reflected off of the swords shot at them, and the occasional haunting shine of those nightmarish silver eyes behind the folds of smoke.
For nearly any other magus, human, or monster, being stuck in this maze and facing down a seemingly endless army of men and monsters would be a dauntless task.
For Shirou, it felt like just another job that Barthomelloi had forced on him.
One that he was particularly good at.
o. o. o.
"What the hell…?"
"Fina? Is something the matter?" Altrouge asked curiously.
"He's killed my men," The Captain whispered in disbelief, as if the possibility had never crossed his mind until now. All of his prior confidence and bravado had drained away into utter disbelief, then shock, then absolute rage. "He's KILLING MY MEN!"
As if acting as an extension of Fina's despair, the sentient fortress in the sea let out a hollow groan that echoed nightmarishly over the open water. The seemingly endless plumes of smoke leaking from its gaping side seemed to do nothing but grow progressively ever since Shirou entered it.
"Ah. And now we are at the good part." Merem smiled like a cat that caught the canary.
"I do not know what is so significant. This is hardly the first time your forces have been mutilated and torn apart wholesale over the centuries." Lorelei pretended to play ignorant and aloof on the matter, though her sharp eyes told a different story. It was well known among those that dealt with Ancestors that Fina had often utilized endless human waves to wear down his enemies at times.
"SOLOMON! EL MELLOI! YOU KNEW THIS WOULD HAPPEN!" the Captain spat in pure rage, fanged teeth and warped features on full display.
"You make it sound as though I anticipated being abducted from the start." Waver sighed, lighting up his last cigar and pretending to not be nearly floored by the pure rage and malice directed in his direction. "And to be frank, what would warning you accomplish? Even if I was sloppy enough to let loose secrets of that nature, what are the odds that you would take it as a personal challenge? You were eager for an excuse to confront Shirou the entire trip here. Any caution I would have granted would have been dismissed."
"As much as I'd like to accept your flattering accusation, I'm afraid you overestimate me." Merem whimsically played along. "While I was confident that Shirou be more than capable of tearing your insides asunder in ways even the rest of us could not compare, the idea that he could manage to force his way inside you to do so, by himself at least, was beyond my expectations. His amusing maneuver with Balmung was something even I had no idea he had stored away. Ironic, given your crude and sloppy habits make you appear to be nothing but a black hole to your betters."
"Fina. Do calm down. You're embarrassing me."
The seemingly casual and half hearted chiding from Altrouge seemed to traumatize and paralyze the Pirate Captain more severely than the realization that he was being murdered from the inside. If anything he looked like he had just been slapped.
"I… you're right, Ma'am. Sorry. I let the surprise get to me. I didn't… no. Solomon thought the boy passed the low bar in some way and I ignored it."
With a heavy sigh the vampire cooled himself off and looked back at where the fighting was taking place. And then reached into his coat.
"Well then boy. You wanted your fight. You got your fight. Now it's my time to respond."
His hand retracted holding an old iron maritime bell. Rusty, aged, and with little on it in terms of decorations or flair.
"Ah. I was wondering if your pride would allow you to go that far." Merem's smile dimmed, and his eyes flickered with interest.
"My pride has been tarnished enough that this is not far enough, Solomon." The Captain stood firmly by his decision, before shaking his arm.
It was a heavy metallic clang that echoed over the waters.
It was an old sound that seemed to pierce ears and air alike. The weight of its hollow clang, an irregular note that could not be found on the traditional musical scale, a fundamental mystery in itself. One such that even spectators could tell would travel untold distances over open waters to reach the ears of those it was intended for.
"Solomon. Am I to assume that the bell is one associated to Svelton's disasters?" Lorelei hummed in mild curiosity.
Luvia frowned in confusion. "Disaster?"
"Which one? I do not make a habit of knowing all the disasters my peers are involved in. Skagerak? Jutland? I believe he had quite a bit of fun around Tripoli a century back." Merem didn't turn away from the ocean.
"Don't play coy and answer the question, toy of the Church."
"I cannot give you one, Queen of the Tower, as I have not witnessed it myself." The vampire shrugged off her orders. "Though if it is, then I dare say that Shirou may still have quite the labor ahead of him."
Rin looked around, her expression similar to Luvia's. "Labor? Can someone tell me what's important about that bell?"
"Bells are an old fixture to maritime vessels dating back to the bronze age, and utilized for a wide range of purposes. Timekeeping. Alarms. Religious ceremonies. Communication over long distances. One could say that they are as mandatory to a proper ship as masts and sails are." Waver breathed out a cloud of smoke, frowning in contemplation. Whatever the case, he doubted it would be good for Shirou.
Bazett grimaced. "It's said that the worst and bloodiest massacres that could be traced back to Svelton mentioned the sound of a bell being rung before they took place. Entire towns set aflame and the populace butchered as though by madmen and wild animals standing aside one another."
"You give me too much credit girl. I may be a pirate, but I am a proper one. My feat are mine. My crew's are theirs. I dare not risk a mutiny." The Captain stated firmly as he rang the bell firmly.
He smiled softly.
Especially not with a First Mate like his.
o. o. o.
Shirou felt something was amiss before the sound of the bell reached his ears.
It was as if he was suddenly in the fabled labyrinths of Greece, and the Minotaur had just woken up.
His pace throughout the gradually mutilated and violated hallways and threshed corpses of possessed soldiers and monsters had not slowed down at all since he reached his comfortable stride. The confined spaces, versatility of his swords, and confusion he sewed made him nothing short of an unstoppable abomination to his enemies. Traditional tactics and magecraft didn't work when he knew what direction they came from and hard counters for virtually everything coming his way.
Whenever he came across an intersection in this sentient maze, his structural grasping would point out the longer path, and then he'd collapse the ceiling of the others so he wasn't overwhelmed or snuck up on from behind.
And if he happened to reach a dead end, well, few castles were ever designed with a single story in mind. He had dropped at least three stories if all the floors were even and linear.
But apparently his almost pleasant crusade through the innards of the Eighth Apostle Ancestor was about to be derailed. Hard, knowing his luck.
Despite tearing through a squad of soldiers from Imperial Japan just a minute ago, the hallways were eerily vacant and ominously quiet. It was as though the forces he was up against themselves were wary of the oncoming disaster.
He reached into his coat and pulled out yet another "surprise" which he implanted into the walls nearby for later.
Then he pulled out another small crimson pill, filled with Saber's blood, and swallowed it, allowing the rush of her absurd mana to flow through his body and refresh virtually every cell in his body.
Mana flowed through every nook and cranny of his flesh, blood, bones and clothes. The hallways had gone unusually quiet. He could instinctively tell that something far more vicious and unnatural than anything else he had encountered so far since he arrived was practically flying through the Golem's innards towards him.
The constant corruption of Kiritsugu mutilating the bounded fields of the hallways restricted where the soldiers could "conveniently" appear from to get the jump on him.
But then again, that would mean that they would have less information on where he was physically located as well.
So this begged the question: where would it come from?
Through the hallway from the front? Behind?
Shirou smirked slightly underneath his shroud, and jumped hard from where he was standing.
Four conventional swords materialized.
One impaled the place he had just lept from. One a few meters back. One a few meters forward.
And one, utilizing time magic, hovered flat just a few centimeters from the floor ten meters to his five o'clock, further back and to the side of all the other blades, unmoving even as he landed on it quietly.
He didn't even stand straight up before the floor beneath the sword in front of the others exploded violently from below, throwing debris and threshed expensive carpeting in every direction.
The thrown debris didn't even reach the peak of their flight before half a dozen nameless Noble Phantasms bombarded the point of interest just as if not more viciously than the original attack.
He then lept back again and to the other side of the hallway in the middle of the madness, hidden by the ever present-
Shirou held back a curse as a sharp shockwave tore up nearly the entirety of the hallway and kept rearing down its length, barely missing him in the process.
"The captain must be losing his touch. Letting a rat in when he's got our trophy from that penny pincher out. And then waking me up for this nonsense. That lazy ass chaser is getting sloppy."
There was barely any room left to stand on either edge of the gutted hallway for at least thirty from his curse or not, the level of casually unleashed of raw power just displayed was on another level. Almost comparable to a Servant's.
Shirou grimaced, noting that all of the swords he used to produce his cover had been blown away from the attack.
Within ten seconds, his cover and the kicked up dust had cleared up enough for both parties to get a good look at one another, although there was a faint shimmer in the air in the lingering dust that indicated that something else had been mixed in with that last move.
She was an attractive woman in her mid thirties. Tall, standing just short of two meters tall, with a thick, tan, and muscular figure on full display. Only an open light jacket and some wrapping covered her sizable chest. Her lower half was donned in simple patched cotton slacks.
Her face was her most captivating and noticeable feature for a list of reasons. She had a rugged natural beauty of Mediterranean descent, but from a different region than her Captain's if her accent were any indication. Her long wavy brown hair that bled into an ocean blue at the tips reached down to her shoulders, but was shaved to the skin on the left half of her head, giving her a punk like appearance.
But more captivating than her beauty was the thick scar that looked like it nearly cleaved her skull in half from the top down on her left side straight through her eye, which was covered by an eyepatch, and stopped almost at her lips.
Lips that revealed fangs whenever she spoke.
And yet, Shirou's eyes told him even more than that.
And it wasn't good.
The brute of a woman scoffed as she took in Shirou's appearance. "You've got to be kidding me. I was woken up for an actual child? That pervert's tastes are getting worse. So help me if you sun stroked idiots didn't bother to…"
Her annoyed chastising of the crew died off as she noticed some of the corpses nearby that had not been blown away.
Corpses with Kiritsugu impaled in their hearts and heads.
"... I stand corrected. The rat also has teeth. And the pox."
Her eye slowly turned to Shirou with zero mercy.
"... You're not possessed like the others," Shirou stated emotionlessly, his eyes never straying from her's. "That's your original body."
"A clever talking rat at that. You're quite the vermin, aren't you." The nails on her hands slowly elongated into claws.
And one that was in deep shit, seeing how she was eight hundred years old. A good three hundred older than Fina himself. Meaning that she had been there and willingly allowed herself to be integrated into whatever was the "Eighth Apostle Ancestor" when it happened. It wasn't far off to say that the monster in front of him was the crew's main heavy when the ship wasn't involved.
And there he was, fighting her in her own territory.
A copy of Kanchou and Bakuya materialized in his hands. He was NOT going to be able to end this fight quickly. Better to up the defenses while he still could. "Most of your kind would rather run away or tear the world apart than be subordinate to their junior. Much less for half a millenia."
"Haha. Oh we have a sharp and sassy one. Those pretty eyes of yours are quite something, no doubt. It's been a very long time since anyone has managed to dig up that little trinket. I'll be sure to rip them out of your skull first." She began to walk to the side…
… Then up the wall opposite of him as though gravity didn't matter…
… Then sauntered in his direction.
"Allow me to introduce myself, rat. Jericho Fadel Al-Zaman. First Mate of Fina-Blood Sveltzen. His official enforcer and boot up the ass."
Shirou took a stance. "I bet he likes it."
Jericho's bloodthirsty smile widened. "I believe I'll take your tongue after your eyes."
Two seconds later, what was left of the hallway no longer existed.
o. o. o.
Bullets were firing everywhere in the conveniently emptied out square of buildings in the suburb.
"Fuck! Contact!" One of the soldiers cursed, trying to get a bead on the blur of purple and black that melded into the night.
"No shit!" Snapped the one next to him. "They were waiting for us! Plan A's compromised!"
The American squad sent to infiltrate the area near the Masters was specifically chosen for their stealth acumen and anti-magus tactics. All their equipment was designed to minimize their risk of attracting attention and maximizing results in a single go… only they were caught before they could spring their surprise.
It was only a flicker, but between one second and the next, one of the men stationed at the side of the building outright vanished when a nail impaled his chest through his armor and ripped him through the closed window, destroying the wall in the process.
"Plan C! We need to swap now or else we'll be taken out before we can do anything!" If there had been four or more squads available, they would have tried some alternative tactics to pin down the monster that was playing with them, but they simply didn't have the numbers or equipment to deal with such an overwhelming force.
But there were squads that could hold their own.
Reality flickered. The soldiers' bodies became undeterminable, as though they were little more than silhouettes that could represent anything that vaguely resembled a human being, and their features…
"I remember the basement. I dreamed, hiding, always prey to those that dwelled beyond light."
The building they were in became pitch black, and every single soldier seized up as though they were electrified before returning to their prior forms.
"So come, deeper into the pool of nests, so we may speak in the shadows. Until we are all sated."
Countless ebony ribbon-like arms flickered up from the pitch black ground and latched onto the soldiers, forcing each and every one of them to convulse violently as though they were being electrocuted and poisoned simultaneously.
Outside, hidden in a secluded corner of the property, Sakura focused on her spell with a small, yet eerily ominous smile on her face.
It had been just as Shirou had predicted. This vacant building was one of a dozen and a half within a two kilometer radius of the Emiya household that Shirou had told everyone to constantly monitor for the night. Empty. Stable. And in an ideal position to shore up before making a surprise raid.
"Fufufu." Rider allowed herself to laugh lightly as she safely watched her prey writhe under her Master's influence. She didn't know how exactly they functioned, but Shirou's assumption that these fools functioned in collective groups was spot on.
A group of pirates. A group of werewolves. A group of soldiers. It wasn't just for cohesion and functionality. Fina's men were required to function in established sets if they wanted to do anything.
If they needed to change identities to adapt to a situation, they ALL needed to. And in that lone moment of conceptual instability, they were open targets for someone that excelled in preying on spiritual entities.
Caught between life and death, swapping between identities, the pirates of Fina's original crew were little more than specters with an exceptionally generous host and set of rules that kept them functioning in the physical world.
But at the end of the day, they were still little more than spiritual entities.
Little more than a snack for the Black Grail.
Screams of a dozen men and women long dead rasped inside the household as they were dragged down into the abyss below. They did not know what was going on, but all of them instinctively knew that their deaths, their true deaths, were at hand.
It was different from their frequent exposures with Primate Murder. If that monster was "death" in its purest sense, then what was taking place was "death" on a far more corrupted and violated manner. It would not be clean, or painless.
But it would be just as absolute.
Shirou had been concerned and wary about utilizing Sakura like this. He had gone through an entire war to prevent her powers from going out of control. To prevent her from feeding the Black Grail. To stop her from being a monster. There was even a risk that she might even become an Apostle by consuming part of Fina's crew.
He had said as much when he brought this idea up.
Sakura had taken it regardless. Rather, she did not deem the risks worth her notice to begin with.
After everything that Shirou had put himself through, that he was still putting himself through, the idea of standing on the sidelines nauseated her.
Compared to that, digesting the dregs of some annoying Apostle was not even worth debating.
o. o. o.
"Target confirmed." The sniper half a kilometer all but whispered to his spotter, looking at the young girl casting some twisted looking thaumaturgy from the shadows on his allies. His sights identified her Servant inside the building, distracted by the show. "Taking the shot."
His finger made contact with the trigger…
And relaxed instantly as he died on the spot.
"What th-" The sniper's spotter turned around in alarm and tried to make some distance, only to move too slowly and get slashed across the chest as though his armor didn't exist, making him collapse a moment later.
"... Anyone mind telling me what that's all about?" Shiki Ryougi asked nobody in particular as she flicked her knife to rid it of blood as she stood on top of the abandoned store's rooftop. It had been one of the many places that had been left empty after the chaos in Fuyuki grew too much for the owners to feel safe, and the fact that it had clearly been broken into on the ground floor made it clear that something had been going on inside.
For a moment it appeared as though she was by herself and not getting an answer…
"... You're not supposed to get involved," Only for Assassin to step out from the shadows as though melting from them.
His eyes briefly flickered to the fresh corpses.
They weren't getting up.
They weren't fading away.
They were genuinely dead.
That wasn't supposed to happen.
"I like to take nighttime walks." Shiki dismissed his statement. "Apparently these guys and their friends do too."
"It's a popular night. It'll be hard to keep things quiet."
"So I've gathered. I like quiet nights." Shiki frowned, clearly debating what to do next. "Any suggestions on where I should avoid making noise?"
Assassin liked this one.
o. o. o.
It was absolute madness.
Magus Killer and First Mate were nothing more than wild blurs of violence and chaos, tearing apart anything and everything within reach and then some as they viciously attempted to ream the other apart.
Carpets. Walls. Ceiling. Entire hallways and chambers luxuriously adorned with magecraft and wealth from its prior owner vanished within moments as overwhelming strength clashed against Noble Phantasms over and over again rampantly.
And that was not taking the pirate's peculiar ability into account.
"Kuh!" Shirou spun in mid air to avoid getting skewered by a massive white crystal from the side of the hallway, the floor beneath him already torn into oblivion.
The crystals from above shattered from a retaliatory swipe from Kanchou.
Bakuya lashed out at his other side to deflect the smaller dagger like stones attached to Jericho's outstretched fingers.
Both vicious clashes shattered and sprayed shards like dust in every direction.
Shirou clicked his tongue as he spun in mid air and kicked the woman's other arm coming at him before using her body as a platform and made some room.
Unfortunately the distance was enough that the bitch faded into the shimmering white clouds of dust…
No. Not dust.
The substance that the vampire manipulated as easily as breathing was salt.
And in hindsight, the very premise of that was terrifying.
Of all the basic substances a seafarer could manipulate as a power that wasn't something basic like wind or water, it had to be the one that was not only in abundant supply in the ocean, but had a deceptively massive influence and presence in human history, magecraft, alchemy, purification, preservation, religion, and mythology even to this day.
Waver would have had an absolute fit and or heart attack if he had been stuck in this position…
Shirou swung his arm hard, generating a small gust of wind to blow away some of the dust around him.
… And not simply because the airborne salinity was trying to raise his blood pressure to astronomical levels with each breath he took. He suspected that any minor scratch he took would attempt to yield similar results.
He was dealing with a literal salty bitch. And he would be damned if he ever said it out loud.
As if reading his mind and taking offense, the hallway ahead of him began to rampantly spawn massive crystal stalactites of salt meters in width and length piercing through its entirety from one wall to another, the process closing in on him akin to a runaway train.
Shirou didn't even hesitate as a dozen copies of Kiritsugu materialized around him and speared the walls, ceiling, and floor of the space in front of him.
"Deny. Refute. Scar."
The simple three word aria did its work just in time as the bounded field linking all the swords sprung up as the visions crystals reached where it was, and the latter shattered on contact, unable to maintain stability under the pressure of the wall of curses.
Shirou breathed out slowly and glanced at the foundations ahead of him. Normally the curse of his blades would spread and propagate fairly quickly in an environment like this, especially with loads of mana and spiritual entities around, but its progress seemed to be being held up by the salt ahead. And yet there was no reaction of the curse to her mana…
"An Apostle that uses purification rites. And I thought that Solomon was supposed to be the only major hypocrite."
"Just because one believes does not necessitate they follow, little rat." With a confident swagger, Jericho faded into view, dismissing the massive crystals in front of her, through the white dust, and gave the barrier a curious glance. Said glance grew slightly curious as she noted that her salt was slowly giving way to the curses Shirou was propagating. "That is quite the vile pox you carry for a vermin. We're going to have to strip the ship and burn the contamination after this is all set and done."
Shirou couldn't be more grateful that Kirei was dead already. The conversation between this woman and the false priest would have been the stuff of myth and nightmares.
"Sounds like work." He delayed. She was no doubt wary of the barrier, but it wouldn't last for long. "How the hell are you not the captain?"
The jab at their positions despite Fina's inferiority to her went ignored as she smirked. "Fina's a people person. I'm not. Simple as that."
He doubted it, but didn't bother to press the matter.
The sound of a gunshot cracked through the silence a moment after the bullet fired impacted the speed dampening bounded field he had set up behind him and dropped to the floor.
Shirou wasn't surprised. He had expected reinforcements to show up at some point. "I thought you were the type to fight solo."
"Nobody works alone on a crew and hopes to sail safely. Pity you learned that too late."
She was about to move. Fortunately, he had managed to come up with a new tactic that should put her on the backfoot for a moment. "I dunno. I got in here by myself without too much trouble. Must be a shitty crew."
Blueprint selected. Volume set. Execution positions and paths established. Secondary chamber load.
That managed to hit a sore spot as the vampire's smile finally dropped into a scowl. "I will enjoy breaking you, rat."
The first barrel in his mind fired.
"Get in line." In a single gesture, Shirou rearmed himself with a bow and a massive screw shaped blade that was modified to be shot, and pulled back.
He couldn't break Caladbolg II quickly or with the mana he had, but he didn't need to go that far.
He just needed it to pack a hard punch and a nasty twist.
Secondary round. Fire.
Just as the bowstring was pulled taut near his head, Jericho barreled through his barrier, hands and body wreathed in salt to protect her from the curses, if only for an instant.
Unfortunately, because she had been so busy focusing on him, she paid little mind to the two blades formed at his back.
Both mirror images of one another, they were irregular weapons shaped like elongated bidents… or tuning forks.
Not aimed at one another, but spinning in place at one another.
Two meters from Shirou, the tools hit one another.
The heavy bell-like notes from the blades flooded the hallways and resonated with one another loudly and deafened everyone within the section of the golem…
More importantly, with the wave of high amplitude vibrations, each and every shard of salt shattered instantly and violently. Including the meter long claws that would have gored his skull just now had they not broken into pieces.
Funny thing about crystals. Loads of mages liked to use them in one form or another for their magecraft, so having a quick method on hand to easily break if not destabilize the majority of them was usually a good idea if you were in the business of hunting them down. Fortunately the sleeve on his belt protected the ones that stored his backup mana supply from suffering the same fate after he had made the mistake of forgetting about them during one of his earlier hunts.
Fortunately the belt was still in its experimental stage, or else he really might have blown himself up with his own gems that time. Not that he'd ever tell Rin or Luvia about that particular mishap.
His body burned as he forced as much mana into the Noble Phantasm as possible, but he couldn't help but smirk as the genuinely stunned and surprised look of his opponent took shape right in front of him.
o. o. o.
To her credit, Rin only slightly flinched as what could be considered the lower right abs of the Castle Golem quite literally exploded out in a fantastic detonation that nearly disconnected its front right leg from the rest of its abused body. She only just managed to spot the flash of an arrow or projectile fly off over the sea in the aftermath.
"That was Caladbolg. Either the fool must be feeling overconfident, or he's come across something particularly nasty in there," Archer noted. "Knowing our mutual luck, it's the latter."
Indeed, with her reinforced eyesight, Rin spotted Shirou literally diving outside of the massive hole he had just made, half flip with bow in hand, and then start unleashing a constant barrage of exploding arrows that burst into flames into a roaring white pissed off… thing, that had jumped out right after him.
"What the hell is that?" she muttered in genuine confusion.
"If the reports are accurate, that would be the First Mate," Lorelei answered with a thoughtful tone as the sounds of exploding arrows finally reached them on shore. "There was speculation about that one's mysteries and nature since nobody had ever directly encountered them and survived. However, it appears that there was some substance to them after all."
A particularly large and loud explosion flashed in front of everyone's eyes momentarily, followed by the sound and a notably vicious cry of rage and annoyance.
The white thing was falling down by one of the Golem's legs when their eyes cleared up. Shirou on the other hand…
"Oh that stupid… JERICHO YOU HALF BLIND FOOL! HE'S GIVEN YOU THE COME ABOUT! HE'S BY THE KITCHENS! NO, THE AFT KITCHENS THAT WERE BLOWN ASUNDER YOU ADDLE BRAINED DRUNK!" Fina roared to his supposed right hand as he spied Shirou hoisted by the golden chains of Enkidu and swung back to the original hole in the castle he had made and entered to begin with.
Not one to take an insult while lying down, or literally falling in this particular case, the amorphous white monstrosity seemed to twist and lash out in mid air to grab onto the outside of the golem, skidding down and leaving white trails of some substance on the side of the stone monster until it literally ground to a stop just a few dozen meters from the water. Then, it started to claw up like a malicious abomination at horrifying speed with a murderous intent that could be felt from shore.
"What a curious confrontation. It's difficult to determine who exactly is having trouble with who from here," Altrouge hummed absently, making Fina flinch at the backhanded comment. "Then again, our host has proven to be quite versatile and resourceful. That was yet another new Noble Phantasm revealed just now, and a rather strong one at that. I'm starting to get quite interested to know just how many he can make in general. It's quite ironic when you think about it. An Apostle Ancestor armed with the greatest tools and weapons in human history… hmmm. Wasn't there a Buddhist from this island that was famous for collecting weapons? What was his name again?"
"I believe you are referring to the warrior monk Benkei," Waver provided.
"Ah, that was it. Thank you, Lord El-Melloi II," the Black Princess spoke as though having a meaningless conversation. Back to the fight, Shirou had vanished inside the castle again, only to be quickly followed by the white monster a good fifteen seconds later.
More than plenty of time for Shirou to come up with something…
The white monster roared in pain, frustration, and pure undiluted rage as, just as it was about to make its way back into the castle again, something deeper inside literally blasted it back out, launching it far farther out over open water than before.
The majority of those there pretended to ignore the wide range of curses spewing from Fina's mouth as the realization of what just happened set in.
"Owch. Should have expected that," Waver grimaced, recalling some of Kiritsugu's more brutal strategy sessions with Shirou all those years ago. They were dirty and basic tactics, but damn if they didn't work.
Now that he thought about it, from that position…
He blinked as he saw the near black ocean underneath the monster foam as though some chemical reaction was taking place and turned pure white. Moments later a massive pillar spiked from the surface of the sea to serve as a foothold and-
Shatter into pieces as two more crimson arrows streaked across the night sky. One obliterating the pillar, and the other hammering into the monster, launching it even further from its home and plowing it into the ocean.
Yup. If you can't kill them, kick them while they're down. Just like Kiritsugu had taught him all those years ago. Assassin would be proud.
"Not bad," Archer voiced his approval to Rin.
And Waver had clearly just been imagining things when he thought he had heard a barely withheld snort of amusement from one Queen of the Clocktower. No doubt a cruel and sadistic illusion by one of the vampires there.
He had the self control to not look at the woman and play the fool. Unfortunately Lancer, Tohsaka, Edelfelt, and Bazett did not.
They would no doubt suffer the consequences of their behavior later.
That said, it was clear that the vampires had also "not" noticed the imaginary reaction as well.
"For fucks sake, Jericho, how hard is it to thresh that brat?!" Fina snarled in frustration, clearly frustrated with the lack of progress being made, "Got to do everything myself."
Without waiting to see what happened next, the captain put his pointer and thumb to his lips and blowing hard.
The sharp, yet immaculately crystal clear tone of a whistle speared through the night and ocean air. A direct order that dictated a specific and immediate response.
And on command, not only did several ships surface from the water again, but the titanic golem began sway and rotate its body, turning and moving with staggering steps…
Away from shore.
Waver wasn't the only one that realized just how terrible the situation had just turned for Shirou if the small list of gasps met his ears. "Saber, while it may be on the far side of what's accepted for the rules of the battle-"
"He knows," Saber replied curtly, not once moving from her spot, and refusing to say more.
It was a terrible turn of events. The further Fina was from shore, the further Shirou was from help or retreating. They couldn't rule out that the vampires would pull some dirty trick that could turn the world on its head. Nor could they rule out that Fina had some way to prevent Shirou from summoning Saber with a command seal in a worst case scenario.
"Look. The hole that they came out of which was just made," Luvia grimaced, watching as the gaping three story wide tear made with Caladbolg was warping and closing on itself as though it was flesh instead of stone and iron.
"It's healing, like it was part of his body." Rin grit her teeth in frustration before looking at the older and far larger opening made with Balmung. "The older one isn't though."
"An aftereffect of the Pure Ether no doubt. There's no telling what that sort of exposure would do to anyone, let alone an Apostle Castle." Bazett frowned in thought before noticing something. "Wait. Where's that white thing Shirou was holding off?"
The audience paused as they looked to where there should have at least been something in the ocean to indicate where the monster had landed. A mass of white. Splashing water. Angry cries.
But there was nothing.
"... What are the odds that it drowned?" Rin grimaced.
"A fool's bet," Luvia coldly answered.
"I thought as much."
o. o. o.
The rhythmic pattern of footsteps running echoed through the cursed hallways.
Shirou had intended to draw things out once he got inside, which is why he had taken his crusade at a slow and leisurely pace so far. Even the introduction of that monster of a First Mate didn't change his original strategy in that regard.
Fina had countered that by putting him on a clock.
Fine then. Their fight was ultimately one big game of chicken at the end of it all. If that was how the rules had been changed, so be it. He could work with that.
Shirou scrunched his face slightly, letting a pulse of mana flood throughout and around his frame quickly in tandem with a slight flex of his muscles. The single gesture shattered and blew off all the clumps of brine and salt that had adhered to his body and hair.
The damn growing clumps of crystal and rock had been making his movements heavy and sluggish ever since he had encountered the crazed woman. No doubt leaving them on him for an extended period of time would have only led to more problems and headaches down the line.
He could already see some notable degradation in the quality of his clothes and skin where the accumulation had been particularly bad, and he was starting to get a little light headed.
A quick self examination indicated that he was suffering from mild dehydration. Clearly another roundabout method of death by salt based mystery.
How lovely. It appears he just discovered another glaring hole in Avalon's regeneration factor.
"Shirou, if you have a plan to resolve this soon, I would hurry. The monster you were dealing with earlier has vanished."
Saber's advice caused him to click his teeth in annoyance. Damn. He had hoped that they would at least take the long and economical route getting back inside instead of doing that vanishing trick he saw from last time with the grunts he defeated. It was more than likely it cost significantly more mana to relocate a powerhouse like the First Mate compared to the grunts, but the fact that they did so anyways indicated that Fina, Jericho, or the amalgamation that was the Eighth was finally reaching the end of their patience doing things economically.
The silver lining though, was that Fina didn't know where he was exactly just yet.
Throughout Shirou's initial rampage through the golem, he had been throwing copies of Kiritsugu all over the place, contaminating every inch of the living compound as he passed for over fifteen minutes. As a result, a large portion of the monster was one giant dead zone that the teen could run through with significantly less concern about being overwhelmed or ambushed by Fina's forces.
Of course, that wasn't to say that it was safe, per say, but significantly less overwhelming.
At least until Jericho finds him again.
Which leads him to his current main goal to screw the bastard pirate over in as short of time as possible.
He had dashed a good hundred meters within the reality warped insides of the monster before turning and opening one of the random doors that lined the structure and wrenched it open. Fortunately, due to his Structural Grasping, he knew it was a sizable guest room and not something odd like the broom closet three doors down.
Entering the chambers and closing the door behind him, he got to work.
Three copies of Kiritsugu, and five copies of yet another blade that the old drunk Sirius had shoved in his Reality Marble over the years.
This new blade was a fairly mundane ritual tool roughly the length of a shortsword with a slot in the pommel for a gem to slide in.
It was a quality, yet ultimately disposable piece of ritual ware, and while the intricacies and differences involved could take up a book, Shirou essentially referred to it as "an Azoth Dagger with extra steps".
He wisely refrained from saying as much whenever he took it out in front of Rin or Luvia. They'd literally throttle him on principle if he ever did.
"-Four, five." He counted the charged gems he had stored in his pocket and quickly inserted one into each of the blades. Fortunately he didn't have to go through the hassle of pulling them out from his belt. He was already down a little over a third of the reserves in it, and he had a feeling he'd need to squeeze every remaining drop of mana from this point onward if he wanted to make it through this alive.
The hallway outside shuddered, and he heard a familiar roar echo down it.
He clicked his tongue in annoyance. He had less time than he thought.
Four more swords impaled the corners of the wall lined up with the hallway, and a bounded field provided him another moderate layer of seclusion. At best it would buy him twenty seconds. It was going to be close.
And with that said and done, all twenty-seven of his natural born circuits and eight of his crest began to light with power.
"The fires burn thrice. Over water. Over air. Over cities.
I, who remembers fondly.
You, who recalls sadly.
Within our legacy we proclaim and scar."
The room shook again, and the air quickly became saturated with brine and salt. The monster was just outside and no doubt had sensed the use of mana in the chambers.
A massive, yet unusually simple formalcraft array spawned on the floor with each of the swords impaled on the ground staked in key positions.
Formalcraft was one of those fields of thaumaturgy that anyone could use and study for most forms of research, but only a few ever took to the utmost limits. Shirou himself had researched it to a certain extent. However, he had specifically focused in using it in conjunction with his projections to modify, amplify, and maximize their effects far beyond what he'd normally be able to accomplish by himself.
The three copies of Kiritsugu in the room began to vibrate and hum… just like the remaining intact copies that he had stuck all throughout the moving Golem just a while prior.
He had only used this trick twice before on other jobs. Both times he had though, the results had been… prominent.
The walls began to crack. White began to creep on the plaster as though it was ice.
"To the lost. The missed. The saved.
On this night, please look up and listen to another's tale."
The bounded field holding back the wall shattered, and spears of salt lanced through like blades of steel, capable of threshing flesh as easily as air.
Shirou didn't move, and finished his aria.
o. o. o.
In the middle of the residential area of Fuyuki, Sakura went still, her eyes dilated, and her breathing momentarily stopped.
o. o. o.
Irisviel went rigid as she looked at the ocean from the rooftops of the Emiya estate. Her eyes widened with both surprise and elation.
o. o. o.
Blood spewed from the pirate's mouth, surprising all there.
"Oh? A Divine Curse?" Altrouge was intrigued by the sudden development, examining her knight's distressed disposition. "And mixed with modern conceptual thaumaturgy at that. It's similar to what's in that sword, but something else is added to it to magnify the potency. How curious."
Fina roared in absolute agony alongside his main body. His chest rapidly rotted from the inside out, as the castle's torso turned pitch black in the distance, crumbling and decaying in front of everyone's eyes.
Merem couldn't help but chuckle in dark amusement. Regardless of what happened, Fina would never be able to live down the fact that Shirou had brought the Captain to his knees in front of his master this night. It was without question an unforgivable offense that the Eighth would never let go of for as long as he existed.
"Not much longer now." The Twentieth's smile widened as his amused eyes met with the Ninth's unamused glance.
Instead of gloating on the matter, he turned his attention back to where the contest had yet to be resolved.
Come then, Shirou Emiya. Surely this is not the extent of your services. Show your audience what more you have to provide the world.
o. o. o.
Omake: Satellite TV:
Several of Fina's men were in the rec room surrounding the giant screen television.
"OOOOOOOH! WHO LIVES IN A PINEAPPLE UNDER THE-!"
The television was blown through several walls out into the ocean, and the men were torn apart.
The idiots had forgotten one of the first rules of using satellite TV on the ship: no cartoons.
They couldn't afford another Popeye incident.
Altrouge forbid if they ever put on One Piece.
o. o. o.
As always, thanks Wayfarer for betaing.
Chapter 69. Nice.
AAAAND It's not over yet! I tried to get the fighting done, but it was going to stretch out uncomfortably long at this rate, so I though that this would be a nice cliff SPOT spot to stop at. Sorry about that.
So Jericho. I completely pulled her from my ass. Design and all. I always planned on Fina's First Mate to be an absolute monster, but I settled on the literal "Salty Wrench" design as I wrote the chapter. It felt appropriate.
So, some background on her character:
She has an Earth Element, and was a third generation magus from an upper middle class Muslim family in what would eventually be Syria that studied desalinization magecraft to survive on the desert coast of the Dead Sea, and afterwards the Mediterranean, but due to nobility and some political assholes wanting her family property because of all the water they had, she was left as the only survivor, leaving her with a strong dislike for nobility and the upper class. She is a "believer" but not a "follower" of the Muslim faith, so while she does not practice or follow its tenants, she does not tolerate others insulting her religion.
She constantly puts Fina on guard by staging mutinies every couple of months, even though she is overall treated as the drunk tomboyish older sister of the crew. She was originally turned by Rita Rozay-en during the early stages of the Ottoman Empire after the death of her family where she was wandering around aimlessly, as the latter considered her "an interesting foreign spice to collect", but escaped her control a century later with Altrouge's help and is the reason why Fina met Alt in the first place.
The scar on her head was made two centuries ago during a fight between Fina and Strout during a particularly heated argument and she is completely blind in her left eye.
Her Salt Magecraft pulls and restructures salt from her surroundings into condensed, rigid, and perfectly structured crystals that are as sharp and hard as steel, but reinforced by magecraft utilizing the ancient belief that salt had purifying and permanent properties, making it stronger than diamond and giving it purification properties. This results in her being particularly powerful and effective against other Apostles and magi. Especially within the main body.
Had Shirou not locked Fina in his own body and kept him on land, the fight would have turned out far differently, and Shirou would likely have lost once Jericho appeared. He can't handle fighting both of them at once within the main body. Much like how Fina's Ship and Crew sustain his existence, it also supplements Jericho's heavier one. That said, to "keep things economical" she is often drunk and asleep for long periods of time to lighten the load.
Jericho is a drinking buddy of Sumire's, and they are among the few Apostles that can tolerate the other while smashed. Especially over open water.
Fina on the other hand, and the crew by extension, laments each and every time this happens.
Inside the main body, Jericho has access to an absurd well of stamina and mana, making her near impossible to take down in a battle of endurance, and if it was one on one, she is actually stronger than Fina. The reason why she submits to him is because he is better at being a "captain" than she is, and he is more suited to serving as the foundation of the "Eighth". If Fina ever died, and Jericho became the captain, the entity that is known as the "Eighth" would become "A greater disaster, but a lesser threat against humanity overall".
In order to defeat and take Matri, Fina allowed Jericho to temporarily take over as "captain" to subdue the Golem Castle while he worked his mystery to usurp control over it. To this day, the coast of the island in Greece where they fought is still unable to sustain or propagate life.
She has three cats on the ship that she adores, which can also take the form of monsters and animals that Fina has taken in over the years. They are considered unofficial mascots of the crew, and were responsible for hunting down rats and other minor vermin that sneak onboard before they were turned into part of the Eighth along with everyone else.
If anyone else wants to use Jericho for their work. Go nuts. Just give credit where it is due. Like Always.
As for Shirou, Yeah, full Magus Killer mode. Against most heavy hitters and Servants he's liable to get smacked around, but in an enemy Magus' workshop? He's an absolute MONSTER and quite arguably and ironically where he's at his strongest. Seriously, he's worse than most Servants when it comes to tearing apart magecraft based defenses. Servants would just brute force through everything until they either find their target or are finally stopped.
Shirou? He purposefully destroys all the magecraft in the building around him with endless copies of Kiritsugu and just casually walks through everything as if he's in no danger while the defending side frantically tries to recover and figure out a way to hold him back.
Seriously, the insides of Van Fem's Castle Golem amped with being part of Fina is no joke. It might as well be considered its own dimension separated from reality under most circumstances. Between the absurd well of mana Fina has stored and Van Fem's traps, even Nero Chaos would have been wiped out eventually had he walked in without an exit strategy, and most Servants would be unable to escape unless they were packing something absurd like Excalibur, or had Caster's Age of the Gods level Magecraft. Shirou just casually walking right in and causing as much destruction as he did without any issue would be enough for nearly anyone in the moonlit world to do a double take and ask "wait what the fuck?"
I don't have much else to say atm. Working on the next chapter as we speak, and I hope the grand finale will meet expectations… no, I'm not trying to be clever there. There's no Grand class anything showing up in this story. I'm not that shameless, somehow. Don't read too much into it.
If you want to look at some of the fanart I've gotten commissioned for my stories, read chapters before they are posted for everyone or want to ask me something or whatever, as always, I have a PA-EON. Just look up Third Fang.
That's about it, I think. Work's work, and I'm going on vacation in both July and August, and I'll be driving myself mad with work until then. Same old same old.
SO REVIEW! WORSHIP THE LOG! VAN FEM HAS ALREADY SET UP ODDS ON HOW THE FIGHT WILL END UP AT HIS CASINO! AND REVIEW AGAIN!