Chapter 73: Missed Steps

I do not own Fate/Stay Night and stuffs.

o. o. o.

"So how many requests were made for Shirou in the end?" Rin asked as she curiously eyed the moderate stack of folders neatly placed on the living room table.

"Your inexperience betrays you, Tohsaka." Lorelei sat at the head of the table while calmly drinking some tea she had just been served. "What matters is not how many requests were made, but who is making them."

"Mmm. Sometimes knowing what a major party is interested in the first place is valuable in itself." Luvia nodded in agreement. The Clocktower was a place where secrets were hoarded and traded as a currency in itself.

Rin visibly strained from rolling her eyes, keeping herself to a certain minimum level of formality. "Any novice at the Tower knows that much, but quantity is a quality in of itself as well. Sakura and I have studied with Shirou longer than anyone else here and know at least the basics of his mysteries and some of his secrets. If there is an opportunity to exploit some of the more menial requests in bulk and amass some favors, I don't see why I should let the opportunity slip by."

"Nee-san." Sakura sighed in disappointment, but not arguing against what Rin had shamelessly suggested. She could tell that it wasn't the only reason why Rin was suggesting such a plan. Having the two of them run around would not just put their names out there and gain some clout, but also take some of the direct attention off of Shirou as well.

As much as he wanted to, Shirou couldn't just vanish off of the face of the earth, resources or not. People would get suspicious, especially given who he ran with and the circles he brushed shoulders in. It had to be believable and done in a way that not too many people would look too deeply into once it did happen.

Plus, a little early networking before she moved to England wouldn't hurt. Doing a few jobs that were meant for the Magus Killer would definitely spread her name about.

Lorelei gave Rin an unimpressed blink before turning to Shirou, who was quietly sitting at the other end of the table with his own drink.

The owner of the house didn't say or do anything as a reply to her silent inquiry other than a half hearted shrug to indicate that he didn't have any strong feelings one way or another about the idea. Which ultimately meant that Rin wasn't stretching the truth and was capable enough to at least take some of the workload off their hands.

"He's truly going above and beyond to endorse you."

"Archer, be quiet, or should I have you debate with her?"

"I'd have better odds against Berserker. I have zero luck with women like that. Leave diplomacy to the professionals."

"... You seem to have poor luck with women in general. Is there something you aren't telling me?"

"Nothing you'd want-er, nothing particularly relevant to our current guest."

"Glad to see my command spell is still working. It'll give me ideas for later."

"Rin…"

"Don't worry. I know. You have limits. I'll just stick to the humiliating stuff for girls' night."

"... Tch."

"Regardless of the mountains of mundane requests that have been submitted for the fool's services, these are the only ones that are worth recognizing as valuable." Lorelei returned to the task at hand with the folders at her side, "Each and every one of these tasks are suitable in request and source to mask your eventual disappearance. The majority of them come from or are strongly sponsored by a reputable Lord of the Clocktower that can be trusted with your condition should you fail to keep it to yourself."

Everyone in the room could practically taste her actually saying 'when' instead of 'should' in that sentence. Not that any of them blamed her.

"Meaning I'm picking two in the end." Shirou nodded in understanding. "One for the Tower at large to know I undertook, and one for me to work on long term once I disappear."

In other words, a borderline permanent house arrest and probation. A generous sentence all things considered, but still a jail away from home.

"I'm glad I do not have to spell it out for you." The Vice-Director began to spread out the documents. "As stated, your services are in high demand for various tasks. Both departments of Fundamentals desire you to host lectures on the Reinforcement line of thaumaturgy up to Projection, but that is clearly a ploy by their factions to influence you."

"That and they just want someone to replace McGinty for the introductory classes. He's corrupting the new students." Waver threw his two cents into the mix and was promptly ignored.

"Spiritual Evocation desires to examine the Servants in depth for their research." Lorelei picked up a folder.

"No. They're run by the Sophia-Ri, and they are still sore about what happened during the Fourth War. My predecessor, Lancer's Master, was engaged to the current Lord's sister. Both of which Kiritsugu killed. If Rufleus' treatment of the El Melloi is any indication, they would not hesitate to extend their displeasure to Shirou. Aristocratic faction or not." Waver shot down that idea firmly.

Lorelei took a moment to pause and look at her fellow Lord skeptically before surprisingly taking his word for it and placing the related documentation to the side. Personally she had no issues with the Sophia-Ri, and they were under her influence, but she supposed she was too accustomed to dealing with yes men and the capable under her direct command to truly consider the human factor of things.

Among the scant fields that Waver Velvet was superior to her in was reading the connections between parties from the perspective of someone without influence. Everyone wanted to behave in front of her. Nearly nobody cared about their image in front of the El Melloi these days, and that sloppiness was often their downfall if the stories were correct.

"We can discuss potential projects with them later then." She moved to the next document with only the slightest bit of attention. "Then there's the request from Lore-"

"PFFFT!" Shirou choked on his tea and coughed heavily.

"Shirou?" Sakura and Saber rushed to his side.

"Lore?!" Luvia balked.

"What on earth does the Department of Lore want with him?" Bazett was of the same mind as her.

"That's… definitely a surprise." Rin grimaced, with Illyasviel nodding in rare agreement.

"Uh, context for the ones that don't know the in's and outs of your group?" Lancer materialized, voicing the concerns of most of the Servants present.

" To put it simply, the Department of Lore deals with 'Angels and Demons'. Entities and artifacts that originate from outside the world in its entirety. Not alternate realities or dimensions, but extraterrestrial," Rin elaborated. "The bulk of their research by nature can't be considered traditional magecraft since what they work with falls outside all established systems on Earth."

"Even more notable is the fact that the Department is under the Director of the Tower himself." Luvia looked at Lorelei knowingly. "All members are essentially hand picked and approved by him."

"Meaning this is one of those requests." The Servant knowingly nodded while giving Shirou a look of pity.

Shirou, still clearing out his throat, drank some more tea to buy some time…

… Eighty seven.

That was the number of ceremonial daggers, knives, swords, and weapons that had notable extraterrestrial origins. Most of which were benign and unremarkable. However, there were a couple of outliers that would catch unwanted attention if he used them in front of others… or used at all.

Even then, those outliers had factors in them that he couldn't replicate properly, and deeper investigations only made his head hurt.

It did not help that the Department of Lore was infamous for possessing artifacts that literally drove people mad just by looking at them with normal eyes.

Damn it. His eyes must have shoved more through his skull than he thought when he was dealing with Gilgamesh. He strongly suspected if Saber hadn't been in direct contact with him during the fight, his mind likely would have overloaded long before Ig Alima cleaved the castle roof off.

He looked at his boss warily, and noted that she was blatantly looking for a satisfactory response or even excuse to the request.

"... Tell the Director…" He licked his lips and went for the only relatable excuse he could think of off the top of his head with the scores of information he gleamed from the annals of swords and history in his soul, "Tell him that my limits barely enable me to examine the samples left over from the Gigantomachia. I won't be as of much use as he suspects."

"The Gigantomachia?" Waver wasn't the only one confused by Shirou's cryptic response.

"Hoh? Then… interesting." Surprisingly, Lorelei seemed to be the only one that had the slightest inkling of what he was referring to before dismissing the matter altogether. "Very well. I'll inform them of your rejection and reasons. I cannot say what his response will be."

"I've always assumed that the most I'd ever be involved with Lore was acting as an intermediary between them and Archaeology if they got into a particularly bad dispute on who owns what artifact again." Shirou sighed helplessly, sagging back into his chair. He only hoped that he had at least avoided this potential disaster.

"Ah, yes. I suppose Meluastea put in a few requests as well." Nobody missed how Lorelei dismissed that detail.

"You're still hung up about that." Waver shook his head.

"About what?" Illya asked in confusion.

"When my predecessor died in the Fourth War, it left the position for the head of Mineralogy open. The head of the Archaeology, a member of a rival political faction in the tower, took it in the scramble while the other two were focused on one another. As of now, Karmaglyph Meluastea Deluc is the only Lord that's head of two departments," Waver elaborated.

"You don't seem too bothered by it." Rin pointed out suspiciously.

"We actually get along pretty well. Lord Meluastea's one of my few peers that doesn't actively try to sabotage or kill me at least once a year." Waver dismissed her concern shamelessly. "He was the one I wrote your letter of recommendation to."

Huh. If that was the case, no wonder Rin's acceptance into the department had been faster than she had expected even with her scholarship.

"How convenient." Luvia gave Rin a side glare.

"Unless you know what it's like to deal with an amoral priest purposefully screwing with your family finances for a decade, shut up."

"Sadly, the Edelfelt family has never been pushed to such humiliating lows."

"Rin. Luvia." Shirou all but groaned while ignoring the pointed stare that the Vice-Director was giving him. Fortunately that was enough to quiet the two teens before another fight potentially broke out.

"... If I may summarize the rest of the Departments to save time, the Department of Creation wants you to serve on its full staff due to your proficiency and versatility in Projection. They have actually been making this request for years now and have only redoubled their efforts. Curses want your time due to your exposure to the Grail and use of the mysteries that your swords possess. And while Astromancy does not demand you for your skillset specifically, they are heading and conducting a long term mass department project that they believe you can aid in overseeing the security of. I believe it was called Chaldea…?"

The woman's exposition was interrupted as Archer materialized behind Rin unexpectedly. Partially because his actions were so sudden, and partially because…

"... I thought you said that your Servant's identity was pointless." She gave Rin a cold stare.

Those at the table grimaced. Of all the topics that the Vice-Director had been updated on, EMIYA's identity had not been one of them.

"I told you he was an idiot Counter Guardian that had given up his name and identity playing hero and dying pointlessly as a mercenary." Rin flushed and looked away from her superior, damning herself for using Archer's words instead of going with the full truth… only to falter as Archer walked past her and to Lorelei. "Huh? Wh-what the heck are you doing?!"

"If it's any consolation, even if I don't remember everything, I certainly would have recalled being turned into a vampire or working under the top brass of the Association." EMIYA on the other hand had no shame walking up to the woman and looking down at her, no, looking down at the papers in her hand.

"And the reason why you decide to amend your Master's poor judgment now?" She was not intimidated.

Archer didn't respond immediately before slowly holding out his hand. "... That last project you mentioned. Something about it rang a bell. The kind of deja vu that you instinctively can tell will lead to more than just headaches if ignored."

"I thought she said you died a mercenary."

"I did."

"Archer? You told me you don't remember getting involved in any major Association projects."

"I don't. That's the problem." The Servant glanced at his younger counterpart with cool eyes. The two didn't utter a word to one another, but the look alone was enough of a message to indicate that something was off. "Normally I'd keep quiet and let everyone deal with it on their own time as it comes, but normally the nagging feelings I get aren't as obnoxiously glaring as Gilgamesh."

"Humph. That bad huh?" Lancer was the only one that actually laughed at EMIYA's offhanded jab at the King of Heroes, but inwardly groaned. Any Heroic Spirit that was involved in more than one shitshow in their lifetime knew to never ignore the nagging feeling whenever it popped up. It was usually the leading factor that divided the "bad" disasters from the "cataclysmic" ones, though he wasn't particularly fond of either.

"Worse. The problem is I can't hone in on it." Picking up the document that Lorelei skeptically handed him, the Counter Guardian scowled and examined what was on it. What was more frustrating was that he wasn't joking about this feeling about this "Chaldea" project. It was like seeing Rin all over again when he was normally summoned. He knew her, but he still needed to be reminded what her name was to put it all together again. "Caster, did you ever make that potion we talked about during the war? The one to help with my memories?"

The Princess of Colchis materialized behind Luvia with a look of concern. "I made a small sample of it in passing just in case at first, but making more was put to the side as the war and the list of tasks grew. At best it will grant you some higher clarity, but given your situation…"

"It will do." Archer flipped a page. Chaldea. Animusphere. Preservation of the human order. Rayshifting. Singularities. Spiritron engineering.

His teeth grit with a frustration that he didn't know the origins of. He knew he had been involved in this organization somehow. Shrouded memories that were just out of his grasp were taunting him.

"Archer?"

"Quiet." He was close. Flickers of faded images flashed in his mind. The documentation was highly classified, no doubt only revealing even this much information because the Vice-Director was involved.

Designer Babies. Intention to utilize Servants and Masters to address temporal anomalies.

L̶̪̎͌o̷̰̩̍s̶̪̋͘ţ̵̣̈́b̸̰̥́e̸̱̦̎͊l̸͖͋t̶̮̺̓s̶̺͓̀.

Singularities.

B̶̢̕ë̵͈a̵̖̅s̷̮̑̉t̸̯́̎s̴̰͓͋̋.

Rayshifting.

D̸͈͇̾̉ë̷̫̤m̷̖̑̔o̶͑̄ͅn̶̜̾́ ̵͚̰̂́P̶̼̎͛ȉ̷̛̝̩l̶̨̏l̶̩̅a̷̧̔̆r̶̖͙̊̒ş̴̏

A circle in the sky.

S̵̩̺̅ě̶͈r̴̺̉͜͝a̷̧͂̑p̴͔̬̂̈́h̴̻̘̏.

The G̸̡͔̑r̴̢̗̓̾ą̶͌̌ň̵͖̓d̵̥͛ Order.

Shit.

"ARCHER!"

Rin's shout snapped him back to reality, causing him to physically jolt as though being slapped.

"You okay? Never seen either of you so out of it outside of dealing with a major shitshow or planning to kill someone… or eachother." It must have been bad if Lancer was showing concern for once, before pointing at his face. "You got a little something there."

Archer lifted a hand to his face only to find out that he was actually bleeding from his nose. "... Been a while since something like that's happened. Can't say that's a good thing."

"What can you say then, Shirou Emiya?" Lorelei asked with an unreadable tone.

"Archer."

All eyes turned to Shirou at the end of the table, taking another sip of tea.

It didn't take much to tell what their host was getting at, much to their discomfort.

"Pardon?"

"He's not Shirou Emiya. Like Rin said. He's just some thoughtless fool that managed to get the Counter Force's attention," Shirou replied in what would be a calm tone if it weren't for the underlying annoyed edge in his voice.

"Humph." Unsurprisingly, it was Archer that was the least disturbed by Shirou's insult, looking down on his alternate former self, "I couldn't agree more. Like I said, I was never sloppy enough to get turned into an Apostle."

"Probably because they knew that you were already used goods." Shirou didn't so much as flinch.

"Says Barthomelloi's dog."

"Speaking of, how's Alaya?"

"SHIROU! I THOUGHT YOU TWO HAD MANAGED TO GET A HOLD OF YOUR STUPID HATE BONERS FOR EACH OTHER TO FIX THIS MESS! ENOUGH FROM BOTH OF YOU OR SO HELP ME I'LL USE A COMMAND SPELL TO MAKE ARCHER PERSONALLY TAKE CARE OF YOU UNTIL THE GRAIL'S FIXED!" Rin snapped, completely ignoring the genuine clash of killing intent that both Fakers were aiming at the other, lifting a fist with a glowing set of seals to underscore her point.

"Ngh."

"Tch. Of course you'd go there."

Both iterations of Shirou Emiya grumbled like children and looked away like they didn't do anything wrong.

Lancer just earnestly applauded Rin's solution to getting them to stop, blatantly ignoring the looks everyone else was giving him.

"So that is how you keep him in line.." Of course THAT was what made Rin finally stand out to the Vice-Director in the end.

"I'll give you notes on how to handle him later." The Tohsaka grunted with a flushed face, half infuriated half embarrassed to eternity, clearly in no mood to play nice if the fact that she was still glaring at Shirou (who was starting to sweat now) and shining her command seals in front of everyone was any indication.

"... Putting aside that heated… revelation," Waver coughed and made a pointed look at Barthomeloi indicating that it probably was for the best if they never touched on the topic of Archer being a version of Shirou Emiya ever again, "Archer, can you care to tell us what exactly is it that you remembered about Animusphere's project that is so significant? Judging from your appearance and the project's timetable, you could have been alive for its completion."

The Servant looked at the guest lord with an unreadable expression. For a moment it looked as though he was debating withholding what he knew just to spite his counterpart before thinking better of it. "I might have. I don't know. It doesn't matter."

"Doesn't matter?" Illya frowned slightly before realizing what he was getting at. "Wait, you mean-"

"I didn't interact with Chaldea when I was alive. The fragmented memories I still have are from when I was summoned there. Alongside literally hundreds of other Servants."

"... What."

"Exactly."

o. o. o.

"I hope you have a good explanation for this."

Merem chuckled on the rooftop, not gracing the newcomer with an immediate response. "I'm surprised. Given recent developments, I assumed you would still be preoccupied with observing your primary targets. Especially now that you have been taken off of active duty since you no longer possess your peculiar gift."

Behind him stood a blue haired young woman with glasses in a nun habit, and she was none too pleased.

"You certainly are in a good mood. I don't think you've ever referred to anything leftover by Roa positively before," Ciel suspiciously accused, hiding her anger.

"Other than you, of course," Merem corrected flippantly, "But I suppose you are right. I've witnessed a good number of events recently that have put me in a rather positive mood. Tell me, did you happen to see our dear princess with my gift before you left to see me?"

"Unfortunately. She pointed me in your direction before flaunting her new look in front of Shiki." Ciel ground her teeth in annoyance. What was worse was that the damn vampire harlot had decided to do so at three in the morning when the poor man was still sleeping. Even after these years the idiot had zero sense of timing or sense whenever she got the slightest bit excited.

If Shiki and Akiha hadn't put the law down on the idiot hard that morning, Ciel wouldn't have thought twice about putting the monster in her place herself. That said…

"The Church will have your head for giving her back her hair. Much less getting your hands on it before letting your superiors know."

"They can complain all they want. However even Narbarek knows what I like when it comes to the Princess." Merem waved his hand absently, "And even so, you cannot say that there was no profit from the exchange."

"Oh? Do tell. Because from what I have gathered, you conducted several unsanctioned deals with the one of the major anti-human Apostle Ancestors and almost caused the entirety of Japan to be destroyed by luring the Black and White Princesses closer to one another than they have been in the past five hundred years."

"The Eighth is weakened."

Ciel's eyes narrowed and slowly processed the statement. "... Go on."

"You'll hear about it soon enough, but it turns out he doesn't get along with my new friend the Tenth. They had a bit of an altercation, and they'll both be avoiding any extensive activities for some time." Merem spun his tale, clearly leaving out some key details, but adding enough to still be exceptionally valuable, "While I can't say where Fina will be for the next few years, I can presume that he'll be less inclined to protect some of his territory should it be put under pressure."

"I'm not sure what's more surprising, that you're being this upfront with me, or that Svelton was foolish enough to make an enemy with ANOTHER Ancestor. Even if nobody's been able to kill him yet, that annoying personality of his is just sickening." The nun crossed her arms and looked away while making a disgusted face. She had encountered the Pirate and his crew once, and it was more than enough to lose any respect for him. "No. What is beyond expectations is that the Tenth was able to hurt him to this extent in the first place."

"It was a pleasant turn of events when I found out, I assure you. This was beyond my estimations as well," Merem chuckled. He was well aware that Shirou could hurt most of his inhuman peers, but to accomplish so much in straight one on one combat was another matter entirely. He had anticipated his friend to stick to ambush tactics more than anything until he grew into his position.

"Mhm. And it has nothing to do with that sudden mass of salt that appeared in town overnight recently." Even among those tasked with hunting Ancestors, there weren't many that were aware of the Pirate's first mate, let alone her abilities.

"Who knows? I am not prone to knowing just how the Eighth interacts with his various parts," Merem shrugged helplessly.

"Of course you don't. And should I investigate and interview the Magi here? I doubt that this much nonsense took place without their knowing."

"I certainly will not stop you, but I highly advise against it," Merem turned around to smile impishly at his friend, "They are hosting a rather notable guest at the moment. The Vice-Director seems to want to inspect and handle her dog's work personally."

That had Ciel go rigid and shiver for a moment. Lorelei Barthomeloi was one of the few humans on the planet that could still go toe to toe with her in terms of pure raw mana output. Even with Roa's memories and experience, Ciel doubted that her own mastery of the arcane and taboo mysteries of the world could match the refined quality of a Barthomelloi. With or without her armaments. "Lorelei Barthomeloi is here?"

"As we speak. Otherwise it would have been harder for you to contact me without Caster knowing. I assure you I was just as surprised as you are now. Both Masters and Servants are rather on edge at the moment after Altrouge's poor sense of timing. Apparently one is a Counter Guardian and has none too fond memories dealing with Primate Murder."

"Tch," The blue haired woman clicked her tongue in annoyance. Even if she wanted to do something, her moves were restricted. Anyone involved in their field knew how obsessed the Vice-Director was when it came to hunting Ancestors. She made most of the Church look tame in comparison in that regard. Trying to force the Church's involvement at this stage would backfire at best and draw unwanted attention to her main operation, keeping Arcueid's activity as minimized as possible. "Nabarek isn't going to be happy with you. What was so valuable that Brunestud was willing to exchange it for her sister's hair?"

Merem shrugged. "The Tenth's identity."

Ciel gaped. Even though the Twentieth worked for the Church for centuries, he had yet to cave into his superior's literally constant demands for the newly christened tenth's location and information, only getting away with it on the excuse that he'd do so the moment his "friend" actually became a problem for humanity. "Wh- are you serious?"

"To be fair, given the circumstances and the fact that Chaos had no true successor, my word alone was not enough to guarantee my friend's position. But I suppose I underestimated just how much influence my name has these days. Or maybe it's because of my lack of involvement among my kind that garnered such unwanted attention," he continued, ignoring her bewildered expression. "He's gotten to the point where he can take care of himself for the most part now. Something tells me that Altrouge didn't care too much about what he did to her white knight either."

It was too much information at once. Ciel couldn't help but get a headache trying to process the dozens of possibilities these revelations could potentially mean. "Merem, for the sake of our loosely defined friendship, please get to the point of all this before I start stabbing you with my keys. I know you're doing this on purpose and I doubt that Nabarek would do more than chastise me halfheartedly for it."

The vampire let out a brief chuckle before his smile waned into something more somber. "... I didn't anticipate Altrouge to pay so much attention to what I was doing, much less offer something so valuable for it. She's showing signs of insecurity with Aylesbury coming. The fact that she's making such significant moves so early doesn't bode well for anyone. While I am fond of my friend, by all rights his existence is not worth a tenth of what the Pretender stole from her sister, let alone a third. To be frank, the exchange was an experiment to test to see how far I could push her when she came with the offer. One that admittedly went too far."

"And if Altrouge is willing to make such absurd gestures, we should expect Ortenrosse and the others to make similar plays soon as well once they hear of this." The first real moves on the board were being made, and it was fortunate that the Church had recognized it so early, "Tell me. The Tenth. Is he for or against humanity?"

"His interests align heavily with humanity's, but don't mistake that as a go ahead to ask him for aid or recruit his services." Surprisingly, Merem's demeanor soured into something of an ashamed sulk, "Admittedly, I did not recognize this part of his personality until recently. Under most circumstances he's indistinguishable from most humans in all the ways that matter. Much like Van-Fem, he's impartial with hosting guests and doing favors for others, regardless of origins or species. I would not be surprised if Sumire took advantage of his hospitality liberally if she found him, if only because he wouldn't bother to put up much of a fight with that personality of her's."

"But?" Ciel knew there was a caveat coming.

"But, he is overwhelmingly against the idea of getting involved in any major projects with widespread influence on the world, or rather, having any major outside influence interjects with his world. Or else. Like an old retired war veteran suddenly displaying quiet violent fits if provoked or someone outside interferes with his retirement. So long as he has his privacy and personal projects, he is little threat to anyone," Merem admitted with a grimace. Oh Shirou wouldn't yell or scream like a child, but he would without question lash out at anyone and everyone that dared to piss him off without restraint in all the ways that hurt.

Especially the ways that hurt.

"How embarrassing. I thought that the twenty-seven at least tried to put the illusion of being composed. The sentient ones at least."

"We all have our preferences. Regardless, he has an innate knack for identifying, exploiting, and dismantling the strengths, weaknesses and flaws of systems at unreal speeds. Especially if he doesn't want to be involved in the first place. It would be akin to setting loose a wild animal that somehow possesses a background in three fields of engineering into a home and letting it run wild. There's no telling what would happen other than pure chaos and rampant yet meticulous destruction for maximum effect all for the sake of getting out as soon as possible."

"I didn't know your friend was such a coward."

"Coward? No. Vindictive and efficient? To the point of concerning even me. The old sayings regarding the wrath of a kind man apply to him verbatim," The vampire laughed to himself, "He once told me that he doesn't have enemies. All he sees are the people that he's close to, those that he works with, the bulk of the world, and targets that he fully intends to kill with absolute certainty. As far as I can tell, there are only two entities left in the world that qualify for the latter, and one of them is Fina. And as for the other one… well I strongly suspect that the poor soul will depart soon enough with or without intervention."

"Anyone I know?"

"No. Not particularly. Technically not a human either, so the Church can breathe easy."

"Technically?"

"It's a private condition." EMIYA was rather displeased with his state as a Counter Guardian after all.

"How considerate of you." Ciel didn't buy his excuse for a moment. "If only you gave me the consideration of warning me of all this nonsense before it happened."

"And ruin the fun? Come now, Ciel, I wouldn't do that to you." Or to himself for that matter. Everyone knew that the nun and the White Princess got along like oil and water. Had they both been witnessing Shirou's bout with Fina, they likely would have gotten into their heads to get involved themselves…

Merem visibly shivered at the thought.

"You were just thinking about Arcuid and myself doing something reckless and foolish, weren't you?"

"I genuinely do marvel at how your friend Shiki has somehow remained intact between the two of you for so long." It certainly wasn't because of his mystic eyes, that was for sure.

… Huh. He just recalled that the boy shared both name and mystery with Aozaki's latest assistant as well. How curious. Perhaps there were other notable parallels as well knowing how the world could play with others at times.

"You speak as though I am just as likely to kill him as that scatterbrained vampire." Ciel's tone was horrifyingly cheerful.

"You speak as though there is no more lethal location for a man than between two dangerous women that are interested in him." Merem wasn't intimidated in the slightest… mostly because he genuinely feared for Shirou's potential romantic predicament lay in the center of at least two servants and four magi, two of which were capable of True magic in some capacity, one part dragon, and another with an unstable connection to a God of All Evils.

"And you speak as though you've been with one." The light of the city reflected off of the young woman's glasses ominously.

"Who says I haven't? I'm surprised you're showing interest in my personal life, Ciel, though to be fair, you are not the first to do so. Much less from the Church."

"Guh?!" He held back a chuckle as the woman choked back her nausea in disgust, no doubt her mind momentarily flooded with mental images she could have done without.

Really though, it said more about the Church and humanity than it did about him.

"Hmhm. As amusing as this chat is, I suggest we tie this up quickly." He looked off to the distance and noticed something interesting. "It appears we have been discovered."

Ciel glanced in the same direction but unfortunately couldn't detect what he had. She wanted to call his bluff, but knew that the odds were not in her favor. "A Servant, I suppose. How stupid. The dead should stay dead. Vampires and spirits alike."

How ironic. Shirou was probably of the same mind in that regard.

"... Your replacement for overseeing Fuyuki is finishing preparations for travel. They will arrive within the next few days, though Barthomelloi's presence will no doubt complicate matters." Shifting her glasses, Ciel turned to leave.

"I will support whoever arrives as best I can given the circumstances. I am not that cruel to leave them alone with THAT woman." Merem sighed as if lamenting a tiring chore.

"I'm surprised that's where you draw the line."

"I assure you, it's drawn far before she enters the picture. Or Nabarek for that matter." He waved her off, "Do remind Arcueid to be careful with her new hair. You know better than most how careless she can be if excited."

"As if I could forget. Don't be disappointed if I don't leave flowers at your grave once you return to the Vatican and are torn apart by the boss. If you're graced one at all."

The vampire chuckled like an old man as she left. What she spoke as an insult he heard as an amusing joke. Seriously, a grave for an Ancestor at the Vatican? Now wouldn't that be the height of comedy?

o. o. o.

Archer frowned as he saw the nun leave Solomon's side and head for the outskirts of Fuyuki.

He had half a mind to let the others know that the vampire had been talking to someone, but changed his mind for some reason.

… She looked familiar.

"Is something wrong, Shirou?"

"I thought I told you not to call me that."

Irisviel stood behind him. "Call it a mother's privilege. Just like I can't find it in me to call your father anything other than Kiritsugu."

"Tell that to the vampire downstairs."

"I plan to. Eventually."

Archer let out a defeated sigh. Well, at the very least it would be fun to watch the kid flounder in a losing battle. Out of their entire family present, and wasn't that a trip in itself to consider, Irisviel was the hardest to get angry at over something like this. For either of them.

"Illya, Caster, and Kiritsugu I can understand heading to that woman to check up on her body, but why are you out here? I thought that you'd be involved with discussions longer. It sounded really tense for a bit," Irisviel asked, taking a step closer.

Archer held his tongue to bite out a remark. Truth be told, even he couldn't make full heads or tails out of his memories.

What he could recall could be summed up as such:

Chaldea was involved in an unexpectedly massive shitshow that somehow involved the end of and subsequent saving the world. Possibly multiple times over a short timeframe given how diverse the flashes of his memories were.

Hundreds of Servants were summoned.

Causality and irregularities in human history were involved on an unprecedented scale.

It didn't involve vampires. At least directly.

He was involved in operations (and yet he distinctly remembered also being part of the cooking staff, but he kept that part to himself lest Rin mock him for it for all eternity).

He had a Master there, but couldn't remember anything about them other than the fact that they had an… exceptionally unusual and useful gift, even by the standards of other Masters and magi. And that they were trustworthy. Far more than the normal magus.

And while he could say for certain that none of the current living Masters here were involved in the disaster, he couldn't help but have an exceptionally strong nagging feeling in the back of his head. As though the statement was somehow simultaneously incorrect and correct.

And finally, and most concerning, at least one BEAST was involved.

Surprisingly, the Vice-Director knew what that entailed. The Clocktower upper echelons must be up to date on all sorts of nasties that can end the world that nobody else was aware of.

He didn't try to delve deeper into his scattered memories. Even without Caster's concoction he could tell it would only dredge up disjointed gibberish that could potentially tear his mind apart trying to comprehend.

Several pictures of the Animusphere family and closely associated magi to the project were shown to him, but he honestly didn't recognize any of them. Or recall if any of the Servants present were either. That said, he did absently note that it was likely that Saber was in some capacity involved in a disaster of this scale, being the holder of the Sacred Sword.

After he had been drained dry of information on the matter, at least for this round, he was blatantly dismissed by the Vice-Director while they reviewed what they had learned.

Rude or not, he personally was grateful for it. Being in the same room as Shirou for too long still gave the both of them headaches that they could do without.

"Something came up, and it was decided that my input would only drag things out unnecessarily. I was of the same opinion." He shrugged, dismissing Irisviel's concern. "What about you? You're finally coherent again."

Irisviel uncomfortably hugged herself in self comfort. "I… yes. It took me a bit to recover from realizing what I did to Kiritsugu. What I forced him to experience. The rush of mana from attacking that Apostle didn't help matters. When Shirou was using the sword made from Kiritsugu in earnest, I instinctively… moved there to see what was going on, for lack of a better explanation. Once I was outside of the bounded fields, my repressed urges came out full force. You can put together the rest."

"Don't use the swords made from Kiritsugu's corpse. Got it." He outright dismissed her attempt to garner pity. Mother or not, Irisviel was still corrupted and influenced by Angra Mainyu. He couldn't tell how much of her act was really her and how much was the god, but he highly doubted it was all her right now.

Regardless, her advice wasn't that impactful regardless. He had only laid eyes on the Blade of Binding, Maiya. He had still only heard of the one that truly seemed to matter, the sword named after their father. Shirou had made an explicit effort to not use his personal swords in front of the Servant at all times, and Archer doubted that it would change anytime soon.

"... You really are your father's son." Archer didn't need to see the dry look Irisviel was giving him to know what she really meant.

"... So I'm reminded." He tried to hide the sarcasm as he tried to match her tone.

"... Fu. Fufufufufu." The woman couldn't help but laugh in genuine amusement at their shared moment. "Ah. I needed that. At the very least you have a better sense of humor than Kiritsugu does. And you're just as terrible at hiding your feelings when I'm around."

"Does that mean that you can tell that I want you to leave?"

"It means I can tell you're being a sourpuss and want to mope."

EMIYA suddenly had a newfound respect and hatred for both his father and mother figure.

"I'm serious. Whenever the three of you are thinking of something heavy, you all develop personalities that make the other Homunculi in Einzbern castle seem expressive. It's not right for you boys to be like that all the time. You should be happy. You beat the war. You-"

"Are Servants on borrowed time." Archer cut her off. "Even if the idiot isn't a spirit, he still knows enough to be perfectly aware that he, you, everyone isn't safe yet. Realistically, I doubt he'll ever be given his condmfmfmf."

"... Really, you are too much like your father." Irisviel sighed while interrupting Archer's cold statement by pinching his cheek and tugging at it. "The moment anything serious happens, you obsess over the worst case scenario and focus on absolutely nothing else around you. You're lucky you're a pretty face, otherwise that Rin girl wouldn't be as fond of you as she is."

"Nothed. Can you let oo now?" He pretended not to be bothered with his cheek being pinched and how funny he sounded.

"Yeah. If she keeps it up any longer, who knows what might happen to that pretty face of yours. Then you'll have nothing left but those swords of yours." Rin mocked.

"For all our sake, Master, try to babysit one sword idiot at a time. The last thing we want or need is for you to go off the rails."

"And what's that supposed to mean?"

"It means don't experiment with the Kaleidoscope sword or magic when you're in a mood. Or unsupervised. Or in Fuyuki if you can help it."

"I?! Wha?! How?! What the hell aren't you telling me this time?!"

"Something that by all rights you should be smart enough to figure out on your own within a few seconds." The last thing they needed was to accidentally trigger another Ataraxia.

"Damn it Shirou! Your memories were so messed up and severe that you were hemorrhaging from your nose and ears! Excuse me for actually being worried about you!" It was blatantly clear that she was more concerned than that if she was calling him by name. She knows how much he hates that.

"I'm thankful for the concern," His face was starting to get numb as Irisviel had yet to let go of his cheek, "However, someone else has decided to cover for you in that regard for now. I think I'll be fine for the time being."

"... Please. If nothing else, please just stop pushing everyone away and treating us all like strangers. We don't deserve it, and you don't either."

He let out a tired huff. "Rin, you know this isn't the first time something like this has happened. Staying after the war. I can pretend it's a vacation all I want but it doesn't change my situation."

"We both know that's not what's wrong. You've been more sour than normal before the War ended. Something's bothering you and for once I don't think it has anything to do with Shirou, the Grail or vampires. Which in hindsight makes it even more concerning from my perspective, and I'm not the only one that's noticed."

"Glad I can still keep everyone on their toes."

"Shirou, I have a fresh batch of Command Seals and I am not afraid to use them to get you to cooperate if I have to. And you know that I am more than willing to carry through with that threat."

"Past experience and events do prove your point. Unfortunately." Between the usual "obey your master" command that she usually pulls when he's summoned to Fuyuki and the current "tell the truth" command still in effect, there was little point in trying to call her bluff without immediately regretting it.

"So there IS something specific that's eating at you." She caught onto his slip immediately, much to his chagrin.

"It's… one thing at a time Rin. If you want me to treat this as a vacation, then at least accept that we have time to talk about this later. It's not an immediate problem, and being distracted while the Vice-Director's around won't help anyone."

"Then why are you still constantly sulking about it?"

"Because, in your words, I'm an idiot. And the fact is sinking in more harshly than normal to the point that I can feel it for once."

"That's…" Rin trailed off, clearly trying to figure out the right thing to say given the situation. She knew Archer and Shirou well enough that their harshest critics were themselves, irony somewhat intended. If Archer was beating himself up this badly for some oversight for this long, it must have been pretty bad even by his standards, "We'll talk about this later. I won't make a big deal about it, but please don't make things more difficult in the meantime with your usual sass. Even you have to agree that it's a miracle that we've gotten to this point without a complete disaster taking place."

"No. I can't. We've just settled for being on the verge of multiple partial cataclysmic ones, which all things considered is a feat in of itself." Between the Witch going mad, gaining the Clocktower's interest, and Altrouge Brunestud playing her own game, it's genuinely astonishing that Fuyuki managed to get away with as little property damage as it has. "Don't worry yourself, Rin. I'm not going anywhere and I have no alternative intentions or ploys going on. I'm just… frustrated with something that's missed my notice for far too long that I should have picked up sooner."

"... Is it going to lead up to you going to kill Shirou in this or another timeline again?" To her credit Rin's concern wasn't exactly unfounded.

"Honestly? I don't need any motivation to do that at this point. I'd do it just to vent."

"Ugh. Seriously. What is up with Shirou Emiya wanting to kill himself so badly, even when we manage to get him over wanting to kill himself? And yes, I am talking about both of you."

This time Archer couldn't help but snort in amusement at the especially ironic jab. "Clever. Just for that I'll put in an extra effort to get out of your hair for the night. Don't worry. I'll behave myself."

"You better. Unless you want to come down here and deal with some of the politics here yourself. Countless summonings or not, we all know you'd never win this fight."

"You all know me so well," he sarcastically grumbled before cutting her off… and realized that Irisveil was still pinching his cheek to the point that he couldn't feel it anymore.

"Are you done talking to Tohsaka-chan and ignoring me?" His step-mother pouted like a child, not letting go.

… It was times like this that he missed people not caring about him just so he didn't have to deal with the headaches that they brought with them.

o. o. o.

"Project Chaldea pending, we are in agreement that the departments of Archaeology and continuing his role as a private supplementary Enforcer for Policies are the primary roles Emiya can play into until a suitable location to situate him permanently is established. The requested positions from both departments of fundamentals can serve as reserve backups just in case, in spite of the risk from overexposure to other magi and association facilities they pose."

"Looks like it." Shirou shuffled through some documentation to read up the exact requests that were being made of him in detail. "Worst case scenario, I'll have my shroud on all day to hide 'my disfigured face', and if I trigger any bounded fields by accident I can say that they're leftover curses from a rough hunt that I don't have permission to talk about."

"Which you don't," Lorelei stated firmly, as if to drive the point home and warn him not to play any games.

"Noted." He didn't bother looking up from the papers. "It might be a risk, but it would probably do some good to let me do some minor requests in the meantime to show that while I'm not on full duty anymore I'm still in good enough health. Several researchers from the department of Spiritual Evocation are asking about my research and insight in Fae magic from researching Avalon. Given what little I know and how far I estimate their work has gone, I can see a cheap cost with great return."

"It will be considered."

"I suppose I can forward Shirou some excess requests that aren't worth the Edelfelt's time." Luvia flipped through some of her own documentation. "There's always someone demanding some sort of revenge or comeuppance that delves deep enough into the world to hear of my family at some point or another. They usually aren't profitable or flattering to take, but you can use them as proof that you are still active every now and then to the rest of the world."

"All for a massive outsourcing fee no doubt." Rin scoffed sarcastically, her frown deepening as she looked at her own documents, "Speaking of money, I'm more surprised that this Chaldea project ever got off the ground in the first place. Even if we somehow helped the Animusphere family in another timeline, the list of materials, resources, and finances needed to get this thing started is absurd compared to what they claim they have established right now. They had to have backing from at least three, no, five major countries, let alone organizations or noble families to get it properly operational within the next two decades. Let alone their idealized and expected one."

And they had reached out to that many parties and more for support. Hell, even the U.N. and the Church were on the damn list.

"That was my greatest qualm with the request as well," the Vice-Director admitted. "Finances, personnel, supply lines, formalcraft foundation, operational power. Just the requirements of one of these alone would be a daunting ordeal to manage and organize properly. However, the fact that Animusphere still managed to accomplish such an operation with such headwind…"

"Means that he had more than a simple pitch to sell cobbling it all together. He had proof that it was necessary." Shirou frowned in thought. "The Department of Astromancy. That deals with thaumaturgy involving scrying, divination, causality, and influencing predicted futures using the macrosystem that is the solar and cosmic systems as reference and influence."

"So something happened in that timeline that didn't happen in this one. It's not like we haven't already touched on that train of thought with Kiritsugu's notes and Archer." Sakura hummed before munching on a rice cracker, "Or maybe he saw the same thing in this timeline, but is having more trouble getting support…"

"Actually, the Chaldeas project is not the current Lord Animusphere's. It was his son's." Lorelei corrected the group, causing them all to look at her cautiously.

"His son's? Ah the judge during the trial did look a bit aged," Shirou mused.

"... That does make matters more concerning." Waver grimaced and let his shoulders sag in reluctant defeat, as though knowing that another major headache was on the way. "The current Lord Animusphere had to retake the mantle after his son was murdered shortly after the Fourth Grail War, with the culprit never being found. It caused quite a commotion at the time, though it was admittedly before I was roped into Kiritsugu's plots. From what I heard in passing over the years, the former Lord Animusphere was an exceptionally talented Magus among exceptions, which would explain how and why the project had made as much progress as it has in the first place."

"Hmmm. I remember when that happened. Young Olga-marie was noted to be in quite dire straits at the association before her grandfather took her back to their property. Poor girl." Luvia hummed.

"Aren't we connecting the dots a bit too early? We don't know how things went in the timeline Archer barely remembered in the first place. He could have died around that time there too." Bazett made a good point. It was never a good idea to assume that timelines lined up that easily.

"A massive multi-faction thaumaturgic project that an unknown party tried to stop that involves pseudo time travel, the end of the world, and most likely the largest accumulation of heroic spirits in any one spot on record." Shirou grimaced, rubbing his forehead and gave the Vice-Director an almost pleading look. "If I go with whatever plan you have regarding Aylesbury, can I not get involved in this mess?"

"You speak as though you had any say regarding Aylesbury to begin with."

"I've been invited to the damn thing by Altrouge and I'm the current 'interesting thing to gossip about' as far as the other monsters are concerned. Like it or not, I do actually have some 'say' on the matter, and I find the fact just as appealing as you do, albeit for different reasons. It wouldn't do either of us favors if I walked in with a literal collar around my neck and made it obvious to everyone there."

"That and your conduct during sophisticated gatherings is atrocious at best. Quite frankly you need as much help as you can get," Luvia added offhandedly with a knowing smile.

Shirou grimaced with an embarrassed blush, "Luvia, please. We can do without reminding me of that particular disaster, if at all possible."

"Disaster? He couldn't have been that bad." Sakura blinked in confusion.

"If you are referring to the Harwey family's annual ball, then it was nothing short of cataclysmic," the Vice-Director bluntly corrected.

"He accidentally made everyone believe he had come to conduct an investigation, outright dismissed the heir without knowing who he was, completely dismantled said heir's bodyguard when the latter tried to pick a fight with him, and then complained about the served food being of poor quality before walking out the front door. All in front of all the other guests," Luvia had trouble holding back her laughter as she recalled watching the disaster amongst the crowds.

"You didn't." Rin and half the room looked at Shirou in utter disbelief.

"He did." Waver and Bazett groaned, remembering the fallout from that shitshow.

"It's not my fault. I was trying to keep quiet and keep things simple, but that brat of an heir had an overactive imagination and thought everything was a political move," Shirou groaned, ashamed to look anyone in the face. "For some reason my attempts to get away from him somehow equated to me being on the job to hunt his dad down as a Designate, and his overly attached bodyguard jumped in to 'protect the family' without letting me get a word in. I could only stand so many people staring at me on edge before getting out of there."

"And the food?" Rin asked dryly.

"The meat served to everyone was medium on average and had nowhere near enough salt." He firmly and shamelessly held his ground as though clearly stating the obvious sins of others.

"Oh. Well they clearly cut corners with the catering then." Sakura agreed with him completely without missing a beat.

Saber nodded in agreement while understanding absolutely nothing.

"Yeah I'm just going to chalk this up as the kid being a nut again and move on." Lancer yawned and waved his hand lazily.

"Fortunately, the bulk of magus aristocracy is full of gossip and half hearted assumptions, so by the end of the week everyone just assumed that Shirou had been sent to make an example of the Harwey family by the Barthomelloi in response to the former's recent increase in fortune and assets." Waver shook his head not looking at anyone, "Of which I clearly had no part in propagating."

"We worked together to come up with a believable story and spread it around campus before half the guests left," Luvia cheerfully elaborated, taking the wind out of Waver's sails, "It was by far more interesting and entertaining than anything Harwey had provided that night."

"The only benefit from it as far as I'm concerned was that it did in fact humble Harvey family quite aptly, though it did push them to side with the democratic faction in the Association in the end." Lorelei added, "Enough of the humiliated and irrelevant. The more I read into the Animusphere's situation, the more I'm inclined to establish my own investigations to validate this Chaleas project's viability. Edelfelt, I expect you and your servant to contribute and find out exactly what they are hiding from us. Projects of this scale and cost are not conducted and founded on hunches and estimations. By all rights they should have provided Atlas their findings about any predicted disasters to humanity and worked through them if they expected to get anything accomplished on time."

"Honestly I'm surprised that Atlas wasn't on the list of parties interested in my services. It would have helped make things smoother if I do go to Chaldea in the end." Shirou pondered with mild curiosity.

"They did. Primarily because they wanted your eyes. The current rumor going around is that you have the Mystic Eyes of Recollection. The partial eidetic memory provided combined with your absurd structural grasping, they theorized your eyes act as a storage device for all the mystic codes and Noble Phantasms you've shown to be able to project on the fly."

Rin opened and closed her mouth several times, slowly digesting the Vice-Director's words. "I… honestly as far as plausible explanations for Shirou's abilities go that don't involve Reality Marbles, that one's actually believable."

"Too bad it's way off. If we did classify what I had as Mystic instead of Pure Eyes right now, they'd be faulty Eyes of Predictive Precognition. Ones without the filter that makes the process of taking in the information of the world around me and calculating it all happen subconsciously. Pretty sure a normal person would go mad in a few days from the overload if they tried implanting them," Shirou made a painful expression as though a headache was coming on. "If I strain myself I can see maybe five seconds into the future, but in that regard it's just best for tracing the paths of projectiles ahead of time to dodge them. I'd rather stick to the occasional structural grasping if possible."

"Makes you wonder if anyone's ever tried to tweak and use Mystic Eyes of Precognition as analytical scanners before," Rin mused curiously before shrugging reluctantly. Biologic based mutation thaumaturgy wasn't her forte. At best she'd just sell the idea to someone from the Department of Zoology or Botany in the near future.

"Not as analytical scanners, but they have been commonly used as catalysts for dowsing future calamities, causality correction, and probabilities of success for operations," Lorelei absently answered.

"Hmm. That explains the large deliveries that the Rail Zeppelin is rumored to make on occasion." Luvia pondered, "They must consist of low quality eyes though. I doubt the owner would forego the exceptional samples that willingly."

"Hmm. At the very least, if I do decide to dispose of you, I'll have a way to take advantage of another Apostle with your remains," Lorelei mused. Knowing her, she wasn't joking either.

"Glad to know you're still looking for ways to make some use of me ma'am." Shirou sarcastically grumbled under his breath as he went through more documentation with little enthusiasm. Politics and research were not his forte unless it happened to be in his specialized fields. Or if he was researching a target.

Really, there wasn't a notable magus in the Association that hadn't pissed off another at some point, resulting in some annoying blood feud that does nothing but annoy and drag in anyone that's nearby the moment it's relevant. Usually at the worst possible time. The stories usually boiled down to "party A used party B to screw over party C for some over convoluted ritual to fuel some old family mystery and achieve some minor breakthrough that nobody ultimately cared about".

… That or "party A stuck his dick in party B, and pissed off party C". It should be noted that not all parties were necessarily human either.

It was a coin toss really.

"Speaking of exotic locations and groups, I'm going to need Avalon soon to prepare for when I see Van Fem." And wasn't that going to be an awkward conversation. On the one hand, it was heavily speculated that there was a genuine club consisting of Ancestors that held some sort of blood feud against the pirate. On the other, controlled or not, he had more or less maimed and butchered one of the vampires' infamous castles slash puppets slash daughters in spectacular fashion.

"I'm certain you will be able to make do with other resources for the excursion should circumstances require use of the artifact elsewhere." The Vice-Director brushed aside his comment. Marjatta aside, the scabbard was a valuable artifact that had multiple uses, with or without Saber around.

Unfortunately, another party seemed to take issue with her decision.

"I'm certain he could, however what happens with my property is not yours to make."

The table went quiet as Lorelei looked up from her paperwork to make eye contact with Saber. "I am surprised. I did not expect King Arthur, copy or not, to be so forgetful. What is the boy's, is effectively mine. Artifact, Servant or otherwise."

Saber didn't so much as flinch as she reached for another rice cracker. "And I did not expect for the Vice-Director of the Clocktower to be so vain as to forget some of her organization's oldest debts. Or have magi grown so fickle as to forget their own history."

"Debts?" Sakura looked around confused, only to get an equally befuddled expression from most of the other Masters in the room, including Shirou.

"... Ah. The Camelot accord." Waver grimaced, as though remembering something relevant, causing Lorelei to momentarily twitch. "That's a bit of history that's not well known these days."

"The Camelot accord?" Rin echoed, as though trying to taste if the words were familiar, "... Come to think of it, Camelot did come about around the same time that the Clocktower was made in the sixth century. And they were in the same area too…"

"There was a non-aggression arrangement between the two groups to support one another in times of strife and stay out of one another's way otherwise," Waver relented, "The Magi at the time desired the tomb of Albion, but didn't have the resources or manpower to build a proper base without exposing themselves on multiple fronts, including Vortigern who was opposed to their goals. King Arthur and the Round Table struck up a deal with them with Merlin as an intermediary. Camelot would serve as their shield and be the de facto managers and rulers of the land, while the Association would work in the background to keep the activities of mysteries to a manageable level while maintaining a base level of ethics and standards for the safety of the people. I believe said standards are still imposed, if not slightly reworded and adapted, in the Policies Charter to this day."

"I think I heard some rumors about how some of our laws were established with aid from Camelot before. But I always assumed it was just some nonsense that a few of the defunct noble families in the Association would claim to try and bolster their image." Bazett hummed in genuine interest.

"Yeah, well, the charter's exact details also included some stipulations including some lesser known boons for Camelot and Britain nobility in case the mages tried anything," Waver lectured, "Which wound up biting the Tower hard in the thirteenth century when a rather crass and vindictive descendant of Gawainn ran roughshod and took severe advantage of his benefits to the point of nearly collapsing three departments before he was dealt with. It was decided to conceal and secure not only that charter, but virtually every other one that gave inordinate power of the Association to individual parties afterwards, and refrain from making any others unless absolutely necessary. If you thought that the powers the Lords of the Tower had over its operations were excessive, it should give you an idea of how bad it was then."

"Indeed. I am surprised you know as much as you do, Lord El Melloi II. As you said, knowledge of the accords and the reasons for their secrecy is kept classified for a reason." Lorelei frowned.

Waver shrugged helplessly, "I knew a person that owed me a favor. Rest assured, I can do little more than speculate more than that. Nor do I know what families other than those related to Camelot have weaved themselves similar privileges in the Association."

Other than the three Great Families and potentially the relations to the Twelve Lords was left unspoken, but not unheard if the Vice-Director's slight glare was any indication.

"Hmm. I am almost surprised Brishisan is still about." Saber nodded, her eyes closed as she recalled her meeting the man who would eventually become the Director of the Clocktower, "Merlin escorted him to me to finalize the accords. It was rare that I laid eyes on a practitioner of the mystics that held a peculiar aura that surpassed, let alone matched Merlin's and Morgan's."

"This, is new to me," Shirou admitted with a mixed expression. "Saber, where are you going with this?"

"Be patient."

"I hardly see how this is relevant. Camelot is no more, and you-"

"Did you assume that my Master has the fortune to call forth a conventional Servant? Whether my castle remains or not, I am still the Once and Future King, ruler of Britain, and speak with the full might of that authority," Saber cut her off calmly while elegantly grabbing another snack. "I still recall the contents of the charter between our parties, and our respective constraints. Avalon is my property which I am willingly lending for the sake of the Edelfelt child. The mages of your organization are obligated to return any identified property of Camelot to their owners if lost or on request."

Judging from the crumpled papers in Lorelei's hands, she did not particularly appreciate being talked down to. Much less with her own rules.

"And just like with Avalon, I can just as easily extend that authority over Shirou if I so chose."

"The dog is my property, King of Knights. Abnormality or not, he is under my jurisdiction."

"Not if he requests sanctuary and proclaims fealty to me." Saber was unflappable, ignoring how everyone else in the room was turning between the women as they spoke like their discussion was a tennis match, "He has committed no crimes, the secrets he possesses are of his own making, and has proven enough to be above the baseline to be a valuable ally on the battlefield."

Shirou looked at Saber hopefully.

"Perhaps enough to even be a squire one day."

Shirou looked like a kicked puppy.

"She's never going to let him have that moment." Those in the war gave Shirou a pitying look.

"Do you truly intend to gamble at this stage? I did not know that the King of Knights was so reckless." Lorelei clearly wasn't backing down.

"Do you? From what I've been told, you are in charge of the portion of your organization that keeps tabs on agreements of this magnitude. Surely you are aware of what will happen if I choose to dissolve the accord."

"You are a Servant. You do not possess that authority." The Vice Director all but growled through clenched teeth.

Saber on the other hand was as unfettered as ever, "Your disposition says you are wary of the opposite. Are you certain that you desire to risk such a wager on blatant petty thievery? Vice-Director? Or do you desire to bring this issue to Brishisan for his input on the matter?"

Questioning her authority. Questioning her judgment. Dismissing her input as inconclusive and requesting another's say to make a verdict. Blatantly accusing her of minor infringements of the lower class. Had it been anyone else, Lorelei would have killed them on the spot.

"Again with the thievery accusations. What is your Master's is mine by the debts and obligations he owes."

Shirou coughed and tried to hold back a grimace, "Actually, while I did inherit Avalon from Kiritugu, I did give it back to Saber once she was summoned. It is her Noble Phantasm by right and lore, no matter how you look at it. Given Saber's circumstances, it will vanish with her once she leaves if in her possession as it should. The only reasons why I have it most of the time is because of my ability to make copies and the fact I am notably less… sturdy, than she is."

And more prone to needing it, was left unsaid but still loudly heard.

"And you have been making amicable strides to correct that shortcoming." Saber applauded his efforts like a mother praising a child for improving their mediocre grades, making him blush slightly in embarrassment.

Lancer held back a snort of genuine laughter. He had to wonder if this was how Saber treated her knights when things were less serious.

Hell, it reminded him of Scathach during the rare times when she was feeling more whimsical and impulsive.

Lorelei looked like she had just tasted something blatantly disgusting, and wanted nothing more than to refute what she just been told, but held her tongue. Much like how it was not in Shirou's best interests to pick a fight with her, the same went for the other direction. Even without Saber's ultimatum, she couldn't risk making an enemy out of Shirou for a literal laundry list of reasons that she would deny outright if asked. They were both primed to make one another's lives hell and it was only their respect and amiability for the other that prevented it from being an outright disaster.

And as tempting and valuable as it was to simply use her authority to take the EX ranked Noble Phantasm artifact into her custody, it was still not worth the risk.

Truly this dog was a costly asset she will be glad to be done with.

"... Fine. You have said your piece. The artifact is yours so long as you do not flaunt it about and use it as recklessly as you have been."

Knowing better than to bask in his victory, Shirou nodded and went back to work to change the topic of conversation to something less likely to get him killed. "That was always the idea. Speaking of needlessly flaunting their assets, what are we going to do about the Galliasta family running around ignoring half the Association's rules and stealing the curse samples from dad?"

"Smooth," Rin deadpanned.

"They will be apprehended. Without you. You're too involved to be part of the primary force to arrest them without solid reason."

Translation: someone will go in semi-diplomatically, and if they are a problem, you'll end them.

"I figured as much." Shirou grunted and began to stand up.

"No." Sakura, Rin, Luvia, and Saber all said as one, knowing exactly what he was going to do.

"But-"

"Sakura will make dinner. I will help. And you are still recovering." Rin put her foot down.

"Saber will keep an eye on you, and I will make sure you don't dig yourself into another hole and drag the rest of us in," Luvia added, "And for the time being, I will be talking to Lady Barthomeloi about the requests aimed specifically for Caster's aid."

Even Lorelei looked thankful about that suggestion.

o. o. o.

"Well, I gotta say I'm impressed. I didn't think a magus from the Age of Gods would speed things up this fast. Even a rush job like this with all the resources on hand would normally take at least a couple of weeks to get to this stage."

"You belittle yourself. Your work clearly has been streamlined for peak efficiency and has shown to be used frequently enough to betray your deft hand. Had this experiment been breaching new grounds, we would be at work for nearly that long. I merely expedited the steps that required little to no input."

"Expedited, she says. With means and methods that most magi would kill and sacrifice half their legacy to get their hands on."

Touko and Caster chided, complimented and insulted one another back and forth effortlessly and without care.

In front of them, the maturing body of what appeared to be an Einzbern Homunculus floated in a culturing chamber.

It wouldn't be long now.

o. o. o.

It wouldn't be long now.

Progress had been slow. Like digging a trap meant for a bear with little more than a stick and rock. But there had been progress. Just a little more and there would be enough give to enact the plan, as hasty and reckless as it was.

They had to be patient. The window of opportunity was a small one, and required more preparation to exploit properly.

One way or another, the loose ends would be resolved.

o. o. O.

A/N:

As always, thanks Wayfarer for betaing.

… Damn it. I'm really sorry guys. I should have come out with this chapter sooner, but it fought me as soon as the first section was done. This whole bit was a slog to get through, but it was one of those chapters that HAD to get done. You can't just have someone as big as Barthomelloi in the house and not have an important scene loaded with semi meaningless politics involved.

It doesn't help that I've been doing some pretty important things in RL too atm. Health stuff. Stuff that explains certain personal quirks of mine that I REALLY wished I had found about sooner, and am still investigating.

But minor tidbits. Archer didn't recognize Ciel. Mostly because, in personal headcanon, Ciel was actually middle aged by the time she met him. She was only young/immortal in Tsukihime, but really 25 while looking like she was 16, which was 5 years before Fate. So if Archer met her when he finished studying at the tower (est 10ish years maybe), Ciel would have already been in her 40's.

Plus, there's the whole thing about Clocktower was set up in the same era as Camelot. Both around the 5th century. And both in the London area at that. There's NO way that the two weren't aware of one another. I refuse to believe it. Odds are Nasu has something else in mind for it, which is fine and all, but until any other specifics are disclosed, I'm settling with the idea that they had an agreement that allows Saber to maybe or maybe not completely shaft them if she gets pissed. As for why in other timelines she doesn't pull it off, my headcannon would be that she didn't think anyone would believe her claims if she did in those situations. But she could pull it off with Barthomelloi because they're all stuck in Shirou's circle of bullshittery luck.

As for what's left, I have one last major clusterfuck that will tie the rest of this shit together before the end of the story. It will be fast. It will be painful. It will be cruel. And it will be necessary, considering all the plot points I had originally WANTED to put into this story at the end of the fic, but gave up on because it would draw this out much longer than it already is and make it feel pushed. I'll mention them later eventually, but let's just say that the body count in this fic was supposed to be much higher than it is now.

Okay. Enough rambling. Other news. For anyone that knows or cares, I beta/work on another fic with a group of writers that's a crossover between Go Away I'm Watching Porn and A Demon Lord's Hero (though the author for that fic has more or less vanished as far as I can tell). Make of that what you will. It's called "I'm too Sober For This", and I try to put in some time into that when I can to keep things interesting. I wrote a section for it a while back that's going to be posted soon, so if anyone's interested in my most controversial piece and related works, check it out.

Elden Ring DLC got announced. Finally. Insert GRRM joke here, then cry when I notice how much slower my pace has gotten recently.

Aaaaand… Toriyama.

This unworthy chapter is dedicated to a great man that passed on far too early.

Seriously, DBZ was my gateway anime. I came across it when it was a saturday morning cartoon when I was five. Thirty years ago. It was amazing to me. It wasn't a five minute brain rotting short, or a couple of fifteen minute animated skits, or one of the Marvel cartoons where the plot and morals were too complicated for a kid to understand or pick up on the spot or have patience to try and learn what was going on. No. DBZ was a simple, easy to digest adventure that any child or adult could understand from the get go regardless where you jumped in and was FUN and exciting to watch.

Here's to you Toriyama. A rare man that changed the world, in my opinion for the better, without getting drowned with the nonsense in it. He might not have been the best, but he sure as hell was one of the greatest. Some might even say he was super.

… And fuck anyone that tries to talk shit about him for their own agenda and clout. Useless parasites.

Anyways. That's it for now. Thanks for being patient with me everyone.

SO REVIEW! WORSHIP THE LOG! SHIROU HAD MAILED A LIST OF CULINARY COMPLAINTS TO THE HARWEY FAMILY CULINARY STAFF AFTER SAID PARTY AND ACCIDENTALLY GOT A THIRD OF THEM FIRED, THREE OF WHICH HAVE SWORN REVENGE! AND REVIEW AGAIN!