Escalation (IX)

Deep in the mountains around Fuyuki City, there was a small, nondescript chalet. There was no path leading to it, so unless one knew exactly how to get there, it was almost impossible to find except by a stroke of luck.

Lancer had an easier time getting here. He only had to follow the pull of his contract with his Master. The new one.

He didn't know what had happened, but he felt a disconnect from his anchor to the world, which would eventually result in his death if it continued, but no longer than thirty minutes later a new connection was established.

That was enough to realize that Bazett was dead and someone had taken her Command Seal. The new holder didn't answer to any of his contact attempts, so all he could do was follow their connection, which lead him to this god-forsaken place.

Returning to physical form, he kicked the door open without much ceremony.

"Hey jackass, what's the big deal?"

In the darkness of the only room, sat a man that Lancer was all too familiar with.

"So it was you. I knew she shouldn't have trusted you, Kotomine."

The priest looked up.

"Indeed. It's a shame that your wise counsel has gone unheeded," he said, faintly mocking.

Lancer frowned. Truth to be told, he hadn't known Bazett for long. Just a few days. Certainly not enough to bear a grudge with the priest for killing her. As the name suggested, that for the Grail was a war. People died and killed each other in every conflict and Servants were nothing more than weapons with an ego.

Moreover, Cu Chulainn was a man that could fight a man to the death in the morning and get drunk with him that same evening without missing a beat. The opposite also held true, of course. Naturally, the fundamental requirement was for him to like that person.

Kotomine didn't fit the description.

Lancer's dislike of the priest came from his guts and wasn't the consequence of his betrayal. Kotomine rubbed him wrong from the very first time they met when Bazett had gone to the church to present herself as one of the seven Masters. He knew from the very beginning that he was a viscid snake wearing human skin.

But her Master would hear none of that. The two of them had history, she said. They were friends, she insisted. Never mind that they were a Magus from the Clock Tower and an Executor from the Church respectively. Mortal enemies by definition.

In the end, it turned out that Lancer was right. Unfortunately.

"Something strange is going on, I'm sure you have noticed," said the priest, moving on entirely from the murder of Lancer's former Master.

"Yeah. The huge hole in the sky was a dead giveaway. What the fuck is going on?"

In truth, Lancer had a partial knowledge of that. The ballsy Magus, Emiya, said that the Grail was corrupt. Malfunctioning. And lo and behold, strange things started happening. Now, some stuff could be explained just by having a Caster around, but Lancer had his own knowledge of that stuff, and he didn't think that was it.

"Somebody has been messing around with the Grail," said the priest.

"Oh? I didn't know such a thing was possible," he lied.

Kotomine didn't know that Lancer already knew. The priest had no idea that there was a plan to shut down the Grail. He and Bazett were going to ask him about the situation, when they ran into the gold Servant at the church, preventing that conversation from happening entirely.

Lancer had no wish to reveal the conspiracy now if only to get back at this jackass. Sure, Kotomine could force him to talk with a Command Seal, but first, he had to realize that Lancer had answers to give. He should have been grateful that he wasn't going to stab him.

"Neither did I but it's apparent that's the case. We are going to fix it."

"Oh, and how are we going to do that exactly? Sorry, but I got summoned as Lancer. If you want me to fix shit up, you oughta ask my Caster self."

"You are right about that. Only a Caster-Class Servant can do something to repair this. And it stands to reason that only Caster Class Servant can be responsible for it. We are going to bring them to heel."

"We gotta find them first, though," he said.

"You don't need to worry about that," said the priest as he got up from his seat. "I already know where they are. The problem is how to approach them. At present they have formed an alliance with Rider and Saber."

Lancer let out a whistle.

"That sounds bad," he laughed.

"Perhaps you should not be so carefree. You are the one who's going to fight them, after all."

"I'm the ghost of a dead man itching for a fight. Fighting three Servants at once sounds like my idea of a good time. Realistically, though, my odds of capturing Caster alive for questioning are slim to none. Whatcha gonna do about it?" he asked, putting his hands behind his head in a relaxed manner, like none of it was his problem.

Which, to be fair, it really wasn't.

Kotomine smiled.

"I believe the saying is divide et impera, Lancer. It's not easy to keep three Servants united under one banner. One only has to push the right buttons, and everything will come crumbling down."

Lancer didn't like the sound of that one bit. He really hated snakes like this guy.

"By the way, Lancer. You were one of the Servants fighting at the local high school, weren't you?"

"Ah? What makes you think that?"

"Saber, Caster, Rider, and Berserker were too busy desecrating a graveyard on the other side of the city to have any part in that. Only two other Servants have been summoned, one being you. What Servant was the other one?"

"Well, I'm afraid you've got your information mixed up. I didn't fight any Servant at the school, but I fought one at your church. I think he was Archer since he was throwing blades at me by the hundreds."

"So, are you denying being at the school?"

"I didn't say that. I said I didn't fight a Servant. My scuffle was with a Master. Dunno which."

It was true. After all, of the three Servants that showed up, he didn't know which one was Emiya's.

"And he managed to get away from you?"

"Well, I wanted him to call his Servant so that we could have a good fight, but Caster, Saber, and Rider showed up at the same time. After I lost my weapon, Bazett ordered me to retreat. Just when it was about to get interesting."

"Hm. I see. That explains why Bazett only had two Command Seals left. Still, how did you manage to track down this Master?"

Lancer shrugged.

"He came at me on his own. He took offense to my trying to kill a witness, it seems."

"A witness at the school before your battle? What were you doing there in physical form?"

"Well, I was… ?"

He tilted his head. That's right, what was he doing at the school that warranted killing a witness? He wouldn't go corporeal for no reason. And even if he had, that alone wasn't reason enough to kill. The dude should have had to see him doing something that humans couldn't. Something had to have happened before that. So why the hell couldn't he remember what?

"It affects you too, it seems. Interesting."

"What? What do you mean, it affects you too. What are you talking about?"

"If you don't remember, there's no point explaining it. Let's just go. We'll deal with it when the time comes."

"Ahh. I can tell already. You are going to be one huge pain in the ass."

The priest smiled, seemingly satisfied with Lancer's reaction.

Seriously, his luck was the worst through and through.


Caren stood in front of the ruins of the church that sat atop of the hill.

There was nothing left of it now, save for one or two stone pillars that defiantly refused to crumble.

'Why did we come back here?' asked the disembodied Servant. 'I doubt the priest is going to come back to this place now.'

Caren sighed.

"What do you know of that anomaly in the sky from before?" she asked.

'Other than you doubled in pain over the moment it opened up? Nothing. Why do you ask?'

"Because it made me feel like you do, times millions. So I can't help but wonder why. What is your connection to that thing? To this Grail War?"

'I don't know. I do have a feeling of familiarity with this land, that much is true, but it's only a faint impression.'

"You really don't remember anything about yourself?" she asked. "Not the slightest thing?"

'Nothing pertaining to an identity, I'm afraid. Supposing I had one in the first place.'

"What does that mean?"

'As long as there is a legend about something or someone, that thing will be recorded in the Throne, even if they never truly existed. Under the right circumstances, those things can also be summoned into the world of the living as Servants.'

"I know that. Just as I know that even those things would have a recollection of their own self, even if it's entirely made up. So why don't you?"

'I don't have an answer to that.'

"Then make a wild guess."

There was a long pause, in which she could almost hear him trying to collect his thoughts.

'... Whatever I had once been, a real person or a mere myth, I must have been forgotten by all.'

"That makes no sense. Even I know that the Throne of Heroes exists outside of the flow of time. People forgetting about you should not affect it or the Heroes residing within. As long as someone, somewhen, knew of your existence, then you shouldn't be forgotten.'

'Well, assuming time is linear and immutable, then you'd be right. But that's not necessarily true, is it? Just the other day you were telling me about that colleague of yours, who couldn't die because the world considered it a paradox. Certainly, if one's death can go against the laws that govern the world, with the circumstances even one's life could.'

"Wait… are you saying that your history was erased from time after your death and ascension to the throne?"

'Oh, no. That was just the wild guess you asked for. Well, maybe that's not so wild, after all. If my very own history is a paradox, then it's no wonder why nobody can remember anything that has to do with me. That would explain a few things, wouldn't it?'

Indeed, there was that. She had been forced to escape from the Church precisely for that reason.

No one could remember that she had summoned a Servant, not even the people who had been there with her. Rather, they recalled the ritual happening, but nothing about the result. She tried to explain multiple times, but everyone just forgot the moment her words left her mouth. Even writing it down was of no use, as the ink disappeared from the paper.

To everybody other than her, it looked like she refused to answer their questions. In the end, she had been forced to break out with the relic.

Had she left it behind, they wouldn't have put that much effort into chasing her, and if she could she would have left it behind. Unfortunately, she couldn't do that. Without it she didn't have the means to support a Servant. She was no Magus, after all. However, because of it they hunted her across all of Europe and half of Asia.

She pulled the object out of her robes. A golden scepter on top of which was encased a crystal globe filled with a red substance.

The blood of Saint Januarius. The real thing, not the imitation worshiped by the masses. Despite being centuries old it would regularly turn back to a liquid. It held a considerable amount of Mana, which miraculously restored itself to full every day at sunrise.

"If what you say is correct, why am I not affected by this paradox?" she asked.

'You are affected,' he replied. 'Can you describe what I look like? What's the sound of my voice? What weapon do I use? The only reason why you are aware of my existence is that you are my Master. You are my anchor to this world and I'm your anchor to the knowledge of my existence. I might not know who I am, but I'm still aware of my existence. Cogito ergo sum, if you will. As long as that holds true, then you will be able to remember me.'

It made sense, in a twisted sort of way. Either that, or he was a good liar with an excellent bullshit story. That was possible, but it wasn't likely. Caren's innate talent made her privy to the feelings of the people around her. All the more so for a person whose mind was directly connected with hers. She could not detect the slightest deception or ill intent coming from him.

"There's something wrong with this Grail War," she said. "A Holy relic would not allow for something like you to come into being. And that phenomenon from before..."

'On that, we concur. Is that why we are here? Do you hope to find clues about it?' asked the Servant.

"The supervisor should have some insight into the workings of the Grail. Maybe he has noticed something strange but didn't have a context to place it."

'That's a stretch, but even assuming you are right, he's not here and he's unlikely to return.'

"If someone had not been so utterly useless, we could have dealt with Lancer and gotten here before it happened."

'Indeed. Try harder next time, Master.'

"Shut that trap and help me find the entrance to the basement."

Avenger chuckled in the back of her mind and his presence drifted off, searching for clues.

Despite his cheek, he was always absolutely helpful. It really drove her mad that a devil-like him would be this forthcoming.

Because there was no doubt that he was malevolent. He was steeped in malice. Even if his existence had been completely erased from the annals of history, it couldn't delete the pitch-black stain on his soul.

What did she have to make of that?


Of all the things that Shirou expected to happen that night, Dojima showing up at his doorstep with a woman in his arms was not one of them. That she had a hole the size of a fist in her chest and was missing an arm was just the cherry on top.

"Dojima-san? Who's this? Are you alright?"

"Later. She's still alive. At least she was until a moment ago. Do something."

Caster rushed to his side with a spell dancing on her fingertips.

"It's true. She's a Magus. Her Crest is keeping her alive," she quickly surmised.

"Can you fix her?" Shirou asked immediately.

"No, but I can keep her from dying while I figure out a way," she said, taking her from Dojima's arms. "I'll be right back."

She disappeared in a cloud of smoke, along with the fatally wounded woman.

Now relieved of his burden, Dojima could do what he looked like he had wanted for a while. That is to say, fall on his ass in relief.

"Dojima-san, are you alright?" asked Saber. "Are you hurt anywhere?"

He held up his hand reassuringly.

"I'm good. Just give me a second."

"Where did Caster go?" asked Tohsaka.

"Our hideout, probably. The safest place to put an unconscious person."

"Oh, you have a hideout? Where is that?" Tohsaka asked casually.

"I guess I could tell you, but Caster is already pissed off with me enough as it is. I'd rather keep some of that fury for another time."

"Oh, so you can be taught some sense after all," she said with a smirk.

"Very funny, Tohsaka," he sighed wearily.

"What happened to you? Why do you look like a mummy?" asked Dojima, looking at him from head to toe. "I tried to call you like fifteen times."

"You did? Sorry, we've got tangled up in another mess."

"You mean that weird thing up in the sky? What the heck was that?"

"Another can of worms to deal with, I'm afraid," said Caster, reappearing from whence she came.

"Is everything alright?" asked Shirou. "Will she make it?"

"I hooked her up to a source of Mana. As long as she has that, her Crest will do the job of keeping her alive. I also put her under a spell that will keep her unconscious and free from pain. However, healing her wounds is another matter altogether. It will take me some time to concoct a potion that can fix her. And before I commit to that, I need to know who she is. So, what's your story, scruffy?"

"Before that, do you have any booze in the house? I think I need a stiff drink."


"Lancer's Master?" Tohsaka asked.

Dojima gulped down the third glass of whisky and slammed the empty glass back on the table.

"She also said that Kotomine has stolen him, whatever the hell that means."

"He's taken her Command Seals and now he's Lancer Master," Caster briefly explained.

Tohsaka's fist slammed down on the table.

"I knew we should have hunted him down till we found him. That bastard. The more I learn about him, the more I think I should have killed him years ago."

"What else did he do?" asked Shirou, fearing the answer.

"He sold most of my proprieties well under the real market value. He got me this close to being completely destitute. What's left of it will last me until graduation and that's if I'm very careful how I spend my money."

"Are you sure he just didn't pocket the money for himself?" asked Dojima. "He just gave everything away for the shits and giggles? Man, what a piece of shit."

"Indeed," Saber agreed. "He was plenty dangerous by himself and now he has gotten himself a powerful Servant too. We need to find him and deal with him as quickly as possible."

"Maybe we can find some clues about his whereabouts at the villa where Dojima found the magus," said Caster. "We should probably investigate. Dojima will take us there."

"Good call," Rin agreed. "I'm coming with you."

"Alright, let's get going," said Shirou.

"Not you," said Caster immediately. "You are going to stay here and rest. Besides, somebody has to watch over Rider. We can't leave her defenseless on her own."

Shirou, who was about to protest being left behind, quickly shut his mouth. There was no better way to make him comply with anything than by pointing out how it would help someone else.

"Alright, I'll hold the fort, then. You let me know as soon as you find something, alright?"

"Of course. I'm also going to crank up the protection around the house while I'm out. Nothing is going to get in or out without me knowing. I'll be right back if that happens, but make sure to contact me if you notice anything out of place. We can't relax just yet."

"I know and I will. You all be careful out there."

"You don't need to tell us, Emiya," said Tohsaka. "We aren't you."

Shirou grumbled but didn't deny the implied accusation of recklessness. It's not like he had any ground to.

A few minutes later, after Caster was done Reinforcing the Boundary Fields around the house, the three of them plus Dojima teleported away, much to the detective's protests that he'd rather drive, leaving Shirou alone in the house with the unconscious Rider.

With nothing more important to do, Shirou put away the glasses and plates from the table. Then he stepped out on the patio to breathe in some of the fresh night air. Everything was so deceptively quiet and peaceful.

No one could imagine what turbulent times these were.

His body still ached tremendously but not as bad as it should, considering what he had done to himself. In fact, at this rate, he should be back to one hundred percent in a couple of hours at most. Avalon was really working wonders.

"I might as well go check on Rider," he decided after staring at the sky for a while.

He was in no condition of doing anything else anyway. He certainly couldn't risk falling asleep with Caster away and Rider out of commission. With the likes of Kotomine around, they couldn't let his guard down, not even for a second.

Thus, it fell onto Shirou to stand guard this time. Not that he would have any problem doing that. He wouldn't be able to sleep, in any case. There were just too many things occupying his thoughts. The threat of the Grail wouldn't be solved just because they kept the Servants from killing each other, it seemed. The damnable thing wanted to manifest into the world and it used any method at its disposal to do so.

With everyone gone and dawn still a few hours away, the house was dead quiet. The city was blissfully asleep and completely unaware of the looming danger.

They weren't the only ones.

When Shirou arrived in front of the room where Rider was resting, he quirked his eyebrows. He could hear a shuffling noise coming from the other side of the door.

"Rider, are you awake?"

There was no answer, but the shuffling stopped abruptly.

The hair on the back of his head stood up. His instinct screamed in alarm but he misunderstood what it was saying. He threw the door open, thinking that Rider was in danger.

A most grievous mistake.

The creature came barrelling through, smashing through the door and a chunk of the wall, faster than Shirou could hope to react, lifting him off the ground and throwing the two of them into the moonlit courtyard.

"GAAAH!" he screamed in pain, his voice covering the sound of bones shattering.

His left arm was brutally twisted and pulled out of its socket, snapping his muscles and tearing it off almost completely. A row of teeth tore into the flesh of his shoulder, splattering blood across his face. At the same time, his other limbs were being constricted by something extremely thick and powerful, crushing his flesh and bones. Several other mouths bit into his torso, draining his blood like juice from a freshly squeezed orange.

If Emiya Shirou had not already surpassed the limits of what a human could suffer without passing out, he would undoubtedly have died a gruesome death in that moment. Instead, he still had the presence of mind to identify his attacker.

Not that she could be mistaken for anybody else, even in that condition.

Next to his face sucking blood from his shoulder, was none other than Rider. Her long hair had turned into the snakes she was known for, and they were feasting on him with savage hunger.

It took a superhuman effort to turn his head, ripping his own flesh even further in the process. But in doing so, he managed to take a good look at her eyes.

They were as black as the mud that had turned her this way, but her square sclera was of a deep crimson not unlike fresh blood.

Shirou was fortunate that he had been scolded by Medea just a few minutes before. If she hadn't, he might have wasted precious seconds pointlessly trying to struggle himself free.

Instead, he did precisely what he should have done at that moment.

"Rider…" he groaned. The burning feeling on his hand was too insignificant to register through the rest. "Come back to your senses!"

A Command Seal shone intensely and then faded away. Even so for a brief moment, the pulling at his limbs kept intensifying and Shirou feared that even the power of a Command Seal had not been enough to restore her sanity.

The next moment he was dropped to the ground like a boneless bag of meat he had become.

"Ah… Ahhh?"

Rider stepped back, looking at her hands, blood-stained like her chin, neck, and even her chest. Her hair turned snakes looked at her in confusion as if they had a mind of their own and could not understand why she had let go of their meal.

Her eyes, now back to their pretty crystal blue, then fell upon him and she froze.

"Hhh…" Shirou tried to speak, but the only thing that came out of his mouth was a death rattle.

"No…" she said, her voice barely a whisper. "No. No, no nononoNOOOOO!"

She lept away, covering her face with both hands, tearing through the Boundary Fields like so much paper, disappearing into the night of Fuyuki

Shirou could not move a single muscle and he was rapidly bleeding out on the ground. Before unconsciousness could claim him entirely, he reached out with one final thought.

'Medea… help…'

The next moment, everything went black and he knew no more.


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