Updating to make way for new content.
Last time on Fate Zero.
1. Rider & Waver discover the wonders of Drifting.
Waver: (Listening to Night of Fire) Where is that music coming from?!
2. Kiritsugu has had more than enough of this farce.
Kiritsugu: Lock and Load.
3. And Kayneth gets to experience the wonders of being the 'Bottom'.
Sola: CALL ME QUEEN!
And now, on with the show!
An Alternate Tale of the Fourth Holy Grail War
Chapter 15: Prelude to the Banquet.
Normally Kirei found walking the tranquil streets of Shinto at night to be a calming experience, indeed, prior to the Grail War he would often spend many an hour simply wandering around after completing his training under Tokiomi and his physical regimen, both to clear his head and relax his body for the evening.
Tonight, however, despite being able to traverse them uncontested for a time, the deserted streets did little to soothe Kirei's thoughts as he strode down the footpath to the construction site his enigmatic Servant had requested his presence at.
His state of mind had little to do with concern for his safety. After all, so far as the world at large was concerned, Kotomine Kirei died as a result of the destruction of the Fuyuki Hyatt, his body so badly damaged it had taken DNA testing for his grieving father to confirm his identity.
Even if the other Masters suspected foul play, though with Tokiomi and Caster dead, the only ones that could suspect such a thing would be the Einzbern party, the Doppelgangers escorting him from the shadows would ensure that no Servant got the drop on him.
As for the other Masters, if his Servant's latest report were to be believed they were either licking their wounds or summarily distracted, a concept Kirei was wholly unfamiliar with, as ever since childhood he had always adhered fully to the instructions of his peers, obediently carrying out his duties in accordance with the code of ethics passed down to him by his pious father.
Even now, as a man grown, he continued to adhere to the code of conduct Risei had instilled within him. As such, the concept of 'being distracted' was as unfamiliar to Kirei as the concept of honesty was to a politician. Or common sense to a pure-blooded Magus.
No, the truth of the matter was that Kirei's current state of mind was a direct result of the perplexity he felt in regards to the enigma that was his Servant. To be more specific, his inability to decipher the grand scheme said Servant was weaving, a scheme which Kirei found himself being increasingly drawn into, not entirely against his will.
At first he had dismissed the feeling as mere intrigue, wanting to document the events that transpired following his Servant usurping his Master's plan. At the very least, doing so would allow him to provide some measure of comfort towards Rin and Ms. Aoi for his failure to protect the man.
However, as events played out and more of the plan began to unveil itself, he found himself eager to see just what feat of underhanded brilliance the Masked Servant was going to pull off next.
It was like he was a child, watching a pantomime or puppet show, the other Servants and Masters reduced to mere actors or set pieces, masterfully directed by the will of his Servant.
Each new development, each obstacle overcome, each carefully crafted contingency supplanted sending a thrill of excitement through Kirei's hollow heart for the first time he could remember.
'I wonder if Tokiomi looked the same way when his stockpile detonated?' he mused, recalling the Doppelganger's summary of Kayneth's features when he was impaled from behind by his own Servant's weapon, as despite long since having come to terms with his betrayal, he often found his thoughts drifting back to that night.
Indeed, one of his more pressing concerns of late was that it was growing increasingly harder to squash the guilty thrill that filled him as he imagined the gamut of expressions that must have crossed Tokiomi's face as the normally unflappable Tohsaka head realized how thoroughly he'd been outwitted.
With this in mind, he had made it a point to make a small request of his Servant in exchange for capitulating to his 'request' that he avoid leaving the church unless absolutely necessary. The nature of said request being that his Servant spare no details in recording the downfalls of the remaining Masters.
By no means did this mean he had forgotten his drive to speak with Emiya Kiritsugu. In order for him to better understand himself, Kirei knew he would have to meet with the Magus Killer, be through battle or dialogue, though failing that he would settle for someone who knew the man well-enough to answer his questions.
"Pardon the intrusion." He called out, more for the sake of manners than anything else, as the rubble-strewn building hardly counted as a domicile by any stretch of the imagination. He could only imagine how desperate Lord El-Melloi must have been to even consider setting up shop in such a location.
'Pride truly does come before the fall.' He mused, suppressing a chuckle in his chest as he came to a stop, having sensed the not-so-subtly hidden gaze watching him from the shadows "I swear in the name of God that I have come with my arms open and hands empty."
"You are the Healer Lady Sola mentioned?" Lancer called out, his expression wary as he materialized out of the darkness, twin spears held towards the ground "I shall escort you within, please do not make any sudden moves."
"I wouldn't dream of it." Kirei assured him, falling into step with the Knight of Fianna as he was led deeper into the structure, his skin shivering as he felt himself pass through a bounded field.
"Lady Sola, the Priest is here." Lancer called out as he came to a halt before a closed door, his expression sombre as it opened a crack, revealing the pale features of Archibald's fiancée "Has Lord Kayneth's condition improved?"
"No, though it hasn't worsened either." Sola-Ui assured the Servant, a truly bizarre expression adorning her face, concern, dismissal and arousal warring for dominance in her eyes "He does not blame you, Lancer, you could not have anticipated this."
"Had I taken my battle with Berserker seriously, he would not have been injured in the first place." Lancer countered, his expression heartbroken "Bad enough I allowed myself to get so caught up in the thrill of battle even a Mad Beast could disarm me…but to allow my Master to be wounded, and by my own spear no less…I do not deserve to be his Knight."
"Do not say that!" Sola cried out, her control vanishing for a split-second, only to stiffen briefly, her features relaxing as she placed a hand on Lancer's cheek "As I said, Kayneth does not blame you, for there is nothing to blame. Once he has recovered, he shall tell you so himself."
"I…thank you, Lady Sola." Lancer offered, bowing his head in gratitude to his Master's intended "I shall return to my post, please do not hesitate to summon me if anything happens."
"Be safe, Lancer." Sola urged, smiling vapidly at the Knight as he turned and walked away, heading back the way he came to resume his watch "This way, we have been expecting you."
Kirei did as instructed, silently following the redhead, having deduced from her earlier reaction that there was no need to question her. After all, what would be the point of questioning a thrall who only knew how to carry out orders?
"The Priest has arrived, Master." Sola-Ui called out, her expression one of vapid calm as she bowed towards the familiar form of his Servant "If it pleases you, we can begin the treatment immediately."
"Thank you, Sola-Ui." The Masked Servant offered, inclining his helmet in acknowledgement, before turning to regard his Master "I apologize for calling you out here so late, Kirei, but as you can see, we require your services."
"I'm simply grateful to be able to stretch my legs a little." The younger Kotomine assured them with a nod, before turning his attention to the haggard figure lying atop the nearby operating table "I assume you wish for me to heal Lord El-Melloi and Berserker's Master?"
"Indeed." His Servant confirmed with a nod as he posed dramatically as he was wont to do "After all, it would hardly suit us to allow our newest allies to be struck down by their injuries, now would it?"
"I would recommend starting with Berserker's Master." Sola-Ui opined from the side-lines, the vapid smile on her face never shifting despite the chill in her words "I have already stabilized Kayneth's situation, so he is in no immediate need of attention."
"Perhaps, but it would still behoove us to restore his mobility to the best of our ability." The Masked Servant countered "After all, it would hardly do for a Lord of the Clock Tower to show weakness before his enemies."
"You honor me with your concern." Kayneth opined, drawing Kirei's attention to a corner of the room, where the Lord El-Melloi sat within a wheelchair, his usual sneer replaced with the same vapid smile that adorned his fiancee's face "However, I must concur with Sola's diagnosis. See to the heretic's injuries, my own will keep for a time."
"As you will, Lord El-Melloi." The Masked Servant conceded with a mocking bow before turning to nod at Kirei, the younger Kotomine stepping forward, blinking slightly as Berserker manifested between him and the table.
"Mind yourself, Priest." The Mad Servant rasped, his tone, while decidedly less feral, carried an undertone of warning that was not unlike a well-trained guard-dog "If I sense any tricks, should I perceive any signs of ill-intent, you will not live to regret it."
As Kirei begins his task...
Kirei nodded silently, deeming words unnecessary. After all, it wasn't as if Berserker had any reason to trust them. Indeed, considering how Lord El-Melloi was the cause of his Master's injuries, it could be argued the Mad Servant was showing surprising clarity in his wariness.
His warning heeded, the Mad Servant reverted to astral form once more, no doubt to ease the burden on his Master as much as possible, allowing Kirei to approach the table upon which lay the haggard, gasping form of Matou Kariya.
Setting aside the hastily reattached leg, likely the work of Sola-Ui, it was clear the White Sheep of House Matou had seen far better days. Whereas before he'd been a wholly unremarkable man, as like to vanish into a crowd as a ghost, his appearance now reminded Kirei of a lost soul who had either fallen prey to a Dead Apostle or had failed to become one themselves.
"I see Zolgen's methods remain as foul as ever." the younger Kotomine noted, his lips curling in disgust at the mention of the old monster that masqueraded as the head of the Matou Family.
While the reason for his participation in the foundation of the Holy Grail Wars remained unknown to the church, indeed, Kirei suspected Zouken himself had possibly forgotten it by now, the lengths the man had gone to obtain the Chalice were nothing less than reprehensible.
Put simply, by all rights Matou Zouken, or rather Makiri Zolgen, should have been hunted down and Executed centuries ago, back when his family was driven from Europe for their foul practices.
However, as loathe as he was to acknowledge it, within any organisation there existed loopholes that the informed could abuse in order to avoid persecution, and sadly the Holy Church was no exception to this rule.
As such, while the means Zolgen utilised to prolong his abominable existence were doubtlessly abhorrent, even my the morally loose standards of Magi, it still fell short of actual Vampirism, meaning neither Enforcers nor the Executors could lift a finger against him unless he did something to expose the existence of the Moonlit World.
There was also the fact that, as one of the original Founders of the Heaven's Feel Ritual, being the one to devise and integrate the 'Command Seals' in order to give the Masters some means of controlling their Humanoid Weapons of Mass Destruction, Zolgen was pretty much untouchable, as in the event something went wrong with the ritual, his guidance would be needed to set things right.
So as much as Kirei would love nothing more than to rid the world of the old Monster's taint, preferably through use of copious amounts of fire, he was forced to restrain himself, though that didn't stop him from glaring impotently at parasite the sparse few times he met with Tokiomi prior to the war.
Shaking his head to rid himself of such thoughts, the younger Kotomine focused his prana into his fingertips, calling upon the memory of Tokiomi's instruction and his training as an Executor to reach into the haggard, worm-eaten body of Matou Kariya to begin the process of healing him, though it didn't take long for him to realise it was a meaningless effort.
It wasn't that Kirei couldn't heal the man, far from it. His origin and mastery of Spiritual Healing made him just as proficient at putting people back together as he was at taking them apart. No, the problem lay in the Crest Worms implanted in his body, which would set upon the newly healed flesh the moment Kirei moved on, drawn to the remnants of his Mana like moths to a flame.
'Or like leeches to blood' he mused, lips pressing into a thin line as he glanced down at the two remaining Command Seals adorning the back of his hand, his frown deepening as he pondered his next move.
As much as he abhorred Zolgen's continued existence, Kirei was unable to deny the old monster's genius which likely served as reason enough for Zelretch to introduce him to the Einzberns. As beings who had ascended beyond the limitations of mere mortals, Heroic Spirits, barring certain exceptions, were generally an opinionated lot.
Put simply, for every level-headed Servant like Lancer, who would suffer any indignity for his master provided he could serve them to the best of his ability, there were likely countless others closer to Rider or Archer, beings who would mock their masters or kill them outright for daring to presume to command them.
That Zolgen had not only seen the need to keep such entities leashed, but had devised a method by which to do so, spoke highly of his abilities not only as a Magus, but also a tactician. Indeed, so important were the Command Seals that any Master that squandered them could be considered no less than a fool.
However, while the Seals' primary use was to either restrain or reinforce the Servants, that didn't mean they were limited to just that. Depending on the situation, a Command Seal could be used by the Master to supplement their own reserves, sacrificing them in exchange for highly practical magical energy on a level comparable to the Magic Crests of Established Pureblood Lineages.
Theoretically speaking, with enough Command Seals, it would be possible for a Master to even harm a Servant. While Kirei highly doubted his two remaining Seals would do much good in that regard, sacrificing one or two to heal Matou Kariya shouldn't be outside the realm of possibility.
It wasn't even a question of whether or not he should do so, since it was clear his Servant had every intention of adding Berserker to their Ranks, so healing Kariya would only serve to further ingratiate him to their cause even if they chose to abstain from placing him under Geass.
Nor was it concern for his safety that stayed his hands, as aside from their confrontation following his desperate order to prevent the murder of Emiya Kiritsugu, his enigmatic Servant had never voiced any complaints regarding his authority over him.
And even if said Servant was silently planning anything untoward in Kirei's immediate future, as Overseer his Father could simply grant him a full Stock of Command Seals at his discretion, something his Servant knew all-too-well and had done nothing to circumvent.
And so, after reciting a Psalm to enhance the effect of his Spiritual Healing, Kotomine Kirei willingly sacrificed the second of his original command seals, burning it to provide him with enough mana to not only remove the vile parasites from Matou Kariya's body, but replace the tainted flesh that was left in their wake and leave it whole.
It would've been so much easier if Kariya's agonized cries didn't send appreciative shivers racing up and down his spine.
"I trust everything went well?" Lelouch called out, looking up from a book Sola-Ui had provided from Kayneth's few remaining possessions as Kirei stepped away from Kariya's side, the Master of Berserker having thankfully passed out from the pain some time ago. "And how is the patient?" he asked, carefully sidestepping the burnt-out, dissolving husks of Zolgen's worm familiars that littered the floor.
"He'll live, for now." Kirei declared as he wiped his hands clean using a rag offered by Sola-Ui, Lelouch's eyes narrowing behind his mask as he noted how his Master was conspicuously missing a Command Seal "Normally I would recommend bed rest and avoiding strenuous activity, particularly activating his Magic Circuits, however given the current situation…"
"Do you think me so cruel as to send him back to the front so soon after being put back together?" Lelouch scoffed, shaking a head at Kirei's quirked brow "Rest assured Kirei, I fully intend to allow Kariya-san the opportunity to get the rest he deserves." He glanced up at the empty space where the invisible Berserker stood silently radiating killing intent "After all, we will need all the help we can muster if we hope to bring down the King of Conquerors."
"You do not intend to overwhelm Arth-Saber?" Berserker demanded, the Black Knight sounding honestly surprised by the revelation if the sudden sharp decrease in blood lust was any indication "I had assumed that was your reason for proposing this alliance."
"And deprive Diarmuid of the chance to finish his duel? Hardly." Lelouch countered with a dismissive wave of his hand "No, while I don't deny the might of the King of Knights, I believe the King of Conquerors to be the true threat in this war. After all, one does not conquer the known world without garnering some level of notoriety, a fact I'm certain Lord El-Melloi would concur with."
"Indeed, it was for that very reason that I spared no expense in acquiring a relic that could summon him." The Master of Lancer confirmed with a nod, his vapid expression falling briefly replaced with a semblance of his usual haughty sneer "A fact I will be certain to work into my upcoming remedial lesson plans for Waver Velvet."
"All in due time, Lord El-Melloi." Lelouch assured the currently paraplegic lord "Though I would ask that you do not go so hard on the boy. After all, a bout of youthful impetuousness can be forgiven provided the lesson is learnt, correct?"
"Perhaps." Kayneth conceded, his disdain giving way to a calmer, yet no less vapid expression of resignation "I suppose I can turn the other cheek this one time. After all, the boy has doubtlessly suffered enough being dragged around by that insufferable braggart."
"If a King does not lead, then how does he expect his Subjects to follow him." Lelouch intoned, a wry smile adorning his lips as he caught Berserker's sharp intake of breath "For all his bluster, you cannot deny that there is a method to the King of Conqueror's madness…hm?"
He trailed off, reaching into his pocket to withdraw, of all things, a mobile phone, turning his back to his incredulous onlookers as he held it to the side of his helmet.
"What's the situation, Todoh?" he demanded, all traces of humor gone, as there was only one reason the stoic Doppelganger would risk breaking radio silence to contact him from within the Einzbern Camp "Has Rider moved on Saber's base of operations?"
"Something like that." The voice of Suzaku's Sensei confessed, his tone as stoic as ever "He came barreling into the Castle through the front door…however, it doesn't appear as if he intends to challenge Saber to a duel."
"And despite evidence to the contrary, he's nowhere near stupid enough to believe he can convince her to reconsider his offer of an alliance." Lelouch chuckled, shaking his head at the memory of the failed proposition at the docks "Has he given any indication of his intent?"
"From what I can tell…he intends to drink with her." Todoh relayed, the Doppelganger's stoic tone betraying an iota of confusion "And not for the sake of exchanging oaths either, it seems he honestly just barged into Saber's Castle to have a drink."
"Clearly, he favours the aggressive approach." Lelouch scoffed, though internally he was trying to figure out just what on earth Iskandar's game could be, as traditionally meeting with an enemy or rival over drinks could be taken one of several ways.
However, when those involved were Kings, the reasoning behind such an act typically boiled down to one of three scenarios, the first, and arguably the most common of which, involving both sides meeting to discuss a temporary truce in order to confront a larger threat.
While the second was similar in principle, in that both sides cam together to discuss a ceasefire, it differed in that the reasoning behind it was that both sides had exhausted their resources and hoped to use the brief respite to recoup their losses before most likely picking up where they left off.
The final scenario, more common in the case of particularly stubborn kings, involved both sides coming together to barter for something the other possessed that could not obtained through force of arms or trickery.
Given the very nature of the Holy Grail Wars, the Second scenario was written off almost immediately. After all, the only 'munitions' a Servant truly required was Mana, which was provided by the Masters.
Even in circumstances where a Master proved incapable of properly providing for their Servant, as was likely the case with Caster, the Servant could simply feed off the local populace to replenish themselves, though more honourable Servants like Saber or Diarmuid would probably have to be forced to do so via a Command Seal.
From a certain perspective the Third option made more sense, at least as far as Rider was concerned. Setting aside his earlier offer to Saber & Lancer, it was likely Waver Velvet's financial status limited the King of Conquerors' ability to acquire the necessary resources to fund his campaign, whereas the Einzbern, being a step down from Royalty as far as Magi were concerned, had a near limitless wealth of funds to draw upon.
As convincing as the argument for this scenario was, however, Rider & Waver's clear lack of any tangible worth rendered it moot. After all, not even Iskander would be so brazen as to show up at the negotiation table with nothing to offer but a cask of wine.
'Then again, considering how forthright he is, I could be wrong.' He mused, recalling how soundly the redheaded behemoth of a King shattered his illusions of the legendary tactician, shivering as he recalled the flashes of tactical insight that lay hidden beneath the boisterous antics and seeming lack of social awareness.
In the end, the only Scenario that made any form of sense was the first, in which case it was almost certain that Rider hoped to ally with Saber because he suspected something was amiss about the 4th Holy Grail War, having more than likely been the one to trigger the destruction of Caster's Lair.
'I suppose it was foolish to hope his Master would have been taken out in the blast.' He sighed, shaking his head at the missed opportunity and wasted explosives.
It wasn't as if he bore any particular malice towards Rider's hapless Master. Targeting the Masters to take down the Servants was simply a valid stratagem in the Grail Wars, albeit one that most Servants, with the obvious exception of the Assassin, Berserker or Caster Classes, would frown upon.
And in truth, considering the mobility afforded to Rider by his Noble Phantasm, and the fact he never seemed to let his Master stray far from his side, it would've been nearly impossible to target the boy any other way, as all the mobility in the world can't save you when you're buried alive.
However, this presented a problem, for while he doubted Saber would agree to an alliance given her outright rejection during their first encounter, that didn't mean she wouldn't accept the council of her fellow King, especially since it was clear the Einzberns already suspected Risei of Shenanigans due to Kirei's previous actions.
"I just got a report from Shougo." Todoh's doppelganger reported over the phone, his grim tone snapping Lelouch out of his musings "It would appear the King of Conquerors seeks to measure his Kingship against the King of Knights', in order to determine which of them has the better claim to the Grail."
"Is that so?" Lelouch mused, honestly intrigued by the notion. After all, it wasn't everyday that two Legendary Rulers sat across from one another to discuss their ideologies "Well then, I suppose it's only natural that I partake in this Grail Dialogue myself."
"Grail…Dialogue?" Kirei repeated, blinking at the term along with the invisible Berserker, who stood nearby as Sola-Ui tended to Kariya's form as best she could as Kayneth looked on with a frown "I don't understand, are they not discussing terms of an alliance?"
"It may eventually lead to such, but at the moment it seems they're simply trying to determine which of them was the better King." Lelouch replied as he hung up "In all honesty, I find myself divided on the issue…what have you to say on the matter, Berserker?"
"The matter is not even worth discussing." Was the Black Knight's clipped response, though he refrained from manifesting "None who lived during their era could ever deny that King Arthur was the perfect King."
"And yet, that very perfection eventually led to the fall of their Kingdom." Lelouch mused, earning a flinch from the Black Knight "Mind you, Iskander was no better by any means, though at least his kingdom only fell apart after his death.
In the end, the perfect King does not exist. No matter how hard you try, it is impossible to save everyone, all you can do is save those who your two hands can reach, attempting to do more will simply result in losing everything.
"As interesting as this conversation sounds, just how do you plan on attending?" Kirei inquired from the side-lines "The Bounded Field over the Einzbern Castle Forest is a perfect replica of the one used to hide their Castle in the Black Forest. Rider might have been able to force his way through, but I doubt you will be able to do the same, even if Lancer accompanies you."
"True, and I would rather not have Lancer meet with Saber so soon, at least not until we've devised a countermeasure for the King of Conquerors." Lelouch concurred with a nod, before glancing into the shadows "That being said, I don't think gaining an audience will be much trouble, right, Maiya-san?"
"Indeed, Zero-sama." Maiya Hisau confirmed, the Magus Killer's apprentice stepping out of the shadows, her normally impassive eyes tinged red with the light of Geass, Kirei's eyes widening as she dumped the bound and bloodied form of Emiya Kiritsugu at their feet "No problem at all."
Well, hope it was worth the wait.
For those wondering when Lelouch mananged to Geass Maiya, it was shortly before she made the call to Kiritsugu in the previous chapter, though I'll most likely go into deeper details in the next chapter.
In any case, the field is set for the Grail Dialogue/Feast of Kings. What insights will 'Archer' bring to the table, now that he has taken Gilgamesh's seat by right of Conquest?
And what will Kirei do, now that he finds the object of his obsession within reach? Will he finally gain the answers he seeks? Or will Kiritsugu pop a cyanide pill to escape?
Either way, we have a whole new year to find out!