Author's intro

First of all, I apologize for taking so long to post another chapter: life happened to me and not in a good way. I've dealt with most of the stuff, though, and should be able to update more often.

Thank you for all the wonderful reviews! It's much easier to write when you have positive feedback.

I don't own Nasuverse which is a good thing: had I owned something that awesome I wouldn't have bothered to do anything ever again.

I'd like to warn you in advance that the chronology will be a bit different from the novel in the beginning and then will depart from it completely as the differences in Shirou and the girls' characters affect the story's development.

Fonts used:

"Speech."

Thoughts.

"Arias and other Mysteries."

"Higher beings speaking, overpowered Mysteries."

Let's hop right in.

First day, second night

Illyasviel von Einzbern was happy. One would undoubtedly wonder how a weapon engineered for the War and destined to die even if she won could be happy; how a Magus who had been forced to support the Berserker way without the Grail; how an orphan abandoned by her parents could be happy. The answer was simple: Illya was unstable at the best of times and insane – at the worst.

And she was aware of it too: a smart girl like her couldn't go and ignore the fact that her mood swings were way beyond what could be considered normal and her general outlook on life was warped quite a bit. Only the fact that she did realize there was something wrong gave her hope: if Illya was conscious of it, it couldn't be that bad.

And right now she actually had a good reason to be giddy: for the first time in her life she was free! Her servants didn't follow her to the city and there was no one to keep her company except for Berserker and her silent companion would never disapprove of whatever she did or said, what with his battle-addled scrambled brains and all.

After taking a look at the sights around Fuyuki Illya decided to pay her family a visit: it was only polite when going to your sibling's town to greet them before you killed them, after all.

She had very few illusions concerning her actual family: Einzberns weren't kind but, then again, few Magi were.  The fact that both her mother years prior and she at present were allowed to roam the streets of Fuyuki more or less freely didn't stem from some notion of generosity or, Root forbid, compassion; rather, it was simply efficient use of resources. No matter how powerful a Magus, members of her family wouldn't last more than five seconds against a Servant – this was an accepted fact.  In addition, the church frowned upon 'unreasonable' amounts of outside help for the participants: for example, nobody would allow them to bring a platoon of Dead Apostles for fighting, promising the undead free roam of the city in case the participant won.

Even bringing her two personal servants and guards would be pushing it if they ever left the castle to engage her opponents.

Lack of outside help didn't bother Illya, of course: Berserker was the strongest. Heracles was overpowered beyond anything anyone could have expected while preparing for the fights ahead and the girl's only concern was a selfish one: to prolong the only time she could taste freedom and, by extension, her remaining time in general. She knew she wasn't long for this world.

Which was why it was so infuriating to waste precious moments waiting on the route her brother would necessarily follow on his way home. Tiny little moments had always carried more weight than normal with the all-to-mortal girl, whether they whizzed past her like bullets or crawled like a snail on downers. She had been quite confident Shirou would hurry back home as soon as possible to prepare for the fight but that turned out to be a miscalculation. Really, what sort of an idiot even went to school when a war was about to start? Apparently, this one.

Eventually Shirou showed up with the Matou heir, they said goodbye a fair way before reaching Illya's hiding spot and her brother kept on walking. Exhaling in relief and feeling butterflies in the stomach for the first time in a very long time, Illya stepped out from behind a trash container and put on what was one of her creepiest smiles. Even the Einzberns tended to remember some urgent previous engagement when they saw her like this: eyes promising death and suffering while her expression showed nothing but childishness and happiness.

"You better summon it soon, Onii-san…"

Illya was quite proud of her playful, lilting voice: it added to the general feeling of wrongness nicely, she thought.

The boy stopped and tilted his head in thought. To Illya's dismay, he didn't seem particularly unnerved or bothered. Puzzled, if anything.

"Onii-san? Why do you call me 'nii-san'?"

"Hehehe…"

Illya was prepared to skip away, her job done, when Shirou continued:

"Wouldn't I be your imouto, Illya-san?"

"Wha?.."

And just like that, the mood was spoiled. She had been rehearsing this scene for months and that redheaded infuriating prick broke it! Now the girl wanted to break something herself: she had half a mind to call Berserker and end Shirou right then and there when the teen looked at his watch.

"Anyway, I have an hour or so. Want to grab some ice-cream?"

The look of incredulity on her face must have been extreme because Shirou visibly cringed.

"Right, Einzbern. Frozen mountains and everything… maybe some spiced wine instead? They probably won't want to sell you the stuff but a light illusion… what? Your face looks strange. Are you in pain?"

"Neee… little brother? I think I will be killing you now…"

Shirou arched an eyebrow:

"Why?"

"You are strange, little brother… I don't know why Kiritsugu chose you over me but this has to end now…"

The only reason she hadn't asked Berserker to tear the weirdo limb from limb was that she wanted to see fear in those brown-steel eyes. Alas, it was only consternation.

"But it doesn't make sense! If you kill me now, the Grail isn't filled with energy! I don't understand revenge very well, I admit, but wouldn't it be more humiliating to destroy me completely along with my Servant?"

Illy blinked.

"Are you saying that now isn't the best time to kill you because it won't make me as happy as, say, tomorrow? Were you dropped on your head when you were an infant, little brother?"

The boy rubbed his forehead in frustration:

"Why does everyone always ask that? How am I supposed to know? Anyway, how about ice-cream and punch? And you try to kill me later?"

It dawned on Illya then with all the horror her tortured heart could feel: the reason why Kiritsugu didn't come back for her wasn't that he cared more about some adopted kid, it was because he needed to keep said kid out of an asylum. An orphanage really wasn't an option for someone who was this… strange. The worst part of it was that Shirou was right: now really was an illogical time to kill him; it was much better to get both the satisfaction and the payoff at one time. Plus, she kind of wanted to know what Japanese ice-cream tasted like: Illya had read they had some really strange flavors like wasabi. More than a little perturbed, she followed her unhinged brother.

###

Five minutes later they were sitting in a quiet little place, snuggly tucked into a corner booth; she had the weird radish ice-cream and Shirou opted for a vanilla one. Both had mulled wine in front of them: her brother had expertly nudged a waiter with a short Mana burst right when they were about to be denied alcohol. The girl realized something was off a few seconds after bringing them the drinks, of course, but decided it was better to pretend nothing was wrong.

Shirou used this chance to take a good long look at his estranged sister. Illya looked like a weirdly dressed twelve-year-old girl from Europe who hadn't been told that Fuyuki's climate didn't call for ridiculous fur hats and outlandish heavy coats. Her skin was pearl-white as was the hair and her eyes were red: from far away she could have been mistaken for an albino but up close it was quite clear that the girl was something different: her skin wasn't devoid of all pigmentation, just underexposed to sunlight.

She also seemed uncomfortable for some reason which made him feel ill at ease in turn: after all, shouldn't she be more confident if she had been preparing for this battle her whole life? What kind of monsters the rest of the Masters must be to make his sister this nervous!

He decided to break the silence:

"So, how do you like Fuyuki's weather?"

"It's fine, I guess."

Illya fidgeted, barely touching her ice-cream. Shirou sighed:

"Look, I'm sure you'll be fine: the Einzberns must have prepared you well. If anything, it's everyone else who should be worried."

He gave her what he believed to be his best reassuring smile.

"What in the name of the Root is wrong with you? Why aren't you scared of me, Shirou?! Why do you act all infuriating and… and friendly-like?!"

It was lucky for them that the café was almost empty by that point and all they got was a few annoyed stares from one couple whose date must have been going extremely well before two brats decided to turn the atmosphere sour.

Shirou chuckled and addressed the room at large in a strained voice:

"Sorry, me and my sister… we can be a bit loud at times. Won't happen again, right, Illya?"

The girl nodded, her face red like a tomato, mumbling something that sounded suspiciously like 'I'll kill them, kill them all' under her breath.

"Look, I don't get why you are getting angry. It's not like I chose not to have any contact with you."

"But that's just the point! It's your fault that Papa never came back!"

The girl looked to be on the verge of tears or maybe a violent rampage. It was difficult to tell with her because panic always seemed to be accompanied by rage in Illya's case.

"Troublesome… Look, let's just enjoy the ice-cream, okay."

The rest of the evening they ate in silence and this allowed his sister to calm down a bit.  Shirou decided it was a good first step.

Oh, he had considered telling Illya everything at once: both the truth about Kiritsugu and his plans to keep her alive beyond the limited half-homunculus lifespan.  That had actually been the plan before he decided to share it with the girls. Even Sakura voiced her reservations against dropping all that on the girl he had never seen in his life and had every reason to deceive because of the war.

Tohsaka was a bit more vocal and proceeded to chase Shirou around the house with a baseball bat. Her sister found the scene hilarious.

They parted about an hour after their initial meeting: a very confused and quite angry girl and similarly confused but quite happy guy.

###

Meeting Illya made Shirou move his schedule up a day: it was fairly obvious that his elder sister already had a Servant, otherwise she wouldn't be parading around the town with no guard.

His own peak of power was at two A.M. The Workshop was ready and all that remained was the ritual itself.

Shirou stood next to the Circle in complete darkness, his eyes closed.

"The one worthy of the Throne."

His Circuits flared pulling both at his Od and the Mana he had stored in a crystal Tohsaka had gifted him. The pressure built up somewhere deeper than his very sense of self and then found a release like an arrow being pulled out of an agonizing wound; liquid force surged through his system and an Avalon replica appeared, immediately getting fired into the middle of the Circle. The pattern on the floor glowed a dull gold and started to hum quietly.

"Embodiment of ideals, protector of the unwilling."

Another fake struck the diameter of the Circle, intensifying both the light and the sound. It was an ordinary Mystic code from the Clocktower arsenal that was centuries old.

"Selfless ruler, selfish servant."

Each verse was punctuated by a new blade striking the circle between lines and giving the array its power.

"Beside me you will banish the encroaching darkness.

Beside me you will smother the burning light.

With everything to give.

With nothing to take.

I call on you from beyond.

With two hearts and one ideal.

Let us find and fulfill our purpose.

Become my blade!"

Shirou was aware of the standard Servant summoning incantation but the words of the Aria itself didn't matter very much: it was the Circle on the ground, the Prana and his intent that did all the work. And the classical Aria just didn't seem right to him.

By the end of the ritual he had burned through the crystal completely and all his nerves were on fire, suffering from Prana overload. The Circle itself was blindingly bright in the darkness, amber and gold fire dancing on the lines. All the while, Avalon shone brighter and brighter, its hum becoming an eerie, hypnotic choir. With no small amount of dismay Shirou realized that another song was resonating inside him as the pieces of the actual Noble Phantasm started to respond: bright spots appeared under his white shirt and he felt vibrations in his chest.

Higher and higher they went: the light, so bright he couldn't see anything anymore; the song, so loud he was sure he would go deaf; the fluttering in his chest, so strong he feared it would soon start to rend his flesh. Just when Shirou was collapsed on his knees from exhaustion there was an explosion of pure unbridled power.

It surged from the design on the floor and filled the workshop with an even more brilliant light, impossible as that might have seemed moments ago. And then it rushed back to the center and everything was quiet.

His eyes watery and ears ringing, Shirou looked up. The full moon came out from behind the windows and its calm blue light drifted through the shed's only window. With golden afterimages surrounding her, before him stood a beautiful golden-haired girl clad in full armor: all thick, heavy steel around delicate features and blue cloth.

"I ask you this, are you my Master?"

Her voice was barely a whisper in the ocean of noise that still filled his ears, yet he understood her perfectly. It could have been beautiful but it was far too no-nonsense and business-like. The voice of someone who devoted everything to their purpose.

"Yes."

As unconsciousness took him, Shirou whispered:

"The Once and Future Kind – a girl. What irony…"

###

Arturia Pendragon wasn't a proper Heroic Spirit: where they were personifications of human myth, sometimes attached to a former mortal's soul, King Arthur was an actual living legend plucked out of her time to fight for a miracle capable of saving her war-ravaged homeland.

Because of her special status some Holy Grail rules applied to her while others didn't. Her body couldn't go into Spirit form, yet she still required Prana from her Master to function and was subject to the system when it came to the level of her skills and abilities: while the Grail itself handled most of the summoning, extra power poured into it helped the Spirit gain a slight edge. Normally it would be nothing special: like some minor trait of the Phantasm being a bit more powerful or perhaps a less-known part of the Hero's legend manifesting in the form of some secondary artefact.

Because she wasn't a Heroic Spirit per se any extra energy used during calling her to the War had no place left to go except into her attributes. She felt the pull from her place on the hill: as always, she was forever bleeding, forever dying for her homeland but then a second sun rose above the horizon beckoning her onward, to her next attempt at fulfilling her duty.

What she didn't expect was the light blinding her during the transition, burning into her muscles and veins, fortifying her flesh and trickling into Excalibur. What she didn't expect was Avalon itself singing to her, summoning its master with the power of nine lesser magical blades and the power of one talented young Magus.

With some trepidation, she surrendered to the call.

The boy that summoned her and confirmed his status before fainting from exhaustion was a puzzle. If he had that much ability, then why did he pour it into swords and through them into a circle specifically designed to hold them? Wouldn't using Prana directly make more sense? Then again, she wasn't a Caster.

But puzzles could come later, first she needed to wait for her new Master to regain consciousness.

###

"So you are a woman."

"Yes."

Shirou didn't know whether the reason for Saber's brevity had to do with her not being one to waste words or in her currently going through anything and everything he had pre-cooked at alarming speeds. Tohsaka had told him Heroic Spirits didn't need food but could eat when they wanted. Then Saber must have been a real glutton in her lifetime which didn't correlate with her build at all. Anyway, that wasn't particularly important.

The more important fact was that it was apparently cemented by fate he was doomed to be surrounded by powerful, difficult women and the more he lived, the more of them he would have in his life.

At least Saber didn't seem like she would punch him at the slightest provocation which he was extremely thankful for. Still, better confirm.

"Excuse, but I have to check. Are you prone to sudden bursts of violence?"

"No."

Her eyebrow twitched.

"Do you have any sort of curses demanding you have regular sex with men?"

"No."

She grimaced.

"Do you have a sense of humor?"

"No," she deadpanned.

They stared at each other for a few seconds.

"Was that a joke?"

"Maybe. Master, I have to ask you to refrain from frivolous comments. You seem to be a competent Magus but distractions have proved to be the undoing of better warriors in the past. We must stay focused."

Shirou decided to let the matter of finding more about Saber drop for now: she didn't seem too big on sharing anything beyond her mission and he could sympathize. Still, he couldn't help but feel that Kiritsugu had omitted purely for fun the fact that King Arthur was actually a cute if somewhat rigid girl.

It was time to get to business.

"For now we should focus on outside parties seeking to warp this War for their own benefit."

Saber tilted her head:

"Surely, destroying the other Masters will take priority."

"There are two major powers in this city seeking to use the upcoming battle for their own gain. One of them is the current Overseer, Kotomine Kirei. He is a sick, twisted man who thrives on messing with people's heads and pushing them into morally impossible situations. I am sure he will try and force us to choose between saving innocents and surviving some sort of fight. He needs to be put down."

Saber silently nodded.

"The second one is a bit more predictable but may become an even bigger problem long term. Matou Zouken is an ancient egoistical Magus who has kept himself alive for centuries through unknown but undeniably corrupted Mysteries. We have been able to examine some of his work and it appears that the man has managed to make his familiars full-fledged containers for his soul. Other Masters have an interest in disposing of him but the trick would be to do it permanently."

"I don't see how a self-obsessed Magus concerns our mission."

Root, it was like talking to himself only even more gruff and business-like.

"That self-obsessed Magus has prepared a second Lesser Grail. I'm sure you can see how that can be a problem."

Now that got her attention:

"If the Heroic Spirits are split…"

"Honestly, nobody knows exactly what would happen. This particular kind of cheating has never been tried before and this is saying something, considering the fact that everybody seems to want to game the system whenever they can. The main question is what would happen if one of the Lesser Grails were killed. Would the energy go into the other Grail as it would with a Heroic Spirit? Would it dissipate? Would it go into the Greater Grail itself screwing up the whole process and making the wish-fulfillment impossible? There is no way to know without trying and I'm not willing to risk it. We need to reduce the number of unknown variables."

Saber nodded in contemplation and Shirou was happy to see she could see sense.

"Good. Now tell me about your abilities."

###

Tohsaka would laugh if the situation hadn't been so screwed up in the first place: the Holy Grail War had long since evolved from being a way to fulfill man's wishes into something completely different. One of the very clear signs of how warped the system had become was the fact that it still recognized her right to become a Master even if her only wish was to dispose of the Grail itself, save her sister and keep them all alive throughout the process. How the hell that qualified as a legitimate wish she had no idea: it was quite possible that the Grail simply felt the potential for destruction that trying to fulfill her selfish desire would bring. After all, apparently chaos and destruction was what it apparently existed for now.

Her reason for chuckling dryly wasn't that though, at least not at the moment. It was the man she had summoned as a Servant. Shirou's own array had given her some ideas and she emptied her father's heart-shaped gem into the ritual, judging that a general power-up for her servant would be more useful than lugging around an overpowered Mana-battery which she very likely wouldn't be able to use strategically anyway. Shirou himself had added a couple minor blade-based Mystic Codes Dietrich had given them as additional power sources and combined with her own exceptional set of Circuits this amounted to a practically insane amount of Prana – something she hoped to counteract the lack of proper Catalyst with.

The ritual went without a hitch: both Sakura and Shirou helped her double-check the entire thing including the most appropriate time. In a blinding flash of light a man appeared in front of her, clad in a long red cloak and a black vest, his hair silver and his eyes the colour of steel. He looked vaguely familiar and it took her a whole of two seconds to place that face and body.

"No…"

"I must ask you, are you my?.."

"No-no-no! Just shut up!"

"Master?.."

"I SAID SHUT UP!!! How is this even possible? There aren't supposed to be any Heroes in the modern age! And you are from the future! What the bloody fuck did you do, Shirou?! ARGH! As if beating sense into one of you wasn't bad enough but two?"

The summoned man lost all of his cocky air in the span of five seconds: in fact, he looked stunned.

"Tohsaka… You aren't supposed to…"

"I'm not supposed to?! You aren't supposed to be a Heroic Spirit! You aren't supposed to pretend I don't know what you look like! You aren't supposed to look as if all your plans have just gone up in the air because there aren't supposed to be any plans in the first place!"

She went into Tohsaka's frustrated pose number two as Shirou called it: facepalming with her left arm while supporting it with the right one.

"You will tell me how the hell this happened. If I think even for a second you are lying or withholding information, Root help me, I will use a Command Seal to ensure your honesty. Are we clear?"

"…Perfectly, Master."

###

Despite being convinced that the whole situation was a fuck-up, Archer was quite happy they started this conversation as it kept him from making some very dumb choices in the future. Because this reality's Shirou was definitely not him: it was apparent that the Grail had pulled him from far across the parallel planes. It wasn't unheard of, after all it was the theory he himself had developed once upon with Tohsaka during their time at the Clock tower: that both the Throne and the Counter Force actually transcended the bounds of a single realm and none of the Heroic Spirits were simply human ideas given form: they all had existed somewhere at one point or another in time and space.

Which was another very strange thing about this summoning: he didn't know how but Tohsaka had somehow managed to pump so much Mana into the ritual that his memory was much less clouded than it should have been. Normally he had trouble remembering: the Counter Force didn't give a damn about its "employee's" personalities or mental health and when you got called upon by the Spirit of Humanity you normally got little else beyond your combat skills and useful experiences. The only reason he was very much cognizant during those summonings was that, sadly, quite a large part of his original life was related to combat.

And when he was done the new violent experiences added to hundreds of others. In his library of stories his own past was just a tiny shelf in a corner of his mind and the rest was filled with blood, pain and futile attempts to break the cycle by reliving the Grail War again, again, and again.

So it was quite natural that when he normally got summoned into said War he could barely remember his own human life. Dead father, foolish dream, precious people, self-sacrifice, alienating friends, more self-sacrifice, ultimate self-sacrifice – that was pretty much it. He barely even remembered the people and the fights until he saw them, for Root's sake! Only one face always stood out in the memories: a man with black disheveled hair crying as he pulled a badly burned boy out of the fire.

But this time everything was different: for some reason he clearly remembered most of his original life, complete with faces, places, and most dates. And his Reality Marble was filled to the brim with every tiny bladed piece of junk he ever saw and made as opposed to only the more prominent weapons.

Overall, it was strange but not as strange as the picture of Shirou that Tohsaka was kind enough to paint for him.

"So wait, the cretin actually restrains himself before throwing himself in the way of bodily harm? What happened?"

"A lot, actually. Look, I don't have the time for this right now... My Shirou… he isn't right in the head."

Archer snorted.

"No, I mean, really not right. Not right on the level of 'I do not understand why society doesn't implement a gene registry for optimal breeding' bad. On the level of 'my purpose is to find my purpose and no, circular logic doesn't bother me' bad. On the level of 'I cut my finger, I have a paper due tomorrow, I will stick a freaking healing sword into my hip to heal that cut as I don't need to get for the next few hours' bad. And yes, all of those are actual examples."

"Oh."

"Yes. 'Oh.' Apparently, Kiritsugu noticed it first but it was me, Sakura and Dietrich who have picking up slack for years now."

"Dietrich?"

"What, you don't remember your adoptive father now, Archer? How hard did you hit your ass on that sofa and why is your brain located there?"

Somehow, whenever Archer got summoned into the War he thrashed some kind of furniture or other with his backside. It was just a universal constant. Like gravity. Apparently even getting pulled into a reality this unlike his own didn't preclude that.

"Oh? Now who is assuming they know everything? I've never had an adoptive father; it was just me and Fuji-nee."

It was strange how easily his memories came, even a bit unsettling. But it also helped him get the priorities right. Especially while he was ahead of Tohsaka by the smallest margin in their verbal jab contest.

"Well, it looks like I don't have any real goal here but it's still better than the alternative…"

"Which is?.."

He decided to be blunt.

"The Counter Force."

Tohsaka went white but thankfully stayed silent.

"Yeah. If your Shirou ever wants to make a deal with Gaia, Alaya or anything ending in something that sounds like 'ya', you can do him a favor and just kill him instead. Nobody wants to end up doing my job, trust me. Anyway, What are our priorities? Since I remember pretty much everything, I might be able to help you all survive this shitstorm."

"Zouken and Kotomine, obviously."

Oh, she thinks herself so clever.

"What about Gilgamesh?"

If color drained out of Tohsaka's face after his revelation that he was basically a glorified antibody in the planet's system, then now she was the color of bleached bone.

"HE IS STILL ALIVE?!"

"Ah, now there is the Tohsaka I loved."

"Wait, what? No, no, no, no! We are not going there! I will not have romantic advances from the spirit of my lover who came back from a parallel future! It is so insane my brain starts to melt just from contemplating the possibility of contemplating the possibility. So. Just. No."

It was his turn to gape like an idiot.

"So, Gilgamesh. King of Heroes? Archer, are you with me?"

"Yes…"

"Why are you staring? Get yourself together, this changes everything!"

And indeed it did.

###

Shirou had been worried that when he would finally meet Kotomine Kirei he simply wouldn't be able to see the cruelty and insanity that others accused the man of. After all, a lot of his own elegant, efficient solutions to personal and societal problems were often met with incredulity if not revulsion. He still didn't get why developing an artificial religion that promoted productivity and peaceful coexistence and providing UN subsidies to parents who raised their children in it wasn't viable. Sure, it would cause some amount of outrage but wouldn't it be worth it to stop the never ending bloodbath in the Middle East in ten or twenty years? Surely the citizens of poor countries would take the opportunity to have more money in exchange for some of their antiquated superstitions and the construct, made up of appropriate values, would serve the role of support and justification they seemed to so desperately need for their actions.

When he proposed such a course during one of their modern history lessons was the only time he actually got yelled at by a teacher. Apparently she was Christian and didn't appreciate his utilitarian approach at all. Sometimes he simply didn't get people, so far that he would probably have been called a sociopath had he not been a Magus first and foremost.

But Kotomine turned to be another breed entirely:

"…so you see, you can take refuge at the Church and simply wait until the War is over but there have already been several dozen murders during past week alone. Are you really one to stand back and watch people die, Emiya-san?"

During the entire speech about being able to prevent murders Kotomine had a kind of serene smile that only people who had no care in the world had. That or pathological liars and psychopaths.

"I didn't say I wanted to forfeit."

"Emiya-san? But you said you didn't have a particular wish?"

"This battle will validate my existence."

The last phrase was delivered in an even emotionless voice. Hey, if it worked for that one character in that one anime, why wouldn't it work for him. He looked attentively at Kirei checking whether the man would suddenly attempt to befriend him or attempt to convince him that life was more than fighting and bloodshed?

"Emiya-san, even if you don't want to forfeit, may I suggest resting here at the church for a while? You appear to be mentally unstable after the summoning ritual."

Huh. Apparently it works only if the crazy one is the one to say it.

"No, thank you."

With that he left the priest behind with his meticulously manufactured expressions. If Shirou hadn't been broken himself he probably wouldn't have noticed but to him particularly the way the Overseer of the Holy Grail War spoke volumes: the man had a purpose and it wasn't good.

There were three kinds of people he supposed: those who didn't need a purpose, those who lacked it, and those who had it. The first group encompassed most of the world's population. Even Tohsaka with her bull-headed determination would probably choose to live a full life of a Magus instead of dying immediately upon reaching the Root. It took him years but finally Shirou understood: most people were governed by instincts and emotions and not by rational pursuit of something that made them whole. They didn't need it because they were more or less complete from the start, only needing some direction in their lives to be happy.

Shirou himself was like a log adrift at sea: things like hunger or sleep-deprivation bothered him on a barely mechanical level and subtler needs common for others eluded him completely. Social acceptance, power over people, knowledge… Well, maybe knowledge mattered a bit. Still, his life was dominated by the desire to find something to truly apply himself to without any reservation. The duty that his father had left him served as reasonable stand-in for that ultimate wish, he supposed, but no more than that.

It was quite clear to him that Kotomine Kirei had found his overriding purpose in life: he was far too focused, far too even. He didn't seem happy, greedy, afraid, or bored. That kind of serenity implied either some sort of spiritual enlightenment, which he severely doubted based on Kiritsugu's description of the man, or singular path and iron discipline. And if his father was to be believed, Kotomine had adopted 'testing of men' as his nature. The irony wasn't lost on Shirou as that was the primary role of Lucifer according to the very Church the priest was a member of.

They were walking a street, he in his school clothes and Saber in her… formalwear. He didn't buy her explanation of there being something wrong with the ritual as the reason for her permanent material state. It simply didn't fit anything he had learned about the Holy Grail War: Servants were Spirits and they were intangible. That was their default state and it was Mana that granted them physical form. And yet, Saber got stuck and if he didn't know better he'd think that he had summoned a human instead of a magical being imprinted using the Throne of Heroes and brought into existence through the Mystery that was the Greater Holy Grail.

And it really screwed his plans up too: he had relied on his Servant being able to turn invisible and undetectable except by other War participants when he had planned things. Now a lot of contingencies needed to be redone.

"Shirou. Someone's coming."

They were in the middle of a dark road in an area that had been hit by gas leaks some days prior. He really didn't think those were real gas leaks, though: that was quite possibly the most favorite excuse of the Association when cleaning up after sloppy Magi.

But all of that was irrelevant as he sensed someone approaching.

"Haven't I been a good girl, brother? I have waited like you asked. Now it's your turn to be a good boy and die."

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Eye of the Sword – First Day, Second Night (part 2)
Eye of the Sword – Falling Headfirst into Place (part 1)
Eye of the Sword – Her Song (part 2)


Опубликовано: 18.07.2016

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(c) Александр Кирко, 2016