Fate/Infinite - Game Thread

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"Ah, glad to see that you could make it. Please, come in, come in."

The man offers a smile, one that doesn't quite reach his eyes, before turning about and slowly making his way up the aisle. He continues to speak as he walks along, his deep voice echoing around the confines of the chamber. "Welcome to the Fuyuki City church. My name is Matthias Meminger, though you may call me Father Meminger if you so desire, and I will be serving as your moderator in this, the Sixth Holy Grail war."

As he reaches the alter, the priest stops and turns again, raising an eyebrow as he he glances back the way he came. "Staying in the shadows, are we?"

His lips part in a sneer, and a few chuckles escape his lips. "Heh. A wise decision."

The few seconds of silence that follows provides a good opportunity to examine both your surroundings and your host. Though the lighting could stand to be improved, it is quite possible to make out the interior of the small cathedral: rows of pews fill the majority of the floor space, carved from dark-brown, almost black wood and lined with crimson cushions. A few bookshelves, tucked away in the back, are stuffed full of Bibles, hymnals, and other such literature. Large, ornate windows line the walls, allowing the silver light of a crescent moon to pour into the chapel. The moonlight blends with the flames of a half-dozen candelabra stationed throughout the church, creating a soft glow that is neither cold nor warm. All in all, it's a rather austere location; it's clear that the chapel was built with utility in mind, not luxury.

Father Meminger seems to carry himself with a similar, if not identical, mindset. His black clothes and white collar are simple, and his neck and fingers are bare of any jewelry. His short, amber colored hair is "styled" into a crew cut, with only the barest hints of a 5 o'clock shadow marring his cheeks and chin. Standing at just under 6 and half feet, the man is clearly in prime physical condition, his muscles and stiff posture hinting at some form of military service.

Though his fair skin and Western accent label him as a foreigner, his Japanese is flawless.

"Now," he continues, his mouth once more set into a hard line, "I know that you're undoubtedly familiar with the Holy Grail War, but due to some... irregularities with the last couple occurrences, the Church has asked me to remind all of the Masters of the rules that they must abide by, should they wish to win the Grail for themselves."

"First and foremost," he begins, holding up a single finger, "the Masquerade is to be maintained at any and all costs. You are permitted to fight only at night, and only in isolated areas. If anyone stumbles onto your battles, you are to... deal with them immediately. Breaking either of these rules is tantamount to rebelling against both the Church and the Mage's Association."

"Second." Another finger joins the first. "As you should already know, the Grail is not a physical object, but a spiritual one. It will only manifest if enough Servants are vanquished, and can only be touched by a Servant. You, as a Master, will be unable to handle it without your Servant to aid you. In other words, your goal is to eliminate opposing Servants while keeping your own safe."

"Third. I trust that you're well aware of the power of your Command Spells. Boosting your Servants strength momentarily, transporting them across vast distances in an instant, forcing them to do something against their will, they are truly useful tools. And, of course, they are also quite limited. I would advise that you keep from wasting them."

"Fourth. As your moderator, I will be serving as both a judge and information source over these next few days. If you have questions or believe that one of your opponents is violating the rules of the War, come to me. If your Servant has been vanquished and you fear for your life, come to me and I can offer you sanctuary."

"Now, are there any questions?"

After a few seconds of silence, Meminger begins walking back up the aisle, pulling a file out of some unseen pocket. "I imagine that you're not particularly familiar with Fuyuki City outside of whatever hotel, house, or alleyway you're sleeping in. So, I've taken the liberty of compiling some basic information for you. It's nothing much, but it ought to help you get around the city. A few places to recover and relax during the day, some deserted spots to hang around at night, stuff of that variety."

Having passed off the file, the priest begins to walk away, his final words echoing around the interior of the church. "Well, that's all from me. Go back to wherever you're staying and make your plans. I wish you luck over these next few days. Remember, the Holy Grail has chosen you for a reason; show it exactly what you and your Servant are capable of."

"Oh, and one last thing. It may not be much, but I happen to like this little spot. If you try and bring any of your conflicts here, I will take it upon myself to end them."

"Now, I'd advise that you go get one last night of good sleep. Odds are you're going to need it."



Dawn of the First Day: 12/9/12. 7 Masters and 7 Servants remain.

Masters:

Servants:

'God, churches give me the willies.' Mordecai thought, listening intently and biting his lower lip. He mentally mocked the man and his rules, not saying anything out loud for fear of the man ripping out his throat. When he allowed them to leave, he took Assassin by the arm and led him out, as quick as he was able, stumbling slightly on his threat. He still managed to keep his pace, pushing the doors open and inhaling deeply, his departing words something about his mom and fish. He'd meant to practice his Japanese, but time makes fools of us all.
"God damn I'm happy to get out of there. I believe we fit under 'alleyway' for sleeping, and that doesn't appeal to me. Know of any cheap hotels around here?" he asked his partner, in English. He thought he read something about them always understanding the masters language, but that could be incorrect.
"Also" this part he said quietly, "If we need to, you know... kill people, can you do it? I don't think I could."

"If we need to, you know... kill people, can you do it? I don't think I could."

The assassin was very cautiously observing the area, he needed the grail, so many wrongs to undo, so many rights to make. His master seemed kind enough, which was good, he didn't think he could stomach being the one to end him. It seemed as if Mordecai had avoided any research, which was unfortunate. The assassin however, knew what he was doing. There were hotels around, and people would probably avoid attacking the duo there. Besides, dark and foreboding corridors were his specialty now. The hooded figure returned dryly.

"I am aware of a few, I did my research here and we will want to go to a crowded one. Any operations we take should have a home base where we can't be easily brought to ruin." The figure stared at his hands, more blood would run on them again, he knew it, the sacrifice needed to make the world right again. "We are going to have to kill others for this, it's in the rules. I normally do research on marks, make sure they deserve it, if you wish I could dig up some dirt to make this easier. I will probably be expected to do most of this, just know that you may have to defend yourself. I made a pact with you a while ago to ensure victory, I hope to fulfill it."

To find a church in Japan felt strange. To be inside of one felt stranger. The light was sparse and sparing, only gracing slivers of the echoing, polished wooden room with light. The man in front of them seemed to radiate light, and yet a darkness too. The Masters gathered for the war were standing in a line, tallest to shortest. Squarely in the middle was a young boy. Younger than any of the others. The juniormost attendee was dressed in a brown denim coat, shielding him from the cold of a December day. His breath seemed to linger in the air, clouds that came slowly and at an even pace. His eyes were cold, but full of a vigor. They darted from left to right, not focusing for even a second on the Father instructing them. He was focused on the competition. He wished that he'd been given a proper look at them, but it appeared they were being drawn here one at a time. He'd have to watch his back, then, and speculate.

I can assume they're all more experienced than I am. Most families dream of this war, and train accordingly. And they're likely more talented at this magic game, too. No matter. I'll still kill them all.

When the Father finished, and returned to his sanctuary's shadows, there was nothing left to do but leave. Dirk spun on his heel, one hand dug in his pocket as the other signaled to his Servant. "We're leaving."

They stepped out, and walked in a non-particular direction, leaving the church behind and winding up in a bitterly cold, abandoned corner of the harbor. Dirk looked out to the water. Peace helped him think, and this sometimes seemed the most peaceful place in Fuyuki.

He spoke, his voice low and lilting as he ambled through his thoughts to the regal man that had followed him: Saber.

"I've lived in Fuyuki my whole life. I know where to go. We're going to my home first, but we won't be staying there. Just picking up supplies."

He popped his neck and looked up at Saber, a hint of disapproval in his eyes.

"I'd suggest, if there's anything you won't do, that you tell me about it now. I can't plan without knowing my handicaps."

They had humiliated her for the last time. They will no longer take away her dignity. Her pride, her life, her convictions... No more will they grind her to dirt and spread her to the four winds. Maria was a young beautiful flower when her family used her as a pawn in a bigger game of prestige. She was just a tool made to lure a powerful man into the family and when she broke, they looked for a replacement.

They didn't want to kill her. No, that would be too cruel. They had the perfect place set up for her - an ancient dilapidated castle just west of Budapest. There she met others, not much unlike her. Those who were exiled from the family - deemed unfit for magic. They were branded incomplete, or incompetent. There she met them - only one survived, and the rest were skulls. They were bones that spoke to her in the night. Words that told her about the enchanted cloth to protect her from harm. They all came to her aid when the time was right, and they all whispered to her to take the bone of the old man and use it to summon his spirit... Summon it, so she may win the holy grail war and win back her fate. Win it back from her once loving family that threw her to a pit overflowing with desperation.

She will have her vengeance, and nothing will stop her. She summoned the ghost - A caster by class, and set off to Japan in that far-away land. She would use the connections of her late ex-husband which were set to help him during the tournament. It only took two days for the old hag to travel to that wretched city, the one that would most likely be her last resting place.

Maria didn't need to rely on sticking to the shadows. She made her own shadows to hide behind, and those were the appearance of a different woman altogether. She made herself to be a tall Caucasian woman in her early twenties, not too different from the movie-starlets running around in Hollywood in the olden days. She covered herself in the shadows, but those who wanted to see her could feast their eyes on her young form.

My new future seems so close, yet so far away… To undo the wrongs done to me, I have to wrong all of those people

The priest finished speaking but Maria felt very uncomfortable standing inside the church. She had been brought up in the shadow of the Catholic Church yet this place seems so detached she failed to feel anything familiar. Something in this house of the lord was out of place, but the old hag had no time to dwell on that. She nodded silently and bid her farewell - a fairly simple bow.

"Come, caster", she ordered the imposing silhouette behind her.

The two left the church without any fuss. The old hag led the way, hoping to find a dry bed to rest her head on for the night. Her heart was filled with warmth for the first time in years. It was something new... something named, hope.

Saber stood with his Master in line, towering over some of the Servants, barely reaching the chests of others. This was a strange time indeed, where he had once towered over so many, he now was average, and a land such as this he never had known existed before he had been summoned and bound. So long ago, yet almost like a dream it was, and that unsettled him.

Dirk spun around and began to leave, Saber followed before his hand gestured, and the two arrived outside the church. A strange land indeed, even if he had been imparted with the intervening centuries of knowledge. He stood out in the December night and smoothed out his beard that had been blown wildly by a stray wind.

"I'd suggest, if there's anything you won't do, that you tell me about it now. I can't plan without knowing my handicaps."

"You should know of my legends, they can't have all been lost in the passage of time. However, the people of this century know nothing of the old code, so I will tell you my absolutes. Should we encounter any innocents or bystanders during this...tournament, I will do nothing to neither hinder nor help them, should you wish them dead, you must do it yourself, and allow God to deal with your punishment. Neither will I strike down a foe that truly surrenders, be it Servant or Master."

Saber finished and began walking again, hands clasped behind his back, eyes closed, and took a deep breath, one of the few he would be allowed to take he believed with this second life. He turned back to his Master and bowed, extremely archaic in appearance just as the way he walked and moved, left foot as far back as it would go, tip toed, while his right bent in half, even while his right hand extended towards Dirk, left clasped over his heart.

"You are an interesting subject Master Dirk. A man of your talents would have excelled in both times of peace and war, I'm quite sure. The only problem being that little glint in your eye when you see a challenge. The same as my brother, justified arrogance and always seeking that one challenge that could best him. Funny to think he died not in the heat of battle or even,"He chuckled once,"In the passion of the bedchamber, but as an old man in his sleep. Take care of that spirit inside of you, or it will consume you."

Dirk took Saber's hand and shook it, once, before letting go. He quickly slid his hand back into his pocket, silently cursing the frigid nighttime air.

"Believe me," he said with a solemn face. Another person would likely be smiling cockily right then. "I know all about what's consuming me. If I didn't, I wouldn't be here."

He began marching away from the harbor, quietly expecting Saber to follow. He marched down a southward road, the bridge connecting the two halves of Fuyuki some ways away. He buried his head in the warmth of his coat, and his muffled voice began to rattle off instructions.

"Based on past wars, we can safely assume our enemies are older than me, and more experienced. And frankly, I know your name but little of your deeds. Your legend is a footnote compared to past combatants, and likely our opponents as well."

He kicked a pebble on the road, watching it hop and skip off to his right, tumbling down an incline and into the river they were traveling beside.

"We're weak, and your class is the only thing we have going for us in a straight fight. I asked you your limits... because I plan to cheat."

He held up his right hand, on the back of it several glyphs were faintly glowing in the night air. Dirk examined their ethereal crimson color for a moment, before shoving his hand back into the pocket it belonged to. "These are precious, and I plan to use them sparingly. Starting tomorrow, I expect you to dress as casually as possible, during the day. Buy larger sizes, if you need to fit it over your armor. I also expect for you to shave, and dye your hair to a more acceptably Japanese color. The others saw what we look like tonight, and what they saw is what they'll be looking out for. Change our appearance, and we drop off their radar. Gives us the initiative. I'll be changing my appearance as well."

The bridge up ahead was visible now, only a few vagabonds relaxing beneath its steel shelter.

"If you possess any knowledge of the workings of this... magic, I expect you to share it. This is all new to me, and I'm inexperienced with it. I'll need to learn quickly, or we're both as good as dead."

Dirk led the way onto the bridge, silently passing the people of Fuyuki, and getting well over a hundred meters across before he finally whispered, "Any questions?"

The new world feels so lonely...

It was a wish, a desire - that brought him into this earth again as a creature caught between life and death. The old man contemplated whether it was a wish he had planted in his heart all of those years ago or whether it was the influence of the other that brought him back. The other one, that woman who called herself his master. The old hag who was locked up in a tower, waiting for a prince long dead and hoping for a happy ending that would never care to grace her pitiful existence.

He looked upon her for the first time and marveled at her beauty. So much potential the woman had, yet it was all for naught. They spoke with each other and her heritage became clear - so was the way she found a bone of his dead human form.

He knew of his wish quite well, but he felt pity for the old hag. That one, stripped of her freedom and youth, had squandered her best years for a mere illusion of respect - one that was quickly smashed when the truth was revealed.

With that, he was adamant in his convictions. Victory shall be attained, with all means necessary. The forces of heaven and hell lay dormant at his fingertips, and all that remains is uttering the words of prayer. Bringing up the dead souls of man and pulling out the corpses of long forgotten peasants will be a mere step in the right direction. With every incantation, the earth shall tremble before his might and GOD, yes - GOD SHALL KNOW HIM ALL TOO WELL!

No longer will the heavens stay silent while he cries out for their aid. No longer will the angels weep in silence - THEY WILL ANSWER HIS WILL. With every inch of his body the caster knew that HE, yes - HE shall drag the lord almighty down to earth and FORCE him to reveal himself... For he had waited and seen the horrors of war and famine...For he had seen the horrors in this life that would exceed any sins paid in hell...

He knows the endless masses who pray for forgiveness, but he knows not the answer!

Answer me, you almighty being, answer your faithful follower! Who will you choose to lead your people to paradise and who will you choose to lay dead in the desert? Speak, benevolent being, and tell us your judgment!

The old Japanese city of heretics will be the new grounds of a war for the hearts of man. A war to gain back the faith lost in all of those centuries - and put the fear of god back into all of them!. They know no savior because they know no hell on earth - and they shall feel the inferno burning their flesh to a crisp, and then they will scream for a savior.

Repent, repent and follow me, my people!

The old man stopped in his tracks and snapped out of his trance. The hag stared at him with a hint of a smile on her face. His fiery words did not reach her, but she knows... and she accepts him. She accepts the man, the murderer, and the legend. The duo was standing at the edges of the city overlooking the sea. Caster burrowed his right hand in his chest and pulled out his cross.

"We need a few helping hands", the old hag said.

Caster nodded and spoke quietly, letting out a small prayer into the wind.

The minion appeared as if out of thin air. It was a small, red demon. The thing was completely naked, standing on two horse legs and using a long tail with a blade at the edge to balance himself. In his hands he held a mighty black pitchfork made from forgotten metal. The demon looked up at the two with his big, blue eyes like a child looks up to his parents.

It had begun.

------- December 1st, 2012, London

"Hello, Marks residence. How can I help you?"

"Maria. Is this line secure?"

"What the... Clay?"

"Maria, answer me. Is the sodding line secure?"

"Clay, where are you!?"

"Maria, I don't have much time to talk. Is this line secure or not?"

"...Yes."

"Good. I have it. Gather Diana and charter a flight to Japan. It's starting."

------- Present Day

Clay stood back, admiring his work. Magic circles where the basis of most ritualistic magic, so he was hardly a stranger to their theory and construction. But this circle, even by his standards, was exquisite. An intricate web of lines, shapes, and runes adorned its interior. Only one step remained - to add the catalyst.

Clay wiped the sweat from his brow and took in a deep breath. He'd sacrificed much to get this far - too much, if you asked him - and now was the time to see if his hard work would pay off. A woman, half a head shorter than he and with the same dark brown hair, stood at his side, holding a large quantity of spellbooks and various other arcane instruments.

"Well, it would seem the witching hour is upon us." Clay produced from a bag to his side a small parcel wrapped in linen. Unraveling it revealed a worn spearhead, rusted and blunt from age. But despite its decrepit appearance, it held an air of strength and nobility. There was no doubt in his mind when he set eyes upon it - this was exactly what he was looking for. An artifact of a hero long dead, a nexus of immeasurable power to the right mage.

"Is that it, then?" The woman to his side, his elder sister Maria, looked upon the old spearhead with a mixture of apprehension and excitement. "Yes. I know what you're thinking, Maria, and you know it's for the best you don't know what it is." Clay placed the artifact in the center of the circle, careful to not disturb any of the lines drawn within. This was it - all that remained doing was to recite the spell. Clay had spent years reading and reciting the ritual - he could do it backwards, if needed - but that didn't blunt the feeling of apprehension welling up in his stomach. Taking in a deep breath, he tried to steady his nerves. If he failed here, the Marks family wouldn't get another chance for who knows how long...

"Clay, you're shaking." Looking down to his arms, he saw his sister was right - his arms where trembling, as though they where exposed to biting cold. "I'm fine." The concern on Maria's face turned to a frown. She knew her little brother better than anyone - and they couldn't afford doubt, not when the war was set to start. "Clay, if there was anybody in our family qualified to do it, it'd be you."

Clay couldn't help but give a nervous chuckle at her words of encouragement. "I know. That's what concerns me."

He turned to the ritual circle. Taking in a deep breath, he began the ritual. "Fill, fill, fill, fill, fill! Repeat five times. But destroy each when filled." Clay could feel the prana drain from his body as he finished the first line, confirming its accuracy. He gritted his teeth and continued.

"A base of silver and steel. A foundation of stone and the Archduke of Contracts. And my ancestor, my great master, Schweinorg. A wall to block the falling wind. The gates of all four directions close. From the Crown, come forth and follow the forked road to the Kingdom." The air around him started to buzz, as though it where liable to release a bolt of lightning at any moment. He could feel the circle start to fill with power, its many shapes oscillating with current...

"I hereby propose: My will shall create thy body, and thy sword shall create my fate. Abiding by the summons of the Holy Grail, if thou dost accede to this will and reason, answer me!" He registered a sharp pain in his right arm, but paid it little heed. For the spell to work, his concentration had to be absolute. He continued, the apprehension in his voice slowly being replaced by determination.

"I hereby swear, I will be all that is good in the eternal world. I will be the disposer of evil in the eternal world." Extending his right hand towards the now glowing circle, he braced himself for the inevitable onslaught of power. 'Home stretch, Clay. Make it count...'

"Thou, clad with the great Trinity, come forth from the circle of constraint. Guardian of the Heavenly Scales!"

A blinding flash of light forced Clay to look away, his legs nearly giving out from the stress of the spell. He gasped for breath, but kept his focus - even now, a single errant thought could ruin the ritual. He forced himself to stand, straight and tall - if he where to summon a Servant, he would meet it with dignity.

The light from the ritual started to fade, and Clay started to see the outline of a man. A beast of a specimen, standing a full head taller than himself and with a build to match.

Then, the shape spoke, with a voice loud and confident.

"I ask you..."

The last of the light faded, revealing the man's features. Clay, despite his otherwise stoic posture, couldn't help but crack a smile. This man was exactly the Servant he intended to summon - a peerless warrior, a hero long since passed.

His Servant.

"Are you my master?"

"I am... Rider. You may call me Clay."

"Our enemies are older than me, and more experienced. And frankly, I know your name but little of your deeds. Your legend is a footnote compared to past combatants, and likely our opponents as well."

Saber smiled a little smile, he may not be the most prolific of the Servants gathered, but he had been underestimated many times before. Then he reached up and ran his fingers through his beard once more,"What color would you prefer it to be? And how shaved do you wish me to be? We didn't wear these simply to look better than everyone else, it is the Winter, is it not?"

Sophie Topfer listened silently to the priest. She had to concentrate quite hard on him just to keep up and as it was she felt she still missed every 5th word. Still, she understood clearly enough and almost felt a chuckle slip out when he said she should protect her servant. Stealing a quick glance at the broad shouldered shirtless man beside her she found it a little absurd that she might be expected to protect him.

As the others began to file out she looked up at her companion more fully. "Please give me a moment." She requested with a small smile. Unlike the priest her Japanese was haltered and shifty; overly formal like someone who was still trying to work out what the words really meant. Waiting a moment and seeing no objection she silently folded her hands and lowered her head in prayer.

After a short time she finished and turned around to leave. "Thank you, we should go now." With that she exited the cathedral, assuming that her servant would follow. Waking through the dark streets she clutched her jacket tighter around herself, away from the holy building the cold night air cut much deeper. It was a chilling reminder of how alien this land really was. Sophie had spent the day in the city as well and had found the busy streets and bright colors enchanting, amazing really; but at night the strange buildings seemed to hem her in at every turn, reminding her just how alone and far from home she really was.

Well, not really alone...

"[So, I already arranged for a pair of beds in a hostel near Miyamachou for as long as we're here.]" She said to her servant. Now that they were away from the others Sophie had quickly slipped into her native German. Sophie wasn't exactly sure how her companion would respond to that, but considering what his title was she wasn't exactly sure how he would respond to anything; or if he even would respond.

Without stopping her moderately fast walking pace she continued, "[It may be a little cramped and it will be full of normal people, but it will probably be able to work out if we keep our heads down. First thing we have to do now is check in, then get some shut eye. We can't work if we're too tired. Then, in the morning we can start to get the lay of the land, get to know where everything is. Then... after that...]" Sophie's words sputtered to a stop though her steps only slowed a little bit.

"[Then... then we can...]" Then she came to a complete stop as her situation really caught up to her. She had no plans any more, no ideas of what to do next. Sophie didn't have a real desire, she didn't know much about fighting, she didn't know why she had been chosen for this.

Within a bright flash of energy a hero had been reborn straight from the storybooks of legends. His spirit clutched from beyond this world and torn back, molded into a form familiar to his first life as a grand warrior from a romantic age of conquest. His body sculpted to be the epitome of his legend; his mind sharper than the edge of a blade, filled with knowledge of the world today. The grail had improved upon everything it could and retained all that was impossible to improve - which in the case of this warrior were qualities very few and far between.

As the star burst of light faded into the otherwise calm in the shadowed halls of the library, a silhouette stood amongst the heavy smoke that enveloped the ritual circle. His presence filled the room with an air of authority and power that was befitting of his stature, both literally and figuratively. As the smoke cleared the purple dress the hero adorned himself in was becoming visible, as well as the golden tip of a massive halberd clenched tightly in his right hand. His eyes darted between a man shaking uncontrollably to a cool and firm woman. A small grunt escaped his lips as he flexed his new muscles, feeling a tension in them. And then the question...

"I ask you...are you my Master?"

"I am... Rider. You may call me Clay."

"I may call you what you are, peasant!" he boomed, his voice shaking the very room with his authority. He even went as far as to flourish his halberd before pointing it directly at Clay.

Rider's eyes narrowed in annoyance with the petty man's proclamation. He was of the warrior caste not to be ruled by some commoner. With the matter of his opinion settled, the giant marched forwards, easily batting the man known as Clay aside with the strength of a hundred men. As he approached the collected woman, he knew that there had been a mistake. He dropped to both knees just in front of the woman, taking he hand and brushing his lips against the back of it, though not explicitly kissing it, as was only proper.

"Only one with beauty such as yourself could possibly hope to sway and direct the fiery passions of a warrior's soul," he whispered in a voice that he knew would still carry over to Clay. "I am yours to command, my Master." Then the man skillfully came to his feet in one fluid motion, hefting his halberd high pointing skyward with one hand, wrapping his free arm around the woman's waist and tucking her snugging against his body. "We shall conquer all that is laid before us," he proclaimed, "and all shall fear our names as Emperor and Empress of this world, my love!" The laugh that followed almost seems stereotypically maniacal and if the giant had a mustache you could bet he would have been twirling it.

Straight from a storybook indeed...

The Berserker hung on every work from the priest's mouth. The rules of engagement were always the most important part of battle next to knowing your blade. Though, aside from simply staying discrete, there didn't seem to be much restricting them. That's exactly how he liked it.

When his Master had ordered it, Berserker followed her out of the church and into the darkened streets. This was the first he really got a good measure of the woman. Female warriors could work just fine, but this one didn't look like she was up to the task. Only time would tell if she would actually be of use. He zoned out for a moment as she began rattling off directions in a straight-forward manner. Then a change caught his ear.

"[Then... then we can...]"

What was this? Confusion? Uncertainty? Either way, Berserker couldn't have his master feeling lost when she was the one in charge. He thought it not out of line to put forth a suggestion.

"Maybe we can invite one of the other Masters and Servants to lunch tomorrow. I'm probably going to be hungry as hell by then"

He said this as though it was just regular conversation. He wondered how she'd react. At the least it would be interesting.

"What color would you prefer it to be? And how shaved do you wish me to be? We didn't wear these simply to look better than everyone else, it is the Winter, is it not?"

So that's your question then? You're an interesting one, Sir...

"I suppose it is." Dirk relented, a barest hint of a smile curling at the tips of his lips. Even now, white puffs of warm breath were flowing from his mouth, quietly living out a contained, minuscule existence before he stepped forward and through them, scattering their remains to the four winds. "I would prefer it black, or possibly brown. Natural colors for a local. As for the beard, I think you can keep the coverage, just make it about half its current length. We need you to look like you belong here."

Dirk was silent for the rest of the trip, as they diligently marched through the suburban section of Fuyuki. He led his Servant down the main street, straight off of the bridge. The buildings were clustered, but this late at night their inviting signs had grown cold and dark. They were truly alone this night. After what had to be more than ten minutes of wandering down this surreal, lifeless imitation of a city, he cut across the street and took a left, leading them out of the confined spaces of the city's center. Rolling green hills could be spotted in the muted distance, and beyond it forests rising up against the side of mountains. They passed house after house, Dirk silently reading each street sign.

I've never needed to analyze an entire city's map before. It should prove an interesting challenge... for a while.

As they reached the next intersection, Dirk held a hand out to stop, and deftly pointed to the right. "We're almost there."

They turned onto this new street, where the world had stopped still. A few lights, golden sentinels against encroaching darkness squatted in the windows of stout old homes. The only one that was completely dark was where Dirk stopped.

"This is it." he announced. The old place seemed to welcome them in its shadowy embrace as they approached the front door.

Strange, thinking that I'm leaving. I won't be back anywhere I can call home for a while. Maybe ever.

He bit his lip, hoping Saber wasn't much of a face reader.

No. Those thoughts breed failure. You will kill them all, and claim your prize.

Dirk slipped a key from his pocket, unlocking the door and pushing it open. He led his Servant into the kitchen, relatively small, spotless and serviceable. He flipped on a light, and ducked down, opening up cupboards in search of something. As he did, a hand idly gestures to nothing in particular, though seeming to be meant as an accompaniment to Saber's orders.

"The house is simple, two-story deal and that's it. Go upstairs, inside the hall closet are some blankets and bedrolls. Take them, and set them down in the sitting room across the hall here. At the end of that same hall upstairs there's a library, I want you to go in there and gather up every book you can find that might help me learn magic faster. I'll be--"

"Dirk?"

A groggy-sounding voice called from the other side of the kitchen, and Dirk poked his head back out from the cupboard to see his father, who frankly looks nothing like him. His olive-toned face had a five o'clock shadow, specifically the kind that never seemed to go away. His eyes were squinted and lined, indicating little sleep. His nose was curved upwards at the tip, but sank in towards his face at the middle of the bridge, before leveling out at the very top, between his thick black eyebrows. His hair was scruffy, spiky and all-around unkempt, and he was dressed in a baby blue bathrobe and pink slippers.

The old man yawned and asked, "What are you doing up so l--"

It was then that he saw Saber. Mr. Orihara tried to swallow, but it caught in his throat, and he choked in surprise for a moment, his eyes opening wider than they had been before. They were a deep brown, which seemed like an especially good color for showing fear--incidentally, the precise emotion he was experiencing.

Dirk understood what seeing Saber meant to him. It was the final nail in the coffin, that all his years of desperately sheltering his son from this grim fate... had truly amounted to nothing.

For a brief moment, Mr. Orihara's emotion faltered, but he rebounded and adopted stoic grace as he bowed before Saber. "Welcome to our household, esteemed guest. I pray you find everything well."

Dirk shared one look with his father, before waving Saber away and to his task. As he left, Dirk punctuated the meeting with "There should be duffel bags in the hall closet, for storing the books. Bring any you didn't use down here."

His father bent down and helped lift Dirk up to his feet, dusting a little imaginary grime from his coat and trying his best at a proud smile. He was failing. "I knew where you were going tonight, I just never... seeing the Servant in person just makes it so very real."

Orihara took a brief moment to hug his son, patting him on the back as he did. He sniffed in a deep breath, the kind perfect for stifling tears, before grabbing Dirk's shoulders and pushing him to arm's length. He nodded once, and asked "You're leaving tonight then?"

"I am."

"I'll help you pack."

Mr. Orihara left briefly, returning with a cooler full of ice. "You'll need plenty of food, and I expect you to eat well. You already have enough money to last two or three months, right?"

"Right."

"Good. Good."

Dirk opened up the fridge, and with his father began to pack away a supply of food into the cooler.

I want you to go in there and gather up every book you can find that might help me learn magic faster. I'll be--"

Saber nodded and left the father and son alone, probably because of him, given the look Dirk's father had given Saber. He followed the directions to the library and although he had the knowledge in him of these libraries since his summoning, he still could help but stand in wonder at the massive amounts of books, there must have been dozens upon dozens of volumes, and they were all so....well-kept.

For a man from a time when even the nobles owned less than a dozen books, and the rest were in the care of the church, such a large room dedicated to simply holding books was a marvel. He took off his gloves, put them into a pocket, and ran his fingers across the spines of a few of them before looking at the titles. Saber took a few off the shelf and thumbed through them before either setting them down or replacing them on the shelves.

Finishing that task with some of the volumes, a few of them probably not what Dirk had in mind, but he wasn't a Caster, though he'd spent many years in Turkish, Moorish, and Middle Eastern culture in his first life, so he knew of some magic, even if it wasn't his field. He arrived back in the kitchen, where Dirk was, his father nowhere in sight. He set the books down on the table and spoke again.

"Would you prefer I shaved here, or leave now? Matters concerning the family are hard I know. I'm unsure if any of my descendents even survived the last centuries."

His gloves he put back on his hands, pulling them until the leather began to cut into the space between his fingers. The books held underneath his other hand.

"I may call you what you are, peasant!

Rider flourished his halberd with a dramatic twirl before making a point to set it mere inches from Clay's face. The stress of the summoning spell ebbing from this body, Clay could feel the shaking die down, replaced now with annoyance. 'This is the spirit I meant to summon, alright. Confidence is all well and good, but we'll need to tone down the arrogance before it gets us killed.'

"No. I am your Master. I'm doing you a service, fool - I could use a command spell to order you to obey me like a dog, should I wish. But we have more important things to do - so swallow your sodding pride. Cunning will win the Grail, not arrogance." Clay steadied himself fully, his posture firm. He made a point of keeping eye contact with Rider - he could afford to show no weakness.

Rider, sneering at this, instead knelt before Maria. "Only one with beauty such as yourself could possibly hope to sway and direct the fiery passions of a warrior's soul. I am yours to command, my master." Maria gave Clay a brief, annoyed glance before turning back to the Servant. "I don't know who you think you are, spirit, but you WILL show my little brother some respect."

Mordecai noted assassin was chatty. He smiled slightly, despite the true nature of their conversation, at the irony of that. The blood on his hands worried him, but he remembered that he was the only one that could see him. Which meant he was just having a conversation with what appeared to the locals to be air. He rubbed the back of his head again, looking around for people. None. He sighed, and regarded his partner/servant,
"Might as well find this hotel. If we stay there for awhile, we can probably avoid straight up fights. Daytime travel would be best as well." He took to deep thought, strategies floating through his brain at high speeds. He made a motion for Assassin to lead him there.

"Maybe we can invite one of the other Masters and Servants to lunch tomorrow. I'm probably going to be hungry as hell by then"

Sophie was flabbergasted by Berserker's sugestion and could only blink at him in stunned silence. True, she hadn't known exactly what to expect, but that kind of thing hadn't even entered into her wildest speculation. But then again, why couldn't they do that? It was as good an idea as Sophie could come up with, which was nothing. Besides, perhaps she could even talk to one of the other competitors. If she could find out a little bit about them and why they were here it might help her figure some things out.

Sophie couldn't help but let a big smile spread on her face. "[Yeah, that might just be a good idea.]" Sophie could barely contain a happy chuckle at the thought of a friendly lunch with one of her new enemies. It was good to have some kind of direction again. "[Thank you.]" She said before starting off again with her previous spring restored. "[We'd best not stay up too late, we have an early morning ahead of us.]"

Perhaps this could work out after all. At least Sophie considered that she wasn't quite as alone as she once thought.

Assassin led him through many twists and turns, which only one who either did extensive homework or a native could even begin to make sense of. Probably trying to make sure nobody followed, which was wise considering. It was about then that the thought hit him,
'We're going to actively attempt to kill people.' Mordecai gulped for air, and furrowed his brow. It was worth it, he thought. A wish is a wish, and he could do so much with just one. The thought occurred that he could wish for more wishes, but that would be breaking the rules a bit. Also it would be stupid. He smiled at that, and found he had been thinking most of the way there.

The building was ordinary enough, like any other that inhabited the area. Looked nice at first, but the sheets were undoubtedly... bad. He strolled in, asking the person at the front desk who's official title escaped him at the moment.
"Uhm... Do you speak English? Please?" The mans curt nod told him he could proceed, and he ordered a room. It was in the mid levels, and the room smelled funny. Like the hall, but stronger. He covered his nose, hoping he'd get used to it. He walked around, depositing his bag on the ground, and climbing into the bed.
"Good night, assassin..." He muttered, letting jet-lag take him into slumber.

"No. I am your Master. I'm doing you a service, fool - I could use a command spell to order you to obey me like a dog, should I wish. But we have more important things to do - so swallow your sodding pride. Cunning will win the Grail, not arrogance."

Rider narrowed his eyes once more as the two mortals made feeble attempts at a show of power. This was almost pitiable it was so pathetic. However, they had shown him an unkindness that was inexcusable. If this pitiful man truly believed himself to be greater than a hero of legend, Rider was going to test his mettle.

"I don't know who you think you are, spirit, but you WILL show my little brother some respect.

"Tch." he began, sneering at Maria with disdain at her rebuke. "A woman like you apparently has not learned you are best seen and not heard." The man's massive hand reached out and cupped her chin, forcefully making her stare at him. "It truly proves how inferior a woman's mind is with such drivel that passes for a thought between those pretty little eyes of yours."

After his quip towards Maria, Rider's attention turned towards Clay, the full breadth of his disgust radiating from his composure.

"And you ask what man stands before you that he shows no fealty to a pathetic soul such as this brother of yours?" A laugh escaped the brute's lips before he could stifle his mocking amusement of the statement. "Even a dulled mind such as your own must realize who I am, else why would I be here?" Rider advanced a few steps towards Clay, tapping his halberd playfully on his shoulder. "Of course, what match am I, a great hero of the analogues of history, compared to the omnipotent Clay, the warrior who knows no peer, the immortal king of the battlefield and master of the Holy Grail itself! What possible use am I but a mere tile upon a greater board of tactical genius upon which I should be eternally grateful to play such a role underneath the weight of sheer greatness that is you, oh my dear Master. If you are such a prolific champion of your age, maybe I should simply wait here and beg for your forgiveness after you slay each Heroic Spirit with your magnificence!?"

The great warrior spat at Clay, the gesture as clear as any other show of sheer disgust at his Master's behaviour.

"You speak of arrogance while you wield hollow threats that mean nothing! Go ahead, command me with the seals. I may not be as knowledgeable in your sorcery as other great heroes may be, however, I am well aware that even your pathetic seals of control are finite in both power and quantity." As he took a small pause he leaned in towards Clay, now face to face with the man, the most terrible of wicked grins upon his face. "So use them. Use them all! You may be able to stop me thrice, but when that power wears thin, your control will lapse and I will crush all that you cherish before your very eyes. It is an end befitting of a powerless coward."

Rider straightened himself to his full height, his face visibly changing from defiance to outright rage.

"So what do you know of war? Of battle? That you, peasant, could dare consider yourself my better and speak of cunning as if you knew how to command a thousand men? How many men have you killed with your hands? How many men have you sent to their deaths without another thought but victory? What praises have been written of you and your exploits? I have dueled great generals, have defeated and army with but a stroke of my spear and endured a thousand wounds and still stood to kill the man who dared oppose my will. How dare you believe you deserve my respect and believe me to be indebted to you. How. dare. YOU!

The last word boomed through the library, literally shaking the room as books rattled in their shelves at the exclamation. The aura of power that radiated from the beast before the magus was unrelenting, an almost visible manifestation of his passion and spirit. He warrior quickly hefted his halberd back toward the ground to rest it upon the floor, held fast at his side as the floor vibrated with the power he had let it land with.

"If you truly believe yourself to be my better, then prove it. Strike me, peasant boy, that you may hope to taste the power of a peerless warrior."

His stare was deadly as it focused upon Clay. Rider was determined now to show the mage that he was not one to be commanded as others. His pride was too great and his will too steely to let some boy order him around. He had been a champion in his day and to be spoken to as if he were some sort of rabble as the ones who stood before him was deeply insulting. If anything, his gaze showed that if Clay were to strike, there was a strong possibility that only one would be standing by the end.

Maria watched in awe as Caster made his magic work in front of her. The strange way in which he made the conjuration work through a prayer reminded her of magic that relied upon the incantations of ancient words. They both stood at the edge of the city overlooking the vast ocean and feeling the salty breeze move past them. She had slipped out of her shadows the moment they left the church but Maria still felt uncomfortable around others.

We first need to lay out our plans

The Catholic Church one atop a hill would serve as the nest of this game's judge, a place where those desperate enough will seek out refuge. This is why they have to be eliminated before they reach the protection of their lord.

" We need a few helping hands", Maria spoke in her native Hungarian and the man seemed to understand her perfectly. He clasped a cross in both of his hands as he said the magic words, his gesture more akin to a prayer than casting a spell.

A short blast of white light blinded the woman for a mere moment, and the second she opened her eyes she was met with an unusual creature. It was a small little fellow, reaching up to her hips, colored red. It had a small head with two long horns. Its hands were thin and long, both holding a pitchfork. Its legs were the ones of a horse, and a long tail with a triangular blade dangled between its feet.

"You...", Maria mumbled as she stared at the creation in front of her.

"Yes, it is me. I have brought this damned creature to serve us, so we may use it to our needs. It is more than eager to help-", He spoke in a low-toned murmur, slowly going over each word as if considering what to say next. He looked down upon the sodding creature and then unexpectedly extended his arm towards the fragile looking thing. The hell-spawn smiled and showed a row of teeth, not too different from the ones of a shark.

Maria was disgusted and intrigued simultaneously by this unexpected turn of events. She couldn't understand how something that came from hell would exist on this world, but she had little time to question her Servant.

"Go there-", Maria pointed up at the church, "stay hidden at all times. Alert us when you see people coming in and out of the church. If we order you to fight...", Maria was worried the little thing couldn't stand on his own even against a normal human.

"Kill!", it screeched delightfully in a high-pitched squeal, "I follow order, yes?".

The infernal creatures can talk as well... oh Caster, what else do have you in store for me?

"Yes", Caster answered calmly, "Go now. I can hear you in my thoughts". The red demon ran forward at an incredible pace, its two horse legs propelling him forward and his tail moving left and right keeping him balanced.

"Stop looking at me", Maria ordered Caster to avert his eyes. He continued to examine her physique against her wishes. His dead eyes scanned the old hag's face and body outside of her shadows, but the enchanted coat covered her up completely.

"I can't, dear girl", Caster spoke softly for the first time he had ever opened his mouth. For a moment Maria thought it was someone else's voice that she had heard. He extended both of his arms forward as if he was about to bend down and hug her.

"Time had robbed you of your perfection, but your essence still remains. You need not hide behind false appearances for deception is a source of sin", his kind words soon turned into something else entirely. Another of his sermons Maria had heard all too often.

"Enough", she blurted out and pulled back, away from Caster. "It's just... just to keep myself safe, so others won't see who I am", Maria tried to excuse her use of shadows to mask her appearance.

"You feel ashamed, don't you?", he asked her worryingly. She had been kept in that birdcage for years on display, and when she had grown old and useless they stuffed her inside a box. Maria couldn't see if his concern was real or not, and it only made her angrier.

"I won't need to once we're done", she answer him swiftly. Maria turned away from Caster and looked at the waves coming to the shore. She couldn't bear to see him examine her like that.

"You want your youth back, but time cannot be changed. When you make your wish, old memories will still remain. You will never be rid of them, so embrace them". An air of tension rose up between the two and again a moment of silence was observed as the waves crashed against the harbor to the east.

"We never did come up with a plan", Maria commented flippantly as she stared at the waves smashing against the rocks in the harbor nearby. A heavy hand covered her left shoulder from behind. It was a cold sensation, quickly followed by the words from her Servant.

"We need not one. Trust God and embrace him. We were destined to win, so we may spread his word among his children", Caster spoke in a different language this time, but it was one Maria could understand as well. For some reason he switched to speaking German. The old hag suddenly turned around to meet her servant head on, throwing his hand away from her and looking at his sunken black eyes.

"No!", she shouted at him, "the other six, were they not chosen by god?", she said harshly. "Do you think that it is god who made this tournament? Is it god who made a few able to use magic, but made the rest unable?", her words echoed through the empty beach to no response. The tense atmosphere was broken by Caster's peculiar laughter.

"Of course! The power of prayer showed you just how powerful he can be! He chooses who lives and who dies, and thus I have resurrected, like the savior hims-", Caster sped up his words in excitement, often tripping over and mispronouncing many as a sense of pride seeped through his spirit. It was all cut short by a hand slapping him across his face and throwing him off-balance.

"You're a servant, not a man!", Maria yelled at the imposing figure as it was down on the sand. The moment felt as if the floodgates were burst open.

"Did god put me on this earth and gave me this gift of pain and suffering?", she watched as Caster tried to stand up and pull himself away from the cold sand. Her hand flew at his face again as he was halfway through getting up.

"Did he make my womb a shriveled piece of waste just so I could fit his divine fucking plan?", her anger started to manifest itself through her once stoic expression. She had listened to the man ramble for the past two days about his divine plan, and she had enough of that.

"Did he make me a disposable piece of shit because he chose me for death? And you-", she watched as Caster didn't react to her aggression, his passiveness pushing her forward. "-You were brought back because of ME, not anyone else!", she started pacing around the old man nervously.

Caster was humiliated by the woman's commands, but he couldn't act against her. His vision of a new world may seem too far-fetched for such a poor soul that looks only for its own interests, but in time she will understand. An idea popped into the old man's head, a devious plot he will be set in motion to deceive Maria and win her support for his cause.

"Do you believe in god, my dear master?", he asked her meekly.

"Y-yes", she answered loudly.

"What if... what if this magic is his gift, but not his will?"

"What are you talking about?"

Caster looked up at the woman who would become his master, bound in blood and faith. His eyes glistened in the moon's light, and a blue glint appeared instead of his black sunken holes for a mere moment.

"What if he is able, but not willing?", he whispered between his lips which formed a smile on his face.

Maria stood petrified at the sight of Caster smiling. Something felt out of place... something was amiss.

"If we pray and he does not listen, we will use the grail to open his ears".

"Stand, Caster."

Caster was expecting an answer from his short master, but instead came an order. He rose up to his feet, still expecting to be hit again for the third time. He couldn't lay his hands on a woman and attack his master... that would be biting the hand that feeds him.

"I believe, Caster. I believe his will, but he had gone silent for too long."

Maria stood in front of Caster and raised her right hand to meet his face. He tried to recoil in fear, but instead she gently stroked his cheek.

"Who are you to demand his attention, Caster?"

The question left him stunned. The woman mentioned the other six, not unlike him, who were brought back to fight for the grail. How can he be sure it is he who was chosen by God?

"The victor will be chosen from a river of blood. You win, and you will be worthy."

Maria came closer to Caster and embraced him tightly.

"Help me win my life back, Caster. Prove yourself to be worthy"

He closed his eyes and his mouth moved silently as words formed a prayer against the backdrop of the ocean's waves.

"I will pray for the both of us"

Fuyuki Church:

The demon scurried away from Maria and Caster, its tiny equine legs propelling it forward at a fantastic rate. It no time at all the imp had traversed the distance between its summoner and the church. Panting slightly, its fangs bared in a smile, the hellish creature cautiously paced around the building's exterior, its pitch black eyes scouring for any hint of life, traps, or magical barriers. Even monstrosities such as him had to be careful around places like these.

Spotting nothing to be worried about, the demon hurried forward. Its claws and tail digging into the wood, it clambered up the side of the church with ease, reaching the roof in a matter of seconds. From here, it was an easy task to locate a window, and an even easier one to flip the simple latch that held it closed.

Its entryway found, the imp was unable to repress a cackle as he climbed through the window, into what appeared to be some kind of storeroom. Infiltrating the church had been a snap; now all he needed to do was find a place to hide and-

"I tell them not to bring their conflict here, and the first thing they do is desecrate my home with hellspawn."

Hissing, the demon whipped its head towards the source of the voice, baring its fangs and claws in a sign of aggression. He would show this interloper that size didn't matter, not when your foe was armed with demonic ferocity.

Father Meminger merely smiled at the creature. "Hmph. Well, it's not like you'll be here long."


The Beach:

Caster felt the creature he had summoned disappear.


Somewhere in Shinto:

The Mercedes-Benz CL drove away from the barely lit church, its headlights carving through the early morning darkness. Black as night and equipped with a smooth, noiseless engine, the sedan navigated Fuyuki's sleeping streets without difficulty, thanks in no small part to the careful hands of its driver. Though he was certainly an older man, only able to see the road thanks to the pair of circular spectacles that adorned his face, he handled the automobile with incredible skill and precision, doing all he could to ensure the comfort of his two passengers. Keeping the temperature at a steady 23 degrees (Celsius, of course), checking that the strains of Mozart that wafted through the speakers weren't too loud, and making sure that the GPS was correct, all of these were the duties required of any competent manservant.

"Damn priest..."

After switching off the radio, the driver reached up to readjust the rear-view mirror, stopping when it afforded him a decent view of the young woman sitting just behind him. Even in such a small mirror, it was easy to see the annoyance that played across her features as she glared out the window, her crimson eyes lazily tracing the passing scenery. Her voice was dripping with unconcealed anger, though the driver could have sworn he detected just a hint of nervousness as well. "Who does he think he is, calling me in there like that? Did he honestly believe that I would have any questions, that I would need help? Tch, bastard..."

"Now now Ilene."

The butler could feel his hairs stand on end as the second passenger spoke up. There was just something about that smooth, dulcet voice that rubbed him the wrong way.

"There is no need to lash out at the Father like that," the man in the rear seat continued. "He's just trying to perform his duty as best he can. Just as you were chosen to fight in this War, so too was he chosen to moderate it. There is no sense in berating him for doing what has been asked of him."

"Don't bother defending him, Lancer," Ilene spat back. "It's not like we'll ever be seeing him again. We, or I, rather, won't be needing to seek sanctuary, now will I?"

Lancer chuckled for a moment before responding, apparently unmoved by the girl's harsh words. "Of course not, my Master. Rest assured, we will emerge from this War victorious, with the Grail's power at our fingertips. I would be staining my reputation if I did anything else."

"Heh. That's what I wanted to hear." A smile slowly stretched across Ilene's lips. "Ilene von Einzbern, victor of the Sixth Heaven's Feel. Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?"

"I believe you mean Ilene von Einzbern and Lancer, don't you?"

"Hmm? Oh, yes, of course I do."

The conversation died down, and the driver refocused his eyes on the road. Just in time to notice the building coming up on the left.

"Miss Ilene," he began as he pulled into the hotel's driveway, bringing the sedan to a perfect stop, "we have arrived."

"Oh, thank you Micheal."

Opening his door, the manservant exited the car and stepped towards the back. Waving at the valet and busboy, Micheal directed them towards the trunk while he himself opened the rear driver's side door. It was only appropriate, after all, that he escort his mistress; the common rabble could deal with the bags.

The young woman stepped out of the car, nodding in his direction as she stretched and gesturing that he should go around to the other side. He was a step too slow, however; Lancer had already opened his own door and exited into the driveway. Spotting the butler coming his way, the Servant smiled and shook his head. "No need to trouble yourself, I'm quite fine."

Taking a step back, Micheal offered a short bow to the taller man, silently praying that Lancer hadn't seen the apprehension that filled his eyes. Really, he wasn't sure why he was so uncomfortable around the Servant; Lancer had been nothing if not polite, and there was nothing in his appearance to warrant such trepidation. Then again, the butler mused, if anyone knew of Lancer's reputation...

But there was no time for things like that. He had to get his mistress and her Servant checked in, ensure that their bags were taken upstairs, arrange for breakfast, lunch, and possibly dinner, begin his investigations, the list was endless. A butler's work was never done, after all.

Clay stood, his expression disinterested, as his Servant raged before him. His legends had told of his legendary ego, so he stood aside and let him vent. He yelled and screamed and spat, declaring himself a god amongst men and the greatest warrior to have ever lived. Clay simply turned to the side, sitting down to sip his tea and ignoring Rider's outburst.

"If you truly believe yourself to be my better, then prove it. Strike me, peasant boy, that you may hope to taste the power of a peerless warrior."

Clay turned an eye to Rider, standing with his halberd at the ready. "Oh, you're finished. Tea?" He said, with a nonchalant gesture to the still-steaming teapot.

"Would you prefer I shaved here, or leave now? Matters concerning the family are hard I know. I'm unsure if any of my descendents even survived the last centuries."

Dirk stood, having been resting on the floor for a brief spell. He took the duffel bags from Saber and set them in the room across the hall, where the cooler now sat. He stretched his tiring muscles, and blinked a few times until the sudden shock of drowsiness passed. He looked back his Servant's way and directed him towards several plastic baggies full of various supplies. First aid, mouthwash, soap and toothbrushes, various amenities of life he'd need to bring with him.

"Put all those in the spare duffels." he commanded. "You can shave later. It's more important we get away from here." Saber went to work, and left Dirk in silence. He folded his hands in one another behind his back, staring out a window at the quiet street, nothing but blacks and yellows this late at night. He could see the imposing shadows of the hills and mountains, slightly blacker than the twilight sky, stretching up in the distance.

How can something so instinctively terrifying be so beautiful?

It's like a beautiful, dark ring. Our arena, to fight and die in a pitiful struggle. All for what? Tradition? A stupid wish? How many people am I going to have to kill for the sake of a single wish?

He pursed his lips, thinking of the coming weeks.

I'm going to miss Omisoka this year.

Saber had finished, leaving Dirk the task of gathering everything up. A duffel bag of books, a bag of various other supplies, and a cooler of food. He handed the latter two to his Servant, taking one for himself before moving for the door. He opened it and gestured his companion out first. "We're heading back to the bridge. I know a place we can sleep for the night underneath, and it'll give us a vantage point to sense the movements of the other combatants."

Dirk stepped out the door, getting down the first step of the porch before a voice called after him.

"Wait!"

It was a woman's voice this time. A lady no less than a foot taller than Dirk shot from the door, still in her lilac nightgown, and wrapped her arms around him. She was physically imposing, with a stature like an Amazon warrior and strawberry blond hair, wavy and curling down to her hips. Her skin was the same tone as Dirk's, maybe a shade lighter at most. Her face was almost circular, only her elongated chin breaking the childlike, kind shape. To her credit, her face didn't indicated her strength. Dirk looked like he was about to snap in two within her grip, and a small choking noise escaped his throat.

The woman finally released him and bent down to look him in the eye. Eyes identical to hers. She smiled sweetly, and quietly asked, with just a tinge of an accent, "Did you think you were just going to sneak out of here without saying goodbye?"

"...I may have been hoping." Dirk quietly admitted to his mother. Her smile only grew, and she let out the fist huff of a laugh that died after it.

"Well, tough luck." she said, hugging him one more time--softly, though. Dirk noticed something wrapped around her fingers.

"What's that?"

Mrs. Orihara unraveled it, revealing a silver chain, laced through a simple, gleaming silver cross. She smiled as she watched the reaction in Dirk's eyes, not even thinking as he studied every facet of it. Every little nick and scratch, every spot that was shinier than the rest. She knew how his head worked, so focused on the details he could hardly get the big picture. Maybe someday, though, she thought.

She took the chain and slowly stretched it over Dirk's head, pulling it down and setting the cross neatly on his collarbone.

"A perfect fit." she happily remarked. She placed her hand on the cross and told her son, "This was given to me, when I was confirmed. I was just a little girl back then. And now it's yours."

Dirk stammered for a moment, unsure of what to say. His mother tilted her head, blushing a bit. "Maybe it's silly to hope, but it might bring you some luck!"

Behind them, Mr. Orihara stepped through the door and watched the scene, too happy to be upset. "I'm sorry, son." he said jokingly. "I tried to stop her, but you know how she is. I know you don't like goodbyes like these."

His wife stepped away, letting him come forward and put a hand on his boy's shoulder. "So, I'll keep it simple, all right? Good luck, remember to eat well, maybe meet for lunch one day?"

Dirk stared back at him, silently. They both knew that was too dangerous.

"Right then." his father said, bowing his head and closing his eyes. His smile was different now. Sadder. "Maybe just write us, then."

He stepped back, and wove an arm around his wife's, waving one last time at Dirk before turning back for the door.

"Goodbye, son." Mrs. Orihara whispered.

"Bye, mom." Dirk replied.

This might be the last time I ever talk to them.

"And... dad."

His father turned back, and looked at him.

"For what it's worth... I'm sorry."

His father's eyes were glistening now, in contrast with the proud, beaming grin on his face. "Don't be. Just come back to us."

His parents stepped away, for real this time, quietly shutting the door as they separated themselves from him, for the coming war. Dirk could still hear the muffled sobs of his mother behind the door. He turned away, stone-faced and moving with much more passion and energy than was needed at this time of night.

"Let's go, Saber."

"Let's go, Saber."

Saber nodded at the Master's statement.

"One last thing," he turned and bowed as he usually did to Dirk's family, though much adapted since he had his arms full of a cooler and a bag on his shoulder,"I will bring your son back to you if it is God's wish, Lord and Lady Orihara. Should that prove impossible, I will protect him beyond what my abilities can do, if need be."

The once-giant of a man turned around again and followed Dirk out the door and into the December night once more, a clear sky where the moon shone bright and shadows were few and far between. It was a good, but lonely night to have said goodbye. He walked beside the young man, silently thinking to himself. So much had changed, and this was a strange, but wondrous land he walked in.

Caster had been following Maria through the dark city streets. The late hour made sure there weren't many bystanders around, but the rules of engagement allowed for any master and servant to jump from the shadows and strike the two. Caster was still shaken by his conversation with his master earlier. The consequences of the revelation baffled him, as it seemed like God did not care particularly for his wish.

"Master, you never gave me your name", Caster meekly asked Maria.

Maria hoped her confrontation could pacify Caster, if only for a few more days. What happened back there on the beach was something she couldn't ignore either. Some of his words had merit, even if he at the end twisted them into another of his sermons. Her past is already gone and there's nothing she can do to change that. All that remains is her new future she will acquire through the holy grail. Happiness didn't look too distant after all.

"Master, you never gave me your name", Caster spoke quietly, as if he was begging Maria to answer. His sudden shift in attitude surprised Maria, but she wasn't sure how to respond herself. Will she give him her real name, or will she ask him to keep calling her his Master? After all, he already knows her clan's name.

"Maria is fine", she said. Maria turned towards an apartment building and Caster soon followed. A few of the people in the street stared at the giant of a man walking through the city in the night, but they weren't in any danger of being found out. It didn't take long for the two to climb a flight of stairs and reach the second floor, where they stopped before a steel door leading to apartment number seven. Maria reached for her pocket and dug out a key which she used to open the door and get inside the flat.

The first thing Maria smelled was a foul smell of rotten food. Since the place was supposed to be taken care of by her clan's hired help there wasn't anyone watching over the apartment for over a week.

"Caster, clean that mess. I'll throw the trash out", she said before locking the door behind her. "You can't be seen running around outside anymore... At least I can change my appearance".

"Oh, you're finished. Tea?"

Such an indignant response. While Rider's retort had been very dramatic, Clay had countered in equal kind with a paradoxical sense of reserved disinterest. They were complete opposite ends of a spectrum, which only furthered to stroke Rider's ego the wrong way. He had made a name for himself, become a legend in the face of adversity and now some foolish child dared call himself his master? The entire scenario was incredulous!

...So why was he grinning?...

The massive Servant couldn't help but see some of his own arrogance reflected within Clay. They may have clashed in completely opposite ways but the spectrum was still measuring their sense of pride. They were both filled to the brim with it and there would be no sense twisting an advantage to play against themselves. However, the peasant had still slighted him and the Servant would be very clear in his objections to being thought of as a dog.

"Then a peasant you remain," Rider said flatly, letting go of his halberd as it dispersed into particles of mana. His eyes narrowed with focus, the flicker of his tactical mind raging behind his eyes for the first time. "If you cannot strike me now, then what use are you upon the battlefield?"

With the air of tension for the most part having evaporated, the Heroic Spirit walked over to the table Clay had seated himself at and pulled out the chair to the side directly to the boy's left. Motioning for Maria to join the pair, he then took his own seat across from his new "master", moving as gingerly as he could manage. The seat groaned under his weight and Rider was almost reluctant to stay seated, looking over his shoulder at the chair beneath him. However, the furniture had endured the ravages of antiquity and the hero focused his attention back towards the mages after he was satisfied it would not collapse. Maria joined them without so much as a whisper, ever the consummate observer to what was transpiring.

"However, there is still the matter of you slighting my name and stature," Rider continued, his face as serious as ever, maybe even more so now that the rage had removed itself from his tone. "Your power is commendable but false and I call no such man my master, if any man would hold such dominion."

"So long as we understand each other," Clay responded, raising his cup and saucer to his lips.

"Then understand that if you ever dare to speak to or of me in a manner not befitting a noble warrior I shall have found myself a new quiver; skinned or otherwise," Rider snapped back, his temper flaring slightly at the mere thought of the act but still within reason.

Clay stopped for the briefest of moments mid drink, his eyes meeting Rider's with intent. Then the gaze was broken as he set the saucer and cup back onto the table, not a waver in his composure. "Duly noted."

Clays' eyes then darted towards the teapot once more, his fingers fidgeting slightly around the handle of his cup at the insult Rider had unknowingly committed. While his servant was a tactical genius, his tact within the halls of the nobility seemed less than lacking. It was a weakness that needed to be calculated for. At least if Rider could be controlled in more politically delicate situations he would easily be able to ease his way through the finer points of a negotiation but control was something the brute obviously lacked. Catching his absent-minded fingers, he once again looked to the teapot. "Would you still be interested in some tea, Rider?"

The servant raised an eyebrow at the offer this time, not so much because he was unsure of what Clay was speaking about but that he had never seen such dark tea before. Curious, he delicately lifted the lid off of the teapot and looked thoroughly disgusted with his discovery. The darkened water looked more poisonous than anything and he could feel his stomach churning at the mere thought of ingesting something so offensive.

"Ah, of course," Clay casually interjected before Rider could answer the question. "Perhaps something local?"

Rider nodded appreciatively before responding. "Yes, that would be most acceptable."

Without so much as a queue from her brother, Maria was already off, as silent as a wisp of wind to go and fetch something more accustomed to the giant's pallet.

Clay took the opportunity of Maria's absence to brief his servant in what information he was able to gather before his summoning. They went over the Einzburn daughter in great detail: a full description, her favoured school of magic and methods Rider could employ to attempt to counter it if he wasn't around, details on what they could gather of her intended base of operations and that she had been able to summon the Lancer class as her Heroic Spirit. The stress the mage put on making Ilene a priority could not have been more palpable. He mentioned that another prominent mage family, the Tohsaka's had reportedly joined the war but no movement had been issues from their estate as of this time. The last bit of information that Clay could impart was that the Schmidt family had finally recouped their losses in their last prospect and found a candidate for this war, which was also of concern considering their house focused on magics in subterfuge. Worse still, she had summoned Caster as her servant, which meant their magical prowess would be unsurpassed.

By the end of it Rider didn't look terribly concerned with the majority of the conversation. "This Einzburn you speak of should be of no concern, nor should the one called Tohsaka. We should not concern ourselves with those who foolishly summoned the three knights."

"Oh?" Clay questioned, sipping his tea to sooth his parched throat quickly afterwards. "They are the three most powerful classes. You should be concerned."

"Their strengths lie within their combat abilities," Rider explained. "My skills in spear and bow are unmatched by any and I am a master in all other arts of combat. I ride like wind to blow over entire armies. If they choose to duel me they will assuredly meet their demise." The warrior looked quite smug with himself by the end of his explanation.

"It was more out of concern for their respective masters." Clay looked at Rider intently for a moment to get his point across. "I would rather be facing an inexperienced master in the final battle than one who has superior skills in their house's school. I'm not concerned whether you believe you can defeat their servants easily but rather that an experienced opponent could potentially gain a strategic foothold more easily if we allow them time to do so."

Those words sunk in harder than any others that evening. Rider was an excellent strategist but the confidence he had in his abilities sometimes blinded him to the bigger picture. While it was important to ensure the servant would be dispatched, it was of equal importance to slay the master as well for fear of them binding another servant to do their bidding. Even without a servant some mages still posed a significant threat. His head bobbed up and down for a few moments as he considered this piece of advise.

"This is true, boy. However, Caster presents a unique challenge to my skills. I am not experienced in combating these sorceries that you mages wield. It is a weakness I am uncertain I can overcome easily, thus, placing the servant whom can wield these magics more masterfully than anyone else would be well advised." Rider ended looking almost ashamed of himself for not having the foresight of protecting himself against something that hadn't existed in his era.

Clay simply nodded once, finishing off his cup of tea. "I figured that would be the case. I dredged up some of my mother's old notes. She's quite adept in the sygaldry warding we initially intended to use to protect the manor. They contain instructions for a ritual that would shore up this weakness."

Rider's face twitched to disappointment for a moment at the mention of his imperfection once again. Still, he understood it was his fault and that any weakness they displayed needed to be dealt with. He gave a slow, solemn nod to that. At the very least he could overcome his one fault due to Clay's over prepared nature.

Before the two men could delve any further into their strategy, the large wooden doors swung open with Maria leading one of the house's maids into the room. The attendant was expertly balancing a traditional shinto tea tray with a matching teapot and cup with the set Clay was using and a multi-tiered sandwich tray with pastries, finger sandwiches and even a few rice balls, made of pure sterling silver. The short blonde woman deftly slid the trays onto the table, busying herself with setting everything properly while Maria slipped back into her seat as quietly as she had left. As the food was being set out, impatience got the better of Rider and he reached out to grab his cup and teapot, quickly getting it moved back to his side by the maid as she fussed about to serve him his tea immediately.

"Oh no, Master Rider," the woman pleaded, smiling kindly as she slid the cup onto a saucer, "Allow me to serve you. It is my duty."

Rider grinned and looked over at Clay, that smug look quickly returning. "You see peasant? This is how a hero should be treated!" An uproarious laugh bellowed out from him afterwards as the maid continued to smile sheepishly at the comment. Clay fought down every urge to roll his eyes, not wanting to ruin the small space of time he had managed to get Rider's personality under control. Besides, so long as it wasn't him that had to stoop down and feed his servant's ego, what harm could it possibly do?

"I do hope you enjoy the tea." she continued as she poured out a glass of the tea, "It's a special blend called-"

"Gyokuro!" Rider interrupted with a joyous exclamation. "Such a fine delicacy. I have not had a pot of this in ages!" The absolute rapture in the servant's voice was enough to make anyone but Clay melt with sheer happiness. "The gentle, wafting aroma, the perfect colouration of green and that subtly flawless combination of sweet and bitter. Truly the jade of all teas, as its name implies."

The maid was shocked at the sudden outburst but more so by the extensive knowledge of the tea without even having tasted it. "Of course, Master Rider. It's amazing you could tell just by the mere smell of it. You must have an extensive knowledge of teas."

"I do indeed, miss." Rider nodded before bringing the cup to his lips, taking the smallest of sips just to savour the unique taste before setting it back down. "It is nice that someone can appreciate the art for what it is. Perhaps we could compare teas some time. However, I doubt any tea within this country is as sweet as yourself."

The maid turned bright red at that comment. With the hastiest of bows, she scurried off, almost shuffling she was in such a hurry to hide her embarrassment. Rider could only look stupefied at the reaction, not sure what to make of it. He scratched his cheek with his index finger absent-mindedly, staring at the door in bewilderment. "Was it something I said?"

"Maria is fine", Caster's master answered his inquiry.

Maria, oh such a beautiful name. The virgin mother, full of grace, mother of Jesus Christ himself...

Caster enjoyed some moments of day dreaming about his master and her newly discovered name. Oh, the possibilities in his mind were endless, but her divine name only gave him more conviction in his believes... He have been born from the magic of Mary, and he will do the will of god. Caster's day-dreaming was interrupted when he noticed he haven't felt the presence of his minion for too long now. As Maria entered the apartment and Caster soon followed, the horror stemming from the apparent consequences struck him.

"Caster, clean that mess. I'll throw the trash out", she ordered the imposing figure. Caster watched Maria glide through the kitchen towards the other rooms in the apartment. The foul smell didn't trouble Caster as much as the realization he came to only a minute ago.

"Mast-... Maria, the demon... He is gone. The one I sent to the chapel - Something, or someone, ended him. That catholic priest...", Caster's voice trembled as fear slowly crept into his mind. "The rules of the game...", he mumbled quietly.

Maria turned away from Caster and went ahead to see what else the apartment had to offer. To her left was the kitchen and to her right was the living room. Walking forward, she saw a hallway to her right which lead to a small bedroom and a bathroom at the end.

"Mast-... Maria, the demon... He is gone. The one I sent to the chapel - Something, or someone, ended him. That catholic priest...", Maria heard Caster speak from the kitchen. His voice alerted her something was not right with him. She turned back and walked towards the kitchen where he stood, leaning against the counter.

"The rules of the game...", Caster added.

"Calm down, Caster. Even the judge can be killed.", Maria tried to reassure her servant, "He's not aware of your spells, is he?".

Maria walked past Caster and opened the refrigerator. She ripped a garbage bag out of a cupboard on her left that was almost out of her reach. She hurried back to the refrigerator and started tossing most of the food inside the garbage bag.

"The rules can be broken, but there comes a point when someone had gone too far... lets make sure we don't do that, alright?", Maria turned to Caster and smiled. Her reassuring words calmed him.

"Caster, behind are some files in the second drawer. Get them out and start going over them. I'll be back in a bit".

Dirk led the way on the walk back, taking a different route than the one that had brought them to his home. They did not turn off the street, walking directly along the side of the road. Their path carried them to a final intersection, where they could no longer walk on a straight path. The houses stood on the edge of a slope, rolling down to the river beneath. Dirk motioned to follow, and hopped a fence, moving up to the slope and sliding down. When he neared the bottom, he stopped himself and began to head north.

"The bridge in Fuyuki is built strangely." he said in a slow, lilting voice. He sounded as if he wasn't paying any real attention to his words. "On either side, where normally the concrete running beneath would be a flat surface, there are indents and nooks. They have enough room for several people in a single one. Usually, the homeless sleep there, but on a night this cold they'll have gone to a shelter. It should just be the two of us."

The pair approached the superstructure spanning the river, a much more imposing sight when one was below it instead of on it. The water to their right was flowing gently, the muted tides providing ambiance for their quiet journey. The world itself seemed to grow darker when they passed into its shadow, walking along the border between grass and sand. Once they were full concealed beneath the bridge, Dirk turned left and led his servant up the hill. There was a small alcove, just where the man-made structure met the earth beneath it. Dirk crouched, and shuffled in, setting his load down. He gestured for Saber to do the same, opening one of the duffel bags. Of all things, he pulled out a lighter and a small container of gasoline. Setting them down, he dashed down towards the sand, grabbing several rocks and wayward branches left alongside the river and hauled them back up. He sat down, and set the rocks in a circle, placing the sticks inside. He gestured for the cooler, and once he had it removed a small log of wood.

He glared at Saber preemptively, as if he expected criticism. "They wouldn't fit in the duffel bag." he insisted, taking part in an argument that had yet to exist.

"The benefit," he began, cutting himself off for a moment as he worked on starting a fire. A few embers finally caught, and began to grow. "of this spot, is that you can start a fire, and someone would have to be standing on the opposite bank, directly across from us to see it."

Dirk reached into the cooler again, pulling out a bottle of water and taking a sip. "And if someone on the bridge senses us, they'll assume we're up there somewhere. To find us, they would have to be in the spot I mentioned--and if they know this city, they'll just assume we're hobos. Or else, they would have to deliberately come underneath the bridge, and walk up to this precise spot."

There was a look of distinct confidence in his eyes when he coolly stated, "They won't think of that."

Not much activity occurred afterwards. Dirk could already feel the fatigue of the day catching up to him, and he would need rest. Giving a curt goodnight to Saber, he laid out one of the bedrolls and dropped into slumber.

He dreamed of painful things that night, and squirmed in his sleep.

"Calm down, Caster. Even the judge can be killed" . Caster was taken aback by his master's comment. He himself proved to be unaware of such a possibility in the game. Even though he was gifted with information concerning the new, old and magical worlds, he had little knowledge of the Holy Grail war and its history.

"He's not aware of your spells, is he?", Maria tried to reassure Caster who was worried about his minion missing. Caster watched as Maria went to the source of the foul smell and bagged it, a task he was ordered to perform himself.
"The rules can be broken, but there comes a point when someone had gone too far... lets make sure we don't do that, alright?". Maria winked at the tall man and proceeded to walk away from the kitchen.

"Caster, behind are some files in the second drawer. Get them out and start going over them. I'll be back in a bit". Caster nodded in response. He opened the second drawer from the top and inside he found an imposing stack of papers. Maria was already gone before he could say another word.

The old hag stepped outside the apartment and made her way down the stairs when she was reminded of the shadows she must wear outside at all times. She returned to a figure of her younger self, or at least that's what she claimed it was. The cold streets only pushed her to finish her business quickly and she scurried back to the apartment.

Back inside the apartment Caster was scanning the files he had on hand. There were only four of them, each of them containing information about a certain someone. He raised his head to the sound of the door being opened and watched as Maria returned.

"We can't face them head-on", she said as she was pointing at the files. "An assassin would be our major concern...", Maria stopped and began to undress. She pulled the strange tattered coat from her and threw it at a sofa on her right. "I like keeping my throat intact", she jokingly commented. Caster could see his master's full form. He was right in his first assessment - she was truly beautiful all those many years ago.

"Your face", Caster quipped. Maria wasn't sure what he meant to say, but she soon realized she had kept her shadows even within the apartment. She shook off the illusion and smiled awkwardly. "I didn't even notice", she tried to excuse herself.

"....And the others?", Caster asked her master. Maria walked towards him and showed him all of the people her family knew would come to the tournament. "Usual suspects as always-", she held one of the briefs up, "The Einzbern girl". She opened the brief and showed Caster a picture of the girl when she was 17. "This is the oldest we have, but it'll have to do. This girl... is very dangerous if left alone for too long. Her magic is unusual to say the least, and it fits well within this game of deceit". Caster eyed the girl with much curiosity. She would be the one to suffer his wrath and in time, pave him the way to his ultimate desire.

"Our situation is troublesome, Caster. We don't know the landscape or the language, while others here are familiar with any nook and cranny.", Maria seemed worried at the predicament the two were in. "We need eyes on the street... but ones that won't be seen in daylight. Can you do that?", she inquired.

Caster nodded his head in disagreement. He couldn't do such a feat and have it remain unknown. If his demons were to be seen by the ordinary person a riot could break, and the little things are too unruly to trust. They might just eat one of the passersby and not stay undetected.

"I can't do it. These creatures... I can't hold their leash tight enough-", he tried to explain himself, but Maria cut him off. "-and if someone sees them, we don't know what could happen", she finished Caster's thoughts. The two stared at each other for a long moment before Maria broke away from his gaze and looked down at the other three briefs.

"These are the known families and what they have sent as their emissary. The Marks clan sent this boy-", Maria pointed at the next brief containing little information on Clay Marks. The other two briefs concerned Yeshua clan's peculiar contribution and the Topfer clan's supposed candidate. Little did they know that before the tournament the girl who was supposed to represent the Topfer clan was replaced by a younger, more accomplished one.

"We need to stay quiet. I know you all can feel each other, which is why we have to find a new hiding place soon...", Maria walked away from the kitchen back to the living room. She pulled the drapes and peeked outside the window to the street below. "..I could burn it all down, Master", Caster tried to reassure his master.

"Not yet. We first have to get close".

16:00

Ilene stared out at the slowly setting sun as it sunk below the horizon. Its brilliant, golden orange rays still filled Fuyuki with light, but the girl knew that it was only a matter of time before darkness overtook the city. Night would soon be upon them, and with the night would come the War.

Lowering her gaze, the girl stared listlessly at the salad in front of her. The hotel had boasted that its chefs were world class, capable of cooking the finest cuisines from any country she cared to name. Anything that came from their kitchens was guruanteed to be delicious and nutritious, a treat for both the palate and the Petty lies, as it turned out; the beautifully prepared greens and vegetables turned to ash as soon as they touched her tongue, just like everything else that apparently passed for "food" out here.

With a contemptuous snort, Ilene shoved the plate away and rose to her feet. If she wasn't going to eat, then it couldn't hurt to review the briefings one last time. Even if she knew most of them by heart, being over prepared never hurt anybody. Micheal had been kind enough to leave the folders on one of the end tables, organized alphabetically of course. The old man was a stickler when it came to keeping things in order.

Browsing through the various files, the young magus silently reviewed each of her foes. Marks. Orihara. Schmidt. Topfer. Yeshua. These were the ones she would be going up against, battling and killing, in the coming days. This upcoming war would require all of her talent and skill, all of her strength and intellect. She could not afford to interrupt even a single one of these names, lest they-

The clinking of a fork and knife managed to rose her from her thoughts. Irritated, Ilene shot a glare at Lancer, still at the table and, judging by the look on his face, falling madly in love with his porterhouse. It was maddening; not only did he have the gall to enjoy his food in front of her, but he couldn't even be asked to keep his mouth closed?

"Ahem," she growled, glaring a few daggers at the Servant.

Lancer, shaken from his ecstasy, at least had the decency to look somewhat ashamed at his lack of manners. Laying his silverware across his plate, he bowed his head in her direction. "My apologies, Ilene. I seemed to have lost my senses for a moment; rest assured that it won't happen again."

"Hmmph," she grunted back in reply. "You act like you've never had steak before. History may not be my strong point, but I'm pretty sure they had cows back in your time."

"Oh, but of course. It's just that, after existing only as a Spirit for so long, being allowed to eat true, real food, and food of such high quality, overwhelmed me. My old cooks were never capable of crafting such delectable meals, nor could they grill the meat to such perfection!"

"I suppose."

Picking up the folders, the woman strode over to her Servant, slapping them down on the table next to his plate. While over there, she couldn't help but raise an eyebrow at the hunk of meat; she never would've figured Lancer to be one for well-done steak.

But there would be time to dwell on his tastes at a later time, she reminded herself with a shake of her head. For now, she had to make sure that they were both prepared for the coming night. "Now you're sure you've memorized all the information Micheal managed to compile for us?" she asked, drumming one of her fingers against the table. "It's imperative that we know what we might be getting into."

Waving a hand at her, Lancer dismissed the files, choosing to instead go back to his meal. "Of course, of course," he said as he sliced off another bite-sized portion, spearing it onto his fork. "You should have a bit more faith in your Servant; I know all of that drivel by heart."

Slipping into silence for a moment, Lancer savored his next bite, enjoying both the flavor that poured across his tongue and the irate look that slowly crossed his Master's face. Finally swallowing, the Servant patted his lips with a napkin before continuing. "Honestly, it's like you're afraid of losing."

"Ha! Don't make me laugh," Ilene responded, pacing throughout the penthouse. "There's no way that any of those worthless, low-class frauds will be able to compare to me. They can't hope to compete with a member of the Einzbern family."

"Then they shouldn't be a problem," Lancer concluded, happily going back to his food. "We just stick to the plan and everything will work out, yes?"

"Very true."

Sighing, Ilene left her Servant. It was time to go find Micheal, and to get the car ready. Less than an hour remained before nightfall...

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