Fate/Infinite - Game Thread

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Dirk took a sharp intake of breath, eyes darting from left to right. Pale yellow lights struck down the length of Fuyuki Bridge, lanes of traffic curiously empty on this night. Six were present, at the least. Saber was at his side, barely mobile. The Emperor's Bane worked through his veins still, and gripping his sword was the most motion he seemed capable of. To their left, Dirk saw the Rider-class with his Servant. A young man, like him, but clearly his elder. His appearance was Western--likely American--and almost unfit to be a magus. He saw something hanging from his neck. A silver necklace, of an eagle clutching a flaming branch and a stone. It was an odd sight, and reminded Dirk of the cross he bore. The thought of similarities between them was intriguing.

And to his right, two newcomers that he had no bearings on yet. A Lancer class, clearly, and a young woman. He got disturbing vibes just from being in the woman's presence. Her massive ego practically erupted from her diminutive figure, and her distinctive white hair was immaculate. Dirk was hardly a learned individual on the matters of magi, but even he knew who he was looking at.

"Einzbern." he declared, with no intent clear from his tone. His eyes, however, quite clearly mocked her.

In truth, he was quite frantic in his thoughts, dividing his mental functions to finding a way to defeat both foes at once.

The Einzbern has a long, proud history to uphold. And I don't even need to look at her for more than a second to know she takes that pride to heart. Bet I could throw off her game if I found the right buttons.

But that other guy... I don't know who he is. He's a powerful magus, too. If I could get close, maybe I'd stand a chance... but with magecraft like that I don't know how I'd do it from here.

Then there's the Servants. All fresh, and one at a distance. A summoner, too. That means I'm dealing with a Lancer, a Caster, and a Rider. All their stats are inferior, but I don't know their abilities. It all means shit, anyway, until Saber's on his feet again.

Maybe I can play them against each other? The Rider seems more likely to go after a fresh opponent... but then, how do we capitalize on that? What we need to do is escape. Again... how.

The river? I'd risk drowning, or at least hypothermia. But it's a viable option. But we'd need a distraction to keep anyone from following us. We need this battle roaring before I do anything of the sort. I still don't know how...


They had reached the bridge, Saber starting to feel his extremities again, but still unable to do more than open and close his fist, which he refrained from doing with both hands on account of him having a death grip on the hilt of his sword. His neck was once again able to move and he swiveled around, looking at his opponents. Rider, Lancer, Caster, three Heroic Spirits, and himself down from the tricks of Assassin.

He'd been too easy on the man, hadn't conjured his armor along with his sword, otherwise they wouldn't be in this situation right now. Chivalry wasn't dead, but Saber might soon be if he continued to hold onto it. It was time to unleash another Phantasm, one many times more deadly than Kin Guard. But he would only have one shot, his strength was coming back to him, but not quickly enough to warrant more than one use of this Weapon. He dismissed his family, Lancelot already a speck of light on the blemish from Rider's swift dispatch of him. He would need time to recover.

As his neck had regained its full range of movement, so too did his ability to speak heartbeats later.

"Lord Dirk,"He said, his vocal chords still paralyzed enough to limit his speech,"Grab my hands....stick the sword in the ground...,"He summoned up every last bit of energy he still had and put every bit of meaning he still had into his next word,"...NOW."

Orihara's reaction took only a moment. The stroke of Saber's brilliance crossed him, and only concentration kept him from giving it away plainly on his face. The second Phantasm. That might just be... perfect."

"All right." he whispered. Dirk moved like lightning; his agility was not to the level of a Servant's, but with the element of surprise he had time. Cupping his hands around Saber's, he lifted his blade into the air, pointing it at the ground. "We're not done yet!"

"KIYAA!"

With a yell to tighten his muscles and power his motions, Dirk drove Saber's blade into the concrete below.

Dirk assisted Saber as they both plunged the blade into the bridge itself and he struggled to his knees, his hands keeping ahold of the cross-guard on either side.

"Keep close,"Were the only words he said before announcing with the last of his vocal strength, the end cutting into the higher octaves and outdone by the sudden rumbling,"ROUND TABLE SUNDERING!!!!"

A ten foot circle cracked into existence on the bridge, surround Dirk, Saber, and their supplies, followed by thirteen equal cracks, segmenting said circle. Saber concentrated, and the thirteen broke out of their prison. No longer straight or even able to be predicted, they struck out to the edges of the bridge. Left, right, forward, backwards, the thirteen quickly became hundreds as they struck each other, struck through one another, and sped towards their intended targets. Like the teeth of some giant beast they opened and closed, grinding anything they caught into ashes and dust. There would be no full escape for anyone this monster he had allowed out to feed.

The ground shuddered and broke apart a hundred paces either end before each of the cracks had closed onto their prey and crushed them within the great earth. The Bridge of Fukiyuki City gave a mighty shudder, just as the land the city lived upon had, and collapsed haphazardly. all but for the simple circle with its thirteen equal segments the Master and Servant stood upon. They fell quickly, but smoothly to the waiting below. There was no pull of gravity, they simply landed, where Saber sat on his knees, sweat drenched, and blinking from the last few minutes of destruction. Pieces of the bridge lay around them, though none came within five feet of their circle.

"We leave now."

Water flowed around them, rippling as their piece of shelter began to drift out downriver, toward the sea. The current was sweeping them away quickly. As Saber caught his breath, Dirk tuned back towards the ruined bridge, wondering if the others had survived. Either way...

"This will be far more difficult than I had anticipated."

Dirk's words were calm and composed. And just the slightest hint of a smile was on his lips as they rode away.

Maria sent Caster away to try and engage the fleeing master and servant, but instead he was met with an impasse. What followed was a scene out of a disaster movie - the bridge seemed to collapse, and the concrete holding the ground beneath Caster's targets seemed to detach itself from the rest of the bridge and break free in a massive roar. The slab of concrete fell to the river holding those on it to safety, or so they thought.

"Caster, call back the hounds. We need to reconsider our strategy", Maria called out to Caster. The old man turned back to see his master continuing with her fašade. He raised his arm in the air and the hell-spawn stopped for a moment and turned to his direction. The group hissed at his direction and opened in a sprint towards him.

I can't recognize either of the masters... god damn it


.
Some divine forces seemed to have converged on the same spot, brought forth by the same thing that triggered his Master's alarm. Some form of magic was used to dislodge a circle of concrete from the middle of the bridge, thus saving the duo from being stuck between two other servants. His plan to catch the two off-guard failed, but he could still recoup his losses.
"Caster, call back the hounds. We need to reconsider our strategy"

Maria called him back from the fray, but he wasn't planning on retreating just yet. They had to see how it would unfold and who exactly they were dealing with. Standing against giants would prove to be disastrous for Caster, but preying on the weak... oh, that's another plan entirely.

The demons heard a cry in their head, one that commands them to move back towards Caster. He didn't want his little precious minions to be skewered on a spear of cut into pieces, at least not yet. The little devils ran away from the scene towards Caster, although some of them ran away and towards the city streets. His plan would work, even if he had to play dirty to make it click.

"Pashol Ktchort", he mumbled before opening his hand and extending it forward. From the ether came a large glass bottle with a clear liquid inside. Caster grabbed the bottle before it fell by its neck and raised it up to his face. "Nazdarovia", he said before taking three long gulps from the bottle.

Prepare the spell for territory creation... if all else fails, there's always the river.

As the dust settled, Clay could clearly see two figures emerge from the wreckage - that of a small, unimposing girl with stark white hair and blood red eyes, and one of man carrying a massive halberd. The man needed no introduction - he was clearly the Servant Lancer. But the girl... as she came into clear view, Clay felt his lips curl into a snarl. Even moreso than her Servant, this woman needed no introduction - he could taste her arrogance, even from where he stood. It suffused her very being, right down to her ignoble name.

'Einzbern.'

Rider stood poised to strike Saber. He only awaited his Master's command, and he would be finished in the blink on an eye. He looked back to Clay, awaiting the order with anticipation brimming in his eyes. Except...

"Rider. To me - NOW." Clay called to his Servant, his tone urgent. This was not a foe to take lightly - she could, and would, kill them both at the first opportunity. No mercy, no remorse. Rider, his eyes still glued on the wounded Saber, reluctantly obeyed and dashed to the man's side, his halberd readied and pointed likewise at Lancer. "It seems we will have two foes to celebrate my victory over tonight, peasant." His eyes flashed once more with determination, his gaze burning a hole through Lancer. Their positioning put both Clay and Einzbern in an unusual position. Neither could purse the wounded Saber without exposing themselves to the others' Servant. So they stood, staring each other down with a venomous glare.

At the corner of Clay's vision, he saw the boy next to Saber stir. He wasn't going anywhere - his flames saw to that. But Clay noticed him draw Saber's sword, readying to stab it into the ground. 'How peculiar. In his state, I scarcely think that boy can even lift a sword that large, let alone use it.'

"ROUND TABLE SUNDERING!" The ground shuddered at those words, a massive web of cracks opening along the bridge's side. Alarmed, Clay snapped his full attention to Saber's location to see the bridge crumbling around them. A massive seam opened up under one of the bridge's suspension cables, causing it to break with a sickening snap. The bridge was quickly starting to bisect, it wouldn't be long before it was completely destroyed.

Clay scoffed at this unfortunate turn of events, turning back to his Servant. "Rider. We're leaving. This ruckus will no doubt attract attention - an inconvenience I'd rather not deal with."

"What of my car, peasant? I'd rather not leave such a magnificent steed behind." Rider looked to Shinto, where his car remained parked. "Calm yourself, Rider. The city will impound it - I have no doubt you left it illegally parked. We can reclaim it tomorrow morning." Rider sneered derisively at the idea of letting mere mortals handle his property, but his so-called master seemed resolute. "Very well, boy. We shall see it retrieved tomorrow from this pounding guard you speak of by your servants. I cannot be bothered with such menial tasks. And so help you if she is wounded!" Rider turned to leave, his Master in tow.

Mordecai and Assassin were grinning like madmen now, their accomplishment finally sinking in.
'We beat a Saber.' This thought only broken by what seemed like a damn fireworks display made of flashbangs going on behind them.
"Christ, that's a lot of Prana. Must be a phantasm. Or an explosion, either works." Mordecai said this in a dry matter-of-fact tone he used on hopeless patients. This scared him shitless however.
'THEY JUST BLEW UP A FUCKING BRIDGE.' They needed defense. Right now, they had charisma, but if that was the Saber... They needed a defense. Mordecai knew his magic was shitty, all he could do was heal. Though, he had a fall back. One he really didn't want to consider. Buuuut, bridge explosions skew priorities. He sighed,
"There's a US Naval Base near here, I think. Can you find it, and get me some guns." He said these like questions, though they both knew they were orders. Mordecai just could have more deniability with a request.
"So?"

Assassin chuckled at the request. Stealing from humans wasn't his specialty, but honestly it's only because he didn't need to specialize in it. He could run faster than most cars and become a ghost. Not quite rocket science, this kind of job was more along the lines of stealing candy off the top of a stump. Wide grin he said. "If it's not killing, I can do it without reservations for this." He still wasn't quite sure why he jumped at the Saber again. Assassin dismissed it as confusion due to stupidity from the master.

Assassin flicked his haunting guise and disappeared. "Which direction is the base in master? This job won't take but an hour. Also, what exactly do you want from this? Be more specific than just some guns."

Fuyuki Bridge - ? vs ?

"ROUND TABLE SUNDERING!"

Saber's mighty roar was soon drowned out by the groaning of the earth itself, as massive seismic waves pulsed out from the Servant. They rippled along the length of the Fuyuki Bridge, sending the structure heaving to and fro. A series of cracks spiderwebbed through the asphalt as the steel support cables moaned in protest, filling the air with a discordant cacophony of destruction.

The area just beneath Dirk, Saber, and the two spirits was the first to fall, crashing into the frigid waters far below. By some miracle of engineering, the slab managed to stay afloat, or at least sank very, very slowly, as it was dragged along by the current. The young lad found himself chilled to the bone by the freezing spray, but managed a slight smile despite his chattering teeth. "All according to keikaku."

As the Master and Servant made their escape, the bridge's other occupants took a second to reconsider their plans. Fuyuki may have been all but deserted after sundown, but destruction on this scale was certainly going to attract some attention. Evidently Clay and Rider had decided that seeking further battle wasn't worth the risk, if their falling back was anything to go by.

The same could not be said of Miss Einzbern and Lancer, however.

"We are not retreating, not now!" the young Master seethed, adamantly standing her ground. Her eyes, burning with unadulterated rage and malice, flickered between her ever distancing foes, as if she was trying to decide who to go after.

"Miss Ilene, please," Micheal pleaded, trying to consul his charge. "Listen, you can already hear the sirens. It'll be minutes, if not sooner, before this place is swarmed with bystanders; you can't hope to carry on here!"

"You should listen to your guardian, hasty girl," Lancer interjected. His expression clearly said that he was unhappy with this turn of events, but common sense managed to squelch his lust for battle. "This is only the first night, and we know what our foes look like. That ought to be enough, at least for now."

"But it's not! No, we are not leaving, not until we manage to beat at least one of them." Most of the wrath that had blazed in Ilene's eyes had faded away; now the crimson orbs were full of cold, rational fury. "And if you're too afraid to go after them," she growled, her gaze finally settling on Lancer, "then I'll just have to make you, now won't I?"

Raising her right hand, Ilene spoke out in a clear, authoritative voice. "By the power of my Command Spell, I order you to-"

SLAP

The girl stumbled a few steps before finding her footing, staring up at Micheal with an air of bewilderment. Raising her hand up to her stinging cheek, she worked her mouth, her mind scrambling to find any words. "I... I don't..."

"I apologize, Miss Ilene," the older gentleman interrupted, offering his mistress a stiff bow. "But I will not allow you to waste a Command Spell on such a trivial matter! Even Lancer has said that it would be best to favor retreat in this circumstance; do you really believe that you know better than both he and I?"

"But... but I..."

The young woman's words trailed off as her head hung in defeat. "Fine," she muttered under her breath. "You win. Let's go."

Turning around, Ilene began to slowly march back into Shinto, her footsteps as heavy as her heart. Both her Servant and her guardian followed after, Lancer offering Micheal a slight nod of acknowledgement.

Saber's Phantasm had done more than just collapse part of the bridge. Its seismic assault had also extinguished the magical flames that had cut off the road mere moments ago, leaving the trio's path unblocked.

Ilene grumbled to herself as she walked along. She could still sense the presence of the other Servants and Masters, and it stung her to no end to know that she couldn't pursue them. What kind of coward ran away at the first sign of danger, eh? Who did they think they were, trying to escape her just like that?

Tch. She'd show them. She'd show them what it meant to scorn her like that.

"Which direction is the base in master? This job won't take but an hour. Also, what exactly do you want from this? Be more specific than just some guns."
"Oh, right, you're familiar with modern technology. Unfortunately, I'm less so. Pick up an assault rifle, a pistol I can conceal, and one with some oomph as a fallback." Mordecai rubbed the back of his head. His training was in the use, he wasn't a gun nut.
"The base is off the shore, it's pretty noticeable."

Far behind them, Dirk could still hear the groaning screams of Fuyuki Bridge, its shattered pieces collapsing into the river. By chance, their slab of concrete had managed to brave the waters, and was floating downriver peacefully. Dirk was freezing, wet, and no doubt still in danger, but his mind was already fixed on this task.

With Saber immobilized, he took the kendo blade he had placed within one of his bags, assembling it and placing it into the river. It was hardly a paddle against this steady current, but it made for a good rudder. Orihara considered who had been on which side.

The Westerner and that Rider were on the suburban side. But the Einzbern, Lancer, and that Caster were in Shinto. And I have no idea where that Assassin has gone...

He decided, for the moment, that Miyamachou was the safer bet for tonight. They needed a safe place to recuperate, and he'd rather take his chances in the more sparsely populated zone. A Rider would be no trouble once Saber could move again, and he had no fears toward a Servant he'd fought off, nearly on his own. I'll be prepared for your tricks next time, bastard. You won't scratch me.

It was slow-going, but the slab began to move, at last slamming into the east riverbank at a secluded area. Dirk tossed the bags to the shore before sliding Saber's arm over him. They gingerly tested, and found that he was at least mobile, if not wholly so. Saber was walked to the shore. First things first, Dirk changed his clothes. A black sweater, and a long-tailed blue jacket over that. He wore a set of long underwear, and sweatpants on top of them, to maximize his warmth. He would not be succumbing to hypothermia after all the effort in his escape.

Once in his new set of clothes, the question came of where to go next. Orihara had his answer. On the northern side of Fuyuki, about halfway from the bridge to the eastern border of the city, was an old hotel. Well-removed from most city life, it was nowhere that any out-of-towner would think to say. Shoddy service, subpar rooms. No cable, and they stole the wi-fi that they had. Dirk, on the other hand, suspected that there might be safe haven for them there.


A golden chime rang as Dirk dragged himself through the front door of Orihara Motel. At the front desk rested a grubby, middle-aged man with copious amounts of stubble, a garish blue-and-brown letter jacket, and a straw hat tipped over his face. The room itself was in poor condition. Orange walls, the paint starting to peel at the corners. The bordering on the floor was dark lacquered wood, which was a holdover from the much more successful owner that had built this place. They had moved out years ago, leaving room for the current owner to move in and ruin it so thoroughly. The only decoration besides the front desk was a simple coffee table surrounded by musty green chairs. A flowerpot and a completely defunct TV fresh from the 1980s rested on it. The flowerpot was empty.

"Go away." the grim-looking fellow manning the desk said, on instinct. His voice was gruff, and full of so much sloth it made one's skin crawl to hear it. "We're closed for the holidays."

"Uncle Sanosuke."

"Eh?"

The man lifted his hat up just far enough to make out the image before him. His eyes were green, and remarkably bright for a man as basically sleazy as he appeared. Dirk had managed to pull himself up to the front desk, still supporting Saber. Both were still clearly fresh from being near water, the Servant's clothes in particular soaking. More importantly, both had dried and scabbed blood coating much of their bodies. Sanosuke's nephew looked at him with a quiet, standoffish glint in his eye, propping his Servant up against the desk.

"The hell, Dirk?" his uncle asked, more rudely amazed than concerned. "You been street fighting or something? 'Cause if you've come here to hide, I'll tell you now you need to face 'em like a man. And who's this poor bastard?"

"This... is Saber." Dirk told him quietly. The severity in his tone could not be mistaken. "I've been selected in the Sixth Holy Grail War."

For a moment Sanosuke just glared at him from beneath the brim of his hat. His eyes were more like his nephew's than his brother's were, to be certain. After coming to his internal decision, he grunted with contempt.

"So my brother's promises have fallen through yet again. Gotten his own spawn mixed up in this magic psychopathy."

"My father is of no concern to you, nor to me right now." Dirk stressed. "We need a place to stay. Home is too dangerous."

Sanosuke scoffed, his thin and ragged lips curling into a mean grin. "What you mean to say is, you're afraid that you're too weak to defend your parents."

"I am not afraid." Dirk asserted, glaring at his kin. "It was tactically unsound to stay relaxed in my own home. We were attacked on the first night, that proved as much."

"Fine, fine, maybe." the elder Orihara relented. His eyes immediately shifted into sinister, though, as they honed in on Dirk's very soul. "But tell me then. If you're not scared... this place couldn't have been on your path. Why did you come running to your Uncle Sanosuke to hide and protect you?"

Dirk tried to protest. But his words were caught in his throat. His uncle scoffed, smugly, and sneered at him.

"That's what I thought."

Sanosuke put his legs down, taking them off the counter and pointing to the door. "Get out."

Dirk's eyes focused, and stared, shocked, at his blood relative. "You can't--"

"I can, and I just did." his elder replied coldly. "I'm no magus. Whatever delusions you have in your head, I can't protect you. You're no safer here than anywhere else. Now go."

For a brief moment, the Oriharas locked eyes. The wills of both stood against one another, vying for dominance. They both squinted, the tension rising in the air as if caught in the ever-tightening strings of a violin playing its highest note. Dirk reached into his pocket, pulling out a stack of money.

He slammed 12,000 yen onto the table. Sanosuke stared silently at the cash.

"Give me a room." Dirk demanded. There was no edge to his voice, or anger. Only a simple self-assurance that he had just won.

When Sanosuke pocketed the bills, this was proven. His uncle reached behind him to the wall, not particularly caring which key he selected. He tossed it to Dirk, who caught it and pocketed it. He then slammed down another 4,000.

"I'll need a laptop while I'm here."

Dirk believed he could see his Uncle's eye twitch as he took the yen, retrieving a small computer from out of sight. He practically shoved it into his nephew's hands. Dirk put it into one of his bags, hoisting it up. He gestured for Saber to come, who did so, now finally at a point capable of independent motion. He looked back only once at his father's brother.

"You say you're closed for the holidays?"

"That's what I tell people." Sanosuke retorted. Dirk was pleased to hear that. Now there wasn't even a chance a foe would share their lodgings.

Their room was at the very end of the ground floor's hallway. Dirk led the way into their room: two beds, a small bathroom with all the fixtures, a microwave oven and a coffee maker, of all things, and several dreadful paintings of sea turtles. It wasn't much, but it was home for now. Orihara slammed their bags and the cooler onto the floor by the bathroom before collapsing into his bed, laptop in hand.

"Make yourself at home, Saber. I have research to do."

"Make yourself at home, Saber. I have research to do."

Saber grunted in acknowledgement, the wound in his shoulder still throbbed, that would need to be tended to, and the rest of his appearance as well. The room was serviceable, and the turtles almost reminded him of home. Well, to be more precise, it reminded him of Paris, where he had first seen the strange, but fascinating beasts as a child. He gave a barely audible chuckle and set the bags on his bed.

First, he unpacked a straight razor, scissors, comb, and the somewhat strange soap these people used to shave. Next was a needle and string, as well as a bottle of antiseptic, some medical tape, and a patch of gauze. With these items in hand he retreated to the bath, where he stripped, and proceeded to take a shower. The head was slightly lower than his height, forcing him to bend slightly to allow the water to wash over him and clean off the grime and blood from the knight's body. When that was completed, he stepped out and threw his discarded and bloody clothes into the tub as it drained, content with where they were for the moment.

The more pressing matter was, of course, the wounded shoulder. That sword had gone straight into his flesh, and although the blood had dried and clotted, it could open the floodgates again quite easily. Standing in front of the mirror, he readied himself and poured half of the bottle into the wound, it burned, but he gritted his teeth and made sure it was clear before wiping away the blood that had begun to flake off with the arrival of the liquid. Now it was time for the hard part. Although he was a Heroic Spirit and knew all that that entailed, the man still trusted in the old ways of healing oneself, and that required pain.

Taking the thread, he was able to push it through the eye of the needle on the third try. He then looked at the mirror in front of him, noting that it was surely by the grace of God that they had improved over the centuries, too many times in situations like this he'd threaded himself where no stitching was needed. Taking a deep breath, he plunged the needle into his flesh and began to knit the hole in his eternal armor, and watched as blood ran from his skin once more and into the sink he had positioned himself over. When it was finished, he took a towel from the rack in front of his face, wet it under the facet, and dabbed away at the blood covering his torso and part of a leg. He tossed the towel behind him when he had finished, taking up the gauze and cutting a patch suitable to cover his shoulder should it be opened up again, though he doubted it would, it was always best to take precautions however, he did not want to ruin another piece of clothing from the blood that would surely drain from it.

Now was time for the final part of his true rebirth into the world. He looked into the mirror and actually realized for the first time that half of his once great and flowing beard had been lopped off with the Assassin's strike. He sighed and reached for the scissors. Outside for a solid ten minutes, there was no sound heard from the bathroom but the snip-snip-snip of the twin blades doing their job, Saber slightly annoyed throughout the entire experience. Once his hair and beard were of a satisfactory length to stop using the scissors, he set them down carefully and picked up the shaving cream, which he applied to his head. It smelled strange, and his nose was on edge the entire time he pulled the razor across, though in the end, he was pleased enough with the result. Around his feet, or more accurately, on top of his feet was nothing but hair cut from his face. This he again scooped up with a towel and deposited in a nearby teal trashcan, with what appeared to either be dolphins, whales, or sharks adorning the sides. He studied the design for a moment before again standing and looking at himself in the mirror.

He looked nothing like what he had before, his beard had been shaved completely, the skin underneath as smooth as velvet,and somehow the same color as the skin not covered by hair.(He thought to himself for a moment contemplating why that was before moving on, chalking it up to the Grail's business.) And his hair was now a fraction of the length it had been before. The sides of his head he had shaved, leaving only the top of his head with hair, his bangs covering half of his forehead. He had yet to dye it as Dirk had instructed him to, but he had saved it for later, at the moment, he had no idea how to do it, the box only said how to do it, and he wished to make sure he applied it right before destroying the young Master's plan. Saber slapped his face once, still unused to seeing his full face, and a somewhat handsome one it was at that, a square jaw, the scar on his forehead now made prominent as with the beard gone, there was nothing to detract from its "beauty", and although his nose was slightly uneven from numerous breaks, it was remarkably straight.

He opened the door before realizing again that he was no longer in his time, and wrapped a towel around his waist, depleting their supply to only three. He walked out into the bedroom, all the items now clean and in his hands, and placed them away. The knight then walked to the window and looked out over the city. Although it was the ground floor, it was still on a slight incline, allowing him to see a part of the battlefield. They were...safe...for now, at least. And the day brought with it a reprieve. But the night would be coming again soon, and he would need to be ready once more.

Before he forgot again, he scrambled back to the bathroom and grabbed the gloves he had been wearing. They were important to him and he'd grown quite attached to them over the years, he wasn't about to leave them bloodied in a tub now. These he washed thoroughly and pulled back over his hands, fingerless they were, and naked he felt without them. Present circumstances not withstanding. With his final task done for the time being, he went back to the room and sat on the bed across from where Dirk was doing his research. They sat in silence for a time before Saber broke it.

"What have you learned, Lord Dirk?"

KILL...Kill...KILL...Kill...KILL...Kill...KILL...Kill...

The word echoed through Caster's mind to the beat of a heart. Each and every single little critter was clamoring for something to sink their razor-sharp teeth into. They were expecting something succulent and aromatic, with the taste of everlasting agony. Oh, how they begged for human flesh in his mind, those infernal creatures sent up from the fiery pits of hell itself, but Caster had to restrain those infernal beings.

Stand Down, Foul Beasts, for I am your master!

The critters stopped moving and curiously looked around themselves. Some even forgot they were under the protection of a Priest, of all things. With their teeth rattling and their small claws clutching their pitchfork tighter they knew they had to obey the orders of their lord even if they despised his righteous spirit. Not all of them hated Caster, but many of them were his once faithful followers. When some continued to believe, others cursed his soul for bringing their minds back from the darkness where they had peace to rest in.

Caster felt the presence of each and saw what every single one of them had caught in their big blue eyes. He was displeased the masters had dispersed, but all hope was not lost. Caster saw the blood trail leading a route away from the bridge and sent a demon after that lead. Another one was sent to follow Lancer and his white haired master, the one his own disguised as. A third came rushing forward down the river to meet the masters that had their daring escape succeed. The last one was sent to hightail Rider and his roaring machine, so they could see where they are hiding. They all had simple roles - espionage. Do not engage the targets and keep yourself out of sight. If all else fails, return to the abyss.

The rest remained with no role, to which Caster responded with a snap of his fingers. They all disappeared into a pile of ash, fleeing this plane of existence from the wrath of their lord.

"I sent them away", Caster spoke to Maria. He walked up to her and offered her his bottle.

"Drink up, it's good vodka.", Caster tried to entice her into taking a sip. After a moment of awkward silence he shrugged his shoulders and instead drank what was left of the bottle.

"I sent four of them to the winds. I will see if they found something... What's next?", he asked his master.

Maria removed her shadows and turned away from Caster. She started walking towards their apartment.

"We rest. Today was a waste".

"What have you learned, Lord Dirk?"

When Saber returned, he found his Master at the head of one of the beds, hunched over the laptop. Bandages and gauze were visible under the loose shirt he'd switched into, covering his wounds and staving off infection. He acknowledged his Servant's return with a nod, and turning the laptop screen to face him. On the screen was a silver eagle.

"The name of our enemy." he declared.

He thought back to the bridge. "The Einzbern was as plain as day. But that other one, the foreigner. I had no idea who he was. But he made a mistake, wearing that thing around his neck. I tracked it down. It's the symbol of the Marks family."

Dirk reached into the cooler, which had been placed beside his bed, and grabbed a bottle of water. He tossed it Saber's way before retrieving another and knocking back a few gulps. He was then back on his tangent like he'd never gotten off.

"The Marks haven't been a part of the Wars for generations." Dirk mentioned. "They failed the Association in a big way, and exiled themselves as a sort of punishment--to prepare themselves, make sure they wouldn't do anything of the sort again."

He patted a book by his side--one of the ones Saber had retrieved from the library. It wasn't anything mass-produced, but a personal copy of some anonymous magus' work. A deep look into the histories of the various families to take part in the Holy Grail War. If Dirk were one to smile, his grin would have been quite smug. Instead, he only looked bored.

"The Marks have a consistent and remarkably powerful affinity for elemental magecraft, which would explain our new friend's powerful flames."

Dirk flexed the palm of his hand, the gloves removed, and with his eyes traced the lines of it. "I have no direct counter to elemental magecraft. We'll need to be clever if we want to beat him. Oh, and I made one other piece of headway. If I tracked the right Marks family, then I believe the man's name is Clay. He's British."

He gently closed the laptop and set it aside. "I'd suggest we both rest. We'll be spending tomorrow in the town while I think of a new strategy."

Dirk's face soured for just a moment. "...Today's strategy was not effective."

Though it wasn't much of an apology, and only barely an admission of guilt, it was likely as much as the knight would get from Orihara that night.


"Hm-hmmm-hm-hmm-hmm-hmmmm, hmm-hmm-hmm hmmm-hmmm-HMMM-hmmm-hmmmm~"

Sanosuke Orihara sat at his desk, quietly reading a copy of the daily paper. With no TV, he found other ways to bide his time. Outside, he heard something odd: nothing. A complete lack of playing children in the distance, or gossiping couples as they passed by on the street. The ambiance was simply dead tonight. It put him on edge, considering the world of strangeness his nephew had dragged in not half an hour ago.

His ears pricked up as he heard something new. A snorting, snuffling noise, and the shifting of something on the move. Something very, very wrong.

"What the hell?"

Snuff-snrf, snrf

On the far side of the Orihara Motel, Caster's imp carefully flattened itself against the wall. Strangers were nowhere to be seen on this night, but that was no reason to flaunt itself about. It had a mission, nearly completed now. The target its master had given it was right on the other side of this wall, and as it pressed its ear up against the brick, the little creature could make out bits of conversation.

"...The name of our enemy...Marks...consistent and remarkably powerful affinity for elemental magecraft...powerful flames...

The little creature rubbed its grubby hands together, soaking up the delicious information. Its master would be pleased to learn of this, to be sure.

"YO!"

The creature was bowled over as a flying monkey wrench caught the back of its head, flipping it over to the ground with an aching sore. As it regained its balance, the flare of an engine buzzed in the night, and it discovered a new figure had joined him behind the motel, with a fire in its eyes.

Sanosuke Orihara stood in his path, mounted atop a Suzuki GSX-R, midnight blue, a nodachi resting on his shoulders. His bare torso was coated in a hundred tattoos and scars. A long life in a dangerous business leaves a man who does not like to be trifled with.

Sanosuke's lips flexed into an ugly frown, and he furrowed his brow as he stared the disgusting little creature down from beneath the brim of his hat.

"The hell... do you think you're doing on my property?"

Orihara hefted the blade, and slammed the engine to max, charging the creature with hate in his eyes.

The little demon found the whereabouts of Saber and his master. He got close enough to hear the two speak with each other, but unfortunately for him he couldn't hear much through the wall. The little that he heard seemed to be enough for now, but he couldn't return empty handed like that... he had to fill his belly first.

"...The name of our enemy...Marks...consistent and remarkably powerful affinity for elemental magecraft...powerful flames..."

The demon transferred all of the information over to Caster who ordered him to stay put and stay hidden. The monkey wrench thrown at the back of his head proved to already disrupt that plan.

"The hell... do you think you're doing on my property?"

The little demon looked behind his shoulder and saw what challenged him. It was a mortal sitting atop a mechanized horse holding a sword. He opened his mouth and exposed his razor-sharp teeth, all of his three rows, followed by a high-toned screech. He moved his legs to a battle stance and held his pitchfork firmly in his hands. His tail started swinging from side to side, the sharp blade at its edge waiting to draw blood.

Small flames erupted through the demon's red skin as they began to slowly envelop him. His blue eyes switched color in a matter of seconds, twisting it into dark red. His horse legs propelled him forward in a massive burst of speed. Instead of running straight towards the bike, the demon ran to his left and jumped at the wall of the shop the man owned, pushing himself forward into the air. It then watched closely as the rider continued its drive forward while the demon dived down with his pitchfork first.

"DIE!!!", it screamed as the demon jabbed the pitchfork forward, only hitting what was behind the man's seat. With his weapon jammed into the bike but with the bike still rushing forward at full speed, the demons' body went back as it tried to hold onto its weapon. The disturbed rider kept his cool and turned his body around so he could strike the demon down with his sword, but a whip from the demon's tail cut the top of the sword off.

"KILL", it screeched as the bike turned hard left and it was nearly thrown off the damn thing. With the demon leaning to the other side, the bike couldn't complete the turn safely and it crashed on its side. The man was trapped underneath the weight of the bike when the demon, already recovered from his fall ran towards the downed piece of flesh with his teeth out in the open.

Just one bite at the neck, just one, and it would all be over.

Just one bite...

"GRAH!"

Sanosuke slammed his forehead straight into the imp's little face. The crack of cartilage could be heard as its nose caved into its skull, and it leaned back shrieking in pain. The Orihara man's eyed focused to little black pinpricks as he roared, both hands beneath his bike pushing up with all of his might. The vehicle was flipped over, and tossed the demon to the dirt unceremoniously. By the time it stood, Uncle Sano was already above it, his nodachi retrieved and a very disturbing look on his face.

"Any idea what you just cost me in yen, little freak?"

The little chattering creature had no way to properly communicate a rebuttal than the word "KILL," which it shrieked quite angrily. It yanked its pitchfork from the bike at its side and lashed out, only to watch it slip between Sano's arm and his torso. Once the points were past, he slammed his arm to his side and twisted to the left. The pitchfork came wrenching from the demon's hands as was released, spinning off a dozen feet behind them. Orihara's smile was nothing short of malicious.

The imp, now furious, lashed out with its tail. Sanosuke ducked, weaved, and slipped to the side, dodging a trio of blows like they were only illusions. As a fourth strike came past him, he spun away from it, coming back to face him with his blade held high. A single downward chop bisected the tail, cutting it away from its body clean. Blood spurted in irregular gushes, but the little creature had no time to scream. Sanosuke grunted as his foot slammed against its body, pinning it up against the wall. Even as it tried to struggle, shrieking in shrill tones, he lined up the final blow with his blade.

"Gonna take days to buff out the scratches on my bike." he noted with vitriol. Making a final grunt, he pressed with the nodachi, aiming to pierce the little beast's chest clean through.

Somewhere in Miyamachou: Demon vs Sanosuke

The demon hissed in pain and fury as it struggled, sending claws raking along its foe's leg. The long, bloody cuts that it inflicted sent pain lancing up Sanosuke's leg, eliciting an agonized gasp from the man, but were otherwise ineffective; the demon was still pinned to the wall, and it certainly did not care for the malice that burned in its captor's eyes.

"Gonna take days to buff out the scratches on my bike."

The hell-spawn barely heard the growled words; its attention was instead focused on the blade that was about to end its life. As Sanosuke plunged his broken nodachi forward, the imp responded by lashing out with one its hands, smacking the blade aside and grasping it in between its claws. The man responded by yanking the sword back, taking a few of the demon's claws off.

Howling out and half-mad with pain, the creature struck out with its other hand, drawing a quartet of thin, red lines across Sanosuke's face, sending the man staggering back as he reflexively clutched at his head.

The two combatants took a second to nurse their wounds: the demon mourning the loss of its claws, Sanosuke blinking furiously as blood dripped into his eyes. Then, both driven by rage and adrenaline, they charged back into the fray, letting out cries of fury as they swung forward with their respective weapons. Nodachi slammed against claws as the two collided, both more than ready to send their enemy into the next world.

The demon roared out as the blade carved a line across its face, ripping through one of its eyes and sending blood spurting everywhere. Sanosuke's grin nearly split his face in half, as he raised his sword for the final blow-

SKKKT

-only to look down in shock and surprise, not quite comprehending the sight of the imp's claws burying into his chest. Wasn't... Wasn't that where his liver was supposed to be?

The nodachi clattered the ground, falling from limp fingers as Sanosuke collapsed backwards, staring numbly at the blood that poured forth from the hole in his gut. He had yet to register the pain, but he already knew that this was bad. Really bad.

Their positions reversed, the imp allowed itself a bloodthirsty sneer as it placed a foot onto its foe's chest, pushing the man into the ground. Spreading its mouth wide, the monstrosity prepared to bite into Sanosuke's jugular, already savoring the taste of human flesh...

When Saber's broadsword suddenly swung through the air, neatly cleaving the demon in two.

As its body slowly dissolved into ash, the imp glowered at the Servant, and the Master who stood behind him. Damned reinforcements; if they hadn't shown up... Before its consciousness faded away, the hell-spawn sent one last message to its summoner, informing Caster of its final location. Then it was gone, little more than dust on the wind.

"Uncle."

Dirk moved to Sanosuke's side, trying to help him up. The commotion had been impossible to miss. But he was rebuffed, the elder shoving him away as he tried to help him up.

"I don't need your damned help." Sano growled, piercing eyes honing in on his nephew. He pointed an accusatory finger and added, "It's your friggin' war that brought this thing here. Jeez..."

His hand covered his torso, trying to stymie the ever-flowing blood. His eyes honed in on the ashes of the creature that had maimed him, and stamped on them with his foot. He shook his head, grumbling "It just ain't got the same satisfaction."

Sanosuke struggled to his feet, and stumbled. Dirk caught him, only to be shoved away again. "Get outta my sight, you runt. You've done enough."

"You're bleeding out." Dirk informed him. "We need to get you to a hospital."

"Ain't going to no hospital." his uncle countered as he neared the front door. They walked into the main lobby, Saber following close behind.

"Then you'll die."

"Well, I guess your proved your point to me." Sano admitted. "Maybe you are too weak to protect anybody."

Dirk silently stared at his uncle as he clambered back to his seat behind the front desk. The silence that carried on was long and tense, until the elder Orihara chuckled grimly.

"You didn't screw up so bad, kid. I'm not dying. Not tonight, anyway."

He pulled open a drawer at his seat, and retrieved a first aid kit. He began to treat the wound, preparing to patch it up as best as he could. "Ruined my favorite tattoo..."

He glared at his nephew, shooing him away with a nod. "What're ya looking at? Go get rest while you can. Whoever sent that knows where you are now, so I'd make use of the time left to prepare. Of course, who am I to talk down to the resident prodigy?"

Dirk didn't comment on the jab, preferring to leave as was suggested. He made a beeline back for his room and prepared for sleep. He definitely needed rest. His only command to Saber was to do as he saw fit.

"And don't be surprised if we're interrupted again, tonight."

"The base is off the shore, it's pretty noticeable."
Assassin glanced around, and saw what he thought Mordecai was referring to.
"Then I'm off." and with that, he sped off into the night, towards the lit up carrier.
"AND NO... Killing..." Mordecai sighed, Assassin was already out of earshot. Mordecai decided to sit on the curb, he was tired from running. The healing went smoothly, and Assassins prana was all but restored. Not that it mattered, fighting wouldn't happen again tonight. At least they wouldn't.

Assassin sprinted through the streets deftly, unseen by the mundanes that littered the city. He knew the bridge was gone, it had to be. The only question was how many were on their side now, and how long until they figure out about the walkways, as most probably weren't natives. He came to the docks now, he could faintly see the outline of the island Mordecai referred to. He stopped to look around for a boat of some kind, and found he struck gold with a motorboat tied to the wooden docks. He smirked as he cut the rope, and hopped aboard.

The trip over was uneventful, but he made it. He coasted S.S Pepperoni into the cove, a ghost ship to the humans. Most shrugged it off and continued eating, looking at the night sea. Assassin climbed to the land, and strolled around, unworried. He decided to go to the Hospital, it was tall and good for scouting. The nurses were unconcerned when the door opened by itself, though slightly confused. Assassin ignored them and went to the elevator, phasing through the door and hopping onto the maintenance ladder, and began his ascent. It took no time at all to get to the roof, though he had to turn on his powers once more when the elevator came screeching at him, making him lose some progress, but otherwise no grievances.

He stepped out into the fresh, sea air, enjoying himself immensely. First beating a Saber and then a near flawless infiltration? He grinned wolfishly, and looked around. Nothing resembling an armory. He'd found something resembling a bunker, ironically near the high school. He jumped off the hospital invisible, creating a minor shockwave upon landing, knocking a nearby couple over. He didn't stop, he began running the nanosecond he hit the ground, bounding the the streets invisibly. He was a second before plowing into the bunker before he phased through it, and once more he struck gold. Not exactly weapons galore, but there were enough, the ammo was what made his eyes widen. Enough for most on the island. He grabbed as much as he could carry, as well as what his master had requested. A glock 19 for concealed purposes, an M-4 Carbine for night-time purposes, and a Colt Model 1878 as a backup. Now it was time for the journey out.

It was about then Assassin noticed the Armorer staring from the corner as his guns were picked up by a strange robed man. Assassin sighed, and walked over to the startled man. the Armorer stood up quickly, knocking his chair over and aiming his pistol for Assassins mid-section. He went on with his usual spiel, before Assassin bolted for the door, and he let loose 3 bullets, their reports echoing in the room. Assassin nimbly dodged them all and drew his gladius, and charged the man, who was now officially scared for his life. He was about to stab him, before muttering,
"Haunting Guise." and turned invisible and ethereal, phasing through the man and by extension the wall behind him. And once more Brutus found himself running, this time less triumphantly. A part of his brain wanted him to go back and finish the job, but he knew the man'd call himself crazy if he ever mentioned what happened. Brutus made it back to his stolen boat, and drove it back to Shinto quickly, and finding Mordecai even faster.
"Shall we go home?" Brutus asked.

Mordecai smiled, and the two began walking away, back to their room, and back to their food. Mordecai was already carrying the glock in his jeans.

The curious one that was sent after the trail of blood was fortunate enough to see Assassin's master heal him without being spotted. It continued to follow the pair till they reached the docks, where it nervously stood still on command from his master. After the Servant returned with a surprising twist, the little devil followed them back to where they were staying.

A creepy smile spread across Caster's face while the two were sitting in their borrowed apartment. Maria was eating the little vegetables she found to be edible in this city when Caster interrupted her.

"I have a report, my dear...", he spoke elegantly. "One found Saber and his master, but was unfortunately disposed of. Another found the base of operations from which Rider worked, but alas, it was filled with traps. The third... found some interesting occurance.", Caster walked towards the couch and made himself comfortable. He grabbed the phone by his right hand and continued talking to Maria. "You see... Assassin and his master... decided to arm themselves, and as much as I know from Japanese television... possessing firearms is illegal", Caster then dialed the number for the city's police department. They would be mighty interested in finding suspects for what had happened in the city's bridge, and what's better than suspected terrorists?"

Clay and Rider had made good time making it back to the manor. Though he was certain the boy wasn't terribly pleased with having to ride tandem, Rider's steed was a far better option than simply walking back to the estate. Heck, it was even faster than the sports car they had driven to the battle by leaps and bounds. What had amounted to a twenty minute drive across town was easily covered in one-quarter the time. As the two approached the estate grounds, the horse quickly dispersed into golden flecks of mana, the massive servant landing with the grace of an equestrian master, grabbing Clay by the collar and setting him down before he dashed himself across the lawn from the sudden fall. As would be expected of a Marks, the mage simply dusted himself off as if nothing had been the matter.

"Now, if that mechanical carriage had four-hundred and fifty of my horses inside its hood," Rider scoffed, grinning with fierce pride at his steed's performance, "it would be a machine beyond wonder!"

Clay merely rolled his eyes as he began the walk towards the front door, clearly uninterested in this conversation. Rider grumbled a bit, catching up in stride with his partner. The warrior was unimpressed with the silence he had been given, especially after that jest of a battle they had both partaken in. While the peasant had proven to be an endless supply of quirks and amusement these past couple days, he certainly wasn't much for conversation on the finer things in life.

Just then there was a large explosion and the swish of arrows whizzing through the air. The pair looked back for a moment as a mangy yelp came from the hedges behind them. Rider shook his head in dismay, disappointment on his face.

"Now look what you have done," Rider scolded. "A poor stray cat has been injured because of your carelessness. You should consider looking over those wards you placed."

Clay shrugged in a nonchalant manner. "Maybe I'll get Diana to take a look at it. She could use the practice."

"I think not!" Ride protested. "To let such a fine young woman sully her hands with such menial labour is a sin unto itself. I forbid you from letting your sister demean herself with such tasks. If I even see her so much as-"

And so it continued as the two entered the manor. Meanwhile, where the trap had sprung, there lay a very distraught demon. While the explosion hadn't been too unkind to the hellspawn, only having left it singed, scraped and hobbling on one leg - a mere flesh wound for one that regularly found itself on the wrong end of a greater daemon's ire - the arrows, some tipped with a paralyzing agent and others with an inhumanly poisonous toxin, made the demon a convulsing pin cushion. The sound that emanated from the lackey could only be described as a dying cat being wrung through a clothes wringer, foam frothing around its mouth. The coming hours would be slow and agonizing before it slowly shifted into ash and blew away. These were the days the demon seriously reconsidered his life choices up until that point. Then again, it was still a living...

* * *

Several hours had past since their encounter at the bridge and Rider had chosen to take the time to unwind. The servant was lying across his bed, his head hanging over the edge and upside down. He had chosen to remove his golden head dress, letting his long black hair spill onto the floor beneath. In his hands was the controller to the most recent addition to the room: a brand new UPlayBox. While infuriating peasants over the internet had proven entertaining, there were far too many trying to accomplish the same goal for it to be anywhere near a surprise when his carefully crafted insults were sprung upon his foes; that, and they were all twelve year-old children.

These video games, however, had proven to be a much greater challenge for his tactically advance mind. Their multiple layers of strategy and almost impossibly complicated rule sets and mechanics had made something so mundane like Goh seem trivial at best. So, with the assistance of his blond maid friend - who he had learned was named Alberta - he had hooked up the gaming console to his television and began a great conquest within the digital world of Admirable Grand Strategy: Conquest, sequel to the best-selling, triple platinum, game of the decade Admirable Grand Strategy! ...Or so the box had proclaimed. Rider was inclined to believe the advertisements with how enthralling the entire experience had been. Alberta, too, had found spectating just as captivating and was leaning against a dresser, eyes fixated on the television screen.

"War certainly looks quite different since your time," Clay remarked, entering the room in his ever calm manner. "Though for all its cosmetic differences, its soul has never changed."

Alberta quickly snapped out of her trance, thoroughly embarrassed at her behaviour. "Master Clay, I am deeply sorry for my behaviour. I assure you, I was just-"

Clay raised a hand to cut her off before she could finish, lazily waving the excuses away. While he certainly wasn't fond of his staff slacking off he wasn't against Rider having an attendant keeping him out of trouble either. The brute had already proven he was a pain to keep under control and had the attention span of a gnat when it came to exploring the modernization of humanity. Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea to permanently assign Alberta to keep his servant busy during their down time.

"I assume this means you received my summons?" Rider asked, his eyes not leaving the screen in fear of making some horrible mistake.

"Yes, Rider," Clay answered plainly, a slight twinge of annoyance in his voice. "Now, could you stop what you're doing, pay attention for five seconds and tell me why I'm here?"

At that very moment Rider's brow creased in frustration as his digital self died in a splendid display of air juggling and overly cinematic weapon flourishes. His head turned to face Clay, still remaining hanging over the edge of the bed.

"Tch, fine. It is not as if I had more important matter to attend to, such as taking over the world!" The sour expression on Rider's face persisted as he straightened himself up to a sitting position on the bed to at least appease Clay in taking things seriously. "I overheard Saber's master speaking with one of the guardian spirits he had summoned as his Phantasm.

Clay raised an eyebrow at this. Rider had actually done something useful that wasn't bashing a man's face in. He could hardly believe his ears. Yet here he was, witnessing the miracle that was Rider gathering information. Clay chanced a look up to make sure the sky wasn't falling before looking back at his servant. "And...?"

"Apparently he is an uncle," Rider continued, shrugging helplessly at his utter disregard for the importance of the information, "and the guardian he had summoned was named Sir Lancemore or Sir Stabsalot or Lady Insignificant-ant-that-Rider-shall-crush-beneath-his-heel, or some such nonsensical name." Rider gave a bit of a wicked grin at the last name, truly relishing in the moment he had taken the spirit's temporary life. "In any case, it would seem as though Saber has family. Either Mr. Spearsabunch is his nephew or he would have to be his brother, making one of the other two knights his niece or nephew."

'Does he mean Lancelot Du Lac?' Clay pondered on this possibility for a moment as Rider went back to playing his video game. 'If what Rider said is true, then that Phantasm would make him a Knight of the Round Table. That narrows it down to at most twenty-five candidates. By using Lancelot's genealogy I should be able to narrow it down even further.' The thought of finally having a leg up on one of the servants he had anticipated would be trouble was a God send. If he could figure out the identity of Saber it would vastly improve their chances in defeating him and it would be one less team to worry about and that much more focus could be put on his true adversary. 'Einzburn...'

"Curse you Arthur!" Rider bellowed, throwing his controller to the ground.

The sudden outburst had startled even Clay as both he and Alberta jumped a little. Clay then turned his attention to his servant who was fuming over another defeat at the hands of the eternal Arthur Pendragon. He was uncertain of what exactly the game was but with the mention of Arthur...

"This stupid king is such a coward! He will not face me in an honourable duel and keeps sending these pathetic knights to distract me before striking a killing blow. A true warrior need not rely on cowering behind others. Were this accurate by any means I would have easily defeated them with a single blow from my great halberd. Come at me Arthur of England and fight me like the man you ought to be!" Rider then glared over at Clay who had been watching Rider's outburst at the television. "Why are you still standing there, peasant!? Unless you wish to join me, our conversation is finished and you may resume whatever petty tasks you choose to pursue."

The great warrior ended by shooed him off, expecting the boy to decline. After all, if there was one thing Rider had learned, it was that Clay despised getting to know anyone around him save for his sisters. He'd rather have his nose in a book than carry a conversation.

23:50: Fuyuki City Police Department

"Uh-huh... Yes ma'am, I understand, but we're already... I'm sure that your cat is very important to you, but in case you haven't heard there's been a bomb... Ma'am, I'd like to help, but we're stretched thin as it is and I don't think... Look, we can send someone by in the morning, but that's all... Yes, I'm sure that we can't do anything else... I really don't care for your language ma'am... Uh-huh... Well, a 'good' night to you too!"

Officer Sagara sighed as he hung up the phone, pinching his nose between a couple of fingers. The hotline had turned into an absolute nightmare over the past few hours, with hundreds of calls coming in from concerned and frightened citizens. The destruction of the bridge had the entire city in a panic, and thus far no one had been able to figure out exactly what happened. Which, of course, meant that everyone and their brother had to call in to try and find out what the hell was going on. Not to mention the crazies who seemed intent on wasting valuable phone lines, like the rather... verbose woman who had just called in. Honestly, did she really think that the police would have time to search for missing cats on a night like tonight?

Thankfully, that had been the last caller on hold, at least for now. The cop allowed a wave of relief to wash over him as he reclined back in his seat, basking in the blessed silence of his headset. It was about time he got a break; any more phone calls, and he'd probably just go right ahead and snap.

Spinning around in his chair, Sagara stared bleakly at the wall-mounted television, tuned into the local news station 24/7. As one would expect, the area around Fuyuki Bridge was packed full of cameras, reporters, emergency service workers, and curious onlookers, all of them trying to figure out what was going on. Terrorism? Poor building codes? The wrath of a vengeful sea god? A sign of the Mayan apocalypse? Theories abounded, most of them entirely unsupported by any shred of evidence. Bizarrely, it was these that seemed to have the most followers; more than a few members of the older generation seemed to be claiming this incident was related to one that occurred more than 20 years ago, when that strange fog fell over the bay...

Shaking his head, the officer tried to banish the memory from his head. That incident had been explained as a very rare, but still natural, phenomenon; something to do with a reaction produced by a certain type of algae when it was exposed to high temperatures and an abundance of moonlight. He couldn't remember the exact science behind it, but he was sure that it was something along those lines.

Certainly it didn't have anything to do with the bridge collapsing. ...Well, unless the crazies were right after all, and magic rituals were to bla-

Brrrrrrrring

"Oh, you can just go to hell!"

Groaning in protest, Sagara reluctantly redirected his attention to the switchboard in front of him; sure enough, the call-waiting light was flashing. Wincing, he leaned forward and pressed the button beneath the light, wearily repeating his customary greeting. "Fuyuki City PD, what is your emergency?"

The officer sat still for a few seconds, listening to the caller. Then, gripping his headset closer to his ear, he shot upright, panic flaring in his eyes and voice. "What?! Terrorists? And you're sure?"

Frantically scrambling for a pen and notepad, Sagara hastily scribbled down a few nearly illegible lines. "Wait, wait, slow down. What was that hotel again? ...And the room number? ...Alright, floor? ...Third? Got it."

Dropping the pen, the cop scanned his notes, double-checking their accuracy. "Okay, thanks for the tip. Now, if I could just get your name and address... Hello? Sir?"

A dial tone was his only answer.

Sighing, the man slumped back into his chair, staring intently at the information he had written down. On the one hand, they'd already had more than a handful of crank calls tonight, all about terrorists or aliens or magicians and their plots to destroy the entire city. There was a good chance that this tip would lead to nothing but a dead end and a waste of man hours. But on the other, it could very well be the real deal this time around; it would be beyond negligent to not check into it.

And besides, it was as good excuse as any to get out of the office for a few minutes...


00:15: Outside Assassin and Mordecai's Hotel

Officer Sagara scanned the parking lot for a third time, searching for any conspicuous vehicles or evidence of terroristy things. As expected, his search turned up nothing; besides a few sedans and minivans, the lot was practically empty. There wasn't anything to indicate that a mad bomber might be holed up here, or that anything was out of the ordinary. As far as he could tell, this wasn't anything more than your standard, slightly sleazy hotel.

Grumbling about ill-mannered punks, the officer walked into the lobby, conferring with the attendant working the front desk to get a list of all the guests staying on the third floor. He just had to check them out, and then he could head back, maybe pick up some coffee and a donut on the way.

He was pleasantly surprised to find that there was only one occupied room on the third floor. Well, at least it wouldn't take him long.

It didn't take Sagara long to climb the stairs or find the room in question. From there, it was a simple matter of knocking on the door. "Hello? Fuyuki Police; can you open up?"

Breep-breep. Breep-breep.

Five hours of sleep. Two more to wake, and then back to bed for the rest of the night. That would be Dirk's schedule. Whether he could stick to it had yet to be seen, but he'd already determined that he wouldn't fail it his first night. Orihara rolled from his bed, resisting the urge to scratch his wounds, and switched off the alarm on his smart phone. He hefted the little wonder in his hand, contemplating its value. After deliberation, he decided that hand-written notes were still superior, and plugged it back in to charge.

There were no chairs in this meager room, so Dirk opted to take the floor. Resting in the space between beds, he flopped down and pulled several books out of his bag, laying them out in front of him. Manuals on magecraft of every sort, and a font of knowledge gained over the centuries on the intricacy of their art. He already knew what he was looking for. He just wasn't sure what it would look like.

His mind was still back under Fuyuki Bridge. Assassin, the Servant that had struck at them, had successfully incapacitated Saber in a single blow. The only thing that had saved him was the weaponry he had created. Gradation Air magecraft. But the things he'd made were fragile, and barely sharp. A single blow shattered them. That wouldn't do.

A weapon to scratch them is worthless to me. As is one that costs so much prana for so little return. I need something better.

He flexed his hand and imagined the weapon he might grip in it. I need a perfect copy.

The scene in his mind sped up, until a wall of flames blocked their path. Dirk's imagination took over, as it tried to visualize a way through the flames. Magecraft to produce armor? A gust of wind? Perhaps some form of Bounded Field?

I need a way to negate his magecraft before I face Marks again.

He was already getting an idea. As it happened, it tied into his previous dilemma.

Dirk scanned one book. And then another. He scoured the pages, seeking any knowledge that he could grasp. But none of it spoke to him, none of it applied. Bounded Fields so useless he questioned their very conception, ramblings of long-dead magi who had no clue what they were talking about. Forty minutes passed, to the dot, before Dirk finally reacted.

He yelled in frustration and threw his book against a wall. He leaned forward and placed his elbow between his crossed legs, allowing his arm to prop up his head, which felt bloated and nauseous.

"It doesn't make sense." he whispered. "No one has tried to improve Projection magecraft? It's like these idiots think it below them..."

He splayed his fingers across one another, bridging his hands together and resting his chin on them. A few deep breaths calmed his nerves, and he took a sip of chilled water.

"Very well, then."

He took his laptop down from the bed and flipped it open. He'd be doing more research than he'd thought. "If there is no way to do it, then I'll make one myself."

Mordecai applied bandages to Assassin where needed while he polished off the other pizza. Mordecai sighed at the servants gluttony, but knew he couldn't do anything to interrupt it. He never frigging could. When he finished, the pizza was gone and Assassin lay watching some game show that frightened Mordecai more than the prospect of fighting a man who could shoot fire out of his hands. He wanted to take a shower, and got up to do so before he heard knocking.
"Hello? Fuyuki Police; can you open up?"
Mordecai motioned to Assassin, who was looking at the guns.
"Haunting Guise." He and the guns disappeared, and moved to the darkest corner in the room. Mordecai went to the door instead, and opened it up widely.
"Yes, officer?" Mordecai smiled weakly. He didn't like cops, but he could lie to them. Rather well, too, that was the only reason his mom even gave half a shit about him. He was snapped out of his revelry by the cop going on with his usual spiel.

"Yes, officer?"

Officer Sagara liked to think that he was a good, upstanding citizen. He liked to believe that he was a fair, just man, who didn't judge based on appearances or nationality.

But the fact that the door was answered by a suspicious looking, Irish gentleman really wasn't helping to calm the cop's nerves.

"Er... Mr. Yeshua? Sorry to bother you this late, sir, but we received a call about some... suspicious activity in the area. I'm sure that it's nothing, but I need to examine your room. It won't take more than a minute."

Without further ado, the officer shoved his way into the hotel room. He may not have had a warrant, or any form of written approval for that matter, but his police-sense was tingling. There was something wrong in this room, he just knew it.

Nope, nothing wrong with the minibar. Nothing weird under the beds. The TV was off, and certainly wasn't hooked up to illicit terrorist networks. No sign of trouble in the bathroom. In fact, besides that trio of guns that were just randomly floating in the corner, nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary. Just your run-of-the-mill two-star hotel room.

...Wait a minute.

Turning around, Sagara stared blankly at the small armory that hovered in midair. His jaw opened and closed a few times, before finally managing to expel a few words. "Are... are those guns floating?"

Well. This would certainly make for an interesting story to share around the water-cooler.

Mordecai tried to remind him of the law, but his Japanese was terrible, and the man didn't seem to pay attention anyways. He saw Brutus in the corner with the guns... Not invisible.
'Um...'
"What the fuck?" Mordecai asked himself in English. He only thought of what the people in the naval base saw Guns running down the street of their own accord. He barely even noticed himself bring his scalpel out of his pocket. He didn't even notice himself bringing the blade up to the back of his neck where the spinal cord meets the base of the skull. [NEVERMIND]

"No."

A pencil drew a thick gray streak across a notebook, scratching away a theory. Dirk scratched the top of his skull once, and sighed. He'd reached near to the end of his third piece of paper, with naught to show yet. Still sitting between beds, the minutes ticking by, he'd jotted down every idea that had come to him. And one by one, these thoughts had been tossed away. None of it made sense as he gave it deeper thought. Or if it did, some other problem reared his head.

The last one irked him the most. He felt that he'd almost been there. Reinforcement combined with Gradation Air. He could give his weapons the strength that they had lacked before. And from there, he could only improve...

It doesn't work.

There was simply no way to make such a creation last. Even if its strength was reinforced to its maximum, it would still last no more than a minute. And the drain that constant reinforcement would place upon his prana wasn't worth the, ultimately, minimal increase.

His vision blurred. Sleep was calling him again. He looked at the clock to find it nearly two in the morning. Where had the time gone? If he was to maintain schedule, he had to finish here soon. But the thought still tickled his mind. He felt so close, as if the answer were just beyond his grasp. He leaned forward a bit, breathing deeply as he massaged his face with his hands.

Maybe I'm looking at this the wrong way. Hell, maybe I should throw this out altogether. Gradation Air is considered a useless magecraft. Perhaps this is fair.

It clicked. He lowered his hands and stared at his palms, slowly flexing them as a moment of clarity fell on him.

It IS useless. So maybe... I can make something new entirely!

That was it, it had to be. He ripped away the latest bit of scrap and started on a new page. He furiously scribbled every idea that came to him. Gradation Air, the simplest form of his Projection magecraft, centered on the principle of taking an object's image and recreating it. But Dirk was beginning to hypothesize, that wasn't enough. He needed to go beyond that if he wanted to create something effective. An object's image was only the smallest piece of its puzzle. There was so much more to consider. Its history, the techniques woven into its forging, its ingredients and components. All the experience it has had through its existence, even the very concept of its purpose. All must be considered to truly know a weapon, and to truly create it.

Even as his vision began to blur away, Dirk smiled down at his simple process. This was the trick, it had to be. A strong, lasting creation. He only needed the aria. Something to trigger the process. He began to whisper a word, but did so too late. Slumber overtook him, and he slowly slid down and onto his back, spending the night on the carpet. His night was spent in a vivid dream, where he continually held out his hand, shouting words he could not hear.

Saber watched through the night in the room, never once feeling the urge to sleep, though his mind told him he should be, and would be were he not what he was now. Lord Dirk had spent a good part of it figuring out how to improve upon his magic, to little avail as far as he could see.

After Dirk had fallen asleep on the floor, Saber picked him up and tucked him into bed, being careful not to wake him. He then took the pieces of paper thrown around the room and arranged them into a somewhat organized jumble. The ones not crumpled he put into one of the books, which he put into one of the bags. Should they be attacked in the night, Dirk would need these bags, and Saber would be the one to guard his escape. That hellspawn earlier was a problem, though not completely unexpected, many men turned from God to seek power through the Prince of Lies and his minions, he just never understood why they did so.

Running what he had seen before slicing it in twain in his mind's eye, he began marking off who it could have belonged to. Assassin was out, the man would've followed them himself, though it could be a part of Caster's repetoire, in which case Saber was even more obliged to kill him, lest he set loose his heretical ways on the world.He was the most likely candidate Saber could think of. Possibly a Phantasm of Rider's? Or even Lancer, he supposed. Though he'd been wounded and had noticed little, the way the man stood and appeared chilled Saber. Though Archer or Berserker had yet to reveal themselves to the rest. It was going to be a long few nights.

"In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti,"He whispered to himself as he looked out the window and craned his neck up to gaze at the moon,"Ubi es Arthurius sive deum?"

"What the fuck?"

It took Mordecai's muttered curse to remind Officer Sagara that he wasn't alone in the hotel room. Spinning around, the cop barely saw the flash of steel as the doctor lunged at him, something small and sharp clutched in his hand.

Time seemed to slow down for Sagara. His heart thundered in his ears, each beat loud as a gunshot, as his mind raced to understand the scope of his situation.

Fact: I am about to be stabbed, most likely in my neck.
Fact: Wound would be devastating; odds are I will not survive.
Fact: Dodging at this time is unlikely.
Action: Block and incapacitate the attacker.

Fact: Behind me, a Glock, M-4 Carbine, and Colt Model 1878 are hovering in midair.
Fact: The odds of this being a joke are virtually zero. Assume that guns are real.
Assumption: It does not seem likely that the guns would be suspended by invisible wire or other tricks. Assume ghosts or magic.
Action: Treat them as an active threat.

Fact: Suspect must be detained.
Action: Take him hostage.

Time began to move at a more reasonable pace. And Sagara moved.

As Mordecai lashed out with his scalpel, the officer responded by swinging up his left hand, slamming its heel into his attacker's wrist. There was a sharp crack as the blow was knocked aside, and a bolt of pain lanced up Mordecai's arm, his weapon dropping from in between numbed fingers.

Simultaneously, Sagara struck out with his foot, slamming it into the back of the Irishman's knee. Spinning around behind his downed foe, the cop flashed out with his right hand, removing his sidearm from its holster in one fluid, practiced motion. An audible click and clack sounded out in quick succession as the safety was flicked off and the pistol was cocked.

Mordecai felt a cold chunk of steel pressing against the back of his neck as he was roughly hauled upright, his left arm painfully wrenched behind his back. "On your feet," Sagara hissed into his ear, his voice cold and authoritative. "You are under arrest on charges of suspected terrorism, possession of illegal firearms, and assaulting an officer of the law."

In a louder tone, the cop addressed the rest of the room, his eyes locked on the trio of weapons in the corner. "Whoever's out there, surrender now! Drop the guns and come out with your hands up!" Slowly, Sagara began backing out of the hotel room, dragging Mordecai along with him.

"You know, in my head, I saw this going MUCH better for me." Mordecai said. He figured this kind of thing would leave his life when he quit the IRA, moreso when he became a doctor. First time it happens, EASILY the worst time it could've. He was brought out of this trance by being hauled up.
"And the chances of forgiveness are VERY low I assume? Financial situations all good in the life of this stalwart police officer? Damn." He thought for a moment. Brutus hadn't moved yet, he stood stock. Mordecai had a pistol, and was being held by a man who was barely paying attention. Mordecai used his bobby pin he kept in his back pocket, and got out of the handcuffs, quietly. He proceeded to pull out his pistol, holding onto the barrel.
"I surrender, here's my gun." Brutus phased through the wall while the Officer was distracted, with the guns. The guns didn't go through...
Why would they
Mordecai shook his head in shame. His plans to kill the officer had become plans to use him, however.
"Look, trying to slice you up may have made me look evil, but in my defense you pushed passed me without a warrant. Anyways, I have information on the bridge bombing, it wasn't me, but I think I know who did it..."

Assassin was curious as to what his master was trying. Perhaps the floating gun diversion would have worked against someone without training, but this was just a dumb idea. Options raced through his head, quite a few were simply stabbing the officer and being done with it, but this was a special case. Assassin hated killing civilians, there wasn't any reason to and they were innocent as far as he was concerned. An idea popped in the figure's head, mortals had a penchant for being superstitious, perhaps scaring the human would be the best option. The robed man allowed the guns to drop to the floor and allowed his voice to echo through the room.

"Put the gun down and we can talk. You don't stand a chance against me, you might not know who I am, but know human, that I am more powerful than you can possibly imagine. I am not a terrorist, but I know who you are looking for. If you do not comply, you will be destroyed.

Sagara winced as the voice echoed around the room, clenching his trigger finger. What the hell was going on?! This was crazy; how was he supposed to deal with some kind of magical demon thing?!

"I am not dropping my gun," he tersely replied, his eyes scanning for any sign of movement. "Not while I've got a terrorist here. Where the hell are you? Show yourself!"

Assassin walked up behind Sagara, ready to grab his hands if he tried to shoot his master. He was hoping more blood wouldn't be shed needlessly this day, but as the officer talked, it seemed unlikely his wish would be fufilled. Still, diplomacy wasn't dead yet.

"If you do not drop your gun, you will die. If you drop it, you will live and gain more information regarding the real terrorists. I don't like killing humans, if I did we would not be talking right now. Drop the gun."

Spinning himself and his hostage around, Sagara looked fanatically for the voice's new location. Somewhere behind him, but where?!

"...Don't like killing humans, eh? Tch."

His mind racing, the officer tried to figure out the best course of action. He was dealing with a force with unknown capabilities; there was no data, nothing to go on. Anything he did would be a guess.

"Dammit to hell! Fine," he spat, shoving Mordecai forward and backing up, lowering his gun by a few degrees. "There, I let him go. Now show me where you are!"

A sigh of relief was released by the robed servant. The human was reasonable after all it seemed, which was rare in these times. Assassin tried to think of the best way to show himself and said gently, "I will, but stay calm okay?"

The hooded figure made his steps apparent now and talked while he made them. "I am walking in front of you now, slowly and without harmful intent. All I want is to talk."

Once he was directly in front of the officer, he deactivated his guise and revealed himself. His face was obscuredi in darkness, his hands a crimson red. His tunic was torn from the fight with Saber and that master. "Who told you to come here?"

"Gah!"

Sagara was unable to hold back a surprised cry as Assassin appeared before him; reflex took over, and before he knew it the cop was pointing his gun in the Servant's face. "I..."

Biting his lip, Sagara took a second to reevaluate the situation. Either this was magic or incredibly advanced technology, neither of which he could really hope to compete with. At this point, trying to negotiate would probably be his best bet. "...We got a tip from an unidentified party. Older male, judging by his voice. Said that there was a terrorist, one responsible for taking out the bridge, in here."

Assassin seemed undaunted by the gun, shadowy face remaining obscured. If the human did try and fire, the bullet would do him about as much good as an over-sized BB pellet. Either way, the information was useful. Someone had followed Assassin, by the looks of it, a male.

"Interesting. I know the guns don't look great, but the bridge's destruction was not my doing, nor was it the cause of my friend's actions. We will be leaving very soon, it is likely you will never see us again. The ones responsible for this are less peaceful than myself and even if you sent the entire police force, I doubt you would even graze a single one of the three."

Assassin thought for a moment, he had noticed an army of demons approaching along with Rider from the opposite side, perhaps one of them had followed. Would make sense considering he hadn't felt a servant at all. The only one who could summon something like that would have to be a Caster.

"Either way, I thank you for the information. You have told me more than you can imagine. The ball is now in your court however, what is it you intend on doing?"

"I... I don't..."

Sagara's heart and thoughts raced along at a mile a minute, trying desperately to find some way, ANY way, out of this. What the hell was this guy talking about? Who could possibly stand up to the entirety of the police force? What three? Dammit! He didn't know what to do!

"I'm going to... to walk out of here," he began, keeping his eyes locked onto wherever the being's face was supposed to be. "I'm going to go down to my car, and go back to the station. I'm going to tell my superiors exactly what happened and try and tack down these 'three' you mentioned."

Assassin shook his head. "If you do that, you will be getting everyone you care about killed. I know this is important, and I can't tell you much, but here is what I can tell you. There is a large extended battle going on and the ones responsible are most likely going to end up dead from it anyway. They are all as paranoid as my master and what they did to the bridge could be recreated on your men. I know this is a lot to take in, but go home and try to forget about this."

It was a moment before Sagara responded. "...Fine."

Assassin allowed the officer to leave, watching the entire time, half to ensure his master's safety, and half to ensure Sagara's safety. Whatever followed him might still be around and could try to kill the officer.

Mordecai coming over his odd case of bloodlust, decided to take a shower. He was glad there was no mess, but they needed to remove the weapons. He couldn't think of a place to put them, other than the other empty rooms. Too risky. Perhaps a new abode was in order, probably a cheaper one than this. They'd look during the day, today was a bust. They're only victories were pyrrhic at best. He sighed, and got out and toweled off. By then Assassin was back.
"Hope we don't get in trouble for that. You know, introducing a man to magic?" Mordecai smiled, he agreed it was better than outright killing the guy, but it could have consequences. Bad ones. From the Mages, the church he didn't give a shit about.

"Why are you still standing there, peasant!? Unless you wish to join me, our conversation is finished and you may resume whatever petty tasks you choose to pursue."

Clay furrowed his brow at Rider's continued impertinence. He may have expected this sort of resistance when he selected this hero, but that hardly blunted the pain of working with such a difficult person. "Working to identify Saber isn't trivial, Rider. Knowing his true name means we can easily research his strengths, weaknesses, and, most importantly, which Noble Phantasms he possesses. I'd not like a repeat of what happened tonight." Rider scoffed at his Master's retort and turned back to his game. "A man, a servant; they all die the same and none are more perfect than me." Clay ignored his servant's retort and decided to take a closer look at the game's box - anything capable of holding his fickle servant's attention for more than five minutes had to be worth his time.

'Admirable Grand Strategy: Conquest? I've always wondered what the deal was with video games.' He picked up the unused controller to Rider's side, taking a seat with a half-interested expression. 'It couldn't be that difficult... could it?'

"So the peasant believes he can aid the King of War? Very well." Rider scrolled down and selected himself once more, smiling as he changed the game type to Multiplayer. Save for the few moments he saw Diana, it was the first time the warrior had genuinely smiled. "Choose your destiny, boy!" Arrayed before Clay was an impressive selection of heroes from every known mythology. Celtic, German, Chinese, Egyptian, Greek... wait, Greek? 'Does that mean they have...?' Scrolling down the hero list, he lit up a bit when he saw his favorite Greek hero highlighted.

"Odysseus!?" Rider questioned, glaring at the sub-par statistic block for the hero the boy had selected. Clay shrugged off Rider's criticism. "What can I say? I loved the Odyssey. A seminal work of Western literature. You should read it sometime, you know - I quite think you and Odysseus would have gotten on well."

"I think not," the servant protested. "He is far from a true warrior's strength, such as myself."

Clay cocked an eyebrow in curiosity, not quite understanding what Rider meant. "Oh, you mean this game isn't like the Grail War? I thought renown was a determining factor for their strength. Does that mean those gauges indicate strengths in certain areas?"

"Of course it does, boy! How would you otherwise know which characters are the strongest and best to choose?"

"I see..." Clay looked over Odysseus once more, making sure his selection was fitting. A high energy stat tactically seemed like a good contrast to his partner's statistics, even if his other areas were lacking compared to other possible choices. His eyes then searched the screen for information on how to select the character. Apparently he was required to hit the start button. Looking down at the gamepad didn't clear this matter up, having so many buttons and so little time to come to a conclusion. Finally, Clay decided to swallow his pride and turned to his servant.

"Which one is the start button?" he asked, holding the gamepad with its face towards Rider, pointing to it.

"What!?" Rider cried out, laughing hysterically at the sheer irony of the situation.

Clay was visibly annoyed now, which could only mean the rage of a thousand white hot suns was burning beneath the surface of his demeanour. Without thinking, he swung at his servant with his comparatively tiny fist. It bounced off the warrior's shoulder as if he were made of steel but caught his attention almost immediately. Regaining his composure he looked down at his master, still smirking, noticing he had not taken too kindly to Rider's uncontrolled spurt of laughter.

"You imbecile," Clay viciously remarked, an edge to his voice. "Why would I waste my precious time with trash like this? The only reason I'm even sitting here is because it amazes me that something within creation exists that can keep your attention for more than five minutes."

Before Clay could storm out of the room, a gigantic hand rested on his shoulder and pushed him back down. Rider was looking at him, still wiping away tears from laughing, smiling all the while. "A man's soul must be as solid as iron," the warrior emphasized by pounding his chest with a single fist twice. "If you cannot handle simple jest from a comrad-in-arms, then you will not be prepared for the horrors of war." His eyes flashed with a knowing look. "However, it is my duty as a warrior to prepare you for the rigours of battle, pixelated or otherwise."

"Rider, I'm perfectly capable of-" Clay began, but as he saw the doubtful look on Rider's face he sighed and grabbed the controller, admitting defeat. "Fine. What is my first lesson, oh great Master Rider, in the zen art of video game kung-fu."

The servant smiled, then made his best impression of a wizened sensei, holding up one finger to accentuate the bit. "First, you must respect your elders, young grasshopper. As they say, 'A rolling stone comes to he who waits'. Your first lesson will be to practice the basics of proper and efficient movement on the battlefield. After all: 'A stitch in time is worth two in the bush...'"

Clay arched an eyebrow at the stupefying display of idiocy before him. He just simply couldn't believe his infamous hero was such a ham. Rider, on the other hand, was busy selecting the tutorial missions so Clay could acclimatize himself to the pace of the game. He knew it might be awhile before his master was up to the challenge of taking on Arthur and his knights but with enough practice he was certain the boy would prove competent enough. This was Clay Marks, after all, self-proclaimed genius and work-a-holic. It was only a matter of time before Clay studied this game to death.

Which is exactly what they did. For the better part of an hour, the two trained in the fine arts of air-juggling, wall whoring and combo meter stacking for Heroic Tension. As the time passed, Clay became more focused on his objectives, able to execute some of the most difficult maneuvers in the game with relative success. It was as simple as a spell when it came right down to it. Simply recite the incantation on the gamepad, keep your target in sight with the control sticks and you would assail him with a flourish of a hundred strikes. Even he had to admit it was quite gratifying to watch his pixelated Odysseus wipe out wave after wave of anonymous soldiers. The only thing that perturbed him was the way Rider kept smiling every time he glanced over at him. It was unnerving for the brute to be pleased, knowing how he could find humour in the darkest of situations and actions. Clay eventually disregarded the gesture as pure excitement. He could tell Rider was passionate about winning the upcoming fight he had sorely lost an hour ago.

"Alright boy," Rider exclaimed, pointing towards the television with vigour, "it is time we seek vengeance upon this King of Knights!"

Clay nodded with fierce determination. It was strange but he was beginning to understand why Rider found this to be so amusing. The chance at a glorious victory and the sheer skill you had to possess to realize that victory was a thrilling prospect. Being able to input combinations of buttons with speed and precision purely on instinct - it was a proof of mastery over something mystical in a sense which the young mage could relate to. It also helped that Rider was setting the mood as if this were a grim battle to decide the fate of the world. For his servant, however, maybe this was how he had to treat every battle. If he handled them with his normal blazay manner, it could be his last...

Before Clay could dwell on the matter any further he was prompted by the game to select his hero and the officers that would serve under him - a game mechanic that allowed the player to pick heroes that would help assist them in leading charges against the enemy forces. The young man gave pause when he noticed Rider had already chosen his set up. Stranger still was the fact that he had foregone choosing all but one officer. Most interesting of all was his choice.

"An interesting choice," Clay remarked. "Did you forget to choose your other officers?"

"What? Of course not!" Rider seemed unsure of himself in that statement. "You get extra bonuses for fighting with less officer choices."

"We both know that's not true. So why only one?"

"I would not want the game to be unfair. It should pose some sort of challenge. If I selected too many officers it would simply be too easy." His tone was shaky, not the usual confident Rider Clay was accustomed to. If he just pushed a little bit further, maybe...

"But you lost last time, Rider. Wouldn't it make more sense to-"

"Because shut up peasant, that's why!!!"

The room became deadly quiet after the servant's outburst. The only noise was the hero select screen music playing from the television. If looks could kill, Rider's would have been Ea with the amount of disdain and hatred it held. Clay simply looked back towards the screen, knowing he had pushed too far. Maybe his servant couldn't forgive himself for what he had done. It was a strange paradox. Rider had given the explicit order to sentence his best friend to death yet the amount of grief that weighed on him was immense. It was a concept that Clay simply couldn't understand. If his friend had meant so much, why have him killed? There was no logic to it.

Rider's focus was doubled as his rage fueled his fighting spirit. While he could eventually forgive Clay for his ignorance it didn't stop him from being furious about it now. Luckily it was that passion that had made him a God among men on the battlefield in his time. As the level loaded itself and their heroes were actualized on the fictional battlefield, Rider tempered his angry into a cold steel of fury. It was time to see what this Arthur was made of.

Both Clay and Rider bursted out of the gate with all cylinders running, cutting the opposing army to ribbons. Their technique was near perfect, with only a a slight hesitation from Clay because of his inexperience with the game. Their two heroes plowed through soldiers as if they were nothing but a simple obstruction. The game sent waves of them forward but the duo met with only a marginal hindrance. Between them they looked absolutely unstoppable with their skill.

And then they rode...

The game cut to a cinematic of twenty-five brave warriors, riding in formation, charging towards the battle field from off in the distance. Their armour gleamed in the sunlight, pristine as the day it had been forged. The literal paragons of ye olde England came tearing through the battlefield, cutting a swath through the soldiers before them. Clay looked absolutely astounded at the spectacle of the Knights of Justice, which is to say he had a raised eyebrow in interest at the entire cinematic. Rider simply looked focused as ever, waiting impatiently for the pre-rendered scene to end so he could regain control and begin his rampage through the wedge of horsemen. As the formation drew in close to the two heroes, control was given back to the pair and they were left to defend themselves against the oncoming charge.

Clay panicked. He had only been playing the game for less than an hour - he wasn't ready for King Arthur and his knights to come barreling down on them full tilt. Luckily, Rider had no such apprehensions and began to fend off the twenty-five assailants with practiced expertise. Clay could barely erect a guard as his mind stuttered with all the stimuli assaulting his senses. There was just too much to keep track of and not enough time to absorb it all. If they could just keep their attacks at bay for just a little bit longer...

"Clay, you must call your officers back to defend our position!"

He almost didn't realize it was Rider that had given him the suggestion. He was too focused on his Heroic Tension gauge filling up to maximum. If he could fill it, his plan would come to fruition and these knights would be nothing more than a group of ill-fated tin cans. His screen's border was flashing red, indicating that his health had almost been depleted. Rider was struggling to keep them both defended and their officers were no where in sight, keeping the rest of the regular soldiers at bay from the duel taking place in the center of the map. "Just a few more seconds," Clay pleaded to his servant, watching the bar inch towards maximum. Just then, one of the knights broke through their defenses, heading straight for Odysseus. Clay quickly struck out and shattered the helmet from the knight's head. It was then that every moment slowed to a halt, seeing that face once more. There was no mistaking that face, the hair, that beard. It was at that precise moment that Clay knew who Saber was.

Time then returned from the momentary flux and the knight's broadsword came down towards Odysseus. With a strike that strong it would surely kill Clay character and then Rider would be left to face the onslaught by himself. His finger twitched against the shoulder button, ready to press it but he had to wait. His timing could be no less than exact to be able to successfully win this fight. Then, in an instant, the blade came down and Clay hit the shoulder button with the force of a cannon.

CLANG!

That sweet sound was exactly what the pair had wanted to hear - Clay had executed a perfect parry. Saber's digital recreation sprawled backwards as Odysseus began to glow a light blue. Clay shifted his eyes quickly to see his Heroic Tension gauge was filled, ready to unleash his ultimate attack. He chanced another nanosecond to glance at Rider's gauge, seeing it was completely filled as well. The timing was perfect.

"Now Rider!" Clay yelled, pushing the circle button to activate his most deadly attack.

"HEROIC ART - TROJAN HORSE: HIDDEN ARMY OF THE MASTER TACTICIAN!" Odysseus cried out as his glow flared into an aura of surging power.

At that very moment hundreds upon hundreds of soldiers phased into the battlefield around the two opposing heroic factions. Arthur and his knights were surrounded in the worst way possible, unable to fend off the dozens of strikes that were coming from all directions. As they blocked one spear, ten others took its place. Eventually they were forced into the air, being juggled by the weight of attacks being pressed upon them.

"I am with you, boy!" Rider bellowed in response, pressing his own circle button.

"HEROIC ART! - GOD OF WAR: FIERY WARRIOR'S PASSION!" his avatar cried in round, a purple aura with red accents bursting forth from within.

Rider navigated his character through the battlefield who was swinging his massive halberd in a figure-eight as he charged relentlessly forwards. As soon as the avatar touched a knight they were sent hurtling through the air. Their foe was being depleted of forces faster than they could replenish and their heroic leaders were being tossed about like rag dolls. There was nothing the opposing force could do but await their impending destruction at the hands of the duo.

"Rider, converge on Arthur. We're finishing this..."

"I shall be there momentarily!"

As their Heroic Arts were near completion and their Heroic Tension meters nearly reaching zero, the two came at Arthur from opposite ends and quickly pressed circle once again, initiating a Team Heroic Art. While being the most powerful attack in the game, Arthur still possessed Avalon - an artifact that bestowed incredible vitality. Their inputs would have to be perfect for them to achieve victory. But as the attack progressed, their focus endured, lending strength to their avatars. Flip after twist after flourish after strike was played out in the most beautifully crafted scene the two had ever witnessed. The final prompt had them mashing square for their digital lives, which powered them up for a simultaneous strike, the two characters trading sides after the blow with Odysseus pointing his sword skywards and Rider's copycat crouching low with his halberd out to his side. Arthur fell to the ground face first, lying there unmoving before the scene was stamped with a giant "VICTORY!" and the scene ended. They had done it; they had killed the King of Knights!

"YES!!!"

The two shouted uproariously in unison at their accomplishment. Rider was already standing, his arms raised high with every muscle in his body tense with flexing. Clay stayed seated but had pumped his fist into the air, a clear smile on his face. The young man then turned towards Rider, a high five coming straight for him. Caught in the euphoria of victory, the servant reflexively put out his hand to meet Clay's, the thunderous clap sounding even over the game's fanfare.

Then everything went still. The clap of the high five had woken both participants from their revelry and reality began to set back in. Rider and Clay were starring at eachother in utter confusion at what had just transpired. Had they really just done that? The air changed drastically as the two quickly turned away from eachother, crossing their arms. A mask of contempt hid each man's excitement before they spoke to eachother.

"I suppose, for a peasant, you performed adequately," Rider eventually offered, his smug attitude returning.

"Without my help, Rider, you would have been kicked into the dirt once more," Clay responded, his own smugness not being withheld.

"Do you dare to challenge that position!?"

"I don't have to; it's fact!"

The two stared at eachother for a long moment, then tension in the room electrifying the stand-off. Clay was the first to break the deadlock, motioning to leave the room.

"I can't be bothered with these childish games," Clay mentioned, "I have research to attend to."

"This isn't over, boy!" Rider said, hurrying to follow.

The two continued to argue as they both left the room, heading towards the library. So Alberta was left in the room, smiling to herself as she reveled in the events that had just transpired. Before too long she began cleaning up the sheer mess the two had created with their exaggerated motions knocking things over and snacks they had left strewn across the room that had been ordered to satiate the pair. It was good to see both of her masters showing their true colours and getting along, if only for a little while.

"Silly boys and their games..." she said to herself with a giggle.

* * *

"Why are you even following me?" Clay had finally broken the silence after the argument to ask the obvious question that plagued his mind.

"I have research I wish to conduct myself," Rider responded, strolling casually behind Clay. "Contrary to what you may believe, I am not allergic to scholarly endeavors myself. I am interested to see what legends I have left in my wake."

"Fine. Just stay out of my way."

The two marched silently towards the library for the rest of the journey. As they entered the grand parlor of literature, Clay quickly made his way towards a particular shelf in the middle of the stacks. He was quite obviously very familiar with the room from years of reading and research and it proved just as useful now as he deftly pulled five books from different spots on the shelf. With the materials he required, Clay made his way over to the large reading table that was now back in its proper place at the epicenter of the room. Cracking open the first tomb his eyes quickly flitted over the pages, absorbing the text with astounding speed.

Rider, on the other hand, casually peeked around the shelves for anything that would be from his time. While someone like the servant couldn't truly appreciate the importance and vastness of the collection before him, it was still a humbling experience for him. In his age, this many books would never have thought to ever have been collected in one room, let alone written throughout the lands. The task before him eventually proved itself to be far too daunting for even him and he began to open his mouth before Clay cut him off.

"Third stack, top shelf," Clay instructed, pointing towards the appropriate shelving unit without even looking up from his book. "You should find the book you're looking for there."

"A book?" Rider responded, sounding terribly insulted.

"Yes, a book. It also happens to be one of the greatest legends your era has ever produced. Now stop complaining and read. This tends to go much faster when I'm not interrupted to answer inane questions."

Grumbling with indignation, Rider swiftly hopped over to the indicated stack. For a lesser man it may have proven difficult, but the massive servant simply had to raise himself on his tip-toes to reach the book in question. It was a magnificent blood red, leather bound hardcover. Turning it in his hands, Rider inspected its majesty. He thumbed through a couple pages, realizing it must have been an original print that had been rebound over the years to keep its condition. The only thing that bothered him was that the title had been scratched out. The marks left didn't look like normal wear, however, leaving the only conclusion to be that they had been both intentional and recent. Putting that little factoid into the back of his mind, Rider joined his master at the table, opening up his own book and beginning to read through it thoroughly.

Minutes turned to hours and eventually Rider looked up as he was interrupted from his reading. His perturbed face reflected his annoyance at being interrupted just before reading about his grand entrance into the war he had participated in those many centuries ago. His attention turned to Clay who had shifted loudly. The mage had fallen asleep, face planted in the book he was trying to finish. Exhaustion had gotten the better of him and Rider smiled as he looked upon his weary master.

'You are stronger than I had imagined,' Rider thought to himself. 'Maybe a peasant can become a warrior. It would certainly make for an interesting story...'

Rider looked around for a moment before his eyes met a blanket folded on the table. It had been undoubtedly left by one of the maids of the household for his stubborn partner. Unfolding it quietly, he draped it over the unsuspecting Clay, tucking it around him before deciding to leave his master in peace. He didn't bother opening the door, simply phasing out of existence, the only remnants being some tiny sparkles of mana. Maybe he would patrol the grounds tonight - for Diana's sake, of course.

'Maybe this will not be as horrible as I had first imagined...'

The night dragged on slowly, minutes creeping by as hours for one who does not sleep. Saber lacked the luxury of sleep to while away the time, and so sat patiently, watching the moon sweep across the sky. The pale white light seemed cold on that night, and unfeeling for the battles waged beneath it.

A gentle rapping on the door caught the Servant's attention. The hinges creaked as it was opened just a crack, revealing the face of Sanosuke. He looked particularly surly, and the red tinge to his face suggested he'd been dulling his pain with the oldest tonic in human history. His eyes were focused, despite or perhaps because of this, and focused in on Saber like arrows. Orihara jerked back with his head, gesturing for the Servant to follow him, before turning around and staggering back to the lobby.

Saber followed down the corridor, the wallpaper garish and the carpet looking as if it hadn't been cleaned in at least a century, all manner of stains adorned it, but Saber followed on, ignoring his surroundings for the time being. They reached the lobby, Sanosuke carefully dropping down into his chair behind the front desk, Saber crossing his arms and leaning. The two sat face to face, the Japanese street veteran still holding where the demon had punched through, Saber's face unreadable and still hairless.

"What is it that you wished to speak of, Lord Orihara?"

It seemed, at least in his current stupor, Saber had chosen the right words to kick off with. Sanosuke chuckled grimly and leaned forward a bit, reaching beneath the table and coming up with a disturbingly large bottle of vodka, along with a pair of glasses. He set the glasses down, and poured a finger's worth of liquor into each, pushing one towards his guest and downing the other in a single gulp. A bit of the clear liquid dribbled down his chin as the uncouth man got to business.

"Was still in the business last time anyone called me 'Lord'."

He placed a hand down on the table, eyes narrowing as he set himself back on the task at hand.

"Dunno if you've met my brother. Real bleedin'-heart type. Won't shut his yap crying about things you can't change. Fate, and all that. Some unceasing thread that guides us all. Bunch of horseshit, I always said, but he bought into it. Now it's got my nephew caught up in shit he wasn't ever prepared for."

He pointed a mildly shaking finger to Saber's chest.

"You've seen the kid work. I want your honest opinion. What chance has he got?"

Saber sighed and looked at the alcohol in front of him. After a moment of indecision, he took it and drank it. It burned on the way down, nothing like what he had sipped of during his life. Much stronger, if nothing else. He licked his lips before setting the glass down on the table once more.

"He's got as much chance as the rest of the ones out there. And he can handle himself against Assassin, at least once. Against the rest, I don't know. He's not the strongest out there,that I am sure of, but neither is he the most overt or theatrical about how he uses his circuits. He thinks about his strategy, instead of rushing forward, but that light in his eyes...I've seen it before, and it can be used to utterly destroy, either his opponents....or himself. For now, it is undecided. He has been the best at everything he has tried his hand at before this, has he not?"

"He has." Sanosuke relented. But the growl in his voice, the discomfort in his tone suggested that the man was anything but happy to admit it. "Give him a subject and a week, and he'll come back knowing more about it than you."

Sano downed another shot of vodka, and poured another for the knight. His eyes glazed a bit, as he stared at seemingly nothing. For a brief moment, he looked identical to his nephew when he was mulling something over in his head.

"But..."

The uncle snorted in contempt. "He isn't invincible. When I entered the life I chose, when my skin was still bare... my first job, I was beaten so badly my brother didn't recognize me when he saw the wounds. I was humiliated. Everyone looked down on me, spat on me." A fire began to spark to life in his eyes as his hand clenched around his glass. "I hated that. I cursed everyone, and swore I'd prove them wrong. It took me years, and complete dedication and ruthlessness. But I did it. I became the deadliest man in Fuyuki. I wasn't born with natural talent; all I had on my side was practice, and the raw fear of humiliation."

He downed another shot and slammed the glass back to the table's surface, listening to the satisfying clunk it made on the polished material. "That's the edge that makes a man great. That fear of failure, biting at their heels. But Dirk?" he asked, almost scoffing with scorn. "He has nothing but talent. He's never known what it's like to fail. This is the first time in his life that he possibly could fail. And he's too soft to realize it."

"Mark my words," the drunken man warned, punctuating his sentence by jabbing the air with a finger. "the boy's gonna dive right into something over his head. And if he's left on his own, he's gonna drown, 'cause nobody ever taught him how to swim without a life vest."

Sanosuke stared at the vodka bottle as he started to reach for it again. Coming to some sort of decision in his mind, he set the bottle down beneath the table, and looked back at Saber with a new look to him.

"He's a lot smarter than anybody thinks he is... but he's a whole lot dumber than he thinks he is. At the end, he'll need someone to keep him focused. To keep that gleam in his eye from getting him killed. Someone to teach him how to survive. And right now, the only one that can do that is you."

Orihara's eyebrows flexed into a deep, piercing scowl. "You understand that, Servant?"

"It's a part of the quest. There have been times when I almost wished family had forgotten me...where I had forgotten them...,"Saber's eyes clouded a moment before he jerked himself back to the present,"I died far from home, at least, should only God will it - I promised your brother and his wife I would do nothing less to keep him alive - he will die near those that care for him."

He looked down at the vodka in his hand, a small thing it was, and pondered a moment.

"My job here is to keep him safe, or slap sense into him when he fails to see it himself. I can promise little more than my sword and word. Both of which have been broken but once, and never again will I watch a war destroy a great land."

Saber sighed again, and for a heartbeat, he was back in his King's court, watching the others, before he was forced to drag himself away, for family. The short, but impossibly strong string no one had ever fully succeeded in cutting.

"I cannot promise that Dirk will live through this. What I can promise is that I will never stop protecting him should he need it. And he will come out of this for the better. My cous-my brother was much the same. Though he had his share of setbacks in time, the boy will pass through much the same trials I believe."

Sanosuke sat silently, judging the Knight of the Round's words. He swirled his glass around, imagining liquor that was not there to be spinning rhythmically. The scowl never left the old man's face, but his motions were familiar to Saber. They spoke of begrudging acceptance. The former yakuza stood, remarkably balanced even in his horrendously drunken state, and motioned for the other to stand as well.

"The old owner of this place was in the business. Had a lot of enemies. So did I. Still do."

Sano moved his hand up to a key at the top right corner of the collection of hooks on the wall behind him. It was steel, and seemed to possess a blue tint. He pulled it off its hook and held it up for Saber to see.

"This is the panic key. Unlocks a passage in the room behind me, underneath the the gray filing cabinet. Takes you to four tunnels. One takes you to the harbor. Another to the forest. Third, to Shinto, a back alley about a quarter-kilometer north of downtown, and the fourth takes you to a warehouse southeast of here. Anyone you meet on the other side gives you trouble, you say my name. Sanosuke Orihara. They'll shut up if they're smart."

With a swift toss, the key was passed from Orihara to Saber. The gangster threw on his jacket, fully covering where he'd bandaged his wounds. His face was beginning to cringe as he did so. He staggered to the door, throwing it open and letting the chilled night air flow in. "Don't you dare get this place smashed up, I'm not paying any warranty. I'm making a run--we're low on vodka."

Considering that he had only downed one bottle, without even making a trip to the fridge, this seemed unlikely. But it was his excuse all the same, and he stuck to it as he slammed the door behind him. Outside, Saber could hear a motorcycle starting up, and slowly traveling out of earshot.

"C'est la vie"

Saber sighed once more, and left the liquor in the glass. The man was either very stubborn or very tough, he'd seen old warriors go down with a hole in their belly half as deep and refuse to get up. Sliding the alcohol across the desk, he then looked at the key now in his hands.

So this was intended to be their base. For a night at least. The tunnels would prove useful in moving without the others knowing precisely where they were. Though very little stopped them from destroying the ground above their heads, though he was unsure if there were any Phantasms that could equal his in land destruction. A shame none of the masters were caught by one of the Thirteen.

It was late, and Saber needed to be by Dirk. He slipped the key into his pocket and made his way back to their room. Dirk was still asleep on the bed he'd tucked him into, and their bags were still packed. There was so much to do, and very little time to do it in.


The city streets passed by Sanosuke in a blur, his bike tearing down the streets without a care to be found. Gospel tones hummed and sang from his radio as he shut out the rest of the world; even the growing pain in his chest was nothing to him when on the open road. The sea behind him, and the dark silhouettes of mountains ahead. This, right here, was how to live. The old man smiled, and starting cackling in his dry, growling voice as the cold wind began to bite away at his drunken state.

He pulled right, and cut across one of the secondary bridges. He'd planned to use the main one, but it had only taken one glance at the flashing emergency lights to figure out just what, exactly, had sent Dirk running his way.

Boy knows how to make a scene, I'll give him that much.

When he finally pulled to a stop, his bike was resting at the end of a suburban driveway, of an unassuming home on the Shinto side of Fuyuki. He hadn't been here in nearly a decade, but he knew the place as well as always. Sanosuke clambered off of his ride, dragging himself up to the door as he patted the notched and damaged blade at his side. He reached the door, and slammed his tired fist against it.

KLOCK. KLOCK. KLOCK.

He could hear someone stirring inside, struggling to wake themselves and get to the front door as quickly as possible. "Yes, yes, we're coming!" an excited and familiar voice called from behind that wall of wood and glass.

The door swung open, and a greeting caught in the throat of Mr. Orihara as he attempted to greet his guest. His eyes and mouth widened while the silence between them grew. An unexpected reunion between brothers.

"...Sanosuke?" asked the man in the door.

"...Shinosuke." replied the one on the other side.

In a flash of motion, Sano clenched his fist and struck out, smashing into his brother's face. Shino was floored, rolling back to the floor. His wife, who had just rushed into the hall, shrieked in terror as she rushed to her husband's side.

"Shino!" she cried. Mr. Orihara reflexively reached out and grabbed her hand with his.

"Stay back, Miya." he requested, reassuring her with a gentle smile. She immediately stood up and backed up a fair distance, while Shinosuke brought himself back to his feet. A quick tug at the belt holding his robe was made, pulling it away and letting the blue nightwear fall to the floor. He kicked it back and out of the way with his heel, along with his slippers, now in nothing but his pajama pants. His bare torso lacked scars, but his physique rivaled his brother's. His tired face squinted in pure disgust at Sanosuke's presence. "This is between my brother and I."

"If only." Sano growled, menacingly. He placed a hand on the grip of his sword. "You made damn sure this wasn't between us."

Shino's right hand was opened at his side, as if ready to grab an object that wasn't yet there. He frowned, and insisted "I don't know what you're talking about."

That seemed to be the breaking point, and caused his brother to roar in rage as he charged forward, drawing his sword and swinging it wildly.

"Gradation Air."

White light converged in Shinosuke's palm, and granted him a tanto blade, gripped in a reversed style. The magecraft-granted blade shot up and deflected Sano's blow, and the next, and the one after that. But the elder brother held the advantage of momentum and strength, pushing Shino back. Mrs. Orihara scrambled for cover, moving into the kitchen as the brothers battled their way into the living room. Sanosuke was ranting at the top of his lungs, punctuating his words with swordstrokes.

"You lying fuck! You just sent your son to his death, and that's all you can say to me?!"

Sano swiped down with his blade. His younger brother was fast enough to deflect it once and hop back, over the glass coffee table that had been at his heels. As the yakuza slashed up and vertically, Shinosuke defended himself with magecraft.

"Kaze!"

The coffee table was swept up by a gust of wind, placing itself in the path of Sanosuke's sword. It blasted through the furniture like a beast, sending shards of glass in every direction. The younger brother snatched out with a hand, catching one. He poured prana into the shard, honing its edge and shoring up its structure, and lashed at Sanosuke with it.

The glass was caught on the downswing by the gangster's blade, but was tough enough to hold. They locked themselves in this stance, glaring at one another. Shinosuke pleaded, "I had no CHOICE! The Mage's Association--"

"FUCK the Association!" Sano countered, not letting a single blasphemous word escape his brother's lips. He lurched forward and smashed his own forehead into Shino's nose, rapping it back and sending him flopping down onto the couch. The younger Orihara brother only had a split second to gasp in shock before diving to his left. Where he had been a moment before, Sanosuke's blade plunged deep into the cushions of the sofa. He tried to remove his sword, only to find it caught. His eyes bugged out, and he ducked moments before a tanto slashed where his head had been. Shinosuke followed up with a knee, catching his brother in the jaw and flinging him against the wall.

The elder sibling's hands caught the sword of the younger as it came jabbing for him, and held it in place.

Shino's face was caught in a snarl, and he finally got his moment to speak. "You think I made this decision easily? If I could have saved my son this, you know I would have."

The tanto began inching closer.

"When I realized I couldn't keep him hidden, I showed him everything I could show. Gave him the teaching, the tools he'd need. Now it's up to him. I have faith in my boy, which is something you don't give to anyone but yourself!"

Shino leaned in so close he and his brother were nearly touching nose-to-nose. His voice grew deeper, and he nearly roared the words, "WHY CAN'T YOU TRUST ANYONE?!"

Sanosuke glared back, all the contempt in the world resting squarely in his eyes. "You want me to trust a man who ran like a coward from the last War, but won't give the same chance to his own son?"

In a briefest instant, Shino's heart broke. And that was when his brother struck, releasing his grip on the hand clenching the tanto. He moved his head to the side, and barely avoided the strike. The blade sunk into the wall, and shattered. A punch to the younger Orihara's gut knocked the wind from him, and in a lightning-quick reversal, he was the one up against the wall.

"Listen up, you little shit." Sano hissed. "Every night you sleep nice and cozy in your house, you better remember that your son is out here fighting for his life. He's gonna die out there, cold and alone, because you were too afraid to try and help him. You hear me?!"

Sanosuke leaned in as close as he could, butting heads with his brother once more. Shinosuke was glaring back at him, but that did little to hide the tears welling in the corners of his eyes.

Sanosuke opened his mouth to yell some more, but hesitated as a piercing pain shot through his chest. He choked on his words, struggling to catch his breath after the intense moment. His brother didn't miss it.

"Aniki?"

Sano's fist came flying from the left, and rocked Shino's entire skull. The older brother was breathing frantically as he tried to maintain his focus. He brought the fist up and shoved a finger into the other's chest.

"I-I said... you hear? Anything happens to him... and it's... on... your... head..."

Vision blurring, and his ribcage feeling like it was on fire, Sanosuke fell backwards and struck the floor hard, unconscious.

"Sanosuke!"

Miya came dashing into the room, phone clutched and ambulance a phone call away as his brother knelt beside him. Shino pulled away the jacket, revealing his bandaged chest stained in fresh, dark red. His wounds had reopened and were worsening at a rapid rate.

Shinosuke and Miya shared only a single panicked glance before the latter was dialing emergency services. Shino felt a horrible pit growing in his stomach as he clenched his brother's hand. Years of vitriol were forgotten as terror and questions set in.

"Hang on, brother." he whispered. "We'll get you help. You're gonna make it...please..."

Shinto

The trio walked along in silence, as they had for the past couple hours, the girl leading, the two men following a few yards behind. The tension between the three of them was palpable, almost as cold as the freezing air itself.

"Err... Miss Ilene," the butler began, his voice stained with uncertainty. "Are you-"

"Micheal." Ilene came to a sudden stop, making no attempt to disguise the fury in her voice. "I do not. Want. To hear it."

The rebuke, though more than enough to quell the manservant's words, elicited an amused snort from Lancer. "My, such a young, composed lady. Things do not go as planned, so she takes her anger out on her comrades. No wonder you were chosen to fight in the Holy Grail War; undoubtedly the Einzberns were so impressed by your tactical wisdom that they couldn't wait to throw you to the front lines."

It was almost possible to see the vein throbbing in Ilene's temple as she spun around, her eyes blazing with anger. "Oh, don't you start with me too, Lancer," she spat. "There was a reason why I tried to summon you, out of all of history's heroes. I thought that you would have been just as eager to win as me, if not even more! I guess I made the wrong choice though; I got a coward instead of a warrior."

The Servant bristled at the insult. He began marching towards his Master as he replied, punctuating each of his words with a footstep. "A coward am I? Then tell me, little one, what would you call someone who rushes into a fight that they can't possibly hope to win, eh!?"

"We could have trashed all of them before the first civilians arrived and you know it!"

Micheal sighed as he watched magus and Spirit lash out at each other, their words thick with barbs and venom. He supposed it was only to be expected; they had been unable to unleash their bloodlust on their foes, and now had no choice but to take it out on each other. It was certainly a regrettable situation, for all involved, but surely it would be better for them to vent all of their rage now, instead of letting it stew until a later date. Besides, he could always intervene if things got too heated.

Only half listening to Ilene and Lancer's shouts, the old man walked over to a nearby restaurant patio. His lips curled up in a half-smile as he sank into a chair; they had been walking for most of the night, it seemed, and he wasn't as spry as he used to be. Needed to let old bones rest every once in a while. Leaning his umbrella against a nearby table, Micheal peeled off his gloves and rubbed his hands together, blowing on his slightly numbed digits. On nights like tonight he really envied mages like that Marks boy. Possessing such a command over fire must have all kinds of mundane benefits.

Seeing that his companions' argument was going nowhere fast, the butler reclined in his seat, wistfully staring up at the night sky. A few clouds were out tonight, but most of the dark expense was perfectly clear, full of glittering points of light. It was relaxing, in a way, to just stare up at the stars like this. It was really a shame he couldn't do it more often, but duty had to come before pleasure. It wasn't as though he could just abandon his charge and leave her all by herself; God only knew what-

A clattering arose from a nearby alleyway, rousing Micheal from his reverie. Grumbling as he climbed to his feet, the old man marched towards the source of the noise, expecting to see the silhouette of a stray cat or dog, or possibly of a drunken bum. He most certainly did not expect to see a diminutive, frightfully thin monster, clutching a pitchfork between its claws.

"Miss Ilene, Lancer," he called out as he carefully retreated, his eyes locked on the crimson demon. "I do believe that we have a guest."

The Master and Servant paused their bickering long enough to look over and spot the newcomer. Muttering a curse, Lancer summoned his halberd out of thin air. Charging forward, he prepared to finish the imp off in a single swing.

"Wait, wait, wait!"

The Servant stayed his hand, staring at the strange creature in confusion. He hadn't expected the monster to be capable of speech, or to drop its weapon and raise in its claws in a clear sign of surrender. Turning around, Lancer stared at his Master, his unspoken question quite clear.

After a moment of consideration, Ilene gave her answer. "Well, let's see what it has to say. Then you can kill it."


Miyama

Sagara slowly walked out to his car, his footsteps steady and carefully measured. Not too fast, not too slow, nothing that would arouse suspicion. He opened the door as silently as possible, slid into his seat, and closed the door. He stuck the keys into the ignition and left them there.

He sat still for just less than two minutes.

"What the hell just happened."

After a few more seconds of shouting, Sagara rested his head against the steering wheel, his eyes twitching as he attempted to process just what in hell was going on. There was no way that... thing had been human. He was dealing with something outside of worldly knowledge here, and he had no idea how he was supposed to handle it. Could he arrest a spirit? Jail a demon? Force them to surrender, to go back wherever they had come from? What was he supposed to do!?

Roaring out a wordless cry, the cop turned on his car and peeled out of the parking lot. He didn't know where he was going. He didn't want to. He just wanted to get away from here, to get someplace he could think.

...The park. He'd been there before, when he just needed to calm down and get away from it all. Isolated, quiet, especially at this time of night. It'd be perfect.

Screaming through the streets and paying no heed to the speed limit, Sagara managed to forget his worries for a few moments, losing himself in the ride. Twisting through treacherous turns, speeding through yellow, almost red lights, narrowly avoiding half-a-dozen accidents, he careened through the city streets with only the utmost skill.

It was going to be a long night.


Miyama Park

Sagara slouched back into the bench, staring up at the endless night sky. The cigarette clutched between his lips didn't do much to stave off the chill in the air, but it did wonders for his turbulent thoughts. The stinging, acrid feeling of the smoke filling his lungs gave him something else to focus on, something to think about besides the encounter in that damn hotel room.

...What was he doing? Why was he still bothering to think about it? Did he actually think he could do anything about it? Because really, what could he possibly do to handle the situation? He had no idea what he was getting into here; it'd be far, far better to just forget he had seen anything and walk away. God knew it'd be easier on his mental health.

But at the same time, he knew he couldn't do that. He had standards, ideals to uphold. Just giving up and walking away, pretending none of it had ever happened, would go against everything he believed in.

Sighing, Sagara closed his eyes as he exhaled his lungful of smoke. He just wanted to help keep people safe. Was that really too much to ask for? He didn't think so, but apparently the universe did.

"What the hell am I gonna do?"

For a few minutes, silence was the only response he received. His question hung in the frigid air, unanswered and tormenting him for what felt like hours, when suddenly:

"Rough night, huh?"

The sound of footsteps, crunching through the grass, shook Sagara from his trance. Turning his head, the cop noticed a young man, probably in his late twenties, marching over to the bench, a half-smile spread across his face.

Groaning, Sagara scooted over a few inches, giving the newcomer enough room to sit. "Isn't it a little late for you to be out?" he ventured, glaring at the man. This was the last thing he needed; someone else to bother him.

"I could say the same to you," the stranger replied, his smile managing to withstand Sagara's grimace. He sank onto the bench with a relieved sigh, before continuing. "Come on, don't you want to talk about what's bothering you? Talking through a problem generally helps to get everything in perspective, doesn't it? And it makes it easier to find a solution too."

The cop snorted derisively, rolling his eyes as he took another drag. After expelling the smoke, he muttered his reply, his voice think with annoyance. "Kid, thanks for the offer, but what makes you think I'd want to confide in you?"

"Instinct."

Sagara chuckled darkly. "Instinct, eh? Ah, what the hell; it's not like you're gonna believe me anyway."

The newcomer just kept smiling. "Try me."

"...So I'm a cop, right? As you could probably expect, we were getting a lot of calls at the station tonight, and I got this one guy... Sorry, I guess I should probably at least tell you my name, right? Officer Takashi Sagara."

"Shirou Emiya."


Dawn of the Second Day

7 Masters and 7 Servants remain.

The walk back home was accompanied with an awkward silence, periodically broken by the sound of nearby sirens and nosy civilians peering through their windows to see what the mess was all about. Caster was still holding his empty bottle in his hand as he dragged his feet through the asphalt. His composure was eerily different from what Maria usually seen him in. He seemed to walk in slower movements and hunch his back forward as he went along the road, playing with the empty bottle's neck and moving it between his fingers.

Caster was remembering his past while a tune played in the back of his mind. He walked forward and took half a step back every other step, as if he was dancing on his way over. The imposing figure pushed back the black hood hiding his dark hair and let his scalp feel the cold Japanese breeze. It wasn't that different from before, all those years ago. Had it not been for dirty politics and the threat of war, he could have carried on with his life uninterrupted.

Caster glanced at Maria walking by his side. Even with the help of his divine liquor, the woman still looked the same. It wasn't her face, her hair, or her smell, it was her nigh permanent scowl that made her into the woman she is today. Caster reveled in the fact that such an insignificant wish was granted an audience by the Holy Grail, god's presence on this wretched earth.

His wrinkled right hand suddenly pushed against Maria's shoulder when he wrapped it around her back and pulled her closer towards him. She resisted at first, but something stopped her from completely breaking away. Something was hidden within Caster - even though he was an imposing and terrifying figure, he could charm the souls of women in a heartbeat. His hand rubbed against the enchanted coat Maria wore, as if he was trying to warm Maria and protect her from the cold.

The old hag felt a warm embrace surround her completely. She slowly leaned her head against Caster's body as the pair walked forward in unison, their hearts beating to the same tune. Maria couldn't stand to complain at her servant's outrageous advancements - he was a legend after all, which was the reason why she summoned him in the first place.

"We will endure, Mary.", he whispered to the wind with a soothing voice.

Maria closed her eyes for a moment and let the whirlwind of events around her settle in her mind. The disturbing images she saw only served as a warning to what was to come. Pillars of flames and roaring machines of death were only the beginning of this unimaginable journey. With their sentry at the church gone, she had no clue as to the actions of the judge or those who will visit the safe haven.

The two stopped just before the entrance to the apartment-building they were staying in when Maria seemed to have dozed off. The old woman was dragging her feet for the past few minutes but she gave up on that day completely when she was underneath Caster's wing. The old preacher slowly pulled her hood back to reveal the back of her head. He passed his long, thin fingers through her hairs, brushing strands of black to the sides with every move. The comforting sensation suddenly woke Maria up when she uttered a few words out of an old habit.

My Marcus...

That name kept the old hag in a state of bliss for a mere second before she realized what just happened. She was soaring in the skies of her mind when she lost her wings and fell to the dark abyss below. Thoughts raced through her head before her mind snapped back into reality in an instant. The memories of that name came crushing down on her spirit. Suddenly she felt alone and... so, so very angry.

"Get away", she yelled.

It was that name that made her feel so uncomfortable and disturbed. She regained her composure and tore away from Caster's embrace. Her heart started pumping at an unbelievable pace as old scars were opened wide. He was the one that tossed her aside like the used up waste she was. He was the one that made her cry night after night in all of those years in her stone prison.

She made a dash forward towards the stairway but her leg dragged behind and made her trip. She closed her eyes, preparing to face the floor, but her hands caught on to the railing and saved her. Slowly opening her eyes, she gazed at the floor and saw her head was only a few inches away from being smashed on the steps. Maria dragged her legs forward and pushed herself up from the railing. Caster soon followed her from behind, completely bewildered by her reaction.

"Master, wait-", he urged her to stop as she went up the stairs, "Please stop, Maria!". His superhuman grasp was the only thing that stopped the deeply distraught woman from running away and curling into a little ball in the corner of her room.

"What did I do?", Caster tried to find the error in his ways. He didn't expect to see this from her. The priest knew he had a few days on this earth yet he had to spend it with his old hag of a master. The priest had to stay near her at all times and soak in all of the perverse ways the world had gone. He was forced to spend his last days in a land of heathens of all things and was torn away from the old continent by that wretched witch sorcerer.

He couldn't hate her anymore. The more he learned about the old woman the more he felt sorry for her rotten fate. He felt well every time he saw her scowl turn into a smile, if only for a moment and that feeling was what made him want to help her win her wish.

Maria held the railing and tried to pry her shoulder away from the hands of her servant. Her servant, who was supposed to serve her, and not force his will on her. That arrogant priest she heard all the way to Japan talk of his grand plans and his desire to meet the almighty himself was getting on her nerves. Not only did he disobey her but he... he did... what she could never forgive...

"Let go of me!", she commanded her servant to comply, hoping he would remember his place and let her be. She couldn't stand to see him anymore... his empty eyes and awful grin shook Maria to her very core. Those long, thin fingers she felt touching her hair earlier only made her angrier at her servant for touching her. She continued to struggle and turned around to face her impudent servant. She was standing a few stairs higher than Caster, but when she faced him she stared directly at his face.

His eyes were blue again. She could see them beyond the depths of darkness that usually resided in their place for a moment, only for a moment. His long fingers stretched across her left shoulder and down to her back, sending goosebumps down her spine.

"I'm sorry.", Caster announced, "For what I did to you. For what the world did to you. For what he did to you." .

"I need a smoke", her voice was stoic. She repressed her emotions and kept her cool. The air around her changed and Caster could feel it as well. He let go of her and she ran outside to catch a breath of fresh night air. Caster wasn't sure if he was supposed to follow her or stay put. He never expected to face such a thing before - all of the hardships he imagined he would have to face were big burly men in armor trying to kill him... not his master's feelings.

"Are you coming?", she asked Caster before turning around, "I need a god-damned translator".


"Se-gah-wet", Maria tried to repeat the sounds she heard coming off Caster so easily as if it was his native tongue. She couldn't understand what infernal otherworldly power gave him the ability to understand this land's language and deny her the privilege. She was still shocked the two of them found a shop where there was other foodstuff besides boxed dried meals and seafood.

The two were standing in line in a supermarket with a cart filled with whatever vegetables and cheese Caster could decipher. Caster was trying to teach Maria a few Japanese words while the two were standing in line. He was having a blast hearing her attempts at Japanese, and because he couldn't tell the difference between her mother-tongue and Japanese, it was even funnier when she complained to him in Hungarian.

"Try it again, please-", Caster said in Hungarian while trying to suppress his laughter, "Ci-ga-rettes". He noticed that the person in front of them was already done with his shopping and the clerk was signaling them to move along. He was at first worried to see two very foreign individuals browsing his wares in his humble shop at such a late time of night, but the attitude of the two eased his nerves. After all, any money is good money.

"Hello!", Caster announced as he approached the clerk and started setting the products his master picked on the counter, "I will have this, please". The clerk was impressed at Caster's clean Japanese and tried to strike up a conversation as he was registering their purchases.

"Your Japanese is very good", the clerk addressed Caster which was busy trying to explain to Maria how to say 'cigarettes' again in Japanese.

"Thank you, kind sir", Caster answered with an eerie smile. The clerk tried to mask his instinctive revulsion as he stepped up his speed and tried to finish with all of the pair's groceries.

"What brings you to Fuyuki?", he pleasantly asked. Maria was already badgering Caster to translate what the clerk was saying.

"I am escorting my niece... she always wanted to visit Japan.", Caster eyed the infuriated Maria as she stood behind the cart and waited for his response, "A friend of mine lent us his flat while he's away for business". Caster pointed at the stack of cigarette packs behind the clerk and Maria jumped in the conversation, "me ciga-wettes, please". The clerk smiled awkwardly at Maria's attempts at Japanese and asked Caster which brand. The priest shrugged his shoulders and the clerk picked a random pack.

"What do you think about Marlboro light?", Caster asked Maria in her native tongue.

"It's good enough", she said before heading off to the street, but before she could leave the clerk shouted something at her in Japanese. As it turns out, Caster said Maria had the two's pocket-money. The bewildered old hag had to walk back and present the clerk with six imaginary notes, which he gladly took and returned the change with real money.

"You see Caster? Illusions have its advantages", she smugly commented before leaving.


An hour later and the two were already midway preparing their glorious dinner. Caster was working on making his supposedly legendary borsht he learned how to prepare from his renowned cook and Maria was busy cutting vegetables for a salad with salty cheese in it... all the while holding a cigarette between her lips.

It was the first time Maria smoked in years, but the death-sticks were just enough to reinvigorate her tired spirit. Something in those tobacco tubes reminded her of the time of old, when she was a young and spry chick. She cut the vegetables and cheese very quickly, nearly finishing the whole thing in less than five minutes. Unfortunately for her poor finger, she accidentally cut it with the knife she held when she tried to keep her cigarette from falling into the bowl. It quickly started dripping with blood and Maria had to rush to the sink and wash her wound with water. On her way she passed by Caster who was already done boiling water and cutting beats for his soup.

Caster held his two hands out and gently touched Maria's injured hand. He whispered a sentence in a beautiful language, one which was filled with a request to the heavens. Lo and behold, the minor cut Maria suffered disappeared from existence with a prayer from her servant. Caster let Maria go and returned to his borsht, one that he was keen on successfully making to impress his master. A few minutes passed, and Caster was already finished with the preparations. All that remained was waiting for the soup to cook for another ten minutes and then it would be ready.

Without even noticing, Maria already set the table in the kitchen for dinner. She placed her salad in the middle and already sat at her stool. She eyed the fresh vegetables hungrily, and Caster allowed her to eat without waiting for him with a wave of his hand. Old habits die hard, and Maria still remembered table manners from her previous life.

A creepy smile spread across Caster's face while the two were sitting in their borrowed apartment. Maria was eating the little vegetables she found to be edible in this city when Caster interrupted her.

"I have a report, my dear...", he spoke elegantly. "One found Saber and his master, but was unfortunately disposed of. Another found the base of operations from which Rider worked, but alas, it was filled with traps. The third... found some interesting occurrence.", Caster walked towards the couch and made himself comfortable. He grabbed the phone by his right hand and continued talking to Maria.

"You see... Assassin and his master... decided to arm themselves, and as much as I know from Japanese television... possessing firearms is illegal", Caster then dialed the number for the city's police department. They would be mighty interested in finding suspects for what had happened in the city's bridge, and what's better than suspected terrorists?

Maria pulled the borsht pot away from the stove and poured a portion for her and Caster. She sighed delightfully when she tasted the delicious soup. She couldn't stop eating it to ask Caster a question and only turned to him after she was done with her dish.

"I will place an all-seeing eye at the other side of the city tomorrow, if I will have enough time to make more spells.", she described what were he plans for tomorrow. "and... why aren't you coming to eat your borsht?", she asked curiously.

"I'm a specter, my master. I don't need nourishment", he commented before opening the television and watching the night news report about the bridge. Maria pushed herself away from the table and quietly walked towards Caster. She leaned down to kiss his forehead before whispering, "good night" to him.

"But I don't need to sleep either", the confused Caster said.

"I know", Maria said before leaving to her room.

Sophie clutched her jacket slightly tighter as she looked out over the river. The wind didn't bite quite so sharply as it did in the night, but the scene she surveyed was chilling in a different way. From where she stood alongside the river Sophie could easily see the remains of the Fuyuki Bride, now surrounded by roadblocks and work crews.

"[I don't understand Berserker.]" Though a few locals were around Sophie felt free enough to speak openly in German; even if someone understood her they would probably just take her for a mad foreigner or something. "[Why would they do this? Is this prize really so great that it could drive them to this?]"

She had felt the flairs of Prana, swift and violent, in the previous night; nothing like any spells she had ever sensed in the past. But seeing the results, the massive destruction with her own eyes was something totally different.

"[We aren't supposed to involve others.]" She continued in a confused whine. "[That's one of the rules. But look at this.]" She bent slightly at the edge of the water and picked up an errant rivet. "[This was the artery of the city. The path through which it's lifeblood flowed. And now it's gone.]"

She paused for a moment, a voice from her childhood ringing in her ears. "[This isn't right Berserker.]" As she began again the whining tone ebbed from her voice, replaced with a tone of steel. "[We are supposed to be Magi. The wise ones who guard and collect the secrets of the universe for humanity.]" As she continued to speak her voice rose higher and higher, she stomped a boot into the sand in frustration. "[Magecraft is supposed to help create, not to destroy! How could they be so wrong?]"

Sophie stewed silently for a while, slowly the angry energy leaked away and her shoulders lowered from their agitated position. Sophie whipped away the hint of a tear as she cradled the reminent of the bridge closer to her. "[Berserker, I just don't understand.]" Her voice was low again. "[Why would they do this?]"

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