Fate/Final Dark (Game Thread)

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"...But writing things down helps me to remember them better, and I believe that knowledge like this is going to be pretty critical later on."

Berserker listened carefully to the lad, at least as much as he was able. Statistics, rules, all of this reminded him of the scholars writing down their words in carefully drawn angular writing, scholars that were relied upon for advice and whatnot. He hadn't seen much of them in his own time. Then again, all that was boring. There was more exciting things to do, that was the case here and back then. Ah! Berserker saw an opportunity for a game of wits here. He tried to hide the growing smile on his face, but only managed to just keep the grin from spreading across his face.

"Say, speaking of identities, wanna take a guess?" He asked.

"Say, speaking of identities, wanna take a guess?"

Matt stared blankly at the giant man, noting the faint twitches around the edges of the Servant's lips. Even ignoring his unique choice of dress, Berserker certainly looked distinctive enough; the young magus was reasonably confident that, given enough guesses and a hint or two, it wouldn't be too difficult to divine the spirit's true name.

And considering all the knowledge that would accompany guessing his identity, playing along with the giant's game couldn't hurt too much, now could it?

"...Alright," the magus hesitantly replied. "A guess or two couldn't hurt anything."

Safely stowing his notebook away, Matt took a step back, giving himself a better view of Berserker. As he chewed on his lower lip, the young man scanned the Servant up and down, trying to focus on his most distinctive features.

Glossing over Berserker's eye, hair, and skin color, as well as the bushy mess of hair coating his chin, the boy stared at the bronze manacles locked around the Servant's wrists for a few seconds. Some kind of prisoner, perhaps? An escaped one, judging by the few bent and broken links that dangled depressingly from each of the metal loops. Pacing, Matt circled around behind the Servant, and noted the seven distinct locks that hung halfway down his back.

Seven. Undoubtedly, that number held some sort of cultural significance, but the number seven was revered by countless groups all across history. It was hardly a distinguishing factor.

The fact that it was represented by hair, as opposed to a tattoo or other form of body art, however, might be an important clue.

Walking back around to Berserker's front, Matt set his lips into a slight frown. He had some information to go on, sure, but nothing absolute. His guess would still be just that, a guess. But if he could try his luck a few times, and maybe eliminate a few wrong choices...

"Do I get more than one guess?" he asked, his dull tone unable to fully disguise his curiosity.

"Do I get more than one guess?"

Berserker chuckled at that, he was glad to see that the magus was taken by curiosity. He scratched his head while thinking on the answer to that question. With an unlimited number of guesses, he was bound to find the answer eventually. Three seemed to be a nice number, but there was a much better way of going about this. However, it had to be done right. Make it too easy and his identity would be found, make it too hard and the poor lad would probably spend his nights worrying about it. And of course, Berserker didn't want it to end up like that business with that wedding, but at least the prize was somewhat less material. The arm fell down from his head and rested at his sides. Berserker stretched, giving the impression of being laid back about the whole thing.

"How about this..." Berserker began, "As a bit of fun, how about a riddle? The answer's my identity. You get three guesses. If you fail, you give me the identity of your Servant."

He stopped stretching and lightly slapped the boy on the back, "C'mon, no harm in it!"

"...It's probably safe to guess that you're a bit more than human yourself, eh?"

"Er..." Rider sheepishly grinned. "Yeah, guilty as charged. Technically, I'm a homunculus." The Servant shrugged, passing it off as a minor factoid. "I don't think I'm really any different from a normal human, though. I was just created in a different way."

He was interrupted by the arrival of Assassin, who'd snuck up on them quite handily. Rider was impressed, but said nothing. He was observing two other newcomers. A young Master, and what he realized must be Berserker. The Master sat away from the others, isolating themselves while the Servant went to chat up Saber's young boy. Curious to meet the new face, he bid farewell to Saber with a nod and approached Yi, bowing to her and smiling, with a hand extended for her to shake.

"Won't you join us, miss?"


"In any case, it's nice to meet you. He'd never admit it himself, but Clay speaks highly of Dirk, so I hope you are as skilled."

"It's... good to meet you too," said Daria, trying to put on a reassuring smile. She wanted to say something encouraging. They'd surely find Maria. Or, hell, she'd volunteer to find her herself. But that was beyond her limits. At least right now. But having a goal once the war was over was certainly good. She hardly registered the somewhat negative comparison to her adoptive brother, but didn't mind. Her somewhat reluctant smile got a lot larger and a lot more genuine at the suggestion she was as good as Dirk.

"Ha! Don't worry your pretty head about that," she declared, hands on her waist and stance squared. She looked a bit like a superhero from the old Golden Age comics. Yet, somehow, more ridiculous. "If anything, I'm better than Bro at magic. Just wait; you'll see!"

And in an instant, any hot air she had was quickly let out by the arrival of Lancer, who gave her a once-over and was thoroughly unimpressed.

"You don't look anything special." He concluded, before leaping back with a cackle. "And that makes it all the more interesting! I wonder how long it'll be before you get yourself killed!"

Daria's hands quietly clenched into fists, and the girl shot a terrible glare at the Servant, Lancer.

Big, furry monkey face, a tail, and he's a wise-guy on top of it? I wonder...

With a slight growl in her tone she warned, "Back off, Banana-Brains. There's no way I'm gonna die. Not if the other Servants are as big of goofs as you are. Go bother someone who's honorable enough not to punch your teeth out."

There were insults, and there were out-and-out challenges. This was plainly the latter.

"As a bit of fun, how about a riddle? The answer's my identity. You get three guesses. If you fail, you give me the identity of your Servant."

Matt hesitated at the offer. Berserker's challenge was an interesting one, one that he felt he could win. With three guesses and the information he already had on the Servant, the boy knew that he had a decent chance of coming across the giant's identity. So long as luck was on his side, anyways.

On the other hand, if he wasn't able to guess correctly, then he would have to forfeit Saber's identity. While he expected the swordswoman to eventually be revealed somewhere down the line, Matt had hoped to use her Phantasm first, in order to get off a surprise attack against some foe or another.

What to do, what to do...

"C'mon, no harm in it!"

The magus was shaken out of his thoughts by Berserker's pat, and shot a warning glare back at the giant before dropping his gaze. Mmmmmm... In all likelihood, it would probably be best to humor the Servant with his game. It was obvious that Berserker wanted to play, and Matt didn't want to find out what would happen if he disappointed the giant.

"Alright," he agreed hesitantly, "three guesses then.

"My first one is..." A madman who was imprisoned "...Heracles."

"Won't you join us, miss?"

Yi looked up to see a graceful man with flowing white hair and a penchant for politeness, though he clearly wasn't just a man. He was a Servant. However, with those red eyes, one wondered whether he was as human as Berserker. There had certainly been chatter about that, at least, from what she could hear. Nevertheless, the Master of Berserker responded in the same graceful, polite manner. Though, both a bow and a handshake seemed too much in her opinion. He could at least decide on a bow or a handshake, the flurry of the two was just confusing. Yi only decided to reply with the same gestures in case omitting one of the two would offend. Still, her short nod of the head could hardly be called a bow and the loose, brief handshake would cause those that judged people on the quality of their handshakes to question whether this woman and her words were entirely sincere.

"I would be glad to, thank you." Yi said, friendliness hiding behind formality.


"...Heracles."

That was the answer the boy finally spat out after giving a glare to Berserker. At least the kid had some spirit, but the guess was way off the mark, which made the Servant chuckle. Whether or not it was part of some sort of strategy didn't matter, two more wrong guesses and Berserker would have his prize. Admittedly, the identity of each Servant that was here was bound to be found out eventually, thought that wasn't one of Berserker's concerns. He wanted to win this little game. However, not because of things like the shame of losing to a mere boy or stuff like that, but simply to win. Berserker was simple in that respect, and he was two-thirds of the way there. Even so, this little game wasn't over yet.

"Wrong." The hairy behemoth said with a poker face, "Guess again."

"Wrong. Guess again."

Even though the Servant was keeping his visage impressively neutral, Matt could almost hear Berserker's hidden delight. It wasn't like he had been too confident in his answer to begin with, but part of him still wondered if Berserker was lying. After all, it wouldn't be hard for the Servant to simply tell him the wrong answer, and it was certainly the smart thing to do.

Then again, a game of riddles, such as this one, was regarded as all but sacred in some cultures. Assuming that Berserker came from one of them, and afforded the ritual the fervor it deserved, then lying about an answer would be the farthest thing from his mind.

Bah. In any case, he still had two more tries. There was no point in stewing about and double-guessing himself.

"Alright then," the magus replied plainly, stroking his chin as he considered his next choice. "How about... Spartacus?"

"How about... Spartacus?"

Two out of three wrong. This was almost too easy! Well, unless the boy managed to put out his name on the third guess. Stranger things had happened, after all. Berserker repeated the same words with the same face and the same expression. 'He thinks me a Greek or something! The giant was thinking. Hopefully the lad could figure out there was more possibilities other than that of Classical Mythology. Or had he only read those bits? Regardless, there was only one way to found out.

Berserker awaited his next guess.

"....."

Judging by Berserker's silence and impassive countenance, Matt's last guess had been incorrect as well. Fantastic.

Nervously, the magus tried to think, to reason out who else the Servant might be. For once, his academic tendencies were working against him; instead of giving him the answer he wanted, he was overwhelmed by a flood of possibilities. Kintarou, Ragnar, William Wallace, there were countless heroes that could be standing before him! How was he supposed to choose just one of them?

And he was on his last guess as well, wasn't he? If he didn't get it right, then he'd have to give up Saber's name... Gah, unless luck was on his side for once (which it never seemed to be), there was no way this was going to go well. But he had to pick, he had to choose, he had to guess. Because if he didn't, then... then...

Wait a minute.

"I have one more guess, right?" Matt asked, obviously not expecting an answer to the rhetorical query. The ghost of a smile danced across the boy's lips for an instant, but he quickly forced his expression back to its indifferent default. "I'd like some time to think on it, if you don't mind. I'll let you know when I'm ready to guess again."

The young man knew that his tactic, while not exactly cheating, was certainly underhanded. Still, he would much rather take this course of action than give up his Servant's identity.

Nodding to Berserker in farewell, Matt turned away and began to make his way over to the large cluster of Masters and Servants in the center of the room. Something told him that hanging around the hairy giant after pulling a stunt like that wasn't the best of ideas.

"There's no need to be so defensive."

That was easy for him to say. He hadn't stumbled upon a terrible secret for which he could easily be extinguished with a snap of someone's fingers. Her position was a precarious one which both frightened and excited her in equal measure. Fear and distrust had caught hold of her for the moment, knowing that her ineptitude could be seen as weakness and a perfect moment to strike down an intruder into this veiled lifestyle. The two men seemed nice enough but there was always the chance they were just stringing her along for their own twisted amusement.

"The fact of the matter is, if you have no magic circuit, then you are incapable of magecraft. No matter how perfect you make your summoning ritual, it will never work. You simply lack the fuel it needs to run."

["Yes. That would be the problem."]

The hard truth hit Machiko like a sack of hammers once again. Her form visibly slumped a little, her arms relaxing in the process from being clenched tight against her chest. Not even the Grail could overcome what seemed to her like a simple limitation such as needing a magic circuit. The teenager would have been more than willing to give her od in order to activate the circle but without the aid of a circuit to refine it into prana it was an exercise in futility. The girl sighed, dismayed with the confirmation of what she had already figured out on her own. It really was the end of the line.

["Hm. Assuming you can handle the war..."]

A spark of hope was ignited with those words. She would do anything to be apart of this holiest of wars, to command an epic hero and duel with the best magi this planet had to offer. She knew she only needed that one chance to prove herself. She dispelled her dreary disposition as she looked up at Yuri, who was already pacing around the summoning circle to take his position opposite Alexander.

"...Yes?" she peeped tentatively, her voice filled with hope.

"That means if you're going to summon your Servant, you'll need to borrow prana from one of us. I can supply the ritual with the amount it needs, if you wish. But you'll still need to recite the aria."

Machiko could already feel the tears welling up in her eyes. It seemed as though these two mages not only had no ill-will towards her for discovering their secret world but were actively willing to help induct her into their most sacred of traditions. The gesture meant the world to the young woman, another chance to grasp the life of intrigue she had longed for so badly. Words couldn't express how large her heart was swelling with gladness but she had to say something.

"Th-th-thank you..." she almost whispered, sniffling before wiping away the building tears before they streamed down her face. "I'll do my best..."

The three then set themselves into their positions around the circle. Each member extended a hand towards the circle, the two men slowly feeding it prana to activate the ritual. Machiko took a deep breath, trying to calm her nerves once more to keep her voice steady and unwavering during the aria. The last thing she needed was another set back. She couldn't fail, not after a second chance had been so graciously offered to her.

"Fill, fill, fill, fill, fill...
Repeat five times, but destroy each when filled,
Let silver and crimson be thy essence,
Upon it rest the cornerstone; the Archduke of Contracts,
And above them, my ancestor, the great Master Schweinorg.

A single verse into the aria and the spell was already having a visible effect. A ghostly wind began to pick up as the energy from the ritual swirled within. The teenager girl was shocked and in awe of the sudden appearance of the phenomena but kept a stoic composure as not to make an unwanted gaffe in her reciting. She needed to keep her focus.

"Let rise a wall against the wind that shall fall,
Let the four gates of cardinal direction close,
Let the spirit come forth down the winding path I make,
Let the kingdom be the one true path forward."

As the second verse finished the wind picked up in force, beginning to shake the furniture haphazardly laying about. The various books were blowing open, flipping through pages rapidly and some even being tossed about. Scraps of old texts and parchment scrolls were fluttering about, adding to the distraction, yet she never lost focus. Losing all of her research material was only a petty grievance compared to the concentration she couldn't afford to give up.

"I hereby propose,
That my will shall create thy body,
And thy sword shall create my fate,
If thou dost accede to this will and reason, answer me!

The ritual was nearing completion at the end of the third verse. Each line she had drawn was glowing brighter than a white hot sun and continuing to grow in power. The sheer pressure of the spell was beginning to overwhelm her and she hadn't the faintest clue of how she would be able to continue fighting this war if such a commonly known mystery would make her knees weak. It was then that it dawned on her. She needed a Servant that could shore up her one true weakness in this battle, a master of mysteries and true magic alike. She knew of the verse to summon the mad warrior, Berserker, but would the same concept work for another? She had to try, despite all odds of it backfiring, she had little choice but to attempt the impossible. Her hesitation was fractionary, a small exhale of breath to steady her mind and think of what she would say next to try and coax her chosen class, before upturning her hand and displaying the symbols that were slowly beginning to etch themselves onto her hand.

"O' hero of the eternal craft,
Shaper of elements, master of the forgotten arts,
I command you to heed my call,
Come stand at your master's side!

I am all that is good in the eternal world,
I shall be the disposer of evil in the eternal world,
Though who art clad in the Great Trinity, come forth,
Guardian of the Heavenly Scales!"

As the last word was spoken the light overwhelmed the room and filled it entirely. It seemed like an eternity before it returned from whatever dimension it had come from and Machiko could see once more. What stood before her left her both speechless and awed, trembling at what she had just accomplished. Where the summoning circle had been now stood the silhouette of a hero of legend, a man renown for great deeds in his past life that ultimately changed the course of history itself. It seemed impossible, yet with the assistance of the two magi she had broken the rules of convention and made it a reality.

The spirit before them was an older gentleman, standing even with Yuri. Gray hair surrounded his balding head like a crown, sticking out backwards into numerous spiky tufts. His face was tough like old leather, the barest hints of a mustache and goatee gracing his face. Focused brown eyes stared back, hardened from years of meticulous work. His dress was very elegant, a long silk kimono of white emblazoned with a yellow floral pattern upon it. The sash drawn across his waist was a similar yellow and at his sides were six blades, three to each hip, slightly longer than the average katana at about five feet in length. Hidden beneath the many sheaths of the six blades were also a small drinking gourd, filled with what was most likely sake and a ritual tanto. Almost contrary to each masterfully crafted blade and his supple kimono were a very plain set of geta, worn from years of wear and stained far darker than any wood with soot.

Before any of the masters or Archer could react to the newly summoned Servant, he knelt before Machiko, bowing deeply enough to press his forehead to the floor.

"My master, I've come to your side to serve you," he said in a voice that carried a gruff and rural accent. "My humble talents are yours to use."

"It's really you," the teenager girl barely fumbled out. "You-you're-you're really-"

"Indeed I am," the Servant replied before the girl could reveal his identity. He took the brief pause to stand back to his full height, dusting off his kimono before continuing. "But you need to call me Caster for now." The man then thumbed towards Alexander and Archer, using his other hand to block his mouth from sight of the two. "Wouldn't want David and Goliath over there to get jealous of us, now would we?"

The old man laughed heartily at his own joke, throwing back his head as if showing off. His face flushed even further when Machiko joined him, snorting in a fit of dainty giggling. The two seemed to click almost instantly, their compatibility being unusually high for someone who had used a catalyst during the ritual. But before they could enjoy each other's company, the six were interrupted by yet another turn of events that would soon shape the entire reason they were summoned to this very church.

"So your first adversity has been surmounted?" boomed a great, deep voice from within the doorway to the storage room. If there was any here who could be called a warrior, it was the man standing before them now. "So few who proved to be exceptional." His face twisted, various glowing scars bending across the silhouette of his face in worry. "Well then, let us join your less than capable 'companions' in their folly, shall we?"

"Back off, Banana-Brains. There's no way I'm gonna die. Not if the other Servants are as big of goofs as you are. Go bother someone who's honorable enough not to punch your teeth out."

Lancer couldn't help but laugh even more loudly at Daria's grandstanding. Mortals always were an endless source of amusement, especially spirited ones like this. "Oh, I'd love to see you try, little girl." Moving with his trademark swiftness, he was at Daria's side yet again, pacing about her while leaning in a little too close for comfort. "In the time it took you to pull back your arm, I could shatter seventeen bones - and that's just with my tail!" He chuckled as he leaned in, his smile widening to a terrifying grin. "Would you like me to demonstrate?"

"Lancer, please don't..." Diana tried to intervene, but she was cut short by a glare from Lancer. "Don't what? Remind a petty mortal why she can't just run her mouth? I think not, my..."

"ENOUGH."

Lancer stopped dead at the outburst, turning his gaze towards his Master. Dropping his half-finished cigarette and crushing it beneath his shoe, Clay strode over to his Servant, an angry scowl marking his face. "Lancer, apologize."

"Apologize!? For what?" Lancer balked, bolting to his Master with a frown to match Clay's. "I was merely exercising my right to remind her of her place."

"And I'm exercising my right to remind you of yours." He pressed his fingers to his arm menacingly, keeping his angry glare even and not breaking eye contact. "Apologize. NOW."

"Tch." Despite his obvious reluctance, Lancer took a nervous look at Clay's seals before turning to bow to Daria. "I... ask your forgiveness, mortal. A threat of violence was out of line." He shot an angry glare back at Clay as he finished his bow, clearly not happy at having his leash pulled so publicly. "There. Are you happy, then?"

"Quite."

Father Matthias could barely believe it. Not even an hour within the confines of the church walls and already the Masters and their Servants were causing all kinds of commotion and trouble. You would think they would at least have some discretion, some discreetness, even just some common courtesy - but no. They were a gaggle of hooligans with powers close to life and death itself. The old man sighed in frustration at having them congregated within the chapel, knowing he had no true power in this war. His position had been stripped down to one of simple pomp and circumstance and even that portion had been further belittled by the one named Ruler. The man of the cloth couldn't blame the Servant, he was only following the will of the Grail, but to know that there were other forces at work upon this event than even the Association seemed to realize was disturbing.

Miles was also beginning to become difficult to control. Once already he had tried to rush out in the defense of one of the Masters when they had cried out in frustration. It took some stern words and an even sterner blow with his cane to keep the boy in line. Father Matthias wasn't sure how long he could keep his authority over the young man, however. The deacon had been trained to help others above all else and to directly subdue that urge was becoming increasingly unbearable. The priest knew from first hand experience, after all. Yet their role was a passive one and there truly was nothing they could do for the girl. She would need to find a solution or die trying, as was common of many Masters in this war. There were limits, however, to the patience of even the wizened priest.

It was the moment that Lancer had tripped the young Master Orihara that Matthias had to intervene. Having a breakdown from lack of aptitude in the arcane arts was one thing. Committing tomfoolery within his hallowed halls was an entirely different matter and the priest intended to ensure that it would not happen again. Miles, despite the obvious futility, tried to hold the large man back, tugging on his cassock to hopefully stop the military man to no avail. The young deacon wasn't even sure who he should fear for more, Father Matthias or the Master and Servant who were about to be scolded.

As Matthias steadily marched towards the two delinquents he could already see the others doling out discipline to the Servant. While this may have been adequate for any other individual it was not sufficient in the eyes of the priest. They had shown disrespect to his Lord by not acting appropriately within His house and that required the shepherd to reign in his flock. By the time he was standing before the two individuals Lancer had already made a mockery of an apology to the wronged Master. Even with that fool of a Servant standing at least a head taller than the priest, his imposing figure seemed to loom over both of them. It was apparent that the man with the collar was going to require some repentance.

Before either could act upon him entering their circle of conversation, the priest deftly swung his cane. They had already watched him approach yet each was confounded by the sheer speed of the strikes coming at them. The man's arm and weapon were a blur, striking out in the shape of an incomplete figure-eight to crack both Master and Servant across the crowns of their heads. The moment the blows had been struck it seemed as though the priest was already standing at attention with his cane firmly placed in front of him, both hands resting upon the ornate stick.

Daria's attention and ire was immediately turned towards the man in cloth. Her face was bright red and her body trembled with barely contained rage. That old geezer had dared to start something with her and now she planned on finishing it. Her eyes shifted quickly, seeing that even Lancer was slower on the uptake than the fiery woman, still befuddled by the fact that yet another human had lashed out at him with such disregard for his stature. The woman raised her hand high, preparing a massive overhand swing that was over her own head as she leaned forwards to deliver the blow. All of her force was going into this single punch and it would teach that stupid priest who was the boss around here.

As the young woman lashed out, Matthias' eyes narrowed into sharp slits. Had she not learned her lesson yet? It was as if time slowed as the military man began his counter. One swift strike with his cane was placed against his attacker's wrist with enough force placed to just be below fracturing the bone. The second blow came quickly after, following across Daria's cheek with the same force to catch her off balance being pushed one way and then the other. His third maneuver was a quick sweep going from his left to his right, taking out the girl's feet from under her in one brutal stroke. The final blow came in directly at her throat while in mid-air, pushing her to the ground with an almost lethal force. Air struggled to enter the woman's lungs as her assailant's figure towered over her, cane firmly pressed against her throat to restrict her breathing. The scene was motionless for only a moment before father Matthias decided to address the foolish girl.

"I would have expected better manners from an Orihara," he remarked, those narrowed eyes squarely on Daria's with a look of fiery disdain. "We took a large risk, Ms. Tohsaka and I, letting your adoptive brother leave. You are not instilling much conviction in my decision..."

Matthias then quickly turned upon Lancer in the middle of his own haymaker. His cane was pointed towards the Servant, unwavering in both conviction and position. The monkey quickly put his hands up in front of the make shift bokken, grinning sheepishly like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

"...And you," he barked out, the scowl on his face ever persistent, "remember the respect the people within this room have earned simply by being allowed to be here. Have you so quickly forgotten the lessons of your past?"

The comment seemed to cut into Lancer far deeper than any sword blow could have. From a goofy grin to a simple frown, the Servant's demeanor changed drastically at the mention of his past life. There was something in that remark that held a kernel of truth and allowed some humility to shine through. As father Matthias left the two to sort themselves out, Daria humiliated and Lancer humbled, the monkey ceremoniously placed both of his hands in front of himself, one gently clasping the other.

"My sincerest apologies, Bhikkhu," he apologized, accompanied by a gracious bow. The priest seemingly paid the remark no mind and returned to his original post, his deacon right on his coat tails.

It wasn't long after the altercation that a thunderous laughter sounded from the back room of the church. No doubt the furious exchanges had echoed through the empty halls and reached the ears of all within the holy house. The voice was familiar, yet felt unknown due to the tone. Each within the church had heard it once before but not with such jovial exuberance. The clergymen were already turning their heads to the sole entrance to the main hall from the back rooms as the owner of the voice barely managed his way through the tiny door frame.

The man was a clear head above the rest of the occupants inside the nave, standing just above seven feet. His face was bright and cheerful, yet worn with age and battle. The most peculiar set of scars ran down from the man's bald scalp and over his left eye in a pattern much like circuitry. They glowed with power, lighting the walls with an eerie teal tint. His armour match in colour, more of a pearlescent tint towards a greener teal. The metal looked otherworldly, a synthetic alloy far beyond the capabilities of man as it was. It had been shaped to perfectly fit around the muscular build of the giant, coming out into multi-plated shoulder guards that looked so sharp they could be used to cut a man clean in half. The bottom half was shaped into a quad-plated skirt, a balance of protection and mobility. His limbs were not as well armoured as a full plated knight, but instead were armoured simply with bracers, elbow guards, knee pads and plated boots, the rest of his body covered in a black bodyglove and a tabard with golden rope draping down from the waist. His blade and scabbard were slung about the backside of his waist, the hilt of the blade to his right to be drawn with a reverse grip.

Behind the smiling giant peeked through a small child, seemingly out of place in this gathering of magi. The girl's red locks were wavy, even with them going down to her neckline, with cute floral barrettes clasped to each side. Her expression looked far more stern than a child should, a stark contrast to her baby face. Her attire was much more in-line with her adult demeanor, a white blouse with red jeweled broach and a black skirt and stockings, finished off with black flats to complete her assemble. She looked almost like a permanent fixture against the towering behemoth, keeping a firm grip on his leg as he strode over to the lectern where both Matthias and Miles had taken position.

After the pair came the rest of their group, Caster chatting furiously with a captive audience in Machiko, Alexander scolding Archer on every tenant of proper conduct and the Servant scrambling to correct each in stride, and Yuri casually slinking in at the rear towards his own Servant. As the fourteen assembled they began to train their attention on the man that had gone to great lengths to gather them all there; the man standing behind the lectern who called himself Ruler. He was already looking out at the crowd before him, inspecting each one with golden eyes that felt as if they could read your very soul. They each waited patiently to be addressed and the giant certainly took his time in doing so, but eventually gave them a welcoming smile before beginning.

"'The time has come once again for the seven magi to assemble and resume the great quest. Each master has employed a Servant from one of the seven classes to aid in their quest. Together they will join in a battle royal to obtained the greatest treasure of mankind, the Holy Grail. This competition is known as the Holy Grail War. Yet in this moment these statements are not entirely true..."

"You have been gathered here this evening to perform a service for the Grail that has given mankind its power to make real your wildest fantasies. There is a sickness that festers within that must be purged. You may be wondering why I have chosen you all personally, unlike a normal summoning. I have been given the privileged of watching humanity and choosing seven magi to fight on behalf of the Grail, to see it through this vile corruption and forfeit their wish in order to ensure the survival of this most sacred treasure for future generations. If we do not fix this stain upon its holy light, the third magic may be lost to humanity forever!"

"You seven are the destined warriors of light amongst a sea of darkness. You must shine brighter than any that have come before you to defeat the Servants and Masters that will be pitted against you in this -- the greatest of all Holy Grail Wars. You are the white against the black; a team that will be forged in the fires of war or burnt into husks by its trials. Steel yourselves, magi, for you are about to become the first team of Masters to fight in a dual war in this, the holiest of wars, the seventh Holy Grail War!"

Ruler paused to look out at the gathered Masters and Servants once again, his eyes skimming over each individual for their reactions before licking his lips and smirking to himself.

"Any questions?"

The seven Masters and Servants were gathered before Ruler, paired off into their teams as they quietly listened to his words. Standing on the periphery, Daria sulked. Her arms crossed, the red-faced girl tried to tune out the strange man speaking to them. The Servant called Ruler. To her side was the Servant Rider, Enkidu. Although he was a bit disappointed he was interrupted while introducing himself to a lovely young lady, he was not quite so bitter as his Master. He watched her from the corner of his eye. So immature, this girl. But fiery, to be sure. He could admire that much. It wasn't like he couldn't sympathize with her, either. The monkey man to their right, Lancer had been getting the occasional glare from his fellow Servant for the last couple of minutes now. He hadn't come quickly enough to speak on Daria's behalf, before the good Father broke up the brewing scuffle. It was for the best; who knows what he might have done if he'd had the time to come to her aid. It would do no good to damage their fragile alliance of combatants so early in the game.

But if Enkidu had learned anything from his dearest friend, it was how to hold a grudge. Another time, another location. But when the time was right, Lancer would learn his place. He was also quite fascinated by this "Ruler" character. Enkidu was as new to the concept of a Holy Grail War as anyone here, but his status as a Servant afforded him some knowledge on the subject. This was a highly unusual War, and under normal circumstances he would not exist at all. This one was very visually distinctive with his mysterious tattoos, yet Enkidu could not draw a name to mind when observing him.

As the speech went on, Daria could not help but grow distracted from her anger. The priest had broken up her and Lancer's fight, and wiped the floor with her to boot. She was 0-2 in her battles today, her worst record in months. That didn't get under her skin though. If anything, that made her excited. This Holy Grail War was every bit as unforgiving as her big brother had made it out to be, and she could look forward to fights beyond her wildest dreams here. No, what made her mad was that she hadn't even gotten a chance to throw a punch Lancer's way. There was no shame in losing a battle, but a battle that's begun and isn't finished is simply pathetic. Only respect for the surprisingly agile priest that had drubbed her minutes ago kept her from springing across the church right then and there to begin round two with the big primate. But these pent-up frustrations were being drowned out by the idea of such an amazing event to take part in. Seven more Servants were out there, and seven Masters to battle as well. She wondered if there were any like her out there. She might be able to meet some sparring partners.

And, you know, save the world or something.

Her primary objective was firmly restated in her head by her conscience. These days, it sounded a lot like her brother. She got a lot of lectures from him over the years about things like "priorities", "responsibility", and "basic civility". She could only ignore so much of it before some stuck. That wasn't such a bad thing either. Being a hero, saving the day and all. It just didn't hold the same appeal.


Archer did his best to remain quiet and unnoticed in the opening speech by the man who had brought them all to this church, Ruler. The Servant was quite inspiring, to say the least. He wouldn't have been out of place on the battlefields at Troy, trading blows with Achilles or Ajax. Except maybe the tattoos. "Are those magic?" he wondered, watching them emanate their teal light. They seemed so alien to him. He admittedly felt a little disappointed at the lineup. He had held onto the hope that the other team of Masters and Servants might be present for this. If he was to be a scout, knowing who he was supposed to spy on would have been a great boon. Too much to ask for, though, he knew. The small man supposed it was for the best; if he could see them, they could see him, and his targets knowing he would be coming would be quite the disadvantage.

He was so lost in thought he did not notice his Master watching him more than the speech. Alexander felt pride seeing his Servant take to his role so quickly. That calculating, strategizing expression was impossible to mask. Their team would go far, he was quite certain. All that was left to do was take stock of the other teams. There was of course the girl, Machiko, and Caster. Though this Caster didn't seem like one he would expect. They could safely be considered a wild card team. A girl with no magical prowess and a Servant with (presumably) no ability BUT magical prowess. Then there were Assassin, and her Master, the man they had met earlier. Assassin's ability was never measured in parameters, but in skills and utility. So he couldn't give an accurate rating of them yet, though the woman seemed... somewhat less stealthy than the illustrations had made her class out to be. He had heard tell of irregular Servants. Perhaps this was one of them?

Much like Assassin, Berserker was a tough nut to crack until their Mad Enhancement activated. For now he appeared purely average, if more talkative than his class normally was. But that could change quite drastically.

The most plainly seen powers in the room belonged to Saber, Lancer, and Rider, in that order. Any EX rating denoted power beyond reckoning (and he recalled reading that Sabers were as a rule the strongest class), and the monkey man was no slouch either. However, of the two he expected more of the latter. The Masters were plainly of different leagues. Lancer's Master was older, and weathered. Clearly of experience not unlike Alexander's own. A true peer to be measured and respected on the field of battle.

Saber's Master... well... he looked just like Archer. There was no way to look around his meek appearance. Machiko, while talentless, at least had the spirit of a magus to earn her Command Spells. What by his father's good name was this poor child doing in this War? His heart was filled with pity for the child. Such a boy couldn't be here by choice. "Poor boy, caught up in something larger than himself..."

That left, last, Rider and the girl that stood beside him. There was nothing that seemed truly extraordinary about his parameters... if he were a knight class. But he was a Rider, who normally possessed weaker stats and skills. He must have been a powerful spirit to earn such strength in his class. And his appearance was quite unusual as well. He appeared very similar to the Einzbern homunculi of much repute in the Clock Tower. For a brief moment he'd assumed he was a Master, representing said family, and the oddly dressed woman was perhaps an abnormal Berserker, like his Archer or their Assassin. He was curious to see them in action, as it was said Riders tended to have powerful Phantasms.

As the Masters and Servants made their observations, Ruler asked the collection of individuals: "Any questions?"

Alexander looked to his left as the Master of Rider stepped forward.

Daria stared straight at Ruler, undaunted by his imposing appearance. With a daring smile she said, "I've got one."

Crunching her fist against a palm, she demanded to know, "When do we meet our opponents? You said it's a War, right? I'd like to know who I'm fighting."

Her gaze faltered for only a brief moment. Just a quick glance. She'd only just now begun to pay attention to Ruler in her excitement for the coming War. And she noticed the little girl behind him.

Years ago, she'd met someone. Her brother was there, introducing her. She'd met the two before, but the girl clinging to her mother's leg was new. Her brother pointed at the child with such brilliant red hair.

"Daria, this is..."

A perplexing expression flashed across her face, but Daria looked away from the girl, and toward Ruler. "Well?"

"Success." Yuri stated, matter of factly, as he observed the new man. He was old, and serene. A Caster, in elegant Japanese clothing, armed with 7 blades, all seemingly better made than Yuri's own Scottish broadsword. He smiled, this one would serve the girl well it seemed, their laughter was already filling the halls.

A voice from behind reminded Yuri that he was to keep his guard up, at all times. Even if it was friendly, surprises are what got you killed. The warrior told them this was their first obstacle? The war would be over in hours, if that were the case.

"Well then, let us join your less than capable 'companions' in their folly, shall we?"

Yuri nodded stiffly, and fell into the back of the line, watching the others movements. He wondered if he could take them all, if he wanted to right now?
________________________________________________________________________________________________
'And suddenly I've been abandoned. Is this how Brutus usually feels when he begins talking about fire?' Matt played with the brute, losing their game it looked like. The monk challenged the girl, who Cassius though was actually going to oblige. Seeing a smirk punched off a face was always a pleasant sight, so long as she stayed out of fist and blood spray range. Though, in all likely hood, she would have been crushed into the dirt and used as fertilizer.

The fight was almost immediately broken up by the priest, however, who was good at scolding and even better at combat. When was the last time she'd seen a can used like THAT? She hoped Daria was better against people using conventional weapons, or else they'd lose their Rider quickly...
________________________________________________________________________________________________
"Cassius." Yuri greeted, casual as ever, finally dusting some of the dry wall off his coat. Cassius raised an eyebrow, but said nothing of it. Instead, she offered a polite "Yuri," as they turned to listen to the Ruler's speech.

"Any questions?"

Cassius' mind was alight with ideas and plans, while Yuri simply looked on. The Matou's greatest couldn't win a 'standard' war, now it was time for Yuri to win the greatest, and last. No more also meant a chance at true freedom... His eyes showed only determination, and he grinned as Daria gave her proposal, a thing Cassius should've asked too. She came up with three scenario's in her head already, but she'd need more information on how the other team operated first. Speculation based on how the enemy should behave was useless.

Clay chuckled as his Servant was walloped by the wizened old priest. While his own admonishing kept Lancer from acting on his less savory urges, he appreciated Matthias was capable of handing out a natural punishment for his unruly behavior. While he saw the need to keep Lancer in check, he was leery to pull his leash too hard and with too much zeal, lest he garner the Servant's resentment. Clay made a mental note to thank Matthias later for his assistance in this matter before noting the arrival of two more Master-Servant pairs, Caster and Archer.

Before he could get a proper read on them, however, he heard a familiar chuckle boom from outside the church. Turning his head to see Ruler's imposing frame enter through the front door, Clay withdrew to the outskirts of the atrium to let him make his speech. He didn't listen much, because he could guess the contents beforehand - congratulations on the summoning, a basic rundown on their place in the war, that sort of thing. Deciding to take the opportunity to be a bit more productive, he scanned the room, formally sizing up his his allies. He'd need to determine quickly who would be an asset he could trust, and who would be a liability to work around - the stakes were too high for him to waste his time with somebody over their head.

First were the newcomers - Caster and Archer. Caster himself seemed par for course as far as Servants go, which is to say a great deal more dangerous than he appeared. Mediocre paramaters, as to be expected, but that wasn't the point of his class. No, what interested Clay more were the swords on his person. Seven, to be exact. Could they be part of his phantasms? Some arcane art of which he had little knowledge? Only time would tell. His Master, on the other hand, was rather unusual in that Clay sensed no magical potential in her at all. While he wanted to say that would make her a crippling liability, he got the feeling that, much liker her Servant, there was more to this one that wasn't immediately apparent.

Archer, on the other hand, was much less impressive. He stood even shorter than Diana, with a boyish face and a meek disposition. Subpar paramaters damned him even further. Clay would write the boy off completely... if it weren't for the sheer power his apparent Master wielded. A tall man standing a full head taller than Clay himself, Archer's master radiated an aura of power and confidence. Clay made a mental note to talk with this one later - he was bound to be interesting, to say the least.

Continuing his assessment, Clay's attention turned towards Saber. Her EX rank in strength alone would make her a devastating asset, but she had a suite of other good parameters to compliment it, as he expected of the greatest of the knight classes. He'd need to see her combat skills first-hand before he made a final judgement, but Clay suspected with great certainty that pairing her with Lancer would make for a devastating combination on the battlefield. Her Master, however, reminded him much of Archer. Meek, unimpressive, and generally over his head. He'd need to prove much if he was to survive this conflict.

Assassin was the next to come under his silent scrutiny. Much like Caster, her parameters weren't the point - it was her skill as a cutthroat that mattered. Her rather forthcoming nature with her identity posed a serious security risk, and was indicative of a temperament ill-suited to espionage. And while her Master seemed to do his best to avoid scrutiny,
Clay didn't get the same impression of meekness he got from Saber's Master. Perhaps he summoned an Assassin because he himself works best behind the scenes?

Berserker was another entity that required further information. Without Mad Enhancement, he was essentially a knight class with sub-par parameters. His temperament mattered little - it would be supplanted by complete and utter rage when Mad Enchantment was activated, after all. His Master seemed his near complete opposite, composed and collected. This was good - a level head can overcome even the greatest deficiencies in personal power.

And then there was Rider. Clay knew better than to assume this childish figure wasn't a threat - he had parameters well beyond what was expected of his class. On top of that, Riders are known for their powerful phantasms - if he could divine their nature, they too would make for powerful tools. His Master was still brooding after being scolded by Matthias, but any protege of Orihara's had to be worth Clay's time, if not his respect. Her temper would be a problem, however. Holding grudges and letting your pride get the better of you gets you killed in a real fight.

"Any questions?"

Clay snapped back to attention as Ruler concluded his speech. He kept silent - any questions he had he strongly suspected Ruler couldn't or wouldn't answer, and so he wouldn't waste his breath.

Machiko could feel her heart in her throat as she walked into the greater atrium of the church. The other five Servants and four Masters were spread about the room, involved in various conversations concerning what she could only surmise as the finer points of magi tactics. It was a daunting but thrilling moment in her experience, seeing her fellow compatriots hard at work. She could only hope that her unique skill set would prove to be useful in a war where information gathering could be as easy as muttering an enchantment. Before the girl could even look to her Servant for reassurance for her unspoken worries, the spirit had already placed a hand on her shoulder to comfort her.

"Don't worry," he whispered, not even looking towards the girl as he scanned his soon to be comrades. "You'll do fine."

"I hope so..." she muttered back, tugging at her blouse with worried hands.

As the crowd of participants began to gather, the young woman took her place front row center, the penultimate location to listen to a good address. Her Servant looked less than interested, his eyes shifting from one side of the room to the other, hovering over each pairing to scrutinize. It was an activity he excelled at, finding flaws within the perfect fold of steel that could find the blade brittle or warped upon shaping it. People were no different and after a lifetime of forging weapons he was the best at finding the small imperfections that could destroy a tool of war.

The first team his eyes laid upon was Daria and Rider. The fiery temper of the Master was an obvious flaw, easily able to endanger not only herself but jeopardize the safety of other during a planned action. What worried Caster more was her servant. His pale skin, snow white hair and blood red eyes. Was he some sort of oni from the shadowlands? That simple hypothesis disturbed him greatly and the spirit felt his spine tingle and a bead of cold sweat trace his jaw line. If there was any amount of truth to this he would need to keep a close eye on that one.

Next were Lancer and his Master, Clay Marks. The Servant seemed almost worse than the woman before. His casual, inattentive manner was only out-shone by his disregard for others in what he assumed was an inflated ego. Even now he was fiddling with what seemed to be the Master's attendant's hair, much to her chagrin as she was given three very unflattering pigtails. The Master seemed to be the complete opposite; cool, composed, uncaring. He was a warrior through and through and quite possibly the most experienced combatant outside of the seven Servants. It was a curious pairing to be sure but also a highly volatile one. Should the Servant truly step out of line, which was a very real possibility with how he was acting, there was little telling what lengths the Master would take to regain authority.

The third group he inspected was that of Saber and her Master Matthew Heller. They were a stark contrast, that much was certain. The Servant looked as though she could break a man in two without so much as breaking a sweat, where as the boy could be subdued by a stiff breeze. Though he put up an excellent front, the young man was quaking in his boots much like his own Master. The only question that plagued him was what the boy was willing to ensure for his convictions. Hopefully his Servant would be supportive rather than cause more friction.

The next pair was a set of familiar faces -- Alexander and Archer. He had already eavesdropped a little while conversing with Machiko and had surmised that the Master wasn't the happiest about his situation. Every phrase spoken had an underlying tone of disappointment, even when praising the Servant which had been a rare occurrence. Something was always incorrect with how Archer held himself and that constant negative reinforcement could erode the thickest of skins. Yet the Servant seemed eager to please. The younger spirit had something to prove, that much was certain, but he could be twisted so easily that there was certainly some worry of the boy blindly following the plots of some nefarious operative in the shadows. Casters' eyes drifted towards his Master for a moment at those thoughts, noting how susceptible she would be to similar manipulation.

Next were Yi Yu Yuen and Berserker. Surprisingly enough, the couple seemed to be the most synced of the entire lot. While Berserker seemed to be a tad cheerful and his Master a tad somber, it was far better than what he had already witnessed. The only concern was the business-like posture of the woman. She looked to be one who would project her aptitude upon others and scrutinize mistakes made that she would never dream of committing. Her business-like authority might also make it difficult to form a lasting or more personal bond if she chose to keep that demeanor when dealing with others. Then there was the ever present danger of the Mad Enhancement and what sort of frothing terror Berserker would manifest into. With a man his size and presumably strength he would make a truly terrifying spirit to break free of his chains within the madness.

Lastly were the already familiar Yuri Makiri and Servant Assassin. They were an odd pairing, to be certain. On the one hand they seemed to rub each other the wrong way. Assassin was visibly trying to keep her distance from the man while attempting to not appear too put off by her Master. The man, on the other hand, seemed quite disinterested in his Servant's actions and was more enthralled with the speech Ruler was giving. Yet the two moved the same, stood the same and looked the same. They were both free spirits yet bound to the shadows around them, slinking and scheming in a terrible fashion. If they could realize what they had in common they could potentially make one of the stronger teams; if they didn't they would inevitably destroy the other in pettiness.

As Caster neared the end of his inspection, he could tell his Master was becoming restless - no doubt a perfect sign that the speech was nearing a conclusion. The Servant dutifully brought his attention back to the giant in front of them at the lectern, straightening himself out with a small rustle of his shoulders before placing his hands behind his back.

"Any questions?"

Machiko hesitated at that moment, ready to blurt out the most pressing concern on her mind before reigning herself back in. Daria seized the opportunity as soon as she saw the opening, demanding foolish things like who they were going to be fighting and when this would all take place. The shy teenager withdrew once more, fidgeting in contemplation before looking up at Caster for more reassurance. He simply gave the warmest smile he could, a stark contrast to the focused edge he had just moments before.

"Go ahead," he whispered, "anyone here who's stupid enough to poke fun at your question'll have to deal with the master of blades!" He winked at the end, his smile becoming a cheeky smirk.

Machiko nodded slowly, as if still determining how that idea tasted to her brain. She didn't want to cause undue duress, nor look like a complete fool amongst her supposed peers, but she wasn't as knowledgeable as the rest in affairs of magi and the Grail War. They had prepared all their lives for this chance - she had been graced with less than half a year. Before anymore doubt could nestle itself upon her query, she stepped forwards after Daria had finished but before Ruler could give an answer. Blushing a deep red she fidgeted a bit more before speaking up.

"Mr. Ruler, sir, what are the exact rules for this competition, if any?" she squeaked before hastily retreating to the charismatic shield her Servant seemed to radiate for her.

The sound of the church doors swinging open snagged Saber's attention, and the Servant switched her focus from the conversation with Rider and Assassin to the line of people filing into the chapel. Three Servants and four Masters, most of them bristling with all kinds of power and strength. Archer and one of the Masters, a young teenage girl, being the exceptions.

Setting her lips into a neutral line, the knight watched silently as Ruler waltzed up to the front of the room, just before the alter, and began to speak. "The time has come once again for the seven magi to assemble and resume the great quest..."

As she listened, part of Saber noted her Master sliding up behind her, still staying all meek and quiet. Out of the corner of her eye, she could spot him still scribbling away in that notebook of his (he was looking at Archer, Caster, and Ruler this time around).

"...Steel yourselves, magi, for you are about to become the first team of Masters to fight in a dual war in this, the holiest of wars, the seventh Holy Grail War!

"Any questions?"

As Ruler finished up his speech, Saber found herself grinning in anticipation. Light and darkness, evil and corruption, she didn't care about any of that. The Grail could go to hell for all she cared; now that she was here, she hardly needed the thing. No, what excited her was the promise of combat, the guarantee that she would be able to cross blades with some of history's other greatest heroes. That was all she needed to align herself with this faction.

Her Master, however, didn't seem to be so easily satisfied. "Um..." the boy began, his weak words falling through the air like dried leaves, "I... I don't understand. You're saying that the Grail is corrupted, right? That we need to win and use its power to fix it? So... Why are we even fighting? You talked about another faction; why would we need to fight them, if this is the only way to fix the Grail?

"And also..." The boy hesitated, his eyes falling to the ground between his feet. But when he finally spoke, his voice was harder, more determined. "If we need to forfeit our right to the Grail, even if we win... Then why should I risk my life?"

Berserker groaned and slowly walked back to join his Master's side as she got closer to get a better look at the new arrival, but she also chose to give Ruler a wide berth and stopped, leaving a respectable distance between them. Master and Servant listened intently to Ruler's speech. It confirmed Berserker's remark about a 'team deathmatch' of sorts; that fact along the other facts brought both joy and sorrow to her. The holiest of Grail Wars? An epic clash of magi on a much larger scale than the previous Wars? The victors having to forfeit their wish in order to purify the Grail and do a service to magi worldwide and humanity as a whole? For once, Master and Servant were both in agreement - the speech had brought the vainglorious side of them out. Nevertheless, they both had different reasons for looking forward to the War. Yi liked the prospect of being part of the purification effort. Berserker had a much more simpler reason: more opponents, more glory. That and he wouldn't have to kill Matt.

Yi folded her arms and thought of a question to ask. After all, in a situation like this, it would be best to have as much information as possible. Questions about the other faction had been asked, and the novice had already asked a foolish question about the rules. But, she was just a schoolgirl. Well, a schoolgirl that had convinced some of the others to help with her summoning, but a schoolgirl nonetheless. The boy had asked questions regarding the matter of the wish. Yi wasn't particular concerned about that, but information was information. It was fresh news to her that the Grail was corrupted. 'Seven magi summon a Servant each and battle each other to obtain the Holy Grail, which can grant a single wish' was the story she had been told. For the first time in what seemed to be ages, she spoke, "What is the nature of this 'corruption'?"

..."Why should I risk my life?"

"Why should...?" Daria mouthed the words, foreign and clumsy on her tongue. It was the kind of phrase she only knew indirectly. She knew, in practice, the words could go together. But not once had they crossed her mind until now. Narrow green eyes bored a hole through the scrawny Master's skull. Enkidu tried to plead with her to stop, but she couldn't hear her Servant. She saw only red. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?! How about because you were asked?! And because you accepted!"

Her arms were a flailing maelstrom as she ranted, oblivious to the leers coming from Alexander, and even Archer. The Servant was surprised to see a Master more insufferable than his own.

How self-righteous is this woman? It was just a question, a reasonable one at that. She must have a bizarre code of ethics if this is enough to set her off...

"This isn't a game we're playing. When you chose to be a magus, you accepted responsibilities to defend its secrets from destruction. And even then, if this War bothered you so much, you could have refused! But you're here. You're here when you could have just gone back home. You accepted the call, and in some way you wanted to be here. It's all on you now.The time for second thoughts is already behind you. Buck up, and accept that, or die. Those were your only options once you walked through the doors to this church."

She turned back, averting her eyes from the boy, seemingly annoyed more than pleased with her spiel. Rider was tactfully trying to apologize to Saber with a few hand motions. Archer felt sick to his stomach watching the girl pick on that boy like that. He looked to his Master for agreement.

"The nerve of that child..." But to his surprise Alexander looked as stoic as always.

"Perhaps she was harsh," mused the magus. "But her words are not untrue. None of us were forced to be here. We all have our duty to defend Magic from destruction, but we are volunteers nonetheless. That boy has none to blame but himself for being here. He must cope with his choices."

As Matt finished speaking, silence filled the church for a few seconds. The cold, hard kind, that even pins would go out of their way to avoid breaking.

However, like most periods of peace or quiet, it couldn't remain whole forever.

"Why should... What the hell is that supposed to mean?!"

As Rider's Master suddenly lashed out, her words laced with venom and fury, Matt reflexively flinched back. Luckily, the girl seemed content to simply snarl and rant; she at least had the decency to keep the exchange limited to verbal barbs. "How about because you were asked?! And because you accepted!"

As she shouted at him, the young magus found himself unable to get a word in edgewise. The girl wasn't pulling any of her (thankfully non-physical) punches (seriously, she looked like she could just rip his head off if she wanted to), and there was no way he could find the resolve, let alone volume, to talk over her. All he could do was wait until she ran out of steam, until she had no more bile to hurl his way.

When she finally did, however, Matt didn't waste much time replying.

"When I chose to be a... Tell me, Master of Rider, what's your last name? What's your family history, that you were able to choose to be a magus?" He didn't bother to look at the girl as he spoke. The floor beneath him was far more interesting, and far less likely to intimidate him into silence with its piercing gaze. Nor did he pace about or gesticulate; his knees were firmly locked in place (the only way to keep them from trembling), and his hands slowly made their way into his jacket pockets. One of them wrapped around his watch gripping the cold, hard steel frame until it dug painfully into his palm. "My family likes to say that a magus is already half-dead. And make no mistake, I am, in fact, a magus. So I'm already dying. That's just a fact."

He didn't bother to raise his voice. His tone was the same quiet, almost timid one that he had addressed Ruler in. His words carried no reproach, no condescension. He was speaking plainly evident truths, after all; there was no need to force emotion into his words.

"You're wrong when you say I have a responsibility to protect magic's secrets. Or, at least, you're wrong when you say I have an obligation to protect this one. Heaven's Feel never belonged to my family; why should I risk my life, already half-gone, in an attempt to save it for someone else?"

He was afraid, there was no denying that. Simply being here, in this building, surrounded by beings of incredible power terrified him. So how much worse was it for him, actually voicing his thoughts for all to hear?

"My odds of surviving this War are painfully low; I knew that from day one. But, if I had even the slightest chance of winning it, of actually gaining access to even a fraction of the Grail's power, then it would undoubtedly be worth it. However, now there is absolutely no chance of that occurring. And any knowledge that I could glean from this War, whether by studying the Third Magic, the Grail, or even by trying to understand the magecraft of you and the other Masters... There is no guarantee that it would outweigh a lifetime of study and research. Research that won't place me in a situation where death is all but assured. Therefore, risking my life in this War for no reward is a foolish course of action."

Yet somehow, he managed to stand there, not backing up a single step. His voice was quiet, his knees were locked into place, his eyes were focused on the ground beneath him... But he still managed to keep talking, to keep explaining his reasoning.

"I have an obligation to my family, to keep its knowledge, increase it, and pass it onto the next generation. I came here believing that this would give me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to increase it, but I see now that this is not the case. So." Finally, he moved his head, ever so slightly. Just enough to stare at Ruler out of the corner of his eye. "I ask again, why should I-"

"Enough."

Matt's words caught in his throat, and the boy almost choked on them. As a slight trembling overtook his hands, he slowly turned his gaze, over towards the one who had spoken. Over to his Servant, Saber.

Gods, he hadn't considered how she would feel. He was effectively saying that he wanted to abandon her, wasn't he? That he valued his own existence more than her own? If he angered her, how would she react? Would she threaten him? Try to harm him? He had the Commend Spells, of course, but could he really afford to use one now?

Though she was plainly addressing him, the swordswoman hadn't bothered to turn around to face him. He could tell that her expression was neutral, without any strong emotion present, but the icy venom in her voice made it clear what she was feeling. "If you don't want to stay, then don't. Leave, and go back to whatever peaceful life makes you happy."

He couldn't help but cringe slightly at that last word.

"But," she continued, ignoring his reflexive movement, "don't forget your obligation to me. If you don't want to remain my Master, then find someone who will be. Ensure that I have a way to continue existing, and you can leave. Because I don't give a damn if my Master wants to fight or not. But if you dare threaten my chance to fight..."

She didn't finish the sentence. Nor did she have to. His imagination was more than sufficient to supply any number of unpleasant possibilities.

But even without her unfinished threat...

Guilt began to pour through the magus' veins. Even if she was just a magical construct, Saber still had emotions and a personality. She was more than a simple animal-turned-familiar, she was a (admittedly imperfect) Heroic Spirit. Ultimately, she was just as human as he was. What was more, she had the decency to answer his summons. Did he really have what it took to simply forget their Pact and abandon her?

Yes, said a part of him.
No, said another.

Ruler didn't have to wait long before the first question was posed. It also wasn't surprising that it had been asked by Daria. The fiery woman had almost challenged the Servant with her query, as if daring him to answer incorrectly at his peril. She was an eager one, to be sure, though he wondered if it was for the wrong reasons. The Servant waved his doubts away, knowing that in the end it would be for the correct ones.

"When do we meet our opponents? You said it's a war, right? I'd like to know who I'm fighting."

"Eager to get ourselves killed, are we?" Ruler questioned, chuckling afterwards. "My brothers and sisters would have approved of you, Daria Orihara."

He then noticed some hesitation in the girl before him. He raised an eyebrow, wondering what had distracted her conviction in getting her answer. It wasn't long before he noticed that her gaze was squarely on his own Master. It puzzled the Servant for a moment why she would hold such an interest on the girl. Had they not expected him to have a Master? He still had to abide by the standard rules of being a Servant, for the most part. It seemed so obvious to him he had never considered it to be a possible wonderment. Then it hit him. Of course Daria would know his Master. Her brother was one Detective Dirk Orihara, who had many connections with powerful magi in this area, despite the infamy his family seemed to garner. It wouldn't be unusual for her to have met his Master at a previous engagement. It would be a dynamic the master of ceremonies would need to keep his eye on. At the moment the two snapped out of their recollections simultaneously and began staring each other down once more.

"Well?"

"Daria Orihara, I am certain the other side is wondering the exact same thing. It wouldn't be very sporting if I just gave you their identities, now would it? I'm afraid you will need to search for those answers yourselves. I hear Riders are particularly adept at reconnaissance."

"Mr. Ruler, sir, what are the exact rules for this competition, if any?"

"My sincerest apologies, Machiko Tsukino," Ruler said, almost a whisper compared to his regular speaking voice but still strong enough for everyone else to hear. "I sometimes forget that some of us aren't as well versed in magi culture as the rest. The question couldn't be more valid, however, considering the nature of this conflict. There are a few nuances that we may want to go over."

"The first and arguably the most important is your objective. You must kill every Servant of the opposite faction to be victorious. Unlike the normal stipulations of a Grail War in which seven Servants must be sacrificed, the first seven will not suffice if they are not all of the same side. This does mean that so long as one Servant is still standing upon your team, you are still eligible to obtain a wish from the Holy Grail."

"The second is that this war shall remain a secret to all outside of magi society. Under no circumstances should an outsider be made aware of magi society as a whole, let alone one of its most sacred rituals. For this reason you must use discretion lest the task of permanently silencing the breach be placed upon you. I would hope that those who aim to redeem the Holy Grail would choose to higher road of the two. This rule, of course, no longer applies to you, Machiko Tsukino"

He could visibly see the tension bleed out of the teenager that had built up as he recited that particular rule.

"Third is the role of the Servant. As the ritual suggests, they are your sword, your will made manifest in this war zone. Though they may never realize their full potential in this war, they are still much grander than anything you alone could accomplish. They are faster, stronger and more durable than at least ten men or women, if not more. They have a myriad of skills that they have developed or honed throughout their lives from surviving mortal wounds to concealing ones presence from magical scrying. Above all, however, are the Noble Phantasms each Servant possesses, relics of ages long past who's power has been long lost by the dilution of time. Their powers are extraordinary and it is a wise Master who can utilize their Servant's abilities to the fullest."

"The fourth is your personal role as Masters. You are the anchor of your Servant - their tether to this world. Without your pact they would simply dissolve and return to the Throne of Heroes. You are their tactical adviser, providing information about the Servants they face through the magic of the Grail. You should already be capable of viewing your allies' parameters if you focus, as well as their class designated skill. As you witness skills and Noble Phantasms your knowledge will expand and be permanently visible, which you may then attempt to share with others to expand their knowledge. You are their squire, lending aid in whatever manner you are able. Above all, you are their guardian. As much as a Servant's duty is to care for you, you are responsible for their life as well. The goal is to eliminate all Servants and so you must be wary of how hard you push your hero."

"As mentioned before, you are now apart of a team rather than fighting as individuals. Each team is comprised of the seven Servant classes, one of each card drawn per side. The seven here," he grunted with effort as a gentle wave of prana washed over the room, changing the colour of each Masters' Command Spells from a blood red to a snow white, "are of team White. Your opponents are of team Black. Co-ordination is now key with each Servant's drawbacks having the potential to be covered by another's strengths. Be mindful of this at all times."

"Finally-"

"I...I don't understand. You're saying that the Grail is corrupted, right? That we need to win and use its power to fix it? So...Why are we even fighting? You talked about another faction; why would we need to fight them if this is the only way to fix the Grail?"

"A perfectly reasonable question, Matthew Heller. I was just about to-" Ruler started before Matthew's musings began once more and silenced the Servant.

"And also... If we need to forfeit our right to the Grail, even if we win...then why should I risk my life?"

This didn't seem to sit well with the so far gentle giant. His expression soured into a frown almost instantly. He knew Matt was a fairly meek individual, however the Servant had hoped the responsibility of the war would have given him some conviction. As it stood, the boy simply questioned what his prize was at the end of the tunnel. It was a poor way to look at the situation, as far as Ruler was concerned, considering the practical experience the boy could gain from participating. Few would ever have the chance to experience the Third Magic first hand and yet that wasn't enough. He couldn't blame the magus but he couldn't forgive the remark either. With a sigh that sounded far more put off than he had intended, Ruler looked back at the boy to give him his answer.

"Matthew Heller-"

Again Ruler began to address the boy in what one could only assume would be some stirring yet verbose speech before being cut off by none other than Daria Orihara. Her impetuous nature seemed to be getting the better of her this evening as she began a tirade on how Mr. Heller was obligated to join the war and insult his honour as a magus. Ruler's eyes narrowed and his Master chose to shy away from the spirit, latching onto Father Matthias instead. These magi were beginning to wear away at the adjudicator's peaceful demeanor and truly scratch the surface of his warrior spirit.

"This is not an open discussion, Daria Oriha-"

Yet again he was interrupted by a calculating Matthew, trying to defend his position to his hot headed teammate. Ruler closed his eyes, trying to compose himself and urge his anger to simmer. They were simply children; mere mortal children at that. Their comprehension of the greater workings of this world was terribly limited in scope. Had they the experience and foresight of a Heroic Spirit...

"Enough!"

Ruler snapped his head to focus on Saber the moment she had opened her mouth. What he was witnessing was absolutely incredulous. Did she seriously have the gall to chew out her Master? For Ruler it seemed unthinkable to question your superiors yet Saber seemed to have no trouble giving Matt a very flippant response to his line of reason. The Servant looked ready to explode with a fury unknown as he continued to soak in each syllable that Saber chose to poison with her treacherous tongue. By the end the spirit was gripping the lectern so tightly the bolts fastening it to the floor were beginning to shake loose.

"I. have. HEARD. ENOUGH!!!" Ruler bellowed, the unspoken insinuation to be quiet not needing to be overtly recognized.

His voice was so thunderous it shook the very foundations of the church. Dust that had settled into the rafters now clouded and trickled down to the floor. The large man began stepping towards the fourteen he had gathered, making his way towards both Matthew and Saber with earthshaking, painfully slow steps. His eyes were fixated on them both, now alight in a eerily splendorous teal, showing a vast power hidden beneath his kind hearted exterior. There was a great beast dwelling within that was now clawing to be released and the trio had just yanked on its chain just one too many times.

"You, girl," he commanded as his left hand pointed towards Daria, "I would suggest you hold your useless tongue before what little patience I have left evaporates and I am driven to drive my fingers so far into your skull that you will feel what little grey matter has not been beaten out of it by your inept teacher ooze out until you are nothing more than the worthless waste of life you have so far demonstrated yourself to be!"

"And you, Matthew Heller," he cried, his left hand switching targets, "need to learn of the greater world around you before mouthing off as if you know everything. What knowledge do you have to gain from an artifact that will consume your very soul once you have obtained it? What nugget of truth is the worth the damnation of an entire country? Can you answer me that!? You have already accepted your fate by entering this church and summoning your Servant. The pact has been made and unlike any other war, there is no turning back. You may choose to leave but you may never choose to quit until your dying breath."

"As for those who are far too base to show civility..."

Ruler was now standing mere steps from where Saber was standing, eyes locked furiously onto his own with a practiced steel. She was ready for any sort of verbal assault this so called judge could throw at her, yet Ruler had no intention of doing so. Instead came a furious right hook, so quick and unexpected that it connected squarely with Saber's jaw. The sound that echoed through the halls upon impact was greater than a bullet train driving full force into a concrete wall. Saber could barely keep herself from falling outright, being forced to one knee and turned away from her assailant. Ruler simply flexed his fingers once, looking downwards to her hunched figure with the same hollow stare his glowing eyes created.

Saber could only grin foolishly at her predicament. She hadn't dreamed of her first opponent being the referee for these silly games but that suited her just fine. As she had told Matt before she was here to fight, to whatever glorious or bitter end it led her down. Spitting out a small pool of blood that had began to form inside her mouth, the Servant wiped her lips clean with the back of her hand before address her combative counterpart.

"...Heh, I didn't think anybody was more eager to start than me. But hey, if you insist-" the woman said in an even tone before the force of her conviction bled into her words, "-then I'd be more than happy to oblige!"

The woman quickly turned on her feet with all the speed and strength she could muster. In a flash she had already turned about and was lunging towards Ruler with arms outstretched. She aimed to get within his guard and form a clench, then show him the true power of her superior wrestling techniques. No man had ever bested her in a feat of strength and she wasn't about to let that reputation be sullied by some pompous jerk who got hurt after a few harsh words.

Unfortunately for her, Ruler was far more prepared for her retaliation than she had been for his thrown punch. The Servant easily side-stepped the clench, leading her past him with his left hand while winding up the right. Another wrecking ball of a punch came barreling down into the back of Saber's head, following through completely until her face was driven into the floor boards below. Another loud crack resounded in a cacophonous sound throughout the church as Ruler stood back up from one knee after his devastating strike. That pitiless look was all he afforded her, using his foot to turn her over. The woman looked completely dazed, an indent of broken boards where he face had been driven into them. It would be a thankless task yet it had needed to be done.

"This is not some mere blood sport for your amusement," Ruler began, now looking back up at the thirteen still surrounding him. "Nor is it a chance to gain approval of those closest to you. It is not a time of hero worship or some foolish competition to prove your mettle. Not a path to freedom or one to a better tomorrow. Nor the opportunity for one to gain legitimacy, lost or otherwise. It is far greater than any of you; of all of you. It is a chance to correct a wrong that you, mankind, have created -- to free the path to Akasha once more. Should you fail, the corruption your sins have caused would consume this link, forever destroying the Grail and blocking off your world from Akasha and the Third Magic."

"So you have a choice. Either you may quarrel amongst each other and watch as your own putrification of this world once again limits your possibilities, or you may choose to set aside your desires and work towards a cause far more noble than a simple battle..." he paused for a moment as he turned his head to stare at Saber for but a moment, "...daughter of Esctheow."

The behemoth of a spirit then walked away from the crowd of people, back towards his Master. If they couldn't put aside their foolish sins of greed, pride, envy and wrath, what good were they to begin with? Yet he saw something in each, for years he had watched them like a caring father and watched their gifts blossom. They needed to reach down inside and find them, their true strengths, and harness that power from within. Much like a father, he couldn't do that for them, no matter how much he wished to have that ability and it vexed him dearly.

"For ten years I have watched each of you. For ten long years I have awaited this chance to right a wrong that should never have existed. What say you, Masters of the Grail -- shall you accept your fate or be slain in cold blood?"

"I would suggest you hold your useless tongue before what little patience I have left evaporates and I am driven to drive my fingers so far into your skull that you will feel what little grey matter has not been beaten out of it by your inept teacher ooze out until you are nothing more than the worthless waste of life you have so far demonstrated yourself to be!"

Ruler continued on his tirade--and his painful deconstruction of Saber--without even glancing at the girl again. But Daria, quieter than ever, stood in place, eyes fixated on the man, processing his insult. Moments passed, and her body grew less still, shaking with building heat until there was no way to contain it any longer. She opened her mouth and bellowed, for the first time that night showing genuine anger. "You... You arrogant sonuva-- you can't talk about my brother like that you worthless piece of--"

She was about ready to charge him. To charge the man that had just clobbered Saber like it was nothing. But her own suicide was prevented by Rider, who swiftly shoved an arm in her path. She glared at the man, barely any larger than her, and was ready to start spewing threats at him next. But her rage was interrupted by confusion, seeing a shadow over the peaceful-looking fellow's face. An uncomfortably sober look for him. "Stay back, Master. You've already done enough for one night."

"Get out of my way, Rider, didn't you hear what he said about my brother?!"

"No, actually, I didn't." A slight frown tugged his lips. "After he threatened you, I'm afraid I could only hear static."

He gently pushed Daria back and stepped forward, snapping his fingers. From a golden portal snaked a long length of ornate chain, coiling around his arm as he began to wind it up for a toss. "Anyone who has the nerve to insult my Master is clearly of no great intellect. Because for that... I'm going to rip that mongrel's heart out."

He stated it so simply, and calmly, that Daria knew he fully meant to kill Ruler right there. Of course, how could she forget? Even if he was the humbler of the two, Enkidu was the equal of Gilgamesh, and killed gods for lesser slights. She could only tremble thinking what rage she might be seeing if the other Hero were standing here instead. But no rage was to be witnessed tonight. Archer stepped into Rider's path, earning a surprised look from his Master.

"Out of my way, Archer."

"N...no." Archer stood fast, and puffed out his chest. Sweat on every inch of his skin glistened in the light of the church.

Oh gods oh gods oh gods save me

"You're wasting your time, Rider. Ruler's not the enemy!"

"My enemies are who I choose. Step aside, or you shall become one as well." Rider was of a different countenance when angered. Gone was the friendly, childish man his Master had met, replaced by a warrior to the core.

"We're all a team," insisted the smaller Servant. "And that means we need to have the same goals! If your Master means so much to you, don't endanger her War by pursuing enemies you could avoid."

Rider took a step closer... then hesitated. Glancing back at Daria, who was watching him silently, he sighed. The foolish boy's face returned. "I guess I'd only be wasting my energy." The chains disappeared from his arms, and he turned to walk back to his Master. "Thank you, Archer," he called back. He met Daria's face, then dropped his eyes in shame. "I'm sorry, Master. I let my anger get the better of me... would you have preferred that I fought him?"

"Kinda," she said grinning. "But it was still pretty cool watching you get all dangerous-looking like that. Any chance of a repeat performance?"

"Well, keep egging on everyone we meet and it's bound to happen eventually."

The Master and Servant chatted idly, their anger forgotten. Archer returned to Alexander's side, who he noticed smiling at him. "W-what?" asked the more timid of the two.

"You did very well, preventing a pointless battle. I'm glad my judgment was sound permitting you the auxiliary roles of our partnership."

Archer was admittedly surprised at how quickly his Master had turned a compliment of his Servant into a compliment of himself--but figured it was the best he was going to get, and accepted the praise with a nod. Ruler was standing again before them, asking them to declare their allegiance.

"What say you, Masters of the Grail -- shall you accept your fate or be slain in cold blood?"

A little grim, thought Archer, but both he and his Master spoke in unison. "We accept."

"We're in," said Daria and Rider.

"This is not some mere blood sport for your amusement."

Ruler's voice sounded funny as it wafted through Saber's ears. Distant, tinny, like he was standing at the far end of a mile-long tunnel, and she was only hearing the fading echo of his words. She could hear him well enough to make out what he was saying, but it took her a bit to piece it together, to figure out what the sounds meant when they were arranged like that.

Planting an open palm on the broken floorboards, the Servant slowly pushed herself up, first to her knees and then finally to her feet. The movement felt stiff and awkward, and caused a brief flash of pain to lance through her already aching head. Still, she managed to keep standing, and rapidly blinked away the pain and dullness clouding her senses.

She could hear Ruler prattling on behind her, going on and on about how he'd been stalking the Masters for years now and how they were all worthless ingrates for not immediately going along with his plan. She could see the floor beneath her, caved in by something that looked suspiciously like her head. And she could feel a few drops of blood sliding across her forehead, although the sensation quickly faded as her body naturally repaired itself.

Huh. Apparently she's been beaten. How about that.

"What say you, Masters of the Grail -- shall you accept your fate or be slain in cold blood?"

"Heh. Heheh. Hahahahahahahaha~!"

Saber's laughter cut through the air, loud and hearty enough to echo throughout the entire church. Genuine joy and mirth filled her voice, overpowering her naturally rough mannerisms and spreading her face into an earnest grin. She even clapped a few times, her body simply needing another way to express the enthusiasm flooding through its veins.

"You got me, didn't you!?" Saber accused Ruler excitedly, spinning around to face the green-armored giant. "Well, isn't that just one hell of a first! You didn't even have to use your weapons either, you just straight up beat me senseless! Nice one!"

There was no malice in the swordswoman's words or actions as she strode forward, clearing the distance between her and Ruler with two quick paces. Raising an arm, she affectionately clapped the other Servant on the shoulder with enough strength to break a mortal body in two. "Hehe, alright then! You want my loyalty, you've got it. I'll fight your damned War, and I'll make sure we win it too." Letting go of Ruler's shoulder, Saber began to pace away, her energized words still filling the church with her exuberance. "So long as you give the rematch everything you've got, I won't have any complaints."

Letting her challenge hang in the air, Saber made her way over to her Master. Even his less than satisfactory behavior couldn't tarnish her elation at this point, and she wrapped an overly friendly arm around his shoulders (thankfully making sure to keep her strength in check this time around. "So, what's it gonna be, boy? Are you going to fight, or going to run away?"

Saber peered at her Master as he tried to stutter out a response, watching as his trembling body tried to find the resolve to spit out an answer. "I, I-I... I don't... I-"

Huh. Apparently Ruler's little fit wasn't helping the kid. Turning to face the Servant in question, Saber offered him a cheeky grin. "Heh, this one might have to take a while before getting back to you. I'll make sure he does."

Then, there were only really two other people who needed to be addressed. "Hey," the swordswoman continued, glancing over at the now-silent priest and deacon, "sorry about your floor. Anything I could do to help patch it up?" Even if she was infinitely more skilled with a blade than with hammer and nail, Saber knew it'd be rude of her not to offer to fix the damaged floorboards. This was the clergymen's home, after all; what kind of guest would she be if she left them to deal with her problems?

"But her words are not untrue. None of us were forced to be here. We all have our duty to defend Magic from destruction, but we are volunteers nonetheless. That boy has none to blame but himself for being here. He must cope with his choices."

The words rung in Yuri's ears during the... well, he was hesitant to even call it a debate. It was a just shouting and violence, where Ruler reigned supreme as the strongest and the loudest. He forgot for a moment, these people had chosen this life. The pitiful one was a reminder of that, if nothing else. He briefly considered taking Saber, she would do well with his prana backing her.

"Wrong, Alexander. Only in a perfect world do we have choice." Yuri muttered bitterly, more to himself than the giant. He doubted he heard him, as Rider sprung into action. Yuri couldn't help but respect him, even if he didn't carry through. Archer as well, for standing in the way of a force like Rider. Cassius paid some attention, though the whole event only made her realize the several discipline problems the team faced. Bad.

His speech seemed less inspirational, more just trying to anger them into fighting. A good enough approach as any, though it didn't seem to be working with Matt.

"For ten years I have watched each of you. For ten long years I have awaited this chance to right a wrong that should never have existed. What say you, Masters of the Grail -- shall you accept your fate or be slain in cold blood?"

"My answer has never wavered, Ruler. I will fight till I break and breath my last." The coldness and matter of factness of his tone was slightly chilling, and one could see his knuckles turn white as he gripped his sword. He just wanted to get this over with so the true fighting could begin.

"Kill myself on your sword or fight a war I have a good chance of winning? My answer is obvious, I stand by my partner, and all you brave enough to stand with us." She smiled at Matt and nodded, even if he was a bit shy he was at least smart. They could use a bit more brain on the team.

Much like the speech, Clay watched on with silence as Saber and Rider's Masters were lectured by Ruler, his voice beginning to betray his rising annoyance and anger. It would seem his initial assessments on both counts held at least some merit - the boy would need to gather some genuine conviction if he wanted to survive a Grail War, and Daria had just demonstrated she had no real control over her temper. A shame, really - he had expected more from Orihara's protege.

When Rider stepped forward, however, his expression betraying his killing intent, a small mote of alarm shot through Clay's body. 'Shit. Put your pride aside, Rider - Ruler isn't an enemy, and he certainly isn't somebody you can fight and expect to defeat.' He almost stepped forward, ready to order Lancer to action... until Archer did the unexpected and beat him to the punch.

"And that means we need to have the same goals! If your Master means so much to you, don't endanger her War by pursuing enemies you could avoid." Clay breathed a sigh of relief when Rider saw reason backed down, turning to console his Master. For the first time in a long time, Clay was happy to be wrong - it would seem Archer had something resembling a spine. Not only that, he was well spoken, if a bit timid.

Ruler continued his tirade, clearly not happy at being party to so many threats and disrespects to his authority. "This is not some mere blood sport for your amusement, nor is it a chance to gain approval of those closest to you. It is not a time of hero worship or some foolish competition to prove your mettle. Not a path to freedom or one to a better tomorrow." Clay supposed that last one was directed at him. Did Ruler honestly think he was in this because he wanted to use the Grail? HIM, of all people? Clenching his fist with a growing frown, Clay had to work to restrain his resurgent temper. Now wasn't the place to make a scene, especially towards somebody as dangerous as Ruler.

"What say you, Masters of the Grail -- shall you accept your fate or be slain in cold blood?" His teeth grinding together, Clay leveled a cold glare at Ruler. "What do you think, Ruler? I didn't spend the last ten years preparing to back out because one of my supposed teammates are having cold feet."

Lancer, for his part, responded with a grin. "Oh man, I envy you, Ruler! Making him mad, and he can't do anything about it!" He cackled for a moment before continuing. "My answer is yes, by the way. To the embracing of fate or whatever. Letting the world end now seems so... boring."

Yi tried to built a wall of fortitude , tried to block out the fight between Rider and Ruler, Ruler's words and the fear brought about by it all. The fear was soon replaced by a tang of frustration; her questions had been left unanswered because of the fight, not to mention the stupidity of fight itself. How were they supposed to work as a team when at least two members of it were intent on wrestling the referee? Berserker, on the other hand, gave a quiet chuckle. The whole antic reminded him of some of his, though, back then, he had been blinded by pride and had ended up imprisoned and crippled until he had chose to end it. Berserker did not want a repeat of that, and so he did not join in with the fighting. A decision that seemed to please his Master.

Still, despite the ruckus, the question rang in the air: "What say you, Masters of the Grail -- shall you accept your fate or be slain in cold blood?"

Fight or die? It wasn't much of a choice, but then again, Yi never chose to follow the path of Magecraft. It had been forced upon by two elderly people obsessed with past glories, if there were any. She had always wanted to make her grandparents happy, but most importantly, she wanted to make them proud of her. No, Yi desired approval, plain and simple. The few friends that she made over the years had always seen her as the responsible one who always declined the majority of invitations to parties and whatnot. Her grandparents saw her as a simply as a tool, as a cat's-paw. Yi didn't want to imagine what the other Magi or Berserker thought of her. But one thing was clear: she would fight, perhaps for the most petty of reasons, but she would fight.

Yi confirmed this with a simple word, "Yes." Berserker grunted a rough equivalent, echoing his Master. The giant was tempted to crack a few knuckles, but decided not to. Wouldn't want to ruin the ambiance

It wasn't the most convincing answer he had ever received. They certainly had the heart, somewhere deep down inside, yet their motivations were questionable. Surprisingly, Ruler was having more trouble becoming comfortable with the wishes of his fellow heroes than the Masters themselves. So many of his gather champions seemed to simply be content with making this war a means to sate their own thirst for battle. This was no more apparent than in Saber's amusement in his assault on her. She seemed pleased that she had been bested so easily, reveling in the challenge Ruler now presented. She had even been audacious enough to demand a rematch after the war was over. The disgust that was crawling underneath the Heroic Spirit's skin was distracting, yet he hid it well with a stoic visage.

His attention then turned towards the last of the Masters who had yet to respond. Machiko had retreated into her own doubt as she had witnessed the scene unfold around her. She had been rattled, unnerved to the point of paralysis much like the Heller boy. Her posture was closed off, her expression confused and her eyes wandering about with worry of what everyone else was thinking about her. The Servant could see the doubt, he could see the fear and it made him second guess his decisions in bringing these seven to the church. Had he been too rash in picking these individuals?

"And what say you, Machiko Tsukino?"

The girl then looked up at the massive Servant, the worry in her eyes reflecting her indecision. She seemed conflicted with his words, trying to mull them over and make her final decision. She was easily the most naive of the lot, idealistic to the point of hero worship. She was a woman who spent her entire life with her head in a fantasy of feudal heroes rescuing timid maidens. Now she found herself surrounded by those same mythical men and women, trying to find her place in this entire mess of a war. Her brow furrowed a little before she looked Ruler in the eyes, her doubt slowly disappearing from her gaze.

"I just learned about magic," she said with a sudden determination. "I can't just let it disappear. I haven't even gotten a chance to help anybody yet!"

Caster stood by his master's side, placing a hand on the girl's shoulder for support, yet she didn't seem to need it. Whatever quarrel she had been trying to resolve within her mind and soul had been steeled into an unbreakable resolve. She had a goal and was focused on achieving it. Her partner simply nodded in approval of his Master's words before adding in his own two cents.

"Aye. Too much good to do in this world and not enough means to do it. If we let the third magic be sealed away, that's just one less chance humanity has to save itself."

Ruler's expression was a stone mask but he could feel his heart swell a little at their little proclamation. It was comforting to know that his chosen had a moral compass in both Machiko and the Marks family. Their intentions were somewhat righteous, if conflicting, it seemed. Hopefully the others would find their ways towards the light he so desperately wanted to show them and make the correct decision by the end of all this.

"Very well, Masters. I believe that leaves one question remained unanswered, Yi Yu Yuen..."


A lone figure had been waiting within the twilight shadows that evening. Its figure was obscured, veiled in the anonymity of darkness in the alleyway. Many hours had passed yet the figure had not moved, watching, waiting for its moment. There was no doubt that its machinations would come to fruition this evening, it was all a matter of time, as it always was. One hand firmly clasping a small pocket watch, it closed the lid as if satisfied with the information it had provided and stowed it away for future use.

Slowly the figure revealed itself to the world around him. He was a tall and slender gentleman who moved with the spirit of a young teenager yet the grace of an older gentleman. His striking blue eyes were focused upon the church before him, never letting his gaze stray to anything else. His slick blonde hair was completely covered with a posh fedora he adjusted absent mindedly. His long jacket was left flapping in the gentle breeze his steps created, unbuttoned on such a warm summer evening. A curious red armband was worn upon his right arm, embroidered with the insignia of the mage's association in the same colour. A silky black vest and white shirt were worn underneath, sparing no expense to achieve his immaculate appearance. A black tie was clipped to the shirt with a gold tie clip that displayed the familiar emblem of the Association upon it. His black trousers with matching belt and oxfords completed the upper class look to match his equally dignified manner.

Each step he took felt calculated, no energy being wasted with each footfall. It was as if he had walked this same path a thousand times before and become accustomed to every intricacy it presented. As he reached the middle of the street the man stopped dead in his tracks, a slight slouch in his posture that felt too correct to deem improper. His left hand was deep in his pants pockets while the right fiddled with the inside breast of his coat, searching for something. He eventually produced a small waxy stick that was coloured a deep blood red, looking at it with a smug satisfaction before continuing his work. The man took a knee and began to sketch a circle around him. Each stroke had been practiced at least ten thousand times over, to the point of knowing the motions that even under the greatest of duress his hands would never make a mistake. It was quick work and by the end he had a flawless magic circle ready for use.

There was no time for fanfare or admiration of his work. With a quick motion he stowed the strange writing implement back into his inner breast coat pocket and placed the now free hand onto the circle. A faint glow traced each line within his creation, cascading across the poorly lit street with its eerie glow. He whispered the chant, so softly that it could be debated if even he heard himself. Then from the sky came a thousand little flakes of light, like starts floating from the heavens onto the people below. It was almost as if it was snowing in Fuyuki, covering at least a few blocks from the epicenter of the commotion. The flakes slowly descended through the roofs below, melting instantly upon the residence of the neighbourhood and drifting them into the deepest sleep they had ever experienced. With the spell cast, the gentleman stood back up to his full height and looked behind him. Various shadows were beginning to appear from the obfuscation of the shadows. There were thirteen in all, anxiously awaiting his signal. With a casual shrug of his shoulders, then man outstretched his opened hand towards the church and a devious curl of his lips began to form into a smirk.


"He certainly is chatty..."

"Mind your manners, Miles."

The deacon bit his tongue, quite literally, as he shut his mouth and continued to listen to the Heroic Spirit drone on at the behest of the grizzled priest. Ruler had been explaining, in great detail, the corruption that infected the Grail at this point. Miles could have sworn he had already talked for five minutes without pause and didn't look as though he would be stopping anytime soon. Even heroes had limits on how far their skills could stretch and for Miles it simply wasn't a topic of his concern. So he was unfortunately left to wait out the long winded warrior as he waxed rhetoric upon his chosen few.

Curiously, he didn't have to wait long before something caught his waning attention. A small sparkling fleck had begun floating casually down towards him. It looked like a snowflake caught in the sunlight as it drifted through the air down onto the tip of his nose. As the fleck of prana activated on contact, the deacon could already feel a wave of exhaustion wash over him. His eyelids felt heavy and his body began to go slack. His mind was screaming for him to wake up, that he wasn't tired and that falling asleep here was the worst idea imaginable but his body refused to heed his warnings. Soon he would be enraptured in dreams he could never wake from voluntarily.

It was just the deacon's luck that the old priest was as watchful as a hawk for faults in the boy's conduct. He immediately felt the welcomed pain of a blow from the clergyman's cane shoot up his leg. Miles focused on that, forcing himself awake and erected what crude defenses against magecraft he had been taught by his mentor. His face contorted as he tried to focus on the rising burning, holding it there instead of letting it fade. Matthias didn't seemed pleased at all by his subordinate's conduct and made it very clear to him by smacking his other leg with a blindingly quick strike.

"Stop making faces and pay attention," he hissed, his stare never once leaving Ruler's person.

"Father Matthias, I think-" he stammered, not even worried about controlling the volume of his voice.

The hulking spirit behind the lectern quickly shifted his eyes towards the pair for a moment, furrowing his brow in frustration as he continued. Father Matthias was more than aggravated at this point. He didn't even feel like giving the boy a swift blow to the shins anymore, which was his default response for most situations. He was beyond simply chastising the the deacon for his ineloquent ways and now was legitimately upset. He looked over at the boy for but a second to get his point across, his face full of grim tidings of things to come if his apprentice continued.

"No, Miles, you don't," the priest interrupted. "Now hush!"

"But Father-"

The aged priest swiftly turned on his apprentice, seething with rage as his face flushed red. It was obvious that the man didn't deal well with insubordination and that he was especially not keen on Miles thinking he could question his judgement. The boy was quaking from the pain he was trying to hold onto, the strain of focusing on his meager barrier and the fear that the wrath of his superior was putting into him. Yet he stood his ground, putting his arms up in defense in case he would be struck down here and now.

"I have told you twice, Miles and I will not tell you another time after this. Now please. Be.....quiet?"

It was then that the rest of the sleep inducing snowfall leaked through the high church ceiling. Everyone began to look up, the little girl slowly inching her way towards her protector in fear of what would happen next. Matthias was speechless, unsure of what to think. The entire grounds had been both sanctified by the Church and had a magical barrier erected by the Tohsaka family back during the reconstruction of Fuyuki chapel. They had tapped into a power flowing far beneath the earth, a leyline of unlimited magical potential, to ensure the magical fortifications would be beyond even the true magic in the Age of the Gods. Yet now there were twinkling stars of prana floating down from the sky and through the church's protective measures.

As the first flake into Matthias' open hand, he could feel the magical energy try to grip him. It was a simple spell to put any unaware individual into a deep, almost catatonic sleep. His defenses, however, were prepared and most likely amongst the best even compared to most Servants. The flake simply dissolved against his own barrier, the energy visibly rippling outwards as its power dispersed. It was a tremendously powerful spell, even when dampened by the church safeguards, yet the prana felt very familiar somehow. Suddenly the priest went ghostly white, the realization hitting him like a tonne of bricks. There was only one source that could possibly have penetrated their defenses so easily and it was the same source that those defenses drew upon.

"The leylines-!"

They were the last two words Father Matthias would ever say.

At the exact moment a barrage of powerful magecraft thundered into existence, all targeted towards the church. The barriers were fried in seconds, the sheer volume of attacks effectively blowing them out from needing so much energy to repel them. A hail of ice shards and thunder bolts rained from the sky, shredding the ceiling into mere flinters. Fire poured its way through doors and windows, the entire church seemingly engulfed by a raging inferno all at once. Explosions were going off from every direction, bullets flying every which way as they ricocheted upon connecting with the furniture and fixtures. Massive orbs of void energy were absorbing and obliterating everything within their path and what looked to be Gandr Shot were being flung every which way like a machine gun spread. The entire building had become a war zone in a matter of moments as their unknown assailants poured everything onto them.

Matthias had already forced a protective shield to keep himself safe from the brunt of the attack coming from the entrance, muttering the incantation over and over to keep the powering flowing and his concentration at its peak. Yet for all his prowess, it was completely shattered with a single piece of shot. The bullet sunk deep into his abdomen, knocking him backwards as his barrier came apart into shards that resembled glass before they dispersed into nothingness. His grunt of pain was an oddity, the man having never shown true discomfort in all the time anyone had known him. Yet here he was, almost doubled over while futily trying to stop the bleeding just long enough to keep his apprentice protected. His efforts were swiftly halted as a massive shard of ice hailed down onto the man, striking him through the back of his neck and out through his throat, lodging itself snugly in a death strike.

"FATHER!!!"

The young deacon watched in horror as his master was so easily struck down, crying out in pain at the sudden loss. His body went into a dead sprint, uncontrollably trying to close the gap between him and his beloved teacher. Not three steps in, Miles was bound to a similar fate. One of the massive orbs of null energy swept across his right side, eating up the majority of his right arm and just clipped his heart. The young man's eyes went wide and blank with shock as his life was instantly taken from him. His body went stiff and fell to the floor, twitching in large spasms as if to mimic gasps for air. A pool of blood quickly spurted out from the perfectly sliced body, leaking down the wooden dais and onto the stone floor below. Their grave would be the church falling into flinters and burning around them. The building was completely alight and collapsing in upon itself as the spells finally ceased in some sick display of mercy.


The suited ring leader of the magi outside had given the single to stop. The circle he had constructed was now nothing more than ash being blown away in the wind, used up in their bombardment of the property. There was little point in continuing anyway, knowing that either the occupants had been killed or they had been powerful enough to survive and would need to be hunted down individually. Despite this train of thought, the man was pleased with how well his formalcraft had performed. The church was a dilapidated inferno, held up by sheer luck of not having hit every support beam. Even then, the left side had already collapsed upon it self, sagging the rest of the building towards it. He motioned to his colleagues to advance and twelve of the thirteen shadows sped off into the night to advance upon the structure.

The last one slowly came out of the shadows, revealing himself to be a Servant of the Grail War by dress alone. The spirit was slightly shorter than his master, though having a slightly wider frame honed through rigorous training and war. His face was well defined, poignantly accentuated with well groomed and pointed facial hair. A set of sharp golden eyes were firmly affixed upon the suited man, fierce and determined and jaded to the point of lacking compassion. His hair was kept back in a small pony tail that looked as if it would come down to his shoulders otherwise. His armour looked far more suited to the area, a complete set of lamellar armour using black plates and purple lace, stylistically sporting wide shoulder guards to ameliorate the handicap of lacking a shield. He wore a large cloak attached to the armour, royal purple in colour to match with the lace with a crimson red lining. Upon the center of each side was his families crest, embroidered in the colour of the opposite side. His only true weapon was a single katana kept in an ornately decorated purple sheath with gold trimming, hung strangely like a straight sword or more European blade to keep it from catching on his cloak. Upon the back of his waist he also kept a matching tanto for ceremonial reasons.

As the Servant finally reached his Master's side, he looked upon the devastation they had wrought with dead eyes, as if he had seen atrocities committed far greater than this.

"The first stone has been cast," he said, his accent thick and almost dead pan. "It seems black has played the first move this time."

"So..." his Master replied, his own Germanic accent not quite smoothed out of his voice. "It's time to play the game, is it? Very well..."

The Master casually began to make his way towards the inferno that had been Fuyuki chapel, his Servant in step with him the entire way. If he had been truthful with himself, the entire prospect of ending the war this early was exhilarating. He wanted nothing more than to drive his opponents to their knees with his superiority. Now it was just a matter of finding out who he would crush beneath his heel first.

It all happened so quickly.

Daria stood beside Rider, leaning slightly against him, looking ready to doze off as Ruler continued chanting his rhetoric. The verbal paperwork flowed into one ear and out the other as she lightly snored. Rider chafed under her touch, cautiously eyeing both her and the tattooed man, praying that he would not notice her lack of attention.

For his part Alexander stood tall and straight enough to make up for anyone else's deficiency in posture. Archer felt himself shrink just by being near such an imposing figure, but he puffed his chest out nonetheless. The kind word of his Master had been just enough to bring out that sliver of pride that even the lowliest Heroic Spirit held, and he used it to pass for an honest soldier.

Then flakes began to drift down from above. Like snow, they descended upon the myriad souls gathered in the church. Daria noticed them first, her eyes lighting up like a child's as one dissolved upon her cheek. All she felt was a rush of cold through her system as she absorbed the prana into her body. A tiny gasp caught Enkidu's attention, and he saw her staring down another flake. Her tongue extended, she sought to catch it. A flare lit in his eyes, and he hissed, "Daria, don't--"

Too late. The little white flake landed on her tongue, and she gobbled it down. Rider gaped in silent horror as she pursed her lips, puffing out her cheeks as she gauged the quality. "Hmm, tastes kinda sweet. But not like snow..." she smacked her lips and wondered, "What is this?"

And like a sack full of bricks Daria dropped, her eyes drooping shut as Rider kneeled, catching her in his arms. "Daria!"

He began to shake her, but all he got was an exhausted groan. She whispered to herself like in a dream. "What is it Daddy?.. I'm not supposed to wake up at night..."

"Come on, you idiot," demanded her Servant. "This is no time for stupid jokes!" And then a snowflake hit his skull. For a brief second, even he felt the need to close his eyes and lie down. Instinct took over and he put his body over Daria so no more would touch her as he cast a wary eye above.

What kind of spell is this?

At about the same time, several flakes hit the top of Alexander's head at once, being among the tallest in the room. His eyes fluttered as he felt a sudden wave of exhaustion, but a shake of his head knocked it away. "What in the world--"

"Prana," Archer informed him, feeling his body seize up as more and more passed down through the ceiling. "It's all prana. Some kind of spell."

"What?" asked his Master, craning his neck to watch more fall down. "But we're in a church! A focal point of the city's leylines! This place should be immune to magecraft!"

Archer looked to the door. "Then that means..."

A trifecta. From above came powerful hail and bolts of lightning arcing down. Like a machine gun, Gandr Shot bolts blasted down doors and shattered windows. Terrible fire burned everything. Rider watched every attack come down, and closed his eyes. He needed no aria for it, but he was ashamed to have used his first Noble Phantasm before he had even seen the face of his foes.

Golden portals opened from all sides of his body, and long lengths of chain coiled out. In an instant they wrapped around columns, walls, and pews, and instantly retracted. Entire portions of structure came back with them, and fell upon the Masters of White. When Daria snapped to consciousness, everything was being torn apart. She tried to stand, screaming curses, but immediately felt Rider's hand shoved her down and behind him and the wall he'd made.

"What the hell--"

"Shut up and stay behind me!"

The wall was holding, but Rider had no idea how long his construction would hold against an attack of this magnitude. And if it fell, all the Masters behind him could be eradicated.

...

Archer was frozen in place, his whole body shaking. The bombing had stopped. He would've been destroyed, but for the quick thinking of Alexander, who placed them both behind Rider's barrier. Only a fragment of it remained, scorched and flaming, but it had withheld the bombing. Trembling, the Servant rose to his feet alongside his Master. "W-who did that?"

"What are ya, dense?" asked the Master to his side. Daria was staring outside the door, brow furrowed, and a deeply unsettling smile on her face. She was already dancing on the tips of her toes, fists clenched as her blood began pumping. "The other Masters are here. And they're lookin' for a fight." She spontaneously collided her fists together, and began walking for the door. "Come on! Let's get a look at these guys before they're just grease stains on my fists." Rider followed after her, whispering warnings.

"Do you want to get killed?! Don't just walk out into the open!"

Alexander crossed his arms and huffed. "Insolent brat. She'll die going out there alone." He instantly followed her. Archer was taken aback and asked, "What the hell are you doing?!"

Alexander looked back with a scowl on his face. "These Masters have defiled the sanctity of the War by attacking neutral ground, and killing a mediator of the conflict. Even if the girl's eagerness is uncalled for, she's right. They must perish for this." He turned around and continued walking, leaving his Servant to rub his temples.

"Oh jeez... all of you are idiots." He broke into a trot, following the others outside.

Everyone gave answers, and everyone else fell silent again as the Ruler rambled on. And on.... and on. Honestly the whole speech could put Yuri to sleep, if he let it. The knowledge of the grail was passed on to him by his family; if he was meant to be here he'd do it right after all. The priest and his boy gave a most welcome reprieve, and allowed Yuri to look around again.

He had taken the leftmost position of the group, and his... partner had taken a seat next to him. She seemed to be paying some small amount of attention to the droning, but that might've just been feigned.

The yelling took a curious end, seemed the deacon had found something and he agreed. Sparkling specks of prana, a spell of some sort, floated lazily from the roof like slow rain, or snow... He recognized the spell as his touched his cheek bone, the suffocating net of sleep quickly descending on him. Yuri quickly drew his sword, his unarmored hand pressed against it's razor sharp edge.

The blood flow started immediately, though his heart maintained it's steady, uniform, and alien beat as he went about his work.

Badump. Some of the blood fell to the ground, and splashed the ground in an arc as he raised his arm to the ceiling. His muttering was quiet but frantic, as he recited the Aria.

Badump. The crimson of his blood mixed with the greenish blue water he seemed to create, swirling above his head in a calm and pink whirlpool. Neptune's Aegis spread out quickly, covering the dozy assassin's head. She fought it as best she could, drawing her blood red dagger and looking for a potential attacker.

Badump. "What the-!" Yuri focused on his spell, but both heard the panicked priest yell.

Badump.

"The leylines-!"

The spells tore through the church too quickly for Yuri to make another shield, a Gandr bounced off his armor and threw the man onto the ground. Luckily, the Servant's reaction time was faster, reversing the grip of her dagger and splaying the red liquid onto the ground, quickly rising up and taking form, all struck by magic.

Rider tearing the place apart helped little either, but it allowed Yuri to drop his Aegis as the bloody water vanished. The spell was enhanced, he'd have to remember that little bit later, when he strolled out of this wreckage with the head of the one's responsible tied onto it.

Yet the two could see the Deacon through the walls of chain.

"FATHER!!!"

The boy was ripped apart almost immediately, sprinting into a Gandr. Cassius turned away in disgust and revulsion, and Yuri grunted with exertion as he picked himself up to his feet, and began walking towards the exit of the flaming building, behind the master Daria.

"Come on, Cassius." He commanded, drawing his bloodied sword completely, letting the orange give him a near demonic appearance. His face remained dead, except a small spark of excitement behind his cloudy eyes. His knuckles whitened as he clenched his fist hard enough to draw blood.

"Right. Mars have mercy, for we will not." The assassin said, dashing next to Yuri with inhuman speed, reciting an old saying she'd heard, leading her men to victory when she still worked for Pompey. That reminded her to recast her Phantasm, bolstering their ranks with blood golems. Yuri could feel a slight burning in his blood, but said nothing.

Clay's eyes started to glaze over as Ruler droned on. He was quite familiar with the nature of the Grail's corruption - he'd spent the better part of ten years researching it, after all - but he couldn't begrudge the others for wanting to listen, nor Ruler for giving this speech. They needed to know - how dangerous the Grail was. How it would twist and corrupt and destroy, given the chance. How you couldn't reason, game, or outsmart it.

How it needed to be destroyed.

In any case, he leaned back, letting Ruler continue. Having a traitor on the team because they thought they could use the Grail for their own ends would be... problematic.

Lancer, for his part, stopped pestering Diana(much to her relief) and resumed pacing about his Master. He didn't care much for Ruler's monologue - that was for Clay to keep track of. His duty was to keep his Master from ending up on the wrong side of a Servant's blade, and so that's what he would focus on.

Drip.

Lancer bristled as a peculiar sensation rushed through his arm. Looking to the offending spot revealed what appeared to be a shimmering snowflake, resting on his fur. Curious how it hadn't melted yet... wait. Were there any windows open? Was it even snowing outside? Lancer gave a confused glance to his surroundings, and a bolt of alarm shot through is body when he found no offenders. Something here wasn't right. "Uh... Clay?" He tapped on his Master's shoulder with his tail, a his eyes still darting about the old church

Clay was roused from his stupor with a small jolt, looking to Lancer with an annoyed expression. "What now, Lancer? I'm not in the mood for your..." Clay trailed off as he saw what appeared to be snowflakes begin to fall in earnest around him. But these were not ordinary - Clay could definitely feel they were infused with prana.

Drip.

One landed on his arm, and a numbing sensation washed over it. In the corner of his eye, he saw his sister slouch over and fall to her knees, her eyes starting to close.

'Oh SHIT.'

Without a second thought, Clay jammed his thumb into his palm and loosed a low whisper. "Suffio." At his bidding, a searing pain shot through his hand, clearing away the numbing sensation with all haste. Though he could smell the familiar scent of burning flesh, that wasn't what caught his attention - it was the rising tide of prana in the room. Under his feet, a surge of magical energy rush, as though there were...

"The leylines-!"

The world seemed to slow to a crawl. Clay knew this magecraft. Hell, he'd used one of them before. And that made his next move all the more imperative. He had so little time, they were so nearly done, no time to stop them, no time to counter... In one instant sliver of time, Clay and Lancer's eyes met. And in that moment, despite all their arguing, their clashing personalities... they knew what to do. In sync, as it were.

Time sped back to its normal pace, and without missing a beat Clay and Lancer went to work. Clay dove over his now-prone sister, laying the groundwork of a spell as he moved. "Let the heat spread as an inferno..." Touching Diana, he felt a draining sensation as he transferred a portion of one of his wards. Lancer, meanwhile, flicked his wrist and summoned a massive staff, black as coal and clasped with gold on either end. He took a position near his Master and braced himself.

In the next instant, all hell broke loose. A torrent of flames poured forth from the windows, followed by a torrent of ice and electricity. Shards of glass and stone burst forth, threatening to tear though anything in their path. Clay kept his head low, expecting to hear the sound of bullets whiz past his head... but instead heard a strange clatter. Chancing a brief look, he saw Lancer moving as a blur, his staff darting to and fro about his prone Master - deflecting each projectile in turn.

The torrent ended almost as soon as it started, with the hail of magic coming to a conclusion. However, the church was still consumed by a roaring inferno, threatening to make it collapse at any moment. Normally, that would be a problem. Most magi would be finished right then and there, burnt alive.

But Clay wasn't most magi, was he?

As the creeping flames touched his skin, they were immediately consumed by an unearthly red flare, moving to wreath nearly the entirety of his being. They didn't burn his flesh - in fact, a pleasant, controlled warmth enveloped his body, warding off the heat around him. Diana did the same thing in turn, still prone and very much unconscious. 'I need to get her out of here. Lancer could do that with ease, but separating now would be ill-advised. Only one thing to do...' Motioning to stand, he pointed a finger at the now-dipiliated door. A carpet of roaring flames lay in his path, but with his wards it was of little concern - to himself, at least. The others would need some help. "I am the warden of all embers. By my will, be still." A path opened up in the churning fire, neatly allowing for movement between the chapel's center and the Church's exit. He quickly slung Diana over his shoulder and made a motion for the exit. "Everyone at once! We can't fight them one at a time."

"Very well, Masters. I believe that leaves one question remained unanswered, Yi Yu Yuen..."

Matt, having been cowed into silence by all the verbal abuse being heaped upon him, simply stood in place, dully listening to Ruler's speech. He didn't bother to take notes or make eye-contact with the Servant; even if he did, odds were that all he'd do was incur the orator's wrath. Again. Instead, the magus simply occupied himself by staring at the chapel's floor, tracing nonsensical patterns in the floorboards. Needless to say, it was from a productive activity, but it provided him with a disconnect, a way to separate himself from the terror and stress of his situation.

...Holy Grail must be attained by... the opposing faction, denoted by their... cardinal points..."

Bits and pieces of Ruler's speech still managed to break through Matt's thoughts, attempting to yank him back to reality. The boy responded by staring at the floor twice as hard. The church was rapidly becoming the one place in the world he didn't want to be, and if he could only escape it by becoming lost in his own imagination, then that's exactly what he would do.

So, naturally, he didn't notice at all as prana began to gather in the area around the church.

No, he was far too occupied with drawing a maze from one end of the central aisle to the other, one that could only navigated by travelling along the places the floorboards connected. It was a simple enough premise, but it had a delightfully complex solution; if one made a wrong turn at any of a number of intersections, they'd soon find themselves running off into the pews. Matt had arbitrarily decided that that constituted a "loss", and was trying to divine which course would-

"Hey."

A slight bump on his shoulder jolted the young magus from his daydream. Panicking slightly, Matt jerked his head towards Saber, struggling to keep his visage in a neutral position. He needn't have bothered, however; his Servant wasn't bothering to look his way. Her attention was focused on the ceiling overhead. "Check that out," she muttered, just loud enough that only he could hear her.

Obediently, Matt looked upwards. Then, he blinked a few times in surprise.

Snow didn't typically fall through rooftops. Especially not rooftops that had been layered with wards and defenses even more powerful than those that protected the family manor. So, the simple fact that a magical snow was indeed falling through this rooftop had a number of unpleasant implications. After all, Matt thought, chances were this wasn't just Ruler's attempt at making the mood a little more lighthearted.

Magecraft of this level could only have sinister intentions.

Intentions that he planned to subvert as best he could. Briefly, the magus spared a glance towards Saber, but he quickly decided that she could take care of herself. Her Magic Resistance was already incredibly powerful, and she was prepared to resist this particular spell on top of that. He was sure that she'd be absolutely fine.

It was himself that he needed to worry about. Erecting a defense against the snowfall with mere seconds of preparation time was beyond him. And even if he had time to get ready, it was still doubtful that his countermeasures would be capable of stopping the effects of such a powerful mystery. So, there was really only one thing he could do. He needed to stir up his own prana.

'333 parts.'

Inhaling and closing his eyes, Matt began to concentrate. He could see it in his mind's eye: A clockwork assembly, one comprised of countless cogs, shafts, and screws. Hundreds of interlocking bits of metal, each and every shred of iron in its perfect position. Though it was currently still, it wouldn't take much to kick the set-up into motion. All he had to do was wind up the spring a bit.

'Switch, flip. Turn.'

Matt flicked his Switch, sending a light current of prana coursing through his Circuits. Immediately, he could feel the pain building in his chest, as something like a band of iron began to tighten around his rib cage. But with so weak a current, the pain was easily manageable; even if he didn't have his assembly, he'd easily be able to handle it. Still, it was better safe than sorry.

In his head, the clockwork machine began to creak to life, its interlocking bits spurring each other into motion. And as Matt concentrated on the imaginary assembly, the iron band around his chest began to fade away, dissipating until only the barest traces of its presence remained. The sensation couldn't be called pain now; even saying it was a discomfort was pushing the limit.

Leaving a part of his mind to keep the contraption spinning, the magus opened his eyes just as the first flakes of snow fell onto his arm. For a fraction of an instant, he felt exhaustion flow into his limb, threatening to send him into a deep, unbreakable slumber. Then the sensation was gone, swept away by the energy flowing through his body. Clicking his tongue in satisfaction, Matt decided that he didn't need to worry about the snow anymore. Now he could turn his attention to figuring out where exactly the mystery had originated.

As it turned out, it was a good thing he had freed up his focus.

"The leylines-!"

All hell was about to break loose.

Matt wasn't sure what exactly had knocked him off his feet. It could have been one of the explosions that tore through the walls and windows. It could have been one of the lightning bolts, striking just close enough that its shockwave struck him. Maybe it was a Gandr Shot that had just grazed him. Whatever it was, it had sent him sprawling to his back, into a pile of ash and ember that had been a pew mere seconds earlier. Stunned, and with lungs full of dust and smoke, the young man could only lay there, struggling to get himself upright again.

The assembly in his head sputtered and jumped. In conjunction, the band around his torso suddenly tightened, putting a painful pressure on his ribs and lungs. No, he had to keep it spinning; he wouldn't be able to handle the-

CRRRRRRK

Disinterestedly, Matt looked up at the ceiling. One of the beams, positioned directly above him, was apparently breaking loose of its foundations. If he didn't move soon, it would fall directly on top of him. And considering the size of the thing, it would probably crush his chest like it was made of paper. He had to move, he thought, as he dizzily tried to brace his limbs against the hot ground. He had to keep it spinning, had to move, keep it

CRAK

The beam, however, wasn't interested in waiting for Matt to get his shit together. As flames danced over its surface, the massive hunk of wood fell free and hurtled towards the ground. The boy could only lay there and watch as his doom hurtled closer and closer. There was no possible way he could get clear in time.

Then, suddenly, he found his view cut off.

"You know," Saber said as she lifted a single hand upwards, catching and bringing the burning beam to a halt in midair, "you're not exactly making the best of impressions right now. Seriously, get moving, would ya?"

Matt stared up in a mixture of shock and awe, his Switch turning off as his Servant stared back at him with an obnoxious grin. Was... Was she enjoying this?

He watched as Saber, with a single grunt, tossed the beam halfway across the church, into a thankfully unoccupied area. He watched as she reached down, grabbed him by the neck of his jacket, and yanked him to his feet. He watched as she cocked her head, listening to the shouts and cries of the church's other occupants.

He watched as her lips split in a terrifying smile, her teeth looking for all the world like a mouthful of fangs, and winced as he felt her sheer, unadulterated bloodlust wash over him. "C'mon," she said, an almost terrifying amount of cheeriness in her voice, "let's get going! I'll be able to keep a better eye on you if you're nearby."

Matt watched as she moved away, finally able to wade her way through the rubble now that the chaos had finally begun to subside. He watched as she made her way towards the church's ruined entrance, moving closer and closer to whoever it was that had unleashed that ferocious assault upon them. He watched her as she charged towards death, destruction, and slaughter.

And he felt his feet began to move after her.

It was like Saber had said, he feverishly tried to tell himself. The closer he was to her, the better she'd be able to protect him, right? It was in her interest to keep him alive, so he had to follow her instructions, right? There was nothing else he could do, no other way out. He had to trust her. Trust her to guide him through this.

Matt thought he heard himself chuckling madly as he clambered over the desecrated scenery, stumbling after his Servant. Because honestly, what else could he possibly do?

"Very well, Masters. I believe that leaves one question remained unanswered, Yi Yu Yuen..."

As Ruler began, Yi gave a grateful nod to the Heroic Spirit. She listened intently to Ruler's speech, and reflected on his words, 'Ah, then the whole matter of my wish is meaningless; even if I just survive, it will be granted. Besides, a corrupted Grail would probably make a mess of it.' Berserker shifted slightly and looked at the ceiling in his boredom, and just waited for the whole speech to be over. He sighed, lamenting the fact that his Master was the one who asked the question. Well, he mostly blamed Ruler for being overly verbose, but this was a war! Unless Berserker had got something wrong, that meant fighting, not listening to a history lesson. At least the pretty flakes falling from the sky were something nice to look at... The sound of a smack soon brought those thoughts to end, though. Berserker glanced at the source, just a scolded priest...

Yi glared at Berserker's little smile, only to look back at the pair of priests. 'Snowflakes?' Was that why her Servant had been staring at the ceiling the whole time? She made a mental note to scold Berserker for not telling her. After all, as the disarray turned into pandemonium, there was no time for such things. Flames quickly followed the flakes, Yi flung herself to the floor while Berserker tried to shield her from the chaos. He felt his Master's head dig into his chest, and stepped away, giving her some space. Yi forced herself up, albeit with some difficulty. To her, voices seemed be muffled somehow - she could hardly make out what the other were saying, let alone her Servant's questions of concern. Why was she feeling so drowsy? Why wasn't she trying to get out of there? Those questions buzzed around her like flies, however, her hearing was far too dull to make them out.

In her stupor, she glazed over her hand, spotting a flake stuck behind her index finger and middle finger. 'This... is what's causing it... right?' Yi cursed herself for being so careless, and tried to pierce the veil of drowsiness with pain. Nevertheless, a simple bite on the lip wouldn't do. Her arm outstretched, Yi started to mutter a few words, but Berserker grabbed her by the shoulder before she could even finish the first sentence. "Don't be stupid!" He chided. The look on his face was one of utter seriousness. Yi nodded, he was right - it was not the time to unleash the big guns. The Magus blamed her languid state on that somewhat rash decision and moved on to another plan. Something less risky, perhaps. What about a mantra said in times of need?

"On... jiterashi itara... jibaratano sowaka.
On ishanaya... intaraya... sowaka.
On jiterashi itara... jibaratano sowaka.
On... hayabaishiramantaya... sowaka.
On nomaku... sanmanda basaradan... kan.
On aganaya... in maya sowaka...
On irotahi... chanoga... jiba... tai... sowaka.
On... chirichi iba... rotaya sowaka.
On... a... ra... ba... sha... no... sowaka."

As she said those words, the familiar - yet painful - sensitization of prana flowing through her Circuit gripped her senses. With that Berserker seemed to return to his usual self with a remark of, "Took ya long enough." Nevertheless, he didn't care for his Master's slowness or the strange words she had spoken and immediately dragged her out of the ruined cathedral, along the path Clay was so kind to leave. After that, Master and Servant took up their usual stances outside Fuyuki Church, though Yi was clearly shaken by the event. Her bun had been messed by the chaos and she was fumbling through it in order to find that all-important hairpin. Yi breathed a sigh of relief as her hand brushed past it. Without further ado, she pulled the hairpin out and began to tidy her hair up. Berserker could only look on with a questioning glance at his Master's actions, or rather, lack of action.

"Is there really time for that?" He inquired. But Yi simply ignored that question.

Machiko was terrified. Everything had spun out of control so quickly. One minute she had been intently listening to Ruler's history lesson, most likely the only person who was interested in it, and the next the church was being assault with salvos of magecraft powerful enough to be considered true magic. At the behest of her Servant she was now crouched low to the ground, pressing her head down into her knees to try and keep it as low as possible. She hadn't looked up in minutes yet the attack continued, unrelenting in its goal to level the entire structure.

Caster, on the other hand, was performing admirably under the circumstances he had been dealt. The attack had been sudden and there was little time to erect a proper defense. He had used his magecraft to form a cyclone column of wind around the pair to deflect the spells being hurled into their vicinity but its construction was rushed, constantly in flux and needing attention to balance the prana that it was made of. No sooner had his cyclone been finalized than the magical shielding of Father Matthias had proven to be a false security. The Servant looked frustrated, unsure if the priest had simply been a poor magus or that the attacks were that severe. As he contemplated these questions, another piece of shot flew past his own wind wall and found itself purchase on his kimono's wide shoulder before veering off into a support pillar. Staring in disbelief at a gaping hole within his cyclone barrier, he came to the conclusion that he needed to be wary of the physical projectiles that would most assuredly continue to assault them and placed his hand upon his grip of the top-most blade on his left side.

Proving himself quick on the draw, Caster made brilliantly clean cuts through every piece of debris that threatened to wear down his magical shielding. His attacks were focused purely on the bullets and shrapnel flying through the air, his hunch proving to be correct as other elemental projectiles were deflected harmlessly off the sweeping wind. It was an impressive sight to behold, Caster being far more agile and precise with a blade than most other Heroic Spirits that would qualify for the position. As the attacks subsided, all that remained was a Servant and his Master, both surrounded by a raging inferno that threatened to consume the church and anything within.

The other Masters and their warriors were already rushing to the front entrance of the building when Caster knelt down to check on his own charge. She was clearly frightened, unused to the dangers of combat and had been so focused in keeping herself out of sight that she hadn't noticed that their opponents had ceased their assault. Placing a comforting hand on the girl's shoulder, the swordsmith gently shook to give his Master an indication of the coast being clear.

"The attack is done, Master," he said as calmly as possible. "We need to get moving."

The teenage girl looked up, her eyes bloodshot and puffy from a bout of uncontrolled sobs. Her glasses had been skewed to her left and her hair frazzled from her hands pressing down with such force. She was a mess and the girl knew it, trying to straighten herself out before Caster got a good look at her. The spirit could only smile on the inside, both worried for the girl's mental state and safety but impressed with her willingness to keep enough nerve to not turn tail and flee. The girl only gave a nod before raising herself on shaky legs and searched her surroundings for a way out.

"Our allies went out front," Caster remarked, pointing towards the passage their associates had created that was now slowly closing off as more flames replaced the previously extinguished ones.

"Then we'll go around the side," The young Master said matter-of-factly.

"I don't think I understand..." Caster replied, raising a questioning eyebrow at the girl's choice to leave the safety of her team.

"And I don't think I have time to ex-" Machiko began to say before being momentarily subdued by a coughing fit.

The Servant frowned at his own oversight. While he was a spirit that could forego certain necessities while alive, he had taken this advantage for granted when it came to his Master. She was still limited to all the trappings of being a mortal and keeping her in a burning building with thick, black smoke was not conducive to her continuing to be his Master. Drawing the same katana he had used to form his last mystery, the swordsmith made a single slash to form a gust of wind that parted the flames and made a path for their escape. The spirit quickly grabbed a hold of his charge by the arm and guided her towards the opened window, hoping to get her some fresh air before unconsciousness overtook her. To the young woman's credit, she suffered through the burning in her lungs and the dizziness from a lack of air. By the time she reached the window she was barely holding herself together, struggling to get her leg over the sill. But she did and in the most unceremoniously way possible she tumbled onto the well kept lawn below.

Caster appeared a few moments later, bleeding back into reality from the head downwards in a shimmer of prana. As soon as his body had fully manifested itself he knelt down beside his Master to help attend to her condition. The girl was still coughing, trying to suck in deep breaths to rid her body of that toxic smoke. Machiko slowly struggled to get her footing, already feeling warn and fatigued from her narrow escape. Yet she needed to keep her wits about her, knowing that her entire strategy had been to flush out any of her opponents that had remained in flanking positions around the sides. Her Servant was already looking to her for direction, keeping lose and on alert as he awaited the explanation of the girl's plan.

"So why'd we split up again?" he asked, the bluntness of a soldier coming through.

Machiko would never need to explain her tactics to her Servant. With her mouth half opened in preparation to start, the girl felt a throbbing pulse coming from her command seals. Before she could figure out how to control the sensation it flared into burning warmth, the seal glowing bright and compelling her towards a large tree amongst a few dotted across the grounds. Out from the shadows came the silhouette of a woman, just enough moonlight shining on her to see a profile of her snow white face.

"I should have known better than to be able to hide from a Master," she said, her lips curling upwards ever so slightly. "I suppose that confrontation is now inevitable. What a shame..."

Their opponent slowly walked out from behind the tree to reveal herself as a smartly dressed business woman. Her face was thin and unlined despite her age, exhibiting a mature beauty that could rival those much younger than her. Her deep setted eyes of sea green stared back through cat eye frames with a sparkle of intrigued instilled in them. Her brow was unusually raised with a pique of interest at the unfolding events, normally straight and uncaring towards whatever she was beholding. A small but long, upturned nose shied away from her petite pink mouth, now curled in a devilish smirk that begged for the pair opposite her to approach. Her voluptuous body was an even more enticing invitation, though conservatively hidden away by a chique grey business suit and skirt with a snow white blouse underneath. Her long legs strode in large steps, one in front of the other, like a spider stalking its prey. She came to a stop once her entire figure was revealed, facing the pairing with one hand upon her hip and the other unconsciously adjusting her glasses before snapping her fingers.

Much like Caster had before, two figures began to trickle into existence as a trail of glistening prana bled out and flittered into the wind. The first was a petite and elven thing, a disheveled dutch braid whipping in the breeze her summoning had created. Her fair skin was a stark contrast to the shadows of the night, her face having a baby-like innocence still about it. Her wide, toothy grin and bright sea green eyes betrayed her face, looking far more sinister than what she would first suggest. What bear minimum of clothing she chose to adorn was a white tube top with black trim, a pair of cut-off Daisy Dukes and black biker boots adorn with various metallic pins depicting skulls and crossed bones. In her delicate hand she draped over her shoulder a black biker's jacket, bare of any symbol to identify her.

The second was another girl standing about a head taller than the last, sandy hair being left straight and loose. She looked far more athletic than her counter-part, her musculature showing as she came into being in a fighting pose. The pattern of sea green eyes continued with her, her thick red lips grinning from ear to ear in anticipation. Her features were unusually tiny, small ears studded with earrings all along their sides, hidden behind curtains of hair and a child-like nose that wrinkled when she focused. Her style was quite similar to her partner's, wearing a black, deep cut v-neck sweater. The sleeves were far too long for her arms, coming out beyond her hands to which she had purposefully cut holes to allow her thumbs out through them. Skinny blue jeans were held up by a thick black belt, with a pair of Chucks to match her oversized belt covering her feet.

"They're it?" the brunette remarked, lowering her guard at the sight of Caster and Machiko "Where'd the others go?"

"Pffff, probably ran with their tails between their legs," the blonde answered. "Guess we only get the stragglers."

As the two newly summoned combatants bantered between each other, Caster and his Master could only look on in both confusion and worry as the three casually aired their opinions of the pair. They were certainly a chatty pair, but what else would you expect from a pair of teenage girls? The only problem the old man had was the topic at hand: how incompetent they believed him and his Master to be. Despite the fire building inside his chest, the Servant kept a cool exterior and once again slowly wrapped his fingers around his primary blade. These petulant children were beginning to annoy him with their antics and he figured putting them in their place would do them some good.

Machiko was having other difficulties beyond her trying to keep her nerves in check. A swirl of letters began to form around the heads of the trio of villains, unscrambling themselves into short words before wavering off into the alphabet storm that had formed. The experience was overwhelming her senses, a dull throbbing beginning to pulse in her temples. As she began to focus her mind it started to piece together the information being presented. It was information on the Servants in front of her! Everything she had collected about the Caster class and then some was appearing before her as her enemies bickered amongst themselves. Identifying information, parameter ranks and a distinct lack of a basic skill set were all facts that the girl would bury away in the back of her mind for later use. The truly disturbing fact, however, was that all three women had the exact same parameters and skills. They were all Caster!

"I think we're in trouble Caster..." Machiko whispered to her Servant. "All three of them are the Caster servant class."

"Hmmmm," the aged swordsmith mused, keeping his voice low. "Makes sense considering their prana is flowing in unison. All three seem to be sharing the same source. But that just means they'll all be weaker by comparison."

"I wouldn't be so sure, Caster... Their parameters are all equal, and..."

The girl trailed off before looking away from her protector, not wanting to say the obvious. The man simply nodded, his eyes shifting back to staring down his opponents.

"I see." His tone was a low grumble, angered by the fact that a third of a Heroic Spirit's power could surpass his own.

"Please don't be-"

"Don't worry Master," he chuckled, "no offense taken. Just wish I wasn't so useless compared to those kids. Then again, maybe that'll be motivation enough to kick their asses even harder!"

The old smith had purposefully raised his voice to grab the attention of the two girls and had gotten it in spades. If looks could kill the glares that both the brunette and the blonde had given Caster would have made graveyards of nations. The blonde quickly outstretched her hand, a brilliant silver blade coming forth from the ether. She caught it with practiced ease, taking stance with the weapon leading her. The brunette brought her boxing guard back up again, clapping her hands together and rubbing her palms vigourously. Muttering a few words under her breath, the friction created began to spark until her hands caught fire, though strangely enough the flames didn't seem to hurt her. Now the two were ready to accept Caster's challenge full force.

"Whatcha say, geezer?" the blonde woman shouted back. "Y'know it ain't nice to insult a lady like that!"

"I'll keep that in mind for when I see some!" the swordsmith returned, smirking as his opponent began to physically shake with rage.


Daria was already in a full-tilt sprint towards the main entrance before anyone else had even thought about charging head long into battle. The promise of a good tussle was always enough to get the girl's blood to a boil and her focus squared solely on how many fisticuff neophytes she could crush beneath her boot. Her Servant was already rushing to keep on her coattails, whispering to her to woe of such a brash and foolish move. Yet somehow, despite all of the Babylonian's experience with subtle suggestion away from hasty decisions, his Master continued to sprint towards the finish line.

But something was wrong...

She had easily covered a distance far greater than what she remembered the distance to the front door being. Maybe she had run three times as much, yet they were still nearly the same distance away as before. All of her allies had disappeared into the backdrop she had attempted to escape, so tiny that she wasn't even sure if they were still there. Both Master and Servant tried to push through the logic barrier as to why this felt so odd, that reality had changed on them and that they were being tricked. Their memories were becoming hazy, whether as a direct result of the effort or resistance they couldn't be sure. Then a voice, one belonging to a young man, broke through the entirety of the atrium. It filled the hall in a hallowed manner, like God speaking to His children.

"Foolish girl; why doth thou protest our reign!?"

The next thing Daria felt was the cold flesh of another human being smashing into her jaw with such force that she was sent hurtling to the ground. Stranger still was the hard stone floor beneath her, feeling soft and stringy and not anything like what she was looking at. As the facts began to sink in, the illusion that had been presented slowly faded from view and the overzealous pugilist was now somewhere outside on the well kept grounds, backlit by the pyre that had been the church. The girl was beginning to get frustrated with all this beguile and guerilla warfare, grinding her knuckles into the ground before slamming his fist into it.

"Fuck sakes, do any of you have the balls to show your face!?"

As if by her command, a figure began to slowly appear from the haze of the inferno. The light coming from the fire cast a shadow over the figure, an intimidating silhouette taking its time to step towards the young woman. As the man slowly came into view his shaggy, soot and sweat stained, golden locks came down over his eyes, their gaze half hidden yet filled with frightening intensity with no iris visible. His grin stretched wide, showing every single tooth in a monstrous manner. The most worrying visual, at least for a magus, was the manner of his dress. A well kept black cassock and white collar were the most tell tale features of his outfit, the silver cross hanging around his neck and large sword sung across his back only further proof -- an Executor of the Church had joined the war. Yet for all the ideas that a cold blooded magus killer could conjure, they paled in comparison to his laugh. As the man advanced his sadistic cackling never ceased, thoroughly enjoying the suffering he and his allies had created thus far. There was nothing better to a kill a monster with than another monster, after all.

"You have called for me and I, Executor Kyle Solus, have descended from upon high," he called out, finally stopping just a few strides away from Daria. "What sayeth thou now, foolish girl?"


He could smell blood. That coppery liquid scent wafted in the air as his prey swiftly ran past them for the third time. Those idiots had been fooled into thinking they were rushing towards the freedom of the main entrance. In reality, they had been running a maze of lies right into a trap. Both he and his Servant had been staying hidden within some brush at the corner of the grounds, lying in wait for the moment he could take his target's life and revel in the small victory in being one step closer to his goal. He had been informer by their supposed leader that the mystery would eventually fade but his patience had been worn thin with the wait, a rare occasion with him being a trained killer and shadow operative for the Matou clan. He was a magus hunter, trained in the various arts of waiting out his prey to take advantage of the limited opportunities he was afforded on any mission. This order was far more important than a mere pay cheque, it was the first step of many to finding the only thing he needed: his brother.

His attention was piqued as his two targets began to slow their run, looking around at their surroundings in confusion. It was time to strike. As the guise faded and their foes searched in wonder as to what was transpiring, the hunters grasped at their opportunity. Literal blurs to the human eye, both Master and Servant began to attack Yuri in unison, flanking the magus at every opportunity. It would have been a clean kill if not for the constructs manifested from that sweet, delicious lifeblood the assassin desired to see spilling across the lawn. Their attack was relentless, however, striking from one angle and then another, continuously assaulting the magus in an attempt to overwhelm their opponents. After the targets had finally regained their composure the team of killers put some distance between themselves and their foes. For all their effort they had only picked away at the defenses their enemy Servant had erected, the blood golems having been torn asunder and left as sanguineous puddles.

The Master of the pair was a short and wiry individual. His face was covered in scar tissue, marring an otherwise handsome young face with the ravages of his occupation. Luckily the majority of his face was obscured by his plentiful wavy blue hair. His expression was an untelling neutral, eyes looking dead behind their current focus with nothing behind them but a mysterious drive onwards and a level mouth, unyielding to any expression or tic that could betray a single thought or weakness. A black bodyglove covered the young man's body in tandem with a suit of light tactical body armour. His weapons of choice were a set of punching daggers, attached to small, rounded blockers for defense and strapped to his wrists to keep his hands completely free for use. His stance was low to the ground, his right leg outstretched with his left bent for balance, one hand flat against the ground with the other poised for a defensive strike.

His Servant stood beside him, equally stoic and mysterious in nature. The figure was cloaked head to toe in a black cloak. The Heroic Spirit reflected the build of its Master, looking thin as it stood perfectly straight. What little could be seen were a few stands of blonde hair, short and spiky in a well kept fashion over the left side of his face. His mouth was thin and curled into a slight smirk, his nose tiny for a man's. His features made him seem child-like or fey, a figure that never seemed to age or had an air of permanent innocence. What little that had been revealed when the Servant was attacking had been a black tunic and matching slacks, leather strap sandals worn dark through age and a small obsidian shiv that was almost enveloped in the man's grip.

"Yuri Makiri," the blue haired assassin stated in a monotone voice, his eastern block accent thick and familiar. "You must be eliminated. You are an obstruction. You may not interfere with our reunion. Brother would not approve."

The Servant slowly nodded in agreement, as if those words carried a heavy weight to them.

"Brother would not approve," they repeated in unison.


She could feel his warmth. His soul, his prana, his essence, his origin; whatever label the magi wanted to give it, she could feel his and it was terrifying. A blazing inferno encapsulated within the body of a human being, leashed and controlled by the sole effort of a single individual. She could barely make him out amongst the raging conflagration the ruined church had become, his heat mingling and masking itself amongst those surrounding the magus. If it weren't for the intensity Clay's own fire burned at, he would have been lost to her.

The quiet and contemplative Master had chosen to keep herself hidden despite the illusion that plagued her adversary. She didn't trust her newly acquired allies and the guarantee that the mystery would keep hold of their designated opponents was less than comforting for the woman. As such, she and her Servant had posted themselves in a thin tree line that was planted at the edge of the grounds before the wrought iron fence that enclosed it. As they observed they targets, it seemed as though her distrust was either misplaced or her assumptions about her opponent's competency were unfounded. They had been observing the pair for roughly five minutes, pacing around in circles, Master leading and the ever faithful Servant on his coattails. The woman sighed, unsure if she was more frustrated with the incompetency on display or her own presumption being grossly incorrect.

'Idiot...' she thought to herself, unconsciously biting her lower lip. 'Stop being stubborn.'

"Should we not attack, Master?" her Servant asked, his deep voice hypnotically soothing in tone.

The woman turned her head to look the ancient warrior straight in the face. It was hard and chiseled, the soft curves of boyhood long gone from his face. His eyes were a deep chocolate brown that blended so well with his pupils that they simply looked jet black. His nose was large, nostrils flaring with each deep breath he took in and a large mouth with thin lips, permanently affixed into a scowl. In place of hair his scalp was covered in tattoos of strange symbols, almost as if a complete story had been scrawled onto it in some ancient and dead language. Earrings and bands of all sorts and been pierced through his ears and eyebrows, flaunting the riches he had acquired in his past life. More so to this point was his solid gold armour, thick plates with broad shoulders coming into a more narrow and form fitting chest plate. the only other clothing Lancer afforded was a solid black shendyt with gold trimmings, preferring to be barefooted for a more sure step. Along his arms and legs were various bangles and bracelets, inlaid with beautiful opaque gemstones in varying patterns such as turquoise, lapis, carnelian and even jade. If it weren't for the cover of the foliage around them he would surely be sticking out like a shining beacon for all the decadence he adorned himself in.

"No," the woman stated coolly, not a trace of her apprehension bleeding into her voice. "Let them run themselves ragged. I haven't any interest in chasing them about."


Farouk knew all. He knew that the girl and her brute would be drawn in by the illusions woven by his cohorts. He knew every move she would make upon her exit of the ruined cathedral and followed in her wake to ensure the falsehoods being fed to her mind were accurate. He knew every step she was going to take before she took it and led her astray, into a sectioned off portion of the grounds solely meant for their introductions. Preoccupied with vacating the building as quickly as possible and trying to fiddle with an heirloom hairpin, she had failed to even see the consistent fallacies with the illusion before stopping dead in front of the iron fence at the edge of the grounds. Now trapped, the pudgy magus simply snapped his fingers and the guise was shattered itself to reveal the reality of the situation.

The portly Farouk was a jovial looking man, much less menacing than his counterparts on the surface. His plump, round face was stuck in a permanent goofy grin, his cheeks very prominent as a result. His eyes were sunk back into his face, though seemed to be as dark as obsidian. His bulky and flat nose sported a hefty amount of facial hair just below it, a full coal black mustache and beard resting comfortably over his neckline. If the man had any hair, it was covered by his more lavish and prestigious crimson agal and black thawb. Of course, the rest of his lavish thaub followed suit, covering his more than shapely figure, being just a tad too short because of his sizable stomach. Over top he adorned a very plush crimson red bisht, lined with black to match the garments underneath. His fingers and thumbs each had a separate ring on them, set with various precious stones from rubies to sapphires and emeralds to display what wealth his lineage had accumulated. On his feet were a pair of designer sandals, completing the elegant yet archaic display of extravagance.

From the ether came the magus' partner, a Berserker to match the one standing across from Farouk. The Heroic Spirit was a fair size smaller than the Berserker of White, his Master standing almost equal to him in height. His body, however, looked just as powerful, sinewy muscle rippling with every movement like a predator ready to pounce. His eyes were feral, always darting about before coming to lock back with the giant's standing across from him. With each breath there was an audible snarl that emanated from his bared teeth, elongated canines glistening menacingly in the moonlight. His graying black hair was slicked back out of his face, groomed haphazardly to keep it serviceable with a receding hairline beginning to become a problem. His bare chest more than made up for the lack of hair on his head, bunches of curls covering his entire chest and his forearms almost a full toupee in and of themselves. The only article of clothing the man dared to adorn to ensure decency was a pair of frayed slacks of a tan or khaki colour. Around his waist was a massive belt, easily covering his waist all the way up to his navel. Unsurprisingly, the man had eschewed the use of footwear, his toes happily sinking themselves into the soil below as if trying to purchase a grip.

"Ah ha~!" the portly magus exclaimed in delight, drumming his fingers together. "My dear Miss Yu Yuen, how are you of the doings, yes?" His smile began to show his teeth as he spoke, surprisingly crooked and yellow for a man of his apparent wealth. "Farouk is, how you are saying, a man of many business, yes? I am not here for fighting, only the businesses, yes? That is why Farouk offering fair trade for your unconditional and completing surrender, yes yes? I am man of many things, so maybe Farouk and you make deal, yes? What is it you are the wanting and maybe Farouk arranging for that to be happening, yes? Farouk has many, many things and is knowing many more than having, yes?"

His eyes looked at the young girl, hopeful of getting a positive reaction to his offer. It was true that he was no man of war, unlike many of the other competitors of this battle but it was a good bet that neither was the young lady before him. If he could perhaps persuade her onto a battlefield he was much more familiar with, that of barter and trade, than there was a good chance he would be able to come out the victor without a scratch on himself. Besides, if she decided to become hostile, there was always the plethora of volatile unguents, serums and concoctions nestling themselves beneath his baggy clothing.

"So what is pretty little thing saying to having agreements, yes?"


He despised all of this trickery. Something about it just didn't sit well with the young man. Archer had tried to convince him otherwise, that subterfuge and deceit were just another part of the game but even she wasn't able to convince him. He had chosen her for her versatility, her superiority in any situation possible, yet all she and the rest of his near-sighted allies wanted to do was toy with their adversaries instead of getting the job done. Why couldn't they just eliminate their threats and be done with this God forsaken war? It was abhorrent enough that he was forced to work with the others, he didn't need it to last any longer than was necessary. The young boy sighed to himself, scuffing his wingtip shoes on the ground to kick up a small cloud of dust.

"What's wrong, love?" a feminine voice cooed from afar.

The boy turned to see his ungrateful Servant slowly materializing out of the ether in front of his eyes, trying to exude her usual sexual appeal in vain. She was quite the attractive woman, there was no doubt about that. Her face was a cute heart-shape, freckles dotting her full cheeks. Her eyes were as bright as emeralds, glistening in the moonlight with a cheeky and daring edge to them. Full and pouty lips were upturned into an equally seductive smirk, as if to beckon any man to approach. Shock red hair framed her face in curls, going down past her shoulders and kept organised by a black bandanna covering the top of her head. Below a stark black period long coat was a low cut off-white blouse, displaying her ample bosom for further enticement. Across it was a large black belt with various pistols nestled snuggling underneath it for easy access. Without the interior of the coat were all sorts of nasty surprises from simple iron ball grenades to flintlocks to throwing daggers and even a saber strapped to her side, just in case. Form fitting black slacks protected her legs with knee high leather boots with a one inch fold adorned her feet, hiding a pair of boot knives between the two. Someone like her simply wasn't his type and he simply turned away in disgust as she playfully cocked her head in confusion to his foul mood.

"Awww, poor baby," she whined, wrapping her arms around her Master's chest as she approached him from behind. "We could just disappear if that's what you want. No one would have to know, tee hee!"

"No, thank you," the boy grumbled out a reply, rolling his eyes at the futile offer.

It was then that he heard what he had been expecting this entire time. A heavy set of footsteps was hastily converging towards them, coming straight from the pyre that had been the church before they arrived. Finally his designated target was arriving and he'd get the chance to end this entire mistake. The boy quickly took his stance, anxious for this fight to get started.

As Alexander and Archer bounded out from the ruins of the hallowed temple, their first unfettered vision would be of a white haired lad standing out in plain view. His face was soft but held a cold expression, his skin was white as snow could be. Red eyes were camouflaged behind a pair of rose tinted sunglasses with thick white frames, studded with rhinestones, resting themselves upon a flat nose and tiny rounded ears. Atop his head was a black cap, flopping forwards to rest upon the peek slightly. A black leather biker jacket was similarly studded with rhinestones, the words "Beat It" emblazoned on the back in sparkling glory. Underneath the jacket was a white wife beater with pink suspenders and a pink tie, sloppily but purposefully tied in a half windsor. Black denim pants that looked fairly worn and a pair of dancing shoes finished off the outfit that had been so painstakingly put together. The oddest thing about him, however, was his chosen posture, his legs standing perfectly straight before leaning his torso back. Even stranger still was having his left hand framing his eye with forefinger and thumb, his right bent at the elbow but pointing towards Alexander as if to challenge him.

"Well, well, well. Look who finally decided to show up?" the boy teased, shifting his gaze towards his partner who had taken up a flanking position, one hand on her hip and her stance leaning upon that same leg. "Guess this big hunk of man thinks he can take us on? I'd like to see him try. So com'on, whatcha waitin' for? Let's dance!"


As if all according to plan, the only two to escape the burning building through the front entrance had been Matt and Saber. Everyone else had been dispersed and were now occupied with the rest of his team at various points along the grounds of the edifice they had just leveled. As the visions of their allies running off before them faded, the only sight that was left to greet them was that of the stranger in the long coat and his Saber Servant. As they exited the building, the man already looked preoccupied with his watch, looking at it intently as if scanning for some sort of imperfection within rather than those caused without.

"You're late..." the man sighed in a nonchalant manner, discarding the thought as easily as it had come to him.

He then snapped the watch shut with a loud snap and carefully placed it back within his inner breast pocket. After dealing with the treasured instrument he slowly turned towards his true interest, Matthew Heller. His eyes were sharp and tore away at his very being with an intent to bore down into the many flaws that were invariably hidden deep within the boy's soul. For a moment it seemed as if he would kill him with just a stare. Yet then the man's eyes softened, as if satisfied that whatever impurities he had been searching for were never there to begin with. He took a single step forwards, bowing slightly as he tipped his hat to the pair in front of him.

"Good evening Matthew, Saber," he cooed in the most polite of tones before straightening himself and donning his hat with a clever twirl by a flick of his wrist. "A lovely evening for a stroll, isn't it? I do hope my compatriots and I didn't startle you and your friends. It would be such a shame if someone had been put off by or little visit. My name is Twenty-One."

The man then straightened the cuff of his undershirt before extending it in greeting to the far off boy next to his battle maiden.

'Shit. This is an illusion, isn't it?'

As another sprint towards the chapel door turned up fruitless, Clay took a moment to pause. His ward still had quite a bit of time left, even with a portion of its power transferred to his sister, but it wouldn't last forever. He needed to act quickly, or the chapel's inferno would consume him too. As he mused, he felt Lancer's tail poke at his shoulder, a tenative voice rising from behind him.

"Uh... Clay? You do know we're going in cir.."

"Yes, Lancer, I'm well aware we're going in circles. At present, I have little choice in the matter." Clay furrowed his brow in frustration - illusion mysteries were not his specialty. He only had one recourse to break this spell, and it wasn't going to be pleasant. "Lancer. Hold Diana for a moment, would you? I'm about to do something quite rash." Lancer's face lit up in surprise at his Master's order, but he grinned and obliged, slinging Diana over his broad shoulders. "About time you took that stick out of your ass. So, what'll it be? Please tell me you're gonna blow this entire place sky-high."

"Oh, if only." Clay turned to the Chapel's front and extended his hand upwards. With a snap, a pale green flame lept into his hands, and with a flick he tossed it forward. "This illusion distorts my perception of space. To you, that flame appears to be several meters in front of me, but to myself it's right at my feet. Using this as a reference point is the only way I can prove it wrong, and thus break the spell. Unfortunately, it will resist any effort to do so."

"So, how are you supposed to do that, then?" Lancer's grin dropped. He was getting the feeling his Master had something a lot less fun in mind than what he had initially expected...

"Why, by overpowering it, of course." Clay quipped back, raising his arms to his side. "This is where the rash bit comes in."

Clay began chanting under his breath, a whispered Latin number that even Lancer was having trouble hearing over the roaring flames around him. He picked out bits and pieces here and there, like 'Heat', 'fold', and 'consume', but it seemed largely incoherent gibberish. That is, until Clay repeated it thrice...

As the final chant finished, the inferno about them lept into action. Their roiling forms darted straight into Clay's outstretched palms, and with a practiced flourish Clay brought his hands together. A ball of flame coalesced between them, shimmering with a bright light and an intense heat. Even through his wards, Clay could feel the heat begin to take its toll on his flesh - an indication it was ready. He leveled his eyes to what he perceived to be the distance, focusing on seeing his marker where his eyes laid. Sure enough, he felt a pressure in the back of his mind - feedback from the illusion trying to keep itself from being disproven. Clay then opened his mouth and shoved the shining orb inside, with a pleasantly surprised Lancer watching on.

All at once, Clay released the ball's energy directly into his body. A surge of prana coursed through him, nearly knocking him to his feet, but he held fast - his ward would protect him from the worst of this. Even as a burning pain worked its way through his limbs, he held firm, keeping his gaze leveled towards the distance. Sure enough, in the distance he saw a green light flicker in and out of view, the illusion starting to falter. Taking in one deep breath, Clay focused his energy inwards, focusing it into his mind. A searing mote of pain shot through his head, but all at once his vision flickered, and the flame at his feet was now several meters in the distance, exactly where he'd placed the center of his field of view.

With a turn to the side, Clay turned his attention to one of the few windows left unbroken by the initial assault on the Chapel, and released his held breath. A jet of white-hot flames shot from his mouth as he discharged the remainder of the stored prana, shattering it with no effort. The flames petered out soon afterwards, leaving a trail of steam and smoke pouring from Clay's mouth before it finally ceased entirely.

As the last of the prana ebbed from his body, Clay stumbled backwards, reeling from the shock. Though his ward had prevented the worst of the damage, the pain was still disorienting. After a second to focus his thoughts, Clay turned to an astonished Lancer, who was clapping with a giddy smile. "Ooh! Do another trick!"

"Another time, perhaps. I might even have an unwilling assistant for it, if we hurry." Lancer's grin widened. It was finally time to get this show on the road! Grabbing his Master by the collar, he lept through the window Clay opened and onto the green surrounding the Church. Much of it was also starting to catch fire, but a few strides out into the open got the three out of the frying pan. Lancer placed Diana on a bench out of the fire's reach, and rushed to get his Master to relative safety.

Relative, of course, because Lancer's eye caught a flash of gold in the distance. Placing his Master back on his feet, Lancer turned to face the shrouded figures. "Hey, there! Feel like taking your balls out of your purse, pal? Or should I come over there and take 'em out for you?"

"Now, Lancer. There's no need to be rude." Clay brushed himself off, soot coating nearly every square inch of his coat. He turned his attention towards the area Lancer gestured towards... and then froze in place. A powerful sensation of cold washed over his mind. He half-expected his breath to fog up in her presence. '...That has to be one of the most powerful ice affinities I've ever felt. Perhaps THE most powerful. It seems the Association didn't scrape the bottom of the barrel for this competition...' He righted himself fully, his face falling into a frown. "I take it you were the one to cast the elemental portion of that display."

With a snap of his fingers, a mote of flame appeared in his palm. He let it dart about his outstretched fingers, letting his counterpoint have a full view of it. "While showy, I am still rather alive. On top of that, your fire magecraft... well... the only way to put it is that it was quite lacking. Without the leylines and that formalcraft granting stability, it would have blown up in your face." He withdrew a cigarette from his coat pocket, miraculously still serviceable despite the inferno he had been subjected to, if a bit singed. He dipped it into the mote, lighting it on fire and placing it between his teeth. "An outcome I would not mourn. You just made a huge mistake, you know. I don't mind threats and ambushes against myself - comes with the territory of being a Master. But you just put my sister in danger." His frown deepened, a cold glare leveled in the enemy Master's direction.

"In most circumstances, I would be willing to parley." Lancer gripped his staff and broadened his grin. If his admittedly sparse knowledge of his Master was right, he knew what was coming next.

"But now? You die." The flame's movement quickened further, becoming a blur. Its light intensified, shining brightly enough to dazzle at a distance. At that signal, Lancer bolted forward with a howl, moving with a speed unbecoming of his enormous frame. In the same instant, a single line of Latin issued from Clay's mouth. "From the seed, come forth. Consume. Destroy." The mote stopped in place, flaring to consume his body wholly. A raging torrent of flames wreathed his form, twisting itself into seven distinct shapes - long, snakelike things each the size of a man that tapered out to an indistinct head. The flames about the magus then lowered, revealing his hands having caught alight and bearing a scowl. "From the depths of Tatarus - behold the Seven-headed Hydra."

With a flick of his hands, the pillars of flame bounded forward towards the Master and Servant.

They should've seen it coming...

Adrenaline in the veins made time seem faster, mind and body both, yet despite he couldn't shake that their growing confusion. Running, and running, and running in circles, the Master noticed first but remained silent, a delusion of course. His hand beginning to dry must've been what tipped him off that not all was as it seemed. He put his hand in front of his servants, bidding her stop or slow down. The two barely had time to look around, before the sound of blade ripping through their defense filled their ears, though their eyes saw nothing but blurs.

Cassius quickly dropped into a combat stance, crouched with the blade reverse gripped, behind her back for a wide slice with her other hand in front, to grab their weapon arm. She felt the strain lifting as the golems fell, moving them ever so slightly in an attempt to have them live. No luck, their puddles barely splashed onto the ground when Yuri realized their dizzying attack involved two.

The cloaked figure reminded Cassius of Brutus, to the point where she could not tell if it was her brother or not at first. Though his style was certainly different, and she'd never known him to be anything too fast. The blonde hair and weapon also betrayed parts of his identity, though they were still far too vague. Still, Cassius couldn't help but be somewhat glad. No matter how fast he was, he was an Assassin in the open. Easy to one such as her, with training and gear. Her suit disappeared into the air, revealing her ornate armor.

Yuri kept his eyes on the man, however, who had dropped into a combat stance himself. Armored, shorter ranged weapon. Range wouldn't matter if he kept moving like he did, however. He'd have to find a way to blind him, sand or throwing blood into his eyes. It might give him enough time to stab his servant, if Cassius could engage long enough...

"Yuri Makiri, you must be eliminated. You are an obstruction. You may not interfere with our reunion. Brother would not approve."

The two glanced at each other, seeing if the other had managed to make sense of that. Both came up empty, though at least Yuri learned of his accent, likely where he was born and raised. A hint towards the servant? He'd have to check that, if they made it out of this.

"Brother would not approve."

"Then peace is out of the question?" Cassius asked, innocently, smirking at her competition. Her eyes glowed slightly as she begun to spin her web, Yuri slowly slinking to the side as she made herself a spectacle "Even for your team's Saber? You wretches, cowards and traitors both!"

Yuri had made himself his air stairs, muttering something unintelligible, like all night. In truth, it was a small prayer, but allowing his competition to believe he needed an aria was always smart. He climbed up, clenching his fist to draw more blood. One chance at an attack, then the two would strike.

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