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Berserker

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Gasping for air, a young raven-haired woman ran through the side streets of Akihabara. The various salaryman restaurants had long shuttered and the few men and women loitering outside of the short-stay hotels eyed her with just as much suspicion as she did them. Clutching a burlap sack to her chest, she rounded a corner and all but froze in place as the edges of her perception tasted copper and smelled the color purple.

“Matou…” The woman whispered, eyes desperately seeking out the source of the roiling taint rolling in like a fog. The street was empty in both directions and the moon obscured.

She flattened herself against the shutters of a closed delicatessen, closed her eyes and whispered, “ Traceless my heart, void is my form. Dance between.” and stepped back through the wall, the steel parting around her like water and resealing as she passed.

She continued to pass through the meat vendor stall’s front counter, doing her best to ignore the scent of slaughter mixing with the cloying poison approaching. She knew the threat was barely a minute away at best and she was already exhausted. What was the point of reaching for greatness if you were just going to die just before grasping it?

She let go of the miracle and the world reapplied itself around her. She kept moving to the back, past the kitchen and up to the walk-in freezer, her red eyes glowing softly and providing just enough light to navigate with. She walked inside and wove between the hanging flanks to the opposing frozen wall.

She pulled out a small crystal and popped it in her mouth, biting down hard. Amethyst and mint froze her lips as she repeated and amended, “ Traceless my heart, void is my form. Dance between, loved but unseen.” She walked through into the next building over’s linen closet. The love hotel. Perfect.

The woman took to the stairs. Her scent trail would stall out the search for quite a while, particularly since she forced herself to remain in the phased, invisible state until she’d reached the building’s fourth floor.

Panting from the exertion, she pressed into one of the rooms and popped another crystal. Only three left. Occupied, but the patrons were in the bath. She indulged and checked the couple out, nodding in appreciation with a cheeky grin before turning back toward the bed and reaching into her jacket, procuring a small silver marble.

Taking a deep breath and mustering the remaining force of her will, the small woman folded her hands over the sphere, resting her package in the crooks of her arms, and whispered,
Inside, outside, become my real.
Your form my gate, My heart your door.
None will know for you I hide.
In the breath, beneath, between.”

The room around her vanished, replaced with a 12x12 tatami wide patch of grass floating amidst a brilliant void of pinks, purples, and oranges. The woman fell, literally drenched in sweat and laughing in nervous relief. She threw her jacket to the side and wrapped her petite arms around the package, rolling on her side and revelling, “I did it! Oh my god, I did it!”

She bit her lip and laughed, “You’d better be worth it, you stupid hunk of weird,” before checking her limited inventory once more.

The woman popped another crystal in her mouth and frowned at her depleted supplies. Barely enough to finish the ritual… and she had to work fast. The reality marble wouldn’t hold for long… and at this rate, neither would she.

She snapped her fingers and the grass became concrete. She pulled chalk from her bag and set to drawing the summoning circle. After years of trying and failing for one dream after another, it looked like her last year in high school would finally place everything in her grasp. One opportunity after another just kept lining up… and she wouldn’t let a single chance fall aside.

But this… this unreasonable chance. This impossible mistake that had seared into being only a week ago… marking the underside of her forearm with undeniable proof of both her lineage and her potential. Three unfortunately placed command seals that demanded she take part in the terrible game ahead that she only recently discovered the rules for.

Mama would be furious... heartbroken…

But she had to do this.

Knowing how terrible the last two wars in Fuyuki had been and seeing that she had been drafted back into this sick world she’d hoped to walk away from left her more than afraid. She was terrified. After finally finding friends, a place where she belonged, a chance to achieve her dreams... this… out-of-nowhere death sentence pulls her into a goddamn grail war .

Circle nearly completed, she couldn’t help but cry a little. Her family wasn’t big or old enough to even be on the radar for this kind of crap! The only reason she could figure she was being dragged into this was because the stupid artifact decided she’d make a great sacrificial lamb to fuel some bigger family’s ambitions.

Oh, but she’d show them . This girl had plenty of reason to fight back. To kick and spit in fury at their callousness. What the hell was a gross family like the freaking Matou even doing still trying to be relevant! At least it’d make sense for one of theirs to be chosen as a Master. The only reason she stood any chance of even summoning a servant was because her family’s limited magical heritage happened to coincide with skills convenient for thievery… and that her Father had thought to pass on the crest as early as he did, eager to hand off the mantle of heir.

From the ruins of the Tohsaka estate, limited knowledge of practical crystal-based magecraft and a few remaining examples of the work. From the Emiya line’s notes, enough to glean the basics of time manipulation that she paired with her own family’s space and dimensional weaving. From the Matou, lore and knowledge on the summoning ritual and the… “holy” grail war itself. Oh yeah, and the abomination in a bag over there.

However the Matou had managed to get their hands on command seals, this… thing… was clearly their ace card. She’d missed so many practices by now that the other girls were starting to worry, but the time spent researching was well worth it. None of the families were exactly comfortable with the aberration, but the Matou were so desperate that they planned on using it as a summon catalyst.

A new kind of servant. One quite possibly from beyond the realm of Gods, let alone heroes.

If any of the others succeeded in pulling off something like that, then the war would be over before it began. She could just kiss Mama and the kids goodbye. Admit to the girls that they were the best things to ever happen to her. Maybe even try to kiss the girl she’d come to love before meeting a terrible and likely violent end.

But the aberration was hers now. The ritual was almost prepared. She had two mana crystals left to supplement should the burden of being a Master be heavier than she’d suspected. She’d done more spellcasting in the past hour than she’d done in the past five years combined and she was feeling it .

Worse, she was going for broke.

The biggest gun carried the biggest risk, the biggest burden, and her only chance of coming out of this alive. It was just a slight alteration to the incantation, but it was the only way to guarantee she’d get the class she wanted. Perfect offense, practically non-existent defense. Full assault, which was just her style. Completely at odds with her family’s craft.

The woman, stood, trying to steady her breath and calm the shaking in her hands. The adrenaline was fading, leaving her with only the task at hand and the reality of what was very likely going to be the death of her. She unbound the bag and tried not to recoil at the vertigo it’s exposure to the air around her induced.

Taking care not to touch it, she up-ended the bag onto the makeshift altar. It slid out and landed with a solid crash, the sound of shattered glass and radio static resounding though nothing around it seemed affected. The air smelled of strawberries and sunflowers as the air wobbled and the altar started to bubble and crackle beneath what the big wigs at the Tower could only label, “An inconsistency in reality itself. Incompatible with the fabric that codifies existence.”

Just unsealing it was dangerous. If it wasn’t for the contained nature of the space she was working in, who knows how it would have reacted. Particularly with the Matou bug parade hunting her down. The woman cracked her knuckles, cracked her neck, glared at her command seals one more time and said, “Alright then. Let’s do this.”

“Let silver and steel be the essence.
Let stone and the archduke of contracts be the foundation.
Let everything and nothing be the colour I pay tribute to.
Let my great Master Andou be the ancestor.
Let rise a wall against the wind that shall fall.
Let the four cardinal gates close.
Let the three-forked road from the crown reaching unto the Kingdom rotate.

I hereby declare.
Your body shall serve under me.
My fate shall be your sword.
Submit to the beckoning of the Holy Grail.
If you will submit to this will and this reason…Then answer!

An oath shall be sworn here!
I shall attain all virtues of all of Heaven.
I shall have dominion over all evils of all of Hell!”

With a deep breath, she committed,
Yet, thou serve with thine eyes clouded in chaos
Thou, bound in the cage of madness.
I am she who commands this chaos

From the Seventh Heaven, attended to by three great words of power,
Come forth from the ring of restraints,
Protector of the Holy Balance!


As the ritual progressed, the light in the pocket dimension faded. Cracks formed in the space revealed. Black electricity scoured the ritual space forming from the roiling gaseous solid artifact as it shuddered, inverted, and imploded, vanishing completely. With its disappearance went all sound and flavor in the air.

The small woman felt the reality marble shattering around her, but the space persisted. Even as the ground beneath her gave way, she felt her magic circuits flaring hotter than they’d ever burned. Her command seals throbbed as the connection was made with the being slowly taking shape in the searingly bright darkness before her.

The hotel room began to superimpose itself around them, but shifted as the bubble seemed to relocate itself into the center courtyard of… Kanda?

The bubble shattered completely, it’s residual energy swirling into the crackling maelstrom of her summoning. Then… a pull so hard she nearly fainted, barely having the presence of mind to crack both of her remaining mana crystals.

In the darkness of her near collapse, she caught visions. An infinite hungry darkness. A valley of countless springs. Gleaming hungry feline eyes in the darkness. Tearstained pages and a desperate loneliness. Bright spotlights and… herself? None of it made any sense, but as the darkness coalesced before her, it took the shape of a woman not much taller than her. The darkness cracked, shattered, and reformed around the woman’s pale skin as clothing. A flowing gown held up by one shoulder. In the cloudless night, all the young mage could make out was a pair of sharp, glowing amethyst eyes.

Low, her champion’s voice growling, rumbling violently enough for the woman to feel it in her bones, “Congratulations child… with this, you have already won. What follows shall be a mere formality.” The taller woman approached, a saunter that the summoner was too anxious to appreciate, “Your boldness will be rewarded, on the condition that you don’t get in my way. My name is…”

The champion froze in place, eyes wide. Her voice rose to a heartbreakingly familiar tenor, devastated and confused.

“Nico-chan?”

The woman, trembling as the being before her pulled at her magical reserves so hard she thought she would faint, stared up in wonder and horror.

“Maki-chan?”





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Author’s notes:

Will this continue? Not sure. Had a really strong visual and rolled with it. Definitely breaking some rules in the Fate canon’s magic system and family dynamics, but… isn’t that what fanfiction is for? I really want to come back to this sometime, but Nishikino takes precedence.

Where are all these freaking ideas coming from?

Chapter Text

Previously, on Berserker:

Nico’s in a real pinch this time!

Just when things were looking up with the big µ's victory over A-RISE, securing our place in the Love Live!, Nico’s dramatic, tragic past came back in a big scary way!

Right after a heartfelt talk with our super pretty and talented songwriter, Nishikino Maki, Nico got slapped with a brand new set of Command Seals, labeling her as a Master in the Holy Grail War! No way! Nico is totally spotlight worthy, but I don’t want to be part of a magical killing game! Nico’s magic is for making smiles!!

Enter Yazawa Nico, Heiress of the Yazawa family’s magical crest of sneakity sneakery magic! Nico Nico Nii!!! Nico snuck into the remains of the homes of the three major magic families in Tokyo, and found that all but one were abandoned.

What!? The Matou are the ones responsible!? No way, no way, no way!

Nico snuck in with her magical girl powers and took the mean ol’ icky bug family’s summoning catalyst, a totally gross wobbledy blob that kinda hurt to look at. Unfortunately, Nico was made to shine, not sneak! They spotted Nico and sent their nasty bug swarm out to eat poor beautiful me!

Fortunately, Nico is as smart and graceful as she is adorable! Nico got away and used the Matou’s summoning catalyst to call in a Servant of her own! Oh, a Servant’s a superhuman hero you’re supposed to summon to fight with in this nasty grail war thing… only the hero Nico summoned was… Maki-chan !?!

What’s going on!?

<Cue Opening Sequence>
<You really wish I had the time to animate this out, because it’s dramatic and playful and amazing.>



Berserker
Episode 1: Magical Love Destiny


Nico swallowed, her vision beginning to waver as she repeated, “Maki-chan? What are you…”

But the draw was too strong. Her already taxed reserves were being drained harder than they’ve ever been. Her vision began to tunnel as she lost track of her words and began to fall to her side.

An instant later, she was being held aloft in a pair of strong arms… and they were airborne. The scent of ozone from the summoning ritual faded into rushing wind and a familiar, deep post-workout musk as the summoned woman cradled her close. A voice that was a little deeper, a little rougher, but still definitely Maki’s assured, “Just try to relax. Focus on limiting your outward flow. I’m taking us somewhere safe. Don’t worry... I’ve got you.”

In a mere seven leaps, the pair landed on the roof of Otonokizaka. The outward pull was far weaker now, but so was Nico. The night had been too long and the demands of her escapades were harsher than a week’s worth of idol practice. At least she was able to see clearly again, the clouds having parted and the moon’s light being full.

Set to rest against their usual place along the wall, Nico watched as the summoned woman… Maki… set up some kind of tiny telescope aimed at the moon which immediately began to distill into a glass bottle. That settled, she began to circle the rooftop, stopping at the eight cardinal points to mutter silently and weave some sort of circle in the air. She was taller… older… and if Nico hadn’t already lost her breath from the exertion, breathtakingly beautiful.

Through the haze of exhaustion, unable to do much else, Nico took stock of the older woman. Her dress, a seeming throwback to her initial BiBi outfit only much longer, with a high slit up the left. The gloves and of her usual accessories were missing. Even the boots, leaving her barefoot. In their place, dull golden manacles around both wrists and ankles and thin golden chain looped around her waist and neck. The fabric was worn, frayed at the edges, and seemed to be all she was wearing.

Walking with a feline grace that the Maki Nico knew had never managed, the woman stopped to pick up the bottle, the telescope dissipating instantly, and walked to her side. The small amount of fluid inside, silver and luminescent, nearly splashed out as she thrusted it toward her.

“Drink.”

Nico nodded mutely, accepting and quaffing it in one go. There wasn’t much and there was almost no taste aside of cold, but the instant the fluid passed her tongue, it seared through her body like electricity. The jolt would have made her cry out, but just as she tried, Maki’s hand was over her mouth.

“Sorry. I know it’s terrible,” She apologized, but set the distilling station up again and sounding angrier as she went, “Your reserves are dangerously low. What the hell were you thinking going through a summoning ritual when you’re already this worn out. Aiming for this class?! Are you trying to get yourself killed? Idiot .”

She turned, eyes as sharp as ever, their glow standing out despite the moonlight. The searing sensation had faded into a dull numbness… but Nico did feel a lot better, so she settled for a subdued reply of, “Sorry… I didn’t have much choice.”

The older Maki looked conflicted, then frustrated, then defeated. She looked away and grumbled, “I know. I saw. I saw everything except for who you were.”

The taller woman stood and damn did she grow in those last couple years. She looked like she was over 175 cm, which… yikes. Whatever agitation she’d been showing was lost as she took in the surroundings. Not melancholy… but still something sentimental. She whispered, “I… I’m really back, aren’t I?”

She turned, looking… strangely amused, “That’s really you, isn’t it? Nico-chan?”

“Yeah,” Nico managed to choke out, too many conflicting feelings churning to manage much else.

More urgently, she stepped closer, “You’re in school and you know who I am. When is this?”

“Snow Halation was a week ago,” Nico replied numbly, looking in the bottle to see if there was any left and shaking those loose drops down the hatch. They hurt, but she almost felt alive again. The intense drain from before had leveled out to a low steady burn.

The woman took a step back and stared. She paced a few more times, stopped, laughed, started pacing again and then approached, crouched, and continued, “How do you want to do this then… Master?

Cute.

“Are we safe here?” Nico asked, finally fully alert and testing her senses. Maki was... an inferno. A solid chaotic maelstrom. Definitely not human and honestly terrifying to focus on with those senses.

“Safer than anywhere on the planet,” Maki assured, her gaze intense, “ Nothing will hurt you as long as I’m here.”

“You... are Nishikino Maki?” Nico managed, ignoring the tears that welled up at the woman’s words and tone, seeking confirmation.

“I am.”

“The same Nishikino Maki I talked to earlier today?” Nico’s voice starting to catch.

“It was a lot longer ago for me... but yes.”

A deep shuddering breath, Nico’s voice catching, “You… I called you... from the Throne of Heroes. How is that even possible? What happened to you?”

A look to the side. An anxious lip bite. A finger in her hair. All heartbreaking tells. “That’s a long story. I’d rather talk abo-”

“Of course it is,” Nico bit, frustration and a deep sadness swelling, “It’s always a long story. There’s no one that can be called to this thing as a Servant that doesn’t have a long story… what happened to you?”

“Just relax, Nico-chan… don’t get so worked up,” Maki growled, abandoning her hair to rub at her nose irritably, “It was a long time ago and I’m fine now… for the most part. I guess. Kinda?”

Now Nico’s vision was blurring for entirely different reasons, “What does that even mean? This is terrible. None of this was supposed to happen…”

“I’m glad that it did,” Maki assured unconvincingly. Her scowl continued to deepen, “I wouldn’t be here unless I wanted to be.”

“Maki-chan…” Nico whined, voice cracking before the full impact of the night’s events fell into place and the tears overpowered her.

Maki’s irritation seemed to fade in the face of Nico’s tears. She leaned in and pulled her into a hug. Nico felt incredibly small, wrapped in those impossibly strong arms. She gave in to the offer of comfort and wailed freely as this strange future Maki rocked her back and forth assuring, “It’s alright, Nico… Everything’s going to be alright now.”




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With a weary yawn, Nozomi fumbled for her phone. It was so late that she almost let it sit out of spite, but the number coming up as it did, untraceable, was enough of a curiosity to warrant the tap and a subdued, “Hello, Toujou residence.”

“Toujou Nozomi?”

“This is she,” Nozomi confirmed, holding the phone at far enough of a distance to avoid yawning into the receiver, “Who is this?”

“My name is Takamatsu Haru. I am a representative of the Greater Church of Honshu and I have been tasked with passing along a request to you and your family from Father Superior.”

That woke her up. “I’m sorry, but I am living alone here in Tokyo. My family is currently down in Kagoshima, though I can get Father’s number for you if you’d like.”

Before she could further collect her thoughts, the man continued, “That won’t be necessary. You alone are being being bestowed an incredible honor in wake of recent events. A package will be delivered to your door within the hour with all of the necessary details. Your cooperation in performing this tremendous task and favor for the Church will be recognized. You and your family will be compensated generously at the end of the event.”

“What event?” Nozomi asked, now gripped with a cold sweat, “What is happening?”

“The Greater Grail of Fuyuki has been reactivated by parties unknown. A new Holy Grail War has begun and right now you are the closest possible candidate to represent the Church. Upon receiving your package, please review the instructions and station yourself at Kanda Christ Church or the shrine of your choosing. You will need to be available to all parties at any time, so please do not deviate from your station. You have one day to put your affairs in order for the duration of the event.”

“What?! I ca-”

“Thank you for your cooperation.”

The line went dead.

Nozomi stared mutely at the phone, shaking.

This… this wasn’t possible. The only reason her parents had even considered letting her stay in Tokyo was because after the second Fuyuki Grail War the entire system had collapsed enough that it should have been impossible to restart. With the allure of the wish engine gone, it was understood that the three major families had pulled out fully, making Tokyo one of the safer places on the planet for the smaller families of the magically inclined.

She wasn’t qualified for this… she was only tangentially affiliated with the Church. She hadn’t inherited her crest, she was only barely considered a practicing mage! Now she was supposed to be the Church’s representative? The referee of a murder game for the rich and powerful?

Three sharp raps on her door shocked her into a squeal that she had to cover her mouth to stifle. After a minute, she scurried to the door, checked the peephole, saw no one, and opened the door to retrieve a small cardboard box.

Spell reagents, a “rulebook”, a stipend of cash, and letter of recommendation that was meant for the Christian church a few blocks from Kanda Myojin.

She was sorely tempted to take the Church up on the change in locale. After all the time and care she’d put into warding and protecting the shrine, she wanted all of the participants as far away as possible. Local Christian churches were just so… uncomfortable. Given her Father’s relationship with the faith, she always found the lack of depth in their sermons to be uncomfortable. Superficial. Still, it would be a small price to pay… there’s no way she’d lead this horrible ordeal back to the shrine.

One day.

Oh god, just one day to put everything in order…

 

How would she explain this to the girls? To Nicocchi? To Elicchi?

Nozomi wiped clear her eyes and glared at the rulebook. Moments later, she was at her table, her late-night-study candle burning to help keep her awake. If she was going to get dragged into this… she would survive it.




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Nico’s tears were cleared now as well, but she remained complacent in Maki’s arms. She was so warm and even with the liquid moonlight, all the magical expenditure had left her cold. Shivering.

“I still want to know how you’re here,” Nico asked sullenly.

“Because you called me, idiot,” Maki replied gruff, yet affectionate.

“I cast a spell for the stupid grail thing to hook me up with a Servant that had something to do with the thingie I stole from the Matou,” Nico corrected, “Something that wasn’t...”

“Not entirely in sync with reality, right?” Maki finished.

Nico stared, waiting for an explanation. How the hell did she know about that?

“With that thing, the only person you could have called would be me. Forcing the class was a huge mistake,” Maki grumbled, “... but one we’ll have to work with.”

“That’s really vague and confusing, Maki-chan. Do better,” Nico sulked and snuggled in further.

“Can’t. Spoilers. The class thing I can yell about if you want to get into it now.”

In a harsher tone, Nico grumbled, “Shouldn’t I be the one yelling?”

“I already knew at this point, you know,” Maki mused, seeming to ignore the insinuation. She leaned back to look through the clouds, pulling Nico back with her, “If Snow Halation was last week, she should have fully accepted things by this point.”

Nico felt her face go cold again. Rubbing her arms, she asked, “What are you talking about?”

“Oh, don’t worry. Not about you and your whole... magic… thing. She has no clue right about that. I’m talking about her own feelings. Regarding you. You wanted to know. You were worried about it. Another thing I picked up during the ritual,” Maki explained, “You should hurry up and act on that, you know. It’s not like you’re going to have forever with her.”

“Why would you say something like that?” Nico replied shakily, “This is all so messed up…”

“Yes it is,” Maki agreed. She rose to her feet and began to run through some stretches. Nico immediately missed that warmth as she continued, “Obviously I always wanted to come back here… to this time… but I didn’t expect it to be like this. Kind of cool in a ‘fate is a jackass’ sort of way. Either way, this should be a really nice change of pace.”

“I almost died tonight summoning you to be my weapon in a Holy Grail War . You were pulled into your own time, which I don’t think is a thing that’s supposed to be able to happen, and people die in these things,” Nico replied steadily, grateful for the irritation washing away the uncertainty, “How is that supposed to be a nice change of pace?!”

“I’ve been surrounded by death for… a long time, Nico-chan. Hell, even your sweet little innocent lovestruck Maki has had ample experience with people passing away around her. Very few going quietly. Not something she’d ever tell you,” Maki began in a put upon tone.

She shrugged, readjusted her single shoulder strap, and then looked down to her with an uncharacteristically feral grin, “You don’t need to worry about that for this game. You’ve got me. The most dangerous thing on the field for you now is me cutting loose. Honestly? This is kinda great. I figured I’d have to break off from my Master to sneak off and see you all again. This way, I get to protect you with every moment of this short lease on life I’ve been given... and I get to spend all of it with you. Unless you decide to share me with the others that is.”

“The others…” Nico groaned, almost grateful for a new thing to freak out over aside of how utterly bizarre this Maki was, “I have no idea how I’m going to explain this to them. Oh no, what happens if you and… normal now-time Maki-chan are in the same place at the same time! You’re not gonna explode or anything are you?”

“No, but you might,” Maki teased with a smirk, once more taking in the scene around them, “Don’t worry. If you say hide, I’ll stay hidden. We’ll play this your way.”

“Damn straight we will. I’m the Master, remember?” Nico barked, hoping the false bravado would eventually become legit, “First off, that warding thing you just did, how effective is it? I’ll want you to swing by the house and put out a wide net. I don’t want anything getting close to the kids. ”

“Good idea. It’s an alarm wired directly to me and a deterrent to any golems or familiars C-class and below. It’ll straight up evaporate anything weaker,” Maki explained casually, “Also, there’s apparently several magic-users attending Otonokizaka. Who knew? The residuals are pretty heavy. Not much from you though…”

“I don’t practice,” Nico replied with a shrug, “I prefer the magic of a smile.”

That seemed to make the older Maki happy, as she all out beamed at her. After a moment of just awkward staring and smiling, she continued, “I’ve got at least five separate signatures that frequent the roof alone. One is definitely you, I’d recognize you anywhere. There’s a bit of me there too, but I can’t I.D. the others.”

“Wait, my Maki-chan is a mage ?”

“She isn’t yours yet, dumbass… though she’d be thrilled to hear you word it that way. Also, not a mage quite yet.  At this point she doesn’t know because her parents are morons . That won’t happen until… well… later.”

Nico hid her face in her palms and repeated, “This is so messed up. Alright… so… you’re Maki-chan. My Maki-chan but way older. Your class is Berserker. What do you bring to the table?”

“Victory,” Maki shrugged, dripping with cockiness, “Assuming you can keep me fueled. The fact that just getting here wiped you out so badly is pretty telling of your magic reserves. How did you even get selected to be a Master?”

Nico growled and shot to her feet, “What the hell do you mean by that!?”

Maki assumed an air of superiority, complete with half-lidded eyes and crossed arms. Nico ran hot for a couple of reasons as Maki leaned back against the wall and replied, “Relax, don’t be like that. I’m pretty sure there’s not a mage alive that could keep me going at full speed. The reason that particular catalyst could have only pulled me is because it’s directly related to the lives I had after … all of this. In a way, it’s better that I manifested from this point in my soul’s path, but I have a lot less to work with. Even with my reduced capabilities, you’re barely able to fuel my being here.

“Lives… after?”

“Reincarnation is a thing, Nico-chan,” Maki replied lightly, “The deal offered to me, and the reason I can stand here before you now, is because I was stubborn. Stubborn and useful.”

“Wait, wait… hold on. What!? People called to the Throne aren’t supposed t-

 

“Later. That’s not important right now. I’m guessing you were asking about my Noble Phantasm? Maybe what my wish for the grail would be?” Maki redirected again, smirking infuriatingly.

“I… yes, but I’d really like to hear more about the other thing…” Nico demanded.

“Not now,” Maki waved off again, clearly reveling in giving her the run-around, “As I suggested earlier, just being here is my wish being granted. This? Being here with you? All that I want… though maybe with less of a headache, less threat of accidentally killing you , and less overwhelming desire to run around breaking things. I’m having a terrible time focusing. Don’t worry though, I’ll work hard to make sure you get your wish too. Assuming the whole system is still functional enough to manage that… doesn’t this all feel a little off to you?”

“Maki-chan, I’m serious. I really want t-”

“As far as my Phantasm goes, forget about it. If I try to do anything at a higher-than-human level and start pulling you for more than this... barest existence, I’d tap you dry in 20 seconds. I run pretty hot, so… I can’t even manifest my weapon, let alone use it. That’s why we’re going to keep engagements as light and as brief as possible. Something we’ll need to figure out a work-around for.”

“Okay. That is... terrifying,” Nico yielded before continuing, “But if we could get back t-”

“Now, you could use your command sigils as temporary mana boosts for me to work off instead of using your own reserves. You could probably get a minute or two of me running at around at least quarter power with each. Maybe using one would let me conjure my weapon on this layer... though I’m hoping that won’t be necessary. That would mean this became far too serious. Fortunately, it’s not like you’re going to need to worry about keeping the seals for issuing commands or demanding obedience since… you know... it’s us, but you should still use them VERY sparingly. You do-”

Maki-chan, I swear to God if you don’t shut up, I will burn all three of these damn things right now,” Nico roared, having pulled her sleeve up to display the three red sigils.

Maki stopped, wide eyed.

Good, ” Nico continued, “Now. You don’t get to drop truths like that about important stuff like that without explaining . Now, sit down.

Maki glared, let out a long, slow breath, shrugged, and complied, sitting with a fwump and leaning back against the railing. Good. She could cop as much attitude as she wanted. If anything, it was a comfortable, familiar sight. Logistics could wait a moment. This was important. As Nico considered her words, Maki impatiently prompted, “Alright, I’m sitting. What are we talking about then?”

Nico rose, stomped her way in front of the wilder and older Nishikino, looked down and asked, “We’re backing up a bit. You’re saying that you… and current Maki-chan… like me?”

“We like you and all the girls. All eight of you. Sometimes even at the same time. I was me more than once, you know?”

“You… wha…,” Nico began, nearly stalling out at that implication before getting back on point, “Nevermind. Right now though. She likes me. Like… like likes.”

“How is this important right now?” Maki frowned, “We should be establishing the ground rules for ho-”

“UH UH UH!” Nico interrupted, tapping her forearm again and shutting Maki up, “If Nico is getting dragged away from her idol lifestyle to be a magic girl, then she damn well will get to enjoy listening all about her magical love destiny. This is a magical love destiny thing, right? It certainly sounds like a magical love destiny.”

“Well there’s magic and there’s love… but destiny? Only because you’re hearing about it after-the-fact…”

It hasn’t happened yet for me! ” Nico exclaimed, finally finding an up-side to all of the turmoil of the past few days, “So if it’s going to happen in the future, and it hasn’t happened yet then it’s a destiny thing!”

Maki frowned, “I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works…”

“I had a long day. I’ll take it,” Nico brushed off, and leaned in giddily, “So you like like me then?”

Maki groaned and covered her face, “Since when are you so hung up on relationships!?”

“I almost died like, a dozen times today, let me have this. Do you?”

“God, you’re a pain.”

“That’s just the berserker madness enchantment talking. Sure of it. So, do you?”

Maki glared and then growled, “The sum of my existences say yes, I like you a lot. Understatement of the year. Be proud of me for keeping my hands to myself. My current self is wondering what the hell they were thinking.”

“Actually, this kind of mad Maki is pretty normal… are you sure you’re a Berserker?” Nico teased, riding her first non-life-threatening-situation-survival-related high since Snow Halation, “Either way, we’ve really got to work on your bedside manner. Any thoughts on where we should hide until this thing is over? I’m not taking this anywhere near home.”

Finally. Yes, I know what class I am. You could have had me as a caster or, even better, saber style, but nooooo. Also, I don’t know where we should go. Do you want me to go seal up your home right now?”

“Yeah… and if Mama’s there, let her know what’s going on? I can’t risk running a trail back home. The Matou use bugs and I planned on giving them the runaround by loading up on totally not-Nico perfume  before coming in from a completely different direction. You’ll want to make sure you do the ‘I’m not physical’ thing until you get inside and, if possible, on the way back. Can’t risk any chance of them finding Mama and the kids..”

“Dropping that conversation on me? Cruel, Nico-chan. Still, I’m impressed. You take this as seriously as it deserves. You’ll be alright in the meantime?”

“Yeah,” Nico confirmed, “I’ll get inside and catch some sleep in the nurse’s office. Bring me some clothes and my uniform, would you? Oh, and try not to be seen by anyone but Mama?”

“Not a problem. Food?”

“No thanks. Whatever that nasty stuff was, It did the trick. I think I’m good.”

“If you need me, don’t hesitate. Use a seal to bring me back immediately. Alright?”

“Yeah, yeah… just… go so you can get back. Nico wants to talk to you more about things.”

“Be careful,” Maki warned as she stood, “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

With that, the older woman disapparated, leaving just the chill of the night and the low buzz at the edge of her perception from the warding. Nico’s fired up nerves were fading fast, she’d have to get to the nurse’s station quickly if she was going to be coherent enough to bother with covers. All things considered, this was a good feeling, which felt a little weird given how awful the circumstances were.

Maki-chan liked her. Liked her enough to remember her lifetimes later. You don’t get much more romantic than that!

Let no one say Yazawa Nico didn’t look on the bright side.




------------




Electricity seared the stage. The crowd, now trapped in the stadium, was panicking and Nico couldn’t blame them. She was panicking too. The world had turned upside down… nothing made sense and her worst nightmares were coming true one after another.

She was helpless again. She could barely move, a stray surge of energy across her leg was all it had taken for her to be rendered nearly immobile. It just hurt so much… a quick tear-blurred glance through the steam still passing from the seared-open tear in her stocking revealed a severe third degree burn, the heart on her glove so horribly out of place now that the impossible had happened.

The other girls were scattered, and Nico watched, heartbroken, as the petite, impossibly energetic girl she’d come to love was locked in a battle straight out of a science fiction movie, side by side with a girl that looked just like her but older.

The action was too fast… too bright to understand. Another explosion rocked the stage, and she watched helplessly as her best friend, the one she had recently been forced to face her feelings for, was sent flying from the melee, ragdolling across the stage.

“Nico-chan!!!”

NICO-CHAN!!!

 

------------



Her body was on fire… or was she fire itself? She couldn’t tell anymore, not that she had the coherency to even consider such things. Moving faster than she could think, her body tore and mended with each impossible dodge or swing. Her hands gripped lightning and she was certain her vision would be lost to tears from the pain had it not been for her ducts being seared shut.

She wasn’t sure how much longer she could keep this up. With the surging darkness ahead lashing out with countless vorpal tendrils, howling from it’s impossibly bright purple face, Nico couldn’t spare an instant’s worth of attention.

The outfit that Kotori had worked so hard on was almost completely burned away. Nico roared in challenge, swinging her weapon in wide, unfathomably fast, arcs as she charged forward. She was a light rushing headlong into the darkness as the people who meant more to her than anyone lay helpless behind her.

She was more energy now than flesh, but none of that mattered. It was never about her. She just had to hold out long enough… long enough to...

 

------------




The morning came entirely too fast. When Nico’s phone alarm ripped her out of an amazing dream of dancing on stage in front of the Eiffel Tower, she flailed, kicked, and whined piteously in protest.

“So not fair,” she pouted, rubbing her eyes and looking around blearily. The sun was barely up… and this was not her bedroom. She felt exhausted . On the floor by the foot of the bed was her super cute winged bunny bookbag with a note attached reading, “Eat your breakfast, moron,” with a tiny grumpy Maki-face doodled at the bottom corner. Another skill she must have picked up along her way to the Throne.

Rude.

Nico unzipped the bag and pulled out the top bento labeled, “breakfast,” and rooted around for what outfits weird future Maki had packed for her. Passable, but only just. At least the full uniform was there, which she pulled out and made room for more rooting around. Note from Mama. Lunch bento. Charger for her cellphone. Tooth care kit. Skin care supplies. Mama knew her well.

Certain that she had at least an hour or two before anyone else would show up, Nico pulled off and bunched her somewhat smelly shirt into a ball before tossing it on the bed across from her, sitting cross-legged to tear into her breakfast. She made it half-way through before slowing and becoming coherent enough to connect the dots.

“You’re here, aren’t you?”

Maki materialized on the bed Nico had thrown the shirt to, leaning back on her palms. Clearly, she had been there for some time. She shamelessly maintained eye contact with a fairly unwholesome grin, “Good morning.”

“Perv. Do you need food or anything?”

Not looking offended in the least, but also not defending herself against the accusation, Maki shrugged and continued watching, “I can eat, but I don’t really need to.”

“You sure you’re the magical Maki from last night? Regular Maki-chan says stupid stuff like that all the time. Do you need money for the vending machines or can you like… magic your way into them?”

“That could be fun. You want anything?” Maki replied, apparently interested in the prospect.

“Juice. Coffee. Something sweet. Hook a girl up,” Nico grinned, “Get something for yourself too. Try to eat something that isn’t just a can of tomato juice.”

“Oh yeah. Tomatoes… that was a thing, wasn’t it?” Maki mused, more to herself, as she stood and phased out.

Nico got back to eating and unlocked her phone. Way too many weird uncharacteristic moments like that to focus on any single one. She needed more backup than just her clutch summon from last night. The woman might look like Maki, sound like Maki, and even smell like Maki… but there was a constant unsettling edge to her presence that kept Nico from being completely comfortable.

2MakeUNico: Nozomi.

2MakeUNico: Long night last night. Really need to talk when you have the time.

2MakeUNico: Super important SSS rank emergency. Nico could die.

2MakeUNico: Call me.

Almost immediately, Nico’s phone rang, filling her with the warm and flutteries. Nico hit accept and answered with, “Aww, you do love me~”

“Nicocchi…” Nozomi replied. She sounded tired… or pissed… or both, “Is this really important?”

“Absolutely,” Nico confirmed before taking a breath and taking the dive, “Do you believe in magic?”

“Are you seriously asking me this? Really? Me?”

“Yes, you. Do you? Believe?”

“What brings this up?”

Evasive. Nico got that sinking feeling as she continued, “I’m in trouble, I need help, and I need to know how much I need to catch you up on.”

There was silence on the other end. Static. Then a tentative, “Nicocchi… did something happen last night?”

“Yup,” Nico shot back. No hesitation. That tone said it all. She knows… now just how much does she know?

“What did you do…” Nozomi groaned, “I had a bad night too… what happened?”

“Nico can’t say over the phone. Might be bugged . Where are you? I’m at the school. Spent the night here.”

There was some very un-Nozomi-like cursing in the background as there was a flurry of activity. Apparently she’d turned her phone on to speaker because her voice was far more distant as she replied, “I’m on my way. Stay there. Don’t talk to anyone else… thank you for calling me first.”

“Who else would I talk to about this stuff? Maki-chan? ” Nico joked, eager to share the ‘in’ nature of the gag.

“Don’t you dare,” Nozomi warned, “Do you want to meet there or over at Kanda?”

“Here please. I’ve got some warding up.”

More distant, and outraged enough that it was obviously not intended to be heard, “Warding? Are you fucking kidding me with this? You spend the past year joking about my readings and you have the gall to already know enough to pull that off? I am going to kick your sorry skinny butt off the roof when I…”

Louder now, Nozomi took a steadying breath before continuing, “It sounds like we have a lot to talk about Nicocchi .”

“Cool cool,” Nico breezed, glad that she didn’t need to hide her million-yen smile, “I’ll be in the nurse’s office.”

“Don’t. Move.”

“Not planning on it. I’m still sleepy!”

“On my way. Bye.”

With that Nozomi hung up and Nico rode the adrenaline of exposing her magical secret to finish the rest of her meal. Nico had always wondered how deep Nozomi’s “hobby” was, and knowing that they very well may have yet another shared secret was super exciting. When Maki returned, guzzling a can of tomato juice as expected, she remembered another aspect of her current exposure. Sure, she still had the bra, but this kind of casual undress was beyond unusual. The fact that it had taken this long to remember that she should try covering up said volumes about her stress levels.

Maki ambled to the bedside and dropped a small feast of vending machine junk food and drinks. After Maki finished, she crumpled the can, looking offended, and tossed it into the trash with a disappointed tone, “Salty canned crap. Ugh. Should have known better. I hope yours is better.”


“Thanks, Maki-chan. Mind giving Nico a little privacy as she gets changed?”

Maki frowned as she reclaimed her spot on the bed across the room, “Is that an order?”

“What, is there something nearby?” Nico asked, justifiably paranoid.

“No, nothing like that.”

“So what’s the problem?”

Maki leaned forward, brows furrowed, “Unless you pull rank and order me to go away, I don’t plan on wasting a minute of this.”

“So… you’re just gonna sit there and perv on me!?” Nico challenged, bringing out the big guns.

“Of course I am,” Maki shrugged matter-of-factly, “I’d be doing a lot more if I thought you’d be alright with it.”

“... Nico will keep this in mind,” Nico replied, setting the empty bento aside and breaking into a bag of chocolate bamboo shoots, “So, like… what? Do we end up getting married or something?”

Apparently the woman was comfortable with the precautions in place, because she seemed far less antsy about taking the time to revisit the personal stuff. She opened a bottle of royal milk tea and asked, “Do you really want me to tell you? I don’t recall you being the kind of girl that likes knowing what’s in their present before they unwrap it.”

Nico pouted, then became pleasantly preoccupied with the ‘unwrapping’ context, “Good point. Different question then. You said you’ve been reborn as you more than once. What’s up with that?”

“Like I said, I’ve lived several lives as Nishikino Maki. Alternate timelines, parallel dimensions, multiverse stuff. Not sure how many, there’s a lot rolling around up here,” she admitted, tapping the bottle to her forehead, “More than enough times to have enjoyed several lifelong commitments with all the girls, but you more than most.”

… Nice. Definitely doesn’t feel like cheating if it’s through multiple lives! Jeez, this was weird… but a fun and exciting distraction, exactly what Nico was craving with the past week of deadly seriousness.

After another long drag of tea, Maki continued, “Though, there were far more times where none of you stuck around. Those didn’t usually end very well and most of the time it was entirely my fault. The height of chasing your glory days, right?”

“That’s… not what I thought reincarnation was supposed to be…” Nico frowned, “I didn’t think we had any say in what we ended up with.”

Maki shrugged, finished off her bottle, crushed that as well and then tossed it into the trash bin on the other side of the office. She took her time stretching and then leaned forward as if she was about to really dish. “That’s just it, Nico-chan. The rules? There aren’t many that are... absolute. There’s always someone listening if you yell loudly enough, but no wish comes without a cost.”

Fascinated, but nervous about the sense of sacrilege surrounding the conversation, Nico pressed, “Did you ever regret it?”

“... Sometimes. Right now? Not at all. I know enough right now to have a better perspective, and I never regretted the time spent with you all... but after spending who knows how long between lives begging and scraping and fighting to get back, to be reborn into another incarnation for a chance to be beside you and the others again, only to have you not have attended Otonokizaka, or for you to not have a preference for women, or for µ's to never have formed? That’s a long forty years to spend without ever connecting with anyone. Coming to after it’s over and realizing what you’d missed? You just scramble harder than before.”

Mounting horror continued to build the more she heard. Sure, there was some sentiment there beyond romantic… but mostly it was just heartbreaking. Knowing she probably didn’t want to hear the answer, Nico asked, “... Forty years?”

“Yeah, most times around ended way sooner. I’m sure I made it further than that once or twice, but… I don’t really remember a life where I made it much further than thirty-five,” Maki replied, watching the floor with constant glances up and falling short of a smile, “You girls are tough acts to follow, outside interference usually steps in, my family isn’t always that great, I always stretch myself too thin and… and these are the last unprompted spoilers you’ll get from me about that girl on her way here now... who is probably very excited to be annoyed by you for the first time today. She runs sad most of the time. Really sad.”

Nico watched mutely as Maki stood, smoothed out her dress and crossed the room to sit beside her. This was way more than she was ready for… and not what she’d hoped for in a magical love destiny.

The words were still sinking in as this older, stranger Maki put an arm around her in a casual one-armed side-hug, and continued in an unnervingly unconcerned voice, “I can tell you, with confidence, that unless one of you likes her enough to stick around, these are going to be the best days of her life. She’s never felt more alive or felt more appreciated than she does right now and nothing that her inheritance has to offer will ever compare. She will spend lifetimes chasing the feelings she’s experiencing right now. Sometimes she’ll succeed and things will get even better. Sometimes she’ll fall short, lose everything, and fall into a self-destructive spiral she doesn’t pull out of.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Nico whispered, unable to look away from her clenched fists.

“Because now I’m a girl that likes cheat codes,” Maki sighed before falling back onto the bed, “One that’s been around eternity long enough to forget and then come back around to remembering the value of time. Mostly? I just never had the chance to bring it up before. You don’t usually remember past lives while you’re busy experiencing one. Being dead takes the edge off all of that social awkwardness that might have kept me from bringing it up… and after the deal, I thought I’d never see you again anyway. Why not let it all out?”

“What deal?” Nico prompted trying to decide if she regretted this conversation or not.

“Something I’m not going to talk about right now,” Maki replied in a sing-song voice that somehow managed to maintain that rough edge she apparently developed. She had her hands resting behind her head and barely had her eyes open wide enough to keep watching her as she continued, “I think I’ve traumatized the number one idol in the universe enough for one day. Besides, people are starting to show up at the gate, so you should probably consider finishing your breakfast or getting dressed.”

Nico frowned and almost pushed the junk food pile aside before common sense kicked back in. Appetite or not, she was going to need the energy. She dug back in, forcing herself to hurry and to try and not consider the things she’d just heard. That would be for later. It was likely just some of the school’s staff arriving, but that didn’t mean she was any less eager to get caught out of uniform.

It wasn’t until she had tossed all the packaging away and nearly finished donning said uniform that Maki spoke up again. Even then, it was a nearly silent whisper of, “I messed that up pretty bad, didn’t I?”

The tone was so different that at first Nico thought it was someone else. When she turned, the redhead was staring, just barely above her knees, hugging her legs to her chest. Her hair seemed even more out of control than before and her toes clenched to the sheets. Not the kind of vulnerability one expected a summoned hero to display.

“So…” Nico began, still forming the words, “Are you trying to hook me up with her? The totally unfair insight is great and I’m absolutely going to be just as unfair back at her, but that seems kinda off. What are you getting at here? What are you trying to do by telling me all this? How much do you remember about this life in particular?”

“Not a damn thing,” Maki muttered, finally picking a question to answer, “Specifics aren’t easy to grasp from any singular experience since it’s all… mushed together so much. Every time I look away, I keep forgetting you’re just eighteen, or I’ll start wondering where my ring went, or expect Nozomi or Kotori to be there beside you when I look back.”

“... What?” Nico deadpanned in response.

“I thought it was just taking longer than normal to establish myself from the summoning, but the longer I’m here, the more confusing everything is. Your hair is still long, or it’s too short. You’re right in front of me, but we’re not kissing. We’re not fighting, but you’re scared of me. You should just… give me something to do so I can focus on that because you wanted to summon a Servant , not your future or never wife. I can do whichever you’d prefer, so I should probably just… stop.”

“I cast the ritual to survive, Maki-chan, “Nico countered, “You’re something completely different from what I could have expected. If you want a distraction, how about you tell me more about who you are and less about who you were . You seem like… weirdly confident that you’ve got this in the bag and I don’t have a clue about what you can even do.”

“Oh,” Maki replied, her voice deep with disappointment as her gaze finally broke from Nico, “Right. That makes sense.”

This was way more emotional turmoil than she’d expected to be handling. Nico had enough on her plate without having to worry about without sending her Servant into a perpetual depression spiral…  With a weary sigh, Nico offered, “Or, we could go over that later with Nozomi since I’m calling her in on this and while we wait you could tell me what you want to do.”

Then, when the woman capable of crossing several city blocks in a few leaps seemed almost paralyzed with indecision, Nico gave in and offered up a dialogue path to trigger her relationship flag. Stupid dating game lingo. “I’ve got a hunch I know what you’re looking for… and jeez, I hope Maki-chan grows up to look like you. Damn.”

That seemed to cheer her seemingly emotionally unstable Servant right back up. She relaxed and spread her arms wide, “Nine times out of ten, you get this eleven~”

“Yup, you’re definitely older,” Nico commented, finishing off her bow and tapping her lips, “There’s no way my Maki-chan could say that with a straight face.”

The redhead narrowed her eyes, “If anyone is your Nishikino Maki, it’d be me . It sounds like you’ve already made up your mind on your stance with her then.”

God, this was weird. To be honest, she was still feeling too sad to be taking on this kind of topic. Every selfish fiber of her being just wanted to curl up with a cup of hot cocoa, listen to some sad sappy music and just be a sack over the ridiculous number of world-breaking revelations she had been slapped with lately.

There was just one thing…

Nothing hurt worse than not even trying to cheer up a loved one that needed it. This woman may be weird, but… it was still Maki-chan.

“I have,” Nico confirmed, “I know exactly where I stand when it comes to Maki-chan. I just need to figure out how to go about it all. You say you like cheat codes?”

“I… it was a figure of speech, but…”

“Good. When I finally go for it with Maki-chan, I want it to be perfect. I want to blow that girl’s mind . You’re going to help me with that,” Nico decreed, hamming it up and getting into the scene, “... In between all this death game nonsense, anyway.”

Maki, the… older Maki… Maki-san? Ew, no. Gotta find something to call her that wasn’t going to get too confusing. Mirai Maki? Maybe… whatever… anyway! Maki perked up at this a lot. She actually crawled forward to the edge of the bed in a just-off-human manner to get closer while asking, “That sounds good. Where do we start?”

So weird. So… very very weird. That kind of eager, open honesty was so wrong on that face… but also really cute. Isn’t this what she’d always imagined her Maki-chan eventually being like? Maybe less… feral about it, but that was nice too!

Nico took a breath, knowing it was going to come to this ever since the woman first appeared after Nico woke this morning. She could be dead by morning, so why the hell not?

“Since you’re the authority on Maki-chans, I’m gonna need to know a few more things before I make my move. I don’t want to go traumatizing my poor innocent Santa-believing cutie pie, you know?”

“What are you talking about?” the woman smirked, “Santa-san is absolutely real… depending on which layer we’re on.”

“You can explain this layer business later. All “business” stuff comes later. Right now, Nico is talkin’ pleasure. Namely, how far is too far before Nico should expect blushy tsundere tomato girls to no longer be happy?”

“Boundaries like that are… really something you should discuss with her. Though, if your goal is to go as far as possible, she’d be a lot more amenable if you’re alone and you’re honest. Don’t make fun of her. Common sense stuff. Just do for her like you’d like for you and I’m sure you’ll be fine. She’s like… sixteen right now, right? Most of the time I was very into romance at that point. Like, reading novels and listening to love songs to get sad over every night, so if you lay off being a jerk about it you could easily sweep her off her feet.”

No way it could be that easy. Still, this was a much happier line of thought than death bugs, tragic Maki fates, and angry Nozomis, so she kept pressing, “... You think she’s ever… you know… kissed anyone before?”

“When would she have had the time? If she’s not clearly with one of you girls, chances are that’s a big nope,” the woman shrugged, “I can only think of a few pre-µ's relationships she could have been involved with, but those would have skewed her timeline enough that you’d already know about it.”

“How about you then?” Nico relented, finally getting to where she knew the older redhead was clearly dying to discuss, “What are your boundaries? I’m pretty sure Maki-chan isn’t so much of a voyeur that she just wants to hook me up with someone else so she can watch.”

Yup. That grin said it all. Maki replied, a little too eagerly, “I don’t have any when it comes to you. My ideal for this would be we kick the bad guy’s butt, never finish the ritual, I spend the rest of your life by your side as a second wife because this world’s Maki should get you too.”

Did she really want her first kiss to happen like this? It certainly felt like it was going to happen any minute… but then the wide eyed feral Maki was gone. Vanished with barely a sparkle to note her passing. A second later, Nozomi barreled in, wielding an ofuda of all things. She checked the room wordlessly, completely ignoring Nico until she’d checked every corner.

“Follow me,” Nozomi demanded, charging back out as quickly as she’d come in.

‘Oh my god,’ Maki gaped, inflection clear as day despite the voice coming through pure telepathy, ‘Nozomi! That was Nozomi! Oh man… she’s just as beautiful as I remember…’

Incredulous, Nico’s nostrils flared as she collected her things and thought back, ‘Looks like codes aren’t the only kind of cheating Maki likes.’

Nico could have never guessed how clearly telepathic laughter could come through.




------------





Nozomi blazed her way to the club room, waiting by the door and tapping her foot anxiously for Nico to enter. If the situation hadn’t been so dire, it would have been hilarious to see her so worked up. Instead, it was just deeply uncomfortable.

Door closed, Nozomi cornered Nico almost immediately, arms crossed and voice stern, “Explain yourself.”

Hot damn, authoritarian Nozomi. Strangely, it was a lot easier to take this than it was the whole washi-washi routine. Still, a little more space would have helped… so instead of words, Nico undid the buttons on her sleeve and rolled it up to expose her forearm and the command sigils underneath.

“Oh no,” Nozomi whispered, “No no no… Nicocchi?”

“I didn’t ask for this. They just… showed up a week ago,” Nico replied simply. The reaction spoke volumes.

“This explains why you’ve been missing practice so much… are you okay?”

After a moment of thought, Nico admitted, “No, and I don’t think I will be until this is all over.”

“So you know what that is? What it means?” Nozomi prompted.

“Holy Grail War. Papa was a mage. I got his crest before… I know what it means,” Nico allowed, “How do you know?”

“Daddy’s a mage too. Momma’s got the heritage but not the gift. Both manifested in me. I’m not very well trained. Everyone who's anyone knows about what happened in Fuyuki.”

“Did you get a set of these too?” Nico cut in, “Please tell me no.”

“No, thankfully,” Nozomi sighed, pulling Nico into a hug, “I couldn’t… but I’m still involved.”

The hug was nice, but Nico was still tense. All the awkward back and forth in the nurse’s office was forgotten as the world got all serious again… but not serious enough to not return the hug, “What do you mean?”

Nozomi’s shoulders were shaking. “I got a call from the Church last night. They want me to represent them in the… ‘game.’”

‘Interesting…’ Maki mused silently.

“Is that a bad thing?” Nico prompted, “I thought they were supposed to be like… a sanctuary or something.”

“Originally they were… but a few wars ago the grail was corrupted,” Nozomi explained, her voice cracking, “... the entire ritual is broken… so the rules don’t have to be followed as closely anymore. I’m not trained enough to handle those responsibilities let alone defend myself… If I go to that church they’re going to kill me, Nicocchi...”

Nozomi’s fire was completely spent. All that was left now apparently were shuddering tears. This was absolutely not how Nico expected this to go down… still… she could work with this. Like she had thought earlier. Nothing got her fired up like the opportunity to cheer someone up.

“That’s not going to happen,” Nico boasted, hugging tighter, “You’ve got the number one idol in the universe on the case. As long as you stick with me, nothing will hurt you.”

Nozomi hugged back, but then pulled away. Oh man she’d been crying hard … but now she just looked skeptical. That wouldn’t do, so Nico continued, “Wiiiith a little help from a good friend of ours.”

On cue, Maki materialized at Nico’s side.

“Nozomi…” Maki murmured reverently, literally radiating intensity.

Nozomi squeaked and jumped back, wide-eyed and reaching for her ofuda. Before she could reach it, Maki had grasped her hand, the other at her cheek. Maki assured, deep and soothing, “It’s okay. It’s alright. You’re safe now. It’s me.”

“Maki?” Nozomi boggled, looking down at her held hand, back to Maki, over to Nico, and back to Maki, “ Maki!?”

“That’s right. Just like Nico-chan said. Everything’s going to be fine now,” Maki assured.

… and then she leaned Nozomi back and kissed her soundly on the lips.




------------





Ten minutes later, Maki was sitting cross-legged in a chair facing the corner, pouting as deeply as she could.

“So… it’s for real then? That’s really her?”

“Seems so,” Nico shrugged, still glaring at the redhead’s back.

“I think I remember Daddy talking about the thing you stole… if she came from that I don’t know what to think. What… this is so weird to be asking, what class is she?”

“Berserker.”

How? ” Nozomi wondered aloud, turning to stare at the woman, “How does our little Maki-chan go from… Maki-chan, to a berserker?”

Maki made a claw with one hand, batted at the air, and chipped in with a flat, “Gao”

“It’s my fault. Nico wanted to make sure she had a strong Servant, so…” Nico began to explain, but was interrupted by Maki.

“It fits. Can’t tell you why. Sorry.”

“You sit over there and be quiet! I’m still mad at you!” Nico demanded, looking even more irritable as Maki started to laugh.

“It’s okay,” Nozomi assured, “Really.”

“It isn’t!” Nico demanded and then at a more even tone, “... and as far as the whole Church thing goes, screw ‘em! You said it yourself. They’re just offering you up to save face in a way that doesn’t get any of them killed!”

“That’s what Daddy thought too…” Nozomi groaned miserably, “They sent me this package that explained a lot about what happened last time. The official stance is that since the source of the ritual is corrupted and confirmed to not be the “true grail,” they don’t plan to get overly involved. Why they contacted me of all people or need a representative around at all makes no sense.”

“I’m not completely sure what all went down with the last grail war thingamajig, but wasn’t it the church guy that broke the whole thing?” Nico replied, “From everything I read, this whole thing shouldn’t be happening. Like, it should be completely busted. All of the Matou’s notes were loaded with work-arounds to rig the system in their favor but mostly just to get the thing re-wired far enough to have a chance at functioning. They’re desperate .”

“I know…” Nozomi began, “But…”

“No buts! If we follow the rules the way they’re supposed to go, we’re just giving that jerk a free win by putting our heads on the chopping block. We are NOT going out like that, you hear me?” Nico commanded, “ Especially not when things are finally going our way! We need to get this wrapped up quick so we can get back to prepping for the Love Live!”

Nozomi stared and after a moment replied, “You… are very confident about this, aren’t you?”

“She says we’ll be fine, so we’ll be fine,” Nico assured, pointing a thumb Maki’s way, “I don’t know if the madness enchant just made her nuts or if she’s got the stuff to back it up.”

“I’ve got the stuff. I could end this whole thing right here and now if I had enough juice to pull from,” Maki growled, scratching at her knee irritably.

“What does she mean?” Nozomi asked, “I… only had so much time to read up and I didn’t get to how the whole Servant/Master thing works.”

Nico took a breath to answer, but Maki was already standing and walking their way. Before Nico could order her to get back to her chair, the redhead was explaining, “Nico doesn’t have the magical capacity or magic generation capabilities for me to fully express myself on the physical plane. No weapon. No real magic. Just… roughly one thirtieth of my base physicality before I start hurting her.”

Nozomi gaped, “That’s… is that because Nicocchi is so short?”

Maki nodded gravely, “Short and flat. No spiritual power.”

Nico rolled her eyes, “I’m glad you two can find the time to joke about this, but… can we move this along?”

Maki looked thrilled about getting Nozomi to smile, but she did lock eyes with Nico and assured with a wink, “Don’t worry. You’re the one for me.”

Then, back to Nozomi, she continued, “To be fair to her, I don’t think there’s a mage that has ever lived on this layer that could fuel me completely. I could tap a full ritual team of twelve dry in under a minute if I went all out. Easily.”

“Someone’s got a pretty high opinion of themselves,” Nico grumbled.

“If we’re being honest here, I’m just being a jerk. It’s an incompatibility issue more than anything. I reincarnated significantly closer to the creation core of a multiverse completely separated from this one, so my standard’s literally on a different level of capacity from this one. Part of the deal was that the core storing… me… as a heroic spirit… gets updated as time goes on since I’m still out there and active. Either way, that’s why Nico’s confident,” Maki assured, rubbing her nose, “I might not be at my best, but if the Matous are the biggest name in the game I shouldn’t have to worry.”

Nozomi blinked and looked to Nico for an explanation. Something about what Maki said really bothered her just now. Nico wasn’t touching all this weird layer talk until later, “The Matou waited until the other major families moved out. From everything I’ve read, they’ve only got like, two or three people in their line left capable of using magic at all. They’ve got this creepy bug work-around. Trust me, you don’t wanna know.”

Nico stepped to the table and sat on it’s edge to continue, “Part of why is resources. Older mage families have easier access to catalysts that can call on big names to fight for them. The Matou apparently burned through all the stuff they had in the last couple wars and they stole Maki’s from the Tower as a last-ditch all-or-nothing play.”

“Which you snuck in and took?” Nozomi asked.

“Yup. Last night. No idea what they’re gonna do now. Since the grail thingie picks seven potential people on its own, I’m guessing they were hoping that the other six of us wouldn’t have access to the stuff needed to pull a good Servant.”

“Are you sure that one of them was chosen?” Nozomi checked.

“Some creepy old guy named Zouken,” Nico replied with a sneer, “I’m guessing he’s like their patriarch or something. I saw him while I was breaking in. I was full phased at the time, but I swear he knew something was up regardless. That’s not supposed to be able to happen, but yeah. I saw his arm. He’s definitely a Master.”

Nozomi whistled and leaned back against the wall, “Well, that’s two of seven, with at least one person fully active, assuming the ritual is working as intended.”

Nico rubbed her arms, trying to brush away the creepy-crawlies just thinking about the Matou elder inspired, “You’re all up in the woomidy woom, right? Do you know what all mage families are in the area? We… kind of intentionally dropped off the map after what happened with Papa.”

“I know of a few, but not enough to fill out that roster. How did you even get chosen if you don’t practice and your family isn’t involved?” Nozomi asked with clear confusion.

“I can answer that one,” Maki stepped in, “Servants apparently get a crash course on the ritual and the low-down on the time and place where they’re summoned installed on arrival. Upon the ritual’s activation, the grail finds seven people with magical potential and the most drive to fulfill a wish. Strength isn’t as much of a factor in the equation as the drive .”

“Yup,” Nozomi agreed, looking at Nico with strange pride, “That explains it.”

Aww. Nozomi wasn’t always the worst. Nico asked, “Anyone we know? You said you knew of a few.”

“No one I’m willing to name at the moment. I’m supposed to remain objective, after all. I’ll follow up with them soon. I’d like to try and fulfill as many of these responsibilities as possible,” Nozomi offered, “If you could accompany me as a guard I’d feel a lot safer.”

“I’m down for it,” Maki grinned, now straddling the seat and rocking back and forth, “We should probably make a stop at the Matou residence as well. Make it official.”

“Hard pass,” Nico waved off, “You two can do that, but I’m not doin’ anything that could lead this back home. I say just call it in.”

“I’d prefer to wait on them as well,” Nozomi demurred, “Part of why the area has flourished with smaller mage families was because the big three vacated. I didn’t realize that one hadn’t left but just mostly collapsed after the last war.”

“Stupid old rich families,” Nico grumbled.

“Hey!” Maki laughed.

“You heard what I said, Kissy-shino Maki.

Maki fell out of her chair with a case of the giggles.

“It’s really alright, Nicocchi, unless you’re jealous, ” Nozomi teased.

“Of course I’m jealous!!” Nico growled.

“Ooo~ Does Nicocchi want to kiss me too?” Nozomi gasped, hand to mouth.

“Do it! You two make a great couple!” Maki encouraged from the floor.

Both just stared at the summoned woman, who took that attention and grinned wolfishly, adding, “But we make an even better threesome,” before resuming her giggle fit.




------------





With that, the two agreed to simply follow through with their day as planned. They moved to their mutual classrooms with the intention of carrying on with after-class routine training for the latest round of sub-group choreography, another couple run-throughs of KiRa-KiRa Sensation and a draft run of Bokura wa Ima no Naka de. If nothing else, time with one another would boost their spirits back to the heights where they belonged.

That song was shaping up to be amazing.

Ending the meetup with laughter was a great idea. As impossible as it may seem, she was moving on with her day with a smile. Maki-chan had sent her a text letting her know she was handling snacks for this afternoon and that she’d “accidentally” brought a surplus of lunch that she could use some help eating; her personal pocket future Maki translated it to mean exactly what Nico had hoped it meant; She found a five hundred yen coin in the bathroom; Rin shared an amazing video of Rururin playing with her cat she’d missed in the hubub of the past couple days; and Mama sent her a text assuring her that they were leaving the area and to be careful.

Things were looking great! … until second class rolled around and Nozomi sent a message to let her know that both Eli and Umi still hadn’t shown up.


 




Notes:
It may look like I’m breaking a lot of rules handed down from the canon. Don’t worry. A lot of this will make more sense as the story progresses.

Chapter Text

Previously, on Berserker:

If Nico’s going to do this, at least she’s not doin’ it alone!

Not only does Nico have the bizarro-world Maki-chan that Nico summoned as a Servant, Nico’s #2 fan (and #1 molester) Nozomi has got her back! It turns out that she has magic in her family too. Instead of being called in to fight, she got a call from some big-pants magicky magic church to play referee!


Didn’t they read the memo? These baddie bads haven’t been playing by the rules from the start!

If Nico’s favorite Nozomi tries to step in now, that’ll be two members of µ's on the chopping block! This Miracle 9 isn’t goin’ down without a fight! We battle with the magic of our songs and the light in our hearts!

Speaking of hearts, weirdo future-hero Maki-chan dropped some heavy love-love talk on poor Nico. How does a world-class idol maintain her vow of being for everyone with a magical love destiny in the works!?

~*~*~*~It’s so hard being this charming~*~*~*~

             ~*~*~*~Nico Nico Niii!~*~*~*~


<Roll the Opening Credits!>



Berserker
Episode 2: Roll Call


Yazawa Nico

 

Nico stared intently at her phone, carefully hidden behind her English textbook. Nozomi’s text sending a chill down her spine. Eli and Umi were absent? Two of the most studious students in the studentdom of Otonoki? Not good.

‘So that’s who else I was feeling on the roof,’ Maki mused, her telepathic voice coming through unsettlingly clear amidst the sharp squeaking of chalk on blackboard. Nico almost dropped her phone for how much the voice spooked her.

‘You... really think they’re magical girls too?’ Nico thought-replied, uncertain if her mental voice would be heard.

‘Mages,” Maki corrected, “No doubt. Five strong signatures. Three matching you, Nozomi, and... younger me. The other two aren’t at the school yet, so… it’s got to be them.’

Mind. Blown. Mama had said that the area was full of lesser mage families, most barely capable of developing the magic circuits permitting the ability to practice, but to think that so many were represented in µ's! She knew they had the magic touch, but this was ridiculous.

‘I want to go look in on them,’ Maki pressed urgently. While she couldn’t see the wild redhead, she could definitely feel the prowling anxiety in her telepathic voice. The emotional spillover was fascinating, but also intimidating. The incorporeal woman was practically radiating possessiveness, rage, and suppressed panic. Could Maki feel her emotions too?

‘Can you even do that? Don’t you need to stay near me?’ Nico asked, struggling to keep her vocalization strictly mental, ‘You know, for like… my magical mojo or whatever?’

Maki’s empathetic swells of anxiety melted away into endearment so potent that Nico’s eyes began to water as she replied, somehow completely deadpan in tone, ‘Cute. I’ll be fine. I distilled a couple more flasks last night while you were snoring the night away.’

Sniffing back the waterworks, Nico thought back, ‘Right. Fine. Go check on Eli and Umi. Try not to go smooching them, alright?’

Another surge of affection, ‘No promises, Sugar Star.’

Nico smirked, kinda liking that one. ‘Whatever. Hurry back, philanderer,’ Nico grumped playfully.

‘Unless something happens, I’m not coming back until after lunch. You should talk to your little doctor princess. She’s been checking her phone all morning waiting for you to text her back and she’s been sighing more than you’d expect. Way to play with a young maiden’s heart, Nico Nii~’

That was a difficult thing to respond to, so Nico just bypassed it and urged, ‘Be safe… and if they’re in trouble, can you help them? Maybe even let them know what’s up?’

‘That’s my girl,’ Maki beamed, nearly doubling Nico over with an empathetic burst of pride and affection.

… and then she was gone.

This… really was too much. Still, Other Maki had a point. Just because the world decided to turn upside down wasn’t a reason to do the same to her Maki-chan’s smile. A few taps and Nico set to righting at least one wrong in the world.

2MakeUNico: Sorry it took so long for Nico to get back to you!

2MakeUNico: Nico’s adoring fans have kept her busy ALL morning, but don’t worry, she still has time for her #1 ~<3!  We’re on for lunch, right? This week has been super duper crazy and Nico needs the healing music of Magical Maki-chan’s voice! <3 <3

Nishikino.M001: Fans in English class? You are so weird.

Nishikino.M001: Of course we’re still on for lunch. We eat together every day :P

Normally, Nico would be clinging on to the suspicion of how such a flat reaction must mean she was imagining the whole thing and to spiral back to her stance of trying to ignore this stupid crush on her talented underclassman. That was before she got the unfair lowdown on one Nishikino Maki’s heart of hearts. The pause to marvel on this led to another series of dots that quickly became:

Nishikino.M001: Unless you want this to be a just us thing. Kayo-chin and Rin would understand if you wanted to talk about whatever’s going on with you lately.

Nishikino.M001: We’re kind of worried.

Nico didn’t need Future Maki’s residual emotional instability to be moved by the offer.

2MakeUNico: Maki-chan wants to be alone with Nico!? How scandalous~

2MakeUNico: … if Maki-chan doesn’t mind, sure. Nico’s really looking forward to it!

2MakeUNico: Maki-chan is the highlight of Nico’s day, always!

Without Other Maki’s foreknowledge, there’s no way she’d extend herself this far in a recorded space. It would be way too embarrassing. What if Maki-chan had some kind of secret fiancé? What if Nico was just misreading the mostly quiet and often taciturn girl… over and over again. Now that she knew the beautiful and talented girl was practically her fated paramour, all bets were off!

Nishikino.M001: I’m looking forward to it too. Just pay attention in class alright? You’re going to get caught at this rate.

Aww, look at her. Worrying about her beloved Ni-

“Yazawa. If you could take a break from your phone, please pick up where Toda left off.”

Oh… oops.

 


Sonoda Umi

 

The Sonoda residence was on lockdown.

If it wasn’t for their standing in the community, they would have completely pulled out for an extended vacation in the north. Wait it out. Most of the extended family, who had rushed to the main house the instant the unexpected pulse surged from Fuyuki, were still pushing for that measure. The Sonoda always avoided such vainglorious efforts in the past, and had no intention in being dragged into such prideful and wasteful displays.

Tradition aside, no one in the family had become the recipient of Command Seals. The Sonoda had been overlooked by the Grail’s unknowable assessment system. This placed them in a difficult position. As one of the largest remaining mage families in the region, it would be assumed that they would be involved. This painted a broad target on their backs, left numerous targets to be isolated, and left them defenseless against the truly monstrous powers that could be brought against them.

The risk that came with remaining was tremendous… but their heiress was immovable. A rare show of defiance and an impeccable display of moral fiber and bravery that none could bring themselves to argue with. Sonoda Umi would remain, whether the rest of the family stayed or fled.

So, the family congregated, their powers coalesced, their bickerings forgotten. The home of the primary line, modest in comparison to the family compound, was bolstered, warded, and defended with the best their many generation’s craft had to offer.

It would have been worthy of pride had it not been for their assured destruction should even a single Servant be aimed their way. The Grail and the entire ritual surrounding it were aberrations. Heroes called from the Throne by the Grail were on an incomparable level. Beyond even the stretched limits that magic frequently made possible. The combined might of the Sonoda line would likely be a mere inconvenience to any Servant worthy of the name.

So, when the main gate’s deterrence ward snapped and burned away without so much as a whimper of strain, the entire household was understandably a little stressed.

Sonoda Ryuji, future patriarch and father to Sonoda Umi, being the fearless and proud man that he is, did not hesitate. He commanded the capable members of the family to assume their defensive positions around the house. Every Sonoda man, woman, and child who had developed magic circuits prepared their wards, their bows, and their family cowls for what could very quickly be the end of their line.

Everyone moved, without question, to their designated post… save one. Umi had been ordered to sequester herself under the house in their most concealed and warded space. Should their defenses fall, she would be expected to carry their family’s development forward on her own. The family crest had almost been handed down to her in haste after reality rippled a second time, signifying that the first, then the second, then the third and fourth Servants had been called to battle.

Umi refused, unable to allow her Father to relinquish his birthright so early in life. As she had refused then, she defied now. She was not the most powerful, skilled, or knowledgeable in her family’s craft, but her potential was enormous. She would not permit that power to go unused when her entire family’s life is at risk.

So, instead of scurrying aground, Sonoda Umi hurried to her room. She donned her bow, her quiver, her sash, and her most treasured necklace. A simple cord threaded through two cheap plastic rings. Silly little gatcha prizes from a cherished memory with her most beloved. If she was about to breathe her last, at least she could take it with Honoka and Kotori where they belonged, close to her heart.

Carefully unbinding and resealing the ward protecting her room to avoid arousing suspicion, Umi climbed from her window into the backyard as she heard her father’s voice echo through the courtyard, “Reveal yourself! The Sonoda family lays no claim to the grail, nor were its members chosen. You have no place here.”

She had to see. After a brief priming of power, Umi leapt to the roof, keeping low and silent as she readied an arrow. To her left, her cousin Kaeda stared in mute horror at her defiance. A little of Honoka worked into Umi’s confidence as she winked to her in assurance.

She peeked over the top edge of the roof just in time to watch a figure materialize behind the sakura tree just to the left of the entrance. Clearly, the intruder was just what they’d feared. In a voice (strangely familiar) that echoed through the yard and telepathically in every Sonoda mind, the being replied, “I’m not here to start trouble. I’m here to talk to your daughter.”

Kaede paled, but Umi was intrigued. As her cousin readied her bow and began to prime mana into the arrow’s shaft, she felt the air electrify as twelve others did the same. Something about that voice was just… so comfortable that she couldn’t feel the pressure. Still, she nocked an arrow all the same.

As the tension mounted, her Father having yet to answer the Servant’s reply, the figure, a tall woman with wild red hair, walked from her cover. Arms raised. From this distance, no other discerning features could be distinguished without redirecting mana flows away from the impending defense efforts.

“Really, Umi is a friend. I’d sooner fight this war myself than harm a hair on her head.”

The air electrified further. Umi knew that pitch and knew that this confrontation was moments from violence. The Servant knew her name, was asking for parlay, and was a Servant. She had to stop this before it escalated too far. Umi rose, took aim, and whispered, “ Light and thunder, seal the way. Not one step, not one inch. Fly and desist.”

The Servant, a tempest of chaotic energy, looked to be at the end of its patience. As the silent building of power continued, it’s shoulders hunched and posture grew dangerous. She growled, “That doesn’t go for the rest of you. So how about the rest of you back off.

Umi let her arrow fly. It struck the ground almost exactly a meter in front of the agitated redhead, surprising everyone in the courtyard save the summoned woman. The arrow’s spell activated, creating a literal ‘line in the sand’ that would normally serve as a detriment to anyone trying to cross. In this case, barely a noticeable gesture.

Umi’s voice rang out, “I’m here, now identify yourself!”

“Umi-kun!” her father roared, but fell short as the intruder’s feral edge relaxed.

“Umi!” the figure called out, arms wide and smile just a little too broad, “You mean you don’t recognize me!? You’re gonna break a girl’s heart!”

The Sonoda heiress nocked another arrow and took aim, “Don’t make me ask again, Servant .” She did recognize her now… somewhat. The resemblance was uncanny, but the differences were too numerous, her tone and word choices not aligning… and the implications.

“‘Atta girl,” the figure sighed, sounding quite proud before raising her voice again, “My name is Nishikino Maki. My... *snort* My master gave me permission to come check in on you. We were worried since you never showed up for homeroom!”

In the entrance way, Ryuji was making gestures for the family to back down immediately after hearing the name “Nishikino.” Umi’s voice was steel as she pulled the bowstring back further and demanded, “Prove it.”

“You sure?” Maki grinned, “That could be pretty embarrassing, given all the dirt we share. I’ve got a lot of history to pull from and wow you look good in that getup!”

The bizarre older Maki vanished and reappeared before her, moving so quickly that it may as well have been a teleport. Irresistibly strong hands didn’t disarm her, but aimed the nocked arrow directly over her heart. Her smile manic, she whispered in tune, “ You’re curious about my touch, yes?

‘No way,’ Umi thought to herself, relieving tension on the bow since the arrow was dangerously close to being unintentionally loosed into the woman’s chest. Disbelieving, Umi listened as the Servant continued, “ Then it’s already love. Since you’re someone I must meet in battle someday, that might just be your reason.

“I’m soldier heart,” Umi whispered back. Of all of the song lyrics µ's had available, for this particular chorus line to be brought up...

Maki continued as Umi accepted this as confirmation, “I had to really fight with you and Eli to take credit on that one.”

“You… have some explaining to do, Maki,” Umi replied at forced conversational tone.

“You wanna tell Kaede over there to chill out first? I think she’s gonna wet herself.”


--   --


“Nico.”

“That’s right,” Maki sighed as she sprawled on Umi’s bed, practically oozing comfort and familiarity, “Cute as a button, loud as a trainwreck.”

“That’s almost as unbelievable as… you being… this, ” Umi pressed.

“And yet, here I am, back in your room. Did you ever bring me here? Young me?”

“I haven’t,” Umi answered, “The only friends I’ve brought here have been Kotori and Honoka.”

“Neat,” Maki chirped, rubbing her cheek into the pillow and… was she sniffing it? Before Umi could ask, Maki continued, “You should send your family away. All of them. Get over to the vacation house in Towada”

“I… I can’t just leave! What would happen to...” Umi began to protest, but trailed off as Maki’s smile turned feral.

You wouldn’t be going anywhere. You would stay here. With the rest of µ's. With me. I can protect all of you if you stick together… the rest of your family? Not so much. Maybe your sister… do you have a sister this time around?”

The woman who was Maki’s eyes glowed as she leaned forward at the edge of the bed, legs spread and grin hungrily. This… was not the Maki she knew. She didn’t need to pay attention to her mystic essence to realize that the woman before her was a monster. She might not be evil, but she was dangerous. Unhinged. … and then there was the way she looked at her...

“I… have no sibling,” Umi confirmed.

“Right. I knew that. Poor Fubuki. So you’re… with them right?” She pressed, sliding off the bed to kneel in front of her. How was this Maki so… large? She wasn’t just tall, her arms were… so much larger. Taut as wire, but thick like cable. The Servant tapped her own sternum and continued, “I see that cord. You’re wearing them now, aren’t you?”

No one knew about that. Not even Kotori and Honoka. The thought of telling them how much that simple gesture had meant so many years ago… it was embarrassing.

“What happens between us in the future that makes it so you know about this?”

“What doesn’t ?” Maki shrugged, “You and I have a lot of history. Histories. There’s no telling what exactly is ahead for you, though. That little princess of yours does a shit job of letting you girls know anything , doesn’t she? Dumbass.”

How do you chide someone for talking down on themselves when it’s technically another person? Umi settled for a pointed, “Language.”

She only grinned unapologetically and redirected, “I’m glad you weren’t chosen. I’d be jealous if you had some weirdo feeding off of you. Now, should I talk to your Father about all this or can you handle it?”

“I will discuss things with him. Has anything happened with... Eli or Nozomi?”

“Ah, so you know about them,” Maki replied, sounding impressed, “Eli never showed up this morning. She’s my next stop. Nozomi was tapped to represent the church, but wasn’t chosen by the grail.”

“Why would…”

“Reasons they’ll regret ,” Maki promised, continuing to get uncomfortably closer, “Happy as I am to see you again, there’s going to be a lot of regret flying around soon.”

Umi swallowed. At this range, it was impossible to not feel the inferno churning just beneath the woman’s skin. It ran almost as hot as the expression this Maki was starting to show. If she didn’t know any better, she would think that she was leaning in to…

“I should get going,” Maki announced, rising to her feet and prowling about the room, “I still need to check in on Eli to see if she’s alright and I hate leaving Nico-chan alone for this long.”

“Maki,” Umi began, feeling strange for addressing her as such, “I’ve suspected for a while, but… are you… and Nico?”

“Haa?” Maki smirked, coming to a stop near the door and asking, “Are we what?”

“... Actually, nevermind. Thank you, for stopping by like this.”

“Anything for you,” Maki assured, looking for just a moment like the awkwardly confident girl she’d come to know, “If anything happens, call Nico. We should really meet up after class today and figure out where you’re going to stay. Text her with where you’re comfortable going. I’m voting Nozomi’s.”

“You’re not the only active Servant,” Umi replied nervously, stopping the taller woman short, “There’s at least four.”

“How… could you possibly know that?” Maki asked, looking for the first time as if she was taking things seriously, “Have you identified other Masters?”

This sensation was a different kind of danger. Before, talking to Maki felt akin to talking to a jaguar that at any moment could decide you would make a better snack than conversation partner. This? This felt like standing too close to a lightning bolt.

“We haven’t,” Umi replied carefully, “Just… we were able to detect when Servants were called, just as when the Grail was activated.”

“... Neat,” Maki chirped again. Clipped this time. Wide-eyed but otherwise expressionless, “I’ll escort you if you need. All the more reason to get the rest of these lovely Sonodas to the hills. Be careful, Songbird.”

… and with that, she vanished. She was gone, and Umi exhaled.

Now, how to convince her Father to let her honor her obligations to µ's and evacuate the rest of the family…

 


Yazawa Nico



“Why are you being so weird today?” Maki asked, picking through her salad to gather a satisfying bite.

“What? I can’t be excited about spending my lunch with my best… huh… friend? Girl? Maki?” Nico thought out loud, finger to cheek.

“I’d hope I at least qualify as your best Maki ,” Maki deadpanned, “By that logic you’re at least my third best Nico.”

“Are you comparing me to that nesoberi again?” Nico pouted before catching the number, “THIRD!?”

“The plush still has you beat on manners. Also, I found this keychain,” Maki noted, holding up her cellphone and revealing the acrylic charm with super-chibified artwork of her that now dangled from it, “It’s… pretty cute.”

“Aww! You keep me on your phone!?” Nico thrilled.

“It only makes sense to support µ's sales when possible,” Maki breezily replied, finishing with, “Also, it was hidden under a stack of mine, so I felt bad for it,” before filling her mouth.


“That’s my Maki-chan, always looking out for her real favorite Nico~”

The redhead gave her a ‘it can’t be helped’ shrug and smile, but was otherwise occupied with chewing.

Today was turning into a great day, all things considered. They were sitting so close their knees were practically touching, Maki had accepted the idea of sharing the contents of their lunches without question, and she’d managed to get not one, but four quality blushes out of the girl! One of those was complete with stammering disclaimers that fell flat. Confidence and insider info was amazing .

“So, you’ve got cram tonight after practice… any plans tomorrow?”

“Homework, mostly,” Maki admitted, “I got so caught up with refining just the right accent effects that I blew most of last night.”

“Maki-chan needs to take better care of herself,” Nico teased, “Do you need someone to come and make sure you’re taking the time to sleep~?”

“I… I sleep! … Sometimes. I sleep plenty!” Maki stammered, focusing on stabbing at her salad and offering up blush number five, “What about you? You’ve been pretty busy lately. Is… everything alright at home?”

That one would require some thought. Suppressing the heartache of not being able to return home was rough enough, but for the first time Nico realized that not being able to go home meant she would have to find somewhere else to stay. She’d burned every single stolen or stored magical resource she had in the process of getting Other Maki’s catalyst. Right now, she literally only had the clothes on her back, a meager three thousand yen in her pocket, her school supplies here and… well… Other Maki. That was it.

The pause, and what was likely a very crestfallen expression as Nico was forced to re-acknowledge her situation and start to be crushed by it, did not go unnoticed. She felt a hand rest not on her shoulder like she’d expect, but on her knee. Skin on skin. Gentle, but warm. Intimate.

“Hey. You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to,” Maki assured. She really was a quick study. The bento was set aside and she continued, “Just… let me help if I can. You can stay at my place if you need. We don’t have to tell anyone else.”

Oh no… that would end terribly , but she wanted to accept so badly.

Not trusting herself to decline, Nico bit her lip, sniffed back her sad, stashed the remainder of the small bento Maki had assembled for her last night. Yeah. She’d even brought her food… that she put together herself with the excuse of not wanting to be completely reliant on help anymore.

She said she felt inspired after seeing how much she takes care of her siblings.

She stashed that bento, avoided eye contact because apparently there’s a freaking limit to how much you can repress before things start to bubble over and even the thought of this precious girl somehow being dragged into whatever made Other Maki so… so…

Nico just couldn’t do that. So, instead she sniffed. She stashed. She stood and avoided eye contact. She mumbled, “I… ,” before the tears started sneaking past, so she turned and finished, “You really are the best. I’ve gotta go.”

… and she did, leaving behind an alarmed, bewildered, concerned, and more than a little hurt young tomato.

 


Ayase Eli

 

Eli strode home with purpose, package in hand and eyes constantly reassessing every corner, every alley, every face. Her chest was tight with anxiety and regret that this… this impossibility had happened.

The whole family had almost packed up for a retreat to Grandma’s. That would have been the smart thing to do. Isolated as they were, bereft of resources and allies, the three crimson targets carved over her heart were essentially a death sentence.

She cradled the elongated box close to her chest, a gift from her old teacher and mailed express from Paris via a very particular and discerning courier service. A box, its contents, and a promise that it was the very best she and anyone else she knew had to offer. It would have to suffice, though the information surrounding this catalyst was sparse. Intentionally left out in case the message were to be intercepted.

Paranoia was a good thing in situations like these.

Apparently, whoever it was that initiated this, they caught the magical world completely off guard. Fuyuki was meant to be a quarantine area, avoided until the blight twisting underground could be dealt with safely. Instead, someone found a way to hotwire it into reigniting the corrupted wish engine. This... “Holy Grail War,” this vicious ritual created by the powerful to further increase their capacity. A battle for the civilized and the elite to exercise their will in some of the most flagrantly defiant ways, all for the sake of granting the survivor of their “game” a wish.

If they were so great, why not achieve that wish with their own magic? Through their own means? Disgusting… and terrible. So many lives and so much knowledge lost over such a vain pursuit.

If someone was willing to go as far as kick this monstrous ritual off, there’s no telling how far they’d go to ensure their victory. Contact with the Church revealed that they were caught as flat-footed as everyone else. They confirmed that they were preparing a representative, which definitely hampered Eli’s response. Her initial goal was to relinquish her seals immediately. She was no murderer. She promised Alisa that she wouldn’t participate… but after hearing that part of pulling away from the game would include her departure from µ's as well as they left the area… Alisa started insisting upon the opposite. Not to fight, but to protect.

Sweet, innocent Alisa.

Still, her sense of obligation wouldn’t allow her to run away now. Everyone had worked so hard… and if she were to just make her intentions clear when this representative was chosen, then they should just let her retire from the “game” as she’d originally intended in peace and get back to saving the school, leaving this whole horrible affair behind her. She’d summon and offer up her Servant to the representative along with her Command Seals, turn away and never think on the event again.

She had worried at first. Worried that she wasn’t the only one pulled into this mess. Umi’s family was among the strongest lines remaining in Tokyo, and Nozomi’s potential was clear to her as the stars themselves whether she knew it or not. Her biggest concern was Nico… after what happened to her Father, it would only make sense for a surge of magical malevolence to unsettle her. Nico had been the only one visibly affected when the Eli’s Command Seals appeared nearly a week ago, so it was clear that she was aware somehow.

She was almost home when a voice rose behind her, derailing her thoughts with, “Ayase-san! What a surprise to see you here!”

The voice was beyond unexpected, particularly at this time during a school day. She almost considered pretending not to hear, but for how kind she had been following the competition, Eli turned and offered her best attempt at a smile, “Tsubasa. It’s good to see you.”

The shorter girl, looking stellar in winter-themed spritely whites, rushed to catch up, grinning ear to ear, “I’ve been meaning to get in touch with you and the others! Wow, what are the chances!?”

“Apparently in my favor,” Eli replied, smoothing over her frazzled nerves with practiced calm. Fake it til’ you make it as they say, “What brings you out at this hour?”

“Honestly? Nothing I should admit to a student council president, ” Tsubasa laughed as they walked side by side, “I thought I’d take a little me time instead of sitting in self-study classes. Exams for the quarter are wrapped up, after all.”

“I won’t tell if you won’t,” Eli winked, finger-hushing and incidentally bringing her long, thin package to attention.

“Hmm. Did you find something fun?”

“Special delivery from home. Grandmother just uses whatever boxes she finds laying around!” Eli replied, frantically thinking as she spoke and coming up with, “We celebrate our Christmas in January, so given the weight I’m guessing knit mittens this year.”

“That’s adorable,” Tsubasa sighed, continuing to walk closer and into Eli’s personal space. This, incidentally, kept subtly pushing Eli toward the line of buildings… a fact that she only just now noticed.

“You’ve really left an impression on Honoka,” Eli continued, keeping the conversation rolling as she tried to gauge how soon she’d be able to escape. Paranoia was starting to fire off and it was amping by the second.

“She’s left quite the impression on me! I’m a little jealous that you all get to spend so much time with someone that shines that brightly,” Tsubasa sighed, the first words out of her mouth that sounded and felt sincere, “Originally, I’d’ve said she was your secret weapon, but she set the record straight on that very quickly.”

“Oh?” Eli replied, perking from the haze of low-key panic in curiosity, “What did the two of you talk about?”

“Matters of the heart,” Tsubasa explained, her voice subtly shifting to a more conversational and intimate tone. Surprising Eli as she continued, “Her innate grasp of what being an idol really means is… humbling. She has a near complete lack of personal pride. Instead, she sees herself as an important part of the whole and values every single one of you more than I think she can express.”

The sudden, naked honesty was jarring. Eli found herself not knowing how to respond until Tsubasa continued, “Which is part of why I was so unhappy to find out that the Grail had chosen you,” and then vanished from her side, unnoticed by the crowd.

Before Eli could respond, a rough hand reached out and pulled her into the thin space between apartment buildings and then airborne faster than she could process. It was all she could do to hold onto the package and finish her gasp, let alone resist in any way. In a moment, she was dropped onto the roof, forced to her knees and her head faced forward by those same rough hands.

“That was pretty slick, Master. Looks like I got lucky!” chirped a jovial male voice as Tsubasa twinkled into view.

“I’m the lucky one,” She winked, “Sorry for the extraction, but I had to make sure we weren’t being spied on. Don’t worry, we’re not going to hurt you.”

Dazed, Eli grumbled, “A little too late for that. I’ve got some serious whiplash.”

Tsubasa crouched before Eli, matching eye levels and giving a sympathetic sigh, “I needed to get you alone. I don’t want this any more than you apparently do, but I need to know where you stand.”

“Hey hey,” the man behind Eli griped, “What about the wish!?”

Tsubasa shot him a sharp frown, “I’m not hurting my friends to get it. There’s no rule saying we have to even injure other Masters. Got it?”

“Yeah. Right. Sorry,” he retreated, actually letting go of Eli to likely make some kind of sheepish gesture. Eli managed to turn enough to catch just a glimpse of the wiry and rather hairy man before he realized his mistake and moved to redirect her gaze.

“Let her go,” Tsubasa commanded, “She’s not our prisoner or anything. Here.”

Tsubasa reached out to help Eli up. Eli accepted and glared at the… oh wow. She glared at the towering, lanky, unreasonably muscular man. Slender, but cut. Twin long feathers flowed from a crown, framing his short cropped hair and draping over his brilliant red cloak. Despite looking like he could rip a phonebook in two, he was doing a fantastic job of appearing apologetic. The way he was scratching at his neck and avoiding eye contact was actually kind of cute.

“Don’t mind him, he’s hopeless,” Tsubasa smiled, “I’m guessing that box isn’t from your grandmother. It’s your catalyst, right?”

Cornered, Eli wasn’t sure how to respond. Tsubasa didn’t wait before continuing, “If you have any allies aside of myself, make sure they’re present when you call your Servant. A girl from over in Kashima Gakuen was attacked just as she finished summoning her’s, when she’d be weakest and her Servant disoriented. They found her two days later, alive but she’s in intensive care.”

The fuzzy tower of a man ambled over to Tsubasa’s side as she continued, “She was a fan of A-RISE. I went to visit her and she told me first-hand that whoever did it didn’t just attack her, they took her Seals and her Servant. I didn’t know that was something that could happen and she doesn’t remember how it happened, so… be careful.

“Why are you telling me this?” Eli cautioned, still off balance enough to not trust much of what was said.

“Because I finally know what it means to be a fan,” Tsubasa shrugged, “If you want, I’ll guard you myself as you call whoever that would bring. I know you’d have the same desire as I do. Honoka-chan’s is a smile I want to protect. Losing you would be devastating to her, and to µ's. You’re all supposed to go on and win this thing, right?”

“Huh?” the man asked, flummoxed and completely lost.

“Later, dummy,” Tsubasa assured, raising a hand which he lowered his head for to receive affectionate head-pats, “I know this was a bad way to go about this, but I really didn’t have any other choice. I’m distancing myself from the school until this is over. If it weren’t for µ's, I’d suggest you do the same.”

“I’ll… keep that in mind. Honoka has your number, then?”

“She does,” Tsubasa affirmed, “Contact me anytime. Until we find out who is playing this game in its traditional fashion, I want you to consider me an ally. If you happen to make any other alliances, I recommend we all work together to make this the least lethal grail war in history.”

She approached, hand out, “I was fortunate enough to be blessed with an incredible Servant, though he’s not much to look at.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Eli admitted, accepting her handshake and continuing, “You might want to get him a shirt though…”

“No way,” He waved off, rubbing his nose and backing away, “No way no how are you gettin’ me in one of those monkey suits.”

“Huh?” Eli blinked.

“Not all clothes are suits, Dummy,” Tsubasa sighed before whispering, “I may have tried to play dress-up right at the beginning.”

“Right,” Eli answered without answering, “Thank you for the warning. Will phone communication be secure enough for you?”

“I’ve warded my phone appropriately. I’m pretty sure whoever started this isn’t very tech capable though… what I’ve been able to find traces back to some really old stuff.”

“Right.”

“Come on, Dumb-dumb. Let’s get moving,” Tsubasa waved, claiming the man’s attention and calling him over.

“Ahh, sorry for yanking you around?” He apologized, “Oh, and for leaving you on the roof.”

“Wait. What!?” Eli cried as the man scooped Tsubasa up and leapt away, the two vanishing mid-air almost immediately after take-off.

“Really!?” Eli cried out, turning around a few times and realizing she had been abandoned atop a building at least eight stories high. She was really not feeling the fire escape option and the day had been stressful enough without being abandoned in a weird place. Arms wide, she circled and cried out, “ Really!? Come on!!”

Keeping out of sight of the nearby high-rise, Eli checked where the monstrously tall man had carried her. Huh. Mandarake. The building had an easily accessible outdoor stairwell, but her package would be suspected of being stolen merchandise for certain. Just as Eli was going to risk it, she felt a tap on her shoulder and squeaked, whirling around and seeing that she was still alone on the roof.

“Close your eyes,” demanded a disembodied woman’s voice, though toughened as though she’d smoked too much, “I’m not ready for you to see me after-all, but I can’t help you unless I get physical.”

“Who is this now?” Eli asked in a panic, continuing to circle around, her frazzled nerves beyond shot at this point.

“A friend. A friend of a friend too. We’re all friends here!” the voice laughed, sounding… unnervingly familiar, “It’s just me though. You an’ me. It’s good. Seriously though, close ‘em.”

“Not until I know who you are!”

“I’m your ride,” the woman answered before giggling and continuing, “I mean, I’m your way down… come on, we need to get off the street and soon. You’re kind of exposed up here and company is on the way. Kira wasn’t very subtle with that display.”

“Kira? Oh. You know Tsubasa?”

“We’ll talk on the way to Nozomi’s. Which is where you’re going next. Now, let’s move this along.”

Oh no… no no no no no… no Nozomi! Eli shut her eyes and as she felt herself being scooped up asked, “Are you Nozomi’s? Is she…?”

“Sweetheart, I’m all of yours. µ's that is. Not Nozomi’s in particular though,” the voice replied, now telepathic as they had taken to the air, “I’ll let them explain. I really wanna get back to Otonoki and soon. You’ve got a key, right?”

“A key?”

“To Nozomi’s!”

“Why would I have a key to her apartment!?” Eli panicked for an entirely new set of reasons.

“Because you two are crazy about each other? Duh,” the voice teased, “Really, you’re gonna play the innocent card during all this?

What are you talking about? ” Eli cried out, hugging her package as close as she dared. The sound of wind rushing by was slowly being overpowered by an increasingly loud buzzing.

“Oh come on, ” the voice groaned, “Not you. Stupid bugs are faster than I thought. We’re setting down for a sec. This should be good, so you’re allowed to watch. I kinda wanna show off.”

Eli’s eyes opened at a terrible time, just before landing and surrounded by what looked like a swarm of monstrously large giant hornets, each nearly the size of her closed fist. The woman, which could only be a Servant, was a blur of red hair, black dress, and flesh that whipped around her at a frenzied pace. Around them, stunned and crushed hornets fell and twitched in the hundreds.

“Get down,” the woman instructed, “Stay low. Cover as much as you can. This should be over soon.”

The number of times she felt the wind rush as her fist breezed past was terrifying. The buzz was now a roar and the woman ducked and wove as her fists lashed out faster than Eli could track. Through the roar of insects and the crack of fists passing the sound barrier, the woman’s telepathic voice continued conversationally, “Ugh, this is so gross. Sorry. I’m glad to see you were alright. I was worried when I found you on the roof with Kira and the beefcake.”

“Who sent you?” Eli thought back, curling into as tight a ball as possible and trying to ignore the numerous dead bugs bouncing off her back.

I sent me! You didn’t show up for class and I really wanted to see you. I’m guessing your magicky magic secret is out now though. You really have poor No-zo in a twist over this. You shoulda told her.”

The voice was so familiar, it’s identity just on the tip of her tongue. She probably would have had it by now if it weren’t for the horrendous fear or the desire to just scream and cry until it was all over. Those hornets were terrifying.

“You’re doing great,” the voice assured, “This is some scary stuff, but don’t worry. I’ve got you. Old man Matou’s just earned himself a royal ass-beating.”

Matou!?

“Oh, yeah. He’s probably the one that got this whole thing started. I’ll let No-zo or Nico-chan fill you in after class.”

That was what did it. The inflection and enunciation of Nico’s name was just on point enough for Eli to identify, “ MAKI!?

“Hey there, hot stuff,” the woman replied, “We’ll catch up after I clean this mess up.”

Wanting to verify, Eli peered up at the violent maelstrom. Details were still impossible to lock down, but what she did see was humbling. The woman’s teeth were clenched around the top of a metal flask, her open hands weaving air currents that would send the insects crashing together and forcing them into clusters she would then punch through, leaving the swarm incapable of approaching past a certain point without being caught in the air pressure tunnels. She seemed to be maintaining twelve of these traps and sure enough, the swarm was thinning. The sky was visible again.

“You should probably get back to covering up, darling . You wouldn’t want one of these things dropping on your face and really, there’s only so much I can do about that right now,” she apologized.

“Right.”

“This has been a pretty great day so far,” Maki-not-Maki commented, “So, am I totally off base back there? Are you and Nozomi really not a thing yet?!”

“... I have a key,” Eli was willing to admit.

“Hehe~ Nice. Izzat a catalyst you got there?”

“... Yes.”

“Neat. We should break it open tonight and see what Santa’s brought you this year. You’ve been a very good girl, so I imagine it’ll be good.”

“Is that really you, Maki?”

“You should probably be asking my Master that question,” Maki thought back, amusement carrying over clearly, “The more she talks about it, the quicker she’ll get used to it. Short answer though, yup.

“... I didn’t think school idols counted as heroes.”

“You’d be surprised what counts up there… aaand we’re done!”

Eli felt herself being lifted up and tried to not heed the sensation of dozens of small bodies cascading from her back as she regained her footing. Oh… yuck. So much crunching. The woman winked out of existence, the bits that had stuck to her fists dropping to the rooftop as she reappeared about a meter away and vocally suggested, “Come over here.”

Eli obliged and as soon as she made it past the twitching piles to reach the surprisingly tall woman’s side, Maki stretched her arms out in front of her and chirped, “Boop.”

The roof shuddered as the stunned and slain swarm was squashed by an invisible kinetic force. Maki yawned, stretched, and pulled another silver flask out, taking a sip and pocketing it once more before continuing, “So. You gonna let me drop you off at Nozomi’s or are you making an appearance at the school?”

“... would home not be an option?” Eli asked, taking in the bizarrely aged Nishikino.

“Possibly. Depends on how capable they are to defend against crap like that.

“We… could manage.”

“Sure then. As long as we can meet up at Nozomi’s after. When you gonna pop that thing?”

“Tonight.”

“Wait for us to be there,” Maki casually demanded, seeming to avoid direct eye contact as she circled and took in the horizon, “Everyone who is in on it.”

“So, you, Nico, and Nozomi?”

“Umi too,” Maki added, frowning as she seemed to notice something to the southeast, “I just came from there. Had t’bail before I kissed her silly.”

What?

“You should probably get goin’ too. I’ll drop you off on the street level and run at least one more errand before heading back. Text Nico-chan. Let her know what happened.”

“Ma- Kiiiiii !” Eli began, but squeaked as the taller woman picked her up, hopped over the side, and plopped her down not two blocks from Kanda Myojin.

“Okay!~ Love you, bye bye!” Maki chirped in a sing-song voice before dematerializing again, leaving Eli alone and confused.

Eli stared. She kept staring for nearly a minute. She blinked, eyed her package, and turned to run the rest of the way home.

 


Yazawa Nico



Nishikino.M001:
Sorry for pushing too much during lunch.

Nishikino.M001: The offer still stands. You don’t need to explain anything.

Nishikino.M001: Just give me a few minutes notice before ringing the bell.

Nico stared at the message again. It had appeared moments after class began again and she’d yet to reply, leaving the dreaded ‘Seen’ notification for poor Maki-chan to mull over.

Love may be able to bloom on the battlefield, but it’s a really inopportune time for it. Nico fretted and internally writhed with guilt for even considering bridging that gap with so much danger floating around. With so much at stake. Walking out on her at lunch was the least of the terrible things that Nico would likely put µ's songwriter through in the coming week. Weeks. However long this stupid thing would take to be over.

The really shocking thing was just… how easy it had been. A few honest words and sincere admissions, leaving the boisterous and self-praising talk aside and the girl opened right up. Even these texts were a leap in openness that Nico could have never expected. When did Maki-chan figure out how to be so courteous while taking care with Nico’s pride… or even caring about it?

Hopefully, the surge of connection wouldn’t suffer for her stupid stupid inability to just come out and tell her what was wrong. Even a lie would have been better than just walking out.

UGH.

This was a stupid time to be so caught up on something so mundane and personal, but with Other Maki out and about, it was too easy to fool herself into believing everything was back to normal. Now, she had a sad tomato, a wandering weirdo tomato, a super scared mystic, and an idol team that was several girls short.

Maybe… it would be best to cancel practice for the day. She would definitely have trouble focusing without Taskmaster Umi and her backup Eli.

Heck, with big bads looming, the thought of any of them being in the area was feeling less and less appealing. It was one thing to scrounge about for her own survival, but being the only one with a means to protect herself suddenly left her feeling more anxious than ever. Where was that crazy Servant of hers?

Maki’s texted offer disappeared from her screen as the teacher babbled on about history that Nico just didn’t have the will to care about, replaced by a notice from Eli.

Ayase.Eli --,-@: Nico, you have some serious explaining to do.

Ayase.Eli --,-@: I’m home safe. Why didn’t you tell me you were chosen?

Oh damn! … Oh Damn!

Almost grateful for being pulled out her funk, Nico immediately set to tapping:

2MakeUNico: Why didn’t YOU tell me you were a magical girl!!?

2MakeUNico: I thought I was the only one in the school!

Ayase.Eli --,-@: How could you not know?

Ayase.Eli --,-@: The Sonoda are the largest remaining mage family in Tokyo, Nozomi’s practically glowing with potential, the Nishikino are renowned for their medical care specifically for mages, and just because I have my Father’s name doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have heard of the Volkov.

The Volkov? Who or what are Volkovs? Brow furrowed, Nico tapped angrily.

2MakeUNico: … Does everyone know this crap?

2MakeUNico: Ugh! Nevermind! Save it for later. Who told you?

Ayase.Eli --,-@: That’s another thing! Your Servant is on her way back and we really need to talk about that. I’m stopping at home for supplies and then I’m going to Nozomi’s. I really didn’t want her to find out like this…

2MakeUNico: I get to know you’re a magic girl before your wife!?

Ayase.Eli --,-@: WE ARE NOT MARRIED

2MakeUNico: I’m disappointed in you Eli. I’m letting you explain that mess.

Ayase.Eli --,-@: Ugh. Thank you. You girls should cancel practice and get you, Nozomi, and Maki out as soon as possible.

2MakeUNico: Maki-chan doesn’t know about any of this. Her parent’s haven’t told her anything.

Ayase.Eli --,-@: … what? Whatever. Big Maki then.

2MakeUNico: Maki-chan really does grow up pretty tall, doesn’t she?

Ayase.Eli --,-@: I’m going to get in touch with Umi. Take care of this. Meet me at Nozomi’s as soon as possible. I’m heading out now.

Nico put the phone down and stared. Would it be impossible to juggle this? Right now it felt really naive to even consider pursuing dreams with everything going on. She saw what was in the Matou’s basement…

No. No way. µ's had come too far to even consider backing out now. The end of the world could be looming, but what was the point of fighting it if you couldn’t also pursue your dreams? They could stand to miss a practice. Maki-chan looked like she could use the rest anyways. Feeling frustration and melancholy fade before a surge of determination, Nico resumed tapping, this time to her younger tomato.

2MakeUNico: Sorry about lunch. Maki-chan was being so sweet that Nico had to run or she’d cry all over her lunch… which was really good btw. <3

2MakeUNico: Umi and Eli still haven’t shown up, so we’re gonna call practice for the day. I’ll tell Honoka and Kotori if you pass the word on to RinPana. Take the time to get to bed early or something.

2MakeUNico: You really are the best. I might take you up on your offer soon… just not tonight.

2MakeUNico: <3 I really do love my Maki-chan.

Then, without waiting for a reply, Nico started to stash her things. Visibility be damned. She had work to do and it was way more important than going over the freaking Jomon period again . She stood, startling the class, passed the alarmed teacher with a simple, “Family emergency,” and marched out into the hall.

Other Maki would just have to catch up later.

 

------------- To Be Continued



Master Information Matrix (UPDATED)

Statistical values currently unavailable due to lack of context.
All information only pertains to what has currently been revealed. Additional information will be added as it becomes available. Intel primarily relevant to the Fate application of the crossover, most Love Live canon pre-Snow Halation is applicable.



Yazawa Nico


Magic style:
Stealth and Skullduggery

Servant:
Berserker


True Name: Nishikino Maki
Noble Phantasm: Unidentified. May be unavailable due to “system incompatibility.”
Special Attributes: Mad Enhancement, Mana Distilling, Supernal-Level Martial Arts

Bio: The combined consciousness of numerous incarnations of Nishikino Maki. It is currently unknown how she grew from a µ's member and songwriter to a hero worthy of preserving in the Throne.

Notes:
- Supplements lacking mana resources (Nico’s diminutive magic circuits) via distilled moonlight.

- Claims to be a “big deal” but as her accolades and accreditation into the Throne are from  events that have not happened yet, there is no means of verifying. Given that her fame is in its infancy and unrelated to her heroic exploits, the related effect that acclaim has on a Servant’s power should be interesting to observe.

- Claims to recall numerous reincarnation cycles, including several occurring after the existence that granted her a place in the Throne. This is at odds with known lore regarding the system and additional research is required to verify.

- Claims that her Master’s mana to personal energy ratios are unbalanced due to Throne save state updates coming from incompatible saturation levels from post current universe existences. Try saying that three times fast. Yeesh. This claim is supported by the catalyst used to summon her, an unidentifiable orb of mass/energy that was previously under research at the Tower.

- Functioning at a vastly lower capacity due to her Master’s weak magical resources pairing with previously mentioned incompatibility.

- The Berserker Mad Enhancement effect is greatly diminished due to the personally relevant bond between her and her Master. Being literally bound to one of the people that made her happiest in life and surrounded by the others serves as a balm, diminishing the madness effect but also diminishing the power gain that comes with it.

- Mental stability seems to be diminishing as multiple lives worth of information contaminates what she understands to be real. Impulse control continues to weaken as the Mad Enhancement struggles to apply itself into the double-edged sword it was intended to be. This effect is primarily held at bay due to Maki’s obsessive desire to protect her Master, particularly from herself.

 



Ayase Eli

Magic style : Physical Augmentation and Endurance

Servant: N/A (Not yet summoned)
True Name: ??
Noble Phantasm:??



Tsubasa Kira

Magic style: Illusion and Glamours

Servant: ??
True Name: ?? (currently known as Dummy or Dumb-Dumb)
Noble Phantasm:??

 

Notes:
- A tall, muscular yet lanky and easy-going man. Notable features include copious amounts of body hair, tightly cropped top and facial hair, a red cape, and a crown adorned with two very long feathers.

- Tsubasa claims to have gotten very lucky, suggesting that her Servant is of an excellent caliber.

 



Matou Zouken

Magic style: Binding/Absorption and Insect Control

Notes:

- Patriarch of one of the three founding families that, with the cooperation of the Tohsaka and Einzbern, created the system that enables the Fuyuki Holy Grail War. It is assumed that he is the instigator of the current event.

- Somehow obtained Maki’s catalyst, an impossible orb of indeterminate matter/energy that was last seen under heavy surveillance and scrutiny at the Tower. How this orb came into being or it’s connection to Nishikino Maki remains to be seen.


-=Classified Information=-
Exclusive Reader Catch-up Dossier

Zouken is an ancient magus that previously went under the family name of Makiri. As the family valued absorptive capacity more than legitimate magical circuits, the family’s magical capacity declined to the point where their latest heir, Matou Shinji, was born without magical circuits of his own, effectively terminating the line’s magic potential. This lack was compensated for by utilizing various methods, some resembling torture, that would carve that potential and capacity into the body.

The family traditionally utilizes a specific variety of worm to accomplish this though, after the failure of the Second Fuyuki Grail War, Zouken has taken matters into his own hands and has started employing techniques he had allowed the world to forget. He is extremely dangerous and one of the oldest living humans on the planet, assuming he can still be counted among their number.


Servant: ?? (No verification that he has summoned a Servant yet, but four have been detected arriving.)
True Name: ??
Noble Phantasm:??



Master: Iida Kaori (Retired)
Magic style: Charms/Enhancement

Servant: ?? (Still active and taken by unknown actors)
True Name: ??
Noble Phantasm:??

 


Author’s Notes

The more time I spend on this, the more intense the plot starts shaping up to be. It bears repeating that all of my stories get the happy ending treatment… even if the ride gets tough along the way. This one in particularly is going to be amazing.

Please be attentive to the tags as they will update as the story continues. Chapter specific trigger tags will be noted at the top of chapters and if I miss any, I apologize and request that you let me know so I can fix that for future readers.

As always, thank you for reading. Without you, I’d just be a sad tomato ranting into the void.

Chapter Text

Previously, on Berserker:



Nico knows she’s got Maki-chan for a Servant, but when did she get so flirty!? First she smooches Nozomi, then she flies off to flirt with Umi and Eli!? Sure it was to make sure they were safe ‘cause us µ's girls gotta stick together, but Nico thought Maki-chan loved her!

Nico’s so confused! At least it’s gettin’ pretty clear that Normal-and-Now Maki-chan is blushing head-to-heart over the Nico-Nii, so not everything is crazy right now!

Oh. Apparently, Eli got a set of magicky magic seals too! Umi got left out, but that’s alright, she’s still great! … Wait, Ts-Tsu-Tsubasa Kira is a Master too!? She has a Servant!? Someone else attacked Eli!?

Things are getting really scary, but don’t worry! Now that we all know µ's has so much more magic than we thought, there’s nothing to fear! We’re totally bustin’ out with a collab album with A-RISE called, “Happy Endings All Around!”


We’re gonna kick those bad guys’ butts! … whenever we find them, that is.

~*~*~*~Let’s get on to the sleepover!~*~*~*~
~*~*~*~Nico Nico Niii!~*~*~*~

 

<Roll the Opening Credits!>



Berserker
Episode 3: Rising Pressure



Yazawa Nico



The room was quiet, but the air was roaring with tension. Eli was drawn inward, looking all the world like she was doing her best not to cry, sitting cross-legged on Nozomi’s bed and hugging her package to her chest. Nozomi was busying herself with making tea as she’d been since walking in and muttering something every couple of minutes. Umi was pouring over Nozomi’s care package from the Church, in particular the tome of rules and relevant spellwork that it’s representative would be required to know.

Nico? Nico was wishing she hadn’t just deleted her Puchi Puni Pogo Poppers cellphone game, because now all she had to do was watch everyone be uncomfortable. Even Other Maki was temporarily silent, having set to work on the roof establishing warding and setting up her weirdo moonlight distillery now that the sun was tapping out for the day. As awful as it was, she was grateful for that tension. It was all that was keeping her awake at this point, what with the drain of her wildcat Servant.

“Lemme take a look at those,” Nico asked, reaching for the first book that Umi just set aside.

“That would be against the rules. You’re a participant,” Umi argued, actually sliding the book farther away as she opened the spellwork tome, “Just because your opponent is terrible, doesn’t mean you need to demean yourself.”

Nico’s eye twitched, heat rising to argue, but it fizzled quickly. To be fair, she really didn’t feel like looking at rituals, spells, or rules right now. Mostly, she just wanted a good night’s sleep… maybe a week’s worth… sleep and for everyone to stop being so moody!

Nico eyed Eli and decided that enough was enough. If no one else was going to idol up, why not leave it to the Universe’s best! She padded over and plopped on the bed beside her and offered, “Hey.”

It took a moment, but from somewhere under the hair Eli’d let droop over her face, she answered with a single soft and slightly sullen, “Hey.”

With how overtly friendly she’d been lately with current-time, normal Maki-chan, Nico had to restrain herself from snuggling into Eli’s personal space as she asked, “How long have you known. About Nozomi and me?”

“From the start,” Eli admitted. Nozomi’s shoulders hunched a bit at this, but only noticeable because Nico had been watching so carefully.

“Kinda jealous. If I’d’ve known you all were magical girls from the start, I’d’ve had a better opinion of magic years ago.”

That got a smile out of Umi, so Nico continued, “I mean, I knew you two had the touch of something special, but still. How much do you know?”

“What do you mean?” Eli replied, still distant and looking away.

“This whole grail thing. Our gimmicks. Specialties. What our families do. Aside of Nozomi probably being good with fortune telling, I got nothin’ on any of you.”

“Your information gathering skills leave much to be desired for someone chosen as a Master,” Umi sniped, a ghost of her earlier smile remaining being the only sign that it was spoken in good spirits.

“Yeah, yeah. It’s not like there was anyone around t’really teach me this stuff!” Nico complained dramatically, arms wide and flopping back against the wall.

“We all know about you,” Nozomi sighed from across the room, “Everyone in the community knows what happened to the Yazawas.”

“It’s part of why we never just left you alone,” Eli added, setting her package aside to hug her knees instead, “It was just too cruel.”

Nico frowned. This was not what she was expecting and the intense urge to go along with the sad mood of the room was almost overpowering. The revelation was… really uncomfortable, so she kept her tone light and face incredulous, “ Seriously? Jeez. If Nico knew she was a celebrity that far back she would have pushed harder! If everyone knew, how come I didn’t know about any of you?”

“Uhh, because you are a Yazawa,” Maki commented, materializing by the entrance to the bathroom, somehow only startling Nico. Everyone else certainly looked less comfortable after her appearance though.

“Come again?” Nico prompted.

“Your family’s… “gimmick” left a bad impression on the community as a whole,” Umi added.

“Buuuuh what?” Nico boggled.

“Nicocchi’s family name is synonymous with thievery,” Nozomi explained, approaching with two mugs, leaving one with Umi and continuing, “Your Father made a lot of enemies. Pretending that you and the others had no potential to continue his practices was the main reason things weren’t worse.”

The admission, and the casual mention of her Father stung enough to draw tears, but Nico sniffed them back because now wasn’t the time. “I… guess that makes sense. Thanks for not joining in with everyone being terrible?”

Other Maki settled down onto the bed on Eli’s other side, slouching in a most undignified way totally inappropriate in that dress, but Nico felt waves of empathetic affection projecting from her Servant that were intense enough that she may as well have been hugging her. It was weird, but comforting. She continued in a less bitter voice, “Really. I had no idea… so… thanks for not shutting me out. Especially now.”

“You retained more than expected. You totally went full theif mode getting my catalyst out of Matou’s place,” Maki bragged, “You guys should have seen her. It was really impressive.”

Umi turned, curious, “You’re aware of events that happened before your summoning?”

“I saw it in a vision last night while she was out cold,” Maki explained with a shrug, “Probably while she was dreaming about some memory of mine. Hopefully nothing too terrible.”

Nico pouted, “I don’t remember anything like that. I don’t even remember dreaming last night!”

Nozomi, while the others were engaged with one another, offered the second mug to Eli. When she didn’t move to accept it, Nozomi brushed Eli’s hair from her forehead, tucking it behind her ear while whispering, “It’s okay. Here… drink… and cheer up. I’m not mad. Promise.”

Eli’s troubled countenance didn’t lighten, but she did accept the mug, holding her hands over Nozomi’s as she answered, “Thank you…”

Their moment was intruded on by a pair of wide amethyst eyes and a complete lack of concern over personal space. Both third years froze in place upon realizing that the creature wearing their friend’s face was hovering so closeby.

“Hey. You should probably do the thing,” she suggested, looking more antsy by the moment, “The ah… Servant thingie. Yours.” Both girls eyed the redhead nervously who, in turn, pulled away and drew inward as Eli had been moments ago.

“Is the intention to call her Servant here?” Umi asked, reaching for the rulebook again, “There is precedent for utilizing safe haven to facilitate the summoning in cases like these.”

Nozomi sighed, still unable to look away from Maki who continued to stare back with eyes that seemed to be glowing brighter than before. She replied, “As long as my home doesn’t end up smelling like sulfur or anything.”

“Not that kind of summoning,” Nico replied tiredly, “Little bit of o-zone and copper.”

“It’s specific to who you get,” Maki filled in as she started to crawl behind Eli to Nico’s side of the bed.

The redhead curled around her like some kind of lazy jungle cat. Nico rested her hand in her hair tentatively and continued, “You said Tsubasa’s fan had her’s stolen? We should probably get yours active sooner than later. Make sure you’re up to speed on having one of these.”

“I dunno, Nico. Maki seems to be draining you pretty hard. Wouldn’t it be better if I kept myself more alert for… whatever is coming?”

“A Servant would be more than capable of picking up any slack from your diminished personal capabilities,” Umi commented.

“And… I’m not the best example of what you could expect,” Nico said, wishing that her exhaustion hadn’t been pointed out. Hearing about it only made it worse. She let a yawn pass before continuing, “I’m… not the strongest when it comes to not-idol magic like this.”

Maki interjected as she rubbed her cheek into Nico’s lap, “She traded it in for all of that magical smile power,” earning her a grateful, if weary smile.

“Are… you talking magic circuits?” Umi questioned, ignoring the faux pas for the moment.

“Yeah. Papa had loads more than me. I’ve only got, like, twelve.”

The others stared. Maki straight up glared. Panic gripped as Nico scrambled to figure out what she said wrong.

“What?”

“You intentionally summoned a Berserker,” Umi ground out, “In a Holy Grail War … with barely over half the magical generation capacity of an average mage?”

Not being given a chance to even start to feel defensive over the insinuation, Nico noticed Nozomi’s expression drop from wary to outright panicked with concern, sliding to her side and staring with renewed focus. Annoying, but with how awful the past couple days had been the attention was actually kind of nice…

“Nicocchi, are you really alright?”

“Sleepy, but… I guess? Why?”

“A Berserker doesn’t have the same limiters in place as most servants, Nico,” Umi replied, her voice falling into a teacher cadence, “There’s nothing preventing her from draining you completely. She could kill you. Easily.”

“Hey,” Maki rumbled irritably, “Come on. I’m right here . You know I wouldn’t do th-”

Umi interrupted with a firm, “We don’t know what you would do. You and Nico both claim you’ve been called as a Berserker. According to everything I’ve been reading, that should mean you ought to be barely coherent. A nearly mute engine of violence. The entire point of the class is to trade your civilized mind for increased power. With that in mind, you shouldn’t be flitting around on your own and being so… sociable. I’m sorry Maki, but I’m just not certain we know what you are or if we can fully trust you yet.”

The empathetic feedback from her increasingly feline future lover was only growing steadier as time went on. The feelings coming from her redhead now were… utterly heartbreaking. From this angle, she couldn’t make out an expression, but she could feel the shame and betrayal radiating from the woman.

“I…”

Maki faltered in her response, but Nico didn’t. With Maki’s heartbreak pounding through her body, Nico couldn’t help but to wrap her arms around the larger woman protectively and fire back, “ I trust her. It’s Maki-chan. She’s one of us. There’s no way Maki-chan would ever hurt me.”

Umi looked taken aback by Nico’s vehemence. Nozomi backed away as well. It was Eli who de-escalated things with a hand on her shoulder and the assurance of, “No one here thinks that. We’re all here because we trust each other, including Maki.”

“Yes,” Umi placated, “I apologize. It was wrong of me to even suggest. This is all just… very difficult to process. Regardless of what she’s become… it’s still Maki. She’s proven that to me well enough.”

“She literally saved my life just a few hours ago. I trust her too. It’s just the class she was called as that has me nervous… and how she behaves nothing like it,” Eli added.

“I’m sorry. What was that? She did what now?” Nozomi asked in a strained voice, turning her full attention Eli’s way.

The chaotic energy swirling through the woman continued to twist, waves of disappointment and sadness weighing even further on Nico’s heart. An idol’s work was never done. She resumed petting the now unresponsive Nishikino and announced, “You guys set up the ritual. Maki-chan and I are going to the roof for now to check on her moonlight magic distillery thingies.”

“Her what?” Umi asked, leaving yet another question in the air to be ignored.

 

----     ----



They walked in silence. Slowly climbing the stairs with Nico taking the lead, pulling an increasingly concerningly quiet Maki along by the hand. It wasn’t until they were breathing fresh air and the door closed behind them that Maki spoke up.

“They’re right you know.”

Nico turned around, keeping hold of the hand but now giving it both of her own. She waited until Maki continued, “You already know it. We already talked about it. If I lose control… I could kill you in seconds.

Hearing those words were chilling, but Nico continued to wait, stroking the top of Maki’s hand. Maki continued, “... and I’m trying, but… I think I’m starting to lose it. Here, now, I’m here with you. Real you. All Servants have a wish for the grail… and mine was you. You and the other girls. Just… to be with you again.”

Agitatedly, Maki looked everywhere but at Nico as she confessed, “But here I am and… and I can’t tell half the time which me I am… or which you you are. Back there? On the bed? For a minute I thought I was back in college in the States… from the time you were keeping an eye on me as I detoxed from meth. On the way up here, I thought we were back in high school, ditching Prom so you could kiss me one last time before breaking up with me to pursue your career as a mobile suit pilot.”

“... What’s meth?” Nico asked, despite having intended to keep quiet.

“A drug. A stimulant. I was cooking it on my own to help keep up with all my coursework. It was pretty bad, but not as bad as that time I fried most of my brain from a bad hit of ecstasy when we first met during your third concert. God, I was such a fangirl...”

“Huh!?” Nico interrupted, getting more confused by the minute. Confused and alarmed.

“I’ve been chasing after you so long that… that it’s all jumbled up,” Maki’s voice began to break. She bit her lip and crouched, holding on to Nico’s hand tight enough that it hurt, “It… wasn’t supposed to be like this.”

Nico was… really getting worn out from all of this deep water treading. There was only so much a person could take before the waves would overtake you. You can only fake it for so long… and knowing that Maki was suffering like this because she had thrown those extra lines in to her ritual was… it was terrible. Overwhelmingly terrible… but, weary as she was, she wasn’t out of idol juice just yet.

Exhausted, drained to the point that she might start hallucinating herself, Nico knelt and brought Maki’s hand to her lips. She reached out, laid a hand on the shivering woman’s cheek, and said in the strongest voice she could manage, “Maki-chan. Look at me. Listen.”

Maki made eye contact and the glow of her amethyst was throbbing . Her lip was bleeding for how hard she was biting down and… and her canines were somehow longer than before. Sharper. Deal with that later, whatever it meant.

“Yet thou serve with thine eyes clouded in chaos. Thou bound in the cage of madness. I am she who commands this chaos . Those are the words that did this to you. I said that. It was part of the ritual… were those just words, or do I really command all of this?”

Rapt, Maki relaxed and stared as Nico continued, “When you showed up and… and you were you? I don’t think I could have been happier. If I had to face all the bad things, at least I could do it all with my Maki-chan. We could be magic girls together. The more you’ve told me, the more I’ve been thinking.”

Nico let go of Maki’s hand and reached up to play with her hair, keeping their eyes locked, “If I… command the chaos, then all this bleeding together stuff might be my fault. Maki-chan dropped some very heavy love love talk on her Nico and… and I’m not used to… well… any of that this time around.”

“You’re catching on to the reincarnation thing pretty well,” Maki commented quietly.

“I’m as genre-savvy as I am cute.”

“Always loved your confidence,” Maki replied, finally smiling a little. She wasn’t breathing as heavily now either… and the glow in her eyes had diminished to a mere supernatural instead of twin nightlights.

Nico matched the smile, having really needed this win, and continued, “What I’m getting at, was that finding out that my adorable little Maki-chan was crushing on me as hard as I was her was enough to make this heart pitter-patter. Finding out we’re some kind of destiny power couple spanning endless lifetimes? I… might have had my mind blown a little.”

Maki spoke plainly, but softly, “... You’ve changed my life so many times, in so many ways. A million, million worlds. A million, million lives.”

Nico gulped silently. It was so hard to find your footing when you keep underestimating just how deep the waters are. That… had to be an exaggeration. “That’s what I was getting at. I… I mean, I know I’m great and all… but… you know…”

It was one thing to be proud and boisterous. That was her standard setting. That was how she railed against the trappings of her destiny. That’s how she’d stood for so long, lasting through the night until the Kousaka Dawn. This was something else. Actually having someone tell her she was underselling herself somehow was… too much. An embarrassing lie.

“I wanted to know about us. To see what you saw. To know what made me so special that someone like you would… would go so far for.”

“Nico is Nico,” Maki answered pressing her cheek into the smaller woman’s hand, closing her eyes to continue, “Sometime… when you’re like this with her . Younger, cuter, more innocent me. When it’s honest. Ask her what she thinks of herself. You are the special one here.”

“Uh huh. Right. That’s why you’re recorded in the freaking Throne of Heroes ,” Nico laughed, and it felt good, “What I’m getting at is… I wanted to know what you know. You have lifetimes of experience where we’re… you know…”

“Lovey dovey?”

“Yeah. I wanted to know why. I wanted to know how . All this jumbling your going through might be because I want to know about all of it. I only get one chance to make this life work… and only one life to make the Maki-chan here as wowed over as you are. I… kinda owe it to her now to give it my best. Give her my best. ”

“Idiot,” Maki whispered affectionately, “Just be yourself. I… can’t remember this time around. Probably a restriction in the system or something, but, if she’s really younger me, she’s already yours. You just have to take her.”

Nico laughed, “See, when you say it like that, I can’t tell if it’s all skeevy or not.” This relationship talk stuff was way better than the serious life and death stuff.

“It’s as skeevy as you make it. You’re the one talking about sweeping a girl off her feet when you’ve got such an age difference. Poor girl doesn’t stand a chance.

“Huh?”

“Love her. Use her. Lift her up. Shove her head in a sink until she’s sure she’s gonna die. Help her make her dreams come true, build new ones together, or shove her off a bridge. Worship and praise her body every night or drive her to tears, bruise her where others can’t see, and make her hate herself a thousand ways more than she already does. I haven’t always been lucky. You could do, and at this point in her soul’s timeline probably already have done it all… and here I am. Still crazy about you.”

Again with the waaaay too deep. Nico gulped and growled, “I would never . EVER . Treat her like that…”

“I know,” Maki smiled, “ You haven’t always been Nico and Nico hasn’t always been you. I’ve seen you for who you are. You’re my beautiful, charming, Number One Idol in the Universe that has a part time magical girl gig… and if you decide you want her, you’re going to make her so happy. Which… leaves one very important question.”

Maki returned Nico’s hand-on-cheek gesture drawing close and asked,” Do you want her? She may be here chasing after you, but that doesn’t mean you belong to her. You don’t have to take her up on this. You should make sure she’d make you happy before you start worrying about making her happy.”

“That’s hardly up to Idol Code,” Nico joked back, covering Maki’s hand with her own, “It’s an idol’s job to make others smile you know.”

“You dork,” Maki teased, leaning in. Her eyes closed. Nico’s heart practically stopped as this older, wildly gorgeous woman drew in. She even tilted her head to accept… but Maki stopped short. She turned her head and pulled back.

“Sorry,” she mumbled, “I just…”

“Maki-chan,” Nico interrupted, frustrated and confused, “What the hell? That was like… the timing. Follow through!”

“It’s got to be your choice, Nico-chan. Don’t you get that yet? I’m not just going to...”

Both woman froze.

They both felt it. The rising surge of energy below. The straining of the wards around them…

The girls were starting the ritual downstairs. They shared a look and Nico allowed herself to be scooped up in those impossibly strong arms. They were on the move, completely skipping the stairs and bounding from wall to wall until they reached Nozomi’s floor.

Nico fumbled with the key for a moment, her vision blurring from exhaustion despite the surge of adrenaline as the magical intensity continued to rise. The door opened it just in time to see Eli in the center of the cleared out living space, standing with her arms outstretched toward a long-stemmed rose resting on an alter.

Electricity crackled in the air as Eli finished her incantation, “ From the Seventh Heaven, attended to by three great words of power, Come forth from the ring of restraints, Protector of the Holy Balance!”


The lights in the room lost power as the energy coalesced and surged. A moment of vacuum pulled the door closed behind Nico and her Servant, leaving only the glow from Maki’s eyes, the line of light around the blinds of Nozomi’s window, and the residual static sparking across the room.

After a beat, the lights came back on. The rose remained, but in front of it now stood a tall, shapely woman with cascading silver hair. Her clothes, a mid-length dress tied at the waist with cord, were made of tired burlap, thatched and rough.  She looked around to take in the view, she said, “Oh my… what a lovely collection of young ladies.”

Nico winced as she noticed the burns on the walls and ceiling that the summoning left behind… only moments before she saw Nozomi do the same. Maki pressed in from behind, looping an arm protectively around her as she glared at the newcomer. The sentiment and contact felt nice… but the pull on her already stretched magic reserves only grew stronger.

“And you, my Master, what a vision you are. I bet you’ve got all the boys in a twist.”

Eli’s face was stern as she answered, “My name is Ayase Eli, and I am your Master. Everyone in this room is family to me, so please, introduce yourself.”

“So forward ,” the woman, her voice aged but full of mirth, “Even to those two? You do know she is your enemy, don’t you?”

“Nico is not, nor will she ever be, my enemy. She is not yours either.”

“An alliance then?” she laughed, “I seem to be coming in with this game already in full swing How interesting. So none of these delightful little morsels are on the table? Such a shame.”

The woman swung wide, laughing proudly. Her eyes seemed… off. Larger than usual. Her entire face felt like it was constantly shifting, not visibly, just… difficult to maintain focus on. Like you were supposed to be looking anywhere but at those cold green eyes.

“So, my Master is Eli. Her friend, who is also a Master is Nico,” the woman ticked off on her hand as she walked toward Umi and Nozomi who had taken refuge in the kitchen corner, “Leaving two pretty little magus and a cranky red-headed doll.”

Maki pulled Nico close to the wall and circled as the woman got to close. How she was supposed to protect her while standing behind was beyond her, but Nico was too tired to trust herself to make any call better than what her Servant was suggesting. Plus, she was so warm.

“This one is a child of nobility,” the woman continued, leaning into Umi’s personal space. Umi remained still for the treatment, showing no outward sign of being intimidated. “Strong with magic, strong of heart, strong of body and mind. You keep good company, Master. Tell me child, your name?”

“Sonoda Umi,” she answered simply.

“You girls all have such fun sounding names! And so very pretty as well… and you child? What’s your name? I can tell already that I’m going to like you . You’re brimming to the edges with sentimentality and love. It was the second thing I smelled after appearing and it is intoxicating ,” the woman teased, actually reaching out to tap Nozomi on the nose.

“Please don’t pick on my friends,” Eli sighed, moving to take a place at the Servant’s side.

“It’s fine, Elicchi. Toujou Nozomi. Pleased to meet you.”

“You make a fine witch... I approve wholeheartedly.”

“Takes one to know one,” Nozomi answered simply, relaxing at the label.

The woman practically cackled at this, turning to Eli and announcing, “You are my Master… and for this little game, I shall be your Servant. Call me Caster for now, as anything else would be too revealing given the… present company.”

“You can trust everyone here just as much as you can myself.”

“Even the little corpse cowering in the corner with her executioner?” She scoffed, turning to the other Master/Servant pair and continuing, “My Master is correct, neither of you are fit to be my foe. I don’t see that little girl lasting the night. How fortuitous.”

Maki tightened behind her, her chest rumbling with an inaudible growl. Nico would have been horrified by the suggestion, but she was too tired to even fully process the jab.

“... and what a curious beast she’s called. Such an endearing way to hold a child’s throat in your jaws.”

“That’s enough,” Eli interrupted firmly, “ No one is dying tonight, least of all anyone in this room.”

“Caster,” Umi spoke up, “Perhaps it would be best if we all caught up with our current strategy. Lay our cards on the table?”

“Sure. Let’s start with what that abomination is. Are you certain that’s a Servant?”

“My name is Nishikino Maki. Berserker,” she growled and Nico tighter. Her anxiety spiking across the bond.

“A fascinating lie. You seem to even believe it,” the woman began as she crossed the short distance, “This is not my first time being drawn from the Moon Cell… though through the Throne? Beyond strange.”

What came next was a blur that Nico would be piecing together over the next day. An empathetic surge of panic, the roar of Maki interrupting Caster with a cry of, “GET DOWN!” and the feeling of being shoved toward the foot of the door. An explosion that rocked the building and the machine-gun crack of glass, plaster, and metal shattering.







The outward facing wall of Nozomi’s apartment was shredded as countless wooden bolts tore through the building, following up the initial explosive charge. The onslaught stopped only after the entire wall had collapsed, its debris falling toward the sidewalk below. The girls’ shrieks of fear completely drowned out by the thunderous staccato.

The view of the outside was completely obscured by smoke and dust as the noise subsided enough for three voices to be heard. Nozomi’s terrified sobbing, Eli’s repeated assurances that she was going to be alright, that she wouldn’t let them get her, and Maki’s shuddering gasps as she stood between the girls and the door.

Caster could only stare as the tall redhead slumped against the wall, her back, arms, legs riddled with crossbow bolts as was the rest of the apartment. Umi clung to the newly summoned Servant’s side where Maki had shoved her, dazed from the force of the impact. The gruesome spectacle of the future Nishikino stumbling toward her Master grew more impossible as the bolts continued to sink deeper, the wounds glowing almost as brilliantly as her rage tightened eyes.

She grabbed Caster by the collar and dragged her toward the door, her voice gurgling slightly as she growled, “Get them out. Protect them.”

After the other Servant had finally gotten back on her feet, Maki stumbled/knelt before the barely conscious form of Nico. She pressed a silver flask into her fumbling pale hands and gasped, “Get out of here. Drink. Go, ” before turning, trembling, toward the window. She crouched low, shuddered again as the bolts were absorbed fully, growled… and then vanished.

The floor and wall where she stood gave way, shattering and splintering as the dust cloud that had replaced Nozomi’s wall was pulled away by the shockwave of the Berserker’s passing. Their assailant revealed, a young, waifish girl wearing a crimson cowl and wielding two crossbows, leapt away from her perch next door just in time to avoid the humanoid cannonball. Maki’s impact tore a gouge in the opposing building’s roof that reached mid-way through before she turned toward the girl, now out of sight, roared, and vanished again.

“We need to move,” Caster instructed, pulling Umi to her feet as Eli helped Nozomi to her own. Nico was unconscious. Deadly still and pale, her chest barely moving to breathe and the flask dropped to her side.

Games forgotten, the newly summoned Servant lifted the small Master and started into the hallway, “I mean it. Move.

Umi gathered the church’s resource materials that had miraculously avoided being shredded and hurried after. Eli led a devastated Nozomi by the shoulders, keeping her close and whispering assurances that they would be back for the rest soon. She noticed the flask, remembered how Maki had strangely taken the time to drink while pummeling bugs earlier, and grabbed it as a just in case.

“Master, where do we go from here? This little girl’s Servant won’t be able to hold the enemy off for long. I can’t tell if she’s dead already or just a breath’s away.”

Umi, being the peerless marvel that she was, connected Nico’s earlier mention of a magic ‘distillery’ to the flask in Eli’s hand and dropped the books. Offering only a, “Pardon me,” she snatched the flask, unscrewed it’s top, dabbed a drop on her wrist, smelled, tasted, shivered, and then shoved the flask’s funnel directly into Nico’s mouth.

“Hold that in place,” she demanded, “We need to get to the roof.”

“The roof!?” Caster boggled, but moved with the group that had instinctually obeyed Umi’s direction, “In case you’ve forgotten, that’s where the death is happening!”

“There’s going to be more of whatever’s in that flask up there. Without it, we’re going to lose her,” Umi explained, her voice terse.

“And that’s not happening. Completely unacceptable,” Eli added, “We’re not losing anyone . Not tonight. Not ever.

“Right. Well… it wouldn’t be a war if things weren’t interesting,” Caster shrugged, frowning at the now empty flask and still comatose girl.


 

----     ----




Maki roared at the red-cowled girl, an inhuman and distinctly feline sound, deep as a lion’s before giving chase again. The enemy Servant was airborne and moving far too slowly to evade the Berserker’s launch, so instead she splayed her arms wide, filling the space between them with dozens of heavy bear traps. Bear traps that fell to pieces with a single swipe of the summoned Nishikino’s arm.

They served their purpose. The Servant, likely an Archer given the choice of weapons, drew a bead once more with her dual crossbows, biting her tongue and whispered, “Alright, let’s put this kitty down,” before firing off two bright bolts of light.

Another swipe and the bolts exploded prematurely, their smoke parting as Maki, wide-eyed and expressionless, fell toward Archer.

The girl rolled out of the way and started to run toward the edge of the roof, chanting, “Shit shit shit shit shit!” as the stone, tile, and steel behind her gave way under Maki’s impact. Somehow, rising above the sounds of carnage, Maki’s deep-throated growl trembled the air. Driven by instinct alone, Archer leapt to the side just in time as four half-meter-deep grooves tore from Maki’s position to the edge of the building and shattering the adjacent glass of the office building next door.

While in mid-dodge, the small, crimson garbed figure drew bead once more, yelled, “Bad kitty!” and fired off another round of explosives, just as effective as the last. This time, however, when Maki erupted from the smoke, Archer was slammed into the roof as four invisible claws pinned her in place through her shoulder.

Hissing at the pain, Archer dropped the opposing shoulder’s crossbow, drew a bowie knife, and immediately lost it as Maki’s free hand slammed down on her wrist. Any further attempt at countering fell short as Maki sniffed at the the smaller girl, freezing her in place.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Archer asked as this larger woman held her down and seemed more interested in smelling her than finishing the job, “This is why I friggin’ hate cats. Always been more of a dog girl myself.”

Maki’s eyes narrowed and she spun around, swinging the smaller girl in a wide arc and slammed her against the jaw of the monstrous, three-meter-tall at the shoulder black wolf that was barreling toward them. With an alarmed squeal the wolf careened off course and slammed head first into one of the building’s power supply units.

Maki swung wide again, this time releasing the girl to launch her at the second, impossibly larger silver wolf that was in the process of flanking her. Instead of slamming into it however, the wolf ducked low, allowing the girl to grab onto its fur, mounting it and drawing bead once more with her remaining crossbow.

… or she tried to. The redhead was out of sight, only to appear a moment later, rising from beneath the wolf’s massive head in a crescent kick that lifted the wolf into the air before a follow-up kick sent it flying toward it’s fellow canine.

The small red-garbed Archer didn’t get to fly with her wolf, but was grabbed by her cloak and slammed into the roof once more, her wide-eyed assailant rearing back… and then vanishing completely. No impact craters signifying a hasty retreat. No follow-up violence. Just… air rushing to fill in the void the Berserker’s body left behind.

The silence that followed the carnage was terrifying. It wasn’t until she heard sirens of the authorities responding to the racket that she felt safe to breathe again. The girl laid still as her two massive wolves hobbled to her, whimpering in concern.

“I’m alright guys… somehow,” she assured, rubbing the muzzle of the smaller, clearly more distressed wolf, “That did not go as planned.”

The larger wolf lifted Archer by her cloak and pressed into her side, offering a much shorter whine of concern.

“Yeah… I know. I know. I got cocky,” she admitted, slumping into its fur, “Just… what the hell was that?”




?????

 

“Come on, boy. Quit your whining. This time we’ve got it for sure!”

Nico’s father was dragging her to the storage basement’s door again. Panicked, he struggled to get away, crying, “No way! I don’t wanna! I don’t wanna do this anymore!”

“Now don’t be like that, boy. We’ve got the fish sausage, the sardines, and the fish paste! If this doesn’t do it, nothing will!”

Nico pulled and kicked and twisted, but the gap in skill and strength between them was still too vast. He may as well have just gone limp for all the good it was doing him… though he couldn’t help but try harder as the old man lifted the door with his toe.

The cats below knew what this meant. They began to sing their song of throaty yowls. Dinner was coming.

He was lifted again, his father’s face broad and proud. “Alright my boy. Now get in there! It’s time to figure this out once and for all!”

Nico could only kick at him futilely, “I don’t wanna !”

But he was already falling. The door was already closing. The only light were glowing green pupils. The only sound was ravenous meowing… and soon, all the world became a whirlwind of claws, and teeth, and cats, and fish, and needles, and blades, and cats… cats all the way down.

---------.--.-----.-------

 

Nico covered her face and blew out the last of her cigarette. It was certainly outside of protocol to take one’s break on the roof, but this was her goddamn hospital and she’d do what she wanted.

For all the fears she’d had about getting betrothed to someone because of family matters, it never occurred to her that Nico would tie the knot with someone entirely unrelated first. Sure, T’ien Li seemed like a sweet enough guy. Famous, handsome, in incredible shape and in the middle of an incredible string of movies that would fuel his acting career for at least a decade, he was just what Nico had bragged she’d “bag” all along.

She snuffed the butt of the cigarette on her forearm and flicked it off over the side. Where did she get off feeling possessive of anyone anyway? She’d certainly done a good job of chasing everyone off.

Still… this was just too much.

 


Sonoda Umi




The group made their way to the roof as quickly as they could. Even in the stairwell, they could hear the crashing impacts outside and Umi found herself hoping that the strangely feral Maki didn’t accidentally mis-aim the property damage in their direction.

“Now children, I’m still not sure this is the best course of action,” Caster advised, still cradling Nico’s limp form.

“It’s the only one that gives Nico a chance of living through this,” Umi barked, taking the stairs three at a time, “Now pick up the pace! You’re a Servant, aren’t you!?”

“I am, and you’re not my Master, you know!” the woman shot back irritably, “Are you really taking orders from this girl, Master?”

“It’s not like that,” Eli denied, now finding herself pressed to keep up with Nozomi once the girl had processed the current emergency.

“You’re a Caster, aren’t you? Can’t you do anything to help stabilize her!?” Nozomi suggested frantically, keeping pace with the Servant and watching Nico for even the slightest signs of consciousness.

“The hell is wrong with you kids?!? You act like this twig of a girl is the second damn coming or something,” Caster griped, “Seriously, if you love the damn thing so much, why didn’t you feed it once in a while!? She’s barely a morsel!”

“Less talking, more climbing!” Umi demanded, reaching the top and slamming into the crash bar. Just as the door opened, the roar of another explosion rang out, temporarily lighting the sky.

As the group entered the open air, Umi dropped to her knees at the closest of the small brass devices, tapping the top so that the drop of liquid silver currently dangling over it’s flask would fall and beckoning to Caster, “Bring her over here. I’ve got one.”

“Stop giving me orders! Come on!!” the woman complained as she complied. She carefully laid the cooling, still body next to the device and then did a double-take, “What is that!? Who made these!?”

“Maki, apparently,” Eli replied, having caught up after ensuring the door was propped open behind them.

“Who the hell is Maki? ” Caster cried out frustrated, only to wince as another explosion ripped through the air, “Wait… the Berserker!?”

“The girl that saved us all moments ago,” Nozomi informed, holding Nico’s head at an appropriate angle as Umi carefully drained the flask past her barely parted lips, “We’ll catch you up soon. Thank you for your patience.”

“Tch… I’m being handled by children,” Caster groaned before ambling to another of the devices, “... fascinating.”

“This one’s empty,” Umi called out, “Is there any over there?”

“Looks pretty full to me,” she answered, plucking the flask and tapping her finger on the building drop to test for herself. One taste and her eyebrows shot up, “Kids, I don’t know what to tell you. If that much hasn’t done the trick, your friend is probably already gone.”

“Shut up and give it to me,” Nozomi demanded, surprising everyone on the roof with her vehemence, “... and stop suggesting that she’s gone.” Umi nodded, grateful that Nozomi had said what she herself had been thinking.

“Right right. Sorry,” the Servant sighed and handed the flask over. Umi had to bite back a scathing comment of her own after the woman rolled her eyes once she started pouring.

Eli crouched at Nozomi’s side, placing an arm around her shoulder. Nozomi, in turn, rested her head against Eli’s cheek and sighed. Good. It wasn’t right for them to have the distance they’d shown in the room. Umi smiled in approval, but the inattention led to the flask being tipped just a little too far.

Nico coughed, then she coughed harder, Umi pulled away, and then Nico’s eyes shot wide and she cried out, “ WAIT!

“Oh hoh! There’s life in the string bean yet!” Caster commented as Nico grabbed Umi by the shoulder and heaved breath after breath to try and catch up.

“Welcome back,” Umi added dryly as Nico continued to cling at her as possibly part of some kind of reboot cycle. It wasn’t until she’d accidentally smacked the girl in the face comedically for the fourth time that she finally settled down.

“Where’za whuh huh?” Nico asked incoherently, reaching for the flask in Umi’s hand and taking a deep pull, “Hello, Super Coffee!”

Nozomi hugged the smaller girl, laughing so hard she cried. Then she pulled Umi into the hug and just rocked back and forth. Eli, maintaining distance from the pile, laid a hand on Caster’s shoulder and confided, “We’re… not usually this much of a mess.”

“Don’t be silly, my dear,” the woman with the shifting face soothed, “All humans are a mess. I wouldn’t have made my name if they weren’t. I’m really being tested, being paired with such sweet children.”

She winked, froze, and turned to face the other side of the building, placing herself between the figure that appeared and her Master.

It… appeared to be Maki. The coloring was right, but the posture was… utterly bizarre. Hunched over, crawling on toe and fingertips. Like a cautious animal, she stared at the gathering and started to approach the three on the ground still swaying from Nozomi’s enthusiasm.

“Maki’s back,” Eli mentioned, and after they looked, Umi and Nozomi both backed away. From this posture, it was easy to see the remaining damage left from the scores of crossbow bolts. That was gruesome enough, but not the intimidating point. Her eyes were wide, her face mostly expressionless, and there was an underlying rumble coming from her direction. A deep, trembling bass.

Nico remained still, but far more relaxed than the others. She was too busy draining the last of the flask to do much else.

“What are you doin’ over there? Get over here you weirdo,” Nico called out, wiping her lips and setting the flask into the still beside her.

With that, Maki bounded across the distance, stopped to peer at the others one last time, and then sauntered on all fours to curl on Nico’s lap.

“Weirdo is right,” Eli sighed, earning a nudge from Nozomi who followed it up by just slumping onto her side.




------------- To Be Continued




Information Matrix (UPDATED!)
*Updated information in bold and italics
Statistical values currently unavailable due to lack of context.
All information only pertains to what has currently been revealed. Additional information will be added as it becomes available. Intel primarily relevant to the Fate application of the crossover, most Love Live canon pre-Snow Halation is applicable.


Master: Yazawa Nico
Magic style: Stealth and Skullduggery

Servant: Berserker
True Name: Nishikino Maki
Noble Phantasm: Unidentified. May be unavailable due to “system incompatibility.”
Special Attributes: Mad Enhancement, Mana Distilling, Supernal-Level Martial Arts,
Cat Mode!?

Bio:

The combined consciousness of numerous incarnations of Nishikino Maki. It is currently unknown how she grew from a µ's member and songwriter to a hero worthy of preserving in the Throne.


Notes:
- Supplements lacking mana resources (Nico’s diminutive magic circuits) via distilled moonlight.

- Claims to be a “big deal” but as her accolades and accreditation into the Throne are from  events that have not happened yet, there is no means of verifying. Given that her fame is in its infancy and unrelated to her heroic exploits, the related effect that acclaim has on a Servant’s power should be interesting to observe.

- Claims to recall numerous reincarnation cycles, including several occurring after the existence that granted her a place in the Throne. This is at odds with known lore regarding the system and additional research is required to verify.

 

- Claims that her Master’s mana to personal energy ratios are unbalanced due to Throne save state updates coming from incompatible saturation levels from post current universe existences. Try saying that three times fast. Yeesh. This claim is supported by the catalyst used to summon her, an unidentifiable orb of mass/energy that was previously under research at the Tower.


- Functioning at a vastly lower capacity due to her Master’s weak magical resources pairing with previously mentioned incompatibility.


- The Berserker Mad Enhancement effect is greatly diminished due to the personally relevant bond between her and her Master. Being literally bound to one of the people that made her happiest in life and surrounded by the others serves as a balm, diminishing the madness effect but also diminishing the power gain that comes with it.


- Mental stability seems to be diminishing as multiple lives worth of information contaminates what she understands to be real. Impulse control continues to weaken as the Mad Enhancement struggles to apply itself into the double-edged sword it was intended to be. This effect is primarily held at bay due to Maki’s obsessive desire to protect her Master, particularly from herself.

 

- Caster has suggested that both her status as a Berserker and a Servant in general are in question.


 


Master: Ayase Eli
Magic style : Physical Augmentation and Endurance

Servant: Caster
True Name: ??
Noble Phantasm: ??

Notes:

 

- Her clothing is beyond humble, her demeanor and hair suggest a venerable age, and her face is somehow masked in a way that while expressions can be read, one can not truly recall any specific facial features.

 

- While no details have been observed as to her capabilities, even enough to earn her class, she has made several food related references to the girls around her.



Master: Tsubasa Kira
Magic style: Illusion and Glamours

Servant: ??
True Name: ?? (currently known as Dummy or Dumb-Dumb)
Noble Phantasm:??

 

Notes:
- A tall, muscular yet lanky and easy-going man. Notable features include copious amounts of body hair, tightly cropped top and facial hair, a red cape, and a crown adorned with two very long feathers.


- Tsubasa claims to have gotten very lucky, suggesting that her Servant is of an excellent caliber.




Master: Matou Zouken
Magic style: Binding/Absorption and Insect Control

Notes:
- Patriarch of one of the three founding families that, with the cooperation of the Tohsaka and Einzbern, created the system that enables the Fuyuki Holy Grail War. It is assumed that he is the instigator of the current event.

 

- Somehow obtained Maki’s catalyst, an impossible orb of indeterminate matter/energy that was last seen under heavy surveillance and scrutiny at the Tower. How this orb came into being or it’s connection to Nishikino Maki remains to be seen.

 

- -=Classified Information=- Zouken is an ancient magus that previously went under the family name of Makiri. As the family valued absorptive capacity more than legitimate magical circuits, the family’s magical capacity declined to the point where their latest heir, Matou Shinji, was born without magical circuits of his own, effectively terminating the line’s magic potential. This lack was compensated for by utilizing various methods, some resembling torture, that would carve that potential and capacity into the body.

The family traditionally utilizes a specific variety of worm to accomplish this though, after the failure of the Second Fuyuki Grail War, Zouken has taken matters into his own hands and has started employing techniques he had allowed the world to forget. He is extremely dangerous and one of the oldest living humans on the planet, assuming he can still be counted among their number.


Servant: ??
True Name: ??
Noble Phantasm:??



Unidentified Master

Servant: Archer
True Name: ??
Noble Phantasm:??

Notes:

- Utilizes twin crossbows, explosives, and hunters traps.

- Accompanied by two wolves, one a three-meter at the shoulder black wolf, the other a five-meter silver.

- Wears a red cape and cowl. Appears to be a female white european roughly fourteen years of age. Exceptionally frail in appearance.



Master: Iida Kaori (Retired)
Magic style: Charms/Enhancement

Servant: ??
True Name: ??
Noble Phantasm:??





Author’s Notes


Feels a little rushed to me, but I’m pushing this one out a little early because Happy Birthday Maki!~ <3
I can only imagine her response to it being, “Thanks, I hate it!”
I would have pushed the next Nishikino instead, which seems like it'd be way more relevant, but that's still a bit too far off from being ready. Maki would probably appreciate less focus on her anyway. Not too little. Not too much. She'll be having a very good time in it, so it'll be worth the wait.

I’ve mentioned this in comments, and probably a few times now in notes like these, but my stories have happy endings. Don’t worry if things start to get dark.

Chapter Text

Previously, on Berserker:


Nico doesn’t know if she wants to have sleepovers at Nozomi’s anymore.

Four of the µ's Magic Girls got together to welcome Eli’s new BFF Caster to the party, but the party got crashed by another Servant we’re gonna call Archer for now … and that’s not all they crashed. Poor Nozomi’s home got all blown up!

Super scary! Rude too.

Nico’s super strong hero Other Maki came to the rescue, playing the role of human (?) shield in a really painful way!

Wait… Maki-chan… why are you meowing!? Why does everything look so fuzzy! Don’t cry Nozomi, we’re not going to let anything happen to you!

Things are really heating up for the µ's Magic Team!


~*~*~*~Let’s all get along!~*~*~*~
  ~*~*~*~Nico Nico Niii!~*~*~*~


<Cut to the Opening Credits!>


Berserker
Episode 4: Setting the Stage


Yazawa Nico

She remembered this time.

She woke up remembering the last time too. The dreams, that is. Clear as if they’d happened to herself. Glimpses of lives that weren’t her own and probably not even the Maki she had been making her dreams come true beside.

No, these were visions from the Maki currently nuzzling into her hand, crouching like a cat, and purring like her back, shoulders, and legs weren’t covered in scores of quickly sealing yet still bloody wounds. Dreams at odds with one another, most completely incompatible with the being to her left. A boy dropped into an unlit basement full of ravenous cats. A weary doctor whose worst fears were confirmed that by following the script laid before her, she would lose everything and everyone dear to her. A girl who gripped a searing destiny to save those most important to her, even if it would burn her away to her core.

None… not even one, an experience that she could consider happy… but all very precious and important.

To her right was another friend. Tried, true, tested, and loved. As usual, Umi bore her weight easily, Nico letting herself lean into the younger girl’s side as Eli, Nozomi, and Caster picked through the wreckage of what had once been Nozomi’s home. The open view of the outdoors shimmered as the glamour held in place by their newest party member prevented the authorities from determining where the rubble below and the earlier racket originated from.

This was serious… and it had become so far quicker than Nico would have liked… which is to say it happened at all.

“Caster told me what you did,” Nico spoke, softly so as not to distract the three who were looking for what could be salvaged, “Thanks for not giving up on me.”

“No thanks are needed,” Umi insisted, eyes forward, “I only regret that I hadn’t done more. I wish you had come to us with this sooner.”

“I… didn’t know that any of you were… you know,” Nico reminded, “Magic. Even if I had, it’s not like I’d want to drag anyone into something this awful.”

“I suspected,” Umi frowned, and it looked like it was at herself, “... but with how busy everything has been, I prayed that it wasn’t so.”

Maki purred louder, pressing her head into Nico’s palm to encourage stronger scritching since the attention had waned. Cute, but still concerning. Weird, but… thanks to the dream… somehow comfortable.

“We need to do something about your magical output issue,” Umi continued, “Caster is right. She doesn’t mean to, but this... Other Maki… is dangerous. From what I read, it’s a miracle that she has enough presence of mind to speak, let alone control herself sufficiently to prevent over draining you.”

“Yeah. Nico may have overstepped a bit,” Nico murmured, taking another tiny sip from what was now the third of the five total flasks of what was apparently liquid moonlight that her currently feline Servant had set to collecting.

“On that note, do you think you can bring her out of that… cat state?”

“I’m almost afraid to,” Nico admitted, “What if that’s what it takes for her to heal?”

“If she’s going to continue draining you at that pace while in that state, it won’t matter much one way or the other.”

Nico frowned, swishing the flask and hearing very little response. Clearly this wasn’t the long term solution she’d hoped for. She finally turned to look at Umi and was surprised to see the amount of raw and nearly teary-eyed concern she expressed.

She… really had found an amazing group of friends.

“Wait here. I’ll take her outside. See what I can do.”

“Stay close,” Umi reminded, squeezing Nico’s hand reassuringly, “Don’t try to do any of this on your own again.”

Nico watched as Umi crouched in front of her feline-minded Maki and spoke slowly, “Maki? We need you to come back, okay?”

Maki’s purring deepened as she leaned toward Umi who, in turn, held completely still as the redhead brushed her cheek against Umi’s.

“Well… I can see she’s still as flirtatious as ever,” Umi muttered, looking away and blushing fiercely.

“Come on, Maki. Let’s see if we can’t wake you up,” Nico whispered and walked out into the hallway, miraculously bereft of neighbors. Maki followed, still ambling on all fours in a way that seemed unnaturally natural, given human’s usual aptitude for such a strut.

The echoes in the hallway were deafening, given the silence following the previous assault. Strangely, only Nico’s footfalls made any noise, one of many details she had started noticing since the liquid moonlight left her feeling far too energized given the horrendous events of the day.

“I saw it, you know. The pit. The cats. I know what this is… kind of,” Nico spoke, claiming her Servant’s full attention but nothing in the way of response.

“You can do this, but you learned it when you were a boy. Were you chasing after Nico then too, pretty girl?”

Only purring rumbling through the stairwell answered, so Nico continued, “I’m sorry this isn’t going the way you probably want, but thank you… for taking care of my friends. Our friends. I’m actually really happy you want to protect them just as much as me.”

They exited the stairwell into the chill of the roof. The cloudless sky and the bright moon a calming sight. She caught a glimpse of the stars and thought of the only Maki she knew last week, hoping she hadn’t been worrying her too much with her odd behavior lately. Earlier wasn’t fair of her at all… but there wasn’t much fairness to go around these days. She’d just have to make it up to her.

Nico settled next to the empty distillery unit, a curious collection of mirrors and brass, silvery fluid collected around its base as it continued to do its job regardless of receptacle. Nico set the nearly emptied container back in it’s seat as Maki stared at the apparatus… drawing closer and…

“Oh yuck! Come on Maki-chan, don’t do that! That’s on the roof!”

Sure enough, keeping with the cat motif, her wildly messy Servant set herself to lapping up the spilled silver. Since the redhead seemed to be ignoring her complaints, Nico turned away, rolling her eyes and lying back to stare at the stars.

“I… might be out of my league here,” Nico admitted out loud. She barely remembered the explosion… let alone the action that came after. How was she supposed to fight this war and protect the people she loved if she couldn’t fuel the only weapon she had?

“Nico-chan?”

The voice was small, dazed, but clearly Maki’s. A twitch of guilt passed through her heart for just mentally referring to the woman as a weapon… but her utilitarian survivor side that had been doing it’s best to outlast this awful ritual did its best to remind her that the comparison wasn’t wrong. From what the others told her, if her superpowered Maki had chased off that Archer so quickly with what little mana she had to work with… then maybe she was deserving of her confidence and self-hype. Still… being able to only fuel her for less than three minutes, while draining the silver super coffee, and still being already drained to unconsciousness? Not promising.

“C’mere,” Nico offered, patting her thigh and not taking her eyes off the sky, “Welcome back, Maki-chan.”

For some reason, the woman crawled over instead of walked, slumping on her side to rest her cheek where Nico had earlier patted. Her breathing was deep but bereft of purring. She looked far more sedate than Nico recalled seeing her, so she offered, “Are you alright?”

Her voice was tight when she answered, “I’ve been better. Are you okay?”

“Thanks to these things,” Nico replied, pointing around haphazardly, “Maki-chan should quit the hospital biz and start bottling this stuff. Five stars. Would drink again… does it hurt?”

Maki snorted, winced, and drummed a finger on Nico’s stomach, “Oh yeah. Kinda worried about it too. That shouldn’t have scratched me.”

The redhead pouted and continued, “Let alone rip up my dress and… all the rest. This might be a tougher fight than I expected.”

“Maki-chan’s a little more Cutie Panther than Diamond Princess, eh?”

Maki snorted again and cracked a wider smile, “Nice. Seriously though… that was close.”

“Those arrow... things…”

“Crossbow bolts.”

“Right,” Nico squirmed uncomfortably, “They kind of… kept going deeper. Are you sure you’re alright?”

“Oh. Yeah. Don’t worry. I was absorbing them.”

“Come again?” Nico squirmed more.

“They came from a Servant, so they were technically magic constructs. It’s why none of the bolts were left in the room when we all got back,” Maki explained, stretching uncomfortably and yawning before continuing, “Rather than pull them out, I drew them in and converted them back into energy. It’s not the most efficient method, but more pleasant than the alternative.”

“... right. Kind of cool… I guess. Does your… dress… grow back too?”

“It’s kind of shredded, isn’t it?”

“Almost indecent,” Nico confirmed, “That and you really need a bath. You’re a mess.”

“... Huh. Where would we even go for that?” Maki asked.

After a beat, Nico honestly replied, “I have no idea. We can’t go home, and I was kind of hoping we could stay at Nozomi’s… but…”

“Nozomi’s isn’t really there anymore,” Maki finished, readjusting herself and scooting a bit higher up Nico’s thigh, “Huh… are we going to live under a bridge or something?”

“Absolutely not,” answered an unexpected newcomer to the conversation. Umi strode from the stairwell, arms laden with books and a duffel bag of clothing, “The two of you will be staying with me and Nozomi will be taking the Church up on it’s residence offer. Eli and Caster will be joining her until the aggressors in this conflict have been dealt with.”

“Hi Umi!” Maki waved, surprisingly enthusiastic given the state of her shoulders.

“Hello Maki,” Umi replied almost as an afterthought before continuing, “Neither of you will need to obscure your identities or your situations, you will have the strongest protections that are available from a non-Master in the area, and you will be made available the resources that will allow you to find, and defeat, your opponents.”

Nico stared. Being strong-armed into a decision like this felt strange, but not as off-putting as she expected. Really, from Umi, there was no other way to expect such a no-nonsense and logical solution.

Still… “I’m not sure I’m comfortable with this,” Nico replied, “I don’t want anyone else being hurt because of this, but I don’t really have much of a choice.”

“You don’t,” Umi agreed, “... and that’s not all you will be agreeing to.”

“Umi’s takin’ charge~” Maki giggled starting to roll back, wincing, and then returning to her side-resting state.

“We take a week off from µ's activities,” Umi declared, “Just the four of us. Exhausting ourselves won’t help either effort and the less contact we have with the others, the less chance they will be drawn into this.”

“I’m glad you said it first,” Nico admitted, “I don’t think I could bring myself to say it, but I agree. I say we should skip school too, until this is over.”

Umi frowned, but didn’t protest as Nico continued, voicing her concerns before she had a chance to process them, “The others can’t find out about this magic stuff… and I want this Maki to be the only Maki-chan caught up in this stupid thing. Same goes with the non-magic µ's girls.”

Umi frowned deeper, but nodded in agreement. After a beat, whatever anxious energy was making her fidget around built enough for her to admit, “Actually… about that…”

 

----- -----




“Umi-chan!!” Kotori cried out, slamming into the bluenette and clinging to her tightly, burrowing her face into her shoulder.

“... Am I the only one who didn’t know?” Nico sulked quietly, hands in blazer pockets.

“To be fair,” Umi replied, overhearing amidst Kotori’s attempts to stifle her tears, “We all thought you were just as informed as we were. We were merely following your example.”

“Right,” Nico sighed brushing her face from her hair, “Hey there, Kotori.”

Nico-chan! ” Kotori warbled, releasing Umi to wrap Nico in an equally fierce hug that… honestly felt pretty nice after the past couple of days.

“Urk! Yeah, yeah, it’s alright. I’m fine,” Nico assured, offering a few embarrassed half-back-pats in return since her arms were kind of pinned, “You should probably save some of this for Nozomi. She’s the one who’s had a rough time.”

Kotori ignored this and continued rubbing her cheek into Nico’s shoulder with abandon. Umi sighed, smiling for the first time in what must have been hours and assured, “Kotori’s compassion knows no limits. I’m sure there will be plenty of hugs left for her. That said, welcome home.”

“Thanks for having us,” Nico nodded.

“Is she here too?” Kotori asked mid-nuzzle, “... and is it really her ?”

This was getting more complicated by the minute. Way too many people were getting caught up in her problem, way too many people knew about these very uncomfortable things, and the big secret that absolutely had to be kept from Maki-chan was becoming way too accessible. It was hard to not get angry, but given how much everyone was bending over backwards to help her...

“Yup. Careful though, she might try to kiss you or something,” Nico replied as ambivalently as possible, “... or worse. She’s in stealth mode until we can get her in the bath.”

Kotori pulled back, clearly confused but remaining silent. Excellent. Nico turned to Umi and prompted, “On that note... “

“Yes, of course. Right this way,” Umi replied, leading the way and continuing with, “Now, don’t be alarmed, but most of the Sonoda are currently staying here in response to the… current events. All of our guest rooms are currently occupied, so you’ll be staying in my room.”

“The won’t be necessary,” Umi’s father rumbled as they entered the house, “Almost everyone has already left. Welcome to our home, Yazawa.”

“Thanks for having me,” Nico replied on reflex, realizing that this was the first time she’d met this tower of a man. Seriously, he looked like he belonged on the character select screen of a fighting game! His arms were huge!

“You and the others are all welcome to the entire compound, this includes Toujou, Ayase, and her Servant. Umi, after you tend to our guests, we’d like a word.”

“Of course, Father,” Umi demurred.

“I could show them the rest of the way, Umi-chan,” Kotori offered, resting tentative fingers on their host’s shoulder.

“I’ll catch up,” Umi accepted, covering Kotori’s hand with her own.

… and then it was just Nico and Kotori… oh, and an invisible and currently very quiet Maki.

“I brought a few outfits from home that should fit. I heard about what happened and thought you could use some.”

“Thanks,” Nico sighed, feeling daunted as the social debt continuing to climb, “I’m sure the fans would love Nico’s new swiss cheese wardrobe, but that’s a little too much service for this early in Nico’s career.”

Kotori giggled… and so did Maki who apparently manifested behind them. Kotori jumped, turned and gaped, bringing the procession to a halt mid-hallway. Jeez this place was nice.

“Good evening, Maki-chan,” Kotori offered, sizing the woman before her up as she always did, probably guessing about measurements and assessing her outfit. She confirmed this straight away with a comment of, “That outfit is very BiBi. What’s going on with the manacles?”

Maki gave Kotori one of those ‘I’m really tired but happy to see you’ smiles and replied, “Good evening, Kotori. They’re visual representations of the seals branded onto my soul from another life. Usually they’re a real pain, but they’ve come in handy this time around. We should keep moving. This thing’s actually pretty close to falling off. There’s not much left of it from behind.”

“Eh!?” Kotori gaped, but Maki took her by the shoulders and turned her around, pushing the small procession forward. She didn’t seem to be fighting it. She turned to Nico as Maki pushed her along and commented, “Maki-chan got pretty tall.”

“Right?” Nico pouted, “She should share some of that height.”

“Oh, you want a few inches? Where would you like ‘em?” Maki said in a teasing voice, which didn’t make any sense. … why was Kotori laughing? Before Nico could ask, Maki continued, “I actually know my way around. Could you get a change of clothes for Nico while I get her to the bath? She’s been in that uniform all day.”

“Sure!” Kotori chirped, twirling out of Maki’s grasp and booping Nico on the nose, “I’ll be right there. I have just the right top for tonight for you~”

As soon as Kotori was out of sight, both Nico and Maki sighed in relief. Immediately, they eyed each other in surprise and then laughed at the symmetry. Nico broke first and gestured toward the hallway, “Lead on, Servant. Your Master commands~”

“Pfft,” Maki eye-rolled, smiling, bowing and then leading backwards with an unrealistically bouncy, comedically wide-eyed, and high-speed, “Of course! Right this way Master! Nico-chan’s super-devoted servant Berserker is here to grind all your worries away! Shall I wash your back? Scrub your hair? Rub your shoulders? Or… perhaps would you like… kya! I just couldn’t! It’s too embarrassing for a virtuous young maiden of carnage like myself! You’re making me blush with those eyes of yours! Shameful Master! Don’t you know that Berserker is a Servant in love!? An innocent maiden’s sighs shouldn’t be filled with such heat , wouldn’t you rather just walk arm-in-arm cheering Nico Nico Niiiii!?”

Nico couldn’t help it. After one of the most tense days of her life… to have Maki in front of her speaking like that… throwing out a full-powered Nico Nico Nii? Full width grin with wibble eyes engaged, Nico puffed up her chest and offered an arm, “That sounds like an excellent idea, my loyal Servant. Come! Let’s be terrible guests together!”

“Nico Nico Niiiii! Nico Nico Niiiii! Nico Nico Niiiii!!!!!”

 

----- -----




The three merrily skipped through the compound, singing their hearts out all the way to the bathroom. With a dramatic flair, the unfairly tall Maki swooped ahead and slid the door open to what appeared to be a sink/changing area.

Jeez , this place is nice,” Nico laughed, twirling her way in and feeling better than she had since… well… since teasing present-time Maki. After Other Maki followed her in, sliding the door closed behind her, Nico set to shucking her clothes. Throwing her blazer haphazardly at the door to vent a little of this incredible energy, she set to unbuttoning her top and continued, “I hope they’ve got a washing machine and dryer somewhere. My spare uniform has too many extra holes now.”

“I’m glad you were wearing the cardigan. I can guarantee it’d break your little Maki’s heart if it disappeared,” Other Maki teased, shoulder leaning against the wall, “Oh, if you really want to mess with her, you should offer that .”

“Hearing you trying to be my wingman in hooking up with younger you is… hilariously weird,” Nico commented, shaking her head and shrugging off her top and immediately throwing it at Maki’s face.

“Hey,” Maki shrugged from under the shirt, not bothering to remove it, “Don’t forget the easy-access preview service I’m offering. Seriously, I want you to take me up on that.”

Nico let the skirt drop and started kicking off her socks as she replied, “Oh yeah? Well then future girl hot stuff, let’s see what you’re workin’ with. We’re startin’ this off with me scrubbing your back, because there’s no way I’m lettin’ Bloody Maki last a minute longer than absolutely necessary.”

At that, Maki pulled Nico’s shirt from her face, wide-eyed and trying too hard to not sound over-eager, “Really?”

Full of Nico-Nii Power and down to her undergarments, Nico stood with hands on hips and grin on face and proclaimed, “Well, yeah. We’re goin’ in there to get clean anyway. Drop the dress and give your Master an eye-full. It’s only fair since you’ll be getting the same. I’m pretty sure I’m done growing and Maki-chan’s already seen all this. Let’s see where the next couple of years are gonna take her .”

Maki stared, “That’s… surprising.”

“Nico dreamed she was you. Taking a swan dive off the top of Nishikino General. Nico’s heart is made up. This girl’s gonna savor every bit of the Nishikino Maki that feels so strongly for her. Not because of obligations or anything… just… ,” Nico paused, took a deep breath, and refocused her strongest eye-contact to finish, “I have perspective now. Perspective and selfishness. I never want to have that happen, ever again.”

The older Maki looked embarrassed, breaking eye contact and biting her lip. Cute. Adorable even, but it only lasted a moment before she apparently regathered her courage and reached for her shoulder strap on one side and the chains on the other.

“As you command, Master,” she whispered. The clunky manacles around her neck, wrists, ankles and waist shimmered and shrank into thin, tightly bound, golden chain as the rest of the material dropped, confirming that it had been the only thing preserving her modesty.

Pfft. Modesty.

“... Yup. Maki-chan’s gonna be Nico’s trophy wife. Envy of the planet. Now get in there so Nico can scrub all that nasty violence off of you. You are entirely too pretty for that mess.”

Older Maki actually blushed at this, but still made no move to cover herself, instead walking to the sliding door that separated the changing room from the bathing area and jumping only a little when Nico poked her in the side as she passed.

“Pretty and still thinner than me. How is that okay with you being that tall. You’re like… all muscle! Stupid sexy Maki-chan,” Nico groused.

Maki stuck her tongue out at her Master and slid the door wide, revealing one Kousaka Honoka already sitting in the tub and covering her mouth to restrain what looked to be some pretty heavy laughter.

“Honoka!” Maki cheered, starting to run in.

“Hold it! Don’t you get in that tub before we’ve scrubbed you off!” Nico called out, just in time for the woman to put on the breaks, sliding on the tile up until she had to slam her palms onto the edge of the furo much to the clear enjoyment of their idol group’s leader.

“Hi Maki-chan! Guess who heard everything ,” Honoka teased, locking eyes with a frazzled deer-in-headlights Nico.

Nico would have probably replied, but was too distracted as her messy beautiful amazon of a Servant pulled Honoka into an entirely shameless and enthusiastic embrace.



Ayase Eli



“It’ll only be for a little while,” Eli assured a nearly despondent Nozomi as they passed near Kanda Myojin, only a few blocks from their destination. The walk had been beyond somber, but she couldn’t blame her friend. Despite how tragic the night could have gone, for it to have gone like this was just too cruel. Feeling the need to fill the silence, Eli continued, “After this is all over, I want you to stay with me as long as you need.”

“... You’ve been trying to get me to move in for years,” Nozomi replied, finally breaking the long silence that began after the attack that destroyed her home and almost all of her worldly possessions. Even her shrine maiden’s garb hadn’t escaped unscathed. The look on her friend after discovering that broke Eli’s heart a hundred times over.

“Well, you always made me come over for sleepovers, so it only seemed fair,” Eli clarified, breathing a silent sigh of relief that she was finally engaging.

Engaging, and now smiling distantly, beautifully, “Elicchi… that doesn’t make any sense at all.”

“If you ask me,” Caster interjected, hair covered by her long dark raincoat’s cowl, “When we find out who Archer’s master is, we make them pay. With interest. How much did that cozy place of yours cost?”

At the realization that the tall woman was actually referring to money, both girls managed a laugh, Nozomi’s brief and replaced with, “My parents handled rent. I have enough clothing that wasn’t damaged too badly that Kotori might be able to help with. I’m mostly just… sad to lose my private space… along with a few keepsakes.”

“I haven’t met this Kotori person, again... love the names around here, but if things are going to be lax for the rest of the night, let this old girl see what she can do. I haven’t been able to enjoy my domestic pursuits for some time and that encounter left much to be desired.”

“I wouldn’t want to trouble you,” Nozomi demurred, but Caster laid a heavy hand on her shoulder.

“Nonsense. I decided on the spot that you were a daughter to me, and no daughter of mine shall go without doting. Especially a splendid witch such as yourself.”

“Daughter?” Eli laughed, “If I’m your Master and she’s your daughter, what does that make her an I?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, dear Master. Normally I’d delight in indulging in the domestic play of my Master being a weary put-upon husband, but that wouldn’t be fair to either of you,” Caster teased, sliding between the two to hook an arm around both of their shoulders, “I know a thing or two about true love, and I certainly never expected to encounter so many instances of it in so little time during this scuffle. I grant you permission to date my daughter, dear Master, as long as you treat her right.”

Both girls’ faces immediately turned a brighter crimson than Maki’s hair, leading Caster to bold laughter and hair-ruffling affection, “Oh hoh! I do love this. I always forget that not all children are terrible. It’s such a shame that you lovely girls were dragged into so awful a thing.”

“So… you do then?” Nozomi whispered, eyes shining again and only seeing her. Oh… this is not how Eli wanted this to happen… but with the impending danger…

“Of course I do,” Eli confirmed, putting on her bravest smile, “How could I not? You’re wonderful . I fell for you so long ago I can’t even remember when.”

That got her smiling. Thankfully, neither of them were distracted as Caster immediately fell back, blustering something about apologies and not knowing that neither of them knew.

She’d have to thank her later. Right now, the world was just her, Nozomi, the hand that found its way into her’s, and the whisper she finally felt brave enough to share, “Of course I love you… Thank you for letting me be here for you…”

 


Yazawa Nico



Well. Wasn’t this great?

The furo, which was big enough for her to fit her entire family in, was currently a cozy three-person soak. Nico sitting on one side, Honoka with a brazen and clingy Maki on the other. Somehow, her Maki was bold enough to not just lavish affection on a very appreciative Honoka, but she had the gall to try and play footsie with her at the same time!

What… the hell!?

So when Honoka, resting her cheek on the soft gentle swell of her Maki-chan’s chest and savoring the feel of those strong piano-playing, Servant-punching fingers in her hair, crooned and commented, “I like this Maki-chan. How long have you been keeping her to yourself?” Nico had to bite her tongue to keep from saying something she knew she’d regret.

The only consolation that honestly still had her feeling a little conflicted, was the feel of Maki’s toes seeming to try to interlock with her own… which felt oddly romantic. That and the way that Maki’s half-lidded eyes were locked to her’s. She knew this was driving her nuts and she was enjoying it.

“Nowhere near long enough,” Nico admitted, “I think she’s been snuggly with just about everyone except me at this point.”

“I’m pretty sure Rin’s head would explode if we switched places right now,” Honoka teased before turning more serious, “I’m really glad you’re both alright. I don’t really get what’s going on, but poor Umi-chan couldn’t stop crying because she was so worried about you.”

A dagger of guilt cut her jealousy. A sigh and a slide of her free foot against Maki’s to suggest the apology was accepted precluded Nico’s admission, “We’re not out of the woods yet, but… things are looking a lot better than they were. Kind of. Just so you know, I’m counting on you now to keep Kotori and the first years in shape. We need to make sure we’re ready to get back to winning the Love Live as soon as we wrap this up.”

“That’s my Nico-chan,” Maki preened, hugging Honoka closer, “It could be the end of the world and she’d never lose focus on the next Live.”

“A girl needs her dreams, and an idol needs to put it all on the line for their fans!” Nico proclaimed, splashing at the snuggly duo.

“Aye aye, captain!” Honoka saluted, creating some captivating visuals that Nico did her best to not stare at. Oh, you quit it with the knowing grins. Stupid Other Maki. After a moment, Honoka continued, “... and just to be sure, no one tells the first years about any of this?”

“Not a one,” Nico agreed, “ Especially Maki-chan.”

“Alright. You got it. Though… Nico-chan?” Honoka replied, actually pulling away from Maki’s incredibly comfortable looking embrace to lean forward.

“Yeah?”

“You should message her. Normal Maki-chan. She’s really worried about you.”

Nico winced… and then nodded, watching Honoka stand and climb out of the furo. She watched as the second-year paced to the faucet to rinse off and winced again as she commented, “Try to rely on us a little more. You’re our number one idol, remember? Let us know if we can do anything… bring anything, tell anyone things for you. Let us help.”

She dumped the bucket over her head, paced back to the furo and leaned in, turning Nico’s face toward her and surprising her with a kiss to her forehead. Honoka pulled back and smiled, “We all love you lots… so stop being a dummy, alright?”

With that, she turned and walked away, grabbing a towel as she went before exiting to the changing room without looking back. Cheeky girl… when did she get so damn cool? Who told her it was okay to pluck at her heartstrings like that?

“She’s right, you know. About both things,” Nico’s contradictory Servant commented, “You have so many people that think the world of you… people who genuinely know who you are. They want to be there for you, so you should let ‘em.”

“It’s so weird hearing you speak in such a relaxed way,” Nico replied without turning to face her, “It sounds good on you. What do you think I should do? With Maki-chan?”

“Are you sure you want me to answer that, Master ?” Maki replied with a humorously suggestive lilt.

“Yeah,” Nico replied, turning to face the woman, “It doesn’t feel fair either way. If I flirt with her, I’ve got unfair knowledge and it’s not a natural progression. If I be honest with her, it’d be too soon if I don’t wrap up this… war thing first. Dragging her into this isn’t fair either. If I avoid her, I’ll break her poor little tomato heart.”

Maki snorted at the term, but tapped at her leg casually with her foot, “What do you want to do? You seemed pretty confident before coming in here.”

“... You’re right,” Nico agreed, brushing her hair from her face and standing, “I was, wasn’t I?”

Maki nodded, her eyes staying on her’s for a change. Nico sat on the edge of the furo, resting her feet on the seat in the water and leaned forward. What did she want? With a breath to prepare herself for what she suspected was coming, Nico redirected, “Answer the question. Quit dancing around. If your wish has already come true, enjoy it a little.”

“That almost sounds like permission, Master,” Maki teased. It wasn’t very effective.

“Answer the question, Servant,” Nico grinned, not really liking the term, but definitely appreciating the response.

“I think you should go to her tonight. Confess everything that isn’t the war. Sweep her off her feet and give her a fairytale love story that people will write about for years. I think you should introduce us, because her heart is probably clouded by expectation and obligation. I think you should do it tonight… or maybe tomorrow… after you’ve practiced with your very willing partner that’s literally bound to you heart and soul…”

… That was one hell of an answer…

“Come here,” Nico whispered, patting her knee. Maki obliged. Nico brushed the hair from the woman’s face. The woman leaned her cheek into the contact with a sigh.

“You’ve had lives with all of them?” Nico asked.

“I have, like I said,” Maki confirmed.

“Why haven’t you been so forward with me?” Nico pressed.

“There have been too many times that your firsts have been more precious than I’ve deserved,” Maki answered, “... and I’m not sure I deserve them now either.”

“Unpopular opinion slash confession that you share with nobody, but intent and emotion is more important than any order of events… and you… you and her? Both of you are the most deserving person of happiness I’ve ever met. It would make me happy, to make you happy. Same with her.”

“So what are you saying?” Maki asked, her face so… so close.

“I’m saying, my magical love destiny, that you should show me how you feel instead of just talking about it all the time,” Nico dared softly.

Maki stood, annoyingly still a bit taller than Nico was sitting straight on the lip of the furo, the water sloshing from her rise and hair draped farther down than Nico would have expected, “That sounds like permission, Nico-chan…”

“That’s because it was, Maki-chan,” Nico replied, raising her chin proudly… and incidentally offering her lips.

Maki bit her lip, curled her hands into fists, sniffed back some kind of intense feeling, leaned and lowered to…

“We’re coming in!~” Kotori cheered, seconds before sliding the door open to find the two sitting at opposite ends of the furo, wearily staring at her and Umi.

----- -----



After the arrival, the Master Servant duo didn’t stay for long. Kotori had brought her a seriously cute soft pastel blue knee-length dress adorned with red and pink floral embroidery. Nico honestly felt she looked a little weird with such an innocent garment given recent events, but she hadn’t really gotten her hands dirty yet, so maybe she was being overdramatic.

First thing’s first, Nico settled into the comfortable familiarity of her skin-care routine. Not the full mask, but plenty of after-bath cleansers and moisturizers to counter the day’s make-up and dust-filled ordeals. Maki watched from a distance, eyes shining and heart radiating pulses of the most intense affection she’d sensed from the woman yet. As she wrapped up, Maki followed through on her offer to dry her hair for her, giving Nico time to just sit in the changing room and vegetate.

Utter bliss.

She didn’t just dry it... she brushed it, teased it, smoothed it out again. There was the sound of friendly familiar voices exchanging idle banter from the bath, just indistinct enough that nothing could be made out amidst this ocean of comfort and adoration, melted the day’s stress away.

“Would you like me to get your shoulders?” Maki offered, still just rocking a towel.

“Nnn… yes please~ Could you hand me my phone?”

She just let it sit on her lap for a moment as Maki’s hands probed and then mercilessly ground into the tightness that the stress of the past week had developed. She couldn’t help herself. She groaned loud enough that she heard Kotori giggling in the next room over.

“Girls…” Umi chided, her voice rising enough that the note of warning was clear.

Maki reached out with a foot to slide the door open, showing the lack of harm or foul and returned with a teasing, “What? You’ll get your turn if you want,” which of course set Kotori into yet another giggle-fit.

It was cute, but all Nico could focus on was how wonderfully close to painful Maki was as she worked through her knots. Was this also something she’d learned as a doctor across her incarnations? Would this be a skill her present-time younger self would know or eventually pick up?

Lazily, Nico turned her phone over and smiled at the small collection of texts that had accumulated over the evening, for a change completely bypassing Line.

Cocoro:

17:38 - Good luck on your tour! We miss you!! <3 <3 <3

17:39 - Cocoa and Cotaro say good luck too. They really wanted to make sure I told you. So I did. Send us pictures!!

Mama:
18:38 - Honey, I just had the weirdest day. I hope yours is going better. I’ve sent a care package your way. Let me know if you need anything else. I’m so proud of you!!


… and there were some from Maki. Weird, since she almost never texted directly where she didn’t have her musical notation sticker packs.

 

Maki-chan:
18:23 - Where are you?

18:23 - I have some stuff from your Mom to give you… because for some reason you aren’t home.

19:15 - I thought the reason you were being so weird lately was because something was wrong with the kids. Now I find out you aren’t even staying there? I’m almost finished at cram classes and I’m heading toward Nozomi’s now. I hope you’re there.

20:35 - Call me when you see this?

20:35 - There’s police everywhere! I ran up to Nozomi’s apartment but there wasn’t anyone home! What’s going on!? Where are you?

20:36 -  Seriously! I’m worried about you!

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the most recent text that apparently came in while she was in the bath was even worse...

Maki-chan:
22:25 - I don’t know what to do. Everyone who isn’t Rin or Kayo-chin isn’t answering their phones or isn’t home. I’ve been circling for hours and I know I should go home because it’s getting late  but apparently there were explosions!?

Was she wandering around all this time!? A quick glance at the time and the following moment of confusion made her check her phone’s sound and sure enough… muted. She missed this message by less than a minute. A line of dots appeared and shortly after another text popped on screen.

Maki-chan:
22:27 - Please be okay.

“Hey, I need to make a call quick,” Nico said to the Maki behind her and the two in the bath, “Sorry!”

Like a shot, she was out the door and stepping out into an open-air hallway. The phone was already processing the call request. She had no idea what she was going to say, but there was grass under her feet, a deep chill biting its way through her skin, and a panicked image of a teary-eyed Nishikino sitting alone in a playground not knowing what was happening to her family or how dangerous the neighborhood had become, particularly for young mages.

“Nico-chan?”

“It’s okay, Maki-chan! I’m okay… I’m so sorry, my ringer was off and… and where are you? Can I come meet you?”

There was some sniffing on the other end of the line, gripping at Nico’s heart even harder before a breath for composure… so easy to imagine given how many times she’s seen it, followed by a steady, “That’s fine. I’m just… I’m glad you’re alright.”

“I’m at Umi’s. Please. Can we meet up? Where are you?”

“Nico-chan? What are you doing there?”

“Please. Where are you?”

It was ridiculous that she was still so energetic, given that she’d barely slept since she’d summoned Other Maki, but the liquid moonlight had her senses electrified. The pause on Maki’s end was the height of anxiety that eased only a little as her voice returned, “I’m on my way from Kanda Myojin. Where would be convenient to meet?”

“Just wait by the station,” Nico said, waving over her now fully dressed Servant who was watching from the walkway, “By the stairs to UTX. I’ll be there right away. Can we talk?”

“It’s getting pretty late,” Maki hedged, but Nico knew that tone.

“Please. I’m sorry for being so unreasonable about this but…”

It was a massive over-extension. More than Nico would usually allow and way more than Maki had ever heard from her. She hadn’t even gone this far when calling for that emergency late-night meetup after it sounded like Honoka was calling it quits.

“Nico-chan?” Maki asked, sounding beyond concerned, “I’ll… I’ll meet you there.”

“Thank you,” Nico breathed, and then the line was closed. Maki had hung up.

“What’s the plan?” Other Maki asked, her voice gentle, but the question stern.

“When you first showed up, you carried me to Otonoki. Could you get me to UTX quickly and without us being seen?”

“Are we telling anyone else?”

“I’ll tell them by text on the way. She’s not far.”

Maki scooped her up, the heat of the mystic inferno within her easing the bite of the outside for a moment… and then they were airborne.

Yikes, there was no way she was going to be able to text like this…




----- -----




Other Maki touched down less than a minute later on the roof of the Gundam Cafe, overlooking the stairs to UTX and leaving Nico a bit winded from fueling her Servant’s pace. It looked like they’d beaten the younger Maki here. It was late enough that practically no one was to be seen milling around, the stores had long shuttered and whatever heat the day may have left had long vacated.

“Can you… I dunno, feel her nearby?” Nico chanced, leaning heavily against her heating tower of a Servant.

“It... doesn’t really work like that,” Other Maki explained, “But… she’s close. Do you want me to drop you off on the stairs and watch from here?”

“Could you? I… I like your advice, but I want to ease her into this,” Nico asked, tension creeping into her shoulders as she realized how rushed this whole encounter was going to be. She’d… she’d even forgotten shoes. Literally all she had on her at the moment was her phone, the dress from Kotori, slightly damp hair, and whatever Other Maki kept on her person.

“I’m glad you’re taking her feelings so seriously,” Maki replied soothingly, resting her hands on Nico’s shoulders. Nico noticed for the first time that she was no longer wearing the BiBi-esque dress from earlier, instead having swapped out for some definitively un-Maki-esque dark torn jeans, boots, and layered tops that were mostly covered by a dark leather short sleeved vest jacket.

“Nico does everything 100%,” Nico idly bragged, “Now, let’s go make Nico look like a mysterious crazy person.”

The taller Maki scooped her up again, which honestly felt wonderful for the blissful moment it lasted before she was being set down again on the stair’s first platform. There was a moment as the towering redhead pulled away where Nico felt a spike of panic at the thought of separation, but she shook it off as the woman assured, “I’ll be right up there,” before dematerializing.

And then there was quiet. The rumble of the nearby trains, the wind barely perceptible in the relatively enclosed courtyard, the pebbles of concrete biting into her feet, and the chill of the winter air punishing her for her haste. Nico hadn’t even taken the time to put her hair up… she idly wondered if Maki would even recognize her at whatever distance she’d come from without her signature pigtails.

She leaned her forearms against the arm rails and looked up at the school she’d spent so much time wishing she’d managed to get into. She hadn’t had those thoughts in months. Even when attending recent A-RISE lives, spending more of her meagre funds on floral murals than she really ought, she acknowledged that she wouldn’t trade her place at Otonokizaka for anything.

It was a good feeling. It warmed her more than she’d have thought possible with air so chilled that her breath lingered long enough to twirl her finger through.

“Nico-chan?”

Speaking of warmth, with the comfort of that reminder flowing through her heart Nico pulled away from the rail to see an out of breath Maki at the base of the stairs. Classic, present-time Maki. One of the many reasons Otonokizaka was an extension of the place called home.

“Hey Maki-chan. Sorry to call you out like this,” Nico greeted, finding herself a little choked up at how red-faced the girl had made herself rushing to get here.

She was carrying one of Nico’s old backpacks, probably filled with clothes and other sleepover supplies. It wasn’t until Maki was halfway up the steps that Nico noticed that the redhead’s expression wasn’t easing up at all from the slowed pace… instead becoming more unhappy as she approached.

“Nico-chan! It’s freezing! What are you doing out here in that flimsy thing… with no shoes!? ” Maki asked with an increasing level of panic as she climbed the stairs, “... and how did you even get here so fast!? It’s not like Umi’s is closeby!”

“Maki-chan,” Nico placated, still feeling too happy over the concern to be put off by it, “It’s fine, really. Don’t worry so much.”

That just seemed to piss her off, stopping her short half-way across the platform to flail her arms angrily and growl, “Don’t tell me everything is fine! It’s clearly not! Why aren’t you at home? What’s this about practice being cancelled!?”

Maki unslung the backpack and dropped it against the railing before crossing the rest of the distance, her face somehow getting redder by the moment, “We… we swore we were going to see this through!  Remember? Even if everyone else stopped, it’d be Rin, Kayo, you and me to the end. Then we pull of the impossible, beat A-RISE, and… and everything falls apart!? What’s up with that!? I don’t understand any of this!”

“Maki-chan,” Nico retreated, hands up and eyes wide, “No one is quitting. Things just... came up. It’s just for a week and just a few of us…”

“Then why all the secrecy, Nico-chan!? Why won’t anyone answer their phone? Umi has never ignored texts before. You … never… what’s going on?”

“It’s okay, Maki-cha-”

Stop telling me everything’s okay! ” Maki growled, eyes wide and pulling at her hair. She ground her teeth, looked away, turned, glared, and approached until she was nose-to-nose, “I have been wandering all over trying to find someone who could just tell me that no one was caught in whatever explosion happened. Nozomi wasn’t home and it smelled terrible over there. Now you’re out here, acting like it’s no big deal…,” Maki stopped, looked down, bit her lip and pulled back. She furiously unzipped her jacket, tore it off her arms, and thrust at Nico’s chest, “ ... nearly naked when it’s freezing out.”

“Maki-chan…” Nico replied, feeling like a broken record as she accepted the offering, sliding it over her shoulders, “Thanks…”

“Don’t thank me. Tell me what’s going on ,” Maki pressed, her voice sounding dangerously close to breaking.

Before she had time to think, Nico was already wrapping her arms around the other girl’s shoulders, completely freezing her in place. Nico wasn’t sure she had ever seen or felt Maki seize up quite this severely before.

“I’m saying it’s okay because I believe it will be,” Nico began, drawing the smaller, yet still unfairly warm Nishikino closer until she could speak in a quiet voice, almost directly into her ear, “There’s too much going on right now, and a lot of it is… scary. It’s selfish, but I’ve wanted to keep you and my family away from it because… it’s dangerous. I can’t stand the idea of anything happening to you, Mama, or the kids. Just the thought of you being involved in any of it scares me more than I’ve ever been. One way or another, this should be over in a week.”

Nico pulled back, and almost faltered when she saw just how many tears those few words had pulled from the younger girl, but she pressed on, forehead to forehead, “Now, don’t tell anyone... but I’ve been stupid. I have a lot of great friends and… important people that could have made all of this a lot easier. I was too busy trying to protect everyone that I messed everything up. Made it worse than it had to be.”

Maki’s eyes were closed but her shoulders shaking when she asked, “Why just me? Why did you tell everyone else?”

“I didn’t tell them. They found out in other ways…”

“You said you were scared about me and your family. Why not the others?”

Ah…

“Because. Maki-chan is… important in different ways. All of µ's are Nico’s closest friends… but… Maki-chan is special.”

Maki pulled away, eyes wide but Nico didn’t let her separate completely, clinging to her shoulders and staring eye-to-eye to say, “Because I like Maki-chan the best. I have for a while now. More than I know what to do with. I... think you know what I mean.”

A dam broke and Maki sobbed, slamming her forehead against Nico’s collar to hide her face. In a high pitch, she cried, “Why would you tell me something like that? You can’t just... “

“Because it’s okay, Maki-chan,” Nico assured, still processing how quickly this was progressing, but pressing her lips into the girl’s hair regardless, “Everything is going to be okay, because I have the best friends. You don’t have to do or say anything, just… I wanted you to know that I love you.”

There. She said it. She… finally said it out loud, here on the steps of UTX. She said it, her heart had never felt warmer, never felt more confident yet at peace, and her arms were full of young sobbing Nishikino Maki.

“Jeez, I thought you’d be happier,” Nico teased, “I’m a real catch, you know.”

“Shut up,” Maki whined between sobs, pounding her fist against her shoulder (which… not gonna lie, hurt a bit), “Who… who wants a jerk like you anyway.” Totally convincing, what with the tighter grip and the added weight from what Nico could only assume was a case of weak knees.

“I think Maki-chan does… or… I hope she does…, ” Nico risked, brushing back hair that Maki would usually be twirling.

It took a moment, maybe three… but before long, Maki calmed enough to whisper, “... she does…”

It took another moment before she rose back up, brushed clear her eyes, and asked a pointed, “If you’re not going to tell me what… it is… is there anything I can do to help?”

“Ah well. Romantic moment over, I guess,” Nico sighed, but was unable to continue because Maki responded to that by forcefully leaning in and sharing a surprisingly passionate first kiss. It was awkward, way too firm, and lasted far longer than expected… but… that was fine.

More than fine.

Even better as the moment stretched, growing softer, breathier. Became a second and third.

In the moment of embrace/basking that followed, Nico gave in to the urge to tease, “So, we’re a thing now?”

Maki pulled back and gave her a half-lidded glare, which inspired a case of giggles that seemed to only irritate her… girlfriend (?) even more. It looked like she was a moment from pulling away entirely when a bolt of inspiration struck and Nico asked, “Are your parents working tonight?”

Maki in headlights, she froze… so Nico continued, “I love you, I trust you, but I don’t think you can help me with this. They might be able to.”

Maki started to relax, so Nico finished up with, “Plus, I almost feel like we should let them know about us straight off. Maki-chan is very forward after-all.”

“Th-th-th-that’s NOT necessary!” Maki retreated, looking around wildly as if they were going to appear out of nowhere at any moment.

“Aww, is Maki-chan embarrassed about her feeeelings ?”

“I… haven’t told them yet. About me…” Maki admitted, averting her gaze but not letting go, “... you think they could help?”

“I dunno. Maybe?”

“They’re at the hospital now. Do you… want to stop anywhere on the way? Maybe get some shoes?”

“Mama probably tossed some in the bag,” Nico considered aloud, nodding toward the bag. Shoes would be great, but honestly a bra, unders, and maybe some socks or stockings would be fantastic.

As she moved to check, Maki somehow got ahold of her hand and wasn’t letting go… which was adorable and made Nico wish she could devote more attention to this obviously important moment. She fished through the bag’s contents (Aww, Mama packed Pengin-kun!) and tugged Maki down to crouch beside her. She could multitask.

“Thanks for bringing this… I’m sorry about making you worry.”

“It’s… it’s fine…”

“I also think we need more practice at kissing. I liked it a lot, but I’m pretty sure both of us could do a lot better.”

“Practice… right…”

“Ooooh, thank you Mama,” Nico cheered, making Maki’s eyes widen impossibly as she pulled out and stealthily donned her undergarments and nylons. Widen, but not turn away. “Hee hee, Maki-chan’s a perv.”

“I’ve watched you change dozens of times!!” Maki protested animatedly.

“Not helping your case there, Maki-chan~”

“Mou!”

Nico’s incredible cheer took a damper as the waves of empathed affection from Other Maki turned into apprehension and then spiraled into all-out anxiety. She could tell why as well. Something… immense was nearby. Not the comfortable writhing inferno of her Servant… but something towering and lofty. Broad and indomitable. Confident… and close.

“We need to get moving,” Nico directed, shoving her feet into her sneakers and zipping the bag shut, “Now. We’ve waited here too long.”

“What?” Maki replied, alarmed at the sudden change in tone, “What do you mean?”

“The hospital. We need to move. I think they might have found me.”

“Huh? Who fo-!?” Maki began before going quiet. She nodded and reclaimed Nico’s free hand, speaking in a low tone, “Do we need to take back roads?”

Nico’s heart surged. That’s Maki for you. In a hushed voice, Nico replied, “The more public, the better. They won’t make a move if there’s witnesses.”

Hopefully.

Maki led, pulling Nico along as the empathic surge of anxiety started to peak. As they reached the entrance to the station, the edge of the roof above Uzushio exploded in a shower of dust and debris. Without a sound, Maki pulled Nico along faster, leaving Other Maki behind. A simple telepathic assurance of, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll catch up,’ giving Nico the leave to match and then try to surpass Maki’s pace.




Encounter



Relying on the fine mist of plaster and concrete to partially obscure her, Maki the Servant rematerialized close enough to the other Servant to easily draw its attention. Almost too close, as a wild backhand from the tall figure nearly clipped her as his(?) arm was far longer than expected.

The dust cleared enough to reveal an incredibly tall, fuzzy, and lanky man. Lanky, but incredibly toned . He lowered the young woman that could be assumed to be the Servant’s Master before turning to pay her full attention. Maki lowered her stance and growled in a low tone.

“Hand to hand?” the man laughed, his voice surprisingly light as he scratched at his thin short beard. Twin feathers rose from the simple crown guarding his forehead and his eyes were wide and… playful? “Oh this is gonna be good.”

The dust in the air wavered, then flattened against the roof as the man’s spiritual pressure roared. With a toothy grin, he launched at Maki, offering a punch to be deflected as a feint before thrusting a kick toward the woman’s side.

Maki caught the trunk of a leg, grunting as the roof’s collected dust blew away from their position from the impact. This two-fold hold quickly turned into a joint lock to the man’s wrist to distract from Maki’s rising knee, creating another shockwave impact... directly from the man’s groin.

His face twisted in expected agony for but a moment before Maki pulled his face down with both hands by gripping his limited beard down into another upward knee, sending the man staggering back before being launched away by a one-inch palm thrust.

He caught the ruined edge of the building… barely. His Master scrambling to help him up and completely unaware of Maki’s approach until she slowed a few paces away, coming to a stop to laugh, “Wait… Tsubasa!? Kira, is that you?

The girl turned, wide-eyed she dropped her Servant who scrambled once more for a handhold. Fear abruptly changing to confusion, “Have we… wait… no way… Nishikino!?”


 


Yazawa Nico


They didn’t stop running until Nico’s legs faltered. Whatever was happening behind them required extra oomph from Other Maki, and Nico almost instantly felt the pull tap her fifth wind’s reserves. Even then, they kept moving, just at a slower pace. Once they were surrounded by the “late night” izakaya crowds, they slowed to a casual stroll. The entire time, hand-in-hand.

“Hey,” Nico started, interrupting the tense silence, “You wanna stop in one of these places? Get a bite and first date in before you introduce me to your parents as your main squeeze?”

Maki stared incredulously for a moment before asking, “Are you serious right now?”

“Only a little. I haven’t eaten since lunch and I might want to spend a little more time with my super cute girlfriend,” Nico replied, both confident that the rules that were to keep the Grail War a relatively secret affair that didn’t involve non-magic civilians and in the good-feeling buzz that had only gotten stronger since her crush had taken it into her own hands to lay one on her.

“H… how can you say that so easily?” Maki looked away, but squeezed her hand extra tight, “Besides, isn’t there someone chasing us? That explosion...”

“You’re right, you’re right… I’m just really happy right now,” Nico admitted, squeezing back and trying to ignore the lethargy seeping back into her body.

“I’ll grab something for you from the hospital cafeteria while you talk to my parents… you really think they can help with… all this?”

“I don’t know… maybe. They’re connected in ways that Umi’s parents aren’t,” Nico answered, which seemed to inspire about a dozen more questions that Maki swallowed for the time being.

The two left the small night-life hub and re-entered a suburban stretch that would lead to the hospital itself. While she’d not admit it, Nico was glad Maki talked her out of the impromptu date. What was she even thinking? Other Maki was back there putting it all on the line and she wanted to go dancing off with the younger model? Rude.

‘All’s clear, Nico-chan,’ Other Maki telepathed, for some reason exuding the feeling of amusement, ‘Everything’s fine. I’ll catch you up after your date.’

“It’s not a date,” Nico grumbled aloud, making Maki jump from the seemingly unprompted statement.

“No… obviously not,” Maki sighed before trailing off with an increasingly quiet, “... but we should give that a try soon. If you’re... interested in that kind of thing.”

Having to force down a giggle, Nico teased, “It might take a bit to find something worth your time, but if anyone’s up to the task, it’d be Nico Nii~”

“Idiot…,” Maki sighed, turning away and failing to hide her blush. Classic.

“Hey, you should be nicer to your girlfriend~ Hey hey, is that how you’re gonna introduce us?” Nico teased to fill the silence.

Maki remained silent, but did squeeze her hand again. The hospital was in sight and something had the younger girl’s attention.

‘Huh,’ Other Maki began, re-establishing the telepathic line, ‘Loads of suits waiting out front. Follow your Maki’s lead, be casual but be careful. I’ll be right beside you.’

There were, and she was. Whatever the reason, both Makis seemed to be on edge as every entrance seemed to have four black-suited men that seemed to be living the sunglasses-at-night stereotype. The instant they came within an appreciable distance, they seemed to take to muttering things into their collars. Subtle.

“Do you think this has anything to do with… your issue?” Maki whispered as they approached.

“I hope not. That’s creepy,” Nico answered.

For whatever reason, none of them so much as looked at them as they passed the gate, entered the front door, or so much as turned a head as Maki addressed the receptionist, “Good evening Takanaka-san. Do you know where my parents are?”

“Good evening Maki-chan,” the older woman answered, clearly intimidated by the looming pair of towering and oddly nondescript men, “They’re both up at your Father’s office, but they are currently in a meeting. I’m sure if you waited outside it wouldn’t be a problem though.”

“Thank you,” Maki bowed and pulled Nico along, which was good because there was something in the air that left her feeling… dizzy. Distracted? It wasn’t the increasingly familiar sensation of Other Maki’s continuous mana upkeep, but… somewhat similar.

‘There’s another Servant nearby,’ Other Maki stated/explained, ‘Very close. Probably related to the suits.’

Nico kept step with Maki, walking even closer after Other Maki’s assessment. Whatever comfort the trip here and Maki’s acceptance may have brought was buried under the rising pressure. Nico did notice that despite being in the equivalent of her parent’s home, Maki still hadn’t let go of her hand.

They slipped into the stairwell, once again passing several of the out-of-place guards. The usual bustle of the hospital was still in full swing, with nurses and doctors making their way from station to station, many taking a second to greet Maki who in turn would greet them as well by name.

How much time did that girl spend around here?

When the reached the appropriate floor and Maki led them through the appropriate hallways, they encountered one that miraculously had neither guard nor staff. It was apparently close to her parents’ office as the redhead led her down this path that had Other Maki’s anxiety spiking terribly. The air was heavy with the presence of the other Servant, so thick that even the younger Maki seemed to be affected.

“Nico-chan,” Maki whispered, squeezing tight again.

“Mm?”

“Thanks for letting me help… and… I feel the same. I love you too.”

She had looked away to say it, but those words made Nico feel more encouraged than she had been since this whole ordeal started. Nico squeezed back and replied, “I know, dummy. I’m just glad you finally figured it out. Don’t worry…”

“Everything’s definitely going to be alright.”

Just saying those words evaporated the remaining concern about the incredible pressure. They shared a smile, crossed the final distance to the door reading, “Dr. Takase Nishikino: Director, and entered.

Just opening the door heightened the pressure by an order of magnitude. Maki looked downright nervous and Other Maki was invisibly twitching in whatever capacity she was currently existing. The air swirled with authority and the demand for subservience. The room they entered was a waiting room, relatively modest with a receptionist’s desk staffed by a wildly uncomfortable looking woman.

“Maki-chan, what a surprise,” the woman greeted, her voice strained as the eight other men in the room turned to stare at the intrusion.

“Good evening Moriko-san. We were hoping to speak with Mama and Papa… is… this a bad time?”

The woman didn’t get a chance to respond as the tallest of the men, who couldn’t be shorter than 200cm, stepped from his position at the door and interjected in the most formal of tones, if awkwardly enunciated, “The good doctors will be available shortly, young missus. I humbly apologize for the inconvenience. Pray tell, would the young woman accompanying missus be available to discuss the matter of recent events?”

Nico swallowed, a gesture missed by Maki who was busy replying, “Nico-chan?”

“Yes, Ms. Yazawa has a hand in the affair that is the reason for our employer’s visit of this fine establishment. I am not at liberty to discuss the matter any further, but our employer would be most appreciative if she were to spare a moment alone.”

As if the guy wasn’t intimidating enough on his own, throwing the impossibly imposing presence of the Servant behind the door into the mix left Nico’s grip on Maki’s hand way firmer than intended. Still, she managed to nod in reply before saying, “Sure. No problem.”

“Thank you. Our employer will be with you shortly.”

The man returned to his place in front of the inner office’s door. After a moment, Moriko wiped her brow and offered, “Would you girls like anything?”

“No thank you,” Maki replied after a questioning look Nico’s way, “Would you like me to go get anything for you ?”

“Oh, no dears. I’m just fine. It’s not every day you see so many fine men in such well fitted suits you know,” she joked, clearly trying to make light of the intensity of the situation.

“You’re not wrong,” Nico laughed, seeing an opening and going for it, “I don’t know who is dressing all you guys, but they are on point .”

The man to the left of the entrance snorted and covered his face to hide his smile. Encouraged, Nico continued while holding her cheeks, “... and you’re all so tall! I don’t know who leaked my diary, but you guys have to stop pushing all my buttons!”

“Oh my god,” Maki groaned quietly as two more of the men joined in the first’s snickering.

“So tell me, boys. Have any of you heard of school idols?”




-----
-----




“... and THIS one? This is the number that got us our ticket to the Love Live!” Nico boasted, from her spot beside Moriko, who was now grinning ear-to-ear with pride. She clicked play on the official PV for Snow Halation and waited for the opening credits/disclaimers to finish rolling.

“I still can’t believe you wrote all of these, Nishikino-san,” praised Yamanada, the shortest of the guards (at a solid 180cm) to a thoroughly embarrassed Maki.

“Right!? She writes the music for all µ's productions. She’s the real deal. We’d totally be lost without her.”

“Nico-chan…” Maki whined, trying to make herself as small as possible and only enhancing her adorability.

“This is very impressive Ms. Nishikino,” the tall lead from earlier interjected, hovering behind Moriko, “Composing requires a significant amount of work and in these few videos you’ve proven yourself to be quite versatile. You know, my daughter has started dabbling and would find your story to be inspiring. You should be proud.”

Nico beamed, “That’s at the heart of what a school idol is all about! Inspiration! You hear that, Maki-chan? You’ve got a fan in France!”

The opening notes of the song began to play and all eight of the men huddled around the now thoroughly blushing Moriko’s monitor. Every single one of the previously stoic men’s faces were now devoid of shades and broad with smiles. Not even the dread aura of a high-powered Servant could withstand the full power of µ's music!

It was about mid-song before Nico realized that the door to Dr. Nishikino’s office had opened and two new faces had joined the semi-circle. One, a medium height lean gentleman wearing a soft orange version of the other men’s suits with chin-length blond hair, brilliant blue eyes, and a distantly pleased expression.

The other, taller, sharper looking man was clearly the Servant she’d detected earlier. Everything about the man was sharp. His eyes, brows, jaw, smile, and even the regal dark-purple suit was made of strong lines and distinguished symmetry. It was the smile that took Nico off guard. This heroic spirit, who had done who knows what from who knows when, was enjoying one of the best µ's songs yet and he looked… so happy.

That felt amazing.

Even more amazing was how Nico had noticed their arrival. Whatever oppressive aura the Servant had been exuding had disappeared completely. Music had soothed the savage beast. The song finished playing out before the man in orange made his presence known with polite applause and the Servant rumbling an approving, “Splendid. The marvels of this age never cease.”

Every single one of the eight men stumbled and staggered around trying to get back to attention as the man in orange laughed, “Indeed, my friend. It isn’t every day that I see our men so taken.”

He aimed his blue eyes Nico’s way and continued, “Your party has quite the pool of talent, Ms. Yazawa. Come, I would have a moment of your time.”

He turned back toward Dr. Nishikino’s office, seeming to assume the matter was already decided. The Servant smirked at this, offered Nico a shrug and followed the man in. Moments later, the Drs. Nishikino walked out, wide-eyed and obviously nervous.

“Sorry,” Nico offered in passing, putting out way more confidence than she knew she had any right in hopes of soothing her Servant’s nerves at the sight, “I’ll try to make this quick.”

She closed the door behind her and faced the affable, laid-back man and his devastatingly handsome Servant. The Master sat himself upon the edge of Dr. Nishikino’s desk, perfectly at ease with brushing the obstacles from his intended seat. After making certain he was comfortable, the man spoke, “Ms. Yazawa. First of all, congratulations on the incredible successes you have achieved thus far. Even before being selected as a Master, your triumphs despite your social station and circumstances have been nothing short of miraculous. You stand tall and you have earned every inch of your success.”

He flashed a smile as he continued, “Your departure from our community following the tragedy that took your Father was clearly a loss for us all. The proof of the ingenuity of your line and you specifically, is clearly one of the true prizes that this… event… has brought to light.”

He stood, which seemed strange for how carefully he had arranged his seat a moment earlier, “But forgive me. I get ahead of myself. My name is Adrian Harwey. My participation in this affair is somewhat of an accident, but a happy one I assure you. I was in the area specifically on business when the ritual began. I was caught entirely unaware as I, much like the magical community as a whole, had thought the Greater Grail beneath Fuyuki to be… no longer compatible with the intent of the ritual.”

He removed one of his gloves, because of course he was wearing gloves, revealing three intricate crimson brands. Command seals. “I have only recently returned to Tokyo to address the matter of this… ‘Holy Grail War,’ which until now has been a rather pleasant diversion. Never would I have thought to share words with one of the greatest strategic minds the world has ever known.”

“Harwey…” the Servant rumbled in warning, as if he knew what was coming.

“I know, I know, my friend. See, he would have us participate in this affair as it was intended, with all of it’s violence, blood, and madness. My original goal in coming to Tokyo was to avoid such wasteful pursuits, which brings me to the two matters I’d like to discuss with you.”

Well, he could certainly talk up a storm. Fortunately, Nico had been daydreaming about dealing with snobby types like this ever since she started considering the possibility of courting the younger Maki. She kept her stance relaxed and tried to exude that feeling to her anxious and still unmanifested Servant as she replied, “I’m happy to hear that. I’ve always preferred the magic of a song and a smile compared to the stories I grew up on.”

“Excellent,” Harwey clapped. Excitedly, he sat himself back on the desk’s edge and asked, “I expected no less. As I said, my original purpose was to prevent tragedy, not to create it. An unpleasant remnant of a more barbaric time recently broke into one of the more heavily protected research facilities of the Clock Tower and stole away with an artefact of presently unknowable potential. We have reason to believe that this thief is also the instigator of the newly awakened Greater Grail beneath Fuyuki.”

“The individual in question is of the disgraced name Matou. With the spotlight his actions have incurred, he is revealed to be Zouken Makiri. An intolerable existence that can no longer be regarded as human, nor has been in over a hundred years. This Grail War currently serves as both his final defiance in the face of God and our grand community, as well as the last moments where he may consider himself truly protected. No mortal can truly contest the power of a Servant summoned from the Throne, so any measures of repercussion must come following the events of this unfortunate event.”

The man pinned Nico with the first gaze of the conversation that was not conveyed lightly, “We have reason to believe that you may know something about this artefact, as the mockery of a man is seeking a girl matching your description.”

Nico swallowed, but stood at attention as he continued, “We have taken measures to lead his trail astray. You stand now because of allies you knew not of. Do not thank us though, as your fate will be decided by how you answer. Nico Yazawa. What did you take from the Matou estate, and what item did you use in the invocation of your Servant?”

Nico took a breath, immediately accepting that the only good option she had was honesty. “I... don’t know what the thing was. I assume it’s what he intended to use as a catalyst. It was an orb, about this big,” Nico pantomimed a basketball’s shape as she continued, “From the notes I found, he thought it was one of the most important parts for his plans, so it seemed the safest bet to make sure he didn’t have it. It hurt to look at and even touching it through the warded material I prepared made me nauseous. I performed the ritual with that… thing… the same night I stole it.”

Harwey stared, his expression shifting from serious to disbelieving as the story was told. After a few false starts, he asked, “You… you used… that … as a summoning catalyst?”

Nico nodded.

The man’s Servant looked confused as the man went through the five stages of grief no less than seven times in less than a minute. Silently, Nico felt Other Maki’s internalized laughter. Nico… just waited for the man to come to terms with reality and explain why this was a bad thing.

“I… but how did… hah… HA HA HA!!! Oh, that is... that is quite an interesting turn of events,” Harwey laughed, seeming to finally come around to an emotion to settle on, “I can only wonder at what marvel you’ve called forth… well then… I suppose this leads to a third question.”

He slid off the desk again and stepped closer, expression back to relaxed as he asked, “I trust you are aware of the progression of events surrounding a... “Holy Grail War,” yes? At the terminus, the victor is to receive the granting of a wish. A grail filled with the blood and souls of the vanquished, combined into the impossibility of imposing one’s will upon reality itself and being granted the offer of having reality bend at the knee to acquiesce to any whim.”

The man was only half a head taller than Eli, but he seemed like a tower as he stopped two paces from Nico. He pulled the previously removed glove from his pocket and slid his hand back in as he continued, “It would be modest to say that the Harwey family possesses the greatest collected fortune on this planet. There is no mortal thing that can be done that is beyond us… and as such, we would have that wish that Destiny has so clearly offered to me.”

Nico swallowed again as he continued, “We would honor your bravery and moxie by granting you any wish of your own that is within our extended mortal means… if you would only need relinquish your Servant, and your Seals, to me. Abandon this Devil’s game. Retire and make real the dreams of you and yours. There is no thing within your imaginings that we, the Harwey, would deprive you.

That… was not what Nico was expecting. The man’s presence was overpowering, and the offer… the offer was…

Papa had mentioned the Harweys in the past. Briefly. Wealth and power to the extent that they may as well be a worldwide shadow government. What little she’d heard was more than enough to accept that the offer was legitimate… and while magic always felt like a cheat, monetary resources were always the limiting factor in every dream she had sought. Money meant costumes, transportation, access. The ability to bypass chance and really take her destiny into her own hands… and make it entirely about the skill and performance that she knew they had in spades.

And...

… and it was impossible.

“That’s the thing,” Nico replied with a shrug, “the whole thing is busted. It can’t work… and Matou knows it.”

Nico held her hands out, focused and whispered, “ From without, from within. Retrieve.” A small sheaf of papers shimmered into existence which she offered to the man. He accepted, eyes curious as she continued, “Matou knows the system is broken. That thing is so corrupted that it just… can’t grant wishes anymore. It’s a monkey’s paw. He had it all detailed out here. I didn’t get enough to figure out what he’s really up to… but apparently the last grail war proved that the whole engine’s corrupted by some kind of… angry man? Something got inside and now trying to cash in at the end is a death sentence. You seem like a nice guy. You clapped for our song. I’d hate for that to happen to a fan.”

“May I take these with me?” the man asked, leafing through.

“Sure. I can’t make any more sense out of them. Keep us in the loop though?”

“Us?”

“I’m friends with other Masters. None of us want to be a part of this, but we’re holding on to our Servants for protection until this passes. We’ve already been attacked once.”

Harwey smiled, handing the papers to his Servant who also perused, and said, “Of course. We will be in touch… and thank you for your honesty. You could have profited immensely from my ambition and been none the worse for wear.”

I’d know what I did,” Nico protested, and the man smiled wider.

“I am almost afraid to ask, but… may I see what the artefact called forth? Your Servant? In good faith, I will properly introduce my own Servant, since there will be no war between us.”

Nico looked to where she knew Other Maki was waiting and asked aloud, “Are you okay with that?” As an answer, Maki shimmered into view, once more wearing her BiBi-esque attire, though the manacles had flattened out into far more tasteful bracers, necklaces, belts and anklets.

Both Harwey and his Servant stared openly. They looked at each other and were clearly in mid-telepathic-conversation as a myriad of expressions were shared and looks redirected. Finally, Harwey muttered, “Fascinating,” before clapping his hands and addressing Maki directly, “Are you… the Nishikino girl waiting in the next room?”

“Something like that,” she answered, “I am her future and she’s part of my past.”

“Your class?”

“Berserker.”

More confused brows and telepathic stealth-speak.

“It is... a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Ms. Nishikino. I see we have some interesting things to expect from you.”

Other Maki nodded warily.

Harwey continued, “My friend here is a man of more classic renown. The brilliant and frequently unjustly villainized Chinese Warlord, Chancellor of the Han Dynasty, and Champion of the People Tsao Tsao, representing the Saber class in this strange affair.”

The man rolled his eyes and nodded to Nico, “It is an adventure of a lifetime to enjoy the pleasures of this new world. I shall endeavor to attend a future event that you and your friends put on, Yazawa-san.”

Other Maki winced at the sheer volume of Nico’s internalized screaming, which was the only give-away as Nico nodded in return and replied, “The honor is ours and it’s a pleasure to meet you. I’ve been learning about you for about as far back as I can remember, so… yeah… I hope you’ll stick around a while. See the sights. You’re... pretty popular.”

Both men laughed hard , breaking whatever tension the moment may have held. Harwey stopping long enough to comment, “I forget how lacking the education in the West is regarding your renown, my friend. Truly, this land is far more appropriate to honor your achievements.”

“What little there is to honor,” the man replied, trying not to wheeze as he attempted to sober his reaction, “A job unfinished is no thing worth celebrating.”

Nico took a step back and looked to Maki for support. It was immediately given as she walked to her side and gave Nico something to lean against.

“I apologize, we mustn't keep you. You have given us a good many things to consider… and information to relay to associates at the Clock Tower,” Harwey smiled with a bow. He offered a card and added, “For your honesty in so delicate a subject, please consider yourself a friend of not just myself, but of the Harwey family. Your selflessness has safeguarded my life against my baser ambitions. We will be returning to Britain directly, but rest assured that we will be watching your progress closely. Let us know of any developments in this affair, and we will be in touch as soon as a plan to remove Zouken safely and effectively is decided upon.”

Nico accepted the card with a nod, not really knowing how else to react but with a simple, “Thank you. Let me know if there’s anything I can do in the meantime.”

“Shall we then?” Harwey asked looking to the legendary warlord.

“Absolutely. Again, it’s been a pleasure,” Tsao Tsao nodded with an austere smile.

Other Maki disapparated once more as the pair reached the door. The orange-clad Master smirked again upon finding his men once more engrossed in internet videos. They immediately rounded themselves up and set out, leaving two shell-shocked Nishikino parents, one still-thoroughly embarrassed present-time Maki, a flustered Moriko, and one Nico who was realizing she was starting to really feel the weight of the past few days but still had one more heavy conversation ahead of her.

“Is… anyone going to explain what’s going on?” younger Maki asked once it was clear the Harwey procession wasn’t coming back, clearly at her wits end. No rest for Nico.

“Actually,” her father replied, “I think we need to speak to your friend first.”

Ouch. That had to hurt. Nico really felt for her, as upon hearing those words the younger girl’s face scrunched up in the attempt to restrain some kind of emotion.

“Actually,” Maki ground out, shocking everyone in the room as she stomped up to Nico’s side. She forcefully grabbed Nico’s hand, turned to her parents and declared, “Nico-chan is my girlfriend .”

Dead. Silence. Nico took her turn in the headlights. Moriko dropped her pen.

“I’m not... interested... in...,” she faltered as both of her parents mimicked the other in pinching the bridge of their noses.

“We know, sweetheart,” her mother replied, “We’ve assumed you preferred women since you were ten.”

“Your near obsession with Osaki Nana was the first real give-away,” her father continued, “That said, we’re glad you came around on your own.”

“When you insisted on Otonokizaka over UTX, we figured the all-girls part may have been a component,” her mother smiled with a shrug.

“Though… we hadn’t known you’d already started dating … and a third year?” her father redirected, crossing his arms and seeming to reclaim his aura of authority.

“How long has this been going on?” her mother asked.

Maki’s hand had gone cold. Instead of the agitated fire Nico saw a moment ago, now there was only deflated, mortified horror. Nico squeezed the girl’s now slack hand and filled in, “Probably around an hour now.”

“... and now we really need to have a moment alone with her,” Maki’s father sighed, “... and then a talk with you . Moriko, if you could, please do not share any of tonight’s… revelations?”

“Of course not, Doctor,” Moriko whispered.

“Now then… if you would?” Maki’s father gestured to the office door, “We won’t keep you long.”

“It’s okay, Maki-chan,” Nico soothed when the girl refused to let go of her hand, and surprised herself with a sincere, “... and thanks for that. Really. You just answered a lot of questions for me.”

Maki nodded mutely, still hesitating to let go until her mother’s hand rested on her shoulder and pulled her into a hug. The cocktail of emotions from Other Maki was… almost dizzying at this point, so it was with no small relief that the stern-faced hospital director’s presence hurried Nico along into the office with the other Nishikino parent entering soon after.

“Have a seat, Nico,” the man rumbled, frowning at the cleared spot on his desk Adrian Harwey left behind.

“Actually… if you don’t mind, I’m going to keep standing. If I sit down, I think I might just pass out.”

Alarmed, he turned. “Are you okay? Are you feeling faint right now?” he asked, his training taking precedence over any other concerns.

“No, just exhausted. It’s been a long couple of days and… a lot has happened.”

“That’s understandable… you have been fueling a Servant and if I remember your records correctly, your mana generation capacity is less than your Father’s.”

Oh. Right. Papa came here for his medical care. She’d also somehow forgotten that Maki’s parents were mages, despite that being one of the main reasons she’d come out here to begin with. She was tired.

“Yeah… it’s been rough. She’s kind of a glutton.”

Other Maki’s bristling indignation renewed Nico’s smile, giving her the strength to take the initiative, “That’s actually part of why I’m here. It sounds like you already know what’s going on with the… grail war thing. I’ve had a lot to catch up on since I haven’t done or talked about anything magicky with anyone since before Papa… since that happened. He never told me much… so I didn’t think anyone else in the area even knew about this stuff.”

“Did you tell Maki any of this?” Maki’s mother asked.

“No. Thankfully, someone else told me how you guys are handling that with her. That’s part of why she’s so confused. We had to run away from another Servant right before coming here, but she didn’t see anything weird. As far as I know, the only magic she still believes in is Santa.”

Maki’s father sighed, “Thank you for that… though given current events I’m starting to question that stance.”

Maki’s mother, her name badge displaying Dr. Nishikino Kyoko, added, “Later. I assume you came in hopes that we could help somehow?”

“If nothing else than to help me keep Maki-chan out of this. This is dangerous stuff… and I don’t want her anywhere near it.”

“We are in agreement on that,” Nishikino Takase sighed, “... but that may prove impossible now.”

Kyoko nodded in agreement, “If she’s stubborn enough now to boldly admit to her relationship with you, then it would be futile to try and keep her away… without dramatic measures, that is.”

“... and we assume that’s not what anyone here wants,” Takase added, “Our little girl has been fawning over you for most of the school year. We’d wondered when she’d try something like this, and we’re disinclined to discourage it. You work hard. You’ve inspired her to pursue her personal interests in addition to her responsibilities, rather than to shirk either. You would have insight, acceptance, and understanding of the presence of magic in her life. Really, we had hoped it would be either you or the Sonoda girl that she eventually confided her heart in.”

Nico leaned heavily on the previously offered chair, “This… I’m glad. Wow. I really didn’t see this going this way…”

“How do you feel about her?” Kyoko asked, taking a seat on the cleared desk spot and earning a pout from her husband, “Since we’re on the subject. High school romances rarely last long, but I can tell that my daughter is particularly invested in you. Far beyond the mutual interest in making this idol group of yours work. Her feelings have been quite clear, even if she thinks she’s been subtle.”

“We’re… mutual,” Nico confirmed, “I wish this wouldn’t have started in the middle of this grail war thing, but I’m also kind of glad. It made me face my feelings… and stop being a coward with her.”

“Which brings us back to your current issue and the main reason we called you back here,” Takase rumbled, “What business does Yazawa Nico have with a Harwey?”

“He was in town when the ritual started. The big guy he was with was his Servant. He knew about me being a Master too because of how I got my summon catalyst.”

Kyoko rubbed her eyes and sighed, “I’m so sorry, Nico. I know you’ve had a long day, but could you catch us up?”

“Sure. My Command Seals popped up. I asked Mama what they were. I break out Papa’s old records, found where the abandoned homes of previous Masters were, went snooping around, found that Matou is still in town, snooped more, stole some things he had big bad plans for, and used one of those things to call my Servant. No idea how Harwey-san knew.”

“Is anyone else involved as far as you know?” Takase asked, anxious.

“Eli’s a Master. She’s got a Caster. Nozomi was tapped by the Church to represent for them. Umi’s letting me stay with her since I don’t want to chance this following me home to Mama and the kids. Kotori and Honoka apparently know about all this stuff, and Nozomi’s home got blown up by an Archer a few hours ago.”

“Oh!!” Kyoko gasped, “Is she…?”

“Sad. Lost most of her stuff. Physically fine. My Servant protected us and chased them off.”

“Is your Servant… strong enough to protect our dear Maki as well?” Kyoko asked.

“That’s… a complicated question,” Nico sighed, “My Servant is a Berserker… and like you said, I’m not an A+ mana battery. I know she’d fight to protect her as hard as I would… but I’ve already passed out twice in the past two days trying to keep her going. Number three’s comin’ up soon if I don’t get to bed before much longer.”

“What I was hoping,” Nico continued, “Was that you might be able to help me out somehow. Nothing will hurt Maki-chan as long as I can move, but if you could… I don’t know… magic, doctor, or science me up some better mana generation, I’d… really appreciate it.”

“It’s impossible to graft additional magic circuits into you without a donor,” Takase rumbled, “... and the process would be traumatic for both parties. They’re not exactly common to come across.”

“... and expansion of those circuits isn’t something that would help much if you’re being drained as quickly as you can generate,” Kyoko commented, “Are there any outside resources available to your Servant?”

“She has these little machines that pump out this liquid moonlight stuff that’s really the only reason I’m still alive. I’ve probably downed a couple of liters of the stuff by now and it’s like a quintuple-shot espresso. Unfortunately, there’s only so much she can make per night, and the other Servants have been kind of aggressive.”

“May we… speak with your Servant?” Takase asked carefully, “If it’s capable. I’ve read that Berserkers are… difficult to communicate with.”

Somehow, with how crazy things had been, it just now occurred to Nico why Other Maki was so anxious about the current situation. The reason was so obvious that the guilt for putting her in such a difficult situation slammed home all at once.

‘It’s alright. This is a good thing,’ her mostly silent Servant telepathically assured, somehow coming across as very uncertain.

Nico turned to her, though she still wasn’t sure how she was able to detect where the woman was standing when she had no physical form, and silently asked, ‘Are you up to this?’

“Is there something wrong?” Kyoko asked, confused at the wait.

“Sorry, we can talk telepathically,” Nico explained, “This is… kind of a complicated situation and I wanted t’make sure she was alright with talking to you.”

“Oh? Is she… shy?” Kyoko asked tentatively.

“No,” Other Maki replied aloud, shimmering into existence, “Not anymore anyway. Hi Mama… Papa.”

Twin gasps preceded twin covering of mouths. Nico felt inclined to gasp as well… gone was the rough and dangerous Servant incarnation of her best friend/crush. Other Maki looked more at peace and serene than even Nozomi normally managed to pull off. The odd golden jewelry/bracers remained, but the BiBi black and chain dress was now flowing white cloth passing her knees and lace accentuating the subtlety of her curvature. Bared legs with only the golden anklets to accentuate her ankles and a single white flower pinned to her hair finished the look that made her, without a doubt, the most naturally, heartbreakingly graceful being Nico had ever seen.

Even through the exhaustion of the day, Nico’s heart ached as she watched the woman her girlfriend may someday become cross the distance and embrace her mother, shushing and whispering, “It’s okay… everything is okay… I’m so glad that you’re here.” At seeing Maki’s father’s expression, tears made a surprise appearance down Nico’s cheeks, mirroring his. He staggered to his feet, composure completely forgotten as he rushed to join the meeting that Nico still couldn’t believe she hadn’t considered.

Maki continued to try and shush away the half-formed whys and hows, overriding them with quiet whispers of, “Don’t worry about that right now.”

It took her father far longer to calm his sobbing which, if the empathetic emanations Nico was riding said anything, meant the world to Maki. She broke the long silence that followed with, “So… as you can see, I’m going to do my best to protect your daughter.”

Kyoko laughed, encouraging Other Maki to continue, “... and she’s picked a very good person to entrust her heart to. I… want to fill you in on more later, but my future wife over there is barely standing at this point. Once I have her secured back at the Sonoda’s I’d be happy to answer all of your questions.”

“I’d… like that,” Takase assured before turning toward Nico and continuing, “... and you , young lady… I guess… welcome to the family?”

Nico finally gave in to the desire to sit down, renewing Kyoko’s laughter who walked to give the weary Yazawa a hug, “Yes. It sounds like we will be having a very different conversation than most parents put their child’s first romantic partner through.”

“Whatever it is,” Nico replied, returning the unexpected gesture, “She’s worth it. Both of her.”

“Look at you, trying to be smooth,” Other Maki teased, flicking a pen at the girl’s forehead as her mother pulled away.

“Maki!” Kyoko scolded, intentionally keeping her voice low, “Don’t treat your partner that way!”

“I need a drink,” Takase groaned.

“Sorry Mama,” Other Maki grinned, not looking apologetic in the least, “Are you doing okay over there?”

“I think you called it. It’s… been a long couple of days, it’s crazy late, and… I totally forgot to tell Umi where we went ,” Nico replied, becoming more frantic as her answer went on.

As her Servant filled Maki’s parents in on Nico’s contact details, the girl herself was scrambling for her phone to finally send a notice. One look told her that her Line was… well…

LoveArrow.Sonoda: What did I tell you?

LoveArrow.Sonoda: I’m fairly certain I specifically requested that you not go off on your own!!

LoveArrow.Sonoda: Are you trying to get yourself killed!?

LoveArrow.Sonoda: Where are you?

LoveArrow.Sonoda: You had better hope that Servant of yours is rested upon your return. Her services will be required the next time I see you.

LoveArrow.Sonoda: Nico. I am a patient woman, but so help me…

LoveArrow.Sonoda: If I don’t hear back from you the instant you see these, there will be repercussions.

LoveArrow.Sonoda: Eli says you haven’t been in touch with them, but that there’s a Servant in the vicinity of the station.

LoveArrow.Sonoda: Two Servants.

LoveArrow.Sonoda: … Please be safe.

LoveArrow.Sonoda: Come in the rear entrance. I’ll be waiting for you to restrain the seals upon your return. I’ve sent Honoka and Kotori to bed.

RedBean.Samurai: You’d better get back soon Nico-chan! Umi’s gonna let you have it!

LoveArrow.Sonoda: Honoka. This is a group chat. I can see your comments.

LoveArrow.Sonoda: Go. To. Bed.

RedBean.Samurai: I’m in bed!

Mina.Minamicchi: She is in bed! *^o^*

LoveArrow.Sonoda: Don’t make me come in there.

RedBean.Samurai: I’m not afraid of Umi-Umi-Uuu~

Mina.Minamicchi: Uh oh… I think you’re in for it now!!

The conversation went on, but Nico left it for now. Other Maki was wrapping things up with the Nishikino parents and she really was too tired to deal with adorable second-year shenanigans. Besides, Maki-chan’s mother was coming back over.

“Thank you for coming to us with this. We’ll get the rest of the details from her while you sleep. Is there anything else you need from us?”

Honestly, Nico couldn’t even remember what she’d come to ask for in the first place. She shook her head and said, “Just let me know what you’re okay with Maki-chan knowing. I want to keep her separated from this… but… if it’s okay with you two, I’d like to also spend some time with her… what with me being in love with her and us just starting to date.”

“A Nishikino and a Yazawa… won’t that cause a stir,” the woman mused before replying, “Just promise you’ll be careful. We’ll have a better idea after we hash out the details with… our older daughter?”

“Pfft,” Other Maki laughed as she tried to console her father’s renewed blubbering.

“Cool. Cool,” Nico replied, hitting the wall energy-wise.

“Would you like to go home with her tonight? Spend the night?” Takase offered, wiping away the evidence and immediately igniting an eighth wind in the young Yazawa.

“Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh,” Nico began, wide-eyed, “Nico is a decisive girl, but some things deserve to be taken slow…”

Kyoko’s laughter began again, this time mirrored by Other Maki as Takase covered his face and explained, “This has been a hard night for her. I’ve known you to be a friend to her before anything else. She could probably use that tonight… and besides, it would give us the opportunity to catch up with… her future self.”

Kyoko added, “Besides, you look like you’re far too tired for any mischief.”

Takase chipped in with, “Not that there’d be any harm in that either, as long as you’re both respectful of each other’s boundaries.”

Now Nico was covering her face, groaning, “Again. Not how I saw this going.”

“I’ll make sure nothing bad happens,” assured her Servant, “Though… I’d recommend you two have the magic talk with little Maki sooner than later. That is, if you want to have any control of that situation. The war just started. Things are going to get worse before they get better.”

“We’ll be home around two. Can we trust you to at least see her home?” Kyoko asked poor weary Nico.

“Sure. No problem there. You want me to send her in first? Get any words in before you send me out at her mercy?” Nico sighed.

“If you wouldn’t mind… we’d like some say in how this all plays out.”

“Cool,” Nico thumbed up, “That’ll lemme call Umi and let her know a little of what’s what.”

“We’ll… try to make it quick,” Takase assured, “You look beat.”

“Thank you Mama, Papa,” Other Maki chirped, dancing over to peck each on the cheek and assuring, “I’ll be waiting for you!” before disappearing again.

“... Professional assessment accepted. Nico Nii is Nico outie~” Nico rose, bowing with a theatrical flourish, and turning back to the door with a, “... and I’m looking forward to maybe calling you two Mama and Papa too, someday.”

Without waiting for a reply, Nico opened the door, surprising Moriko and a drowsy present-time Maki who seemed to have been busy fretting over her phone.

“You’re up, buttercup,” Nico waved lazily. She waited by the door, feeling very devil-may-care as the girl collected herself and made her way over. Before she let her pass, however, she laid a hand on her shoulder. The look on Maki’s face was apprehension and annoyance, familiar expressions, but comfortable ones. Nico smiled in reply before adding, “You’ve made Nico very happy today… you’re the absolute best,” and leaning in to press a chaste kiss on her lips… right in front of her parents.

“See you in a few,” Nico promised, nudging the shell-shocked girl in and winking at the receptionist as she walked to take the redhead’s former seat. She plopped in, pulled out her phone, and got to responding to poor Umi’s concerned messages to the soundtrack of Other Maki’s uproar of telepathic laughter.




Matou Residence



“So the Nishikino are involved…”

“That’s right… and we’ve identified their guest as Adrian Harwey.”

The hunched skeletal man frowned, “I suppose that does present an added complication.”

“He is also a Master. He seemed to be confident enough to admit to his Servant’s class and identity.”

“Of course he would,” the man mused, hobbling back to his chair by the fireplace, “The Harwey are nothing if not confident. For the first time, I am more hesitant about the Master than I am the Servant.”

As he sat, a short figure in a dark hakama materialized. The fire’s glow reflecting warmly against his dark red hair as he assured in the humblest of tones, “Master. Rest assured that this one will cut down any who stand in your way.”

“Tch, could be any more generic?” the old man grumbled before turning back to the younger man, “Given the current spread, that would only leave the Harwey boy the Saber of this game?”

“Yes sir,” the man replied, “By his own admission, he’s called Tsao Tsao himself to the field.”

“And what of the Yazawa girl?”

“She appeared at the hospital with a classmate. We’re still working on their identity. She does, indeed have a Servant, though. Harwey left shortly after Yazawa arrived and we had to pull out before we could learn any more. His entourage was… thorough.”

“A wise decision. The Harwey are one family we do not need involved in this. See if you can’t sabotage their flight back… be cautious though.”

The Servant pipped in, “Would you like for this one to handle this task?”

“You lack the subtlety. No, you’re talents will be put to use after the lion has departed. Since the Iida girl’s Archer failed to prevent the Ayase child from summoning her own Servant, I know exactly how I plan to make use of the Hitokiri Battousai…”



To be continued….

 



Information Matrix (UPDATED)

Some statistical values currently unavailable due to lack of context.
All information only pertains to what has currently been revealed. Additional information will be added as it becomes available. Intel primarily relevant to the Fate application of the crossover, most Love Live canon pre-Snow Halation is applicable.

Updated information will be listed in bold.


Master: Yazawa Nico
Magic style: Stealth and Skullduggery

Servant: Berserker
True Name: Nishikino Maki
Noble Phantasm: Unidentified. May be unavailable due to “system incompatibility.”
Special Attributes: (C) Mad Enhancement, (A+) Mana Distilling, (C) Magical Construct Absorption, (A++) Supernal-Level Martial Arts (??) Cat Mode

Bio:

The combined consciousness of numerous incarnations of Nishikino Maki. It is currently unknown how she grew from a µ's member and songwriter to a hero worthy of preserving in the Throne.

Notes:
- Supplements lacking mana resources (Nico’s diminutive magic circuits) via distilled moonlight. This resource, when consumed by a human, supplies an incredible mana infusion. No current drawbacks have been observed outside of a hyped ‘caffeine buzz.’ Apparently, up to seven of these flasks can be filled in the course of a clear night, each with its own distillery unit. Caster rightfully expressed confusion that a Berserker would be capable of the operation of such delicate instruments.

- Claims to be a “big deal” but as her accolades and accreditation into the Throne are from  events that have not happened yet, there is no means of verifying. Given that her fame is in its infancy and unrelated to her heroic exploits, the related effect that acclaim has on a Servant’s power should be interesting to observe.

- Claims to recall numerous reincarnation cycles, including several occurring after the existence that granted her a place in the Throne. This is at odds with known lore regarding the system and additional research is required to verify.

- Claims that her Master’s mana to personal energy ratios are unbalanced due to Throne save state updates coming from incompatible saturation levels from post current universe existences. Try saying that three times fast. Yeesh. This claim is supported by the catalyst used to summon her, an unidentifiable orb of mass/energy that was previously under research at the Tower.

- Functioning at a vastly lower capacity due to her Master’s weak magical resources pairing with previously mentioned incompatibility.

- The traditional Berserker Mad Enhancement effect is greatly diminished due to the personally relevant bond between her and her Master. Being literally bound to one of the people that made her happiest in life and surrounded by the others serves as a balm, diminishing the madness effect but also diminishing the power gain that comes with it.

- Mental stability seems to be diminishing as multiple lives worth of information contaminates what she understands to be real. Impulse control continues to weaken as the Mad Enhancement struggles to apply itself into the double-edged sword it was intended to be. This effect is primarily held at bay due to Maki’s obsessive desire to protect her Master, particularly from herself.

- Caster has suggested that both her status as a Berserker and a Servant in general are in question, though currently no other source has substantiated this claim.

- “Cat Mode” appears to be a berserker state where the Servant’s mental capacities are limited to those of a basic house cat, only paired with a fierce protectiveness and incredible martial skill. It is currently unknown what causes this to activate or deactivate.

- Ammunition from Archer was drawn in and absorbed, converted back into mana which helped to diminish the drain on Nico, if only momentarily.


Master: Ayase Eli
Magic style: Physical Augmentation and Endurance

Servant: Caster
True Name: ??
Noble Phantasm: ??
Special Attributes: (B) Wide-Scale Charms and Illusion

Notes:
- Her clothing is beyond humble, her demeanor and hair suggest a venerable age, and her face is somehow masked in a way that while expressions can be read, one can not truly recall any specific facial features.

- Has made several food related references to the girls around her.

- Utilized glamours and charms to redirect attention from Nozomi’s ruined apartment, suggesting their magic focuses on the subtler arts.

- Has displayed great domestic affection for her Master and for Nozomi, going so far as to claim Nozomi as a daughter she’s never had.


Master: Tsubasa Kira
Magic style: Illusion and Glamours

Servant: ??
True Name: ?? (currently known as Dummy or Dumb-Dumb)
Noble Phantasm:??

 

Notes:
- A tall, muscular yet lanky and easy-going man. Notable features include copious amounts of body hair, tightly cropped top and facial hair, a red cape, and a crown adorned with two very long feathers.

- Tsubasa claims to have gotten very lucky, suggesting that her Servant is of an excellent caliber.

- Seems to enjoy the prospect of hand-to-hand fighting.

 


Master: Matou Zouken
Magic style: Binding/Absorption and Insect Control

Notes:
- Patriarch of one of the three founding families that, with the cooperation of the Tohsaka and Einzbern, created the system that enables the Fuyuki Holy Grail War. It is assumed that he is the instigator of the current event.

- Somehow obtained Maki’s catalyst, an impossible orb of indeterminate matter/energy that was last seen under heavy surveillance and scrutiny at the Tower. How this orb came into being or it’s connection to Nishikino Maki remains to be seen. This item was not originally intended to be utilized as a summon catalyst. It’s original use in Zouken’s plans are currently unknown.

-=Classified Information=- Zouken is an ancient magus that previously went under the family name of Makiri. As the family valued absorptive capacity more than legitimate magical circuits, the family’s magical capacity declined to the point where their latest heir, Matou Shinji, was born without magical circuits of his own, effectively terminating the line’s magic potential. This lack was compensated for by utilizing various methods, some resembling torture, that would carve that potential and capacity into the body.

The family traditionally utilizes a specific variety of worm to accomplish this though, after the failure of the Second Fuyuki Grail War, Zouken has taken matters into his own hands and has started employing techniques he had allowed the world to forget. He is extremely dangerous and one of the oldest living humans on the planet, assuming he can still be counted among their number.


Servant: Assassin
True Name: ??
Noble Phantasm:??

Notes:

- Referred to as Hitokiri Battousai. The term Hitokiri, literally translating into manslayer, or man cutter, is a title that was originally given to four samurai in the Bakumatsu era of Japan’s history. The Four Hitokiri of the Bakumatsu, Kawakami Gensai, Kirino Toshiaki, Tanaka Shinbei, and Okata Izo were considered unconquerable forces of nature, incapable of being defeated by mortal men. They lent their incomparable skill to the the cause of overthrowing the Tokugawa Shogunate.

- None of these four men were referred to specifically as ‘Hitokiri Battousai’, so it is unlikely that Assassin’s true identity lies among their number.

- Further evidence of the Fuyuki Greater Grail’s corruption, this Servant is not one of the nineteen Hassan-i-Sabbah, and would not traditionally be considered viable for the Assassin class. This could be due to this Servant’s traditional class, Saber, was already being assumed by a Servant that became active earlier.

Servant: Archer (Taken from Iida Kaori)
True Name: ??
Noble Phantasm: ??
Special Attributes: (B) Wolf familiars


Notes:

- Utilizes twin crossbows, explosives, and hunters traps.

- Accompanied by two wolves, one a three-meter at the shoulder black wolf, the other a five-meter silver.

- Wears a red cape and cowl. Appears to be a female white european roughly fourteen years of age. Exceptionally frail in appearance.

 

- Servant is still active and apparently is now working for Zouken Matou.



Master: Adrian Harwey
Magic style: ????

Notes:
- The Harwey name belongs to an elite plutocratic family that has played both sides of the mortal/mage world, accumulating enormous wealth, power, and influence through both social spheres. This effort had been done in secret for generations, only recently becoming a more public takeover of business and humanitarian interests. Little is known of their reach, or their family’s magical capabilities and achievements, as most patents and movements are handled through shell corporations and proxies.

- The name alone commands respect from all players that are aware of their significance. Zouken suggests that a Servant would be easier to deal with than the Harwey Conglomerate.


Servant: Saber
True Name: Tsao Tsao (Cao Cao)
Noble Phantasm: ???
Special Attributes: (C) Aura of Authority

Bio:

The legendary Chinese warlord, the second to last Chancellor of the Eastern Han Dynasty, and one of the most important figures in the Three Kingdoms period, Tsao Tsao was a brilliant ruler and military genius who was posthumously honored as the Emperor Wu of Wei. His achievements are too numerous to note here, but include the defeat and execution of the legendary Lu Bu, the defeat of the Liu Bei in the Xu Province which included the capture of Guan Yu, the focus of agriculture and education in the regions that he conquered, and the unpretentious yet profound poetry that he penned.

In the time following his demise, he was frequently portrayed as a villain in operas which would go on to inspire his portrayal in the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. While there have been attempts to reverse this trend, he is so entrenched in popular culture as a villain, that the Chinese equivalent of the term, “Speak of the Devil,” is “Speak of Cao Cao and Cao Cao arrives.”


Notes:
- He thought µ's performance of Snow Halation was pretty spiffy.



Master: Iida Kaori (Retired)
Magic style: Charms/Enhancement

Servant: Archer (Taken by Matou Zouken)





Authors Notes:

Welp. That happened.

This was a pretty long and fairly heavy chapter, with a few names and plot points that I wouldn’t recommend googling unless you are really interested. The information matrix is there to help fill in a base understanding that should be considered common knowledge for the reader, even though I know a few of you probably groaned or slapped their knee and started pointing all, “Oh no they didn’!”

I kept feeling like I wasn’t giving enough time to each of the events. Even now. Still, I really wanted the chapter to get to the point where it did, so… I hope it was worth the wait!

I’m having a lot of fun with this. I really want to write more action scenes. Like, at least one or two per chapter moving forward, but really that’s only if it makes sense for it to be there. We’ve definitely hit the point where there’s bound to be some heavier clashes. All but one of the Servants, Lancer, has appeared. Fingers crossed that there’s more of that liquid moonlight if our girl’s gonna make it through this.

Also. Poor Maki-chan. Seriously.

Chapter Text

Previously, on Berserker:

Wow, a lot sure is happening all at once!

It turns out the only members of µ's that didn’t know about magic were the first years! Honoka and Kotori have been in on the secret even though Nico is pretty sure that’s against the rules or something! Now they’re in on the big Servant secret too and think it’s perfectly fine to make fun of their poor senpai!

If that wasn’t enough, Nico’s earlier flirting was too strong for poor sweet current-time Maki-chan. Nico’s phone was all blown up with tear-stained confessions and proclamations of love! It’s so hard to be this popular… but for Maki-chan, Nico may make an exception~ <3

That’s right! Maki-chan gets exclusive secret kissy-face action with yours truly!

As if keeping all this magicky magic a secret from her wasn’t hard enough, our late-night-liaison gets interrupted by a Servant attack, her parent’s hospital gets swarmed by a hoity-toity magical plutocrat’s personal men-in-black dance squad, and Nico gets called out by not only Maki’s parents… but the rich guy himself… who is a Master… whose Servant is freaking Tsao Tsao .

… Nico needs some more magical moon coffee. This day really needs to end!


~*~*~*~Until we get a break...~*~*~*~
    ~*~*~*~Nico Nico Niii!~*~*~*~

<Cue the Opening Credits!>



Berserker
Episode 5: Ignition



Yazawa Nico


Oh man, did Umi let her have it.

LoveArrow.Sonoda: What did I tell you?

LoveArrow.Sonoda: What did I JUST tell you!?

Which, of course Nico knew she deserved.

2MakeUNico: Nico didn’t do it alone! Maki-chan was out there alone and sad and I had to go!

LoveArrow.Sonoda: You couldn’t take five seconds to let us know where you went… or even why!?

LoveArrow.Sonoda: You are making it very difficult to try and help you, you know that?

RedBean.Samurai: You better watch out Nico-chan! Umi’s face is all red!

Sure, Other Maki might be telepathically laughing up a storm and Nico might be still gliding on Cloud 9 from her new no-holding-back lifestyle… but that didn’t quite take the bite out of upsetting her friend.

LoveArrow.Sonoda: Are you okay now? Should we expect you?

Especially since that friend was going massively out of her way, at great personal risk, to give Nico a shot at surviving this whole thing.

2MakeUNico: I’d try, but I need to walk Maki-chan home. We are at her parent’s hospital. We’re fine, but things are weird and different. Her parents know everything. Some guy named Harwey was here. He’s a Master. He’s got a Saber. It’s Tsao Tsao.

2MakeUNico: Lucky me, he doesn’t wanna fight and he seems like an O.K. guy.

2MakeUNico: By the time I get to Maki-chan’s, I’ll probably have burned through my fifteenth wind… and I can’t keep running off flask magic forever. Nico needs her beauty sleep. <3

2MakeUNico: … and I’m sorry. I just panicked when I thought of her out there alone with all these scary Servants flying around. We actually got her out of there just before one showed up. She’s still in the dark about all this. Her parents want to keep it that way too.

The wait that followed was concerning. Apprehension that only spiked further into Nico’s exhausted good mood as Honoka’s next message popped up.

RedBean.Samurai: Hey, is everything okay? Umi-chan just got really pale and ran out!

Come on … this day was long enough as it was! All Nico wanted to do was close her eyes and let the seductive allure of unconsciousness have its way with her. She’d had enough emotional whiplash lately without this stupid Grail War thingie to last her a year. With? She was wiped.

Not much longer now,’ Other Maki telepathically assured, still unseen and radiating contentment. That empathetic overlap wasn’t really helping Nico’s coherency issues. When the next message set her phone vibrating, she jolted back to sitting up straight.

LoveArrow.Sonoda: Yazawa. This is Umi’s father. Are you in a safe place?

The idea of Umi’s dad being behind the LoveArrow handle was strangely funny, so Nico felt goofy enough to tap back, [Safe as anywhere else I guess. I’m in the Nishikino Hospital’s Director’s office waiting room, waiting for Maki, normal Maki, to come out so I can escort her home.]

LoveArrow.Sonoda: Their home is well warded, and your Servant will be with you. Did you catch the name of the Harwey Master?

Ah. Right. Mister big deal guy. Accepting this as the reason for Umi’s father’s sudden textual appearance, Nico confirmed the name Adrian Harwey and that Tsao Tsao ‘was a surprisingly handsome and nice guy!’

LoveArrow.Sonoda: Should we expect you to be coming back home tomorrow?

2MakeUNico: If I’m still welcome. I feel bad for bolting like I did.

LoveArrow.Sonoda: Your dedication to your friends is admirable, but please keep in mind that this is a dire situation.

LoveArrow.Sonoda: House Sonoda has decided to stand with you in this. My daughter has committed to the cause of your survival more fiercely than any I’ve before seen.

LoveArrow.Sonoda: I am returning the phone to her now. I would very much like to speak with your Servant at her earliest convenience.

Nico couldn’t restrain a few wheezy giggles at the image of Umi’s enormous father poking at his daughter’s phone. What was with all these girls and their gigantic dads? Papa wasn’t anywhere near the titanic size these men were.

LoveArrow.Sonoda: Sorry about that. I’m going to let you go for the night, but if possible I’d like to meet with you on the roof before class.

2MakeUNico: <3 <3~Nico feels so popular~<3 <3 I’ll be there.

2MakeUNico: Have fun with your sleepover ~.^ Hopefully Nico can come to play tomorrow!~

LoveArrow.Sonoda: Please be careful. We’ll see you tomorrow.

Interpersonal crisis diverted. Maybe. Probably.

Umi’s not mad at you, you dip ,’ Other Maki assured. For some reason Nico could almost feel that the noncorporeal Servant was lounging in the seat next to her… however that worked, ‘She loves you just like everyone else does.’

Nico flashed her a weary smile before slumping back in her chair. Phone in pocket, eyelids bearing the weight of the world, the short senior yawned and closed her eyes… just until Maki finished whatever was going on with her parents…

 


Assassin



Three women. All magical. Two mortals and a Servant. The task was appalling. Distasteful… but an order from his Master. Incorporeal and undetectable, cold steel drew over his soul as it always did when the task required it.

At a glance, the woman of middle height, blond hair, and foreign features was clearly the Master. Relatively fit, but still as soft as any civilian in this strange futuristic age. The shortest, yet most robust, was clearly important to both, given the way they were doting on her. The Servant was a Caster. Critically weak against his blade in the bizarre class balance system he found himself in, but still worthy of caution and respect.

Rather, she would be, if any of the three were even slightly aware of their impending deaths.

Silent in heart, the Hitokiri Battousai approached. Intended motion and potential counters for reactions flitting behind invisible yellow eyes. The initial strike, an iaido draw that would separate the head of the Master from her body would certainly shock the one with purple hair into inaction. The Servant, deprived of its mana resource, would be momentarily disoriented by the disconnect. A kick to the Servant’s sternum, capitalizing on the inertia of the draw, would create the distance and increased delay that would grant the time needed to change his grip on his blade and drive it through the purple-haired girl’s throat.

A simple three stage sequence, not dissimilar from numerous encounters during the revolution… and that had been before he held the power inherent of being a Servant. His hand rested on the handle of his blade, his noncorporeal form flowing into his ready stance, but was interrupted at the critical moment. A heightening of energy not two blocks from their position. All four in the alley which led to the Kanda Catholic Church turned their heads in unison toward the surge.

The final summoning.

Silently as he came, the Assassin slipped away from the three targets to send a telepathic warning, ‘ Master. The final Servant is being summoned two blocks from this one’s position. Should this attack be redirected?

Almost instantly, his Master replied, ‘ Yes. I’d have preferred to claim another for myself, but the drain of two Servants is already more than anticipated. Archer’s services will not be required this time. Take care of them.

Both?

Whatever removes the Servant from play. Use your discretion, but be swift.

Master, ’ the Assassin confirmed, vaguely relieved that the event began when it did. The three targets had scurried into the Church after some loud protesting from the Servant, unaware that they’d been saved by the barest of moments.



Toujou Nozomi


“You know what, I think I’m just going to wait outside.”

Nozomi was relieved as Eli turned the same incredulous look her Servant’s way.

“... I’d really prefer you come in with us,” Eli replied firmly, exercising remarkable restraint given how anxious the tell-tale pulse of energy had made them all.

“What’s wrong?” Nozomi prompted, hoping to bypass a clash of wills.

“A lovely girl like yourself must understand,” Caster hedged, her body language far clearer than her expression thanks to whatever identity-protecting glamour was in place, “Our kind do not customarily fare well in the company of those who serve the conqueror God. The thought of taking refuge in his house makes my skin crawl.”

Eli stared back in confusion… which made sense given her background. Nozomi laid a hand on her shoulder and replied, “I’m the one they contacted to officiate the ritual. I’ve met the clergy here and they’re fine enough people. I’m sorry, but for now we really need to be off the street.”

“I know that,” Caster huffed, crossing her arms and pouting, “... but I still don’t like it.”

“I’ll make it up to you somehow,” Eli assured, rapping on the door after it proved to be locked.

“I’ve got this,” Nozomi stepped in, pulling a key from her bag that had been part of her care package from the Church. Sure enough, the key fit and the three quickly shuffled in. Caster… did not look happy but they were inside, the door was locked behind them, and despite recently seeing just how effective walls were against Servants, she and Eli both seemed to feel relieved.

“... is it just us then?” Caster asked, eyeing the decor anxiously.

“For tonight,” Nozomi assured, “The Sisters and the rest of the staff were told to keep away outside of normal service hours. Normally, most mages will wait until late in the day to avoid overexposure…”

“Sweetheart,” Caster chided, “They blew a hole in the side of your apartment building. I think that whoever this person is, they aren’t worried about things like appearances.”

“I agree,” Eli added as she pressed further in, “Given what we know about the one that re-enabled the Grail, it may be best to assume the normal conventions will be ignored. What comes with being the Church’s representative then? Can you… I don’t know, put sanctions on them? Any penalties at all?”

Nozomi’s spirits tanked once more, “No… from what I read, it looks like even a real church rep wouldn’t have any real power in the ritual one way or the other.”

“Then… how are you supposed to officiate?” Eli began, looking more bewildered by the second as Caster stepped in.

“Their job isn’t to officiate. It’s to skew the outcome. Play the members against one another so no one with a wish that could be at odds with their faith… and to see if it is indeed the real Holy Grail,” Caster grumbled, “Which they know this isn’t.”

“It isn’t?!” Eli asked, even more confused and leaning heavily on a pew.

“How d’you know about this?” Nozomi asked, wide-eyed. She hadn’t even shared those critical documents with Umi.

“Because, despite my being called through the Throne, my lovely little witch,” Caster continued, “I am nothing worthy of being recorded there. Whatever rests beneath Fuyuki, it no longer resembles the Grail it was intended to be. It’s corruption has tainted the ritual on a fundamental level.”

“Who are you then?” Eli asked, hesitantly, “... and how could it call you if you’re not a hero?”

Despite the glamour, Caster’s expression was clearly viciously amused, “That gaping maw only seeks power now. It realized it prefers to gobble us up without granting its reward… so anyone would do. Think of the Throne as a clever sieve, attuned to the purest morals of humanity and earmarking only the most deserving spirits to venerate. Whatever lies at the heart of this, the ritual’s source, it has decided it only wants power.”

Caster paced as she spoke, coming to a stop in front of an ornate crucifix and scowling at it’s inscription, “So… it convinced the Throne to let some of the worst of us through. The Secret in the Sky, cradled in Selene’s embrace isn’t nearly as picky.”

For the first time, Nozomi became aware of the thorny vines encircling the pillars of the hall and inching their way up its walls. In the lack of light, the Servant’s eyes, far larger than she remembered, shone piercingly as she continued, “You children are very lucky I like you so much. I am far more a monster than champion.”

 


????


“You know she’s never going to be able to return your feelings,” Hanayo warned, her voice more severe than Nico had ever heard when rice hadn’t been involved, “It’s unfair of you to even ask her to.”

“I know… ,” Nico replied, her voice (which was once more not her own) barely above a whisper. She curled smaller, wanting to hide her face behind her knees just in case she lost control of the threatening tears, “... and I didn’t mean to. It just… it just slipped out.”

“Don’t be so hard on Maki-chan, Kayo-chin,” Rin sighed, crouching across from the pair by the fence, “You know she wasn’t trying to make things difficult.”

The wind picked up as if called by the girl’s admonition, biting chill that would have normally been chased away by the burn of practice. Practice that Maki hadn’t attended since they’d disbanded after their first year… and now they were most of the way through their second.

“She’s right though,” Nico groaned, pulling at her red hair and grinding her teeth, “Nico-chan is out there giving it her all. She’s succeeding. She… just looked so happy that I forgot myself for a moment is all.”

A few steadying breaths. Wipe away the evidence. Glance at Kayo’s still disapproving glare and pretend you saw nothing. Look instead to Rin. She got it. She never had to pretend.

“Even if she could… even if she would. Would you?” Rin asked. Pointed. Merciless. Totally unexpected. She pressed on, “What would you do if Nico did that to you? What would you tell your parents? Would you just call things off with Ryota?”

Screw Ryota,” Nico spat, venom surging past her shame. Both of her friends recoiled in surprise. Unbidden flashes of firsts claimed that she told herself didn’t matter boiled behind her eyes as the redhead continued, “I’d call things off with him today if I could.”

Now the tears were back, but this time fueled with good ol’ comfortable rage. You could always count on the heat of anger to sear away the bullshit. Nico rubbed her already raw eyes and stood, turning to Hanayo to growl, “You know what, screw this too. I thought you two would be happy I finally ‘got honest’ with her. You get to be an idol and you get to keep her."

Rin’s demeanor turned hot as well. The athletic girl shot to her feet and growled, “What are you getting at?”

Nico stepped into her space, glowering and balling her fists, “I’m just saying I don’t get the double standard here. You two may as well have been born together. Everyone assumes you’re dating and it’s not a thing that’s detracted from her popularity in the slightest.

She threw her hands in the air, spun back around to Hanayo, “Nor should it! Look at her! She’s amazing! Just because she’s got you hasn’t hurt her popularity at all! Your… your bond is celebrated...”

The heat sputtered. Her anger just couldn’t hold on when the topic was her favorite people and how they got to openly love each other. Replacing it was more of the same dark and bitter grip at her heart over how unfair her own situation was. Pointlessly, she continued, “People love you two together…”

“Nico-chan built her persona around the standard,” Kayo ground out, “She’s an idol for everyone. Maybe she wouldn’t have if someone hadn’t waited so long.”

“Possibly,” Nico relented. The fight in her just… bottoming out. No fire. No direction. “Probably. Not that that matters now.”

“You’re right. It doesn’t,” Hanayo confirmed, arms crossed and seemingly too irate to make eye contact.

All three of their phones dinged at once. Rin was the only one who moved to check… and after a moment she took a deep breath and turned her phone around, “... Well, it looks like you got your answer.”

The empty feeling only deepened at the headline.
Super Idol Nico-Nii Denies Affair with Former Co-Star.

“Nico’s love for all of µ's is bottomless, but everyone knows that Nico’s heart beats for everyone!”

The rest of the article, coming from an single-message link sent directly from Nico, was more of the same. How someone got a picture of the confession itself, Maki having stood in line at a meet-and-greet as it had been the only means she had to see her in person, was beyond her… but there were four different angles and even a low-quality video of the event.

Her first confession… the first first she got to share something related to romance with someone she actually wanted to… and this is how it goes down.

A quick reply asking to talk sent immediately on the heels of the article link being sent was left unanswered. No call. No text.

“We’re heading back down. You should too, Maki-chan,” Rin suggested anxiously. She never did handle silence well. Nico just stood and waited for them to leave. Slow steps to the fence and a weary plop-down. She stared through to the courtyard without seeing anything. Just staring and holding on to a phone that wasn’t going to ring.

… and it didn’t.




Fujimoto Ryota


“From the Seventh Heaven, attended to by three greet words of power, Come forth from the ring of restraints…  Protector of the Holy Balance!”

The young man, wide-eyed with reverence and excitement felt the pull on his spirit… but faltered as the surging mana electrifying the air dissipated. The small paperbound volume of The Art of War lay in the center of his casting circle smoldering. All of its pages had erupted in flame at the culmination of the spell… but no other sign that anything happened was evident.

“... Well crap,” the teen groused, flopping back onto his bed, “Yeah, I probably should have guessed that wouldn’t work.”

The apartment was sparse. Barely enough furnishings to consider it a hotel room, let alone a college student’s home. He reached for his phone which he’d earlier thrown to the bare mattress after one last refresher on the incantation. He tapped the results of the summon and hit send with a huff.

The immediate reply of, [No shit, dumbass. Better hope you can get something together soon, because Toda said some big names are involved.]

His pout deepened at the follow-up, [Hey, if a Servant eats you or something, can I have your Vita?] and he tossed his phone at his bookbag against the opposing wall.

“Some friend you are,” he groaned, rubbing his eyes furiously and mussing his hair. He laid there staring at the ceiling for a minute or two before the chill in the room got uncomfortable.

Why would a mis-fired summon double as air conditioning?

He sat up to go check the heater’s settings and fell back shrieking when he saw a man standing in the room with him, holding the charred volume.

“Oh shit!! Hooooly shit!! Oh my god!! It worked?!” he yelled, seeming to take the man off guard.

After a beat, the man sighed, “No. Of course not,” offhandedly, dropping the book-turned-charcoal and looking around, “You have no idea what you’re doing, do you?”

Defensively, the young man barked back, “ Of course I know what I’m doing! Just… not everyone has crazy ancient one-of-a-kind relics just sitting around, you know?”

The surprise guest, a surprisingly short red-haired man in some kind of Bakumatsu cosplay complete with sheathed swords and a vertical facial scar, offered a surprisingly sympathetic smile, “That is fair. It would seem that you could use a hand, then.”

Suspicion hit home, replacing the earlier excitement and irritation and returning him to his initial fear, “Why would you do that? … and who the hell are you anyway?”

“This one cannot help you, but this one’s Master can,” the crimson-haired man replied, walking to the bookbag in the corner and tossing it his way before replying, “Without a full roster of seven Servants, the ritual cannot be completed. It is in everyone’s best interests that you have a Servant of your own. What is your name, boy?”

“Fujimoto. Fujimoto Ryota,” the boy grumbled, not at all happy with having his bag slam into his chest with such force, intended or not, “So… you’re a… ?”

“This one is his Master’s Servant. You need not know more than that, Fujimoto Ryota.”

Ryota scowled, but put his bag on regardless, “Alright then, who is your Master then?”

“You’ll just have to come see, that you will.”

“Right… I’m fucked either way, aren’t I?”

“This one is fairly certain you will be fine… for the time being, that is.”




Yazawa Nico



“Nico-chan?”

Her voice was soft, pulling her from the depressing dream memory and helping her just barely crest the surface of the waking world. Dazed, and inclined to reach up to fiddle with the hair that moments ago would have laid over her shoulder, Nico replied, “Mmm? Maki-chan?”

“Mama called Waki-san to come pick us up and take us home,” Maki informed, looking relieved for some reason.

“Tha’s nice of ‘em,” Nico slurred, blinking away at the haze, “Not sure I’d make it if we had t’walk. It’s been a long day.”

Maki smirked at this and leveled some half-lidded snark, “Do you need me to get you a wheelchair?”

The telepathic echo of that snark that sounded a lot like a snort helped to further drag her into coherence. Nico tried to fire back, but ended up just yawning.

“I guess I shouldn’t pick on you right now,” Maki smiled, rising to her feet and offering a hand up which Nico lethargically accepted.

“Maki-chan shouldn’t pick on her super-cute girlfriend at all ,” Nico faux-pouted, “Apparently, someone needs to teach you how all this works...”

“Come on,” Maki groaned, her face turning red again. The rest of the room came into focus at last and Nico realized she was still in the Nishikino’s office’s waiting room. The secretary looked like she was going to proud-cry and both of Maki’s parents were grinning ear-to-ear at the door.

“G’night Mama and Papa,” Nico waved lazily, somehow dragging Maki’s tomato slider to eleven.

Before she knew it, Nico was being dragged out of the office and down the now security guard free hallways. A left, two rights, another left. Still unable to shake the daze that came with the transition of dream-being a past Maki on the roof, Nico was even more grateful for her girlfriend’s innate knowledge of the layout of the hospital. It was so easy to get lost in here!

“Maki-chan’s so smart,” Nico giggled.

“Now I know you need some sleep,” Maki sighed, tapping the call button for the elevator.

“Why? Because I said yes?” Nico replied teasingly, “Maki-chan should have known I’d say yes.”

“Huh?” the redhead asked warily, “What are you talking about?”

“What are you talking about?” Nico cracked, giving a playful shove that nearly knocked herself backward.

Maki sighed and helped to steady her, looking more concerned by the moment and musing, “I have no idea.”

Thankfully, the elevator came, it was empty, and they were left to enter alone. At this point, Nico wasn’t sure she’d even make it to the car, assuming it would be waiting out front. Other Maki was quiet too, which wasn’t really helping keep her mind moving. Without thinking, Nico reached into the bag Maki had brought her earlier and pulled out a flask that Other Maki mentioned she’d snuck in there, took a sip, and slid it back away as the mere trace amount of liquid moonlight kicked her coherency back into gear.

“Nico!” Maki hissed, pulling away, “What the hell was that?”

“What was what?” Nico grimaced as the liquid turned lightning through her skull, “That? Just Nico’s super coffee. It’s been a long week and drinking from flasks is hip.”

Maki’s silent stare carried too long. Nico was starting to worry, but then the door slid open and Maki was back at her side, helping guide her to the entrance.

“I’m really worried about you,” Maki confessed, barely over a whisper, “... but I’m glad you’re letting me be here for you.”

“Nico’ll rely on you… and Maki-chan can rely on her Nico,” Nico assured, “... after she gets some sleep. Like… a night. Maybe two. “

The little breathy laugh that Maki responded with felt like such a relief. Seeing those amethyst eyes lock on to the entrance they were approaching and the car waiting outside was somehow just as moving. She really was at her limit. Not even her magical silver slurpee seemed to be cutting it now.

She let Maki ease her into her seat. She fumbled with the seat belt until Maki slid in from the other side and latched it for her, taking the middle seat so she could keep an arm around her shoulders.

The last coherent thought Nico had before losing the battle with her eyelids was why had it taken such awful dramatic thing for her to allow something as wonderful as this?



????

Across the table, Nico’s chopsticks snapped in her grip. No small feat, given that they were plastic, and incredibly telling of the amount of tension that the night had built.

“It’s almost one in the morning,” she ground out, the heat in her voice suggesting that the destruction had brought no relief, “... and you just got home. Do you really have to go back in right away?”

Nico, once again falling into the dream’s role of Maki, felt the twisting of her girlfriend’s previous incarnation’s heart. Guilt and disappointment threatened to buckle her resolve. Nico had just managed to get dinner heated up… they’d literally just sat down...

… but there had been an accident. The ambulance was loading the patient now, and the damage was substantial enough that the patient wouldn’t last if made to wait.

She felt like a monster for wanting to be selfish.

It didn’t help her mood at all, but she chucked the phone at the couch. She looked at dinner, complete with adorable embellishments that Nico must have added to pass the time and only barely forced herself to answer, “I do… I really don’t want to, but I do. There’s no one else on staff that can handle the kinds of stints and bypasses the patient would need…”

Clearly feeling the hangry herself, Nico pulled at her hair and growled, “Dammit, Maki-chan… you won’t even let me be mad at you! How shitty would I be if I got pissed because you were off saving some shmuck’s life?”

“I’m pissed too,” Nico-who-was-currently-Maki (heretofore referred to as Nico/Maki) confessed, stomping over to their bedroom in their small two-bedroom apartment. Raising her voice to keep the conversation rolling, she continued, “Can you drive me over so I can eat with you on the way?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Nico grumbled, speed-walking to the kitchen to grab carry-out containers and her pants. She continued, loud enough to ensure Nico/Maki heard, “This is not the retirement I had in mind, you know.”

Nico/Maki returned from the bedroom, sliding her arms into her scrubs. Her face was only capable of looking so cross… her voice carried the rest, “I got them too used to me having nothing better to do with my time. I swear it won’t always be like this.”

Nico turned to her, wearing her most petulant pout, “You said that months ago.”

“Nico…” Nico/Maki sighed, accepting the packed food and pecking her on her unresponsive cheek, “I can’t hire a replacement for me after only being there for two years. No one would respect that decision, let alone the Board.”

“Your girlfriend would,” Nico bit back, still pouting.

“Yeah, well your fiancée has to make better calls than that… at least for a little while longer,” Nico/Maki returned, flashing her ring. When there was no reaction, she poked her in the cheek with said ring and continued with a totally deadpan, “Boop.”

“AUGH!” Nico roared, jumping back and stomping, “You are SO UNFAIR!!”

“So start thinking about how I can make it up to you,” Nico/Maki shrugged, turning to the door and wincing at the sound of Eli banging on her ceiling beneath them and the muffled cry of, “Seriously!? It’s one in the morning, you guys!”

Nico winced too, but only for a moment as she had to move fast to catch the keys that were thrown her way. “Sorry!”

Nico/Maki, apparently just waiting for Nico to get her shoes on, crouched, cupped her hands around her mouth, and yelled through the floor, “Get your sleep while you can, because when I get back, no one sleeps.”

Nozomi’s muffled cackling was almost as satisfying as Nico’s incredibly rare blush.

 


Yazawa Nico


“Nico-chan?”

Her voice was soft, as it had been before. Reality shifted again and Nico was once more in her own skin. Waki was at the door and Maki was helping to lift her from her seat. She would have argued she could get up herself, but she really couldn’t. It was all Nico could do to drape her hand over the bag Maki had brought her… but she just didn’t have the oomph to grasp it.

“Mmmki,” Nico murmured, vaguely aware of her girlfriend and her family’s… maid? Housekeeper? Elite babysitter? Nico had never been sure. Regardless, Nico was able to comprehend only a few snippets of their conversation. Continually slipping from their guided steps to flashes of Eli flirting with her as she twirled hair that shouldn’t be hers and desperately warding off sword blows from the combined assault of a possessed Rin-chan and Kayo-chin.

Nico was so out of sync with herself that she couldn’t recall how she’d gotten from the car to the enormous and unbelievably comfortable bed in Maki’s dimly lit bedroom. Waves of dizziness ebbed and crested as she tried to focus on the feeling of Maki’s hand holding back her hair as she checked her temperature… or the sound of her whispering, “I’m here… nothing’s going to happen to you, okay?”

Unsure if she’d managed to audibly reply with her intended admission of love, Nico slipped back not into a dream, but to a comfortable oblivion.

 


Nishikino Maki



“Thanks, Waki-san,” Maki sighed, closing the door to her bedroom behind her and leaning heavily against its frame.

“Are… you sure I should go? I can stick around if you need…” Waki replied, looking about as uncomfortably concerned as Maki felt.

“Yeah… It’s alright. It’s been a really long day and I need to get some sleep. I’ll just crash on the couch tonight.”

“If you’re sure,” Waki checked a final time, “Don’t hesitate to call on me if you need.”

“Thanks,” Maki replied, forcing a smile. She’d gotten much better at that since joining µ's, and Waki seemed to accept that everything was fine.

“Good night, Maki.”

“Good night, Waki-san.”

Maki waited until the woman was halfway down the stairs before forcing herself toward the bathroom. There was makeup to remove, teeth to brush, and thoughts to think that just couldn’t happen with the game-changer sawing logs in her room.

She touched her lips and cursed herself inwardly for still being so hung up on such a thing when there was clearly far more important things to worry about. Important things that she had nothing to go on, so of course she’d want to think about the sledgehammer of happiness she’d randomly gotten bowled over with after such an absolutely terrible day.

Her first real confession. First kiss. First girlfriend. All from one of her closest friends. Why shouldn’t she be a little happy?

Well… said girlfriend being caught up in something that her parents were scared of that she didn’t have even the most basic understanding of was a pretty good reason. Knowing that Nico was in her bed was another series of happy/concerned points for her to mull over as she went through the motions of her nightly routine.

She would definitely be taking the couch tonight… and she would most certainly be crashing hard. This day had been insane.

Maki huffed herself up, taking the reigns of her thoughts to direct them toward the significant to-do list that she should have spent most of the night working on and trying to figure out how to rearrange her schedule to accommodate. This managed to get her sufficiently riled up and irritated until she made it to the bottom of the stairs and looked into the living room.

Nico’s weird silver flask was just… sitting there on the coffee table.

That didn’t make any sense.

When they came in, she’d tossed the bag toward the living room. It was still sitting where she left it. How did “Nico’s Super Coffee” get up there? Curiosity overcame caution and Maki crossed the distance to pick up the strangely ornate, lightweight container. It felt surreal… but really the entire night had been one bizarre occurrence after another. With a shrug, she unscrewed the top and took a whiff.

Whatever it was… this was not coffee. It had no scent at all. Even more curious now, Maki carried the flask over to the living room’s bar service drawer. She slid the cover back and pushed the brandy to the side, pulling out a lowball glass. The more she knew, the more she could ask that Nico couldn’t squirrel away from. She tipped the flask and balked at the shimmering liquid that poured so smoothly.

She recapped and swirled the glass carefully. Completely opaque. No bubbles. Textureless and most remarkably leaving no residue behind as it swirled. She sniffed at the surreal fluid once more and frowned toward the ceiling. What the hell was her girlfriend drinking?

… No scent suggested it wasn’t alcoholic… and she’d never seen a fluid that moved quite like this before. Almost like liquid metal with extra shimmer… or some kind of projected three-dimensional illusion of fluid floating around in the glass. Like it could wink out of existence at any moment.

Before she could think better of the decision, comfortable in the knowledge that Nico would never put something into her body that would be bad for it (chances with her, it was some new kind of insanely sugar-laden drink), Maki quaffed the liquid, making sure to run it over the entirety of her tongue to get a real taste for it…

Rather… she would have, but the instant it reached her tongue, the liquid turned to lighting and the world exploded.

The liquid turned lighting savagely arched through her skull. She gasped, accidentally inhaling the rest. She dropped the glass, falling back as her legs buckled and her body seized. The accidentally inhaled fluid also surged, ripping through her chest and searing her back as her entire nervous system ignited, becoming a live wire to match the new, horribly painful lightshow her living room had become.

Somewhere, lost in the prismatic maelstrom and thunderous crackling rending of the world, Maki could hear her own squeaking gasps. Incoherent pleas left unheard as her body twitched and writhed, completely beyond her ability to control. Each moment found new untouched ground to ignite, tracking unknowable trenches of white-hot lava through her body.

A second or a century later, the tesla-coil/starfield her living room had become faded back into the recognizable sitting room, blurred through the tears. The roaring waves of screeching neon ebbed, leaving her with only the sound of her halted whimpering and sharp gasps. Her entire body crawled with static and sunlight. Her skin was a lattice of acid that swelled without moving and ached like years of growing pains consolidated into a single minute.

She still couldn’t command her limbs. She’d forgotten how. She’d forgotten how this even began. For a moment, she couldn’t remember her own name… but then her eyes happened to focus in on the figure sitting on the couch. It wasn’t her parents, it wasn’t a friend, and it wasn’t Nico. The additional surge of fear somehow managed to quiet her body’s involuntary twitching, giving her a moment of clarity to take in the intruder.

Who… it couldn’t be.

Laced with scars, way too tall, far too muscular, her hair was white and she was missing her right eye… but…

“Oh… hey. Look at that,” the woman commented nonchalantly, her voice providing all the confirmation needed, “You can see me. That’s awkward.”

The stranger stood, circling the coffee table and continuing, “I guess that means you’re really seeing me then. I expected that to knock you out for longer. I bet you’re really feelin’ it right now, aren’t you little Maki-chan?”

Maki could only gasp in reply, her clothes matted to her skin from sweat. The feeling of molten iron coursing through her body continued to deepen. Her muscles just weren’t responding and her headache threatened to turn the world into a lightshow again… but she couldn’t turn her eyes from the impossibility before her. An impossibility that shimmered and took an even more familiar shape as it stopped at her feet to pluck the flask from the counter.

“Hmm. Should still be enough,” she commented brusquely, giving the flask a shake and crouching at her side, “You might not believe this right now… but you’ll thank me for this later.”

Maki figured out pretty quickly where this was going and groaned in protest, managing to shake her head a few times as the woman that looked like her cradled her into a sitting position. The woman bit her lip and hesitated, the flask only a few centimeters from Maki’s mouth.

“Three things first, though. One, you’ll tell no one about this. About me. Two, this is going to get a lot worse… and three, know that this is the only way you’ll gain what you need to save her.”

“That said,” she finished, her eyes (there now being two) seeming to suck in the light around them, “... you in?”

Now her eyes were watering for even more reasons. She wanted to ask so much more, but she was worried her consciousness wouldn’t hold much longer. After a few failed attempts to get her jaw to unclench, she settled for nodding and a hissed, “Do it.”

“Good girl,” the woman grinned, a moment of gentleness before forcing her mouth open and emptying the entire flask down the volcano her throat instantly became. Somewhere, a universe away from the supernova her body shattered into, she could feel cloth covering her mouth to stifle her screams, weight over her to keep her from thrashing too hard, and hear the encouraging whispers of, “Of course you would… and you’d do it again. Again, and again, and again...”

 


Yazawa Nico - The Next Day
(Finally)


“Hey sleepyhead.”

Her voice was soft. Gentle as before. She could get used to waking up to that voice. It took a second, but everything up until actually being dropped in bed came back to her. She waited until the girl’s fingers finished brushing her hair from her eyes to open them and reply, “Hey. You didn’t take advantage of Nico while she was out, did you?”

Maki’s look of gentle affection dropped into that familiar weary, ‘I should have known,’ eye-roll. A beat later, she smacked Nico in the face with a pillow and rolled off the bed. Nico’d complain, but she was too busy laughing and clamoring out from under the covers. She felt great!

Sure, maybe still a little tired, but compared to last night? World of difference.

“Are you coming to school today or what?” Maki groaned, padding over to the door to apparently retrieve Nico’s bag. Apparently, the redhead had been up for a while. Her hair was in place, she’d clearly already taken care of makeup, and the only thing missing from her uniform was the blazer.

“Can we hold hands on the way?” Nico winked, catching the bag and pulling out her spare uniform.

Maki covered her face and took a deep breath before replying, “That… yes. That would be fine.”

“Can we tell the others?” Nico risked, swapping out the adorable dress Kotori had lent her the night before.

“... I’d like that,” Maki admitted, still unable to make eye contact. So cute.

“I want a duet,” Nico chirped, “Another one. Just us. I wanna blow the one you’ve been working with Nozomi and Eli for outta the water.”

“Yeah?” Maki replied, noticeably cheering up, “Magnetic Today isn’t cutting it for you anymore?”

“Oh no,” Nico waved off, “That song is shaping up to be the best thing ever. I was thinking more... more of a… “

“More of a… ?” Maki prompted as Nico trailed off.

“It’s embarrassing… but… something that feels like Nawatobi,” Nico allowed, hesitating mid-change to rub her arms.

The admission hung in the air, Maki’s eyes widening as she took the suggestion in. In the same tone she had awakened her, Maki nearly whispered, “Nico-chan…”

“No rush or anything!” Nico hastily interrupted, feeling like she went too far, way too fast, “I mean, you’ve got enough goin’ on as is. I’m just sayin’ we can’t have the fans thinking that we aren’t the power couple of µ's, right?”

As Nico backpedaled, Maki came back to the bedside. She reached out, but rested her hands on the covers to support leaning forward. “If I wrote a song like that,” Maki replied, “... for us. It’d be just for us. If we shared it, it would be because you wanted to.”

Nico stared back. As fast and loose as she’d been playing things, hearing such a serious admission brough the reality of her life before the Command Seals turned everything surreal crashing back into focus. This… really was Maki-chan. The same Maki she’d been chasing their mutual dreams side-by-side with. She’d really done it. This relationship was happening… and her Maki-chan was seriously offering her the most personal, intimate thing her heart could offer.

“That’s… Hey…” Nico answered when it became clear that neither were willing to break eye contact. She rubbed her arms and hedged, “So look. I’m… not really good with this stuff. It’s part of what made being an idol sound great in the first place. I’m… probably gonna mess up a lot, but… I want this to work. So… when I do, and I’m totally gonna, I’m sorry.”

Maki’s smile grew more confident as Nico spoke. When Nico stopped, Maki teased, “Oh hoh? Did the number one idol in the universe really just admit to being something other than perfection?”

“Nico thinks Maki-chan needs to clean her ears out,” Nico shot back, maybe a little too fast… but she was just so grateful for the jab, “Nico was saying that Maki-chan deserves better than perfection. How else could she have caught the eye of such a shooting star?”

“You’re ridiculous.”

“Is that any way to speak to the girl that’s gonna make your dreams come true~?”

“Eh? You’re not Honoka-chan…”

Nico gasped dramatically, hand to heart. Unable to think of a response to that , she settled for a louder, shriller gasp, which set Maki off laughing.

“Get dressed, drama queen. You’ll have to eat breakfast quick if we’re going to meet up with Kayo and Rin,” Maki added, continuing to linger.

Nico definitely noticed her hovering, “Sure. You gonna just stand there and watch me change then? Why do you wanna meet up with those two?”

“I want to tell them. About us,” Maki replied easily. Her finger was in her hair again as she leaned closer to continue, “... and you didn’t seem to mind last night in front of UTX…”

“Maki-chan’s true nature is revealed!” Nico laughed, throwing her dress at her girlfriend’s face, “Nico’s created a monster~!”

Maki remained, letting the dress slide off her face naturally and maintaining her smile, finger twirl, and eye contact. Nico laughed even harder.




Sonoda Umi



Father always claimed that pacing was one of the clearest signs of unrest in the spirit. One who was truly at peace would be content to simply exist and move only when needed. The fact that she had circled the roof forty-seven times already as she waited for Nico to arrive spoke volumes of her anxiety.

“Umi-chan… why don’t you come sit with us?” Kotori offered as Honoka dozed on her shoulder.

“I’m nervous,” Umi replied simply, having added hand-wringing to her anxious tells, “I just know she’s going to take this the wrong way.”

“Umi-chan… you shouldn’t underestimate Nico-chan,” Honoka murmured, giving both the first sign that she had not, in fact, passed out, “Sure, she might pick on you a little, but you could always hit ‘er with the your Umi-Umimi-beam. Stare ‘er down ‘til she gets the right idea. You’re the only one who doesn’t get how scary that is.”

Umi pouted. That’s definitely not how she wanted to handle this.

Fortunately, Kotori was there to defend, “Umi-chan doesn’t want to scare anyone. Still… is this really that big a deal?”

Hand-wringing upgraded to covering her face. Umi confirmed, “It’s that big a deal,” and leaned her forehead on the roof’s fence.

“If Umi-chan’s this embarrassed, it has to be interesting,” Honoka commented lazily, sliding down from Kotori’s shoulder to her lap to peer at her friend, “Are you embarrassed because it’s Nico-chan… would you be this embarrassed if it was one of us?”

“Obviously I wouldn’t do this with just anyone! ,” Umi shot back scandalized, but swiftly losing steam as she continued, “Naturally I’d go to these lengths for the two of you. Offering the same to her… I didn’t really expect it myself.”

“µ's is just as important to Umi-chan, as it is to us,” a new voice to the roof added, Nozomi’s, as she stepped from the stairwell entrance, followed shortly by Eli. Before she could say another word, Kotori had already crossed the distance and slammed into her, nearly bowling her over.

“Nozomi!!!!” Kotori wailed as Honoka dashed in to do the same, “I am so sorry!”

“I’m so glad you’re okay!” Honoka added as she raced to Nozomi’s side to double the hug power.

“Perhaps I should have picked a different place to meet with her,” Umi sighed, not wanting to make a spectacle of her coming offer.

“Guys!” Eli interjected, trying to get the two to calm down as Nozomi had gone into full dearest in headlights, “Come on, give her some space…”

Or… so it had originally seemed. The original shocked expression quickly melted into wibbly eyes and returned embraces. Nozomi protested, “Nuh uh! No way! Feel free to join in though, if you want Elicchi~”

As her two closest fretted over Nozomi, Umi’s mind caught up to what their spiritual powerhouse had suggested upon arriving. She approached the crowd and asked, “So… you know my intentions?”

“It’s not as if it wasn’t obvious ,” yet another new voice sounded out. The five idols turned to stare at the drably dressed, indistinct-faced woman lounging atop the roof’s entrance as she continued, “... at least to someone like her. She was up half the night with those cards of hers.”

“Caster,” Eli grumbled, “I thought I told you we needed to keep you hidden!”

“We’re in good company, aren’t we? These children are clearly in on your little secret,” Caster sighed, sliding off the side to land by her Master, “... and they look absolutely delicious.

Uncomfortable wording, but that didn’t seem to slow Honoka down, who turned without letting go of Nozomi to ask, “You’re Eli’s superhero, right? You look so cool! How are you doing that with your face?”

“No,” Kotori chimed in flatly, surprising everyone as she approached the glamoured woman, “No way. There is no way you’re going to be seen fighting in something as drab as that. Eli… let me dress her up?”

Caster’s initial dour expression immediately vanished to laughter, “Little bird, I am a Caster . Ideally no one would see me. Nothing you see when you look at me is real.”

Kotori pouted again, “Then why look like that?”

The others watched as the shimmering woman held Kotori’s head higher, finger under chin, and drawled, “Because unnecessary vanity is one of my pet peeves. I’ll have you know I’ve boiled people for less…”

“Caster…” Eli groaned as Kotori went pale.

“But they had it coming for at least a dozen other reasons!” Caster cackled, ruffling Kotori’s hair, “I’d never hurt anyone who makes my little girl so happy.”

Now Nozomi was blushing, everyone was confused, and Umi’s anxiety was at it’s limit. As Caster, Nozomi, Honoka, and Kotori went a little further in-depth about the bizarre adoption suggestion, Eli got close enough to ask Umi, “Are you okay? You look pretty stressed out.”

Umi took a steadying breath and admitted, “I… would actually like to speak with Nico alone about this… if at all possible.”

“You need me to distract the others?” Eli offered.

“Could you?” Umi latched on, reaching for her phone and suggesting, “I just need a few minutes. Would you be able to keep them from coming to the club room?”

Eli winked and replied, “Leave it to me.”

Somehow, Umi didn’t feel assured or relieved in the slightest. Even as she slipped past the excited µ's gathering and carefully eased the door closed behind her, there was only the growing desire to just… ignore the whole thing and go practice on the range. Get a few shots in. Clear her mind and shove the insanity of the past week into the back of her mind where she wouldn’t need to pay attention to it. Actually… that sounded like an excellent ide-

“Oh. Hey, Umi. Good morning.”

Or not. As Umi rounded the descent of the first short-flight of stairs, Nico met her on the landing between. How it had taken her so long to notice given the beacon-like flow of magic from the girl to her Servant was testament to how distracted she was. It took effort to not look cross at the timing as she replied, “Good morning.”

“What’s up? Did I take too long or somethin’?” Nico asked, glancing toward the roof-access door.

“No, it became a bit crowded so I thought we might relocate to the club room?” Umi recovered.

Nico nodded in understanding, but followed with a shrug, “Wouldn’t work too well if you wanted privacy. Maki-chan’s in there with RinPana. She wanted to catch up with them about something.”

“Ah. I trust the rest of your night went well then?” Umi probed, grateful for anything to postpone the upcoming offer.

“I wouldn’t know. I passed out pretty soon after we talked,” Nico shrugged easily, “Long day… and someone is gonna have Nico runnin’ on empty for days at this rate.” The way that the girl looked to the ceiling rather than any particular direction suggested that her Servant was somewhere else.

“About that…” Umi sighed, acknowledging the segue to be perfect. She walked to the corner and beckoned for Nico to follow, crouching and somewhat grateful for the commotion from the rest of the school echoing through the stairwell.

Nico followed, looking more tired than confused. After she crouched beside, both of their eyes aimed ahead, Umi continued, “I would like to help you with fueling your Servant.”

In her peripheral, Umi saw Nico’s startled turn as she harshly whispered, “You can do that!?”

Umi sighed, Nico’s unfortunate ignorance for once being a benefit. “I can,” she assured, “... but you might not be comfortable with how.”

Nico slumped into her side, something she’d seen the girl do with others but never her, and groaned, “Comfortable smumpherdable. Nico wants to live .”

“I… would like that as well,” Umi assured, grateful that she could put off the dreaded full implications of the offer until later, “It will take time and… privacy... to establish the connection. Is it safe to assume that you will be returning home with me tonight?”

“Yeah… if this keeps up though, you might have’ta carry me,” Nico sighed.

This was going easier than expected on almost every level. Almost out-of-characteristically so given Nico’s usual pride… so Umi chanced, “I’m surprised that you accepted the offer so quickly. Relieved, but surprised.”

Nico remained silent for a moment, but didn’t tense at the admission. Instead, she eventually replied with a sigh, “I’d do the same if it was any of you. I want the dangerous part of this wrapped up as soon as possible so we can go back to focusing on what’s important.”

It only took Umi a moment to figure out what Nico meant. “The Love Live?”

“The Love Live. We gotta get this behind us so µ's can shine on that stage.”

Any trepidation she may have had evaporated. Umi knew she was making the right choice. Tired as Nico may be, her voice was resolute. µ's would go together.



Berserker


Umi’s offer came as a relief.

Nico’s acceptance filled her with pride.

Maki’s humble-brag dishing downstairs with her fellow first years was hilarious.

… and the failed final summon had not gone unnoticed.

With only three flasks remaining for the day, this would need to be a period of rest, recovery, and possibly research…

… but the scent of the enemy was clear. They had come close to her people, which would be their first and final mistake. The desire to hunt was nearly overpowering… but she knew that this heightened fervor was only making things harder on her Master. All of the violence coiling in her body was energy that came from somewhere … and that somewhere was precious.

“Thank you for yesterday,” Other Maki offered simply from her perch above to what looked like a completely unoccupied roof.

“So you can talk for the moment?” Caster jabbed, fully manifesting behind her, “Such a thing… I’m not sure which is stranger. You being called, or me.”

“It’s weirder than you think,” Other Maki growled, turning to sit cross-legged. “I’m glad you’ve taken to them so well. Eli deserves you at your best. Treat my girls well, and I’ll treat you well in turn.”

Caster allowed her glamour to fade, an entirely different posture revealed, and wearily lowered herself to the ground. Upon seeing the complete lack of surprise from her, Caster asked, “So… how much are you aware of then, child?”

“Too much that I’m not at liberty to share. I’ll fill you in on what I can… which is much more if you can keep it to yourself.”

Caster rubbed her chin, seeming to weigh how to proceed, “Not to harp, but you are no Berserker.”

“I’m whatever I need to be for her,” Other Maki shrugged, “For any of them.”

“So what are you really?”

“Right now? Pissed off,” she grumbled, tugging at her hair irritably, “You felt that last night?”

“I did,” Caster confirmed, “I imagine whoever revealed their position with no Servant to show for it isn’t doing so well right now... and you’re avoiding the question.”

Other Maki growled, “I’m here through the system. It was the only insertion point I could find that wouldn’t accelerate the situation. The class, the limitations, and even the Master were all variables outside of my control.”

Caster frowned, “So… you weren’t called by the Throne either?”

Her scowl eased. Smiles are better for cockiness and the hair-twirling felt too nostalgic, “That part is legitimate. Honestly, the coincidence on how this played out is… too much to believe. I’d always hoped, but to actually see them again is… overwhelming.”

“I learned a lot about their adorable dynamic last night,” Caster admitted and then pressed, “Does this mean you know how this all ends?”

“Maybe if I hadn’t been called as… this… but no. Too many variables. I saw a potential end last night and have started working toward that.”

“Well that’s not vague at all,” Caster sighed.

“I’ve given enough for free. What’s your deal, granny?”

Caster smirked, “You don’t already know?”

“Thanks to the ‘gifts’ of this class, I’m barely aware of what timeline I’m in on a minute by minute basis. Clear it up for me before I get distracted again.”

Caster’s smirk fell at that, so she simply replied, “The Throne, as you know, is a filter created by countless overlapped human perceptions overlaying a broader system.”

“You come from the source then,” Other Maki guessed, pulling at her hair harder to keep herself grounded.

“Which shouldn’t be possible,” Caster continued, “The Secret in the Sky should be an infallible failsafe, unbreachable until the intended time.”

“Don’t worry about that,” Other Maki assured, “Velber’s still centuries off. This is something completely different.”

Caster simply stared at the redheaded Berserker, so Other Maki continued to clarify, “All I’m saying is this isn’t the end of the world by the anticipated standard. The… “Secret in the Sky” as you call it was accessed directly because the Grail’s corruption has consumed enough to let it bypass the Throne. It’s actually done that a few times before this.”

Before Caster could respond, Other Maki assured, “This is the start of a completely separate potential end-of-the-world event.”

“... A bold statement. How could you possibly know something like that?”

“Because I’m here,” Other Maki replied simply, rising to her feet, “... and now I have officially said too much. I’m going to go try to find a way to chill out unless Grandmother Granny is gonna take her turn sharing.”

Caster quirked her head, figured out the word-play, grinned and flipped her hair back, “So you’ve figured me out already?”

Other Maki strode to the roof-entry shed’s edge, brushing the dust from her dress and legs as she walked, “Like it was hard? You should show Eli. She won’t be afraid if you explain yourself… and just because humanity has judged you, doesn’t mean she won’t give you a chance. You might be surprised by how much they’d dote on you… and how accepting they can be.”

She turned and smoothed out her dress, giving a parting shot of, “Monsters like us mind the higher purpose,” before hopping backwards off the edge and dematerializing.

“Maybe I will…” Caster considered.



Tohsaka Rin

“... so, as you can see, there really was no one else we could call.”

Lord El-Melloi II’s words held weight on this topic. Almost as much as her own. At her side, her apprentice started to look like he was going to open his fool mouth, Tohsaka Rin stood and flipped her unbound hair to claim the floor, “How the hell did this get to you before me?”

Well, what floor it was. The famous teacher’s office had become little more than a storage closet for rare reagents and his personal library at this point. It felt cramped with only herself, the teacher, and her two companions. El-Melloi’s expression was the epitome of long-suffering, as he answered, “Because there are proper channels for this sort of thing.”

A third voice joined the conversation at Rin’s left, one that no-one would consider denying, “What I believe she means is… how did none of us feel the ritual’s start? I, in particular, feel I should be attuned enough to detect it.”

“That I cannot say for certain,” El-Melloi replied with a respectful nod, “Had it not been for Mr. Adrian Harwey’s incidental inclusion, we might still not have known. He has already returned and is now on his way back with additional intelligence that he felt uncomfortable sharing remotely.”

“Harwey!?” Rin barked, hands on hips, “The Grail gave one of them Command Seals?”

“I would recommend allowing them to absorb our travel costs,” El-Melloi placated dryly, “I know this accelerates our timeline drastically, but should I assume our original plan still stands?”

“It does,” the blond woman to Rin’s left answered. Rin turned, bristling with irritation at being spoken for, but eased as she sternly continued, “I won’t allow you to act against the interests of your heart, Master.”

How do you argue with something like that? Still… “I can speak well enough for my heart on my own, Saber.”

“Yeah, but sometimes you say stupid stuff you don’t mean and regret it right after,” the young man at her right added, earning him a smile from Saber, a smirk from El-Melloi, and a yanked ear from Rin.

“That’s about enough out of you ,” Rin smirked, pulling his ear until he was nearly out of his seat before switching her grip to ruffle his hair, “ You’re still in the dog house, buddy.

“I said I was sorry!” Emiya Shirou whined, yielding immediately.

“Then stop trying to make me look bad in public!” Rin chided, “Honestly, I can’t take you anywhere.

“You don’t mean to leave Shirou behind do you?” Saber asked, the hint of a pout forming.

El-Melloi stepped in, “I’d have to pull rank on that idea. This is an ‘all hands on deck’ situation. Rin, can you contact your sister?”

“I have the means…” Rin admitted, letting go of the beleagured Emiya. This was all moving rather quickly and she had to be certain she was there when the Harwey arrived with the intel, “Can I count on you to call on Illyasviel without alerting the rest of the Einzbern?”

“Do we have to call her into this?” Shirou asked.

“She’s actually already in Japan,” El-Melloi interjected, “She’s been staying in a residence I obtained in Hyogo. Given that she checked in earlier this week, I’d say it’s safe to say she hasn’t noticed the ritual either.”

“What is Illya doing in Hyogo?” Shirou asked before Rin could herself.

“She actually travels quite a bit,” El-eMlloi commented, “I’m not at liberty to say much more, but I do know she’ll be happy to see the three of you.”

“This will be quite the reunion,” Saber smiled, “I wish it were under better circumstances.”

“It’s always something,” Rin added, resting a hand on the timeless woman’s shoulder affectionately and continuing, “Do we gather here, there, or a third location?”

El-Melloi held out a card which Rin accepted as he replied, “Tell Sakura to meet us at this address. This is where Illya is residing and there is plenty of space for us to prepare. I take it you’d like to be present when Mr. Harway arrives?”

“Absolutely,” Rin assured, “... I’ll do my best to stay on topic.”

“Thank you for that,” El-Melloi sighed, “I have other business I need to address before this proceeds much further. I’ll keep you posted.”

Recognizing when she was being dismissed, Rin offered a nod and replied, “Thank you for keeping us in the loop.”

With that, Rin turned and left, giving Shirou and Artoria space to give their own farewells. There was a lot to do… and not much time to do it in. As she leaned closed-eyed against the wall of El-Melloi’s office’s waiting room, she mused on how she really wanted Shirou to be further along in his development before they’d attempted this. It was only last year that he’d managed to finally undo all the damage his self-trained methods had caused, and that had only been thanks to numerous operations.

To be even more honest… her hopes of pushing this off further were far more selfish than that. Her Servant had been unable to surprise her since they’d been bound for a week… so there was only comfort when she felt the timeless woman and time-lost king approach.

“My Master’s heart frets too much,” Artoria said, softly stepping in to press her forehead to Rin’s. Rin, in turn, allowed her Servant to take her hands and continue to reassure, “We have prevailed over worse. This time shall be no different. There’s no guarantee that the coming battle will have any effect on our contract.”

The ease she felt only deepened as she felt Shirou’s arms wrap around the both of them and assure, “Saber’s right. We’re going to be just fine.”

“You’re both so damn naive,” Rin admonished through the relief of her stress melting away, “You both realize that we’re responsible for this. This and whatever comes after...”

“You’re not getting cold feet now, are you?” Shirou teased as he rested his cheek in her hair.

“Even if everything should go fall apart now… we made the right choice,” Artoria assured, shifting from hand-hold to embrace.

“I know that,” Rin grumbled, wishing they were back in Shirou’s dorm. Knowing that the scene could be intruded on at any minute was turning her face red.

 


Author’s Notes:


Okay! There’s a lot to unwrap in this one!

My original plan for this was to avoid going into either Maki’s perspectives until near the end, but then Other Maki got a little loose with the rules. The story is still on track and the main plot points are still in place, but I’ve got to admit that I’m just as much along for the ride as you are.

Readers familiar with the Fate series may be scratching their heads, flailing their arms, or pulling out their wikis to check which canon is at play, as there’s references coming from various timelines and even the Extra/Extella games. I can save you some time in saying that this is a new resolution the the Fate timeline that came into being through some highly consequential measures that everyone’s getting to deal with now, as evidenced by the fact that so much of the original cast is still alive.

For folks who are totally at a loss when it comes to the Fate-verse and have been rolling with the presented world system as it comes, I’ve added additional entries to the information matrix below. Notable people who are not Masters or Servant in the currently running Grail War will be detailed at the bottom. These bios will also help Fate fans to fit these incarnations into the story’s canon. I’ll hold off on posting bio information until they actually appear in the story to avoid this becoming too much at once (too late!) This information will be mostly spoiler-free for the relevance to this story’s plot and will include facts that should be considered assumption.

This took a lot longer than I'd hoped, feels a lot shorter than it is, but went on longer than expected. I hope you’re enjoying the ride. Hopefully these kids will let me work on Nishikino now. e_e


Information Matrix (UPDATED)
Some statistical values currently unavailable due to lack of context.
All information only pertains to what has currently been revealed. Additional information will be added as it becomes available. Intel primarily relevant to the Fate application of the crossover, most Love Live canon pre-Snow Halation is applicable. (am I taking this too seriously?)

Updated information will be listed in bold and italic. Everything below Fujimoto Ryota’s entry is new, so I’ll leave the formatting normal to avoid bold-overload.


Master: Yazawa Nico
Magic style: Stealth and Skullduggery

Servant: Berserker
True Name: Nishikino Maki
Pseudonym: “Other Maki”
Noble Phantasm: Unidentified. May be unavailable due to “system incompatibility.”
Personal Skills: (C) Mad Enhancement, (A+) Mana Distilling, (C) Magical Construct Absorption, (A++) Supernal-Level Martial Arts, (??) Cat Mode

Bio:
The combined consciousness of numerous incarnations of Nishikino Maki, plus one or two others. It is currently unknown how she grew from a µ's member and songwriter to a hero worthy of preserving in the Throne.

Notes:
- Supplements lacking mana resources (Nico’s diminutive magic circuits) via distilled moonlight. This resource, when consumed by a human, supplies an incredible mana infusion. No current drawbacks have been observed outside of a hyped ‘caffeine buzz.’ Apparently, up to seven of these flasks can be filled in the course of a clear night, each with its own distillery unit. Caster rightfully expressed confusion that a Berserker would be capable of the operation of such delicate instruments.
Flask quantity as of end of chapter: 3

-     Claims to be a “big deal” but as her accolades and accreditation into the Throne are from  events that have not happened yet, there is no means of verifying. Given that her fame is in its infancy and unrelated to her heroic exploits, the related effect that acclaim has on a Servant’s power should be interesting to observe.


-     Claims to recall numerous reincarnation cycles, including several occurring after the existence that granted her a place in the Throne. This is at odds with known lore regarding the system and additional research is required to verify.


-     Claims that her Master’s mana to personal energy ratios are unbalanced due to Throne save state updates coming from incompatible saturation levels from post current universe existences. Try saying that three times fast. Yeesh. This claim is supported by the catalyst used to summon her, an unidentifiable orb of mass/energy that was previously under research at the Clock Tower.


-     Functioning at a vastly lower capacity due to her Master’s weak magical resources pairing with previously mentioned incompatibility.


-     The traditional Berserker Mad Enhancement effect is greatly diminished due to the personally relevant bond between her and her Master. Being literally bound to one of the people that made her happiest in life and surrounded by the others serves as a balm, diminishing the madness effect but also diminishing the power gain that comes with it.


-     Mental stability seems to be diminishing as multiple lives worth of information contaminates what she understands to be real. Impulse control continues to weaken as the Mad Enhancement struggles to apply itself into the double-edged sword it was intended to be. This effect is primarily held at bay due to Maki’s obsessive desire to protect her Master, particularly from herself.


-     Caster has suggested that both her status as a Berserker and a Servant in general are in question, though currently no other source has substantiated this claim. Other Maki has refuted this claim, stating that despite there being non-standard aspects of her summoning, she was indeed part of and called through the summoning system of the Holy Grail War.


-     “Cat Mode” appears to be a berserker state where the Servant’s mental capacities are limited to those of a basic house cat, only paired with a fierce protectiveness and incredible martial skill. It is currently unknown what causes this to activate or deactivate. This personal skill apparently comes from an incarnation where Maki was male.


-     Ammunition from Archer was drawn in and absorbed, converted back into mana which helped to diminish the drain on Nico, if only momentarily.


Master: Ayase Eli
Magic style: Physical Augmentation and Endurance

Servant: Caster
True Name: ??
Noble Phantasm: ??
Personal Skills: (B) Wide-Scale Charms and Illusion, (??) Nature Control

Notes:
-     Her clothing is beyond humble, her demeanor and hair suggest a venerable age, and her face is somehow masked in a way that while expressions can be read, one can not truly recall any specific facial features.


-     Has made several food related references to the girls around her, including references to boiling people and that she was considered a monster.


-     
Utilized glamours and charms to redirect attention from Nozomi’s ruined apartment, suggesting their magic focuses on the subtler arts.


-     Has displayed great domestic affection for her Master and for Nozomi, going so far as to claim Nozomi as a daughter she never had.


-     Has distinct discomfort with Christianity and those that practice it.


-     
Caused thorny vines to grow throughout the main hall of Kanda Catholic Church


Master: Tsubasa Kira
Magic style: Illusion and Glamours

Servant: ??
True Name: ?? (currently known as Dummy or Dumb-Dumb)
Noble Phantasm:??
Personal Skills: ??

Notes:
-     A tall, muscular yet lanky and easy-going man. Notable features include copious amounts of body hair, tightly cropped top and facial hair, a red cape, and a crown adorned with two very long feathers.


-      Tsubasa claims to have gotten very lucky, suggesting that her Servant is of an excellent caliber.


-      Seems to enjoy the prospect of hand-to-hand combat.


Master: Matou Zouken
Magic style: Binding/Absorption and Insect Control

Notes:
-     Patriarch of one of the three founding families that, with the cooperation of the Tohsaka and Einzbern, created the system that enables the Fuyuki Holy Grail War. It is assumed that he is the instigator of the current event.


-     Somehow obtained Maki’s catalyst, an impossible orb of indeterminate matter/energy that was last seen under heavy surveillance and scrutiny at the Tower. How this orb came into being or it’s connection to Nishikino Maki remains to be seen. This item was not originally intended to be utilized as a summon catalyst. It’s original use in Zouken’s plans are currently unknown.


-=Classified Information=- Zouken is an ancient magus that previously went under the family name of Makiri. As the family valued absorptive capacity more than legitimate magical circuits, the family’s magical capacity declined to the point where their latest heir, Matou Shinji, was born without magical circuits of his own, effectively terminating the line’s magic potential. This lack was compensated for by utilizing various methods, some resembling torture, that would carve that potential and capacity into the body.

The family traditionally utilizes a specific variety of worm to accomplish this though, after the failure of the Second Fuyuki Grail War, Zouken has taken matters into his own hands and has started employing techniques he had allowed the world to forget. He is extremely dangerous and one of the oldest living humans on the planet, assuming he can still be counted among their number.

Servant: Assassin
True Name: ??
Noble Phantasm:??
Personal Skills: ??

Notes:
- Referred to as Hitokiri Battousai. The term Hitokiri, literally translating into manslayer, or man cutter, is a title that was originally given to four samurai in the Bakumatsu era of Japan’s history. The Four Hitokiri of the Bakumatsu, Kawakami Gensai, Kirino Toshiaki, Tanaka Shinbei, and Okata Izo were considered unconquerable forces of nature, incapable of being defeated by mortal men. They lent their incomparable skill to the the cause of overthrowing the Tokugawa Shogunate.

- None of these four men were referred to specifically as ‘Hitokiri Battousai’, so it is unlikely that Assassin’s true identity lies among their number.

- Further evidence of the Fuyuki Greater Grail’s corruption, this Servant is not one of the nineteen Hassan-i-Sabbah, and would not traditionally be considered viable for the Assassin class. This could be due to this Servant’s traditional class, Saber, was already being assumed by a Servant that became active earlier.

Servant: Archer (Taken from Iida Kaori)
True Name: ??
Noble Phantasm: ??
Personal Skills: (B) Wolf familiars


Notes:
-     Utilizes twin crossbows, explosives, and hunters traps.


-     Accompanied by two wolves, one a three-meter at the shoulder black wolf, the other a five-meter silver.


-     Wears a red cape and cowl. Appears to be a female white european roughly fourteen years of age. Exceptionally frail in appearance.


-     Servant is still active and apparently is now working for Zouken Matou.


Master: Adrian Harwey
Magic style: ????

Notes:
-     The Harwey name belongs to an elite plutocratic family that has played both sides of the mortal/mage world, accumulating enormous wealth, power, and influence through both social spheres. This effort had been done in secret for generations, only recently becoming a more public takeover of business and humanitarian interests. Little is known of their reach, or their family’s magical capabilities and achievements, as most patents and movements are handled through shell corporations and proxies.


-     The name alone commands respect from all players that are aware of their significance. Zouken suggests that a Servant would be easier to deal with than the Harwey Conglomerate.


Servant: Saber
True Name: Tsao Tsao (Cao Cao)
Noble Phantasm: ???
Personal Skills: (C) Aura of Authority

Bio:
The legendary Chinese warlord, the second to last Chancellor of the Eastern Han Dynasty, and one of the most important figures in the Three Kingdoms period, Tsao Tsao was a brilliant ruler and military genius who was posthumously honored as the Emperor Wu of Wei. His achievements are too numerous to note here, but include the defeat and execution of the legendary Lu Bu, the defeat of the Liu Bei in the Xu Province which included the capture of Guan Yu, the focus of agriculture and education in the regions that he conquered, and the unpretentious yet profound poetry that he penned.

In the time following his demise, he was frequently portrayed as a villain in operas which would go on to inspire his portrayal in the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. While there have been attempts to reverse this trend, he is so entrenched in popular culture as a villain, that the Chinese equivalent of the term, “Speak of the Devil,” is “Speak of Cao Cao and Cao Cao arrives.”


Notes:
- He thought µ's performance of Snow Halation was pretty spiffy.


Master: Iida Kaori (Retired)
Magic style: Charms/Enhancement

Servant: Archer (Taken by Matou Zouken)


Master: Fujimoto Ryota (Servant-less)
Magic style: ??

Servant: None yet, but only Lancer or Rider remains undetermined. One of these two classes details Tsubasa Kira's Servant. 



Previous Grail War Participants


Tohsaka Rin
Magic Style: Jewel Magecraft / Physical Augmentation / Solid-State Arcane Projectile (Gandr)

Notes:
-     Technically the victor of the 5th Holy Grail War, Tohsaka Rin and her sister Sakura are the last remaining members of the Tohsaka line. The same Tohsaka which cooperated with the Einzbern and the Makiri to construct the Greater Grail on the Fuyuki ley line, thereby creating the engine which enables the Fuyuki Holy Grail Wars.
         -     The 5th Holy Grail war was a notably intense affair which left the surrounding region, nearly the whole of Tokyo, abandoned by the major mage families. The official reason for this was the volatility of the Greater Grail requiring time to cool off, but given that the 4th Holy Grail War culminated in the destruction of a prefecture and nearly exposed the world to magic as a whole… this explanation has always been called into question. Whatever the real reason, it is certain that Rin and her actions lie at the center.


-     Was the Master of two Servants. Originally calling Archer to her side, this Servant fell during the course of the War. Afterwards, through her partnership with another Master, Emiya Shirou, she took on the responsibility of his Servant, Saber. This Master/Servant bond continues to this day, proving that the 5th Holy Grail War did not have its intended conclusion despite a victor being named.


-      Is in a healthy, supportive, and loving polyamorous relationship with her Servant and Emiya Shirou.


-     In the five years following the events of the 5th Holy Grail War, Rin has grown tremendously, both in capability and in emotional maturity. She has grown past the social crutches she relied on in her youth, thanks in part to the perspective gained by sharing memories with her Servant and having a reliable and affectionate support circle. She has become renowned throughout the higher mage community as a diligent worker, a brilliant mind, an incredible magic talent, and an advocate for magical policy reform. This puts her at odds with various stances that older and more influential families, like the Harwey, have championed.

Servant: Saber
True Name: Artoria Pendragon, The Once and Future King, King Arthur
Noble Phantasm: Excalibur
Special Attributes: (B) Charisma, (A) Instinct, (A) Mana Burst


Bio:
There are many heroes and military leaders that Arthurian legend is based on, and through the combination of humanity’s grasp of the fiction and the fact are Artoria’s capabilities as a Servant born. There is more than can be easily said here about the life that warranted her name being scribed in The Throne, so this information will focus instead on her existence after being summoned into the Holy Grail War.


-     Artoria was originally summoned as a Saber during the 4th Holy Grail War by the man who would eventually adopt Shirou, Emiya Kiritsugu, by using Avalon, the sheath of Excalibur, as a summoning catalyst. After the 4th War, he went on to hide Avalon inside of Shirou, which gave him the ability to call on Artoria when the 5th War rolled around and granted him incredible regenerative capabilities. As the 5th War progressed, Rin took on the role of Master in part due to her superior ability to generate magical energy to fuel her.


-     Is in a healthy, supportive, and loving polyamorous relationship with Tohsaka Rin and Emiya Shirou.


Emiya Shirou
Magic Style: Reinforcement / Projection (Physical Manifestation)

Notes:
-     A first-generation mage, Shirou has no family history of magic usage, nor does he have a Family Crest to draw upon. He has sparse magical generation capabilities due to his irregular training by his adopted father and has only in the past five years following the Grail War received legitimate education on the subject.


-      Orphaned by the culmination of the 4th Holy Grail War that ravaged Fuyuki, he was adopted by Emiya Kiritsugu and pulled from the brink of death when the man placed Avalon within him.


-      Is in a healthy, supportive, and loving polyamorous relationship with Tohsaka Rin, Tohsaka Sakura, and Artoria Pendragon.


-      In the five years since his experiences in the 5th Grail War, his mindset and motivations have matured. Whereas his original stance was to try and save everyone through his own actions, he has come to recognize that the efforts of a single person are insufficient to change the world alone. Learning from the failures glimpsed through the 5th Grail War’s Archer, Shirou has instead dedicated his life to reforming magical society, leading it from the selfish and self-destructive beast that it has grown into. This represents a shift from personal heroism to one of community.


-      Much of magic society gives him little credence. However, anyone who interacts with him long enough to hear his ideology is often inspired and finds themselves drawn in by his charisma. Rin likes to joke that this comes entirely from Artoria being an excellent influence, and he does not argue this point.


Lord El-Melloi II
Magic Style: Teaching and study!!

Notes:
-     Originally Waver Velvet, Lord El-Melloi II earned his name by compiling the works of House Archibald after the passing of its last practicing member, saving the family’s name from vanishing completely from magical society and earning him, at last, a position of respect in the Clock Tower.


-      As a child, he participated in the 4th Holy Grail War, summoning Alexander the Great as a Rider. This experience tempered his ambition into a functional edge and granted him much needed perspective.


-      Technically a third-generation mage, he started entirely from scratch as the previous two practitioners of his family were barely hobbyists. As such, his magical generation capabilities are abysmally low. Lower than even Nico’s. He is barely capable of performing any magical acts at all, though his technical knowledge is superb.


-      He has become renowned throughout the Clock Tower’s educational programs as a top-tier educator, bringing new methodologies for practical application to antiquated curriculums. He’s the cool teacher that’s hot.


Toujou Nozomi
Magic Style: Fortune Telling, Warding, Purification

Notes:
-     Her father is an American who is a member of the military. Her mother tutored both her husband and daughter in magic, though mostly for self-protection. Her father’s frequent transfers are why Nozomi had such an unstable childhood. She’s technically an army brat.


-      Her father suggested that she volunteer at local shrines to familiarize herself with both the language and local customs.


-      The primary reason Nozomi was permitted to reside alone was because she chose to settle in what was considered a cease-fire zone as far as magical influence was concerned. Tokyo is very low-crime and with the volatile Greater Grail under Fuyuki, no sensible mage would stir up trouble.


Sonoda Umi
Magic Style: Purification, Physical Augmentation, Elemental Enhancement

Notes:
-     The Sonoda are one of the largest remaining “public” magic families in Tokyo.


-     The family partners with many shrines to provide legitimately magical charms and to perform holy rites.


Nishikino Maki
Magic Style: ????

Notes:
-     Will apparently one day perform public acts of heroism significant enough to warrant her being called by The Throne.


-     Her family’s magical practice is based in medicine, and has become a world-wide name in providing safe, reliable magical procedures including magical circuit transfers, curse dissolving, primary and secondary sex characteristic correction, and limb restoration. They also place a focus on bridging the gap between magical medicine and traditional, seeking methods to replicate their magical offerings to the greater populace.


- Totally has it bad for Nico. <3



Additional Notes

- This story takes place five years after the 5th Holy Grail War. Nowhere near the necessary 60 years for the Greater Grail to draw enough energy from the ley line to provide Servant summoning, and even less than the pre-emptive gap between the 4th and 5th. This is clearly be a symptom of the ritual failing to be brought to culmination multiple consecutive times.

Chapter Text

Previously, on Berserker:

Nico made it through a day!

That doesn’t sound like it should be that big a deal. I mean, we are talkin’ about the number one idol in the universe here! Still, who knows what kinda crazy stuff has been goin’ on while Nico was out cold… Hey! What are you…

<Nico’s voice falls away amidst the sound of rushing wind. Other Maki’s voice takes over>

The stage is finally set. All the Masters have come forward. Umi’s offer to help Nico shoulder my upkeep might give her a chance of surviving this… and little Maki-chan just got thrown into the deep end.

… Poor thing.

The enemy may be working with a stacked deck, and our resources might be stretched thin, but there’s no way I’d bet against µ's… whether it’s love or war.

Let this song be our declaration of victory!
    ~*~*~*~Nico Nico Niii!~*~*~*~


<Crash into the Opening Credits!>



Berserker
Episode 6: Clash

(Due to violence in the later part of this chapter, Reader discretion is advised.)


Fujimoto Ryota


“Don’t worry so much,” the young man, Daisuke, soothed, “You look like you’re going to jump out of your skin!”

He seemed nice enough at first glance, but no one should have that level of chill in a house that pulsed with malice like this. If the guy really was a Matou, then he should be capable enough to tell at least that much, regardless of talent.

Then again, Ryota was fairly certain that Daisuke wasn’t human.

“Right,” Ryota grimaced, “Look man, if it’s all the same t’you, could you like… leave me alone for a minute?”

The guy’s pleasant-face didn’t slip an inch… in fact, he didn’t respond at all. Much like he hadn’t for the past half of a day.

“Come on, man. You don’t need t’make this any weirder than it already is!”

As if it was the first thing Ryota said, Matou Daisuke refreshed his smile, cocked his head at the identical angle as before, and replied, “Nothing weird about sitting around and talking with a friend, right?”

Ryota glowered, “You’re not my friend and you haven’t said anything since I got here. Come on, just like… lead me to a bathroom or somethin’. You can do that much can’t you?”

“Now now, of course we’re friends. Just a little longer, alright?”

Ryota wasn’t sure which was worse, getting handled, getting handled by such a vapid (likely only borderline sentient) babysitter, or being stuck in the house of one of the most dangerous names in the country. What the hell Hu? Don’t vague-text and joke about Vitas when the Matou are involved!

He would have tried breaking loose, Servant or not, but the room had no windows and there was a constantly writhing shadow, like a mass of bugs crawling over themselves, surrounding the bottom of the door. No, he was stuck here… stuck, and likely well and truly fucked. The only consolation was knowing that for the time being, until he actually summoned his Servant, he was important enough to leave unharmed.

 


Yazawa Nico

 


“Guys… come on,” Maki groaned, having given up struggling against the rope binding her to her seat.

“Not now, Maki-chan,” Rin declared imperiously, “This doesn’t involve you.”

“Uh… kinda does…” Maki frowned and was promptly ignored.

“What makes you think you have permission to date our Maki-chan!” Rin proclaimed, pointing at an incredulous Nico who was also tied down. At Rin’s side, Hanayo stood, arms crossed and eyes obscured behind gleaming glasses.

Before Nico could respond, Hanayo added, “To think that our Nico of all people would betray one of the most sacred tenets of the idol code…”

“Hey,” Nico growled, “That’s kinda rich comin’ from you two.”

“ONE,” Rin boomed, her voice resounding through the clubroom, “Any relationship b’tween Kayo-chin and me’s pure allerbation!”

“Allegation,” Maki sighed wearily, and was ignored once more.

“TWO!” Rin continued, “I’ve never ignored Kayo-chin for hours at a time, leaving her sad, scared, and alone when there’s all kinds a crazy things flyin’ around!”

“My ringer was off!!” Nico protested, back to struggling and low-key weighing the expenditure of mana to sneak a little phase spell in just to get her wrists free.

“You have no idea how worried our Maki-chan was!” Hanayo accused, “I can’t believe you’d take advantage of her when she was in such a vulnerable state!”

“Hey!” Maki barked, making Hanayo wince, “Nico-chan didn’t do anything like that! Quit coming up with weird stories!”

“You’ve gotta admit, Maki-chan,” Rin countered, “It’s KINDA suspicious, nya know? Yesterday you were really mad at her!”

“Right now, I’m mad at you! Let her go!” Maki demanded, thrashing against the cord holding her wrists to the chair.

“We’re just trying to figure out what happened here,” Hanayo placated, “It just seems impossible for you two to do something like this after everything you said yesterday.”

“What did you say , Maki-chan? They’re really convinced,” Nico asked, curious and endeared that the redhead seemed more concerned about getting Nico her freedom than herself.

“What I said then doesn’t matter,” Maki insisted, “Look at me, you two.”

Hanayo complied and after a moment Rin followed. Maki pinned them in place with her glare and spoke slowly, “Nico-chan and I talked. We confessed on the stairs to UTX. It was important to me. We told my parents and they took it better than you are. If you want to hear any more than that, you’d better let us go… right… now.

Nico’s heart was soaring and her mind was a nonstop laugh track of Other Maki losing her mind over the ridiculous scene. Laughter that only got more intense as Umi entered the room, took one look, scowled, turned, and walked back out, much to the confusion of Honoka and Kotori who were right behind her.

“Oh. Wow,” Kotori marveled.

“Ha! What’s goin’ on in here?” Honoka asked.

Maki interrupted Rin before she could finish forming her first syllable, “Don’t you dare.

“Help! RinPana’s gone crazy!” Nico pleaded, “You’ve gotta let us go!”

“I kind of want to see this play out,” Kotori suggested, but Honoka was already walking toward Maki.

“Did you guys have a good night?” Honoka asked as she started in on Maki’s bindings.

“I’m honestly not sure how to answer that,” Maki admitted, still glaring at Rin.

“Nico did!” Nico cheered in a sing-song voice, easing Maki’s scowl tremendously, “Oh yeah, I guess you guys didn’t know…”

“Know wha- Whaaaaaat’s going on in here?” Eli asked, at first cheerful and then immediately raising to incredulous.

“What did you do this time, Nicocchi?” Nozomi smirked, preparing for some emergency washi action since her target couldn’t get away.

“Nico did what Nico does best!” Nico boasted, feeling on top of the world despite her situation, “Nico made some very important smiles!”

“Is that right?” Kotori prompted, resting her cheek on Nico’s head as she set to work on the knots.

“You wanna tell ‘em, Maki-chan?” Nico offered with a grin. A grin that Maki caught as she shook her head in defeat.

“Why not,” Maki sighed, earning her everyone’s attention, “So… yeah. Nico-chan and I are… tch… we’re dating now.”

Kotori squealed right into Nico’s ear. Honoka mimicked this at a much lower volume as she latched onto the redhead who, despite blushing from all the attention, still looked very happy. Nico felt on top of the world as her fellow third years gaped, Nozomi quickly shifting from shock to what looked like triumphant delight.

Eli flounded for a moment, looking to Nico for confirmation and finding a cheesy grin, wagging eyebrows, and a confirming nod. The look of dawning comprehension was adorable, but the following rising indignation was both surprising and concerning. Before Nico could ask what was wrong, Eli grabbed Nozomi’s hand, puffed out her chest, and proclaimed, “We are too!”

Kotori’s excited squeal went so high-pitched that it passed Nico’s ability to hear and she hugged her around the neck so tightly that she couldn’t breathe… but that was really fine because it was absolutely deserving of that reaction. Honoka looked confused and Nozomi’s jaw dropped. Poor RinPana were completely overwhelmed by the sudden influx of people and revelations.

… and then there was Maki, whose eyes were tearing up staring at the two third-years and was smiling so wide as she clapped (awkwardly, given that her hands were still bound) and called out, “Congratulations!”

Nico took that cue and joined in with the applause, that was quickly joined by the rest of the room, though Honoka and RinPana still looked bewildered.

“I thought you guys already were!” Honoka laughed.

“That’s what I thought, nya!”

“I’m so happy for you!” Kotori cheered as she finished off Nico’s bindings.

Nico winked at Kotori in thanks, bounded up to a very proud Eli and a bright red and teary eyed Nozomi, wrapped an arm around each’s shoulders to face the the room as the others kept applauding and commented, “I dunno you two… that sounds pretty gay.”

“Oh my god,” Eli groaned and Maki slapped herself on the forehead.

“Really?!” Nozomi managed, letting go of Eli’s hand to lay into Nico with a particularly enthusiastic washi-washi-ing who, in turn, immediately began thrashing and laugh-squealing.



Sonoda Umi


“I heard what you offered her.”

Umi jumped a little, nearly leaving a streak across the notebook on her desk in the music room. She thought she’d been alone, but who knows how long she’d been being watched by Nico’s eccentric Servant. The other, older Maki shimmered into view, sitting at the desk to her right… humorously, she was dressed in Otonokizaka’s uniform, her bow proclaiming her to be a third year.

Umi smiled as she tried to will her pulse back to a reasonable rate, “I’m fairly certain that those manacles aren’t within the scope of the dress code.”

“Maybe not, but I make it look good, right?” Other Maki winked, “Which one’re ya workin’ on?”

“... That’s right, I suppose you’d know all the songs I will eventually write, wouldn’t you?” Umi replied without answering.

Other Maki slumped forward, laying her cheek on her crossed arms to smile at her as she answered, “Sure do… and they’re all amazing. Just like you.”

Umi had to look away, too embarrassed by the warmly spoken praise. Easier to switch tracks back to the original topic than to have the older Nishikino flirt with her endlessly with critical success. “I assume you meant my offer to supplement Nico’s capacity to fuel you?”

“Mmhmm. Are you going to be okay with this? In all the lives I’ve lived, I don’t think I recall ever seeing you and her… like that.”

Umi took a steadying breath before replying with a clinical, “I hope to provide as openly as possible without resorting to… the more common method.”

“That’s understandable,” Other Maki soothed before adding a sultry, “Especially since she has no idea how this usually works. Plus, I’m pretty sure you’d break poor “little me’s” heart if it came out. It’s a shame you can’t just… provide it to me directly.”

And now she was back to flirtation. Had the Maki she had been working alongside all this time had such thoughts hiding beneath her professional demeanor? Still...

Is that a possibility?”

Other Maki grinned wickedly, sitting up as if to take the conversation more seriously, “Not as an on-going connection as you’d planned with my Master. The only permanent bond I can maintain is through my contract with her…  but you could certainly provide a one-time exchange.”

Again with the feral edge as Maki leaned in to tease, “For you… I can guarantee I’d give as good as I’d get,” before pulling back with a contrite, “Unless… you’re already with one of them. I’m sorry. You’re almost always with them… of course you’d be hesitant to… God.”

For just a moment, the older woman looked alarmingly like the awkward kohai she’d come to know. Before she could help herself, Umi laid a hand on the distressed Nishikino’s arm and coaxed, “It’s okay. I’m not forcing this… I want to help Nico… and you.”

While she didn’t appear comforted, she at least stopped fidgeting, so Umi continued, “If… what you say is true… and in some past life, you and I were… like that… were you happy?” Apparently, due to the class she had been called under, the woman was under some manner of emotional instability… having something pleasant to focus on might help keep her grounded.

Almost immediately, the woman switched mental tracks, shifting from distraught to distant-yet-sentimental. Whatever Other Maki was seeing, it wasn’t the world around them as she answered, “For as long as you’d have me… I was. The times when you’d actually keep me? Among the happiest. It wasn’t often… but we always understood each other in ways the others couldn’t. You understand the weight of a family name, tradition, and expectation. You respect love and intimacy fiercely… and just like me, when you’ve made your choice you give yourself fully. You don’t hold back at all.”

She seemed to come back to the present, but still looked like the pensive girl she’d known. She sighed and looked distinctly unhappy as she finished, “They’ve broken our hearts more times than I can count… but I’m fairly certain you have a very happy end ahead of you this time around.”

“And what of the Maki of this time?” Umi asked, feeling protective and overwhelmed, “If you can speak with such confidence on my future’s behalf, perhaps you could predict for her?”

To this, Other Maki only shrugged and replied, “Couldn’t tell you. That’s the thing, beautiful. Even if I was runnin’ on all cylinders, the system that lets me be here doesn’t like my having spoilers. I’m totally pulling my prediction for you out of how I’m not going to let anything happen to you. Any of you. The younger me you’re growing up beside is just one batch of memories swirling around up here… so I don’t know diddly about which me is dancin’ around with you.”

With wide eyes and an easy smile, Other Maki continued, “ You could probably tell me more about that Maki than I could. Actually, you should . Is this one of the times around where you’ve got a pining for lavender-eyed redheads… or is that just for me?”

Fortunately, with experience was coming resistance. Umi managed to hold onto her composure and fired back a wry, “You do realize I’m still a minor, don’t you?”

Other Maki shrugged and winked, “Hey, we’re talking about your feelings for little bright-eyed Maki-the-younger, darling.”

Choosing to focus on the question instead of the allusion, Umi answered, “She’s respectable. Hard working. Passionate and admirable. I care for her deeply, and... upon consideration could see her being quite the match, but at present is solidly set as a dear friend.”

Other Maki was all grins as she replied, “Chills. Praise like that would mess her up hilariously well. You should totally do that some time.”

“I am beginning to get the impression that you’re not altogether fond of your younger self,” Umi deadpanned, “Why would you attempt to sabotage her so much?”

Sabotage her!?” Other Maki gasped overdramatically, “What makes you think I’m not trying to make her dreams come true? I mean, since you’re gunning to shack up with Nico-chan, why not go for the set?”

Immediately, Umi flustered up and protested, “Shack up!?!?”

Other Maki winked and added, “You’re too fun. I’m gonna go get back to Nico. Sorry for messin’ with you. I think you’re makin’ a good call here. I love her, but she’s not smart enough to ask for help when she needs it… and she really needs it,” before disapparating, leaving Umi alone with a number of very conflicting thoughts.

 


Adrian Harwey

 

“Master,” Tsao Tsao rumbled, “Perhaps it would be wiser to take a moment to rest?”

Adrian Harwey and his Servant stood a mere dozen meters from the wreckage of the hopper jet that had originally been intended to connect his flight path from Tokyo to Hong Kong, thereafter he would make one more connection on his way to London. However, as evidenced by the previously mentioned wreckage, that had not gone as planned.

“We need to get away from here as quickly as possible,” Adrian insisted, lurching forward despite his splintered shin, relying on a twisted length of rebar, “We don’t know if there will be a followup and I need to get this information to the Clock Tower posthaste.”

His Servant frowned and offered, “At least let me carry you. We can progress much faster if you’d permit.”

“If you could, it would be welcome,” Adrian winced, “If you’re steady enough, I can make the connection as we move.”

“A wise decision,” Tsao Tsao praised lowly as he gingerly scooped up the man, “Where to then?”

“For now, isolation. We’ll seek civilization later.”

Adrian attempted to keep his breathing even as the inevitable jostling set his nerves on fire. Still, he was grateful. Not many could say they survived a plane crash… certainly none of his fellow passengers could. Another in an increasingly massive list of sins piling up against the Makiri-turned-Matou.

As the scenery blurred around them, some manner of south-east asian forestscape, Adrian reached into his pocket to slip on a modest ring. Immediately, his vision and even the pain in his leg faded. The scene shifting to a claustrophobic library hosting a single desk, whereupon sat a lean middle aged man with long raven hair.

The man jumped as Harwey felt his projection assume visible form. Excellent. It felt good to get the better of his once tutor. Once the man’s stern eyes met his, Adrian forced a smile and greeted, “Waver! Good to see you!”

“Adrian. I thought you weren’t going to be in touch until you were here in person. Also, again, it’s El Melloi now.”

“El eMlloi the second , you mean,” Adrian grinned, grateful that his projection would show none of the trauma his real body had undergone, “What can I say? I couldn’t wait! I wanted to get in touch as soon as possible to begin our big plans for you-know-what as soon as possible.”

“You just missed Tohsaka,” El Melloi sighed, “I imagine I could call her back in if you’d like… are you alright?”

Damn. A wince must have made it through his subconscious. Also… Tohsaka? Already? A double-pace he was in no way ready for. Restraining a sigh at the inconvenience, Adrian maintained his chipper demeanor and replied, “Just a few complications. Is the girl joined by her pet and Servant?”

El Melloi sighed, “Don’t let her hear you call him that. She was insistent on being present to hear your findings. Can you hold for a moment?”

Three damns upon the precedent, but he couldn’t think of a reason not to involve the Tohsaka scion. Adrian acquiesced, “I’ll wait.”

The projection was surprisingly strong. It wasn’t often that Adrian could separate himself so thoroughly from his physical self. He supposed there was plenty of reason to at the moment, and being able to so keenly perceive his surroundings would come in handy.

“Harwey,” came as more more of a statement than a greeting. Tohsaka herself.

“Hello again, Rin was it?” Adrian greeted, hoping to thoroughly grate the nosey child’s nerves, “... and this must be your Servant and… Shirley, was it?”

“Shirou,” Rin twitched, already red in the face for some reason.

“Pleased to meet you,” the Emiya boy greeted, proving himself capable of better manners than the Tohsaka. The girl’s Saber also offered a nod, but little else. He had really wanted to meet the famed Arturia Pendragon in person for his first interaction, but desperate times…

“I’ll be short, as this transmission has lasted longer than it ought already. I’ve complied a list of Masters and Servants already on the field. I will transmit this to you in a more encrypted fashion shortly, Waver.”

“El Melloi,” the man sighed.

The second !” Adrian teased before continuing, “I have no intention of permitting one Master the courtesy of secrecy, however. An old acquaintance of yours, Ms. Tohsaka.”

“Matou,” Rin growled darkly.

“The same.”

“Have you identified the Servant?” asked the Once and Future King.

“Assassin. It also seems that he has procured the services of another Master’s Archer.”

Tohsaka was simmering with barely collared rage. Excellent. The girl’s grudge would be an excellent tool in the coming week. The real mind behind their previous victory once more presented its authority as Arturia asked, “... and their identities?”

“Sadly, both remain a mystery,” Adrian answered with legitimate regret, “Though there is another, more impressive curiosity that I feel I must share before my full assessment arrives. I had words with the Berserker of this affair.”

“Had words?” Tohsaka asked with understandable confusion.

“I was meeting with the Nishikino at their facility when I was visited by Berserker’s Master, who is apparently friends with their daughter. I don’t have time to go into details right now, but I feel it important to note the Servant and the Nishikino’s daughter are one and the same, confirmed by the Servant’s own admission. The girl still lives and has done nothing of note, but has been called by the grail to participate.”

“What’s the girl’s name?” Tohsaka asked grimly, looking far less surprised and far more dire than Adrian could have expected.

“Maki,” Adrian answered, “Maki Nishikino. My own Servant could not get much of a read on her capabilities, but it was without a doubt the same girl who had accompanied the young Master.”

“What’s her Master’s name?” the girl’s pet project asked out of turn. Still, it was a question that would be answered eventually… so there was no point in denying.

“Nico Yazawa. A tiny thing. Were it not for the oddity of her Servant, I wouldn’t have expected much from her.”

“Yazawa?” Tohsaka confirmed, looking even more conflicted, “That hardly seems fa-”

Before the rest of the sentence could be completed, the scene faded to black. His connection was lost. The sound of rustling leaves and the feeling of wind crashing into his face returned as did the searing heat from the steady regeneration at his leg.

“Master?” Tsao Tsao asked as he weaved amidst the forest.

“It didn’t last as long as I’d hoped my friend,” Adrian managed, “We need a defensible position so I can submit a report in full... “

“... and then?”

Adrian glowered, “And then we return to Japan. To Fuyuki. If that old fool wants a war, then I’ll give it to him…”



Yazawa Nico


“So… once I finished with my cram classes,” Maki asked, looking at their clasped hands instead of her eyes, “Could I come and see you?”

It’s a good thing Maki wasn’t watching, or else she’d get an eyeful of Nico’s biggest grin. It was with only slight regret that she answered, “You should probably ask Umi that since it’s her place, but I’d love t’see my Maki-chan~”

The redhead even further averted her gaze and made the absolute cutest little whine. Nico couldn’t help but squeeze a little tighter. Even though she shouldn’t even consider taking the risk, Nico offered, “I could even swing out and meet you if y’want.”

Maki shook her head and insisted, “That’s alright. You stay where you’re safe. I’ll... text Umi on the way to class.”

Nico pulled the younger girl’s hands up to peck them each once and then let go, letting her stammer a farewell before scurrying out the door, red-faced as Nico had ever seen her. This really was the best. Above and beyond. With absolutely zero shame, she turned to most of the rest of µ's who had watched the entire scene from the clubroom’s table.

Nozomi clapped.

Nico bowed

“I… still can’t believe it, nya,” Rin boggled, head in hands.

“What, that everyone’s hooked up?” Honoka prompted.

“No!” Rin protested, hands slamming onto the table, “That Maki-chan and Nico-chan did!”

“Hey,” Nico glared.

“Nyai’d have never guessed that Maki-chan was into girls!”

Everyone stared at that.

Hanayo pet Rin and soothed, “Oh Rin-chan…”

“Nyaaaaaah,” Rin whined. Good . “I didn’t know about Nico-chan either…”

“Nico has many secrets,” Nico added with a chuuni flourish, “... and just a reminder, none of you talks about all this relationship stuff with anyone .”

“Agreed,” Eli seconded, “This should be a secret to anyone who isn’t in this room right now... “

Nico nodded, “Now, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m beat. I’m headin’ out early, so you’re in charge Eli.”

“Sorry, if that’s the case then I’m just calling it early tonight. You girls should absolutely practice on your own. Nozomi and I have some business in town.”

Rin looked progressively more depressed by the moment. Hanayo was looking fairly distraught as well, so it was a relief when Honoka slid in between the two and said, “I guess it’s just you gals, Kotori an’ me then, eh?”

“Dance practice?” Hanayo asked.

“Dance drills,” Honoka nodded as Nico slipped out, meeting her host for the evening who fell into pace beside her with ease. Neither said anything as they strode through the halls, passed by the shoe lockers and passed the gates of Otonokizaka.

“Is it just us, or is… she with you now?” Umi asked with care.

“I asked her to keep an eye on Maki-chan until she got to the school. I’m pretty sure Eli an’ Harwey’re the only other Masters that know I’m one too.”

“Ah… we talked earlier. Your… the older… Maki.”

“Oh yeah” Nico answered, eyebrows lowering, “She didn’t go an’ kiss you or anything, did she?”

“Uhhh… no… has she been doing that?”

Relieved, Nico replied, “Probably not as much as she wants. I don’t know what t’do with her. It’s really hard to figure how Maki-chan goes from… Maki-chan to that , right?”

“It is concerning… though I would imagine she won’t. Not in just this lifetime,” Umi answered, keeping her eyes forward.

“Huh… I guess that makes sense,” Nico mused, “Kind of a relief, too. I don’t know how much of it’s the Berserker thing an’ how much is like… all the layered lives.”

“I’ll admit to being overwhelmed just hearing about it. Experiencing it must be something else entirely.”

“It’s nuts,” Nico agreed, “Every time I get any sleep, I get a front-row seat to all these other terrible timelines. Things usually end up goin’ bad for her.”

Really?” Umi marveled, actually turning, “That actually happens? I’d read about it in Nozomi’s notes from the Church… but...”

“Yeah,” Nico nodded, surprisingly relieved to find an outlet to talk about it, “It’s kinda crazy since I’m usually a big topic in ‘em, but I’m always Maki-chan. I even get to feel the way she thinks… which is… actually kinda amazing. One of these times, I’d like to see a bit of when things don’t go horribly wrong.”

Umi frowned, “I… am uncomfortable with knowing that Maki’s progression of lives has been so… unpleasant.”

“Progression of lives…” Nico sighed, “So, like, that’s just a normal thing in magicky magic culture? Reincarnation? Alternate timelines and parallel universes?”

“All verified and frequently topics of study,” Umi nodded sympathetically, “I often forget how little initiation you’ve received…”

“Papa left a lot of notes,” Nico staved off, not liking where this was heading, “... and even though Mama can’t do any of it herself, she walked me through some of the basics. I might not get all of it, but I get the main point. It’s just like being an idol. If I can get in the right headspace, I can do anything.”

Umi smiled at that… one of the biggest Nico had ever seen on her. Another victory in an already fantastic day. The bluenette nodded for the two of them to round a corner as she asked, “If that is how you feel about it, why stay away for so long?”

“I didn’t always. It wasn’t magic that kept me away. It’s the people… and what they do with it,” Nico admitted, despite not really intending to go there.

“I hope recent events don’t make you think less of us,” Umi cautioned. That wouldn’t do.

Nico took hold of the younger girl’s shoulder, but kept her eyes forward when she said, “Not a chance. Don’t go spreading this around, but the only reason Nico can be #1 is because she has all of you at her side. I don’t really know what it is you’re offering here, but everyone who knows is acting like it’s a super big deal. All I know is you’re putting yourself on the line to give me a chance at making it through this… bad people don’t do things like that.”

“That said,” Nico continued with a tighter grip, “What most people seem to do with magic is what took Papa away, blew up Fuyuki, and made up stupid evil death games like this Grail war thing.”

“That may be true of the families perceived to be older and more powerful, but you’ll find that most are like Eli’s, Nozomi’s, Maki’s, and my own,” Umi defended, “We keep our traditions. We don’t generally seek out inordinate amounts of power, nor do we seek to continue surpassing the world… merely to guide it along until it catches up.”

“Eh…” Nico grumbled, releasing Umi’s shoulder and griping, “Still sounds kinda holier than thou t’me. Still. Better that than all this ‘wipe out other people for a wish’ bull.”

As they made their final approach to the Sonoda compound, Nico slid her hands into her cardigan and tried to sound casual when she asked, “So… how does this magic hookup thing work? It’s… not gonna hurt, is it?”

Nico’s fears spiked as Umi winced. The way the girl had been dancing around the particulars had been nerve wracking. Given how much most magic seemed to revolve around giving, taking, and sacrificing, she didn’t want to have Umi suffering for her sake. If it was making her nervous enough to avoid the topic and even get flushed at the thought… maybe this wouldn’t work out after all.

“Not so much,” Umi answered after an uncomfortably long pause, “... but it will require privacy… and… I’d just as soon discuss it when we are not out in the open.”

“Right. Sorry. Secret stuff,” Nico backed off, letting Umi open the door and guide her through the household… which, after a minute or two of silence… seemed to be completely empty. Umi led her to what must have been her bedroom. Austere, traditional, with only a few key ornaments that gave away the identity of whose room this was. The most telling decoration was at her bedside table, a framed photo of her and the other second years and another of a candid group shot of all of µ's still in their sailor motif costumes after the Arashi no Naka no Koi Dakara PV.

“So… welcome to ahh… my room?” Umi offered awkwardly, pacing to the far side of the room which opened into the courtyard by sliding door. The tatami firm, but kind of fancy, under her feet, Nico forced herself to bound over to the bed cheerily and flop onto the second year’s bed. Umi was busy chanting something under her breath as she slid the doors (Walls? Old houses are weird) closed, setting a blue light to shimmer that slowly enveloped the room.

As the light coalesced underneath her, Nico didn’t need to feign happiness as a warm, bubbly sense of security washed over her. The faint scent of sea breeze and mountain air left her feeling clear and relaxed… comforting on a spiritual level. Nico rolled over and kicked her feet in the air as she marveled aloud, “Umi! That’s amazing! What did you do?”

Umi jumped at the outburst, but relaxed into a smile as she approached and answered, “I’ve isolated us and secured this space. Right now, the only being who would be able to perceive us outside of this room would be your Servant… and that’s only through your bond.”

“Oooo~ So does this mean we’re gonna have some quality girl talk?” Nico winked, still reveling in the spell’s warmth.

“We could, though it wouldn’t be strictly necessary,” Umi answered simply, kneeling at her bedside to pull something from underneath. What an Umi response. Nico had to bite down a laugh as her host pulled out an old fashioned ink grinder along with a few calligraphy brushes and pens.

“Neat,” Nico commented, “We makin’ some ofuda? Man, the ladies at the shrine would freak if they knew…”

“We won’t be drawing on parchment for this,” Umi advised softly, “I suppose before we go any further, I should give you some instruction.”

“So I get to help with this?”

“There is commonly a two-way aspect to this,” Umi began, seeming to steel herself, “I… want you to know that I have no ulterior motives in this. I strictly want to help you as a friend. Please don’t misunderstand as I explain both the standard process and how I hope to… work around some of those commonly accepted practices.”

“Uhh,” Nico replied, wide-eyed, “Sure. Nico’ll just… listen until you say you’re done.”

“That would help,” Umi sighed, rubbing her eyes as she sat seiza on the bed across from Nico. After another breath, Umi began, “On a broad level, magic as we tend to use it is controlled by perception. Every family, and really every person, has their own methods and practices, all of which can come around to achieving the same effect. Ultimately, it is expressing one’s will over reality.”

Umi pulled out an ink block and set to grinding as she continued, “Reality itself has multiple layers. While there is obviously a natural world and the reality that comes of it, another overlapping layer of ‘natural law’ has superimposed itself over that reality created by the collective will of humanity, both magical and mundane.”

Rapt, Nico listened as the ink pooled in the basin, “As humanity grew more prolific, the natural beings that once held sway over our world pulled back to watch. Once the public consciousness accepted certain practices and techniques to be a science over a magic, repeatable through non-mystic means, the magic itself would cease to function. This fact alone suggests the power that the collective consciousness has over one’s individual strength to practice their specific stylings of magic.”

Umi made eye contact to make sure that Nico was still following. A simple nod prompted the bluenette to continue as she laid out her implements, “So… as a result of regrettable public opinion, certain practices and reagents that have no reason to hold sway in one’s personal magical system are affected. The common concept that utilizing blood in one’s magic is so deeply entrenched in the public consciousness that even spellcasting practices that should receive no benefit from such an ingredient are affected.”

Still not sure where Umi was going with this, but still deeply appreciating the rare insight into what must be common magical theory, Nico waited it out. Umi fidgeted with her brushes, no longer making eye contact as she continued, “... This brings us to the purpose of my inviting you today. I mean to bind my magical capacity to yours… for the mystic energy that my body naturally generates to automatically redirect to you. Hopefully this will not only offset your Servant’s drain on your personal reserves, but potentially cover her upkeep completely.”

“I don’t know about that...” Nico interrupted, “Near the beginning, Maki-chan said some stuff about compatibility and that she could tap a bunch of mages at the same time and still not quite get enough to go all out…”

“Perhaps,” Umi acquiesced, “but this is still better than you doing this on your own. At Nozomi’s, you confided that you have twelve active circuits. Thanks to my family’s history and its practice of passing down upon retiring, I currently have forty-five.”

Nico gaped, “Uh… is that… normal?”

Looking both proud and embarrassed, Umi admitted, likely understating, “It’s… above average. At the very least, this will prevent her from exhausting you just by existing. We’ll see how it affects her performance in battle.”

Nico had to lean back. Over three times the amount? Sure, she had no clue what exactly a magic circuit was capable of. She had no means of quantifying it… but the sense that she was in over her head was creeping back in. Embarrassingly, she found herself wishing her Servant were here. All the constant praise from her time-lost Maki would help a lot right now.

“Which brings me back to creating that connection,” Umi picked up, almost regretfully, “What I’m proposing is akin to… connecting my spirit to yours. A one-way connection so that my energy will flow to you, but I wouldn’t unintentionally become a drain should my own reserves become depleted enough that I would become a pull as our energy stores tried to equalize.”

“Which… brings us back to the... commonly accepted methods for connecting one’s spirit to another,” Umi continued, swallowing hard before reaching to her neck and unfastening a necklace. Suddenly, Umi’s earlier explanations made sense and what was being suggested slid into place.

Seeing another interruption coming, Umi held up a hand, her necklace which looped through two rings swinging from the sudden gesture, and leveled a stern, “Let me finish. I understand that there were some announcements earlier today regarding relationships. I’m not suggesting anything that would come between you and Maki. I’m genuinely happy for the two of you and I’m actually in a relationship of my own.”

“You don’t say,” Nico deadpanned, eyeing the two ring’ed necklace and coming to the obvious conclusion. How long had that been going on… probably for years.

“That’s why this is such a… difficult thing to work around,” Umi sighed, “Most methods of coupling our spirits typically entail also… coupling physically.”

“I’m guessing the ink is our work-around?” Nico offered, hoping to bridge past the point that was holding her younger friend up and preferably into the resolution.

“That is the start. My family’s craft makes use of calligraphy. Where families some would use bodily fluids or flesh to enhance their tools, ours focuses on meditation and ritual. I… hope to write a contract on our bodies that will serve as the means for the connection. I would scribe my part on you… you would scribe your part on me.”

Umi was blushing fiercely now… and to be fair, the thought was doing the same thing for Nico. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. When it was clear that Umi was too flustered to continue, Nico picked up with, “... and I’m guessing we’re not talking about umbrellas on wrists or anything here. Look, I appreciate the offer here, but I don’t want to push yourself when it’s som-”

“I don’t want anything to happen to you,” Umi ground out resolutely, “I know how these events play out. My family has watched ever since the Greater Grail was laid upon Fuyuki’s ley line. I can’t do much but I can at least do this… if you will allow.”

“... just tell me what I need to do,” Nico replied after a pause.

“... I’ll explain as I do my part… for now… and I apologize, please get undressed and lay on your stomach.”



Nishikino Maki

 


“I’ve gotta say, you’re taking this really well.”

Maki’s eyes narrowed, glaring at the sidewalk ahead of her as the… whatever she was at her side jabbed. Her mid-class Googling had brought up the possible explanation that it could be an Ikiryō, a splinter of her own spirit that was haunting her. Last night had… certainly felt like the work of something vengeful, and it would be herself that would lay into her the worst.

Just… why, when things were going so well everywhere else?

“What, are you going to ignore me now? Come on~ I helped you.”

Uncertain whether the now smartly dressed, unscarred, and long-haired version of herself was perceivable to anyone else on the street, Maki tried to keep her voice low as she replied, “Why don’t you help me by going away. How do I know you aren’t Nico-chan’s problem?”

That seemed to amuse her older doppelganger, who skipped in front of her and walked backwards, forcing Maki to avert her eyes or be stuck looking into the surreal not-mirror. “That’s something interesting you said just there. I’m Nico-chan’s problem? Aren’t you suggesting that you’re her problem too, then?”

Maki’s face fell even more dour, which seemed to only cheer the older her up even more. “Man, I really was a dumbass kid, wasn’t I? I guess you really can get by on looks. You haven’t asked your senpai at being yourself a single question. What’s up with that?”

“That rarely ends well in stories,” Maki muttered back.

“Ohh~ so you’re not stupid, you’re just genre-savvy. Nice. So work around the tropes, kid. Only morons get caught in obvious traps… and either way, we’re having a repeat performance tonight, so how bad can a little conversation be?”

Maki shuddered at the thought. She clawed her forearms as she crossed them before her at the thought of re-experiencing the… honestly still unfathomable torture last night had been. The only thing that had made the experience endurable was the insistence that it was the only way to save Nico… and being laid beside the smaller girl, drenched in sweat, shivering, and too weak to move herself…

“Hey, less existential dread, more talking,” her older self advised, “It’s because you internalize everything that it’s taken so long for you and Nico to have this…”

“What do you kn-...,” Maki began, but quickly acknowledged the folly of her off-the-cuff rebuttal. She shook her head and switched tracks, “So… it’ll help? Whatever Nico-chan’s… “super coffee” is?”

“Not coffee. Liquid moonlight,” her older self corrected, falling into step beside her again, “It’s an instant significant infusion of magical energy. I set you up last night to stumble on that flask to sear your magic circuits open. We don’t have time for you to do this the old fashioned way, so I’m giving you the quick’n’dirty on giving you the capacity you’ll need.”

“... magic?” Maki asked, annoyed by how small her voice felt and feeling overwhelmed again.

“Yup. The real deal. Magic isn’t just for old Saint Nick. Not everyone’s got the touch, but you? You’re going to be something… above and beyond.”

“... So… if I learn magic, I can help Nico-chan?”

For the first time in their commute, the other her frowned. “... You’re not going to ‘learn magic’ per say… not so much as you’re going to… well… yes. This will let you help her… and don’t worry. Tonight won’t hurt anywhere near as bad now that your circuits have been activated. Now, we’re gonna stretch ‘em out and cram a few years worth of practice and hard work into a few hours.”

Alarmed, Maki grumbled, “I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works. That hardly sounds healthy…”

“... Do you care, if it means getting to save her?”

“... I suppose not,” Maki frowned, eyes forward, “... but you’re going to explain more of this tonight. I’m not going into this blind.”

“Sure, but then I’m gonna give you some homework,” her older self stated, once again taking the lead and stopping to stand in her way, “It’s simple. Forget the concept of of what you should do and what you should be. In this mind-space, I want you to come up with the three most important things to you. You’ll share these with me tonight, before we get started.”

Sure. Yeah. Change your entire world view. That doesn’t sound hard at all.

Ugh.

“Deal.”

As if summoned by the word, the world shifted. A wave of electricity and ozone mixed with the scent of antiseptic and blood washed over her, raising the hair on her arms and nearly bowling her over with a sense of dread. Her older doppelganger noticed it too, though the rest of the street seemed unaffected.

“Oop. That’s my cue. Looks like they got it to work this time,” the older redhead chirped, “Have fun at cram classes. I’m gonna go punch some stuff now.”

“Punch some… what?”

But the other her had vanished… leaving Maki with only more questions, unease, and the furious determination to do whatever necessary to make this work.



The Matou Residence

 


“Master. I have answered your call. My spear, and victory, are yours to command.”

Ryota swallowed as the man, garbed in ornate red Sengoku period armor with a three-pointed spear that looked heavier than he was, knelt before him. His back crawled with the sensation of dozens of insect stings pressed against, but not piercing his skin. The look in his Servant’s eyes told him that he knew exactly the situation he had been called into… but Ryota dared not correct him to the scope.

“So,” Ryota stalled, sweaty and terrified in the five-story down catacomb of an amphitheatre, “A spear. That’d make you a Lancer, right?”

“Yukimura Sanada. At your service. We… seem to be in a tough spot already, eh Master?”

It took every ounce of Ryota’s self control to avoid wincing. Even that much could set off the old man, which would lead to a very painful, very abrupt, end. Instead, he managed to force an entirely unconvincing smile and shrug. “Wow. The Crimson Demon of War… Last Hero of the Sengoku… That’s… I’m pretty lucky, eh?”

The man looked apologetic as he rolled his shoulders and replied, “Is that what they’re calling me these days? That’s… rather embarrassing. Here, let me help you with that…”

The man raised his lance and his foot, bringing both slamming into the ground with an unnaturally loud shout. The stings at Ryota’s back disappeared as every single bug was stunned by the roar. He might survive this after all!!

Ryota seized the opportunity to tear his shirt off and to slap at his back until he was sure all of them were off. All around him was a cacophony of arrows crunching against his Servant’s spear as it twirled around them. He’d really managed to grab a good one! Apparently, old man Matou’s Servant was an Archer… but it was so dark down here that he couldn’t tell where the bolts were coming from.

“Good work, buddy!” Ryota called out. He slapped at his pants, hoping beyond hope that he hadn’t been too thoroughly searched… and sure enough, he found the small razor blade still lodged in his jean’s key pocket.

A quick slash to his thumb provided the fuel he needed to whisper and cast, “ Lightless cruelest dark. Crimson gift, my life, I pledge. Reveal your secrets! ” The dim torches lining the room erupted with almost blinding light, causing the arrow onslaught to abate as a young girl’s voice cursed from above.

“Good work!” his Servant called out, twirling his spear to the ready as he prepared to leap up to the Archer’s level. He launched, but was intercepted by a massive black wolf that materialized a moment before the impact.

The two crashed into the catacomb wall, causing the entire structure to shudder. Sanada, having somehow turned enough to strike feet-first, used the leverage to slam the enormous canine into the ground and pressed the blade against its throat, stopping only at the voice to Ryota’s left that called out, “Do it and your Master’s dead!”

Ryota shrieked and jumped away as a diminutive, wiry girl pressed a crossbow against his temple. She let him hop away, choosing instead to re-open fire on his Servant, forcing him to raise his blade from the wolf to deflect the on-coming barrage.

“Get over here, Greggory!” the girl commanded, keeping the bolts flying as she levied the two auto-crossbows at the war hero. For good measure apparently, she kicked Ryota in the side, sending him hurtling away and completely depriving him of his breath. He struck the wall and had his arm not been in the way, his head would have likely split against the stone. Instead, he was lucky enough to get away with the sickening crunch of ribs giving way and his arm snapping at the impact.

“Master!” Sanada called out, tumbling forward and sweeping wide with the back of his spear to catch the rear legs of the wolf, impeding it’s escape.

“You ass! ” The red-robed Archer roared, somehow increasing her rate of fire as she continued, incensed, “Don’t you know you never hurt the dog!!!”

“I don’t understand that reference!” Yukimura yelled in reply, back on his feet and trying to circle around the girl. Through the haze of pain, Ryota could see that some of those bolts were getting past his Servant’s guard. He had to do something.

”My blood, my body. The count of one and thirteen. Steal now from the end,” Ryota committed, ensuring that his evening would be well and truly agonizing as his body snapped back into place. Now he just needed to get to Nishikino General before the end of the day so they could put him back together after the damage he staved off came back in spades. The healing process was far from pleasant, but he was in well enough working order to aim his still-bleeding thumb to the Archer and cast, “My blood, my fiery wrath. Pierce my enemy’s spirit. Flay the unworthy.”

He felt the spell take hold, preparing to launch a modest amount of solidified blood into the distracted Archer’s back, but the effect was lost as a monstrous white muzzle snapped closed on his arm, engulfing his hand and setting Ryota screaming.

“Better give it up, Lancer. We don’t wanna kill the kid!” Archer advised, leaping high and back as Sanada slashed wide.

Rather than answer, Yukimura launched his spear at the gargantuan white wolf, forcing it to leap back or be skewered. Unfortunately, this didn’t include releasing Ryota, who was caught in the spear’s passing. Scraped, but not impaled.

“GOT YOU!” Archer proclaimed, firing two glowing bolts which the hero in red was too overextended to dodge. The explosion rocked the underground amphitheatre, rattling Ryota’s skull even further. The last thing he saw before his vision left him was Sanada falling back, armor rent, into the waiting jaws of the dark wolf.

 

------- -------

 

“So… you… want me to take my Servant back?” Kaori asked anxiously.

“I’m an old man… I overestimated myself. Instead of our previous arrangement, I propose an alliance,” Zouken offered from across the dinner table. The young girl was still wheelchair bound from the initial exchange of sigils and Servant, and had barely touched her dinner.

“Is she okay? She hasn’t had to do much fighting already, has she?” the Iida girl fretted, re-folding her napkin for the twelfth time.

“Only a few inconsequential scraps here and there,” Zouken waved off, allowing his own Servant to take his plate away, “I assure you, both her and her pets are fine.”

“Red’s my friend… I… I just want her to get her wish.”

“Of course. I’m old, not long for this world. It wouldn’t do for someone who has already achieved their dreams to steal away so precious an opportunity…” Zouken replied before taking another drink, “This world is for the young to inherit… and you have so much potential.”

“You’re… really so much nicer than everyone says,” Kaori admitted, shying inward and fiddling with her fork.

“You have to admit, I do look the part,” Zouken laughed, drawing a small smile from the girl.

“... Will it hurt?”

“Restoring your Servant and sigils to you will be far less traumatic than taking them. Are you certain you’re alright with re-assuming her upkeep?”

Resolute, Kaori nodded, “I’ll do my best.”

“Let’s head down then, shall we?” Zouken offered, eyeing the glasses and how the tremors from below set the water inside rippling.

“It’ll be good to see her again… I’ve missed her.”

“You’re all she ever talks about.”



Yazawa Nico


“So… am I doing this right?” Nico chanced, straddling a now equally bare Umi and trying not to smudge the ink already laid down, “How will I know when I’ve got it right?” She was covered in diagrams and language, and hoped that Umi was right and that it would all turn invisible after the spell went live.

Umi, beet red, replied through her pillow, “I’ve established all of the difficult spellcraft on you. Right now, you should be focused entirely on what your requirements for the connection are… and write them at length. Don’t just write it though… feel and endow the words with your will.”

“I’ve got almost all of that down… but I’m just… I don’t feel the connection yet.”

Umi shivered under Nico as she traced the most important clause of all, (that this mustn’t hurt Umi) and frowned as the girl answered, “You need to finalize it. I’ve left activation of the ritual to you… so… you should finish in the way that’s most meaningful for you.”

“It’s all about the way I feel then?”

“That’s how magic is fueled,” Umi agreed.

At that, Nico smirked, twirling the pen, dipping it in the inkwell, and readied herself to scrawl her signature directly onto Umi’s bum. No good deed left unpunished~ and they could both use a little levity after how intense this encounter had been.



The Matou Residence

 


A red-tressed woman named Nishikino Maki, who both was and was not part of this world, lounged against the compound’s main gate, popping down cherry tomatoes one after another. After departing from younger her, she’d beelined straight for the Matou’s household in Fuyuki, shifting her apparel to a sporty casual. It was getting late, there wasn’t much sunlight left in the day, and there was a lot going on in the household behind her. She owed an unnatural array and potency of senses to perceive, but the Matou residence was a hotbed of turmoil right now. Then, with a sharp breath, she felt more alive than… well… than she ever had in this particular existence.

The world became more colorful. The lattices of power that conveyed other beings became more pronounced. The weaves and wafts that connected all things became clear. She remembered the taste of her beloved Umi… and the sensation of being filled with her cherished Nico nearly overwhelmed her. However… above all of that… blinding in its intensity and washing over the glory of connection and the unrivaled pleasure of love...

was rage.

Her eyes seared lavender and her nostrils flared as she turned to the gate and pressing her palm flat against its nameplate.

“Fuck your door,” Maki growled, as the gate, it’s frame, and part of the connecting wall flared inward and were sent hurtling toward the building, destroying the entranceway and coming to a stop somewhere mid-way through the living room.

Maki stalked forward breathing heavily as the harsh glow in her eyes grew more intense. Every forward facing window shattered outward as the sky darkened with fist-sized hornets… all dropping dead, untouched, as they approached the visage of wrath.

She skulked into the ruined entrance, unheeding of the swarms dying over a meter before coming in contact and zeroing in on a few particularly horrified people, their garb suggesting wait staff, frozen at the stairs.

“If you’re not Matou, get out. If you are…,” Maki rumbled, her hair rising as her voice deepened, “Then… the doctor is in.”

 

------- -------

 

“What was that?” Kaori asked, wide-eyed at the crash from above.

“Oh, probably one of the other people’s Servants,” Zouken sighed, “All the more reason to get you your friend back. Don’t worry. My Assassin will make sure nothing happens until we get you out of here...”

“At once, Master,” the red-haired swordsman nodded, turning back to reclimb the stairs behind them.

 

------- -------

 

“Zouken, Zouken, who’s got the Zouken,” the demon that looked like Maki rumbled as she opened another door, this time finding a young blue-haired man glaring irritably and condescendingly despite his apparent reliance on a room’s worth of life support.

“It’s about time!” the boy growled, “What’s the point of keeping you idiots on retainer if it’s going to take you this long to bother showing up! Worthless Nishikino.”

Maki stopped short and stared.

“Well? What are you waiting for? … wait, you’re not Dr. Nishikino. Who the hell are you?”

“Who the hell’re you? ” Maki shot back askance, seeming to have come out of her rage for a moment, ironically from sheer annoyance.

“Matou Shinji. Tch. Stupid woman… how the hell d’you look so much like Kyoko?”

“She’s my mother,” Maki answered, further flummoxed.

“Well it looks like you got her good looks but nothing else. Come on airhead, are you going to take my vitals or what?”

Maki continued to stare for a moment before shrugging and approaching the young man’s bed, plucking his medical chart from the end table and leafing through. As she glanced over the lengthy laundry list of maladies, both physical and magical, she commented, “You’re pretty calm with all the noise coming from downstairs.”

“Grandfather’s a Master of the latest Grail War,” Shinji spat bitterly, “He took a few other Masters downstairs, so of course it’s going to get messy. I just hope he kills them cleanly for a change.”

“You sound bitter,” Maki commented, brow raised at the severity of the young man’s reliance on the room’s machinery. Another glance at the young man held the spark of recognition… and a nostril flare of outrage.

“It should have been me,” Shinji groaned, “Look, are you going to maintenance these things or are you going to play therapist for the rest of the damn day?

“Yeah, I’m gonna say neither, ” Maki grimaced, frisbeeing the file into the young man’s face, “Hey, this isn’t important is it?”

With a single sweep, Maki backhanded cleanly through his bedside dialysis machine, caught the falling top and casually chucked it through what first glance had suggested was a blood curse suppression unit and the wall behind it

Almost immediately, Shinji doubled over as his skin started to blotch and turn red. He was too busy gasping to respond as Maki continued, her voice returning to it’s barely restrained rage-on, “This body’s only about two days old, so I’m gonna say I’m not re ally bound by the Hippocratic Oath anymore you terrible little shit. If I find out later that you talked this way to Mama, I’ll tear my way down to hell itself to give you a proper beating.

With that, she turned and skulked back out, now knowing to descend through the building instead of bothering with the rest of the upstairs. She left without a second glance to the horrific and increasingly misshapen spectacle behind her… which was just as well. Had her eyes been aimed anywhere but forward, she would have missed the flash of steel and not leaned back in time to avoid her face being bisected.

 

------- -------

 

“What’s wrong Mister?” Kaori asked again, finally settled into her seat and excited about seeing her friend/Servant again, “You don’t look very happy.”

“They’re just being more of a hassle than expected up there. No matter. Nothing’s broken that I didn’t plan on replacing anyway,” Zouken sighed, “I just have a few more preparations to make before we can return Archer unto your care. You just sit tight, child.”

 

------- -------

 

“I’m sorry…” Ryouta groaned, coming to in time to witness the last moments his Servant would remain corporeal, “You… deserved better.”

“I’m sorry,” Sanada answered with a pained grimace, “... I hope you can… make it out of here… Master…” before shimmering away.

Archer, who had pulled back her hood, was tending to the smaller but still enormous dark wolf. It looked up at her with woeful doe eyes as the much larger white wolf rested its muzzle on Ryota’s chest, making it fairly difficult to breathe.

“I’m sorry too,” Archer answered without turning, “I hesitated. If I’d woulda shot him down before he got violent, you wouldn’t have gotten hurt.”

Still raw from the sense of loss at the severed connection with his Servant, Ryota bit back tears and spat, “Yeah, I’m sure you’re real broken up over it…”

The gangly girl, who looked to be in her late teens, spared him a frown before turning to the still whimpering wolf, “Greggory, you ham. Don’t scare me like that… you’re fine, you big dummy. Quit fishing for treats.”

The dark wolf let out a canine, “Hrmph,” and rose, helping the short-raven-haired girl to her feet as she dusted herself off.

“Do you know where you are?” Archer asked as she approached, “This place is like a non-stop horror show. Your Servant didn’t stand a chance one way or another… you? You, I’m trying to get out of here mostly intact.”

A little roughly, the girl probed his wound,  whistling at the cut left behind by his own Servant’s spear. She flicked back her cape and undercoat to reach into one of the pouches lining her belt, coming back with her fingers covered in a green goop. Goop that she slathered onto the wound as she continued, “I’m glad your Servant dealt with the bugs though. I had no idea how I was gonna get you out of that one.”

“So… you’re working against your Master?” Ryota gasped, knowing that despite now being officially out of the game as his Command Seals faded upon Sanada’s defeat, he still needed to pay attention to those still playing or else he’d likely end up dead.

My Master is one of the sweetest little girls you’ll ever meet… at least she should be. The old man tricked her… but as soon as you’re in the clear, it sounds like I’ll be going back into her care,” Archer continued as she continued to wrap a makeshift bandage around his soaked torso, “... Honestly, this whole thing’s gone to hell. Not sure I see a good end to this one.”

“So… you’re going to get me out of here?” Ryouta chanced, not wanting to get his hopes up too high.

“Yup. Claudia’ll run you wherever you need to go… but I’ll need her back right away. I’d recommend trading off those Seals before Zouken finds you again.” The titanic white wolf that had scooted down to his legs to accommodate the girl snorted, looking away at the mention, rumbling with a pouty whine.

“... Thank you,” Ryota gave in.

“Don’t thank me yet. Lemme guess, you need to get to that Mage doctor’s hospital. Nichi Pee No?”

“Nishikino General. Yeah... “

“Alright then. You two better get going while Assassin’s distracted. Good luck, kid,” Archer offered with a salute before falling back onto the smaller wolf’s flank, “Let’s go Greggory. Let’s not keep Kaori waiting.”

 

------- -------

 

Rage and frustration swirled in Maki’s eyes as the dodging space continued to diminish in the room of the soon-to-expire Matou Shinji. A malevolent miasma streamed out of the strange lava that was growing and solidifying around the howling young man. Each searing hiss of released gas was capitalized by the red-headed swordsman.

… and by swordsman, it would have been more apt to say humanoid lightning bolt. Conventional dodging had swiftly shifted into the realm of superhuman inventive as the man seemed to accommodate three to five steps in advance in this deadly dance. It was only via unnatural agility, strength, and outright impossibly flexibility that had kept Maki millimeters ahead of the swordsman’s blade.

What was worse was the same fount of energy that was permitting this continuous output was also empowering the curse aspect of the Mad Enhancement. Given that the lifetime she was pulling her martial skill from required so much mental focus, observation, and planning… having rage blind her better senses made victory… and at this point even survival a question.

Even worse yet was the rising fear. Fear that welled up amidst the rage. Glowing eyes, hissing, claws and teeth. Cutting, hungry, desperate cries that scraped at the back of her mind, begging to take the reigns. At this point, the rage was the only thing keeping the beast at bay… and the swordsman that Maki could only assume was either a second Saber or an Assassin was proving to be far too skilled for her to find a moment to sneak a counter in.

After the electric blue slashes flashed shallow crimson lines across Maki’s stomach and shoulder, seemingly simultaneously, she hurled herself back and through the window. She landed awkwardly, having crashed through a tree branch on the way down. The tumble she used to break her fall carried into a second as the swordsman cried out, “Ryūtsuisen!” and landed in her afterimage, sending dirt and sod at the explosive impact.

Maki leapt to her feet, checking the depth of her cuts and feeling her control slipping away further. She growled, “The hell was that you goddamn nerd!? Who the hell calls out attacks like that?”

Rather than answer, the scarred swordsman slashed the ground, roaring, “Doryūsen!” and kicking up dirt and debris that, were their surroundings anything other than a well manicured lawn, would have given Maki an eyeful of dust and rock. Instead, wet sod bounced ineffectually off a deflecting arm as the bare-fisted Berserker crossed the distance in an instant.

This mistake? All the opening she needed.

With reckless abandon, Maki’s seemingly graceful hands struck with granite solidity. Her opponent missed his initial warding blow, a one-armed downward strike, so Maki deprived him of his blade with a throat/rib jab combination that led to a wrist lock. Rather than permit the break, the swordsman relinquished his hold on the sword.

While his plan may have clearly been to kick it back into reach, Maki was already swinging him wide and throwing him back toward the building. She was getting too hot. The world was getting too sharp… and so were her teeth. Her posture hunched as she leapt after the disarmed swordsman, a deep rumbling growl in her throat.

The man’s eyes were wide as he scrambled out of the way of the hurtling Nishikino. Maki’s impact with the wall sent her crashing into the already ruined living room. She roared in frustration, balling her fists and then flaring her fingers wide, crimson claws made of crackling energy extended past her nails as she snarled and lost the battle for her sanity. She coiled and sprang back outside just as the roof above her collapsed under the weight of the still howling Shinji.

 

------- -------

 

Archer kept silent throughout the exchange. A war raged overhead, barely perceptible through the warding separating her, her Master, and Zouken from the rest of the world. She had been on edge, waiting for the moment of betrayal where she’d relinquish her only chance to claim that wish and slay the man that stole her… only that moment never came.

Wonderful little Iida Kaori was her Master again. Her Command Seals restored. A lovely dessert of strawberry shortcake and tea was shared as the nightmare named Zouken put on such a show that even she was fooled.

“Ahhh… I feel so relieved,” the old man sighed happily, “Now, I really should head upstairs and help my Servant deal with the intruder… I’ve taught Archer an escape route I’ve built further into the basement. I’m going to recommend you depart that way. It wouldn’t do for you to be thrown into such a thing without a chance to get reacquainted with your friend first.”

Kaori’s hand was tight in Archer’s as she nodded, “I really can’t thank you enough. I thought I’d made the right decision… but I was just heartbroken at the thought of never seeing Red again.”

“She’s a brilliant Servant and has remained ever loyal to you,” Zouken praised, looking every bit the kindly old man as he rose shakily to his feet and gestured toward the exit, “I’ve greatly enjoyed her company… do come and visit again once you’ve more fully recovered, will you?”

It took every scrap of Archer’s composure to not react violently to the suggestion… but she managed. Kaori thanked the man and allowed Archer to lead her through the exit and into view of a very concerned Greggory, who immediately began to sniff at her now giggling Master.



The Sonoda Residence

 


Nico! Nico, you have to get up!” Umi urged, shaking the comatose girl.

After she’d felt older girl scrawl her signature (in what must have been a fairly funny place to her) and the bond surge to life, Nico fell on top of her. Complete ragdoll. Ever since, she’d been unable to get any reaction out of her at all… worse, she was barely breathing. Just… cold, silent, still.

There were no flasks on her person or in her bag. Umi had no means of calling Nico’s Servant to plead for her to stop whatever was causing such a drain. She could only continue to shake and pile blankets on the proud energetic girl who had never looked so frail.



The Matou Residence

 


Another tree fell as the sun set, it’s trunk rent with unnaturally clean cuts. The swordsman was sweating heavily as he shakily rose to his feet. To his left, the living lava that had all but consumed the Matou Residence’s first floor vomited poison gas, only barely restrained by the shielding/glamour that prevented outside eyes from seeing the melee. In front of him, a woman that was now only barely human.

Eyes that once glowed lavender now surged an electric green. She circled, growling low on all fours, energy claws scorching the earth beneath her. Her clothing, at some point having shifted to an entirely impractical one-shoulder dress was in tatters. Her flesh was scored by dozens of thin or glancing blows, giving the swordsman a new respect for the power of animal instinct and reaction time… because again… this was no human.

He was far worse off at the moment. The heat from the building and his own exertion left sweat riveting down his body, dripping from his jaw and arms. His clothing was mostly shredded, leaving him bare chested and latticed with the results of real-time testing and discovering just how much further those claws could reach beyond their obvious visual range.

The woman was completely on edge. So angry that she seemed distracted. Spitting and growling at seemingly nothing. Clearly, as if his initial assessment had been in question, this was a Berserker. Any relief that may have been gained by her slight frame was lost amidst the evidence of her raw destructive potential. If anything, it was a relief that she was so lost in the throes of her rage. If he could remain out of her scope of what was and was not a threat, he might still be able to sneak in a victory.

To further complicate issues, his Master insisted on watching from the roof, particularly after he had seemingly identified their assailant. Regrettably, the label meant nothing… and the name in no way connected to the impossible creature before him. Also, the lava… it was beginning to take form. It seemed to be reaching for the two of them, which was easily beyond his scope to affect.

Cautiously, as every move was met with suspicion and an increasingly loud feline growl, the Hitokiri Battousai counter circled his opponent, hoping to at least get further from the radiating death behind him.



????


The knot in her stomach was ridiculous. She knew Nico would love it… but still… the lack of expression as she sniffed, probed, and tasted was absolutely unfair.

No single person should have so much sway over another.

“Look,” Maki, once again carrying a voyeuristic Nico along for the ride, interrupted, “If you don’t want it…”

“I’m just a little in shock,” Nico smiled back, rocketing shockwaves through Maki’s heart, “This… you did a really good job.”

“I studied,” Maki answered flatly, “It’s not like cooking is that hard.”

“Nuh uh,” Nico smirked, frosting still on her wagging finger as she chided, “You don’t get to downplay cooking just because you’re embarrassed that I’m making a big deal out of this.”

The smaller girl crossed the distance, licking her finger on the way so she could tug at both panels of her open top, “You did a great job… and I know how hard you worked to make that… especially for how little you like cooking.”


“I… don’t particularly dislike it,” Maki feigned, swallowing down memories of frustration and dozens of failed attempts.

“Uh huh,” Nico grinned, unconvinced, “Well… I particularly like you, Dr. Yazawa-Nishikino.”

How the hell does she always seem so damn confident? The desire to be kneeling so she could burrow her face into the shorter girl’s shirt was overpowering… and all she could do was just stare and fail to reign in her smile at the name. Still, a token effort had to be made…

“You’re alright yourself, Nishikino-Yazawa Nico…”

“Hee hee~ Now say it like you mean it.”

How was she always so confident… and how did she always make her heart feel so full? She lost the fight with her lips as a smile took over and she leaned in whispering, “Happy Birthday. Thank you for letting me share another year with you…”

“This year, the next, and all the way down the line…”

 

------- o -------

 

“This place? Really? ” Nico asked, patting the dust off of her overalls and glaring at the wreck of a house. The age lines in her face exaggerated by her comedicaly overdramatic distaste.

“It’s perfect,” Maki assured, biting her lip and seeing the base structure of the old manse rather than all of the water damage, painted over windows, and abandoned connected church, “Come on, you said we needed a hobby after retirement.”

“Yeah, a hobby. You know. Like… Twitch gaming streams or painting or something…”

“Look at this place,” Maki grinned, cracking her knuckles, “It’s going to need a lot of paint.”

“Can you even get internet out here?” Nico sniffed, patting her leg to beckon Corolla closer. The rottweiler rushed to her side at the promise of head scritches, nearly knocking her over… and Maki felt herself fall in love all over again.

“What are you, old or something?” Maki winked, “Universal broadband’s been a thing for decades now.”

“Don’t play the old card with me Maki. You’re the one with gray hair,” Nico shot back.

Maki crossed the distance, joining Nico in petting Corolla into Nirvana. From this distance, every laugh line… every eye crinkle, every brow crease was clear and a precious part of her wife that she’d been blessed to watch grow. “I want it,” Maki shrugged.

“Yeah, well... I’m still not sure… and what’s with that look?” Nico teased, knowing exactly what that look meant.

“Just… wherever’s fine… I just… I want to get away. I want to spend my retirement with you. Every day.”

“Don’t you mean your life, you dork?”

“... Yeah,” Maki agreed simply… and Nico gave a look of her own. One that said she’d just fell again herself.

 

------- -ico! -------

 

Her palms were sweaty. How the hell was that a thing? Maki had always thought that sweaty palms were just some stupid literary tool!

Instead, here she was. Roasting in the summer heat, basting in her own stupid sweat… made all the worse by being able to smell it in contrast to the perpetual bastion of the sight, scent, and probably even taste of the color pink on the piano bench beside her.

“Hmm…” Nico began, tapping her chin and totally focused on the sheet music above the keys, “The crossover here. Is there any way we can add another stanza’s worth of time? Two would be ideal… we could really get a good dance-breakdown in for the video if we rode that energy out...”

Maki swallowed before answering, “Normally I’d protest changing the music to suit a performance… it needs to be able to stand alone… but I was thinking of drawing out the anticipation before the solo drop anyway.”

“Hee hee~ Maki-chan likes it when Nico drops for her,” the girl teased, clearly pleased at the suggestion being accepted.

“It’s the only time you ever forget to force that annoying high pitch,” Maki shot back, wincing inwardly and cursing herself for yet another wonderful example of social ineptitude.

Nico leaned forward enough that she could rest her elbow on the piano without laying them on the keys (she could be taught!) and drawled, “So Maki-chan prefers her Nico, Nico-low?”

Maki desperately wanted to rub her eyes. Anything to help force her gaze away from Nico’s half-lidded torment… but all she could manage was a swallow. A bead of sweat raced down her temple.

“Heh, I got Maki-chan hot,” Nico teased with a toothy grin, reaching up and catching the drop with a finger. She wiped up, catching the full stream and Maki felt the heat in the room nearly double.

“Full disclosure, Maki-chan, and this doesn’t leave this room… but…” Nico began, voice low and maintaining eye contact, “Even though an idol should take better care with their deodorants… I think all-natural Maki-chan is my favorite scent…”

With that, Nico finished off what was left of Maki’s mental faculties as she flicked her tongue over her finger… never breaking eye-contact.

 

------- -ave to get up! Nico! Ple- -------

 

“Ahhh… Thanks Maki-chan, You’re a life saver,” Nico sighed, accepting the sports drink and immediately pressing it to her neck, “We really need a place to practice with some shade, you know?”

When Maki didn’t reply, snidely or otherwise, Nico looked up with confusion. She only found a steady, solid gaze.

“Maki-chan?”

“You should come over tonight,” Maki suggested, “For the night… and all day after.”

Nico’s eyes shot wide. She looked around frantically, clearly worried about who might have heard. Knowing that they were alone on the roof, Maki continued with clinical precision, “We’ll have the place to ourselves… and I don’t want to share Nico-chan with anyone right now... “

“Jeez, Maki-chan,” Nico, red-faced and shifting her bottle to cover the other side, “What’s gotten into you. What if someone heard?”

Maki stepped closer, but didn’t kneel like she normally would. Nico leaned back, eyes even wider, “So what if they did? I need help with practice. We were going to work on a new BiBi concept. I’ve gone two weeks without getting more than an hour alone with you and it’s driving me crazy.”

Nico looked around again, as if it would reveal something new, “What, you… you want to do a little right now?”

Now Maki knelt. Eyes locked on an increasingly flushed Nico who was unconsciously moistening her lips. The part of Nico which knew she wasn’t really Maki marveling at the intensity behind Maki’s reply when she said, “I want to do a lot.

“It’s… ah… it’s good to be loved?” Nico laughed nervously as Maki’s hand slid over her cheek.

“Nico-chan needs to be desensitized to adoration,” Maki suggested, brushing her lips past her cheek, “... or she’ll get overwhelmed during Lives…”

“I’m feeling a little overwhelmed right now,” Nico admitted as she leaned her head to the side, offering her neck which Maki leaned in for.

“Just wait…” Maki promised, sliding her hands u-

 

------- -ico! Nico! Nico! -------

 

“Nico-chan!” Maki laughed, incredulous at the smaller girl hopping onto her swing and just… standing above her.

“Someone needs to teach Maki-chan how high these things can go! You better hold on tight!”

“Oh my Go-

 

------- -erious! I need you to wa- -------

 

“Congratulations… Doctor Nishikino.”

A curious pride. She… hadn’t expected it to hit so hard… or for such a thing as a title to mean so much. Nico jumped up to her side, clinging to her arm and expressing every bit of the electric joy Maki herself felt.

“Thank you profe-

 

------- -ot going to just sit her and watch you d- -------

 

“So…” Nico led on, setting her magazine aside as Maki settled into bed beside her.

“So?” Maki replied, stretching and reveling in the cracking, the strain, and the appreciative near-leer from her partner, “Oh, hey, you’ve been following Aqours?”

“Heh, I’m surprised you even knew their name,” Nico praised.

“Thinking of scouting a few of them when they graduate?” Maki prompted, “Guilty Kiss is killer… and if I were seventeen again, I think I’d have the biggest crush on You.”

“You did have the biggest crush on me,” Nico winked.

Maki groaned, “You know what I meant!”

So… ” Nico redirected, “I’ve actually already started the process in approaching a few of them…. But that’s not what I wanna talk about.”

Maki finished braiding her hair prompting the smaller woman with a nod.

“I think it took this time.”

Maki froze. She released her hair, letting the braid fall loose. Shock exploded into wide-eyed hope and excitement, Maki grabbed Nico’s hands and grinned, “ REALLY!?”

“Hey, hey, come on now,” Nico laughed before taking a deep breath and continuing, “It might be nothing… but… I’m two weeks late.”

Maki’s vision blurred as she nearly crushed the smaller woman to her chest, “I want to make us official before anyone finds out.”

Nico’s hands were on her arms, “Hey… what are you… are you asking me to…”

“Yes,” Maki filled in, “I’m asking you… will you ma-

 

------- NICO! -------

 

Nico awoke with a gasp, clawing at the air in front of her as she coughed up water that Umi splashed her with. Still naked, she quickly found herself without the strength to even sit up, immediately falling to her side.

“Nico. Listen to me .”

It was Umi. It sounded like Umi, but her vision was fading in and out, so it was difficult to tell.

“Umi?”

“Nico, I need you to call Maki back! Whatever she’s doing is… Nico?”

Nico tried to sit up again, but her body gave out half-way. Her nose smushed into Umi’s thigh, and distantly Nico realized that all of the ink really had vanished.

“Nico, please , can’t you do anything to call her back?”

Nico’s eyes managed to see her own arm through the hazy field of stars and darkness that continually swallowed the world. Some markings… still hadn’t faded.



The Matou Residence

 


Crimson arcs flayed the ground, splashing against electric blue flashes of desperate counter/rebuttals. As quickly as the swordsman adapted to the feline Berserker’s techniques, she would just as quickly find new ways to keep him certain he was a moment from death. If it weren’t for the intensity of the woman’s face, screaming ‘pissed off’, he’d think she was playing with him. With the displays of power already shown… he should have been cut down minutes ago.

However… she was slowing down. For whatever reason, the woman’s energetic movements were dulling, and the lethal swipes of her claws were coming less often. After the strange living lava had crashed further down into the building’s foundation below and his Master had begrudgingly left his perch to deal with it, his opponent seemed distracted.

Even now, they had fallen into another stalemate, Assassin watching, Berserker prowling. It made no sense. The level of tactics, instinctual as they probably were, were far beyond what the animalistic intellect a Berserker should be capable of… even pauses like these were outside of expectation.

Much like the momentary distraction that had given him the opportunity to reclaim his sword, the red-haired woman kept looking to the West. It was one of these moments in which he made his move.

In a single leap, he crossed the distance. Taking the woman’s advice before she had fallen under the Berserker rage, he didn’t call out his assault, bringing his blade down but only catching a few strands of hair as his opponent finally noticed his advance. Before she could bring those horrific claws to bear, he slid easily into a reckless combination which abandoned defense. An all-too thin red line across her throat, a far deeper slash down across her abdomen, a spin-kick that connected solidly with her knee, buckling it to bring her face in range of a pommel smash against her nose.

The most successful exchange he’d managed thus far, but the next step required two steps of motion. He slid his leg into position for another downward cut, his eyes widening in horror at her response. He had already committed to the strike, but a single outstretched hand, wreathed in red, was poised to catch the blade.

Fortunately, his fears were unfounded. The blade passed through the crackling red, cleaving straight through, driving down into between her ring and middle fingers nearly to elbow. The shock on the woman’s bloodied face was telling. She had been certain that would work. He pressed the assault, pulling the blade back and thrusting forward, just missing her throat and jugular as she leapt away, instead pressing through into her abdomen.

A shot to the liver like that would have been easily fatal in his time… after a few days, but this was a Servant… and this was a miraculous modern age. He pursued, seeing the crimson wreath around her hands disperse as she was more concerned with holding her hand and forearm together than continue the fight. Victory was practically certain.

The destroyed lawn kicked up even more sod as he charged forward, her landing trajectory already projected and his blade seeking her neck. He slashed… but as his blade made contact with flesh, she disappeared. Vanished. Winked out of existence completely, the displaced air rushing in to fill the void.



The Sonoda Residence

 


The Command Seal’s expenditure surged with more power than Nico had ever felt. She gasped as her consciousness was shocked fully into the moment and her body was wracked by it’s energy’s passing. The crimson mark exploded with light, and left a singed, faded reminder of its existence. Nico didn’t have time to fret over whether it would remain, as her Servant appeared, crashing into the tatami of Umi’s bedroom and crumpling onto her side.

“Maki-chan!!” Nico cried out, horrified by the amount of blood running down the woman’s paler than normal skin. She rushed to the woman, who was now curled inward and desperately holding on to her left wrist for some reason.

“Stay back!” Other Maki groaned, curling tighter which was doing nothing for the numerous slashes on her shoulder and back, “I don’t… you shouldn’t see this!

Nico stopped short, unable to look away as more and more damage became apparent. Her nose was bent at an odd angle. She was bleeding from more places than Nico could focus and her stomach churned at the sight of why she was clinging to her arm so tightly.

“Maki-chan…” Nico shivered, eyes welling at the sight, “ Maki-chan!”

She crossed the remaining distance, all but throwing herself at the woman as she rushed to put pressure on the wound digging into the tendon of her Servant’s neck and trying to assess which other place was the next most dangerous… but there were too many… and they were so deep…

“I’m sorry… I’m sorry…” Other Maki kept repeating, keeping her eyes locked to Nico’s, “I didn’t mean for this… I… I was just there to see what was happening. The last Servant was summoned and… and then I was just so… so mad … I…”

“Shhh… don’t worry about that now,” Nico urged, helplessness growing as the pool flooding over the tatami widened, “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Flasks. Your bag…” Other Maki groaned as her eyes started to lose their glow.

“They were in your bag!? ” Umi groaned, dashing from her room, still undressed.

“When she gets back. Do I drink them? Do you? Talk to me. Tell me what I need to do. Keep talking. Just stay awake,” Nico urged.

“Pour it… arm, stomach, neck,” Other Maki instructed, “I’ll… I drink… th’other.”

“What happened,” Nico urged, desperate to keep her focused.

“Went to Matou’s… Last Servant was called. I… I think he killed them. No Archer. There was a… some guy with a sword. Red hair. Scar on his face… he was… he was really fast.”

Other Maki curled inward more. Nico shifted to let the woman rest her head on her lap, making it easier to keep pressure on her neck and giving access to the stab wound at her stomach, “Honestly… I was… I was just there to watch… I don’t get it. I was just so … so mad. Couldn’t think… ended up going cat again…”

“I think that means the connection worked… you’ve got Umi feeding you now too, so…”

“... Is that why you’re naked?”

“This really isn’t the time for that, perv.”

“Heh… i’s a’ways time for… f’r Nico… Nico niiiiiii,” Other Maki slurred, seeming to slip further, “Umi was too. Good call with the Seal. If th’ flasks aren’t enough… y’could use another… so don’ worry. I’ll be fine…”

“You’re not fine at all!” Nico ground out, “... but… thanks for reminding me.”

“Gotta see this through. Everyone’s countin’ on you… an’ I wanna watch you on stage from th’ audience. Get the fan experience.”

“If you’re a real fan, you’ll get the merchandise.”

“I’ll wait ‘n line. Get it signed,” Other Maki winked, despite the continued grimace.

“Why did you leave your bag at the door!?” Umi roared as she entered the room. She took one look at the scene, went even paler and immediately began searching the bag for the silver containers.

“Lookin’ good, Umi,” Other Maki teased, but winced as Nico pulled her hand from her stomach to flick her forehead.

“Hey , eyes on me ,” Nico insisted, “You’re my Maki-chan, so act like it.”

Umi pulled out a flask, unscrewed it, and handed it to Nico who immediately took hold of the woman’s bisected arm and started carefully pouring. There wasn’t much to these things and there was a lot of ground to cover.

“Okay…” Other Maki assured, “It’s about time you say something like that…”

“You’ve been mine since I called you,” Nico chided, relieved to see an immediate, if… somewhat stomach churning effect, “Umi… give her the other one… and thank you. You saved us.”




Author's Notes:



Happy Birthday Nico!

Nico: Thanks. I hate it! :D

I really wanted to doodle something nice for her, especially since she came home so hard in LLSIF, but that doodle turned into a comic which will probably turn into a one-chapter fic… because I can’t seem to do anything with these two without it turning all extra. Followers of my comic are aware that I’ve been in some pretty rough shape lately, which concerningly has only gotten worse. That’s not helping my productivity either. Y’all were waitin’ like… months for Nishikino!

So, for now, here’s this fairly eventful chapter. I had way too much fun writing it and those dream sequences are all moments from fics I'd love to some day mess with. Just not enough time in the day!



Information Matrix (UPDATED)

Some statistical values currently unavailable due to lack of context.

All information only pertains to what has currently been revealed. Additional information will be added as it becomes available. Intel primarily relevant to the Fate application of the crossover, most Love Live canon pre-Snow Halation is applicable.

 


Master: Yazawa Nico

Magic style: Stealth and Skullduggery
Magical Circuit Count: 12

 

Servant: Berserker

True Name: Nishikino Maki

Pseudonym: “Other Maki”

Noble Phantasm: Unidentified. May be unavailable due to “system incompatibility.”

Personal Skills: (A) Mad Enhancement, (A++) Mana Distilling, (C) Magical Construct Absorption, (A++) Supernal-Level Martial Arts, (B) Cat Mode

 

Bio:

The combined consciousness of numerous incarnations of Nishikino Maki, plus one or two others. It is currently unknown how she grew from a µ's member and songwriter to a hero worthy of preserving in the Throne.

 

Notes:

- Supplements lacking mana resources (Nico’s diminutive magic circuits) via distilled moonlight. This resource, when consumed by a human, supplies an incredible mana infusion. No current drawbacks have been observed outside of a hyped ‘caffeine buzz.’ Apparently, up to seven of these flasks can be filled in the course of a clear night, each with its own distillery unit. Caster rightfully expressed confusion that a Berserker would be capable of the operation of such delicate instruments. Apparently does not need to be ingested to be used as raw magical energy.

Flask quantity as of end of chapter: 1



-     Claims to be a “big deal” but as her accolades and accreditation into the Throne are from  events that have not happened yet, there is no means of verifying. Given that her fame is in its infancy and unrelated to her heroic exploits, the related effect that acclaim has on a Servant’s power should be interesting to observe.

 

-     Claims to recall numerous reincarnation cycles, including several occurring after the existence that granted her a place in the Throne. This is at odds with known lore regarding the system and additional research is required to verify.

 

-     Claims that her Master’s mana to personal energy ratios are unbalanced due to Throne save state updates coming from incompatible saturation levels from post current universe existences. Try saying that three times fast. Yeesh. This claim is supported by the catalyst used to summon her, an unidentifiable orb of mass/energy that was previously under research at the Clock Tower.

 

-     Functioning at a vastly lower capacity due to her Master’s weak magical resources pairing with previously mentioned incompatibility. Upon Umi’s additional magical energy contribution, this capacity increased at the cost of the Mad Enhancement also receiving a significant increase in strength.

 

-     The traditional Berserker Mad Enhancement effect is greatly diminished due to the personally relevant bond between her and her Master. Being literally bound to one of the people that made her happiest in life and surrounded by the others serves as a balm, diminishing the madness effect but also diminishing the power gain that comes with it. Umi’s additional power contribution has increased the strength of this effect, but not so intensely that communication has been rendered impossible. As such, it is still working at a weaker level and is serving as more of a detriment than ever.

 

-     Mental stability seems to be diminishing as multiple lives worth of information contaminates what she understands to be real. Impulse control continues to weaken as the Mad Enhancement struggles to apply itself into the double-edged sword it was intended to be. This effect is primarily held at bay due to Maki’s obsessive desire to protect her Master, particularly from herself. Nico’s suggestion seems to hold a great amount of sway in how this instability manifests, particularly during the shared dream phenomenon.

 

-     Caster has suggested that both her status as a Berserker and a Servant in general are in question, though currently no other source has substantiated this claim. Other Maki has refuted this claim, stating that despite there being non-standard aspects of her summoning, she was indeed part of and called through the summoning system of the Holy Grail War.

 

-     “Cat Mode” appears to be a berserker state where the Servant’s mental capacities are limited to those of a basic house cat, only paired with a fierce protectiveness and incredible martial skill. It is currently unknown what causes this to activate or deactivate. The catalyst for this mode seems to center around fear. This personal skill apparently comes from an incarnation where Maki was male.

 

-     Ammunition from Archer was drawn in and absorbed, converted back into mana which helped to diminish the drain on Nico, if only momentarily.

 


Master: Ayase Eli

Magic style: Physical Augmentation and Endurance

 

Servant: Caster

True Name: ??

Noble Phantasm: ??

Personal Skills: (B) Wide-Scale Charms and Illusion, (??) Nature Control

 

Notes:

-     Her clothing is beyond humble, her demeanor and hair suggest a venerable age, and her face is somehow masked in a way that while expressions can be read, one can not truly recall any specific facial features.

 

-     Has made several food related references to the girls around her, including references to boiling people and that she was considered a monster.

 

-     Utilized glamours and charms to redirect attention from Nozomi’s ruined apartment, suggesting their magic focuses on the subtler arts.

 

-     Has displayed great domestic affection for her Master and for Nozomi, going so far as to claim Nozomi as a daughter she never had.

 

-     Has distinct discomfort with Christianity and those that practice it.

 

-     Caused thorny vines to grow throughout the main hall of Kanda Catholic Church

 


Master: Tsubasa Kira

Magic style: Illusion and Glamours

 

Servant: Rider (determined by process of elimination)

True Name: ?? (currently known as Dummy or Dumb-Dumb)

Noble Phantasm:??

Personal Skills: ??

 

Notes:

-     A tall, muscular yet lanky and easy-going man. Notable features include copious amounts of body hair, tightly cropped top and facial hair, a red cape, and a crown adorned with two very long feathers.

 

-     Tsubasa claims to have gotten very lucky, suggesting that her Servant is of an excellent caliber.

 

-     Seems to enjoy the prospect of hand-to-hand combat.

 


Master: Matou Zouken

Magic style: Binding/Absorption and Insect Control

 

Notes:

-     Patriarch of one of the three founding families that, with the cooperation of the Tohsaka and Einzbern, created the system that enables the Fuyuki Holy Grail War. It is assumed that he is the instigator of the current event.

 

-     Somehow obtained Maki’s catalyst, an impossible orb of indeterminate matter/energy that was last seen under heavy surveillance and scrutiny at the Tower. How this orb came into being or it’s connection to Nishikino Maki remains to be seen. This item was not originally intended to be utilized as a summon catalyst. It’s original use in Zouken’s plans are currently unknown.

-     Claims to have had difficulty in managing two Servants simultaneously. As such, he has returned Archer to their original Master, Iida Kaori.

 

-=Classified Information=- Zouken is an ancient magus that previously went under the family name of Makiri. As the family valued absorptive capacity more than legitimate magical circuits, the family’s magical capacity declined to the point where their latest heir, Matou Shinji, was born without magical circuits of his own, effectively terminating the line’s magic potential. This lack was compensated for by utilizing various methods, some resembling torture, that would carve that potential and capacity into the body.

 

The family traditionally utilizes a specific variety of worm to accomplish this though, after the failure of the Second Fuyuki Grail War, Zouken has taken matters into his own hands and has started employing techniques he had allowed the world to forget. He is extremely dangerous and one of the oldest living humans on the planet, assuming he can still be counted among their number.

 

Servant: Assassin

True Name: ??

Noble Phantasm:??

Personal Skills: ??

 

Notes:

- Referred to as Hitokiri Battousai. The term Hitokiri, literally translating into manslayer, or man cutter, is a title that was originally given to four samurai in the Bakumatsu era of Japan’s history. The Four Hitokiri of the Bakumatsu, Kawakami Gensai, Kirino Toshiaki, Tanaka Shinbei, and Okata Izo were considered unconquerable forces of nature, incapable of being defeated by mortal men. They lent their incomparable skill to the the cause of overthrowing the Tokugawa Shogunate.

 

- None of these four men were referred to specifically as ‘Hitokiri Battousai’, so it is unlikely that Assassin’s true identity lies among their number.

 

- Further evidence of the Fuyuki Greater Grail’s corruption, this Servant is not one of the nineteen Hassan-i-Sabbah, and would not traditionally be considered viable for the Assassin class. This could be due to this Servant’s traditional class, Saber, was already being assumed by a Servant that became active earlier.

 


Master: Adrian Harwey

Magic style: ????

 

Notes:

-     The Harwey name belongs to an elite plutocratic family that has played both sides of the mortal/mage world, accumulating enormous wealth, power, and influence through both social spheres. This effort had been done in secret for generations, only recently becoming a more public takeover of business and humanitarian interests. Little is known of their reach, or their family’s magical capabilities and achievements, as most patents and movements are handled through shell corporations and proxies.

 

-     The name alone commands respect from all players that are aware of their significance. Zouken suggests that a Servant would be easier to deal with than the Harwey Conglomerate.

 

Servant: Saber

True Name: Tsao Tsao (Cao Cao)

Noble Phantasm: ???

Personal Skills: (C) Aura of Authority

 

Bio:

The legendary Chinese warlord, the second to last Chancellor of the Eastern Han Dynasty, and one of the most important figures in the Three Kingdoms period, Tsao Tsao was a brilliant ruler and military genius who was posthumously honored as the Emperor Wu of Wei. His achievements are too numerous to note here, but include the defeat and execution of the legendary Lu Bu, the defeat of the Liu Bei in the Xu Province which included the capture of Guan Yu, the focus of agriculture and education in the regions that he conquered, and the unpretentious yet profound poetry that he penned.

 

In the time following his demise, he was frequently portrayed as a villain in operas which would go on to inspire his portrayal in the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. While there have been attempts to reverse this trend, he is so entrenched in popular culture as a villain, that the Chinese equivalent of the term, “Speak of the Devil,” is “Speak of Cao Cao and Cao Cao arrives.”

 

Notes:

- He thought µ's performance of Snow Halation was pretty spiffy.

 


Master: Iida Kaori (Back in action!?)

Magic style: Charms/Enhancement

 

Servant: Archer

True Name: ?? Referred to as “Red”

Noble Phantasm: ??

Personal Skills: (B) Wolf familiars

 

Notes:

-     Utilizes twin crossbows, explosives, a bowie knife, and hunters traps.

 

-     Accompanied by two wolves, one a three-meter at the shoulder black wolf named Greggory , the other a five-meter silver named Claudia.

 

-     Wears a red cape and cowl. Appears to be a female white european roughly fourteen years of age. Exceptionally frail in appearance.

 

-     Servant is still active and apparently is now working for Zouken Matou. Has recently returned to Kaori whom she seems to have an affectionate relationship with.

 


Master: Fujimoto Ryota

Magic style: Haiku-Based Blood Magic

 

Servant: Lancer

True Name: Yukimura Sanada (Retired)

Noble Phantasm: ??

Personal Skills: ?

 

Notes:

-     One of the greatest heroes of the Sengoku period, he didn’t get anywhere near the screen time he deserved, and as such, will be left mostly undefined.

 


Previous Grail War Participants

 

Tohsaka Rin

Magic Style: Jewel Magecraft / Physical Augmentation / Solid-State Arcane Projectile (Gandr)

 

Notes:

-     Technically the victor of the 5th Holy Grail War, Tohsaka Rin and her sister Sakura are the last remaining members of the Tohsaka line. The same Tohsaka which cooperated with the Einzbern and the Makiri to construct the Greater Grail on the Fuyuki ley line, thereby creating the engine which enables the Fuyuki Holy Grail Wars.

        - The 5th Holy Grail war was a notably intense affair which left the surrounding region, nearly the whole of Tokyo, abandoned by the major mage families. The official reason for this was the volatility of the Greater Grail requiring time to cool off, but given that the 4th Holy Grail War culminated in the destruction of a prefecture and nearly exposed the world to magic as a whole… this explanation has always been called into question. Whatever the real reason, it is certain that Rin and her actions lie at the center.

 

-     Was the Master of two Servants. Originally calling Archer to her side, this Servant fell during the course of the War. Afterwards, through her partnership with another Master, Emiya Shirou, she took on the responsibility of his Servant, Saber. This Master/Servant bond continues to this day, proving that the 5th Holy Grail War did not have its intended conclusion despite a victor being named.

 

-     Is in a healthy, supportive, and loving polyamorous relationship with her Servant and Emiya Shirou.

 

-     In the five years following the events of the 5th Holy Grail War, Rin has grown tremendously, both in capability and in emotional maturity. She has grown past the social crutches she relied on in her youth, thanks in part to the perspective gained by sharing memories with her Servant and having a reliable and affectionate support circle. She has become renowned throughout the higher mage community as a diligent worker, a brilliant mind, an incredible magic talent, and an advocate for magical policy reform. This puts her at odds with various stances that older and more influential families, like the Harwey, have championed.

 

Servant: Saber

True Name: Artoria Pendragon, The Once and Future King, King Arthur

Noble Phantasm: Excalibur

Special Attributes: (B) Charisma, (A) Instinct, (A) Mana Burst

 

Bio:

There are many heroes and military leaders that Arthurian legend is based on, and through the combination of humanity’s grasp of the fiction and the fact are Artoria’s capabilities as a Servant born. There is more than can be easily said here about the life that warranted her name being scribed in The Throne, so this information will focus instead on her existence after being summoned into the Holy Grail War.

 

-     Artoria was originally summoned as a Saber during the 4th Holy Grail War by the man who would eventually adopt Shirou, Emiya Kiritsugu, by using Avalon, the sheath of Excalibur, as a summoning catalyst. After the 4th War, he went on to hide Avalon inside of Shirou, which gave him the ability to call on Artoria when the 5th War rolled around and granted him incredible regenerative capabilities. As the 5th War progressed, Rin took on the role of Master in part due to her superior ability to generate magical energy to fuel her.

 

-     Is in a healthy, supportive, and loving polyamorous relationship with Tohsaka Rin and Emiya Shirou.

 


Emiya Shirou

Magic Style: Reinforcement / Projection (Physical Manifestation)

 

Notes:

-     A first-generation mage, Shirou has no family history of magic usage, nor does he have a Family Crest to draw upon. He has sparse magical generation capabilities due to his irregular training by his adopted father and has only in the past five years following the Grail War received legitimate education on the subject.

 

-     Orphaned by the culmination of the 4th Holy Grail War that ravaged Fuyuki, he was adopted by Emiya Kiritsugu and pulled from the brink of death when the man placed Avalon within him.

 

-     Is in a healthy, supportive, and loving polyamorous relationship with Tohsaka Rin, Tohsaka Sakura, and Artoria Pendragon.

 

-     In the five years since his experiences in the 5th Grail War, his mindset and motivations have matured. Whereas his original stance was to try and save everyone through his own actions, he has come to recognize that the efforts of a single person are insufficient to change the world alone. Learning from the failures glimpsed through the 5th Grail War’s Archer, Shirou has instead dedicated his life to reforming magical society, leading it from the selfish and self-destructive beast that it has grown into. This represents a shift from personal heroism to one of community.

 

-     Much of magic society gives him little credence. However, anyone who interacts with him long enough to hear his ideology is often inspired and finds themselves drawn in by his charisma. Rin likes to joke that this comes entirely from Artoria being an excellent influence, and he does not argue this point.

 


Lord El-Melloi II

Magic Style: Teaching and study!!

 

Notes:

-     Originally Waver Velvet, Lord El-Melloi II earned his name by compiling the works of House Archibald after the passing of its last practicing member, saving the family’s name from vanishing completely from magical society and earning him, at last, a position of respect in the Clock Tower.

 

-     As a child, he participated in the 4th Holy Grail War, summoning Alexander the Great as a Rider. This experience tempered his ambition into a functional edge and granted him much needed perspective.

 

-     Technically a third-generation mage, he started entirely from scratch as the previous two practitioners of his family were barely hobbyists. As such, his magical generation capabilities are abysmally low. Lower than even Nico’s. He is barely capable of performing any magical acts at all, though his technical knowledge is superb.

 

-     He has become renowned throughout the Clock Tower’s educational programs as a top tier educator, bringing new methodologies for practical application to antiquated curriculums. He’s the cool teacher that’s hot.

 


Toujou Nozomi

Magic Style: Fortune Telling, Warding, Purification

 

Notes:

-     Her father is an American who is a member of the military. Her mother tutored both her husband and daughter in magic, though mostly for self-protection. Her father’s frequent transfers are why Nozomi had such an unstable childhood. She’s technically an army brat.

 

-     Her father suggested that she volunteer at local shrines to familiarize herself with both the language and local customs.

 

-     The primary reason Nozomi was permitted to reside alone was because she chose to settle in what was considered a cease-fire zone as far as magical influence was concerned. Tokyo is very low-crime and with the volatile Greater Grail under Fuyuki, no sensible mage would stir up trouble.

 


Sonoda Umi

Magic Style: Purification, Physical Augmentation, Elemental Enhancement
Magical Circuit Count: 45

 

Notes:

-     The Sonoda are one of the largest remaining “public” magic families in Tokyo.

 

-     The family partners with many shrines to provide legitimately magical charms and to perform holy rites.


-     Has entered into a contract with Nico to provide additional magical energy to her Servant. This has had several negative consequences, the extent of which are still unknown.

 


Nishikino Maki

Magic Style: ????

 

Notes:

-     Will apparently one day perform public acts of heroism significant enough to warrant her being called by The Throne.

 

-     Her family’s magical practice is based in medicine, and has become a world-wide name in providing safe, reliable magical procedures including magical circuit transfers, curse dissolving, primary and secondary sex characteristic correction, and limb restoration. They also place a focus on bridging the gap between magical medicine and traditional, seeking methods to replicate their magical offerings to the greater populace.



-      Totally has it bad for Nico. <3 \oo/ <3


-     Has entered a strange limited-knowledge relationship with her future self, Berserker, who seems to be grooming her for a coming conflict.

-     Was capable of not only perceiving, but actually seeing Berserker while noncorporeal, which even her own Master is incapable of. What she saw is drastically different from how the Servant presents when physical, sporting numerous scars and even missing her right eye. Maki has done a good job of suppressing the dread that sight brought.

 


Matou Shinji

Magic Style: N/A

 

Notes:

-     Much to the surprise of many reading who are familiar with the Fate canon, Shinji is still alive.

-     His role, which might sound to be nearly at an end, will have significance… so… sorry. We get to put up with his terrible self for a bit longer.



Additional Notes

 

- This story takes place five years after the 5th Holy Grail War. Nowhere near the necessary 60 years for the Greater Grail to draw enough energy from the ley line to provide Servant summoning, and even less than the pre-emptive gap between the 4th and 5th. This is clearly be a symptom of the ritual failing to be brought to culmination multiple consecutive times.

 

Chapter Text

Previously, on Berserker:

<The phone’s camera shakily reveals Nico sleeping in the background, curled up on her heavily bandaged Servant’s lap. A quick close-up confirms that the time-lost Maki also appears to be sleeping. The camera pulls away, the scene lit entirely by the phone’s flashlight, showing that it is being held by a grim-faced Umi. In a hushed voice, she confides...>

I… may have made things worse.

Earlier today, I made a contract with Nico. A one-sided pledge of support that adds my power to her’s, ensuring that she will be more capable of handling her Servant’s upkeep. Only… in almost the same breath that the contract was sealed, she passed out. Her Servant earned her class’s title, cutting loose against the Matou who, if her report can be believed, briefly was occupied by three other Servants.

<The camera slips, and Umi readjusts, incidentally giving a view of the pair behind her>

With… Other Maki addled by the further empowerment of the curse that is part of her Servant class, I fear she may have not only become less reliable, but more distressed as her grip on the now continues to fade.

I’m worried about my friends… and I don’t know what to do.

<As Umi reaches for the screen, twin points of glowing lavender are clear in the background>

<Flash to the title card, no opening credits this time.>




Berserker
Episode 7: Alliances


Sonoda Umi


Umi terminated the recording and locked her phone, not feeling any better for having voiced her concerns. Her grasp of the situation revealed nothing that could help resolve the new compounding issues. The contract was… quite solid. She hadn’t left any clause for canceling it early, certain that the older girl would have tried to call the entire thing off at the first sign of Umi straining.

Apparently, given how she never felt a particularly strenuous pull on her energy, Nico’s part of the contract must have included limiters. Caps on how much could be drawn. Either way, she hadn’t had the chance to ask Nico what her side of the deal entailed. The instant Nico activated the connection, she had passed out. She had only barely come out of it long enough to burn a command seal, chastise her Servant as the two of them scrambled to patch her up, and collapse once more… though it seemed to be more from exhaustion rather than mana depletion.

With a heavy sigh, Umi opened Line and started to tap away at a report to Eli to fill her in on the events of the evening. She didn’t get far before she felt the volcano of energy stir behind her, rising to approach and lay a hand on her shoulder.

“Thank you again, I think she’s out for the night,” Other Maki began, her voice hushed, “I need to set the moon catches. Can I show you how they work?”

Umi turned and found the woman in her less-confident, meeker state. A bizarre mirror of the oft-weary girl at the piano when struggling with a melody. “Of course,” Umi answered.

“I’ll need a glass container. Preferably something with a lid,” Other Maki added, “I’ll meet you on the roof.”

Both rose, the Servant a bit more slowly. It was clear that, despite her body being a magical construct, she still felt the pain of her injuries… and there were many . Three of which could be considered crippling if not fatal. Another oddity was that she hadn’t disapparated since being pulled by the Seal.

They parted ways. The house felt rather lonely knowing that her parents weren’t there. It didn’t take long to find a match for the requested container, and within a minute she rejoined the woman unexpectedly at the front door. Contrite, Other Maki asked, “So… uh… Mind if I hitch a ride up? The less energy I pull from her right now, the better.”

A good idea, but an awkward act. She had to have the much taller woman hold the old sun tea jar from her fireman’s carry spot on Umi’s back… and it took biting her tongue to keep from commenting on just how heavy the woman was. Nothing her augmented capabilities couldn’t handle, but still enough to catch her off guard.

It was clear that the woman was lingering as Umi knelt to let Other Maki down. As it always was with her, Umi’s heart was conflicted over how to feel about her friend’s future self. Irritation, distrust, and outrage warred with familiarity, affection, and a deep desire to know more.

Other Maki slumped to the ground, treading carefully to the crest of her roof’s slant. With a slow breath, the strange collection of mirrors, tubes, and bottles shimmered into existence. She balanced it on the rooftop’s edge and beckoned for Umi to come closer. “The base locks onto the surface it’s resting on. You just set it to be as level as you can, will it to remain still while holding with both hands, and even if you don’t have circuits it will pin itself to the relative constant of the matter beneath it.”

Low energy and calm seemed to pair the Servant with her identity far better than any other way Umi had seen. She nodded after Other Maki looked for her acknowledgement. She shimmied a bit further down and manifested a second, holding it in place with one hand and offering, “You try it.”

“Where did you learn to make something like this?” Umi asked as she leveled, applied, and sealed the unit into place. An experimental attempt at unbalancing the baseplate being met with zero give, “Is this part of your family’s magic?”

A faint smile as she shimmied further preceded Other Maki’s answer, “No… although it would serve a lot of good. I watched a friend make one of these a long time ago in a life that hasn’t happened yet in your Maki’s spiritual timeline… a wise old crow that was married to a rabbit.” She pulled another into existence and offered a weary smile as she continued, “She was nice. You two would have got on really well. Each one of these required decades of work, mostly due to programming the internal processes. I’m just relieved they translate well into the local system.”

Umi kept pace, sealing the unit into place and replying, “Given that I could follow that, and even believe it, I may be acclimating to you. Were they youkai of some kind?”

Other Maki continued mid-shimmy, “No, but they were anthropomorphic. That was part of a much… much longer life.”

“I wonder at your scale,” Umi prompted, feeling her animosity toward the reckless woman fade as curiosity took hold, “What would your longest life be?”

“The one that’s currently running,” Maki replied distantly, pulling another unit into existence, “I can’t say much about it because rules, but the soul I’m a record of hasn’t been Nishikino Maki for… a very long time. Only a few lifetimes since, but this latest is… something else.”

Right. How bizarre it must be to be aware of such a thing. The Church’s notes detailed the process simply enough. The hero’s soul, upon being found worthy, would be plucked from the reincarnation cycle and from then reside in the Throne, ready to be called upon in times of humanity’s need. The Greater Grail offered the energy of the summoning ritual to the Throne in exchange for a copy of a hero, whose experiences would join the stored collective after that Servant’s time was at an end… the main body of the Servant’s source left untouched until whatever purpose the Throne truly existed for became relevant.

“So, since you seen aware of that cycle, maybe you could clear up a few theological questions?” Umi prompted.

“There’s rules about that… but I’d bend some for you,” Other Maki offered as she locked another unit into place.

“Is… reincarnating into the same person over and over a common thing?” Umi asked, despite there being plenty of study proving the opposite. Those studies, however, only tracked the progression of souls remaining within the same timeline… and none of this was exactly within the scope of her family’s magical studies.

“Like most of the answers you’re probably going to get out of this… it’s relative. Depending on where you are, what’s common is completely different. Infinity is… really big. Bigger than most think… and since nothing is truly unique, you could throw a dart at a board with random ideas and it’d be true somewhere,” the weary Servant explained, “I haven’t chased anyone else’s souls through their sequence of lives, so I couldn’t tell you exactly where their development took them. That said, I do know that my obsession with being… me… is part of why I turned into what I’ve become.”

“A Servant?” Umi prompted.

“Someone hand-selected to be… something else,” Other Maki corrected, slowly crawling as she avoided using her heavily bandaged left arm, “You remember how Caster thought there was no way I was a Berserker… or a Servant in general?”

Umi nodded, so the woman continued, “There’s a few reasons for that. Except for a few small instances throughout my progression, I’m in no way compatible with being a Berserker. The only reason I’m not here as a Caster or… I guess maybe a Saber, is entirely because my girl specified the class in her ritual. Since I was the only possible match in the Throne for her catalyst, it looks like the Berserker state is being expressed through my soul’s second-to-latest life. The one your Maki will be ‘enjoying’ four lives from now.”

“This… is near the end of her time as… herself then?”

“... Entirely because of what’s happening now. I’d probably have just kept chasing you and the others forever otherwise,” Other Maki sighed wistfully, “... but it’s dangerous to think of an entire life as just another in a long sequence of events. You don’t usually… connect with your other selves, which is good. It tends to break things.”

“So… how is it that you do?” Umi prompted, rapt and wanting to pull as much as possible before the woman’s personality shifted again.

“Because spoilers,” Other Maki shrugged haplessly, pulling a seventh distillery out, emptying its flask into the sun tea jar, and sliding it into the collection plate, “It all sounds really special snowflake, but there’s nothing special about it. Turns out I’m just a selfish, stubborn girl that never wants to let go… but not being smart enough to recognize that by continuing to play the role of Nishikino Maki, the family I come to love continues to move on to other stories.”

With nothing to keep her hands busy, Other Maki turned to face Umi directly as she finished, “One of those rules that aren’t technically rules… more trends than anything. Souls tend to move in packs. You stick with the people you love. You live a multitude of lives with them, experiencing endless variance of roles in how you interact with them. In this life, you, Honoka, and Kotori share a deep bond. Chances are, you three have been, and will be, dancing around each other for as long as you’ve existed. In this life, all of the rest of you were likely doing that very same thing.”

Umi acknowledged the point, “... and by continuing to be Maki…”

“Everyone keeps flying off without me. Without the perspective I have now, each iteration of our group would go off to live wildly different existences together while I kept scrambling back for more µ's. Continually reprising the role with a new set of players, thinking I was staying with the people I love.”

Umi frowned, “That… can’t be an unusual practice, assuming that choice has any matter in a spirit’s path…”

The Servant shrugged, “Couldn’t tell you. All I’ve got is a few vague memories of being told how I was doing things was a problem and being given an opportunity for one more time around in exchange for being drafted for what came next… which is the vaguest way I can think to tell you so that I’m not getting us into trouble.”

Almost dreading bringing it up, Umi commented, “You’re… the most lucid I think I’ve seen you. Does this mean you’ve stabilized?”

Other Maki relaxed and sighed, “It means I’m barely pulling enough energy to exist right now, starving out the Servant Class benefits. They can take me out of the Caster class, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still have some tricks to pull from. That’s the next thing I wanted to talk to you about. We can’t let what happened today happen again.”

“I agree, but how can this be prevented?”

“You offering your energy is a good start, but we need to limit Nico’s outward flow, cap how much of herself is pulled and allowing your contribution to make up the difference. Caster might be able to whip up something to do the trick, if we ask nicely.”

“... You mean if we ask Nozomi to ask for us?” Umi smirked.

“Right? She’s got me feeling all possessive,” Other Maki dished, forgetting to be careful with her hand while gesturing and wincing, “... Which is my next stop. You can watch Nico-chan for the night, can’t you?”

“I’ll do my best,” Umi assured, “Will you be okay? You’re not exactly in the best shape.”

“I heal quick,” Other Maki brushed off, rising to her feet and hugging the jar to her chest, “... and should get going. I left enough of a mess for Matou that he’ll be tied up for a while, so it should be safe out there.”

“What about the other Masters?” Umi frowned, “Even if your assessment is accurate and that Lancer is defeated, Archer has temporarily withdrawn, and Assassin is assisting with Matou’s recuperation, that still leaves… a Rider?”

“Oh… don’t worry about that guy. His Master and I are already on good terms,” Maki assured with a wink, passing Umi as she padded her way toward the front of the building.

“Wait,” Umi asked, perplexed, “Who is Rider’s Master?”

 


Toujou Nozomi



“... Tsubasa... Kira,” Nozomi sort-of-greeted, staring at her fellow idol and her towering Servant. Caster’s arm on her shoulder was only a slight relief, given that the glamoured woman was tense from not only the encounter, but their continued stay at Kanda Christ Church.

“Good evening,” Eli stepped up, nodding in greeting and serving as a welcoming barrier between the two Servants who were eyeing each other warily, “Thank you for agreeing to meet me here.”

“Thank you for inviting us. Things have been so crazy out there that some answers would be welcome,” Tsubasa answered.

“We keep missing all the action,” Rider pouted, scratching at his chin and pouting exaggeratedly, “... and everytime we find someone, I keep finding out it’s another person we’re not planning to fight!”

Tsubasa elbowed the lanky Servant, adding through a forced smile, “Don’t mind Rider. He’s just tired of being cooped up.”

And getting used as a punching bag without getting cut loose at all ,” the brooding fuzzy man groused as he brushed past his Master toward the pews, “You got any food around here?”

Tsubasa glared after her Servant as he walked away before shaking it off and turning to Nozomi, “Really. I’m sorry about him. So… are you a Master too then, Toujou-san?”

After letting go of the breath she hadn’t realized she was holding, Nozomi answered simply, “Thankfully no. I was selected as the Church’s representative.”

“However,” Caster chipped in, drawing her in a little tighter, “Little Nozomi is like a daughter to me, so I’ll protect her as fiercely as my Master.”

Eli sighed and rubbed her eyes, “It’s fine, Caster. Like I said, Tsubasa is a friend… from before the war.”

Tsubasa’s smile turned genuine for the first time since arriving. The tension left her shoulders as she sighed, “I’m glad to hear you say that… and that I’m not the only one with a willful Servant. It’s a pleasure to meet you Caster. Please go easy on me.”

Caster seemed pleased enough at the courtesy, answering, “Of course. I do have a pot boiling in the kitchen if you’d like something warm.”

“Ooh! Ooh!” Rider flailed, nearly falling over trying to get out of the pews, “I’d love some grub.”

Caster’s expression, difficult as it was to pin down, fell at his voice. “You can have some too, I suppose. It might help you with those bony elbows of yours,” she teased and beckoned for the party to follow her.

“Hey, my elbows are not bony,” Rider whined, quickly passing the girls in his haste.

He seems like a handful,” Eli commisserated.

“That’s an understatement,” Tsubasa sighed, falling into step between the two Otonokizaka third years, “I hope this hasn’t gotten in the way of practice.”

“Most of the group is trying to keep up, but things have been very hectic,” Eli explained, taking charge which was a relief for Nozomi, “Matou has been on the move.”

“I felt the summoning,” Tsubasa admitted, “It was over toward Fuyuki.”

“Whoever it was, they called a Lancer,” Eli filled in, “... and that Lancer is already gone.”

“What?” Tsubasa flatly replied, “The entire place was warded… how did you find out?”

When Eli looked to Nozomi for approval, she spoke up and explained, “There’s another Master in µ's. Her Servant was there.”

Tsubasa looked tense at the admission. As they approached the kitchen, Caster and Rider’s bickering filling the silence, the A-RISE leader sighed, “I guess I should be glad you agreed to this alliance. I’d be in trouble if the two of you were coming after me…”

“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that,” Nozomi replied, eagerly anticipating the reveal, “Nicocchi’s way too big a fan to want to hurt you.

Tsubasa didn’t disappoint. She dropped her bag as she turned and marveled, “Yazawa!?”

Eli stooped over to pick up the bag as Caster approached. The Servant ladled a healthy portion of soup from what looked to be a massively oversized mortar (it’s comedically matching pestle leaning against the wall) and offered it to the stunned idol. In a far more soothing voice than the previous scathing exchanges with Rider, Caster added, “That’s right. She’s a tiny little thing. Bit off a bit more than she could chew it seems. Here, drink this. There’s a chill in the air.”

“Thanks,” Tsubasa murmured, warming her hands against the bowl as her expression grew more confused, “So… does that mean there’s three µ's Masters right now? Ayase-san, Yazawa-san, and Nishikino-san? I’m not sure that adds up...”

“Actually… about Maki-chan…” Nozomi began.

 


Nishikino Maki

 

Maki stared at her bed’s canopy. The glow-in-the-dark stars she had stuck to it were dimming and still no sign of the bizarre woman who had both affirmed the world’s bizarre twist and turned it even more askew. Her homework was done, but rather than try to iron out some of the lingering issues with her latest composition, she was simply staring at stars in their arranged constellations.

Here in her room, Vega and Altair… which is to say Orihime and Hikoboshi, would always get to see one another. Last year’s cloudy sky moved her to make sure of that.

One story she could affect. Ensure a happy ending for.

White hair at such a young age. So many scars. Her eye … what kind of future awaited her? It was quiet moments like these that were robbing the music from her heart, filling it instead with anxiety and weakness. She desperately wanted to talk to someone about this… but who would believe her? Clearly Nico-chan might, but she didn’t want Maki to know the things that were wrong in the first place.

Maki sighed and turned away from her self-made happy ending, just in time to see a figure approach her second story window. It only took a second to realize who it was, but in that time she’d nearly fallen off the bed for how quickly she’d backed away. Her strange other self knocked softly, and Maki was already on her way over to answer.

The moon was fairly bright, so the woman was a silhouette. Her hair was still red, which was somewhat of a relief, but that was all she could make out. She unlatched the windows, pulled together her courage, and chided, “You’re late . I was starting to wonder if you were coming.”

“Sorry,” her potential future self wearily offered, carrying none of the previous bravado or condemnation, “The day didn’t… well… close the window. The blinds too.”

If the tone in the woman’s voice hadn’t raised alarms, the way she hobbled to the bedside would have set them at full volume. Maki did as instructed. The woman that looked like her turned on the bedside lamp and starting toward her desk. She was clearly in a lot of pain.

“Sit down, let me get that,” Maki offered, sliding her desk’s chair over as she flicked the room’s other lamp. Soft low lighting. Familiar when seeking comfort. Instinctual… and more proof that this really was some future version of herself, “What happened?”

The woman hugged the jar she brought with her to her chest, wincing as she tried to find an angle to get comfortable in. Now that Maki saw her in passable lighting, that pain made a lot more sense. The doppelganger became a patient which her meager skills were nowhere near enough to help with. The numerous bandages covering her torso were nearly soaked through… to say nothing of the comedically thick wrap-up of her left arm.

“I messed up,” her other self offered, biting her lip and looking around with an increasingly helpless expression, “I screwed up bad, I can’t think straight, and I need your help.”

The way the woman’s voice broke at the end was the scariest part of her day so far. “I don’t know what to do. Should I call Waki-san? Get you to the hospital?”

“No,” the woman answered shakily, holding her left arm still with clenched eyes, “It has to be you. The lesson plan’s moved up a bit. We can’t wait for Mama and Papa to be ready. You start learning your family’s craft tonight.

“My… ? Alright. Talk me through this…” Maki swallowed, rolling up her sleeves.

“To start, get your phone. Set an alarm for thirty seconds. Put your hand on my shoulder, and pull it off the instant it rings…”

Confused, Maki did as the woman said, resting the phone on her knee as she leaned in to rest her hand o-

 

------- -------



“ -ought you said you would pick up more sprouts too,” Nico grumbled, unpacking the groceries.

“I don’t get why you’re so obsessed with those,” Maki groaned, “It’s not like you need to rely on piling those on to feel full anymore.”

“They’re not just filler,” Nico pouted, “Nico can’t make her special home-cooked stir-fry taste right withou-

 

------- -------


“ -our boldness will be rewarded, on the condition that you don’t get in my way. My name is…”

Maki froze, eyes wide. She relaxed her voice, in horror as she realized just what it was she’d wished for, “Nico-chan?”

She looked so small. Pale and exhausted, trembling as the trickle of magical power she could manage was eagerly soaked up by Maki’s very existence. Her dearly beloved and so desperately missed Nico stared up in confusion as she whispered, “Ma-



------- -------

 

“ -hy won’t you eat my cooking?!” her near-constant companion (whose name was just on the tip of her tongue) raged, her face turning a telltale shade of red, “You had no problem eating everything they brought!”

Maki(?) groaned, smacking her forehead, pulling at her pigtail, and unwisely answered, “ They don’t pack their riceballs with rock-salt… and did you put vinegar in that miso?”

“What!?” the bluenette cried in dismay, uncapping her thermos frantically to fact-check the claim, “I thought… you could have at least tried it.”

Jeez she could be a pain. Fireworks were always easier to deal with than this meek retreating act. Sparks over sad. Not knowing what else to do, she stoked the flames with, “Maybe if you tried it first you wouldn’t be askin’ me t’swallow that deathtrap.”

Her friend-turned-fiance stopped struggling with the thermos and glared. She dropped it back into the bag to free her hand, balling it into a fist, “Ra-

 

------- -------


“ -an’t do that Fubuki!” Umi grumbled, covering her eyes, “The Sonoda name…”

“I don’t care about the stupid Sonoda name!” Fubuki railed, her voice projecting throughout the clubroom, “That didn’t stop you from skipping around in swimsuits last year!”

“Being an idol to save the school was one thing,” Umi ground out, “Using your position as an idol to publicly promote your relationship, which idols aren’t even supposed to participate in , is another!”

“I will NOT be shamed into hiding what I have with her!” Fubuki glared. She closed the distance, her stance raging with defiance, “I will not be like you.”

With that, Fubuki turned and stormed out of the room, slamming the door which did nothing to muffle the roar of frustration she let out before dashing down the hall. Umi stood as still as she could, shaking with what was likely anger. Her face was red and tears literally streamed down her face.

With Fubuki gone, Maki took her cue to stand. She crossed the distance and offered her support the only way she knew how. She hugged Umi from behind, which only increased the strength of her rage-filled tears.

“I’m not ashamed of you,” Umi gasped, her hands fists at her sides, “Of us .”

“I know… It’s a-

 

------- -------

 

-un back. Get help. Hurry... and you’d better call an ambulance."

"Maki-chan..." Nico wavered as the young man advanced. There wasn’t time for this.

"NOW."

"DON'T TALK TO MY NICO LIKE THAT!" the man screamed, his voice rising above the roar and igniting the world.

"DON'T TALK LIKE SHE BELONGS TO YOU!" Maki roared in return.

Maki shoved Nico back the way they came as she made a dash for the wrench. If she could get that, she could probably hold the maniac off long enough for help to arrive... but the man rushed in before she could get close. Unable to get out of the way Maki could only turn her head and hide her face with her right arm, taking a deep cut that carried across her upper arm and over the top of her wrist.

Maki backed away from the man, growling in rage as two more awkward slashes bit past the sheer material of her sleeve and into her arm. The wrench was simply no longer an option. The heat of the wounds and the horrible sensation of their depth sapped her arm's strength… not that it mattered. She managed to back away from two more sw-

 

------- -------


‘Umi…’ The thought came sluggish. Her breathing became more erratic as her body began to process just how much damage had been done.

"You're bleeding. Badly. Quickly now Maki, I need you to direct us."

'Us?' Maki wondered just as Kotori came into view.

"Pressure. Umi," Maki began, spitting blood that came from the inside of the wound on her cheek. Colors continued to swirl together as she continued, "Over my eye. Side of my head and ear. Push hard." Saying the words made it real and her stomach lurched as the sensation of flesh shifting in ways it shouldn't paired with the deep burn of nerves realizing they'd been severed.

"Don't let it slip," she continued, riding the surging calm before the shock fully set in, "Push there and... and my neck. Kotori, do the same... do the same down at my… down there."

Kotori's hands were already at work. She'd removed her top and was pressing it firmly against the abdominal wounds. Her hands, for a moment, were shaking worse than Maki's.

"We've got you. You're going to be okay," Kotori said, her voice so full of conviction that Maki believed her despite the chill creeping into her body.

"S-s-s-stab w-wounds a-a-are usual-l-ly not f-fatal," Maki recounted, then so the girls would be aware she explained, "I-I-I'm goi-ing into shock..."
"What do we do?" Umi repeated urgently.

"P-Pressure. P-P-P-Push har… Harder. You wo-wo-w-won't hurt me," Maki replied as another surge of nausea surged above the chill, "Ni-Nico should... should ha-ah-have called f-f-for a… for a...."

There was suddenly a lot of commotion surrounding the three as guards swarmed the unconscious man and the girls. Maki listened, nearly overwhelmed, as Umi explained the situation and confirmed that medical assistance was inbound.

Kotori kept Maki's attention on her, making sure her remaining eye kept trained on her as she continued repeating, "Help is coming. You're going to be okay. We're not going to let anything else happen to you."

It was working. Between Kotori's angelic voice, her diminished blood supply, two of her best friends' hands literally holding her together, her shock went past the jittering stage. A few shuddering breaths and Maki gathered the presence of mind to assure, "I love you too, Kotori-chan. I'll be fine. Is Nico-chan okay? She probably shouldn't see me like this... but I think I'd really like to see her."

Some of that was a lie. She was fairly certain that she wasn’t going to be fine given how deep some of those stabs had clearly been. She was fairly certain at least one stroke had made it through the entire way. Stupid soft tissue.

"I'm sure she's nearby. I know she'd want to see you too."

"Did you see her up there, Kotori? She was so beautiful."

"I did, I think she knew you were here and worked ext-

------- -------

 

-ou can feel every nerve, every vessel. Your body knows the pathing… and so do their’s,” Mama assured, holding her hands over her Father’s arm.

“Can you feel it?” Papa asked, his eyes were so sure.

… and she could. It was… honestly too much information to process, so she didn’t. She let her mana flow as her newfound connection dictated. The world around Maki fell away as her focus narrowed, pinpointing the sensation of the dermis building back onto itself. The whys and the hows didn’t matter right now… all that was was coaxing cellular mitosis, assuring that when the ends met, they would bond appropriately. How could anyo-

 

------- -------



The alarm blared and Maki threw herself backward. She was looking at her other self again. Her heart was thundering and confusion over the impossible roller coaster she’d just been thrown off of settled. Each… moment? Each one had come not with just that glimpse… but the feelings … the knowledge of the circumstances. She had been that… those…

“You haven’t been all of them yet,” her other self explained through labored breath, “Most of that’s still ahead of you… but you’ll forget long before it’s relevant. You remember… you remember the bit where your parents...”

“I remember,” Maki assured, crawling forward. She noticed the jug with the small amount of the unpalatable liquid electricity and winced, “... am I going to have to…?”

“Don’t worry. It won’t hurt this time,” her other self assured, “I’m sorry I messed with you so much earlier. This is for later… you’re going to get tapped quick working on me. Do you think you can… do it without touching me?”

“Is touching bad?” Maki asked, stopping centimeters from committing that very act.

“It can be. The longer we’re in contact, the more I bleed into you… you… don’t want spoilers like this.”

“I… I’ll do my best. Where do I start?”

 


Ayase Eli

 

“This… is kind of a big deal,” Tsubasa frowned, staring into her soup.

Eli rested her hand against Nozomi’s shoulder, letting her nails trace her hairline at the back of her neck as she answered, “Nico’s too hung up in the moment. I don’t think she’s realized what this means yet.”

Nozomi practically radiated contentment as she held her steaming soup bowl in her lap. The silence in the room was filled with Rider’s noisy slurping which Caster was studiously ignoring by braiding, unbraiding, and rebraiding Nozomi’s hair in various ways.

“I’m not sure which is more concerning,” Tsubasa admitted, biting her thumb, “That she is recorded in the Throne or that she was called into her own time.”

“Why’s that a big deal?” Rider pipped in.

Turning to the man and assuming what must have been a well-used instructionary tone, Tsubasa replied, “The chances, of all the heroes in history being called, that it would be a hero from the future is… unheard of.”

“Not… exactly,” Nozomi interjected, “Apparently it happened in the last Grail war as well.”

Tsubasa’s gaze dropped back to her soup, “That’s even more alarming.”

“Regardless of that, our mission hasn’t changed,” Eli chided, pulling the conversation back on track, “According to... Berserker, Lancer has been eliminated, the Matou estate is in ruin, Matou is the Master of Assassin, and Archer has been returned to that fan of yours.”

“... you want me to establish contact?” Tsubasa suggested.

More alliances? You know only one of us gets the wish, right?” Rider groaned.

“There IS no wish,” Nozomi snapped, surprising everyone present for how sudden her shift from placid to percussive, “We’ve explained this a dozen times!”

Even wilder than the hostile Nozomi was Rider’s reaction. Hands up, shoulders hunched, pouty retreat back toward the comically large mortar. “Yeesh, sorry lady. I’m just sayin’ how do we know there isn’t a wish? I don’t know about Shifty over there, but I was called with the promise of gettin’ to fight for a wish.”

Caster droned, “Can you read?”

“I can read!”

“Can he read it?”

Nozomi nodded, gesturing to the piled stack of journals, “Please. Be my guest. Just don’t spill anything on it.”

Rider finished his bowl as he approached and winked to Caster, “Good grub. You’re alright by me, lady.”

“Lovely,” Caster drawled in thanks, drawing laughter from the other girls.

“This is a good dynamic you’ve got here,” Tsubasa sighed, “I’ll get in touch with Iida first thing tomorrow morning. Her brothers will be unhappy about her involvement, but I imagine she’s thrilled to have her Servant back.”

Nozomi glowered before Caster resumed her braid-unbraid process. Eli took over again, “Good. Assuming she says yes to an alliance, that puts Caster, Rider, Berserker, Archer, and Saber on our side.”

“Saber has been identified?” Tsubasa asked, “You girls are really on top of things.”

“Adrian Harwey called Tsao Tsao as his Servant,” Eli informed.

“Ouch,” Rider winced, “ That could be a problem.”

Eli nodded, “He sounded agreeable to keeping things between us non-violent. He seems more interested in learning from his Servant than actually fighting.”

Tsubasa gulped, “That’s… good. But… to go back to a previous topic…”

“Maki?” Nozomi prompted.

“Yes,” Tsubasa answered, “She is young, so it could be safe to assume that her entry to the Throne would involve an event that has nothing to do with this…”

Eli picked up, “But the Nishikino are known for their commitment to avoiding conflict. That suggests, if she does follow her parent’s footsteps… that the incident might be this war.”

“We might be looking at another Fuyuki level incident,” Tsubasa frowned, “Where is Yazawa? I feel like she should be part of this conversation.”

 


Nishikino Maki



Maki pulled away again, furiously wiping at her eyes, “Why is it always something awful!?

“It’s really not always as bad as all that,” Other Maki winced, pale and sweaty, “That’s just what’s coming to mind since this hurts so much.”

“I don’t want to leave you like this, but I don’t think I can help… anytime my… energy or whatever touches you, I get pulled into another memory,” Maki sniffed, trying to wipe away the despondent panic at being ghosted by Nico next year after a particularly wonderful Valentine’s Day along with her tears. She shook her head and continued, “I know you said you’re alright, but I think we should call my… our … parents.”

Other Maki took a long breath and nodded, “You’re probably right. Still… you got to re-live a few future moments where you use the ability. That should be enough to help smooth over the next couple of weeks on your end. Do you have a landline here?”

“Yes?”

“Let me call them. When they get here, I’ll be waiting in the living room. They can’t know that you know about me.”

Maki frowned, but nodded, “Before they get here. You’re answering some questions.”

“I did agree to that,” Other Maki nodded, beckoning with her un-split hand, “Can you bring the phone here? I really don’t want to move.”

Maki’s expression softened, “Of course. Want anything to drink?”

“Bring two of whatever you want. I can guarantee I’d like it.”

Maki all out smiled for the first time during the visit, shaking her head as she left the room to fetch the main line receiver from her parent’s room. She left it with her bizarre older self before heading downstairs.

… So her parents knew about the other her too. If Nico was staying at Umi’s that meant she likely also was in on whatever madness was swirling around her girlfriend.

It was all weird enough that she couldn’t bring herself to be angry about being left in the dark. Rin-chan and Kayo-chin couldn’t keep secrets well at all, so it was safe to assume they were left out of this completely insane magical intrigue. If Umi was involved, there was probably only a small chance that Honoka and Kotori weren’t aware yet. Not good enough odds to assume it to be the case.

As she mused, Maki took some extra time while the tea steeped to chop up a pair of simple caprese salads. Her other self was going through a lot right now and she knew for certain that this would be the epitome of comfort food. Besides, standing around with nothing to focus on let the utterly bizarre reality of the situation threaten to overwhelm her.

… was it really so much to ask for some semblance of normalcy in the progression of this new relationship? She wanted to focus on music… on the exaltation of finally bridging that gap with her friend-turned-girlfriend. She wanted to daydream about kisses and singing on the piano bench. Holding hands and getting to speak her mind on all of the little thoughts and compliments that she had stopped herself from sharing... not get continually dropped into mindsets and experiences that suggested the countless ways things could go wrong.

Were it not for the few glimpses of things going right, echoes mirroring her current feelings, she’d be feeling some real despair right now.

Forcing herself to focus on those happier, more intimate visions, Maki carefully carried the tray of salads, water, tea, and tomato juice up the stairs. The silence from her room concerned her, but seeing her older self alert and waiting at her desk with the phone laying on the bed was a relief.

“Not to sound egotistical, but you’re the best,” Older Maki sighed at the sight of the tray.

“Is there anything else I can get for you before we start?” Maki answered with a smile, appreciating her older self’s levity.

“Nico would be nice, but she’s out like a light… which is good. I couldn’t fake being okay much longer.”

More seriously, Maki set the tray on the desk next to her other self, took a tomato juice for herself, and asked, “So she knows about you?”

The older her situated herself so she could poke at her salad, “She’s probably dreaming about some of the lifetimes you caught a glimpse of right now. I’m the reason she’s been so tired for the past couple days… she’s partially fueling my existence through her own magical generation capacities.”

“Why?” Maki asked critically.

“Two reasons,” Older Maki began between bites, “One, she was unwillingly dragged into a magical conflict which usually turns into a fatal affair for most involved. Two, we would both literally tear heaven and earth apart to save her.”

Maki recoiled at both, “I… don’t know if I could go that far.”

“You would. You have. You’d do it for any of them,” her older self corrected, “You are a small tomato now… but I’ve already seen you willingly accept tremendous unimaginable pain at the mere suggestion that it would lead to being useful to her. That’s what cinched it for me. I wasn’t sure if I was really your future until that point.”

Maki grimaced, pointedly looking at her older self’s re-bandaged left hand, “I’m doing a great job, apparently.”

Older Maki snorted, “Yeah. We never really stop being a screw-up. Keep nailin’ the aesthetic though.”

Maki sighed and took a deep pull of her juice before continuing, “... right. So… Nico-chan’s in trouble. What, do I somehow end up magic my way back in time to save her?”

“The truth is... a little weirder than that…”

 


Assassin



“The boy is stabilized, Master.”

From his kneeling position, head bowed, Assassin could only hear his Master’s weary sigh. The cracking of bone and shuffle of cloth as the man settled back into his chair. His exhaustion made sense. After a day even half as strenuous as this, one would be at their limit. It had been a costly day… and he felt shame at his earlier performance.

Zouken groaned into his palm, “Today… did not go well.”

“This one will do better,” Assassin assured, taking his lack of results personally.

“You did as well as could be expected. We were caught off guard at a vulnerable moment and the match-up was not favorable. I’m just relieved that you aren’t among my lost assets,” the old man grumbled, “My many… many lost assets. We are not ruined, but it’s clear I’ve been too cautious with these children.”

“What does Master suggest?” Assassin prompted, eager to pursue his previously wounded opponent.

“I believe I have identified Berserker,” Zouken scowled, “... and if I’m correct, I believe we need to pay a visit to Akihabara tomorrow. With the loss of so many grubs and worms, we’ve been put on a significantly tighter time table.”

“The church?”

“They are second on my intended list. I don’t know what resources the Church has lent to the Toujou girl, but their selection has made their intentions clear. They’re far more interested in the situations in Dubai and Sedona to pay mind to what they must assume will be a failed attempt at restarting a broken system.”

Assassin frowned, “If Master has so much planned for tomorrow, he should rest.”

“What do you think I’m doing?” Zouken scolded, “This chair is the only comfortable piece of furniture left in the house! Be sure to be well rested yourself. If I wasn’t so worn out, I’d be half inclined to send you off after that Berserker, given the state you put her in.”

“Master mentioned that he might know the identity of the Berserker?”

Somehow, Zouken scowled harder, “It seems improbable… and it does nothing to help us establish the Servant’s skill-set… but I think it may be…”

 


Nishikino Maki



“What confuses me the most,” Maki prompted, “Is what does this weird catalyst thing have to do with me?”

Her older self grimaced as she re-situated herself on the couch, “Normally, this is where I’d pick on you to change the subject. Honestly? Nothing. It has nothing to do with you, who you are, or what you’ve been up until now.”

“Then what does it have to do with you?

The older Maki groaned and shook her head, “Everything. It kind of pisses me off that the thing I become, that has nothing to do with any of them or us as we are now, ended up being how I got to see them all again.”

The younger Maki curled up a little tighter on the chair across the room. Frustrated, she pressed, “Is this another one of those ‘I can’t tell’ things?”

“It’s at the core of it,” Older Maki confirmed, taking a moment to watch her squirm… though to be fair, they were both squirming a decent bit. The older woman seemed to still be in a great deal of pain. In a complete topic shift, Older Maki continued, “ Those glimpses you saw… of other lives. Nico’s seen a lot of that too… from the same perspective.”

Due to the severity of the shift, it took a moment for the implication to sink in. Another level of self-centered melancholy struck home as Maki asked, “Is that why she… did what she did? With me?”

“What? Decide to go out with you?” her older self replied, “It may have sped things up a little, but it’s not the only reason. I got a good look at her history too… and all of it was centered on this life.”

Maki’s eyes widened and she leaned in eagerly, “Did you see her Father?”

Older Maki laughed before nodding with a smile, “He was a pretty funny guy. She makes a lot more sense if you have him to slide into the picture.”

Heated, Maki continued, “Right after Snow Halation, when we were all hugging, did she know where she was…”

“Absolutely intentional. She felt guilty afterwards, but she was this close to kissing you there and then.”

Now thoroughly distracted, Maki leaned back in her chair and basked in exultant giddiness, “I knew it…”

“You know,” her older self drawled, “You should walk with a little more confidence when it comes to her. As much as she loves doting on you, it’s the times when you barge forward that drives her wild. She’s asleep now, but if she woke up to some nice texts, maybe a selfie or two, I bet you’d get some good results.”

Giddiness deepened. Steadied. Grew hot. “This feels like cheating.”

“Hasn’t stopped her,” the older Maki teased, “I’m just trying to even the field. Get you two to go hard’n’fast. All this ‘will we, won’t we’ is exhausting. It’s a lot of heartache neither of you should be bothered with… not with everything else happening.”

“So, you’re saying by following what I want… I’m really giving her what she wants?” Maki gulped.

“Take it as slow as you feel you need to be comfortable… but the only reason you two haven’t crashed together inseparably yet is because of pride and that your poles were aimed at the Love Live. The instant that wonderful… wonderful goal is behind you, there’ll be nothing forcing your eyes apart.”

“Except her future as an idol and mine as a doctor,” Maki frowned, “... and was that a Magnetic Today reference?”

“Obviously… now scoot upstairs. I can feel Mama and Papa rounding the corner. Get up there and take some compromising pictures you’d never want to share with anyone else,” Older Maki teased.

Maki shot to her feet and protested, “We’ve only kissed a few times! Isn’t that going a little too far!?”

The older redhead laughed while wincing, “Don’t let something as silly as this Grail War keep her distracted from the real prize.”

Maki joined in on the laughing, padding over to her thoroughly injured future self, “I’ll keep it under consideration… and thank you. For being open with me about this.”

“It’s a lot easier to like myself when I look at you,” Older Maki answered, “It’s almost like I can finally see what she sees in us.”

The words came from her older self easily, but struck her current self deeply. After a night… a week so full of emotional whiplash, Maki’s vision blurred yet again as she answered, “... I was just thinking the same thing.”

She leaned in, giving in to the compulsion, and pressed her lips to her older self’s cheek.

 

------- -------

 

The roar of the lava quieted.

Her panic peaked. Her heart broke.

She hadn’t grown enough in time.

Cold golden eyes framed in fiery red hair already aiming toward their next target. Merciless frozen steel piercing her sternum, twisting and shattering the bone.

Nico racing to her side, screaming her name.

Her other self comatose and dangerously close to the lava’s edge.

Umi let fly her arrow too late.

Assassin turned as the light faded, her body already succumbing to the killing blow. Her fingers barely capable of registering the sting of the blade’s parting.

He turned to Nico, racing forward as she continued to scream, casually parrying the enchanted arrow as he raised his blade.

 

------- -------

 

Maki pulled away, her older self smiling broadly at the gesture.

“Huh, maybe there’s a chance of the three of us settling down together after all,” she teased, “... and here I thought I was just giving Nico something to daydream about.”

Maki swallowed, answering, “There’s no one else I’d consider sharing her with.”

“You go ahead off to bed,” her older self urged, “... and don’t forget those selfies. I want to watch her blush her face off tomorrow.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

 


Toujou Nozomi



“You’re sure it’s okay?” Tsubasa asked, “I know there’s supposed to be rules against the mediator being partial…”

The more she talked to the fellow idol, the more Nozomi found herself liking her. Nozomi leaned back into Caster who was still weaving flowers into her hair, “You’re right, but I’d offer this to any Master currently in play… assuming they shared our mutual intent of non-agression.”

Eli and Rider joined the gathering by the pews, carrying a few bowls, spoons, and tubs of ice cream. It really wasn’t fair, Nozomi mused, that the world around them would be so cruel yet she have such decadence.

She’d take it though!

“So, I tried all of these, and just so you know, th’Rocky Road’s all mine,” Rider advised, balancing far more than Eli.

“I’ll share it with you, as long as you keep your hands off Nozomi’s berry sherbet,” Eli allowed, towing along a bag of condiments.

“You girls eat ice cream? This late at night?” Tsubasa marveled.

“Happiness shines through a performance better when you’re actually happy,” Nozomi chirped before switching to a happy hum, accepting a pre-made sundae from Eli.

Best. Girlfriend.

“Diets never really sit well with any of the girls of µ's,” Eli continued to explain, “You wouldn’t be able to tell, but Honoka’s a bread fiend, Hanayo can’t get enough rice ever , we do parfaits nearly every day after practice and I’m pretty sure Nico and Maki get crepes at least four times a week.”

“Sweets are our secret weapon,” Nozomi managed with a half-full mouth, holding her spoon up for Caster to take a bite. The way the glamour somehow entirely avoided the spoon even as it disappeared into her mouth was fascinating.

“I guess we never stood a chance,” Tsubasa laughed, “I’ll have to get the other girls in on that.”

You’re starting right now,” Eli winked, gesturing to the ice cream party array, “Pick your poison.”

“This is turning into a far more pleasant affair than I could have ever expected,” Caster sighed happily, “It’s a relief to see that magical society isn’t entirely full of bloodthirsty maniacs… not that I’m one to talk.”

“Yeah, I’ve been wonderin’ about that,” Rider asked through clenched eyes, hand on head as he fought with his increasingly potent ice cream headache, “This is all way more kids gloves than I was expectin’... an’ with all that sparkle stuff over your face, I couldn’t get any idea o’ who you are.”

Caster snorted, her face shifting through various expressions of amusement simultaneously, “That’s the point!”

“Yeah, but like… you did a really good job with it. I can’t even get a scent off of you. If it wasn’ for the crazy soup pot, I never woulda figured it out.”

Nozomi felt Caster tense behind her as she tersely replied, “... You know?”

“Hey, I’m a meathead, but I’m an old meathead. Been around a while. You got a bad rap, lady. No two ways about it. I’m not sold on it though… and I know a thing or two about gettin’ a raw deal ‘cause a the reputation someone else made up. What I’m sayin’ is, I’m lookin’ forward t’workin’ with ya,” Rider breezily waved off, “... an’ since we’re all buddy-buddy now, I figured I’d start layin’ some cards on the table. My little lady here’s sincere enough that I’ll trust her judgement f’r now.”

“Rider…” Tsubasa smiled, tapping his side affectionately.

“Plus, th’sooner we figure out who we’re actually fighting, the sooner we can get to fixin’ that wish machine!” Rider grinned, scooping up another ridiculous spoonful.

“Is that a possibility?” Eli asked in surprise, turning to Caster.

Caster blinked... frowned? Maybe? It was hard to tell. Anyway, she shrugged, “I… hadn’t even considered the idea.”

“Well get t’thinkin’ about it!” Rider crowed before leaning back onto a pew to giggle, “I’ve been waitin’ for a chance like this longer than the religion this buildin’s based on’s been around!”

“You do seem very interested in that wish,” Nozomi prompted, “... and since we’ve all assumed it to be out of the question, we haven’t spent much time thinking about it.”

“I’ve been more preoccupied with simply surviving the whole ordeal,” Eli admitted.

“My line of work gave me a natural suspicion of anything claiming to grant wishes,” Caster deadpanned.

“You all jus’ come from a more cynical time. Back in my hay day, most people didn’t even consider gettin’ tricked… which… might be why they got me a few times…” Rider deflated, prompting a wave of giggles from Tsubasa. Encouraged by that smile, he perked back up again.

“Trickery isn’t your forte I take it?” Caster teased.

“No patience for it. When you got what I’ve got, you don’t need t’trick anyone,” Rider boasted, “So. Yeah. Introductions. I’ll actually try learnin’ yer names this time around now that I’m sure the little lady isn’t bein’ tricky herself.”

“... You didn’t learn their names yet?” Tsubasa groaned as Nozomi started to feel real hype over putting names to faces.

“Blondie, Blurry, and Boobies,” Rider described, pointing to each in turn.

“So what does that make me?” a new voice called out, teasing in tone.

The non-Servant occupants of the hall jumped and scrambled toward the closest Servants. As the newcomer sauntered out of the shadows with a smirk and a wave, Rider leapt to his feet (dropping poor Tsubasa onto the ground), pointed, and called out, “It’s the Ball-Breaker!”

Tsubasa smacked him on the leg, “ Don’t call her that!

Maki, that is… the Berserker Class Servant Other Maki, just doubled over with laughter, actually having to lean on a pew to avoid falling over.

“Well someone’s looking better,” Caster commented warily.

“Oh my God, Kira-chan, I love this guy,” Other Maki gasped, trying to get her laughter under control, “Sorry I’m late. I had a doctor appointment I couldn’t reschedule.”

Sure enough, the woman, now dressed in a strangely casual blue hoodie (hood down) and dark purple sweatpants, looked to be in peak health. She finger-gunned at Nozomi and complemented, “Love what you did with your hair. Very fairy tale.”

“Hello Maki-chan,” Nozomi greeted in relief, “You should have knocked!”

“What, and kill my dramatic entrance?” Other Maki asked, gesturing wide and tossing her hair back. She strode to the gathering and plopped onto the pew behind Nozomi’s, “So what did I miss?”

“You were expecting this psycho!?” Rider pouted, flailing his arms in dismay, “She’s an enemy to men everywhere!”

“You’re the only guy here, cutie-pie,” Other Maki winked, leaning over the pew’s back to reach for Eli who had silently started preparing her time-shifted fellow µ's idol a sundae, “Lucky you, right?”

Eli, shaking her head with a smile and clearly relieved that the surprise visit wasn’t hostile, handed off the ice cream and greeted, “It’s good to see you again. We weren’t expecting you after what Umi said happened at the Matou’s. Is Nico doing any better?”

“She burned a command seal to pull me out. I was pretty messed up,” the older woman admitted, accepting the bowl, “Fortunately, it also gave me enough clarity to let me more fully suppress my inward flow.”

“Starving out the Mad Enhancement?” Caster supplemented.

“Essentially,” Other Maki confirmed, “The only downside is that puts me at a Sub-Servant level right now. I’m pretty sure anyone here could kick me around this sanctuary.”

Rider stood up, face grim, “That’s pretty cocky of you to admit, don’t you think?”

Other Maki winked again, which… seeing aimed toward a guy just came off feeling weird, “It’s called a sanctuary for a reason. I’d be thrilled to go a round or two with you after all this is cleared up and I wouldn’t hurt my beautiful, wonderful, talented, loving Master in the process. Since we’re in the company of friends, I can admit I’m a bit of a fan of yours.”

Rider looked flummoxed, torn between absurd pride and an enduring desire to smack the Servant that he’d had such a brief scuffle with earlier.

“See?” Other Maki offered conversationally to Nozomi and Caster, “Look at this guy. Adorable.”

“Why are you here?” Caster, still tense and voice skeptical asked.

“Because I need your help,” Other Maki aimed to Caster directly before busying her mouth with a spoonful of strawberry shortcake ice cream.

“With?” Caster drawled.

“Umi entered into a contract with Nico-chan. It was supposed to help her supplement her energy to cover my upkeep, which is a little absurd because reasons. Nico-chan, as much as I love her, can be a real moron,” Other Maki grumbled, “She capped how much Umi can provide, which limits how useful it can be.”

Other Maki leaned back and frowned into her ice cream, “Though, I guess that kind of saved both of them. As soon as the contract kicked in, all Umi’s energy seemed to do was make the Mad Enhancement run out of control… which sucks by the way. Umi woke Nico-chan up long enough to call me back, but not before most of the Matou’s place got wipe out in the scuffle.”

“How do I keep missing all this awesome stuff?” Rider pouted as he poked at his long-suffering Master, “We shoulda gone!”

“I can understand the Yazawa child not being capable of properly supplying a high-ranking Servant’s Noble Phantasm… but the Grail alone should provide ample support in your upkeep as you are… as it does for all of us,” Caster interjected, “The Sonoda child alone should have been more than enough. Perhaps you could give us a more believable reason than ‘you’re not compatible’ or whatever nonsense you’ve been giving these girls as an excuse for your numerous inconsistencies.”

Other Maki stared at Caster. The neutral expression was one that Nozomi recognized well. That was a clear sign that Maki’s temper had spiked. After a moment, Other Maki blepped. Her tongue peeking out just a bit before she blew a raspberry. She leaned back and sighed, “Would you be up for a little cognitive resonance?”

Caster recoiled, “ Why would I want to do that with you!?”

Drolly, flatly, dryly, Other Maki rattled off, “Possibly because it’s the only way I could properly convey the information in a way that would also imprint the necessary warding structure laid in place as a precaution by powers that be that would prefer to wipe us and everyone involved with us from existence than let the nature of my catalyst become common knowledge?”

Everyone stared. Tsubasa commented, “That was a mouthful.”

“Did you follow that?” Rider asked, leaving his spoon in the already empty tub.

“The Mad Enhancement is almost fully suppressed,” Other Maki continued, “You wouldn’t need to worry about it bleeding over. There’s nothing I’d receive in return from your consciousness that I don’t already know. Take the offer, or quit trying to pin something awful on me. I’m not going to hurt either Eli or Nozomi.”

She leaned back, spreading her arms wide and crossed her legs before finishing, “I love them more than you do.”

Caster fumed, her mouth opening and closing as she formulated her response.

Other Maki didn’t wait, “I was hoping I could ask you to create a limiter much like Nico-chan contracted into Umi’s ability to contribute. I want you to limit how much of herself Nico-chan can commit to my upkeep.”

“Wouldn’t that keep you weak?” Rider asked, eyeing Tsubasa’s neglected ice cream.

“If I know I can cut loose without killing my girls, I’ll figure out how to work within that new baseline,” Other Maki answered, passion returning to her voice, “As I am now, I’m worse than useless. That’s why I’m here. I’m asking if you can help protect the ones I love... from me.”

“You could always off yourself,” Rider suggested, earning a very firm thwack from his Master.

“I’d rather not,” Other Maki deadpanned, “Being here is my wish come true. I’m going to hang on to this as long as I can.”

“Is that really all?” Caster asked softly, “You just want to prevent overdrawing from your Master?”

“Berserkers are the only class with the precaution preventing overdrawing removed,” Other Maki answered while nodding, “Please help me make up for my wonderful Master’s idiocy.”

“It’s moments like this that really help strike home that you really are Maki,” Eli commented, “You can’t even speak of someone affectionately without throwing some insults in there.”

“Only when it comes to Nico-chan,” Other Maki grinned, “The rest of you all are perfect.”

Nozomi grinned, “I like this Maki’s honesty.”

“I’ll take some time tonight to consider my price,” Caster mused, “Normally it would be best for it to be a crown or tiara… I suppose a necklace could suffice?”

Other Maki sighed, hand-on-cheek, “A ring would be nice, but I should leave that for the younger me. A necklace would be far better. I hope you’re not looking for a first born or anything.”

Caster snorted, “I’d prefer something I could actually collect.”

Rider interjected, “Yeah, yeah, Ball-Breaker likes the ladies. We get it. Can we get back to the dramatic name reveals!?”

“Rider!” Tsubasa scolded.

“I kinda like it,” Other Maki soothed.

“I’ll start,” Nozomi stepped up, literally standing with a hand raised, “My name is Toujou Nozomi, Former Vice President of the Student Council of Otonokizaka, member of µ's, and church representative for this Sixth Fuyuki Holy Grail War.”

Eli raised a spoon, “Ayase Eli, Former President of the Student Council of Otonokizaka, member of µ's, and Master of Caster of this Sixth Fuyuki Holy Grail War.”

Tsubasa stood and offered a light bow toward Caster, “Tsubasa Kira, student of UTX, Leader of A-RISE, and Master of Rider.”

Rider wiggled excitedly, “Anyone guess who I am yet?”

Other Maki raised her hand, “You sure you want me to steal your thunder, oh Great Sage Equal of Heaven?”

Rider grinned his widest yet, practically dancing in place as he pointed to the redhead and slapped his knee, “Haha! Yes! I’ve been so worried that those comics or the cartoons would have tarnished my legacy, but someone’s still got the right of it!”

Tsubasa looked wildly amused. The title tickled at the back of Nozomi’s mind.

… and then it clicked.

Wide-eyed, Nozomi took stock of the scruffy man. His wide ears, his tiara with its two oversized feathers. The fuzzier than normal backs of his hands. “You’re…”

“That’s right, pretty lady!” Rider pointed dramatically, forcing Tsubasa to cover her eyes in second-hand embarrassment. He spread his arms wide, leaping onto the pew and resting his foot on its backrest as he continued, “ Feast your eyes on the one... the only… Your Handsome Monkey King... Sun WuKong~”

Everyone stared.

Eli broke the silence with, “I’m sorry, who?” forcing laughter from both Tsubasa, Caster, and Other Maki.

“We usually call him Son Goku here. He’s a chinese legend,” Nozomi explained, “I’m honestly surprised he was able to be summoned… I thought he was just a story.”

“That’s more common than you’d think. Also, he’s a terrifyingly big deal,” Other Maki drawled, “It’s a good thing Kira-chan’s on our side.”

“Kira… chan?” Nozomi prompted curiously, but was winked and waved off.

“Ball Breaker’s got it right!” Rider preened.

“As much as I like that, let’s go with Maki, shall we?” Other Maki corrected.

“You knew who I was and you still wanted to throw down?” Son asked, sounding impressed.

“Let’s just say I’d like to know if I was correct about believing your hype,” Other Maki shrugged, “The stories are kind of crazy surrounding you. Being a Servant seems like a downgrade in comparison.”

“Chinese legends are ludicrously unbelievable,” Caster grumbled, “You come off as a completely unbelievable character.”

“He is unbelievable,” Tsubasa groaned, “... and now his ego is going to be out of control for days .”

Shrugging off all the nay-saying, Son continued, “So what’s your deal? What’s so great about you that you think you could go toe to toe with me?”

Other Maki smirked harder than Nozomi had ever seen. She thumbed her nose as the smirk turned to a feral grin and she boasted, “ ‘cause I don’t lose.”

“You lost to Assassin earlier,” Caster drolly reminded.

“I’d call that a draw. If I hadn’t gone full-cat, that guy would have gone down in seconds,” Other Maki protested, her face re-tightening with annoyance.

Eli, who had taken the long way around to sit at the Berserker’s side asked, “I don’t suppose you could explain the cat thing, could you?”

The feral grin turned into an innocent batting of eyes. In tune, she answered “I’m a Cutie Panther~”

“Right,” Eli sighed.

“Is Caster taking a turn?” Other Maki redirected.

Arms crossed, Caster shook her head, “I’m not ready for my little girls to know just yet.”

“Caster?” Eli asked, concerned.

“Tonight has gone a long way toward convincing me of your preparedness,” Caster hedged, “... but I’m not ready just yet myself.”

Other Maki looped an arm around Eli, leaning into the blond third-year and suggestively assured, “Don’t worry. Eli’s a very patient girl. Isn’t that right, El-i-chi~” before turning her head to lean in closer.

Before she realized she was in motion, Nozomi had reached across and captured Other Maki’s nose a moment before she would have smooched her surprised girlfriend on the cheek, “Maki-chan… none of that now. Elicchi’s confessed... and I’m starting to think I might not be the sharing type.”

“Aww,” Other Maki smile-pouted with extremely nasally disappointment, “But Soldier Game!”

Eli immediately started giggling, having to hide her face as a blush took over. Tsubasa gasped and started thumping her feet on the floor as she covered her wide open-mouth smile. Nozomi apologized by pulling the redhead (by the nose) close so she could peck her on the forehead.

“You guys are the best!” Tsubasa squealed.

“Right!? I love these girls!” Other Maki gushed with a wink.

 


Sonoda Umi


Mina.Minamicchi: This is why everyone has so much faith in you!

Mina.Minamicchi: Umi-chan is the most reliable person in the world! (ฅˊ̱ɞˋ̱ฅ)♪  

A smile broke through Umi’s gloom. She was seated on the floor, her arm draped over the edge of her bed where Nico continued to lay sprawled and (finally) blissfully still. She’d texted Kotori in a panic as the third year had started squirming in her sleep, weeping silently and reaching out for things that just weren’t there.

This was all just… too much for one year, let alone a week.

LoveArrow.Sonoda: You’re one of the few people I can take such words to heart with.

She typed out another, hesitating because of the futility of it, but selfishly pressing send regardless.

LoveArrow.Sonoda: I really wish you were here. You and Honoka.

LoveArrow.Sonoda: You’re the strong ones.

Almost immediately, Kotori replied.

Mina.Minamicchi: Don’t let Honoka-chan hear you say that! <3

Umi’s smile deepened. She should have texted Kotori hours ago. Waves of affection surged as she answered.

LoveArrow.Sonoda: I know I said the two of you should keep at distance until this is over, but I do wish I hadn’t. This evening has just been terrible and just a few texts already has me feeling much better.

Umi rested her cheek against the blanket as spent the next several minutes happily staring at Kotori response.

Mina.Minamicchi: Aww, Umi-chan misses us! I feel so loved <3 I’ll bake you something special and bring it over tomorrow.

The waves of affection were interrupted as an entirely new sound came from her temporary roommate. A deep, sensuous groan that was unsettlingly similar to Honoka’s. Wide eyed, Umi turned and saw the third year squrim, biting her lip, as some new dream filled her sleep.

She noped right on out of there. She’d continue this conversation with Kotori somewhere else.


Nishikino Maki



Her parents had gone to bed hours ago. She had listened as closely as she could… and… well…

Is it weird to feel jealous of your future self? Her parents were just so… open with that version of her. She’d also not heard that level of affection from them for anyone that wasn’t one another or her. … but… it was her.

Ugh! This was so weird.

Weird… but… also kind of cool in a way. She marveled as she applied the limited understanding she had from the less tragic of her visions. Bruises from smacking her shin into doorways dissipating before her eyes. The misplaced blood unclotted, restored to their proper paths. Vessels flushed. Swelling smoothed. Pain literally melting away.

She’d managed the same with a headache. With a hangnail on her toe. She even felt the invasive initial bite of a cold seeking to take hold… and quickly directed her body to eliminate it. More possibilities opened up as surely as if she’d lived through the time her memories suggested were required to achieve them. Nutrition distribution. Oxygen optimization. Eyesight attenuation. Her body’s key mysteries were unveiling themselves one after another.

… and it was far better to focus on that understanding… than to latch on to the turmoil she’d endured by proxy. The turmoil… or the intimidatingly intense passion for her friends that each incarnation of herself that she’d visited impressed. If she focused on that… well… there were some adventures she wanted to live out first-hand. Each swell of remembered intimacy was… terrifyingly overwhelming… and left an ache she had no right to be feeling.

An ache she would be addressing soon.

She’d left three texts for her slumbering girlfriend… how she responded would dictate a lot about how tomorrow would go.

Her fingers were crossed they’d go well… because it was beyond clear to her that that final vision was not a view of an alternate her. She had no plans to relive that horrible fatal instant… but just in case she had no say in the matter, she wanted to make the time until then count .


Author’s Notes

 

Thanks for your patience! Life has been an exploding dumpster fire for a while. Between that and my AU Yeah NicoMaki indulgence, this took a back seat for a bit. I hope you’ve been enjoying the ride so far… these get a little long… and there’s just so much going on. On the plus, there’s enough hints now for all the Servants to have a reasonable chance at being identified!~

Now I need to do a re-read through Nishikino, make some notes for moving forward, and get you all another chapter of that!

Thank you all for reading <3 It really means a lot.

… and now for the updated Info Matrix…

 


Information Matrix (UPDATED)

Some statistical values currently unavailable due to lack of context.

All information only pertains to what has currently been revealed. Additional information will be added as it becomes available. Intel primarily relevant to the Fate application of the crossover, most Love Live canon pre-Snow Halation is applicable.

 


Master: Yazawa Nico
Magic style: Stealth and Skullduggery
Magical Circuit Count: 12

 
Servant: Berserker

True Name: Nishikino Maki
Pseudonym: “Other Maki”
Noble Phantasm: Unidentified. May be unavailable due to “system incompatibility.”
Personal Skills: (C) Mad Enhancement, (A+) Mana Distilling, (C) Magical Construct Absorption, (A++) Supernal-Level Martial Arts, (??) Cat Mode

 
Bio:

The combined consciousness of numerous incarnations of Nishikino Maki, plus one or two others. It is currently unknown how she grew from a µ's member and songwriter to a hero worthy of preserving in the Throne.

 
Notes:

- Supplements lacking mana resources (Nico’s diminutive magic circuits) via distilled moonlight. This resource, when consumed by a human, supplies an incredible mana infusion. No current drawbacks have been observed outside of a hyped ‘caffeine buzz.’ Apparently, up to seven of these flasks can be filled in the course of a clear night, each with its own distillery unit. Caster rightfully expressed confusion that a Berserker would be capable of the operation of such delicate instruments.

Flask quantity as of end of chapter: 7.25


-     Claims to be a “big deal” but as her accolades and accreditation into the Throne are from events that have not happened yet, there is no means of verifying. Given that her fame is in its infancy and unrelated to her heroic exploits, the related effect that acclaim has on a Servant’s power should be interesting to observe.


-     Claims to recall numerous reincarnation cycles, including several occurring after the existence that granted her a place in the Throne. This is at odds with known lore regarding the system and additional research is required to verify. Numerous examples have been observed via dream-link by her Master as well as bleed-over into her present-time self.


-     Claims that her Master’s mana to personal energy ratios are unbalanced due to Throne save state updates coming from incompatible saturation levels from post current universe existences. Try saying that three times fast. Yeesh. This claim is supported by the catalyst used to summon her, an unidentifiable orb of mass/energy that was previously under research at the Clock Tower.


-     Functioning at a vastly lower capacity due to her Master’s weak magical resources pairing with previously mentioned incompatibility.


-     The traditional Berserker Mad Enhancement effect is greatly diminished due to the personally relevant bond between her and her Master. Being literally bound to one of the people that made her happiest in life and surrounded by the others serves as a balm, diminishing the madness effect but also diminishing the power gain that comes with it. Due to the influx of power from Umi’s contract, this was the first aspect of Berserker’s Servant “benefits” to be empowered.


-     Mental stability seems to be diminishing as multiple lives worth of information contaminates what she understands to be real. Impulse control continues to weaken as the Mad Enhancement struggles to apply itself into the double-edged sword it was intended to be. This effect is primarily held at bay due to Maki’s obsessive desire to protect her Master, particularly from herself.

-    Following the use of a Command Seal, Berserker received enough of a shock to her system that she was able to more fully suppress her inward draw. Relying instead on the magic of the Command Seal’s expenditure, she lowered her capacity to barely above human standards to suppress the effects of the Mad Enhancement. A temporary measure, she hopes to use this time to find a more permanent solution.


-     Caster has suggested that both her status as a Berserker and a Servant in general are in question, though currently no other source has substantiated this claim. Other Maki has refuted this claim, stating that despite there being non-standard aspects of her summoning, she was indeed part of and called through the summoning system of the Holy Grail War. That said, her Catalyst appears to have significance beyond the systems of the Throne or the Grail War.


-     “Cat Mode” appears to be a berserker state where the Servant’s mental capacities are limited to those of a basic house cat, only paired with a fierce protectiveness and incredible martial skill. It is currently unknown what causes this to activate or deactivate. This personal skill apparently comes from an incarnation where Maki was male. Maki is very evasive when talking about this ability.


-     Ammunition from Archer was drawn in and absorbed, converted back into mana which helped to diminish the drain on Nico, if only momentarily.

 


Master: Ayase Eli
Magic style: Physical Augmentation and Endurance

 
Servant: Caster

True Name: ??
Noble Phantasm: ??
Personal Skills: (B) Wide-Scale Charms and Illusion, (??) Nature Control

 
Notes:

-     Her clothing is beyond humble, her demeanor and hair suggest a venerable age, and her face is somehow masked in a way that while expressions can be read, one can not truly recall any specific facial features.


-     Has made several food related references to the girls around her, including references to boiling people and that she was considered a monster.


-     
Utilized glamours and charms to redirect attention from Nozomi’s ruined apartment, suggesting their magic focuses on the subtler arts.


-     Has displayed great domestic affection for her Master and for Nozomi, going so far as to claim Nozomi as a daughter she never had.


-     Has distinct discomfort with Christianity and those that practice it.


-     Caused thorny vines to grow throughout the main hall of Kanda Catholic Church.


-    Prepared a meal using a giant mortar as a soup pot.

 


Master: Tsubasa Kira
Magic style: Illusion and Glamours


Servant: Rider

True Name: Son WuKong (AKA: Son Goku)
Noble Phantasm:??
Personal Skills: ??


Notes:


Son WuKong, originally a stone statue of a monkey brought to life, has led an incredible and auspicious life. While famously known for his role in the classic tale of Journey to the West, Son’s list of deeds and accomplishments preceding have granted him notoriety in the Heavens as well as on Earth. His martial skill and numerous incredible tools and talents leave much in question for what has manifested as his Servant capabilities.

The level of power his fame would lend him in the Grail War system would be terrifying, particularly due to the war taking place mostly in Akihabara where his most recent popular media counterpart from the shonen manga/anime Dragon Ball holds significant sway. Son WuKong, a supernatural being by nature, would be a Servant of absurd capacity, potentially placing him among the most powerful Servants ever called through the Grail War system.

-     A tall, muscular yet lanky and easy-going man. Notable features include copious amounts of body hair, tightly cropped top and facial hair, a red cape, and a crown adorned with two very long feathers.


-     Tsubasa claims to have gotten very lucky, suggesting that her Servant is of an excellent caliber.


-     Seems to enjoy the prospect of hand-to-hand combat. (Duh.)

 


Master: Matou Zouken
Magic style: Binding/Absorption and Insect Control

 

Notes:

-     Patriarch of one of the three founding families that, with the cooperation of the Tohsaka and Einzbern, created the system that enables the Fuyuki Holy Grail War. It is assumed that he is the instigator of the current event.


-     Somehow obtained Maki’s catalyst, an impossible orb of indeterminate matter/energy that was last seen under heavy surveillance and scrutiny at the Tower. How this orb came into being or it’s connection to Nishikino Maki remains to be seen. This item was not originally intended to be utilized as a summon catalyst. It’s original use in Zouken’s plans are currently unknown.


-=Classified Information=-
Zouken is an ancient magus that previously went under the family name of Makiri. As the family valued absorptive capacity more than legitimate magical circuits, the family’s magical capacity declined to the point where their latest heir, Matou Shinji, was born without magical circuits of his own, effectively terminating the line’s magic potential. This lack was compensated for by utilizing various methods, some resembling torture, that would carve that potential and capacity into the body.

The family traditionally utilizes a specific variety of worm to accomplish this though, after the failure of the Second Fuyuki Grail War, Zouken has taken matters into his own hands and has started employing techniques he had allowed the world to forget. He is extremely dangerous and one of the oldest living humans on the planet, assuming he can still be counted among their number.

 

Servant: Assassin

True Name: ??
Noble Phantasm:??
Personal Skills: ??

 

Notes:

- Referred to as Hitokiri Battousai. The term Hitokiri, literally translating into manslayer, or man cutter, is a title that was originally given to four samurai in the Bakumatsu era of Japan’s history. The Four Hitokiri of the Bakumatsu, Kawakami Gensai, Kirino Toshiaki, Tanaka Shinbei, and Okata Izo were considered unconquerable forces of nature, incapable of being defeated by mortal men. They lent their incomparable skill to the the cause of overthrowing the Tokugawa Shogunate.


- None of these four men were referred to specifically as ‘Hitokiri Battousai’, so it is unlikely that Assassin’s true identity lies among their number.


- Further evidence of the Fuyuki Greater Grail’s corruption, this Servant is not one of the nineteen Hassan-i-Sabbah, and would not traditionally be considered viable for the Assassin class. This could be due to this Servant’s traditional class, Saber, was already being assumed by a Servant that became active earlier.

 


Master: Adrian Harwey
Magic style: ????

 

Notes:

-     The Harwey name belongs to an elite plutocratic family that has played both sides of the mortal/mage world, accumulating enormous wealth, power, and influence through both social spheres. This effort had been done in secret for generations, only recently becoming a more public takeover of business and humanitarian interests. Little is known of their reach, or their family’s magical capabilities and achievements, as most patents and movements are handled through shell corporations and proxies.


-     The name alone commands respect from all players that are aware of their significance. Zouken suggests that a Servant would be easier to deal with than the Harwey Conglomerate.


Servant: Saber

True Name: Tsao Tsao (Cao Cao)
Noble Phantasm: ???
Personal Skills: (C) Aura of Authority

 

Bio:

The legendary Chinese warlord, the second to last Chancellor of the Eastern Han Dynasty, and one of the most important figures in the Three Kingdoms period, Tsao Tsao was a brilliant ruler and military genius who was posthumously honored as the Emperor Wu of Wei. His achievements are too numerous to note here, but include the defeat and execution of the legendary Lu Bu, the defeat of the Liu Bei in the Xu Province which included the capture of Guan Yu, the focus of agriculture and education in the regions that he conquered, and the unpretentious yet profound poetry that he penned.

In the time following his demise, he was frequently portrayed as a villain in operas which would go on to inspire his portrayal in the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. While there have been attempts to reverse this trend, he is so entrenched in popular culture as a villain, that the Chinese equivalent of the term, “Speak of the Devil,” is “Speak of Cao Cao and Cao Cao arrives.”


Notes:

- He thought µ's performance of Snow Halation was pretty spiffy.

 


Master: Iida Kaori
Magic style: Charms/Enhancement

 

Servant: Archer
True Name: ??
Noble Phantasm: ??
Personal Skills: (B) Wolf familiars

 

Notes:

-     Utilizes twin crossbows, explosives, and hunters traps.

-     Accompanied by two wolves, one a three-meter at the shoulder black wolf, the other a five-meter silver.


-     Wears a red cape and cowl. Appears to be a female white european roughly fourteen years of age. Exceptionally frail in appearance.

 


Master: Fujimoto Ryota (Retired)
Magic style: Haiku-Based Blood Magic

 

Servant: Lancer

True Name: Yukimura Sanada (Retired)
Noble Phantasm: ??
Personal Skills: ?

 

Notes:


-     One of the greatest heroes of the Sengoku period, he didn’t get anywhere near the screen time he deserved, and as such, will be left mostly undefined.

 


Previous Grail War Participants

 


Tohsaka Rin

Magic Style: Jewel Magecraft / Physical Augmentation / Solid-State Arcane Projectile (Gandr)

 

Notes:

-     Technically the victor of the 5th Holy Grail War, Tohsaka Rin and her sister Sakura are the last remaining members of the Tohsaka line. The same Tohsaka which cooperated with the Einzbern and the Makiri to construct the Greater Grail on the Fuyuki ley line, thereby creating the engine which enables the Fuyuki Holy Grail Wars.

        - The 5th Holy Grail war was a notably intense affair which left the surrounding region, nearly the whole of Tokyo, abandoned by the major mage families. The official reason for this was the volatility of the Greater Grail requiring time to cool off, but given that the 4th Holy Grail War culminated in the destruction of a prefecture and nearly exposed the world to magic as a whole… this explanation has always been called into question. Whatever the real reason, it is certain that Rin and her actions lie at the center.

-     Was the Master of two Servants. Originally calling Archer to her side, this Servant fell during the course of the War. Afterwards, through her partnership with another Master, Emiya Shirou, she took on the responsibility of his Servant, Saber. This Master/Servant bond continues to this day, proving that the 5th Holy Grail War did not have its intended conclusion despite a victor being named.


-     Is in a healthy, supportive, and loving polyamorous relationship with her Servant and Emiya Shirou.


-     In the five years following the events of the 5th Holy Grail War, Rin has grown tremendously, both in capability and in emotional maturity. She has grown past the social crutches she relied on in her youth, thanks in part to the perspective gained by sharing memories with her Servant and having a reliable and affectionate support circle. She has become renowned throughout the higher mage community as a diligent worker, a brilliant mind, an incredible magic talent, and an advocate for magical policy reform. This puts her at odds with various stances that older and more influential families, like the Harwey, have championed.

 

Servant: Saber

True Name: Artoria Pendragon, The Once and Future King, King Arthur
Noble Phantasm: Excalibur
Special Attributes: (B) Charisma, (A) Instinct, (A) Mana Burst


Bio:

There are many heroes and military leaders that Arthurian legend is based on, and through the combination of humanity’s grasp of the fiction and the fact are Artoria’s capabilities as a Servant born. There is more than can be easily said here about the life that warranted her name being scribed in The Throne, so this information will focus instead on her existence after being summoned into the Holy Grail War.


-     Artoria was originally summoned as a Saber during the 4th Holy Grail War by the man who would eventually adopt Shirou, Emiya Kiritsugu, by using Avalon, the sheath of Excalibur, as a summoning catalyst. After the 4th War, he went on to hide Avalon inside of Shirou, which gave him the ability to call on Artoria when the 5th War rolled around and granted him incredible regenerative capabilities. As the 5th War progressed, Rin took on the role of Master in part due to her superior ability to generate magical energy to fuel her.


-     Is in a healthy, supportive, and loving polyamorous relationship with Tohsaka Rin and Emiya Shirou.

 


Emiya Shirou

Magic Style: Reinforcement / Projection (Physical Manifestation)

 

Notes:

-     A first-generation mage, Shirou has no family history of magic usage, nor does he have a Family Crest to draw upon. He has sparse magical generation capabilities due to his irregular training by his adopted father and has only in the past five years following the Grail War received legitimate education on the subject.


-     Orphaned by the culmination of the 4th Holy Grail War that ravaged Fuyuki, he was adopted by Emiya Kiritsugu and pulled from the brink of death when the man placed Avalon within him.


-     Is in a healthy, supportive, and loving polyamorous relationship with Tohsaka Rin, Tohsaka Sakura, and Artoria Pendragon.


-     In the five years since his experiences in the 5th Grail War, his mindset and motivations have matured. Whereas his original stance was to try and save everyone through his own actions, he has come to recognize that the efforts of a single person are insufficient to change the world alone. Learning from the failures glimpsed through the 5th Grail War’s Archer, Shirou has instead dedicated his life to reforming magical society, leading it from the selfish and self-destructive beast that it has grown into. This represents a shift from personal heroism to one of community.


-     Much of magic society gives him little credence. However, anyone who interacts with him long enough to hear his ideology is often inspired and finds themselves drawn in by his charisma. Rin likes to joke that this comes entirely from Artoria being an excellent influence, and he does not argue this point.

 


Lord El-Melloi II

Magic Style: Teaching and study!!

 

Notes:

-     Originally Waver Velvet, Lord El-Melloi II earned his name by compiling the works of House Archibald after the passing of its last practicing member, saving the family’s name from vanishing completely from magical society and earning him, at last, a position of respect in the Clock Tower.


-     As a child, he participated in the 4th Holy Grail War, summoning Alexander the Great as a Rider. This experience tempered his ambition into a functional edge and granted him much needed perspective.


-     Technically a third-generation mage, he started entirely from scratch as the previous two practitioners of his family were barely hobbyists. As such, his magical generation capabilities are abysmally low. Lower than even Nico’s. He is barely capable of performing any magical acts at all, though his technical knowledge is superb.


-     He has become renowned throughout the Clock Tower’s educational programs as a top tier educator, bringing new methodologies for practical application to antiquated curriculums. He’s the cool teacher that’s hot.

 


Toujou Nozomi

Magic Style: Fortune Telling, Warding, Purification


Notes:

-     Her father is an American who is a member of the military. Her mother tutored both her husband and daughter in magic, though mostly for self-protection. Her father’s frequent transfers are why Nozomi had such an unstable childhood. She’s technically an army brat.


-     Her father suggested that she volunteer at local shrines to familiarize herself with both the language and local customs.


-     The primary reason Nozomi was permitted to reside alone was because she chose to settle in what was considered a cease-fire zone as far as magical influence was concerned. Tokyo is very low-crime and with the volatile Greater Grail under Fuyuki, no sensible mage would stir up trouble.

 


Sonoda Umi

Magic Style: Purification, Physical Augmentation, Elemental Enhancement
Magical Circuit Count: 45

 
Notes:

-     The Sonoda are one of the largest remaining “public” magic families in Tokyo.

-     The family partners with many shrines to provide legitimately magical charms and to perform holy rites.

-     Has entered into a contract with Nico to provide additional energy to her Servant. This has had several negative consequences, including the bolstering of Berserker’s Mad Enhancement.

 


Nishikino Maki

Magic Style: Regenerative and Optimizations (So far)

 

Notes:

-     Will apparently one day perform public acts of heroism significant enough to warrant her being called by The Throne.


-     Her family’s magical practice is based in medicine, and has become a world-wide name in providing safe, reliable magical procedures including magical circuit transfers, curse dissolving, primary and secondary sex characteristic correction, and limb restoration. They also place a focus on bridging the gap between magical medicine and traditional, seeking methods to replicate their magical offerings to the greater populace.


-      Totally has it bad for Nico. <3


-     Through contact with Berserker, has experienced numerous alternate lifetimes she has and will eventually live through. She also has experienced moments of her current life’s future, including what she currently understands to be her own  impending violent death.


Additional Notes

- This story takes place five years after the 5th Holy Grail War. Nowhere near the necessary 60 years for the Greater Grail to draw enough energy from the ley line to provide Servant summoning, and even less than the pre-emptive gap between the 4th and 5th. This is clearly be a symptom of the ritual failing to be brought to culmination multiple consecutive times.

Chapter Text

Previously, on Berserker:

<Fifteen solid seconds of Nico snoring>

<Zouken pulls at his hair as his Servant retrieves Shinji from the lava and re-applies a seal>

<Maki, the Younger sits up all night looking at pictures on her phone, reeling from the visions>

<The NozoEli camp shares smores as Other Maki regales them with tales of daring do>

<Umi matches present-time Maki’s action, finding comfort in memories of those closest to her>

<Nico snorts and turns, smiling at dreams more pleasant than what awaits>

<Adrian Harwey stalks back to Japan, grim with purpose>

<The survivors of the previous Grail War watch the rain fail to grasp the windows of their plane>

Other Maki bids her temporary hosts goodnight with hugs and, “You guys are great, but I’ve gotta get back. I miss my Nico.”

“That is never going to sound natural,” Eli jokes as the redhead pulls away.

“We need t’ properly convene. Bring ‘er along next time,” Nozomi insists.

“... and bring more explanations next time,” Tsubasa requests.

Other Maki bows and dissipates. Eli closes the door and the lock clicks into place. A moment later, the redhead rematerializes while briskly strolling around the corner, finding Caster already in wait.

“There’s less dangerous things you could ask for,” Other Maki suggested.

“What you request is not insignificant. The stronger your offering, the closer I can bring your request to your ideal,” Caster explained, letting her glamour fall as her hand reached up to cup Other Maki’s cheek.

“I am nothing… and I have nothing,” Other Maki reminded, “... aside of these memories of the truth.”

Their foreheads touch...

<Flash to the title card>



Berserker
Episode 8: Breaking the Rules of Engagement


Akashi-shi, Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan
Tohsaka Rin


The rain was comforting.

It was a warm night, and the drops were thick but sparse. Enough to warrant the umbrella that El-Melloi used and the one Shirou and herself shared. There was a night like this, a lifetime ago, where her Father taught her of the protective spirit of the planet. The lesson of how it’s will and strength were separate of that which existed to protect humanity only vaguely held, but the sound of his voice and his indomitable presence imprinted that moment in her heart.

She let Shirou hold the umbrella. Simple, reliable Shirou. His hand held the umbrella, but she held his arm. At her left, unseen, was her beloved Servant. One of the only who knew the significance of this trip. Even El-Melloi, for all of his experience, would have no way of suspecting the truth of what this meeting would entail.

Sakura, her sister, would be meeting them in Tokyo… but the young woman they were en route to was just as much family in their collective hearts.

“Left up here. We’re almost there,” El Melloi directed. Grim as their business was, the sound of the rain seemed to be just as calming to him as it was to her.

“It’s nice to be back in Japan,” Shirou sighed happily, “We should come back once things are settled in London.”

Melloi’s snort of amusement was well-founded. Rin patted the young man’s arm in a way she hoped came off as condescending since his sentiment kept that tone from her voice, “If we wait that long, we’ll never be back, dummy.” She looped her arm more thoroughly through his and leaned into his shoulder.

Content, they approached the small family compound El-Melloi had inherited and waited for their host to open the way. They only made it halfway from the gate to the front door before it was flung open, revealing a remarkably pale young woman. Excited crimson eyes sparkled as she ran forward, her stark white hair flowing behind as she cried out, “Shirou-nii! Rin-onee!”

The pair were nearly bowled over as the wisp of a girl, appearing to be in her late teens, crashed into the two, laughing and hugging them as tightly as she could. Melloi, smiling, only shook his head and continued inside.

“It’s good to see you Illya,” Shirou greeted in reply, clearly not intending to budge from the embrace to collect the lost umbrella.

“I’m so glad to see you! ” Illyasviel von Einzbern gushed, “All of you! Come on, don’t hide Arturia!”

The umbrella raised as Saber phased into existence, taking Shirou’s previous role in protecting them from the drops which were starting to get more frequent. Warmly, Arturia greeted, “Hello, Illya.”

“Come in, I have so much to show you!”


----- -----


“Illyasviel,” El Melloi began, standing stock-still in the traditional building’s entryway, “... What did you do to my house?”

Pulling both Rin and Shirou along, one arm for each, Illya explained innocently enough, “You said to make myself comfortable!”

Rin… wasn’t sure where to focus. The hallways were lined with posters. The doors were covered in trinkets and bromides. Plush dangled from the ceiling in pairs. The entire interior of the place was covered, top to bottom, in imagery of girls in sparkly outfits.

“Whoa,” Shirou commented accurately.

“What is all this?” Rin chanced. Almost all of these were photographs… so… it wasn’t like she was an anime otaku or something.

“These are my shining girls!” Illya answered simply, pulling them toward the living room. Melloi looked pale and Arturia… poor Arturia just looked so confused. “They’re why I came back to Japan! I was visiting Sakura-onee and we were looking at maybe enrolling me in a school when I saw them!”

“Saw what?” Rin prompted after being deposited at a kotatsu. Even Shirou looked in over his head… but not so far gone as to not accept the tea Illya eagerly pushed his way.

Arturia settled on Rin’s other side and nodded a thanks herself as Illya continued serving while she answered, “A Live! They were playing it on this big screen outside. There were these really pretty girls dancing and singing! Apparently they’re called OTEMO-YAN. Really popular school idols!”

“School…” Rin began.

“Idols?” Shirou finished.

“It was amazing! I’ve been hooked ever since,” Illya preened, “I’ve been taking online courses until I find a school that has an idol group I can see myself performing with.”

“You seem to be pursuing this very fervently,” Arturia replied with no small amount of pride in her voice.

Melloi seemed distracted, bypassing the living room to check the rest of the house, granting them enough privacy for Rin to feel safe asking, “So you’ve been okay? No trouble?”

“None at all,” she confirmed, cradling her chin in both hands as she leaned across the kotatsu, “Aside of missing you three, obviously.”

“Sorry,” Shirou offered.

“So, Waver-san’s been really secretive. Now that you’re here, do I get to hear why I get to see my favorite people? What finally brought you out here?” Illya prompted.

“The Sixth Holy Grail War has begun,” Arturia answered, chilling the mood in the room drastically.

“What? … That’s impossible,” Illya answered, shifting from happy to serious in an instant, “But we… how?”

“We’re not sure,” Rin answered, reaching out to rest her hand over Illya’s, “Early reports say Matou sparked it… but we think it has more to do with the Silencia Rondure. Somehow, he pulled it from the Clocktower.”

Illya’s serious downturned toward grim, “That’s... not good. Where is it now?”

After a deep breath, Rin answered, “Gone. Another Master stole it and… used it as a catalyst. It was consumed completely.”

Her good mood vanished completely. Rin had assumed it impossible for the girl to appear any more pale than usual… but now she was proven wrong. “... What did it call?”

“Surprisingly, just a Servant. As intended. A Berserker. Admittedly, an anomaly from the future like what happened with Shirou, but still...”

“How much do we know?”

“Adrian Harwey was in the area. The Grail chose him and he’s already reported. He got a lot of intel while he was in the area,” Rin explained as Shirou reached into her bag, pulling out a digital tablet. He turned it on and slid it across the table as continued, “We have Servant names, Master names, alliance charts… way more than we’d expect. We won’t be going in blind.”

Illya began to scroll down the dossiers and froze again. She frowned and scrolled harder. Up. Down. Double and triple checking. Her breath became audible as she heatedly insisted, “There is no way…”

“What’s wrong?” Shirou prompted.

Illya was tapping furiously. Incensed. “This is the worst. Possible. Thing,” she insisted, raising a chill on Rin’s back.

She turned the tablet around and shoved it at the three. The screen displayed a full screen image of a line-up of girls… some of which she’d seen on the walls earlier… and in the dossier.

An idol group apparently called µ's.

“We’re going to Tokyo. Now,” Illya insisted, slamming the tablet on the table and rising to her feet. Determination was clear in her eyes as she proclaimed, “These are smiles that must be protected!”

“Wha?” Rin began, flummoxed but was interrupted by El Melloi’s bellowing cry.

“Illyasviel von Einzbern! What did you do to my house!?!?”


Nishikino Maki


She’d been up all night.

She wasn’t tired. At all.

She lounged against the kitchen counter, popping grapes and feeling incredible.

Magic was real… and it was amazing .

She was waiting downstairs, roughly two hours before she’d normally be up, lying in wait for her parents. Sure, she’d be giving up the opportunity to experience any of those memories she’d stolen as they should have happened, but she didn’t have time to baby this. She needed proper instruction and she needed it now.

Actually, these grapes weren’t cutting it. Maki was hungry . She breezily stepped to the basket, plucked an apple, kicked open the fridge, and pulled out some of Papa’s cold cuts and cheese. Oh… bread would be good too. Sandwich. Sandwich and apple. That’d be a good starter.

Maki glanced at the rice maker and, for just a moment, felt like she could take Kayo-chin on in a rice-binge challenge. Pasta would be better… oh god, steak would be sublime.

She shook her head. Focused on stacking a sandwich that looked satisfying enough to keep her from rediscovering that nasty nail-biting habit… because if she didn’t sink her teeth into something right now , she would have fingers Nico would cringe at and that wouldn’t do at all.

Oh god, she was chewing on her hair again. She hadn’t done that since her first year of primary. Ugh.

In the next thirty minutes, Maki wolfed down nearly a pound of sliced roast beef, half a loaf of bread, quarter pound of swiss, the entire bin of pomegranate, three apples and a coffee. She was actually just finishing off the last of that list as Mama and Papa reached the bottom of the stairs. She had two mugs waiting for them and she greeted them just as she rehearsed.

“Good morning! You’re never going to believe what happened last night!”

----- -----

Fortunately, the did! They bought it hook, line, and singer.

Idol. Sing. Maki is clever.

Obviously, she left out any mention of her other self… or really any truth outside of the fact that she discovered she had these incredible powers. She kept the optimism high and the energy peaked as she explained what she’d discovered and how it was affecting her.

She was clinical in her estimations. She described her tests, her theories, and processes that she pulled from a future that no longer had a chance to exist. Lost forever would be her chance to physically experience those delicate initial tutorings… lessons in the family’s art. She’d always have the memory of that critical breakthrough when she achieved real regeneration… always remember the teary-eyed pride on Papa’s face…

Instead of mourning the loss of genuinely being there for the happy occasion, Maki knew she was as lucky as a person could get. Having the cake and eating it too… no… eating two cakes!

… and now to test the other aspects of what she’d spent the night practicing.

“Rin-chan, Kayo-chin, good morning!”

Hanayo turned in surprise, Rin turned in shock and then wild excitement. “Maki-chan!” she exclaimed, “Running late?”

God, since last night literally added years to her perspective, Maki’s understanding of just how much these two meant to her threatened to overpower. It took all she had to keep her smile at casual smug (still way more than she’d usually have for them at this hour), share a shrug, and boast, “I took more time getting ready this morning. I thought I’d give you a chance to catch up so I could walk with you.”

“Maki-chan… wants to walk with us?” Rin wibble-faced.

Maki rolled her eyes as she stepped in between the pair and flicked at Rin’s hair, “Embarrassing, right? You’d think I liked you two or something.”

Hanayo giggled at Rin’s starry eyes and commented, “You’re cheerful this morning.”

“Maybe a little,” Maki led on, “Just a bit.”

“It’s all the time off from practice, isn’t it?” Rin guessed, “Not having Nico-chan around means Maki-chan doesn’t need to fight as much!”

Maki fell back a step, reached out, grabbed both girls by the shoulder and turned them her way. Deadly serious, she stared at the two. Poor Kayo already looked panicked and Rin flinched like she was going to get chopped. Oh… Oh, Rin. This Maki’ll never chop your stupid beautiful head again.

"We're not like that anymore. Probably. If anything, I'd like it if she were around more often."

"Oh," Rin blinked, "Right. Because of th-"

"Don't say it!" Hanayo interrupted, wide-eyed and frantically looking around for anyone who could potentially overhear.

Oh man... if those other-timeline memories said anything... just wait until poor Kayo-chin found out about the other girls.


Yazawa Nico



A snort. Another turn. A petulant whine that deepened into a groan as unwanted sunlight pushed away the wonderful dream she was having. She rolled over… but her pillows were gone. All of them. Eyes still closed, she frowned and slapped at the bed, trying to find Momosuke… or Pengin… or... well… any of her plush.

This wasn’t her bed. This blanket was crazy thin and her window blinds were always closed overnight! She let out another incredibly petulant whine before the past few days slammed back into recollection. In particular, pushing as much will into the limits on how much Umi could provide as she scrawled the contract onto the younger girl’s back… and the raw terror her Servant experienced as a constant undercurrent throughout her strange cat-state.

She sat up at the shock, gasping at the brightness. The east-facing wall was open to the yard. The mid-morning sun flooded the room, haloing the only other person in the room. Her Servant… looking to be in far better shape than her dream would have suggested.

“Hey there, beautiful,” her Other Maki greeted… with that same look of warm adoration she always seemed to have for her. Clad in what seemed to just be a long T-shirt, the angelic vision blurred as Nico’s heart twisted so hard she feared it’d burst.

Before thought could step in, Nico was scrambling forward, “ Maki! ” on her lips.

“G… Good morning to you, too,” the woman replied, clearly taken off guard.

You’re okay,” she assured herself, koala-ing onto her Servant’s torso and hooking her chin over her shoulder, “I didn’t… I’m sorry that… what were you thinking?”

She felt her Servant stiffen under her full-bodied hug. Before the woman could respond, Nico thumped her fist on that entirely-too-solid back and continued, “I know what happened… I know it’s not all your fault… but you’re my Maki-chan! You can’t keep putting yourself in danger like this!”

The redhead swallowed. Her voice wavering, “I’m your Servant. This is a Holy Grail War. My purpose is to fight your ba-”

“Shut up about that!” Nico wailed, surprising herself with this run-away berating, “I am your Master! So do what I say!”

Nico bit her lip to avoid sobbing audibly, but it was clear that her wracking shoulders and hitching breath was giving her away. She sniffed hard and managed, “I don’t care about any of that… You’re my Maki-chan… I was supposed to be the responsible one… I’m older! I should be protecting you.”

“Nico-chan… I’m no-”

“That doesn’t matter!” Nico berated, more incensed and trying to grasp anger. It slipped away and she only clung tighter, “... because you are her. My girlfriend grows up… dies… and becomes you! You can’t keep… showing me all these other times that we were together and not expect me to get that!”

“Nico…”

“It’s not fair… I can’t even… I can’t even fight beside you. I have never felt so… completely useless before.”

“You’re not useless,” Other Maki insisted. Soft, but certain. With a deep breath, her Servant grasped her by the shoulders and pushed. Apparently Nico wasn’t the only one shedding tears. Other Maki’s eyes glowed as she continued, “You’ve already granted my wish… you’ve brought me back so I could see your smile again. I could…”

“That’s not enough,” Nico insisted, touched, but still frustrated that this was being used as an excuse again, “That’s nowhere near enough. Where’s those lofty standards you’d always go on about?”

“I have the perspective to know just how much that wish means,” her Servant insisted, her voice leveling out as she continued, “I… have something for you.”

“What? Did you end up beating that guy? Is the fighting over?” Nico asked, immediately feeling awful and selfish for the petulance. This vanished as her Servant reached behind her…

… and held up a ring.

All thought stopped. Nico stared, mouth agape which she quickly covered.

The ring looked to be solid obsidian with a scarlet jewel at its center framed in amethysts. The woman watched her Master with intensity… and Nico felt the words rising before she could think them.

“Kind of… skipping ahead, aren’t you?”

“This… isn’t that.”

“Can’t it be?” Nico asked through her hand, her cheeks flaming, “I mean… I…”

“I am your Servant. If you’re looking for a bride, you may want to consider the Maki of this time.”

“You are her. I love her… I…,” Nico shivered at the powerful throb in her heart, “I love her… and I love you.”

The older woman’s cheeks were covered with tears at this point, “... and you know I adore you… but this ring… it isn’t for that. This is a Mystic Code. A powerful one… made specifically to protect you from me. I… think It would function like the limitation you scribed into your contract with Umi.”

“... Wouldn’t that weaken you?”

“An out of control Servant that drains their Master to the point of death is worse than useless. Regardless of how limited it makes me, please… I can’t take much more of this. You can’t either.”

Nico forced herself to look away from the ring, “How did you get this?”

“From Caster. Thank Eli later.”

“Maki-chan…” Nico began, wiping her cheeks clear before reaching to do the same for her Servant, “There’s an order to things like these. I… will wear your ring.”

For a moment, Nico couldn’t continue. The words resounded in her heart… through her chest… her entire body throbbed with the echo. She repeated, “I will wear your ring… but there’s something we need to do first.”

“Nico-chan… you should really save things like that for the Maki of now…”

“You are her. You are mine… and when you put that on me… I think that means that I’ll be both of yours,” Nico marveled, brushing away another round of her Servant’s tears, “That’s what my heart is telling me.”

The redhead bit her lip, her face twisted as her composure was lost, “Why are you making this so difficult? Just… just let me protect you...”

“That’s not enough for me,” Nico insisted, the resonance of her acceptance bringing everything into impossible focus, “I’ll wear your ring, but you’re going to have to kiss me first.”

Nico leaned forward, combing her fingers through her Servant’s hair and pulling her forward… as she held Other Maki’s hand with her right. She closed the distance. The maelstrom of the collective memories contained in this person who would apparently become her wife surged, lashing the air with electric possibility. Chaste quickly was overpowered with passion, and the Servant crashed into her Master.

Nico grasped her partner’s wrist… and slid her finger into the ring. The pull on her heart and spirit shuddered, the electric potential in the air flashed… and her time-worn Maki shifted. Red hair, for just a moment, shock white. Her face momentarily laced with deep scars before smoothing back over, plaintive lavender eyes numbering one instead of two.

Nico couldn’t comment or even focus on this… because this… this surge...

This was like… guzzling a gallon of super-coffee. This was tap dancing on the live-wire. This wasn’t a boost. This wasn’t even just her own circuits being allowed to fuel her as normal. This was the 4th, 5th, and a squint of the 6th dimension unfolding before her eyes.

Nico saw the preceding and impending five seconds overlay the present. She saw through the roof and into the infinite beyond and between, pinks and purples and gammas. She smelled the dying screams of Velber and tasted its desperation as the twisting silence unmade its history. She co-existed with a self that rested by her love, watching the clouds drift above the lake, pointing at the bird-shaped wisp with joined hands. Her heart reverberated with a thousand loves, a thousand screams, a plea, and a promise.

For just a moment, she saw other selves of her own… a teleporting child soldier prodigy and a sullen girl tired of feeling like a boy.

To say that Nico gasped at this eruption of sensation would not do justice. As reality reasserted itself around her, she found herself straddled atop her Servant, pinning her shoulders to the mattress. She could… see the lattice of energy that constructed the woman’s physical form. She could feel a fundamental tactile difference between the woman’s magically enforced existence and the mundane-woven mattress under her knees.

She was beautiful. She was viscerally repelling. For a moment, Nico couldn’t tell if she wanted to cover that wide-eyed, utterly captivated expression with kisses or run screaming from the room… but equilibrium was finally reached. Time solidified. The screams from space disappeared from her palate and her capacity to comprehend the marvelous existence bound to her settled back upon aching attraction and adoring familiarity.

“... That was…” the Servant began but faltered.

“Are you okay?” the Master sought.

“I… think so?” Other Maki warily answered, breathing slow and measured breaths, “This… Caster wasn’t kidding. Equivalent exchange…”

“What do you mean?”

Other Maki closed her eyes and clearly focused on maintaining her slow breathing pace, “She required payment. For the ring. The higher the value I contributed, the more powerful the Code she’d create. This… works better than we could have hoped… almost.”

Nico busied her hands, smoothing her Servant’s hair from her face, “Almost?”

The redheaded titan swallowed, “I’m still a Berserker. I have to make this fast. I’m running out of time.”

The woman sat up, claiming a solid lingering kiss before pulling back to continue, “I originally wanted the Code to serve as a limiter. It manifested as an equalizer, trying to keep us in balance… only it isn’t taking your limits into account. Just mine.”

As the thought sank in, Other Maki continued, “Normally, most of a Servant’s upkeep is maintained by the Grail. The ring is compensating for my incompatibility… which seems to mean the Grail is giving upkeep for both of us.”

“Why are you running out of time?”

“I’m a Berserker,” Other Maki reminded once more, her voice growing impatient and her breath shuddering, “... and without starving out the Mad Enhancement…”

“I’ll take it off!” Nico insisted, reaching for her hand as the realization of what this meant struck home.

Other Maki grabbed both of Nico’s wrists, her glare intense, “Don’t. This is… the only way I can… keep you safe.”

“Maki-chan,” Nico pleaded, “I want you, not a cat that just looks like you!”

The Servant froze and stared at her Master.

Her shoulders hitched in what Nico feared was akin to a cat preparing to hiss… but then Other Maki’s cheeks filled, her eyes widened. Her face turned red… and then she burst out laughing, “Is that what you think that is!?”

“Well how should I know!?” Nico fired back, indignant… frustrated that she thought something awful was happening, “It’s not like you talk about anything!”

She reached out and pinched both of her Servant’s cheeks, pulling and berating, “Maybe if you’d rely less on me dreaming about your backstory and actually talking to me, I wouldn’t have to guess about all this stuff!”

“Mrrrmph!” Other Maki protested, brow furrowed and eyes at an unfairly attractive half-lid-glare.

“Not that you’ve ever been good about talking. About anything. You can’t expect me to know this stuff if you don’t talk to me. You know. Like people.

The woman pulled back and frowned. She sniffed hard and turned, slumping down onto the bed and laying on her side. She scooted back just enough to make the barest contact with Nico’s leg, but otherwise remained facing away.

“... and now you’re pouting!?”

“Mmrrrrrph.”

That held Nico up for a moment. The mood was familiar… but only from the younger current-time variety of Maki. Even then, neither made any real use of onomonopia.

“You already went cat… didn’t you?”

No answer. Just a moody older Maki facing away.

“AUGH! Come ON!” Nico flailed, shoving her sullen Servant, “We can’t just have a moment like that and then you go do this!

Still no response.

“Screw this,” Nico grumbled, reaching for the ring.

“Mrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.”

“Don’t you growl at me! I’m the Master around here, remember?” Nico railed, finding it difficult to get the jewelry to budge, “Nico isn’t into pet play!”

“MROARRR!” Other Maki protested, much louder… and with the added action of sitting up, turning around, and literally shredding the bottom third of Umi’s mattress with crimson energy claws.

“MAKI! LOOK WHAT YOU DID!”

A stubborn glare was the woman’s only reply… and then the bedframe collapsed.

“MAKI!”

“Mrr.”

 


Kanda Catholic Church
Ayase Eli


“El-i-chi~”

“Nnn…”

“Come on,” Nozomi encouraged, “It’s past ten. Do you plan on sleeping all day?”

Eli rolled over, grumbling, pulling the blanket back over her head to block out the light, “I’m not used to staying up that late.”

“That’s because Elicchi is such a good, responsible girl,” Nozomi answered. The mattress sank as she plopped down beside her. Despite herself, Eli smiled.

“Responsible Eli retired. Honoka took up the job… or was that Umi. I can’t really tell,” Eli snarkily answered, “I’m now the sleepy and not-getting-up Elichika.”

“Master,” a third voice added, making Eli’s eyes shoot open, “We really do have some things we need to talk about.”

Eli sat up almost instantly, startling Nozomi just a little. She looked around the room and it was just the three of them, which only mildly cut back on her embarrassment at being seen acting so self-indulgent.

“Oh relax, Master. Last night your dreams showed me the first time you considered your lady love here. Nothing can top that as far as embarrassment goes.”

“Caster!” Eli cried out in dismay.

“Oh, I want to hear all about this,” Nozomi teased.

“Later. First, we have a few very important topics to discuss,” Caster insisted, gesturing to the desk chair and beckoning it closer. Dutifully, it found its way under her as she continued, “I’ve recently received some distressing news that significantly steps up our schedule.”

“Did Tsubasa leave?” Eli asked.

“She did, about twenty minutes ago. She’s going to see about brokering an alliance with her fan, Archer’s Master,” Caster answered, “Which was the first order of business. If… Berserker is to be believed and Saber’s Master is also on our side, we should move to finish off Assassin and preferably his Master as soon as possible.”

Eli frowned at the wording, but held her tongue. Violence was a distasteful resolution, but an inevitable one in regards to the Matou Servant. The fate of the Master was… still an uncomfortable maybe. Who was she to even consider weighing the man’s life? After a moment’s consideration, she went on to ask, “Shouldn’t we do at least a little reconnaissance before barging in?”

“Normally I’d say yes, but we need to put a stop to his ambitions. Now, ” Caster insisted sternly.

“What ambitions are those?” Eli asked, steel rising in her heart at having what suspiciously sounded like orders being issued.

“I… am not at liberty to say,” Caster faltered, “Literally. There’s an arcane seal of the highest order preventing it.”

Nozomi jumped in, “Really? What could Matou be involved in that would warrant something like that?”

Caster’s shoulders slumped. Her voice incredibly weary as she answered, “I. Can’t. Say.”

“Or?” Nozomi prompted… and Eli got it. Finding information by probing around the subject. Talking about a thing without specifically mentioning it.

“I just can’t. This isn’t a mere geas, girls. This isn’t a compulsion. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I would love to talk about it, but I can’t, so let’s move on to bringing an end to the Matou line.”

This roundabout was more than slightly frustrating. Eli couldn’t help but allow that iron to temper her voice as she insisted, “If you won’t tell us why you’re so hung up on ending a human life, why don’t you tell us who you are to think you can make such a decision?”

“Master… Matou is hardly what could even pass as human anymore…”

Eli stood. Nozomi joined her. In her best Disappointed Student Council President voice, Eli continued, “Caster. I’m tired of calling you Caster when we’re alone. You can trust us. I don’t want to go into a fight without knowing what we have available to us. You haven’t even mentioned your Noble Phantasm...”

Caster was clearly hesitating through that haze of glamours… feeling she was close, Eli pressed, “If things are really as pressing as you’re making them out… we don’t have time to ease into this any more than we already have.”

“I suppose… I have no choice then…” Caster sighed, hanging her head. She took a deep breath and sighed away the shimmering distortion, slouching forward and looking out with sunken, mournful eyes. The time-worn woman scratched her unusually long nose and asked an infinitely older voice, “If Caster would not do, perhaps you could call me your Baba?”

Nozomi looked confused, but Eli gasped in delight. Really, she couldn’t be smiling any harder as she exclaimed, “Oh!!! You look just like my Prababushka!!!”

“What,” Caster stated. Not a hint of question in her voice, just flat disbelief.

Eli, filled with growing excitement as the dots connected, leaned in and embraced her wizened, stunned Servant. At the woman’s startled expression of disbelief, the former council president explained in a warm voice she reserved for family, “I’m part Russian. It means Great Grandmother. You have big ears just like her’s!”

That wasn’t the only similarity, but it was the most flattering Eli could think of. The woman was clearly sensitive about her appearance, which she understood all too well. Fortunately, Eli’s insecurities didn’t double-time as prejudices. Her Servant was adorable , in a crinkly super-old-lady way, and if she wasn’t mistaken…

“I feel like I should know who you are, but I’m still stumped,” Nozomi admitted sheepishly.

Eli turned, nuzzling the older and suddenly delighted older woman’s cheeks, “Apparently, I got really lucky! We have a fairy tale on our side!”

“You’re lucky you’re both such good girls,” the old woman giggled, finally returning the hug, “Otherwise old Baba Yaga might have cooked you up!~”

 


Adrian Harwey

“Master… it would appear that the residence is warded, but not actually protected. No answer at the bell either. I believe that Matou is not present. There is a significant glamor around the perimeter… and I believe a significant battle recently took place here.”

All previous efforts of maintaining a pleasant face were dismissed. Adrian Harwey was scowling . He had liked that pilot… and it was beyond unseemly for the staff in service of the Harwey family to suffer. For anyone to suffer, really. Wasn’t that what everyone was fighting toward? The betterment of humanity?

Even if some forgot that along the way.

Regardless, the man crossed his arms and settled against the adjacent fence. “Well, we could wait or seek the man out. Given that the man’s Servant is Assassin, I will be counting on you either way, old friend.”

“Of course,” Tsao Tsao intoned, “I can not presently detect his Servant, but as you know, I have access to some of the greatest trackers in history. Shall I call upon their services?”

“Please. Given the climate we left the situation in, I fear we may not have much time to hear all sides of this story.”

“... and your intent upon finding the Matou Patriarch?”

“Time has allowed my ire to cool. I realize I did not extend the courtesy of the Harwey to all participants. I was too swayed by the incredible circumstances presented at the Nishikino’s Hospital,” Harwey droned, stern and curt, “I require additional perspective.”

“I’ve come to talk.”

 


Iida Kaori



A knock on the door preceded the quiet, stern voice of the younger of her older brothers, “Kaori. You have company.”

The knock drew a squeak from the girl, who held onto her new roommate all the tighter. In response, Archer wrapped her cloak around the girl protectively. She… she was just so embarrassed about the whole thing. Ashamed! To think, she’d left Blanche alone with that… that monster for so long…

“Kaori-chan… you should probably go see who that is,” her Servant suggested, “Don’t worry. I’ll be right beside you the whole time.”

… and after all that. She still was so kind. She didn’t deserve it… but she wasn’t so self-defeating as to rebuff it.

“It’s probably just Nagisa… but… thank you,” Kaori answered, hugging tighter for a moment before pulling away and sitting up. She brushed away her tears, looked to her wall of posters, to her idols, took a deep breath and stood. As promised, Blanche did her become-invisible thing, but still remained a strong enough presence for Kaori to feel.

When she opened the door, her brother Tenya was still waiting outside. His forever stern visage softened with concern. Kaori put on a brave face and tried to put his worries to ease with a soft, “Thank you, Ten-nii. Let me guess, Nagisa with yesterday’s notes?”

Then her brother turned and, for just a moment, Kaori could swear she saw a hint of unheard of mischievousness in his eyes as he answered, “Not at all. You should hurry down.”

Gosh. Kaori hadn’t seen Ten-nii make that face since the last time he said Santa had come. Curiosity rose above the lingering fear and guilt. Reflexively, she reached for Blanche’s hand… obviously claiming nothing but the sentiment was felt.

She followed her broad-shouldered brother down the stairs, rounded the corner, made eye-contact with her guest and gasped.

“Hello Kaori-chan. I’m glad your feeling better!”

“Tsu-Tsu-Tsu… Tsubasa Kira-sama!?”

 

----- -----

 

“So Matou just… returned your Servant and let you leave?” Tsubasa-sama pressed once more, disbelief clear in her subdued voice. Why was she so suspicious of the seemingly kindly old man?

“He said Archer was just too much on top of his own Servant to handle. He was very apologetic about the entire thing,” Kaori replied, continuing to get more anxious by the moment, “... Between Archer and your reaction… I’m starting to think he wasn’t as nice as I thought he was.”

Tsubasa-sama took another sip, still acting like she wasn’t the most amazing person to ever step foot on the planet, and took a deep breath, “Kaori-chan… Matou Zouken is about as far from nice as a person can get… I’m just relieved he didn’t hurt you. Would you mind going for a walk with me? I’d like to speak with you and your Servant, if you don’t mind.”

Kaori gulped, still not sure how A-RISE’s center knew about all of this but too star-struck to question it, “Really?”

The light surrounding Tsubasa somehow became even more dazzling as she blessed the world once more with her smile and assured, “Absolutely. Maybe I could treat you to pancakes?”

She could feel Blanchette face-palming at her side, but as dear her Servant was… she just didn’t understand how important this girl was!

“I would love that!”

 


Nishikino Maki

 


“Wait… wait up…,” Rin panted, bracing herself against the ceiling’s fence, “When did you… get so fast?”

It took four strides before Maki slowed enough to turn, flicking her hair back over her shoulders and cockily boasting, “Don’t tell me you’re giving up already? I’m still just warming up…”

Rin’s face scrunched up suspiciously, “Who are you and what have you done with Maki-chan?”

Utter. Satisfaction .

Sure, Umi was eyeing her critically, but everyone else was just swept away by her newly upped game. Rin had been giving it everything she had with these laps around the roof. They’d lapped everyone at least twice (poor Kayo-chin four times!) and here Rin was tapping out before she felt even slightly winded.

… and this was their after end-of-practice cool-down run!

“I had a good night’s sleep for a change,” Maki lied with a shrug as the other girls also came to a stop, “Anyone want to go grab a bite on the way home?”

“Maki,” Umi began, stepping in and a little winded herself, “If this is what we could expect from you all the time, I may insist on you scheduling more time in for sleep. Are you sure that’s all there is to this?”

Whatever magic hijinks Nico was up to, Umi was clearly involved as well. This display, while vindicating, might not have been the wisest move. Still, it was easy enough to brush it off with a breezy, “Sleep and your training regimen. Maybe less breath wasted fighting with Nico-chan.”

“Perhaps we should keep the two of you separated then,” Umi replied with arched brow.

Crap. A stupid knee-jerk easy-shot backfired. “Uhh… that’s not really… what I...”

Rin’s exhaustion seemed to be lost at the potentially impending admission. That goob was awful about keeping secrets and had been on her to tell the rest of the group ever since this morning. Between Rin’s antsiness and Kayo-chin’s anxiety over the breach of idol protocol… well…

Maybe she should have just confided in Umi. Maybe Eli… wherever she had gone.

“That won’t be necessary,” Maki quasi-recovered.

Thankfully, Umi couldn’t press as Honoka approached with hand raised, “I heard something about getting food on the way home!? I’m in!”

Umi’s attention shifted on chiding Honoka for ignoring her diet, giving Maki a chance to slip over to Rin and pull her along by the wrist. She added Hanayo to this effort and winked away Kotori’s questioning glance. Hard to keep the confident smirk to pair with Kayo-chin squeaking every other step though.

“Wow, you really are somethin’ else today, Maki-chan,” Rin marveled, “Where did you have in mind?”

“I don’t know,” Maki shrugged as they hit the stairwell, “I just didn’t really want to go straight home.”

“Energetic and extra social!” Honoka added from behind, a surprise to see given how long Umi usually held her up, “I’m not missin’ this for anything!”

Kotori, who was apparently at her side added, “I’d like to suggest @home cafe! Otani-san sent me a text with a picture of their new strawberry shortcake for two and I really want to try it!”

“You’re still in touch?!” Honoka marveled. Otani must be a former co-worker from Kotori’s Minalinski days. Hearing that they were so excited at the idea of hanging out was doing all kinds of great things for Maki’s mood.

“That sounds great, ” Maki agreed, suddenly ravenous again , “We’ll have to send the third years pictures. Maybe they won’t cut out on our next practice.”

Kotori gasped, “Oooh~ Maki-chan wants to make Nico jealous?”

“I love it!” Honoka cheered, with Umi sighing deeply somewhere in the background.

 


Assassin

 

‘Are you certain it’s wise to expose yourself this much, Master?’

Maintaining invisibility during patrols was normal at this point. A particular boon to being summoned as this class as opposed to the more fitting Saber. What wasn’t an accustomed practice was for his wizened Master to accompany his rounds.

Plainly, he spoke his response in a low enough voice that the surrounding populace wouldn’t catch, “The children are too busy scurrying in the shadows. I’ve been too easy on them. It’s high time I bloody their nose a little in return.”

Assassin frowned. The assault on the Matou compound was more than a simple nuisance; but as always, his Master was a difficult one to read. He was difficult to serve… and at times it seemed as if he was even disinterested in the final prize.

“You’ve assessed the schedules of their little friends. You’re certain that this is their commute path?”

‘I am’

Loathsome as the man was, as long as it lead to the Grail, it would all be worth it. There was an underlying voice, his future potential, that recoiled at these methods… but that would likely be the reason he was pulled in the form he currently inhabited. An incarnation unhindered… that could get the job done.

“I don’t intend to make a scene… just give them enough fear to flush them out of whatever holes they’ve buried themselves in.”

‘They’re coming.’

His wizened Master’s demeanor softened. Gently, he murmured, “So they are… and she’s the spitting image. It’s just like with Kiritsugu’s boy.”

“Tell me Servant… do you believe that history can be changed?”

 


Yazawa Nico


“Is this really how it’s going to be from now on?” Nico grumbled, hands in her hoodie’s pockets. She sulked down the sidewalk with a clear sense of her Servant, invisible, was ambling at her side on all fours, “Do you even remember what happened right before you went cat?”

No response. Not even an emotional flicker past the persistent mild annoyance and creeping anxiety. Whatever this weird state her class was forcing on her was, Other Maki’s higher thought processes were apparently suppressed. She’d spent the past several hours doing everything she could think of to get a non-feline response out of her beloved Servant… and while it was kinda funny on some level, it was also super depressing.

Depressing, and distressingly destructive for the Sonoda household.

Umi’s text, telling her that she’d be running late, was thankfully informative enough to get in trouble with. She was tired of watching Other Maki break everything in Umi’s house, so a surprise meet-up with the girls would do her good. She needed to get out. To get out and to ease poor Umi into what awaited her return.

That was the other thing. The ring worked . It worked so well. She’d never felt so saturated in magical energy before. She honestly didn’t know what to do with it all. She felt like she could dance between walls and pop in and out of invisibility for hours. The entirety of Papa’s playbook was available for her and all the tricks that would have tapped her in seconds would be a breeze.

… Not that great a trade. She still spent half an hour trying to pry the damn thing off.

She wanted her Maki back.

Her phone buzzed and groaned out an annoyed, “Nani sore!? Imi wakanai!” that Maki had told her to change out every time she heard it for months, but obviously that was never going to happen. A quick glance confirmed it was a text from her current-incarnation girlfriend. Attached was a smirking selfie, throwing a Nico-Nii as Maki squeezed RinPana into what was clearly a taunt.

Nico snorted. She recognized that cafe. Wouldn’t they be surprised to see her? She pocketed her phone and groaned, cracking her back and rolling her shoulders. She turned to her invisible best girl and snarked, “Hey, you gonna behave if I embarrass the heck outta younger you?”

Aside of the distinct impression she was getting a half-lidded glare, there was disappointingly no response.

 


Nishikino Maki

 

“This was fun! We should do this more often!” Honoka cheered, running in place to help burn off her sugar high.

“We’d have to step up your regimen significantly to compensate for your gluttony,” Umi minded, which Honoka booed.

“Did you ever get a reply from the others?” Kotori asked, checking herself one last time in her phone’s selfie camera before packing it away and focusing back on Maki.

“Eli apologized for her and Nozomi, but nothing from Nico,” Maki preened, re-checking her phone and still feeling on top of the world, “I’m guessing she was too busy being jealous to reply.”

“It was nice of you to offer to bring her something,” Hanayo minded, clearly still trying to low-key urge her to come clean with the second-years about this morning’s admission, “I know she loves maid cafes.”

“Well… yeah,” Maki agreed, putting on her best blasé as she waved off, “I figured I’d credit you for it. I don’t want her getting the wrong idea or anything.”

Oh, man, Rin looked like she was going to explode . She really didn’t handle keeping secrets well… this was so much fun!

“I could deliver it, if you needed to get to your cram classes,” Umi offered, which… well… it made sense, but Maki was genuinely looking forward to handing it over herself. Umi had a point, though. She’d be pushing it if she didn’t head over soon.

“On that note, we’re going to split off here,” Hanayo announced, “This was fun! See you tomorrow.”

“Nya! Have a good night!” Rin added, falling back into her default cheer.

“Good work today,” Maki echoed with Umi as the other second years bid their own farewells.

“Actually, If you wouldn’t mind,” Maki re-engaged as the two started off on their way, “I probably should get going…”

With almost uncharacteristic relief, Umi brightened and assured, “Absolutely. Should I… pass along your suggestion that it was from Hanayo as well?”

With Honoka and Kotori taking way too much interest in the question, Maki brushed off, “That would be fine. I just didn’t want to hear her whine about being left out.” That seemed to do the trick for Honoka, but Kotori seemed even more amused for some reason. Umi accepted the carryout bag, partings were shared, and she was on her own again.

It… was honestly a little weird to not feel tired. After only getting a scarce six hours across the past three days, common sense suggested she should be barely functioning at all. Instead, she was just as energetic as she’d been since her woomidy-woom magical tubes or whatever had kicked in. At least once an hour, she focused on cycling through her body’s automated systems, flushing, refreshing, invigorating, and optimizing.

Magic was proving to be the biggest cheat imaginable. Seriously the best.

The real question now was… did she actually go to class, or should she just beeline straight to the hospital to start ‘lessons.’

“Excuse me, miss?”

Maki turned, riding enough of a high that her expression was apparently lacking it’s usual standoffishness. There was no other reason she could think of that would lead to the elderly man approaching her feeling comfortable enough to ask, “I’m very sorry to trouble you. I seem to have gotten turned around… a nice officer said that Nishikino General was this way, but that was so long ago…”

Huh. Idol-level smile was a go as Maki let her previous decision be made for her, “That’s quite a coincidence, I was just on my way there. Shall we go together?”

“Oh, well aren’t you a sweet child?”.

 


Yazawa Nico

 

“Cheeky kid,” Nico grumbled, apparently just having missed her fellow idols at the cafe, “I’m gonna pinch those cheeks of hers ‘til they match her hair.”

There wasn’t anyone close enough to hear her mumbling, but the vague emotional feedback from her invisible Servant certainly carried. It was a shame that whatever made this cat thing work also seemed to turn the woman into a raw, anxious nerve. Even the suggestion of picking on her previous self seemed to make her bristle in annoyance.

… So, not really that far off from what Nico was accustomed to.

A quick text Umi’s way to let her know that she was on the move, something she should have probably done right after leaving the house, and Nico started heading back. The walk was nice, but company would have been better.

“I don’t suppose you can sniff ‘em out, can you? See if anyone’s still close?” Nico chanced, “Probably not. That’s a dog thing, right?”

More irritation… but that wasn’t a bad thing. It’s the least of what she deserved for whiplashing her heart around. Then her Servant surprised her by pressing an urge to follow. These empathetic suggestions were kind of wild. It was almost fun! Nico laid it on a little thicker with a softly spoken, “Ooh~ is Maki-chan doing double-time as a puppy? That would explain those big eyes begging for attention all the time.”

Nowhere near the level of emanated irritation she’d expected. Instead, she just felt… focused? Cautious? No… almost paranoid...

“You better not be looking for a tree or something. I’m fine with taking you for walks, but that’s going a little…” Nico teased, but trailed off.

Two blocks away was a familiar crop of red hair topping a familiar school uniform.

At her side, being led by the arm, was the wizened form of Matou Zouken.

 


Nishikino Maki

 

“That really is quite the coincidence,” the old man chuckled, his thin forearm trembling from the action through her sleeve, “I suppose I’ve always been a lucky one.”

“This has been a lucky year in general,” Maki warmly added, enjoying the fading colors of the evening sky.

“It’s good to hear someone so young being optimistic for a change!” he continued, praising, “If my grandson were half as forward-looking as you seem to be, I would be much more at ease about the future.”

“Oh, he can’t be that bad,” Maki assured as it was the good-natured, socially-apt thing to do in conversations like these. For some reason, old people were just so much easier to handle than her peers. Their adherence to the social script was so much stronger. … Except for the times when they weren’t, and that just meant they were fun old people.

“He’s bad enough that I wouldn’t try to pair such a nice girl as yourself with him,” he laughed, “Still, I can’t believe I’d stumble on my doctor’s daughter! You look so much like your mother that I should have known!”

“That’s very kind of you to say,” Maki acquiesced humbly, “I hope you didn’t have to travel too far.”

“When you get to my age, taking your time to walk and enjoy the evening is worth a little inconvenience. It’s part of why I insist on returning to your parents’ establishment despite having moved to Fuyuki.”

“Papa always said that the secret to living a long life is to keep moving.”

With a toothy grin, the old man agreed, “It’s certainly one facet.”

“Maki-chan!” called out another voice Maki had not been expecting… but managed to turn this “10” of a day all the way to an “11.”

Maki pulled back a steadying hand on the old man’s arm to wave back and answer, her smile wide, “Nico-chan!”

 


Yazawa Nico

 

He knew.

Of course he knew.

If he knew, Mama and the girls were in danger. The girls of µ's were in danger. She was in danger. Worst of all, right now… her wonderful, brilliant, naive suddenly-less-tsundere of a girlfriend was in danger. The shriveled husk resembling an old man that she’d made sure to stay away from was zeroing in on her now. Confident, amused… and malevolent.

Words failed her as Maki casually turned back to the man (whose eyes for just the moment preceding were pitch black) and started an introduction. Her throat was dry as when Maki turned and dozens of writhing grubs and worms were revealed to be clinging to her sleeve and crawling along the back of her blazer.

Nico couldn’t make a noise… but she could still move.

… and move she did.

Before she could fully process the image before her, she was racing across the empty street. Panic slowed time as her actions were noticed and each of those terrible insects reared back, producing a barb or stinger, and struck home. Maki’s smile freezing and her words slurring into silence.

Rage building in her chest as her brilliant beautiful Maki stumbled and fell limp against the man as the worms and grubs struck a second, third, fourth, and fifth time. Outrage and fury as Matou let go of her arm, leaving her to her fall as he stepped back and held his arms wide at the side as if welcoming her charge.

Nico was only vaguely aware of a flash of red to her left, knowing that her now-feline Servant would handle the worst of it. The distinctive snarl and the explosive sound of concrete shattering confirmed that a battle she had no hope of influencing had begun. Rubble bounced off of her back as she primed the magical energy she’d once had to struggle to collect.

Ripple and weave, Be and not. Separate, ” Nico murmured as she crouched at Maki’s side, swiping her hand through the collection of insectoid horrors… immediately causing the lot to twist and dissipate into a messy ichor amidst the shredded fabric of the redhead’s blazer.

The swiftly, and miraculously accurately cast, spell forced everything below her elbow physically in and out of phase at an imperceptible pace… physically unbalancing anything it passed through. Risky, but the fastest way she could think of to fix the immediate problem. A problem that still wasn’t dealt with.

Nico centered the old man, who was whistling and applauding. Patronizing. Clearly thinking nothing of doing that to her Maki-chan.

A monster.

Nico did not hesitate.

With a roar, Nico leapt at the ancient magus, forcing the same magical matrix through her other arm as she reached for his throat.

She fell short as something big, heavy, and shapely fell onto her shoulders, forcing her back to the ground and then shoving her out of the way of three blue flashes of steel. The yellow-eyed, red-haired, scar-faced swordsman wasted no time in pressing his attack as Nico’s own Servant rolled the two of them over, bracing her back against the sidewalk, and launching Nico into the air with both arms and legs.

From her new vantage point, Nico watched, her breath nearly knocked out by the lift-off, as Other Maki twist around the swordsman’s seven-slash combination before kicking away and sending out a few… crimson energy air slashes? When did she learn to do that!?

As Nico took in even more of the surrounding area, the thoroughly shredded street, a deeply scoured wall, a downed tree, and a completely unbelievable lack of people before she realized she was still going up.

“Oh crap… crap crap crap crap crapcrapcrapcrapcrap!”

As she ran out of inertia and gravity started pulling her back down, she was torn between panicking about how the hell she was going to land and how Maki, the younger one, still wasn’t moving. She was about five stories up! She didn’t have any tricks for something like this!

As if Nico’s heart wasn’t already in her throat, it straight up froze as the swordsman forced Other Maki into a massive disadvantage by forcing her to defend her younger self. She couldn’t even track the dizzying pace of dodges, parries, and counters that demolished the pavement around her girlfriend. She was desperate to do something… but again...

Falling.

Falling and being slammed into from the side by something large, musky, and fuzzy.

“Don’t you worry cutie-pie, I got you!” the lean man assured as stars filled Nico’s vision from the impact.

“Be careful with her, dummy!” called out a voice way too familiar to be who Nico thought it was.

They landed hard, but the mystery man took the shock like a champ, setting Nico down onto her feet as he called out, “Hey Red! Save some for me!” and took off again, pulling what looked like a toothpick from behind his ear that immediately swelled into an ornate bo-staff.

“Rider! Don’t just… UGH … Are you okay?” checked the girl who had been hanging from his shoulders. Sure enough, it was Tsubasa Kira.

Dizzy, disoriented, and completely at her wits end, Nico could only point and choke out, “Mnn… Mah… Maki-chan!” before stumbling back toward the carnage.

“Yazawa-san!?”

“Call me Nico!” Nico shouted back, too fearful to appreciate how cool she was being as she zeroed in on her still-unconscious girlfriend and bolted, charging forward and crying out, “Berserker! Cover me!”

Assassin, obviously, was hard pressed. As dizzying his swings were, all were released as a steady retreat while Rider and Berserker tested his defenses. Zouken, no longer looking amused… merely laid back, was forced back a step as Other Maki flung one of those strange crimson energy blade his way for approaching the unconscious Nishikino.

“Fascinating that your Servant is still managing to fight, let alone exist given that her past’s potential has already been snuffed out,” Zouken rumbled conversationally.

As Nico slid past an errant chunk of asphalt and scrambled through the rubble to her downed paramour. Maki, the younger K.O.’ed version, was hot. Feverish. She wasn’t still… there was a constant tremble from whatever she’d been injected with. She was still alive.

“Screw you, old man,” Nico growled, scooping Maki up by her underarms and pulling her away from the ancient magus. The welts on Maki’s back, shoulder, and arm had grown considerably… and she was way warmer than she should be. Nico would have kept berating the older mage, but twin searing pinpricks shot into her ankles, sapping her legs’ strength in an instant.

“You should watch your tone, child,” Zouken coldly berated as Nico, with grit teeth, ripped away the offending grubs. The old man continued his approach despite another crimson slash parting the pavement between them, “You’re fortunate that I require the Rondure or I would already be feeding your family to my pets… so tell me… where is the orb, girl?”

Fire lanced up Nico’s legs. An inferno she quelled as soon as she could gain the focus to phase them, groaning a barely functional, “ Dance… Between,” and gaping at the acidic venom hissing as it splattered on the pavement beneath.

The implications weren’t lost on her… but she could only handle one crisis at a time. Through the haze of pain, she saw the road between her and Matou was covered with a skittering, writhing mass on the approach. She tried to pull Maki along, but her legs refused to cooperate.

“Cover your eyes!” Tsubasa cried out a split second before the world flashed white. Rider cursed off to the left. Other Maki yowled. Nico was being pulled from behind, Maki limply towed in kind, as Tsubasa struggled to get the two out of harm’s way.

“Matou-san! What are you doing!?” called out yet another new voice. Young and feminine. The world was finally starting to come back into focus.

Mr. Tall and Fuzzy was hanging back and taunting the swordsman, a thin cut lacing his bicep, as Other Maki ignored a slice along her thigh (That Bibi-esque outfit of her’s was barely even functional at this point) to keep the hyper-focused, freely-bleeding, hakama-half-shredded swordsman on the defensive. Matou was frantically rubbing the stars from his own vision. The horde of bugs seemed to be completely fried by the burst and two little girls, one in a red cloak, was rushing his position.

“Kaori! Stay away from him!” Tsubasa cried out, but only served as a warning for the old man who pointed to the normally dressed girl.

“Take care of this, girl!” Matou growled, somehow forcing the girl to stop and turn, glowering straight at Nico, Maki, and Tsubasa.

Eyes blank, the girl pointed their way and commanded, “Archer. Kill them.”

The other girl in the little red riding hood get-up, presumably Archer, protested, “Kaori!? What? What did he do to you?”

Undeterred, one of the command seals on the back of her hand flared and burned away as she repeated in the same dispassionate voice, “Archer. Kill them.”

“Dummy, I think I need your help here!” Tsubasa backpedaled frantically. Nico, still incapable of getting her legs to respond could only cradle her unconscious Maki to her as closely as she could in hopes of shielding her from what was coming.

“I’m sorry!” Archer protested, panic clear on her face as she struggled against the command, “I am so sorry!”

The red-cowled girl pulled two crossbows from behind her cape and took aim. Rider, the tall fuzzy one, blurred onto the scene and forced Archer to abandon her position as he shattered the pavement with his almost comically thick bo staff.

“Best day ever!” Rider boasted as he deflected a flurry of arrows before pursuing the lithe Archer.

Throughout it all, Nico watched with gritted teeth as her feral Servant flipped, dodged, slashed, and bled, giving worse than she got… but still taking significant damage. She was bounding with a limp now, but the swordsman was forced into holding a single position. It looked like he was barely standing.

She was so focused that when Tsubasa redoubled her efforts in pulling the two of them away, groaning, “You have got to be kidding me!” it took Nico off guard.

A hazy swarm was forming behind the Matou Master. Nico croaked out, “Berserker! Matou!”

After a yowl of protest, Other Maki pulled away from her opponent to fire off another air-pressure slash, shredding much of the swarm but not phasing the wizened Magus. It felt cruel, but Nico forced her eyes from her Servant’s plight to focus on the girl burning up in her arms.

“Tsubasa-san, thank you, but I need to keep still for a second. I can’t lose her!” Nico assured, drawing up her magic once more to try something she’d have never considered attempting before.

She barely managed to stay sitting upright as Tsubasa released them, pulling away to pummel Matou’s senses with smaller concentrated bursts of light. Nico buried her face in Maki’s hair, pressing her hand to the younger girl’s sternum and core. She tried to steady her breathing so she could focus on guiding the path of her spell’s intent as she intoned, “ You are mine, I am yours. Sometimes apart, seldom as one. Together we dance. Between. Without. You are mine, I am yours. Sometimes apart, forever as one, weave with me. Inside. Throughout. Dance with me, Without, Between.”

The pavement beneath them hissed violently as Nico phased her nearly comatose girlfriend along with herself just enough out of synch for the volatile agent to pass through. She forced herself not to think about how much damage the venom must have already done as she released the spell and felt the world shimmer back into solidity.

The sudden sensation of flame consuming her legs was enough to cue Nico in on their returned functionality. She kicked at the rubble to push herself and Maki further from the melee, just in time to avoid a wave of arrows that slipped past Rider’s defense.

Tsubasa, who was harrying Matou with continuous searing bursts of light, was forced back as yet another figure arrived on the scene. Blade flashing and demanding with a booming voice for the melee to, “ STAND DOWN.

The command had to have been part of the Servant’s abilities, as Nico felt herself go limp at the demand. Assassin was forced to his knee. Other Maki turned in confusion, looking more curious than anything. Matou looked pale, Tsubasa dropped to all fours, Kaori seemed to pass out, and Rider took advantage of Archer’s moment of distraction to land a solid blow directly to her crown… knocking her out in an instant.

“Gotta keep your eye on the prize kid,” Rider taunted jovially before turning to the newcomer, “... and this day just keeps gettin’ better! Who do we have here?”

“Four spirits that refuse to bend,” the newly arrived Servant commended as Nico watched, barely capable of breathing let alone budging, as Other Maki ambled over to Rider’s side. Both approached the man Nico recognized as Harwey’s Servant, Tsao Tsao, who continued, “This battle is at an end. My Master has requested the audience of Matou Zouken and would have words with him alone.”

“Helluva nerve on you, thinkin’ you can barge in here and bark orders,” Rider replied, clearly unimpressed, “ Especially to me. I was havin’ a good time here!”

“You’ll have to forgive my friend,” Adrian Harwey apologized, side-stepping rubble along the sidewalk, “But a display like this is unseemly for mages to participate in. The children I can understand, but Zouken… this is unlike you. You should know better.”

“I took the necessary precautions,” the old man bitterly replied, clearly one of the four Tsao Tsao referenced, “... You just want to talk? I’m to believe that?”

“My Master has no use for lies,” Tsao Tsao growled, “His is a higher existence than you could hope to attain.”

“You’re too kind, my friend,” Adrian waved off amicably, turning to the two Servants still standing, “... and the marvels continue. Sun Wukong… straight from fantasy. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Tsao Tsao looked distinctly uncomfortable at the identification as Harwey continued, “Ah, and Ms. Nishikino. You seem… less yourself and more representative of your class. Pity. I’d hoped to discuss more with you later.”

Other Maki turned from the scene, boredom dripping from her expression as she turned to amble toward Nico. knowing that she felt comfortable enough to turn her back on everyone else did wonders for Nico’s anxiety that the battle wasn’t over. Her Servant stopped along the way to collect Tsubasa who seemed just as incapable of moving as Nico was.

Harwey took this in stride, laughing at the reaction, an action mirrored by Rider whose mood seemed truly indomitable. The plutocrat turned again to Matou and asked without asking, “Come. Walk with me. I’d like to discuss a few important points… like the fate of the Silencia Rondure, this Grail War of yours, and the ethical consequences of destroying one’s property.”

“... As if I had a choice,” Matou growled, nodding to Assassin who dematerialized before matching step with Harwey.

“Come on, you’re gonna leave me hangin’ like this?” Rider complained, arms wide as the two mages and Harwey’s Saber walked away.

“Another time, perhaps!” Harwey shrugged, “You should probably look after some of your allies. Nishikino General isn’t too far from here.”

Finally finding her voice again, Nico clung to her still non-responsive girlfriend tighter and pressed through Tsao Tsao’s lingering oppressive aura to call out, “Yes! Please! Help her!”

Other Maki perked up at this, smiling and unhelpfully curling up against her younger incarnation as Tsubasa, who was still completely incapable of moving, stared at Nico in surprise.

“A’right, a’right,” Rider grumbled, shrinking his staff to hide behind his ear again, shoulders drooped as he walked toward the downed Archer and her Master, “ Tch. So… where am I lugging these losers to again?”

“Nishikino General,” Nico struggled to say as she tried to fish her phone out of her blazer pocket from under the pair of Makis with an arm still weighted by Saber’s aura, “Just get us closer so we can get an ambulance… Come on Maki-chan, why are you so heavy?”

“Mrr.”

 


Nishikino Maki - After the Sting

 

It was weird, but finally seeing her strange older self, clearly still supposed to be incorporeal given the return of her shock-white hair and numerous deep scars, standing next to Nico in the light of day was a relief. A final pin in making the insanity of the past couple days fit properly in to her new reality.

The way she was crouching was a little weird, but her bizarre future self was hard to label as anything but weird.

She’d been worried when her alternate self had come in so beat up last night… particularly for Nico. Seeing her looking so energetic after so many consecutive days of her light so diminished set the last of Maki’s worries aside for the moment. There wasn’t a cave in sight. No weird living lava. She was totally in the clear as far as her own safety went.

Which is why it was such a shock to see the elderly man she’d been helping look so smug as her back was suddenly riddled with searing nuggets of agony.

Her vision filled with electric starbursts as her new exploratory ventures into magic explained in no uncertain terms that she had seconds to live.

That is, unless she acted quickly.

Focusing inward through the lightning field of pain, Maki switched off her ability to perceive it. Actually, she disabled numerous unnecessary functions, vision, scent, touch, taste, and sound, to focus instead on isolating what was roughly a deciliter of massively corrosive venom.

It had spread quickly. Terrifyingly so. Faster than her circulatory system would have permitted on its own. Still, in the self-enforced void she found herself in, it was a simple enough task to encase the searing fluid within an envelope of magic, isolating it from her bloodstream. The problem was what to do with it.

There were other complications, completely ignoring what was happening outside of herself in the real world. It was difficult, but knowing that a lapse in attention could lead to re-releasing the deadly fluid back into her body kept her on task. Her body detailed the localized damage far more accurately than pain ever could have. It reached deep, as the venom had burned through most of the circulatory system it had passed through.

There was… a lot to rebuild. All while focusing on restraining the venom. Worse, what it hadn’t destroyed, it corrupted. There was a lot of cancerous material that had to be separated and flushed out. This much damage in such a short amount of time… she’d have to hurry. Fortunately, since the body knew how to handle most of the processes on its own, only identification was the difficult task.

Grateful that breathing was an automated process, Maki funneled her will through ruined flesh. Pruning, isolating, and separating, she collected the corrupted matter within the same magical construct she’d sealed the loose venom in. Methodical. Mechanical. All under the assumption that at any moment a new trauma could strike.

Somehow, despite her nervous system being disabled, she could sense nearby waves of magical energy. Whatever was going on in the world outside, it was terrifying and intense. Each burst threatened her control… and she was quickly discovering her upper limits.

She’d pushed a lot today, physically and magically. She may have erred in assuming that magic could compensate for sleep indefinitely. Both reservoirs of resources were critically low… and even this miraculous future-stolen skill could only compensate for so much. Particularly, she realized after finishing the full isolation of the corruption, when she had nowhere to expel it.

Then miracle number two hit.

A wash of magic and the warmest empathetic emotion she’d ever experienced enveloped her. Such an unyielding protective love permeated her entire being that she lost hold on her magical construct entirely, freeing the venom to fall freely once more.

Only… it was gone. All that was left was a moment longer of that warm, decidedly Nico-reminiscent bliss before it, and her remaining consciousness faded to black.

----- -----

“You’re really pushing it… you know that, right?”

She was in the between. A place she shouldn’t remember in a void that shouldn’t be known. Sitting cross-legged in front of her was herself. Not the future version that had turned her life upside down, but one much younger.

“Cross contamination is bad enough… but re-writing your own timeline is beyond unacceptable.”

She was so small! Wearing the gown from that life-changing recital back in her primary first-year and a look of annoyance beyond that body’s apparent years. Her tone matched this as she continued to berate, “I’m sure you think you’re so smart, but at this point you’re going to do just as much damage to this layer’s continuity as those other guys!”

“What other guys?” Maki finally answered, finding her voice at last.

Her younger self turned from looking at her… to… look at her? The act was strangely dizzying as the child-like Maki chided, “Quiet you. You were doing just fine… or as fine as I’ve come to expect from you after all this time.”

Young Maki turned again… or was her perspective just shifting? Either way, Young Maki spoke to the other her once more to continue chiding, “There’s limits to what the system will allow. You passed those a long time ago, but for whatever reason, you’ve consistently been given clearance. There shouldn’t be higher authority than mine… which is the only reason I’m not shutting this, and you , down right now. Do you hear me?”

“I know what I’m doing,” Maki heard herself say… with enough conviction that she was certain that she did, “I didn’t start this particular cascade, but I’ll make sure to close my loops.”

“It’s already been loosed on this system, you know,” Young Maki answered softly, “Velber has already been consumed. Soon the night’s sky will turn dark.”

“How long do I have?” the Maki that Maki seemed to be sharing a body with asked wearily.

“Less than a month. A few weeks at most,” Young Maki answered, “... if it consumes you here, I don’t know how your future selves will be resolved.”

“It won’t come to that,” the Maki that Maki was starting to assume was Other Maki assured, “I’m here to protect the others. You more than anyone knows I won’t fail at that.”

Young Maki frowned, “You’d better pick up the pace then… and soon. Local systems have already started to focus on you as the threat you are. They won’t be as reasonable as I’ve been.”

The shared Makis winked, “Of course you’d be reasonable. You’re me!”

“Tch. Whatever. Just know that if you do fail, I’ll be forced to sever the pa-,” Young Maki brushed off before the scene faded from Maki’s mind… and she slumped back into unknowing unconsciousness once more.

 

----- -----

A comforting familiar beep.

A vitals monitor.

The hospital.

She was in a bed, and aside of some aching in her shoulders she felt fine. Tired… exhausted really, but fine. A deep exhalation. A peek at the room. It was dark… and she shared the room with another bed. Given the white-haired doppelganger crouching in the chair, Maki made the correct assumption that it was Nico.

“Good evening,” Maki offered weakly. She received no reply, though her older deeply-scarred self did continue to watch her lazily, stretching in an entirely undignified yet feline way. Apparently her future self had zero modesty.

“Right,” Maki sighed. The only monitor in the room was attached to her. She also had an IV. Just as well. After the day she had, she could probably use a bit more fluid. If she was in a shared room, and Nico wasn’t hooked up to anything, she must be okay.

After a centering breath, Maki ran through a brief magical self-assessment. Apparently, her parents mended the remaining damage. The monitor was likely just for appearances. Her magical reserves were pretty low, but apparently that was just how magic worked. The circuits generated the power as it was needed. They… felt a little strained, which made sense. They had since they’d first been seared open.

Physically though, aside of needing some more sleep and time for her body to accept it wasn’t injured anymore, psychosomatic pain was so annoying, she was fine.

Maki kicked off her covers, regretting it immediately since it was pretty chilly, and carefully bipped through the monitor’s shut-down process. She kept the IV in and wheeled the accompanying pole with her over to Nico’s bed… and JEEZ the floor was cold! Where were her socks!? Stupid drafty hospital gowns.

Regardless of how cold it was, Maki wasn’t above pulling the covers from her girlfriend. She wanted to make sure… and apparently she’d taken a few scrapes. Mama and Papa hadn’t given Nico the same thorough treatment they’d given her. Bruises lined her arms and legs as well as a light one on her cheek, all stark against her ever-pale skin.

The worst was the damage from her ankles.

Whatever had dumped so much venom into her shoulder had done the same to Nico, only lower. A dark webbing of trauma latticed deeply through everything below her knees. Maki swallowed deeply, her vision clouding at just how much that must have, and likely still did, hurt.

From her spot at the foot of Nico’s bed, she could see her girlfriend’s IV stand, likely dripping a considerable amount of pain suppressant to counter the aftermath of the evening’s incident. Maki sat, reaching out with both her fingers and her new perceptions to assess beyond what her eyes were telling her.

It… was bad. It was really… really bad. Significant bone degeneration. Catastrophic amounts of muscle, cartilage and tendon were dissolved. The lattice wasn’t just bruising, it was inactive corruption. This wasn’t just an injury… this was a half step from necessary amputation.

As she was… Nico would never walk, let alone dance, again.

With a shuddering breath, Maki steeled herself. Magic existed to do the impossible. She would fix this.

She turned to look at her still-lazy older self, still slouching in that bizarre ungraceful posture. Quietly, Maki pleaded, “I need your help. Please… help me help her…”

Without waiting, Maki turned back to her girlfriend, carefully raising Nico’s left foot up. She pressed her forehead against the girl’s shockingly thin leg and focused, doing her best to more thoroughly assess what needed to be done and where to begin. Her confidence heightened as she felt the bed beside her take on new weight and felt her older self rest her head on her lap.

A flask laid to rest against her knee.

Maki pulled away long enough to take a pull from it… bolstering her resolve, her stores of energy, and more importantly insight on how to properly restore Nico’s body flooded into focus through her connection with her strangely silent counterpart. She leaned in, pressing a kiss against her girlfriend’s ruined ankle and whispered, “This time, I’ll save you,” as a soft blue light enveloped her.

 


Author’s Comments:

Things are getting serious.
They’ll get worse before they’ll get better.
Hang in there, because I wouldn’t tell a story without a happy ending.
Now then… back to Nishikino. But first, an updated info matrix, because new faces, new names, and more complexity just hit.

 


Information Matrix (UPDATED)

Some statistical values currently unavailable due to lack of context.

All information only pertains to what has currently been revealed. Additional information will be added as it becomes available. Intel primarily relevant to the Fate application of the crossover, most Love Live canon pre-Snow Halation is applicable.


Master: Yazawa Nico
Magic style: Stealth and Skullduggery
Magical Circuit Count: 12 Natural, +45 Umi-Contracted, +?? Via Ring

Servant: Berserker
True Name: Nishikino Maki
Pseudonym: “Other Maki”
Noble Phantasm: Unidentified. May be unavailable due to “system incompatibility.”
Personal Skills: ( A ) Mad Enhancement, (A+) Mana Distilling, (C) Magical Construct Absorption, (A++) Supernal-Level Martial Arts, (A) Cat Mode

Bio:
The combined consciousness of numerous incarnations of Nishikino Maki, plus one or two others. It is currently unknown how she grew from a µ's member and songwriter to a hero worthy of preserving in the Throne.

Notes:
-     Supplements lacking mana resources (Nico’s diminutive magic circuits) via distilled moonlight. This resource, when consumed by a human, supplies an incredible mana infusion. No current drawbacks have been observed outside of a hyped ‘caffeine buzz.’ Apparently, up to seven of these flasks can be filled in the course of a clear night, each with its own distillery unit. Caster rightfully expressed confusion that a Berserker would be capable of the operation of such delicate instruments.
Flask quantity as of end of chapter: 6.25

-     Claims to be a “big deal” but as her accolades and accreditation into the Throne are from events that have not happened yet, there is no means of verifying. Given that her fame is in its infancy and unrelated to her heroic exploits, the related effect that acclaim has on a Servant’s power should be interesting to observe.

-     Claims to recall numerous reincarnation cycles, including several occurring after the existence that granted her a place in the Throne. This is at odds with known lore regarding the system and additional research is required to verify. Numerous examples have been observed via dream-link by her Master as well as bleed-over into her present-time self.

-     Claims that her Master’s mana to personal energy ratios are unbalanced due to Throne save state updates coming from incompatible saturation levels from post current universe existences. Try saying that three times fast. Yeesh. This claim is supported by the catalyst used to summon her, an unidentifiable orb of mass/energy that was previously under research at the Clock Tower referred to as the Silencia Rondure .

-     Functioning at a vastly lower capacity due to her Master’s weak magical resources pairing with previously mentioned incompatibility. Now functioning at full capacity thanks to the magic-balancing ring obtained from Caster.

-     The traditional Berserker Mad Enhancement effect is greatly diminished due to the personally relevant bond between her and her Master. Being literally bound to one of the people that made her happiest in life and surrounded by the others serves as a balm, diminishing the madness effect but also diminishing the power gain that comes with it. Due to the influx of power from Umi’s contract, this was the first aspect of Berserker’s Servant “benefits” to be empowered.

 

-     Mental stability seems to be diminishing as multiple lives worth of information contaminates what she understands to be real. Impulse control continues to weaken as the Mad Enhancement struggles to apply itself into the double-edged sword it was intended to be. This effect is primarily held at bay due to Maki’s obsessive desire to protect her Master, particularly from herself.

 

-    Following the use of a Command Seal, Berserker received enough of a shock to her system that she was able to more fully suppress her inward draw. Relying instead on the magic of the Command Seal’s expenditure, she lowered her capacity to barely above human standards to suppress the effects of the Mad Enhancement. A temporary measure, she hopes to use this time to find a more permanent solution.

 

-     Caster has suggested that both her status as a Berserker and a Servant in general are in question, though currently no other source has substantiated this claim. Other Maki has refuted this claim, stating that despite there being non-standard aspects of her summoning, she was indeed part of and called through the summoning system of the Holy Grail War. That said, her Catalyst appears to have significance beyond the systems of the Throne or the Grail War.

 

-     “Cat Mode” appears to be a berserker state where the Servant’s mental capacities are limited to those of a basic house cat, only paired with a fierce protectiveness and incredible martial skill. It is currently unknown what causes this to activate or deactivate. This personal skill apparently comes from an incarnation where Maki was male. Maki is very evasive when talking about this ability.

-     Ammunition from Archer was drawn in and absorbed, converted back into mana which helped to diminish the drain on Nico, if only momentarily.

-     Caster provided a ring that was equal in power to what was offered in exchange. This ring not only negated the drain on Nico’s personal magical capacity, but overcharged both Servant and Master through a loophole in the Grail’s summoning system, effectively giving both near-limitless magical energy to work with, freeing Nico to use her family’s magical practices once more.
Unfortunately, this benefit is tempered by the full implementation of the Berserker Mad Enhancement, which seems to have locked the Servant into “Cat Mode,” as it has been called. Effectively nullifying the Servant’s ability to communicate.



Master: Ayase Eli
Magic style: Physical Augmentation and Endurance

Servant: Caster
True Name: Baba Yaga
Noble Phantasm: ??
Personal Skills: (B) Wide-Scale Charms and Illusion, (??) Nature Control, (A+++) Let’s Make a Deal

Notes:
-     Her clothing is beyond humble, her demeanor and hair suggest a venerable age, and her face is somehow masked in a way that while expressions can be read, one can not truly recall any specific facial features.

-     Has made several food related references to the girls around her, including references to boiling people and that she was considered a monster.

-     Utilized glamours and charms to redirect attention from Nozomi’s ruined apartment, suggesting their magic focuses on the subtler arts.

-     Has displayed great domestic affection for her Master and for Nozomi, going so far as to claim Nozomi as a daughter she never had.

-     Has distinct discomfort with Christianity and those that practice it.

-     Caused thorny vines to grow throughout the main hall of Kanda Catholic Church.

 

-    Prepared a meal using a giant mortar as a soup pot.

-     Has the ability to offer low-grade wish-fulfillment in exchange for something of equal value.



Master: Tsubasa Kira
Magic style: Illusion and Glamours

Servant: Rider
True Name: Son WuKong (AKA: Son Goku)
Noble Phantasm: ??
Personal Skills: (A++) Supernal-Level Martial Art

Notes:

Son WuKong, originally a stone statue of a monkey brought to life, has led an incredible and auspicious life. While famously known for his role in the classic tale of Journey to the West, Son’s list of deeds and accomplishments preceding have granted him notoriety in the Heavens as well as on Earth. His martial skill and numerous incredible tools and talents leave much in question for what has manifested as his Servant capabilities.

The level of power his fame would lend him in the Grail War system would be terrifying, particularly due to the war taking place mostly in Akihabara where his most recent popular media counterpart from the shonen manga/anime Dragon Ball holds significant sway. Son WuKong, a supernatural being by nature, would be a Servant of absurd capacity, potentially placing him among the most powerful Servants ever called through the Grail War system.

-     A tall, muscular yet lanky and easy-going man. Notable features include copious amounts of body hair, tightly cropped top and facial hair, a red cape, and a crown adorned with two very long feathers.

-     Tsubasa claims to have gotten very lucky, suggesting that her Servant is of excellent caliber.

-     Seems to enjoy the prospect of hand-to-hand combat. (Duh.)


Master: Matou Zouken
Magic style: Binding/Absorption and Insect Control

Notes:

-     Patriarch of one of the three founding families that, with the cooperation of the Tohsaka and Einzbern, created the system that enables the Fuyuki Holy Grail War. It is assumed that he is the instigator of the current event.

-     Somehow obtained Maki’s catalyst, an impossible orb of indeterminate matter/energy called the Silencia Rondure that was last seen under heavy surveillance and scrutiny at the Clock Tower. How this orb came into being or it’s connection to Nishikino Maki remains to be seen. This item was not originally intended to be utilized as a summon catalyst. Its original use in Zouken’s plans are currently unknown.

-=Classified Information=- Zouken is an ancient magus that previously went under the family name of Makiri. As the family valued absorptive capacity more than legitimate magical circuits, the family’s magical capacity declined to the point where their latest heir, Matou Shinji, was born without magical circuits of his own, effectively terminating the line’s magic potential. This lack was compensated for by utilizing various methods, some resembling torture, that would carve that potential and capacity into the body.

The family traditionally utilizes a specific variety of worm to accomplish this though, after the failure of the Second Fuyuki Grail War, Zouken has taken matters into his own hands and has started employing techniques he had allowed the world to forget. He is extremely dangerous and one of the oldest living humans on the planet, assuming he can still be counted among their number.

Servant: Assassin
True Name: ??
Noble Phantasm:??
Personal Skills: ??

Notes:

- Referred to as Hitokiri Battousai. The term Hitokiri, literally translating into manslayer, or man cutter, is a title that was originally given to four samurai in the Bakumatsu era of Japan’s history. The Four Hitokiri of the Bakumatsu, Kawakami Gensai, Kirino Toshiaki, Tanaka Shinbei, and Okata Izo were considered unconquerable forces of nature, incapable of being defeated by mortal men. They lent their incomparable skill to the cause of overthrowing the Tokugawa Shogunate.

- None of these four men were referred to specifically as ‘Hitokiri Battousai’, so it is unlikely that Assassin’s true identity lies among their number.

- Further evidence of the Fuyuki Greater Grail’s corruption, this Servant is not one of the nineteen Hassan-i-Sabbah, and would not traditionally be considered viable for the Assassin class. This could be due to this Servant’s traditional class, Saber, was already being assumed by a Servant that became active earlier.


Master: Adrian Harwey
Magic style: ????

Notes:
-     The Harwey name belongs to an elite plutocratic family that has played both sides of the mortal/mage world, accumulating enormous wealth, power, and influence through both social spheres. This effort had been done in secret for generations, only recently becoming a more public takeover of business and humanitarian interests. Little is known of their reach, or their family’s magical capabilities and achievements, as most patents and movements are handled through shell corporations and proxies.

-     The name alone commands respect from all players that are aware of their significance. Zouken suggests that a Servant would be easier to deal with than the Harwey Conglomerate.

Servant: Saber
True Name: Tsao Tsao (Cao Cao)
Noble Phantasm: ???
Personal Skills: (A+) Aura of Authority

Bio:
The legendary Chinese warlord, the second to last Chancellor of the Eastern Han Dynasty, and one of the most important figures in the Three Kingdoms period, Tsao Tsao was a brilliant ruler and military genius who was posthumously honored as the Emperor Wu of Wei. His achievements are too numerous to note here, but include the defeat and execution of the legendary Lu Bu, the defeat of the Liu Bei in the Xu Province which included the capture of Guan Yu, the focus of agriculture and education in the regions that he conquered, and the unpretentious yet profound poetry that he penned.

In the time following his demise, he was frequently portrayed as a villain in operas which would go on to inspire his portrayal in the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. While there have been attempts to reverse this trend, he is so entrenched in popular culture as a villain, that the Chinese equivalent of the term, “Speak of the Devil,” is “Speak of Cao Cao and Cao Cao arrives.”

Notes:
- He thought µ's performance of Snow Halation was pretty spiffy.


Master: Iida Kaori
Magic style: Charms/Enhancement

Servant: Archer
True Name: Blanchette
Noble Phantasm: ??
Personal Skills: (B) Wolf familiars

Notes:
-     Utilizes twin crossbows, explosives, and hunters traps.

-     Accompanied by two wolves, one a three-meter at the shoulder black wolf, the other a five-meter silver.

-     Wears a red cape and cowl. Appears to be a female white European roughly fourteen years of age. Exceptionally frail in appearance.


Master: Fujimoto Ryota (Retired)
Magic style: Haiku-Based Blood Magic

Servant: Lancer
True Name: Yukimura Sanada (Retired)
Noble Phantasm: ??
Personal Skills: ?

Notes:
-     One of the greatest heroes of the Sengoku period, he didn’t get anywhere near the screen time he deserved, and as such, will be left mostly undefined.


Previous Grail War Participants



Tohsaka Rin

Magic Style: Jewel Magecraft / Physical Augmentation / Solid-State Arcane Projectile (Gandr)

Notes:

-     Technically the victor of the 5th Holy Grail War, Tohsaka Rin and her sister Sakura are the last remaining members of the Tohsaka line. The same Tohsaka which cooperated with the Einzbern and the Makiri to construct the Greater Grail on the Fuyuki ley line, thereby creating the engine which enables the Fuyuki Holy Grail Wars.

       - The 5th Holy Grail war was a notably intense affair which left the surrounding region, nearly the whole of Tokyo, abandoned by the major mage families. The official reason for this was the volatility of the Greater Grail requiring time to cool off, but given that the 4th Holy Grail War culminated in the destruction of a prefecture and nearly exposed the world to magic as a whole… this explanation has always been called into question. Whatever the real reason, it is certain that Rin and her actions lie at the center.

-     Was the Master of two Servants. Originally calling Archer to her side, this Servant fell during the course of the War. Afterwards, through her partnership with another Master, Emiya Shirou, she took on the responsibility of his Servant, Saber. This Master/Servant bond continues to this day, proving that the 5th Holy Grail War did not have its intended conclusion despite a victor being named.

-     Is in a healthy, supportive, and loving polyamorous relationship with her Servant and Emiya Shirou.

-     In the five years following the events of the 5th Holy Grail War, Rin has grown tremendously, both in capability and in emotional maturity. She has grown past the social crutches she relied on in her youth, thanks in part to the perspective gained by sharing memories with her Servant and having a reliable and affectionate support circle. She has become renowned throughout the higher mage community as a diligent worker, a brilliant mind, an incredible magic talent, and an advocate for magical policy reform. This puts her at odds with various stances that older and more influential families, like the Harwey, have championed.

Servant: Saber
True Name: Artoria Pendragon, The Once and Future King, King Arthur
Noble Phantasm: Excalibur
Special Attributes: (B) Charisma, (A) Instinct, (A) Mana Burst

Bio:

There are many heroes and military leaders that Arthurian legend is based on, and through the combination of humanity’s grasp of the fiction and the fact are Artoria’s capabilities as a Servant born. There is more than can be easily said here about the life that warranted her name being scribed in The Throne, so this information will focus instead on her existence after being summoned into the Holy Grail War.

-     Artoria was originally summoned as a Saber during the 4th Holy Grail War by the man who would eventually adopt Shirou, Emiya Kiritsugu, by using Avalon, the sheath of Excalibur, as a summoning catalyst. After the 4th War, he went on to hide Avalon inside of Shirou, which gave him the ability to call on Artoria when the 5th War rolled around and granted him incredible regenerative capabilities. As the 5th War progressed, Rin took on the role of Master in part due to her superior ability to generate magical energy to fuel her.

-     Is in a healthy, supportive, and loving polyamorous relationship with Tohsaka Rin and Emiya Shirou.


Emiya Shirou
Magic Style: Reinforcement / Projection (Physical Manifestation)

Notes:
-     A first-generation mage, Shirou has no family history of magic usage, nor does he have a Family Crest to draw upon. He has sparse magical generation capabilities due to his irregular training by his adopted father and has only in the past five years following the Grail War received legitimate education on the subject.

-     Orphaned by the culmination of the 4th Holy Grail War that ravaged Fuyuki, he was adopted by Emiya Kiritsugu and pulled from the brink of death when the man placed Avalon within him.

-     Is in a healthy, supportive, and loving polyamorous relationship with Tohsaka Rin, Tohsaka Sakura, and Artoria Pendragon.

-     In the five years since his experiences in the 5th Grail War, his mindset and motivations have matured. Whereas his original stance was to try and save everyone through his own actions, he has come to recognize that the efforts of a single person are insufficient to change the world alone. Learning from the failures glimpsed through the 5th Grail War’s Archer, Shirou has instead dedicated his life to reforming magical society, leading it from the selfish and self-destructive beast that it has grown into. This represents a shift from personal heroism to one of community.

-     Much of magic society gives him little credence. However, anyone who interacts with him long enough to hear his ideology is often inspired and finds themselves drawn in by his charisma. Rin likes to joke that this comes entirely from Artoria being an excellent influence, and he does not argue this point.


Illyasviel von Einzbern
Magic Style: ????

Notes:
-     Former Master of Berserker from the 5th Holy Grail War, Illya is a homunculus created by the Einzbern family, highly customized before and after birth (her parents being Irisviel and Shirou’s adoptive father Emiya Kiritsugu) to serve as both a high level master or as a host for the Holy Grail.

-     Hails from one of the three great mage families which crafted the Holy Grail War system, with the sole purpose of seeking access to the Third Magic, Heaven’s Feel.

-     Despite her previous inability to physically age past a certain point, she now appears to be in her late teenage years. No current official explanation has been given as to why.

-     Following the events of the 5th Holy Grail War, Illya declined returning to her “family’s” estate in Germany. This is due to not technically a member of their bloodline, the horrendous mindset surrounding their treatment of their creations, and having technically failed in their expectations of her victory. She has since lived with other survivors of Grail Wars and has pursued her new passions freely.

-    Has a sibling relationship with Emiya Shirou, Tohsaka Rin, and Tohsaka Sakura, as well as an amicable friendship with Lord El-Melloi II.

-    Has pursued a “normal high school experience” for some time, eager to try her hand at socializing. This has been hampered by her discovery of school idols, which became an immediate obsession. No longer seeking a ‘normal’ school experience, she is searching for a school whose school idol group she can fully support or potentially join. Totally living her best life.

-    Most records surrounding the 5th Holy Grail war detail her terrible fatal end. This is likely how she has managed to avoid notice by the Einzbern family and mage society as a whole, which would find great interest in a masterwork homunculus as herself.


Lord El-Melloi II
Magic Style: Teaching and study!!

Notes:
-     Originally Waver Velvet, Lord El-Melloi II earned his name by compiling the works of House Archibald after the passing of its last practicing member, saving the family’s name from vanishing completely from magical society and earning him, at last, a position of respect in the Clock Tower.

-     As a child, he participated in the 4th Holy Grail War, summoning Alexander the Great as a Rider. This experience tempered his ambition into a functional edge and granted him much needed perspective.

-     Technically a third-generation mage, he started entirely from scratch as the previous two practitioners of his family were barely hobbyists. As such, his magical generation capabilities are abysmally low. Lower than even Nico’s. He is barely capable of performing any magical acts at all, though his technical knowledge is superb.

-     He has become renowned throughout the Clock Tower’s educational programs as a top-tier educator, bringing new methodologies for practical application to antiquated curriculums. He’s the cool teacher that’s hot.


Toujou Nozomi
Magic Style: Fortune Telling, Warding, Purification

Notes:
-     Her father is an American who is a member of the military. Her mother tutored both her husband and daughter in magic, though mostly for self-protection. Her father’s frequent transfers are why Nozomi had such an unstable childhood. She’s technically an army brat.

-     Her father suggested that she volunteer at local shrines to familiarize herself with both the language and local customs.

-     The primary reason Nozomi was permitted to reside alone was because she chose to settle in what was considered a cease-fire zone as far as magical influence was concerned. Tokyo is very low-crime and with the volatile Greater Grail under Fuyuki, no sensible mage would stir up trouble.


Sonoda Umi
Magic Style: Purification, Physical Augmentation, Elemental Enhancement
Magical Circuit Count: 45

Notes:
-     The Sonoda are one of the largest remaining “public” magic families in Tokyo.

-     The family partners with many shrines to provide legitimately magical charms and to perform holy rites.

-     Has entered into a contract with Nico to provide additional energy to her Servant. This has had several negative consequences, including the bolstering of Berserker’s Mad Enhancement.


Nishikino Maki
Magic Style: Regenerative and Optimizations (So far)

Notes:
-     Will apparently one day perform public acts of heroism significant enough to warrant her being called by The Throne.

-     Her family’s magical practice is based in medicine, and has become a world-wide name in providing safe, reliable magical procedures including magical circuit transfers, curse dissolving, primary and secondary sex characteristic correction, and limb restoration. They also place a focus on bridging the gap between magical medicine and traditional, seeking methods to replicate their magical offerings to the greater populace.

-       Totally has it bad for Nico. <3

-     Through contact with Berserker, has experienced numerous alternate lifetimes she has and will eventually live through. She also has experienced moments of her current life’s future, including what she currently understands to be her own impending violent death.

-     Through these stolen memories, she has gained years of experience in her family’s craft, including advanced regenerative techniques from what would have been from the late stages of her training. So far she has used this to optimize her body’s personal capacity and even provide significant regenerative care to another.

 


Additional Notes

-      This story takes place five years after the 5th Holy Grail War. Nowhere near the necessary 60 years for the Greater Grail to draw enough energy from the ley line to provide Servant summoning, and even less than the pre-emptive gap between the 4th and 5th. This is clearly be a symptom of the ritual failing to be brought to culmination multiple consecutive times.

- I totally derped and had Maki confess that she was dating Nico twice because the time between working on these chapters is ridiculous. Thankfully, it was pointed out and I've changed that part. That means I've now got a now non-canon tidbit that I was happy with the writing for that I can't have in the actual story. Here is that tidbit because deleting it just feels sad.
[“About that. I need to tell you two something.”

“Wh… wh-what?” Kayo-chin stuttered.

“Nico-chan confessed to me… and I confessed right back. We’re together now.”

Rin froze entirely . Hanayo’s face went from pale to red in like… a quarter of a second. She did a great fish impression for a few seconds before stammering, “C-c-c-con… confessed? Like… Like dating confessed!?”

“Yeah,” Maki answered, her voice a bit gruffer than intended, “Kissed in front UTX and in front of my parents about an hour later.”

Rin’s eyes somehow managed to get wider. Hanayo continued to speak for the two, “But… you’re idols. I mean… it’s not as if there isn’t a precedent. There’s been a few instances of couples being idols together but it hurt their popularity… but there’s also the school rules regarding...”

“That’s why I need you two to keep this a secret . You can do that, right?” Maki stressed, pressing down on their shoulders, “I’m trusting you with this.”

“Ah… ah ba…,” Rin babbled, “You… in front of!?”

“Yeah. They’re alright with it,” Maki continued, deadly serious, “... and I don’t want to hide it from the two of you. You’re the first people I’ve told that aren’t my parents. … Come on, don’t make me spell it out, alright?”

She was reaching her limit. Enlightenment to her multiple incarnations was only holding her embarrassment back so far. The fact that neither of them had responded positively at all was making her anxiety skyrocket, so she pushed forward, leading the way as she finished, “I… I’m really happy about it, so I thought… maybe you should know or something. Whatever. Don’t worry about it.”

Rin jumping on her back, scream-’nya’ing in excitement might not have helped with how red Maki’s face was getting, but the ecstatic conversation that followed was everything she’d hoped it would be.]

Chapter Text

As it often did between the two of them… it began with a song.

Instead of the customary earbud sharing or discussing her latest collaborative effort with Umi, this was an exclusive NicoMaki original. A slow and steady beat, scribed in a place of love.

Maki traced this baseline by finger, from Nico’s sedated heart down toward her knee. Seeking out the verge of harmony and discord with pursed lips she breathed in the violets of corruption. A plume of rot tainting the rosy flush that so frequently drew her eye, stark against Nico’s hard-earned pale skin…

So many sweltering days endured with long layers… all for the aesthetic. Another in a mountain of feats that had impressed and won Maki’s respect.

Still.. she shouldn’t be this pale.

The angry purple lattice broke the surface far lower than it’s influence reached. It scoured its way up Nico’s Iliotibial band… halfway up her thigh, bypassing ethereal blockades in her popliteal veins and arteries that were apparently set in place by… yes, that felt like Mama.

Mama had worked on Nico… and the damage persisted to this extent?

Bury the thought. Ignore the dread of being out of your depth. Accept memories of loving instruction and exploration you’d now never have the opportunity to make on your own. Steal from an alternate future to secure a tomorrow you want more than anything. Formulate a treatment… call upon the precedent you previously founded on yourself in the moment of the attack.

Isolate.

Extract.

As Maki pulled and pooled, the intention of the previous treatment became abundantly clear. The best her parents had come up with was suppression with a follow-up of inevitable amputation.

Completely unacceptable.

The confusion and fear over why they hadn’t reached further fueled the tight-lipped mage as she drew out the venom and irreversibly corrupted tissue, levitating it to the over-the-bed table and its spare bedpan in a steady stream.

There was… just so much…

Focus on the song.

There was more to it than just a pulse.

Memories of a Maki that would never be insisted that the beat of Nico’s pulse be woven into a melody. The emotion of the song would guide the treatment... and so, as the spellweaving pulled at the increasingly dense mass of unsalvageable tissue and bone, Maki hummed along with a tempo-modified version of a song she had come to tie to her feelings for all of girls of µ's.

Her enigmatic doppelganger lazily rolled over from her spot on Maki’s lap to watch with her remaining vibrant violet eye. The quiet rendition of Aishiteru Banzai became a duet as the woman nestled her shock-white hair further into Maki’s lap, helping keep pace and giving Maki one less thing to focus on as she carefully avoided disrupting the remaining capillary structures.

Three full cycles and the ‘easy’ part was complete… leaving a woefully withered limb which would just have to wait while she dealt with the other. This time went much faster, barely making it through two cycles of song before the aggressive threat had been dropped into unyielding plastic… and Maki was forced to wipe her brow and pull from the flask again.

This was… exceptionally draining.

What was coming would be even more so.

Back to the first leg. Maki cradled and traced its vital pathways… there were so many at such a crucial chi junction as this. Reflexology had the right of it. She primed Nico’s magical circuits to receive instructions from a discipline they were completely unprepared for. Several of the paths were severed completely… those came first as Maki mimicked her earlier self-care… guiding tissue and energy channels to rebuild into the form it instinctively knew itself to prefer.

The song shifted… from the emotionally significant number she shared with everyone to a far more intimately focused and audibly worded Nawatobi. Whispered confessions that coincidentally paired with Maki’s favorite Kayo-chin single bolstered her heart, lending both herself and Nico the strength to transmute pure magical energy into living biological matter, catalyzing accelerated natural growth.

The song was so familiar that it served as the structure on which Maki supported herself. Miraculous as this was… the effort was exhausting . Without the magic of her confessions (and a significant amount of liquid moonlight) to rely on, the young mage would have slumped over in moments.

Seeing by touch, seeing through magic, feeling through song.

What felt like a moment and a year later, Nico’s left leg saw all of its bone restored… tendon bolstered and muscle woven amidst the blossoming circulatory system. As if encouraged by Maki’s words, Nico’s body was responding in kind, pulsing with the beat of her cagey ingenuity and fake-it-till-you-make-it confidence. Strangely, there was a hint of a third party… wisps of what felt like Umi’s serenity flowed through Nico’s body… which would have inspired a spike of jealousy if the energy had not been so desperately needed.

Gone was the terrible lattice. Slender as it was, her calf was once again full, as was her no-longer-ruined ankle. Maki’s hospital gown soaked with sweat, she let go of the song, panting and letting a bit of relief-fueled laughter slip as she carefully massaged the newly formed muscle. The flask was empty… and Nico needed both legs if she was going to dance on that stage.

“Do you have another?” Maki chanced, holding the flask in front of her lazy, still strangely silent, other self.

The woman blinked slowly before rolling off of her lap. She probed at the handiwork, clearly assessing. Then… for some reason, leaned in and licked her leg… which… honestly, Maki was too exhausted to even bat an eye at.

Apparently, her work was satisfactory enough to warrant a fresh flask… the first vanishing almost immediately after her older self made contact with it. Maki greedily downed the previously dreaded fluid as her older self nuzzled into her side once more. Despite herself, Maki found her hand in her other self’s hair, ruffling it with relieved affection as she felt her coherency and energy swell once more. She promised, “I don’t know what’s up with you… but I am never going to be this weird…”

Maki yawned, stretched, cracked her fingers, and shifted to deal with the remaining leg, now fully confident in her ability to fix this. The only thing that held her back from getting started immediately was her older self dematerializing an instant before the door to the hospital room opened, revealing two very surprised adult Nishikino.

“Maki?” Mama blinked as she strode forward, Papa too stunned to move, “You’re awake?”

“I’m up,” Maki assured, completely unsure how to address her position between her girlfriend’s legs. Instead, she followed up with an awkward, “And… ah... and I’m feeling… better?”

“What are you doing?” Papa finally chimed in, approaching as Mama stopped short of the bed and covered her mouth, eyes wide in shock.

Possessively, Maki leaned over Nico’s remaining injured leg, “I’m healing her. Whatever that stuff was, it was still eating away at her.”

“That’s… not possible…” Papa answered warily as Mama assessed the contents of the bedpan.

“I think what your Father means to say, is that you have some explaining to do,” Mama added cautiously.

“Let me handle her other leg first,” Maki insisted anxiously, “I’ll need to focus. Just let me do this and I’ll explain everything… at least… everything that I know…”

Without waiting for their response or approval (which was positively thrilling ), Maki shifted back to Nico once more, grateful that she’d already succeeded on one side. She found Nico’s pulse once more, pushing out the thoughts that she was now humming in front of an audience. It’s not like that made much of a difference either way.

She was an idol, after all.

<Fade to the title card>


 


Berserker
Episode 9: The Battle for the Grail - Showdown at the Matou Estate Part 1



Nishikino General, Akihabara, Tokyo, Japan
Yazawa Nico



Consciousness came slowly.

Her first sensation was the annoyance of a stuffy nose. She flopped her hand to her side-table for a tissue, but the table wasn’t there.

Not worth getting out from under the covers for. Nico rubbed her nose and scratched an itch at her hip. She must have kicked off her comforter or something…. and did Cocoa use too much starch on the sheets again? They felt…

Nico’s eyes shot wide as memories flooded back to the forefront. Falling helplessly toward the pavement. Desperation as she scrambled to pull Maki away from Matou. The panic at how neither of Maki’s parents would answer her as to whether their daughter was going to be alright or not before the sedative quieted the searing fire in her legs and faded the room to black.

She was still in the hospital room.

A glance showed Maki was in the room’s other bed.

Carefully, Nico slid to the floor and wheeled the IV stand over. She needed to test her previously incapacitated legs only for a moment before crossing the distance. Magical medicine really was something else… she’d been fairly certain she was actually going to die there for a bit.

Sure felt like she was.

When they’d arrived, Maki looked pale and feverish. Now? Just… sprawled out and pretty as ever. Bonus cute points for her slightly parted lips, her super messy hair, and how she apparently kicked her socks most of the way off, one all the way past her heel. Her blankets were completely bunched up and being hugged by one arm. The height of undignified… and absolutely adorable. She didn’t even have a drip attached… so… maybe Matou’s bugs weren’t as dangerous as Nico’d expected.

Relief hit Nico so hard she nearly lost her footing. She stumbled back and bumped into her Servant who phased into existence seemingly just to keep her from falling. Still on all fours though… so, still in Cutie Panther mode.

Without looking back, Nico reached for red hair to give thank-you-scritchies, “Well… that all sucked. Good thing we went for a walk though, right?”

Purring and head nuzzling into her hand was the only response Nico received.

She righted herself, leaning in and peck a kiss on her sleeping princess’s cheek. Nico really didn’t want to move away from the adorable scene in front of her, but she had a lot to follow up on. Nico sniffed again, turning to see if her phone was on her end-table. None of her personal effects were in sight… not even her own clothes...

“Hospital chic is nowhere cute enough for Nico,” Nico pouted, reaching up to find her hair was down as well. Then another thought struck home, cutting into her chill, “Oh crap… Umi’s gonna kill me. Come on, cutie, let’s go find your parents… and Nico’s stuff,” Nico directed, padding her way toward the door.


------ -----


“So… what do you plan to do now?”

Tight-lipped, Maki’s mother glowered from the other side of the desk. Her hands rested possessively on Nico’s bundle of clothing and effects. Maki’s father was nowhere to be seen.

“Well, first let Umi know what happened. We kind of ran off and didn’t...”

“The Sonodas have been informed,” came her sternly toned reply, “... and you owe your friend quite the apology. I was more referring to Matou and now apparently Harwey. Also… why is my daughter on all fours?”

Grateful for an easier option, Nico set to scritching her Servant’s hair once more, “She found a work-around for Nic-... for my lack of magical power. As soon as it kicked in, the Berserker class thing took over. She’s been acting like a cat ever since.”

“... Maki, sweetheart? I don’t suppose you’d like to explain all this?”

Other than a drawn-out yawn, Maki made no sign that she’d heard anything.

Typical.

“From what I’ve been able to tell, this cat thing isn’t something from the life Maki’s living right now. It’s from a future incarnation where she’s a boy... sometimes,” Nico tried, only deepening the furrow in the older Nishikino’s brow.

“Are you sure you’re awake? That didn’t make any sense.”

“Maki-chan is very special, Ma’am,” Nico answered honestly, “... and you’re sure she’s going to be fine?”

“I assure you, we’ve taken every precaution with our own daughter… though on that topic, I’d like to stress that you absolutely must not tell anyone the extent of your previous injuries,” the woman glowered, “As far as anyone else knows, that is a level of treatment beyond what we, or anyone, is capable of… understand?”

“Your secret is safe with me.”

Good… because if it got out, there is a religious sect that would be dead-set upon wiping out our entire family line. Do you understand?”

“I… Wow. Uh… yeah. Don’t worry. If I can keep my relationship with Maki-chan under wraps, which I totally want to brag about, I can keep quiet about this.”

At this, Maki’s mother blinked… and then smirked, changing the tension entirely with, “You’re going to court my little girl secretly? That sounds stressful…”

Caught off guard, Nico warily answered, “Ah… well… idols aren’t supposed to date... Ma’am.”

The older woman’s smirk turned eerily familiar… and predatory.

“Is that right? Huh. How do you intend to make that work? My little Maki-chan has had a lot of eyes on her even before this… idol thing,” Kyoko Nishikino drawled, the formality of the encounter vanishing in an instant as she rested her chin in her hands.

“Mrrr…” Maki’s Servant self growled, now glaring at the woman and pressing into Nico’s side.

“Awww, what’s the matter, sweetheart?” Maki’s mother teased, leaning across her desk to grin at Other Maki, “These are things your partner should be thinking about if she plans on courting you. You are a fairly high-profile person in our community, after all.”

The low buzz of anxiety and aggravation that perpetually flowed from Other Maki when in ‘Cutie Panther Mode’ spiked and gained a flavor of intimidated. Very strange, coming from such an indomitable being. She pressed into Nico’s side even harder, nearly knocking her over and deepening the grin across Kyoko’s face.

“That’s my girl. Oh, she really likes you, Nico,” Kyoko confided, as Other Maki buried her face into the side of Nico’s hospital gown.

The number of expressions that Nico loved seeing on Maki being mirrored on her mother during this conversation was… disorienting. The humor was really appreciated though. Nico smoothed her Servant’s hair and assured with a smile, “The feeling is definitely mutual… and about Matou… what do you think I should do?”

Kyoko checked her phone. She looked to the window. She waved a hand and muttered some unintelligible words. Finally, after one piercing stare at the door behind Nico, she spoke in a voice that felt muffled to the ear and crystal clear to her heart, “As doctors, Takase and I have taken a pledge to focus all of our efforts on helping and healing. To do no harm. I need you to understand the importance of that pledge when I tell you, under no uncertain terms, that you and your friends should bury that man… and that we will do everything in my limited power to help you do just that.”

Kyoko raised a finger as Nico opened her mouth to reply, cutting her short to add, “Harwey as well, if he has sided with the man who threatened both my daughter and my adorable future daughter-in-law. I’d recommend that you discuss this with the other girls with Servants. Matou has a terrible reputation for a reason… you’ll need all the help you can get.


 


Matou Estate, Fuyuki, Tokyo, Japan
Assassin


Still utterly cowed by Tsao Tsao’s Aura of Command, Assassin could barely force himself to raise his eyes, let alone his head. Wordlessly, they had traveled back to his Master’s estate, trailing dutifully behind a jovial Harwey who kept a near constant banter of unrelated nonsense with his own Servant.

This… didn’t bode well.

Now, amidst the ruins of what was once his Master’s brood pit, scoured clear of decades worth of selective breeding and generations of biologically recorded craft by the miasma of the Grail, Harwey finally seemed prepared to reacknowledge Matou’s presence.

“Well, this is a cheery place you’ve got,” Harwey began, dusting off his slacks and taking in the charred stonework, “I see that the war has been far from kind to you thus far… Good job with the glamour outside by the way. I had no idea that the damage to your home was this extensive.”

… and it was. The Pit was a sub-basement three levels below the common living space of the estate… and it was currently lit by sunlight.

… There were birds picking at the few remaining insect remnants.

“I’m sorry to be so hard on you, old boy, but your stunt with my plane cost me several lives that were under the Harwey’s protection,” Adrian continued, his voice still light as his Servant looked on the surroundings with disdain, his hand never leaving his sword’s hilt, “So really, all of this is a mercy compared to what you deserve.”

“What, did you bring me here just to execute me in private then?” Matou sneered, still somehow entirely devoid of fear.

“I suppose that depends on how this conversation goes,” Harwey cheerily replied before clapping his hands, “So, let’s get to business. Tell me, o’ Master of Assassin, what did you have in mind for the Orb before Yazawa stole it and used it to summon her Servant?”

For the second time since being summoned, the first being when the child had stolen the orb, Assassin felt genuinely intense emotion, a cold spike of fury, through his connection to Matou. After a beat, his Master answered, “She… did what?

“The Nishikino girl. Maki I believe it was? Her future self was apparently summoned through use of the Silencia Roundure, which you stole from some friends of mine at the Clock Tower,” Harwey dryly laid out as he paced, kicking the errant stone in his path, “Which is the entire reason I was in the area to begin with. I was granting that friend a favor in following up on its disappearance. Now, to be fair, I honestly don’t care what it is or what that insular gaggle in Britain was planning to do with it.”

Still avoiding looking at Matou, Harway continued, “However, now that I’ve been forced to be involved thanks to this… petty ritual of yours, I feel obliged to be informed. So, what is it, and what were your designs for it?”

His Master felt… tight as he answered, “... It doesn’t matter now. Tell me boy, do you know what my life’s work has been?”

“Haven’t the foggiest. Butterfly collecting?”

“Immortality,” Matou sighed, “I’ve achieved a means of it… but it meant little as a result of its cost. What’s the use in preserving a consciousness that can only see its influence perpetually lessen. In the Orb… in Silence, I thought I had found a better means. One separate of the horror of my Art. One that would permit an ascendance, rather than a piecemeal replacement for humanity.”

Wearily, Matou slumped back to sit at the stairwell, “To think that the worthless daughter of Tousaka’s failed errand boy would invite the collapse of our world… Absurd…”

Harwey’s patronizing smile filled with genuine amusement, “Is that right? I’m afraid you’re going to have to clarify that dramatism, old boy.”

Matou’s gaze was on a small collection of carapaces, scorched insects that had almost escaped to the next sub-level below the mass purge as he morosely replied, “The Orb is… was ... an inconsistency in reality itself. It was discovered at the center of a temporal flux that formed in the Tower dormitory. Unsurprisingly, no one claimed responsibility for it, but you can imagine my interest in an undefinable artifact created from such a restricted practice... How the girl even touched it without being erased from existence is a mystery to me.”

“I said that I didn’t care what the orb was,” Harwey sighed, “ Not that I wasn’t briefed on the specifics already known. I suppose you meant to reverse engineer some manner of time-related magic then? That seems a bit out of your realm of experience.”

Still staring at the floor, Matou bitterly spat, “Of course it was. All that my current Art has granted me was time… though, I didn’t seek the Orb out entirely of my own volition.”

The old man finally looked up, “In the brief time it was in my possession, I learned three things. First was that its creation was unintentional. Second, it coalesced into our world following an intrusion into our timeline. Third… it only barely held a reality consuming cancer in check.”

“Come again?” Harwey asked, sounding deeply unimpressed.

“I had hoped the Orb to be the byproduct of time manipulation. What it ended up being was a point of forced isolation surrounding a wound in our timeline… sealing whatever else tried to come through the flux’s distortion from fully making its way through.”

“... and you learned this how?” Harwey pressed, “Understandably, I find it unlikely that you would gather all of this when the whole of the Tower was unable to glean a tenth of that.”

Assassin’s Master’s hollow heart sparked with grim humor as he confided, “I know because the Orb, or rather whatever was sealed behind it, told me. Without it’s aid, I never would have been able to reignite the Grail.”



Kokuritsu Otonokizaka Gakuen, Akihabara, Tokyo, Japan
Yazawa Nico



“I deeply apologize for my inexcusable behavior.”

Umi tried not to look at the normally prideful form of her upperclassman as she prostrated herself, full dogeza, and apologized in an embarrassingly formal tone. Normally this kind of thing would be way too much for her, but it was the absolute least that Nico could think of to convey just how sorry she was.

At least Honoka seemed to be eating it up.

“Please stop,” Umi managed through her blush, probably grateful that Nico had at least waited until they’d reached the roof before starting with the kowtowing.

“I didn’t mean to leave you hanging as long as I did. That was no way to repay the endless kindness you’ve shown me during this difficult time,” Nico continued, meaning every word, forcing it even though she was beyond embarrassed to be doing this in front of the second and fellow third-year girls.

Umi had to turn to look away… but Maki, that is… Other Maki, who was curled up on Kotori’s lap, receiving even more petting, had the evilest grin that Nico could have ever imagined.

Sadism should never look that hot.

“I’m sorry that I didn’t let you know where I was going. I’m sorry that I failed to let you know tha-”

“Please, Nico, just stop,” Umi insisted, “Maki’s mother filled me in on the specifics and I understand that you had no say in the matter. I’m glad you went… otherwise, we would have probably lost Maki.”

Humor evaporated from both Honoka and Kotori as the former whispered, “Wait… what? What happened to Maki-chan?”

Eli, who had been content to sit by the fence with Nozomi until now, claimed everyone’s attention by striding past the second years and offering a clipped, “Matou tried to kill her.”

She stopped at Nico’s side, turning and leveling a harsh glare unseen by the girls of µ's since she’d joined as she continued, “... and if Nico hadn’t acted quickly, nearly getting herself killed in the process, he would have succeeded. Then, if Tsubasa hadn’t shown up when she did, we would have lost both of them.”

It’d been a while since Nico had seen Eli take charge like this. It’s a shame Maki wasn’t here for it. She would have appreciated it. Unfortunately, that also meant that this meeting was now thoroughly into serious business. No more levity. Nico got to her feet as Honoka pulled another question out.

“Since when was Tsubasa involved with all this magic stuff?”

“All of her life,” Nozomi added, joining Nico at Eli’s side to provide backup, “Not that you should be aware of this at all.”

Eli picked up, “You two should be in the dark about magic as a whole... like Rin and Hanayo.”

“Sorry,” Honoka answered meekly as Umi averted her eyes.

“You mentioned that she would be joining us here?” Umi redirected before focus for that faux pas could be aimed her way.

“She messaged me a few minutes ago to say she was on her way,” Eli nodded, “She stopped on the way to check in on Archer’s Master.”

“Who is apparently a big fan,” Nozomi added, trying to lighten the mood after Eli’s unusually aggressive stance toward their excitable leader.

“I’m just grateful she doesn’t seem to have any hard feelings after A-RISE’s defeat,” Eli continued before turning to Nico, “So, what did you want to talk to us about?”

“I’ll tell you in a minute. I think they’re here,” Nico assured as she and the other magic-sensitive girls had their attentions captured by the telltale swelling of yet another Servant’s presence. Two of them…

A wisp of cloud gently touched down on the roof of Otonokizaka. The air above it shimmered as Tsubasa, her Servant Rider, and a surprise guest of Archer stepped from the vapor with minimal fanfare. Nozomi, immediately tense, pressed into Eli’s side.

“Sorry we’re late. Iida-chan insisted on sending her Serva- Ohgodit’sKousaka ,” Tsubasa began confidently before leaping back in shock at the sight of the non-magical girls.

“I’m here too,” Kotori mumbled, looking surprisingly irate.

Nico ignored the telltale jealousy to take charge, greeting, “It’s cool. They’re in the know. When more than half the team is pulled into something like this, it gets hard to hide. Thanks for coming.”

“Whoa, didn’t your ankles melt? You’re pretty tough, short stack,” Rider praised, play-punching Nico on the shoulder on his way toward Other Maki.

Maki’s mother’s warnings echoed, nearly freezing Nico in place. Fortunately, she always was good with rolling with the punches. Besides, there was a more pressing issue at hand. “You can’t keep this girl down, hairball,” she shot back before turning her eyes toward Archer, “Uh… so… you aren’t going to try and kill us again, are you?”

The red-cowled girl bowed her head, “No. Kaori has been put under a sleeping enchantment until the issue with Matou has been resolved. I want that man dead more than any of you.”

Kotori and Honoka looked even more uncomfortable at the admission… though Other Maki seemed to be a bit on edge as well, ignoring Rider’s teasing greeting to glare at Archer.

“Well, that’s what I called us all here for,” Nico announced, “Adrian Harwey showed up yesterday. He went off with Matou. Nozomi says both are still active… so there’s a chance they’ve teamed up… which is bad news.”

Tsubasa nodded, offering to the rest, “Harwey’s Servant is a Saber… Tsao Tsao. That Tsao Tsao. He seems to have some sort of suppression aura that laid a few of us out without lifting a finger. I could barely move.”

“Wait, wait,” Honoka chimed in, looking more disturbed by the moment, “What’s with all the life and death talk? Come on… I mean… you wouldn’t…”

We wouldn’t,” Eli stepped in.

“Not a chance,” Nico supported, grateful to hear her sentiment echoed… even if her memory wouldn’t let her forget the moment yesterday where she’d committed to betraying it, “But they would.”

“That’s where we come in,” Rider casually added, “Us Servants get called in to do the dirty work. Still, most Masters are a lot less squeamish about offin’ each other. This game’s weird.”

“Game?” Kotori tensely asked, hugging onto Other Maki tightly enough that she started to look annoyed.

“That’s right,” Rider continued, leaning in to grin in the girl’s face, “All this? It’s a high-stakes game with rules that’re gettin’ broke left an’ right. In case y’didn’t know, one o’ those is killin’ off normies like you that take notice.”

Other Maki growled a warning Rider’s way, claws flaring and scoring the concrete at Kotori’s side, drawing a squeak from her. The following stalemate was broken as Tsubasa called out, “Knock it off, Dumb-Dumb. Save it for this afternoon.”

Honoka, who had stood to intercede between Kotori and Rider at the perceived threat, looked to Tsubasa with clear concern, “You’re… you’re all going there to fight?”

“Of course we’re going to fight,” Nico answered, ignoring the lump the statement formed in her throat, “All of us that don’t want to fight are going to have to stop all the ones that do . Otherwise, we’re just going to get picked off one after another.”

Nico walked up to Tsubasa as she answered. She offered a nod and in a more direct tone said, “Thanks for coming… and for saving Maki and me... “

“Thank you for keeping me in the loop. You and Ayase-san. It’s been lonely trying to do this without the girls… so knowing I’m not stuck in this alone is a relief,” Tsubasa answered honestly, “Is there a game plan?”

“Right now?” Nico clarified, “Mostly overwhelming them with our three, well… now four Servants. All we need to do is take out Assassin… and maybe Saber. There’s no way they’d keep fighting after that… right?”

Umi spoke up, having approached as Nico gave her minimal run-down, “Don’t be so certain. Harwey is an unknown quantity, but now that we’ve drawn his attention, Matou will likely not stop until all of us are dead.”

“That’s what my Father said as well,” Tsubasa agreed uneasily, “It’s a miracle that no one has been hurt yet…”

“Lancer’s Master didn’t get off easily,” Archer spoke up, “... and plenty of damage has already been done.”

With this, she stood and walked to where Eli stood… or more specifically to Nozomi who was still hiding behind her. As she walked, she pulled back her hood and locked eyes with the cautious girl. She stopped at a respectable distance and lowered her head, “While I was under the control of Matou, I did some unforgivable things… I’m sorry for what I did to your home.”

“Matou commanded you to do that?” Eli asked, ensuring that she remained between Archer and Nozomi.

“He did,” Archer confirmed formally, “... among other things. What originally seemed to be a chance to make my dream a reality has turned into a nightmare. Please, at least let me help make amends.”

Nico joined the not-quite-cornered pair, sliding in beside Eli to further block off a still nervous Nozomi, “I’ve got a good idea of how you could… you know any back-doors into Matou’s estate?”

For the first time, the group saw Archer smile as she nodded, confirming, “Actually… I do.”




“Nozomi” Shinkansen, Tokaido Line
Tohsaka Rin


Anxiety ran high and expressions were tight. No one had spoken since the group settled in for the swift ride to Tokyo. Everything that needed to be said had been shared back at Waver’s “idolized” house.

Shirou had that wonderfully stern serious face he always put on when he was thinking about stupid heroic things, staring at nothing while holding Illya’s fidgeting hand. Arturia stood in the walkway, just out of phase and listening carefully for any stray thoughts that may be directed her way...

What a weird family they’d made...

Thankfully, they’d left Waver… sorry, El-Malloi III , back at his thoroughly trashed home. Skilled, knowledgeable, and experienced he may be… he just didn’t have the power to safely play on the field they were walking into. He wasn’t part of the family. He wasn’t in on the big secret.

Hell, Rin didn’t want any of them to go. Not really. Going back to Tokyo was bad enough… but being back around Matou? God… they should have known better than to think he’d sit quietly…

Sakura was furious .

That was the other thing…

Sakura.

Her once-lost sister.

Her sister who was in love with her fiance.

Her sister who was in an off-and-on polyamorous relationship with her fiance that Rin herself had approved of years ago…

It… wasn’t like she wanted to take it back or anything. She’d do anything to make Sakura happy after the hell she’d endured growing up in the Matou estate. Seeing Shirou and Sakura being happy together was one of the weirdest , most unexplainable joys she’d ever experienced…

It was Sakura’s Servant that was the problem.

Summoned as a Rider, Medusa had become way too bold with asserting herself in Sakura’s... affairs . It made Shirou uncomfortable, it made Arturia straight-up jealous, and if Rin had to tell that overpowered snake-that-was-a-charmer one more time to lay off… well…

Ugh… she’d nothing. She’d turn her down and endure.

You’d do it too to “protect that smile.”

This led Rin down the thought-path of the Grail’s latest victims… what the hell were lesser mage families like the Nishikino, the Tsubasa, and even the freaking Yazawa doing being chosen?

Why did it have to pick a Yazawa?

This was going to be so awkward.

Observant as ever, Arturia’s voice echoed through her heart, “She’ll understand. You had nothing to do with it.”

Taking care not to let her irritation show too clearly, lest she alert her observant beau, Rin thought back with as much vitriol as she had to visibly restrain, “You give people too much credit. I just don’t want her sending her Servant after us. It’d be traumatic for her to lose another person close to her.”

Rin could feel Saber’s approving smile as she heard the Heroic Spirit reply, “Your confidence in me is well placed, and I’m glad to hear you be so concerned over a stranger.”

Rin couldn’t help her eyes from narrowing at this, “You and Shirou… Always focusing on things from weird angles.”

Rin let an agitated sigh slip. The smug satisfaction radiating off Arturia was so hard not to smile at. She settled for taking Shirou’s free hand in her’s. She briefly considered teasing him about how excited he must be about seeing Sakura again, but seeing his stern concern melt into a smile at the contact deflated her resolve.

What’s with these two putting her so at ease with such an existential threat on the horizon?

Rin leaned into his shoulder and closed her eyes. Despite herself, she reached out once more to Arturia, “There’s nothing I could do or say to her that would make things any better. Do you think I should even mention it? Would she even know?”

With her usual warm confidence, Arturia replied, “I’m sure you’ll manage to find the correct answer when the time is right.”

Rin gave in. If everyone was going to be so supportive, she wasn’t going to be the stick in the mud. She finally settled in to nap for the remainder of the trip. She would need to be at the top of her game once they arrived in Tokyo.


Fuyuki, Tokyo, Japan
Yazawa Nico


It’s like she never learned anything at all.

No matter how many times she got in trouble, Nico just never felt comfortable asking for help. Most of the time it never even occurred to her. Sure, this time was more desire to not get her girls tied up in something so dangerous than it was pride… but…

This was way better!

Eli at her right and bow-wielding Umi with Tsubasa Freaking Kira at her left, she felt like she could take on the world! To say nothing of invisible Other Maki, Son Wukong , and the Servant kid in Little Red Riding Hood cosplay following along with some kind of uber Caster in the distant wings.

Seriously.

That crusty old goon was gonna get wrecked. He’d have to surrender!

It finally felt like things were going to be alright… they’d beat Matou’s butt, blow up the grail thingie, get the bald geezer to swear he’d be on his best behavior from then on, and then she and the girls could get back to getting ready for the Love Live. Her spirits were so high that they were even quelling some of the simmering irritability of her cutie panther Servant.

The upbeat positivity held… even as they rounded the corner that would lead them straight to the Matou mansion and found a solid wall of shades and business suits. Nico recognized a few of them.

“Ms. Yazawa,” a familiar voice rang out. The tall Harwey bodyguard guy with the good taste in music from Maki’s parent’s hospital stepped from the lineup and bent at the waist respectfully, “We have been expecting you. Is it safe to assume that you and your company are all Masters?”

Unapologetically, Nico responded, “Most of us. We’re on our way to the Matou Estate. If possible, we’d like to help Mr. Harwey in stopping Matou. He seemed like a nice guy, and Matou’s some serious bad news.”

Nico could just feel the incredulity of the other girls at her taking the lead and making such a bold claim, but she just hadn’t had the chance to catch everyone up on that night at Nishikino General. Better to just take the lead and look natural.

“We appreciate the show of support,” he replied with surprising warmth, “However, we’ve been instructed to only permit Masters of the Grail War to pass this line. Much like you, Mr. Harwey has no interest in unnecessary casualties. Without a dedicated Servant to protect them, no one’s safety can be assumed.”

With no small amount of relief, Nico turned to face Umi’s barely restrained outrage head-on and said, “Sorry Umi. You heard the guy. You’re sittin’ this out.”

Umi only glared in response, but behind her Nico saw Eli’s nod of approval. None of them were happy about the idea of her accompanying on such a dangerous mission, regardless of how much more competent she was combat-wise than the rest of them.

That’s what Archer, Caster, and Rider were there for.

… Oh… and Other Maki-chan too… kind of. Just less expendable in Nico’s considerations.

“I... will remain here,” Umi clearly forced herself to say, hesitating before laying a heavy hand on Nico’s shoulder, “Be careful. Stay away from any combat. Don’t hesitate to retreat if the situation falls out of your favor.”

Nico leaned in to return the sentiment with a hug, “Don’t worry so much. Nico’s got this.”

Umi pressed her forehead into Nico’s shoulder, insisting, “You had better.”

“Do not worry,” Mr. Tall-and-Well-Dressed assured in his overly formal tone, “They will be joined by the peerless magus, Mr. Adrian Harwey. After witnessing his Servant’s power first-hand, I can assure all allied Masters’ safety.”

Nico pulled away, meeting Umi’s deep concern with her win-it-all grin, “See? You just worry about how we’re all going to celebrate this mess being over.”

The wall of suits parted and Nico continued to play the role of lead, clapping her hands and announcing, “Come on ladies, let’s do this!”

Eli followed Nico’s lead, offering an apologetic smile Tsubasa’s way which was met with a smirk and a shrug. The wall closed behind them, leaving behind a very unhappy Umi and, unbeknownst to the crowd, an equally concerned looking woman watching from a roof across the road.



“Nozomi” Shinkansen, Tokaido Line
Tohsaka Rin


When both her and Shirou’s phone began to vibrate, they both knew who to expect. As always, Rin was faster at the draw, pulling up her phone, unlocking it, and already processing the message before Shirou could switch from the news article he’d been reading.

T. Sakura: Three Masters are on their way to Matou’s estate and have almost arrived. Harwey is already there.

T. Sakura: I don’t think you have time to arrive at the station and still make it before there’s a confrontation.

T. Sakura: Rider and I will watch closely, but I’d like to wait for you until moving in.

Rin’s pulse spiked and she reached across Shirou who was just opening his chat app to wake Ilya, “Hey. We need to get out. Now.”

Apparently, the girl hadn’t really been sleeping, because her first response was to glare back and pout, whispering harshly, “What? No way! I can’t leave my bag here!”

“Saber’ll bring it. We need to move,” Rin insisted as Shirou caught up. She tapped out a response to her sister as she mentally confirmed with her Servant, “Just leave it. She’ll catch up. We’re almost to Shinagawa City. If we cut across the wharf, we should be able to make it in time.”

“In time for what?” Ilya asked, priorities clearly shifting.

“They’re moving on Matou. If you want to help…” Shirou began, but the wide-eyed teenager vanished before he could finish.

“Come on Dummy, move it,” Rin chided before turning to the invisible Servant, nodding and whispering, “Thanks Arturia.”

Without waiting for a response from either of her loves, Rin mimicked Ilya and let go of her physical form, phasing from sight and through the train. This being a bullet train, she only had a moment of blurred action flashing past her as she decelerated and got her bearings. Ilya was already soaring ahead, clearly handling the shift with all the grace one would have expected… given that she’d literally been made for this.

At this layer, Rin could actually see the matrices of power that latticed reality… and Ilya was making a beeline for the towering maelstrom that rested on the primary leyline the Grail system was attached to. Utterly fearless. Rin had to wonder at what had inspired such a desire to protect these school idol girls.

She spared a glance to make sure that Shirou had successfully shifted as well and had to laugh at his helpless flailing as he tumbled from the train and into the open air. He’d just have to catch up. Arturia could drag him along if need be. Rin turned back toward Ilya, far enough away that she was nearly imperceivable, and took off in chase.

Hopefully, this time they could put an end to the cycle and finally just get on with living their lives.



Nishikino General, Akihabara, Tokyo, Japan
Nishikino Maki



All it took was a touch.

Papa reached out, making the barest contact with her shoulder… the cloth of the hospital gown covering her shoulder… and every freshly seared and scarred magic circuit in her body flared.

Maki woke. Straight from the restful assurance that she’d saved the girl she was free-falling ever deeper in love with to absolute, uncontainable panic.

If she didn’t move now, she would lose her forever.

Forever forever.

All of the forevers. The forevers ahead and before.

Currents of power arced from her body as her will sundered the air around her, gasping as her sheets burned away in an instant and Papa was sent flying back into Mama. The simple hospital room was vibrant with colors she had no name for, and her breathing was immediately ragged.

Eyes and hair wild, Maki lurched out of bed as Mama stood between her and the door, “Maki… It’s okay… you’re okay… calm down…”

With a voice that somehow hit the resonance frequency of the walls, Maki stared at the woman she spent her life loving and respecting above any other and demanded, “Move.”

“Maki, I understand that you’re confused, but I need you to calm do-”

Maki’s grip on the bed’s footrest tightened, snapping through the plastic. She didn’t have time. With a snarl that conveniently covered for the rippling fear threatening to stop her heart, fueled by swirling images and baseless conviction, Maki trembled the room once more, “I can’t lose her again.”

Mama and Papa stood between her and the door.

No one was guarding the window.

Coherent thought still out of reach, Maki shot through the glass, shattering the frame with a reflexively magically-reinforced shoulder-check… five full stories above the pavement.

Unheeding of the panicked cries of her parents behind her, even freefall felt too slow. Maki flung her arms wide, forcing the air from her path and commanding that spread to carry all the way to the street below. Nostrils flared she let the newly formed vacuum pull her forward, cracking the pavement and releasing the reinforcement to switch to swift-mending the numerous microfractures that laced through her feet and shins.

She was pulling far more than medical treatment protocols from her stolen memories now.

Seconds later, she took off at a full sprint. Patients, hospital staff, and passersby staring on in complete shock as the young teenage girl rocketed, barefoot, down the path. Her destination was her other-self. The world around her moved in slow motion, its image blurring as certainty sank in that she would, without a doubt, be too late.



Matou Estate, Fuyuki, Tokyo, Japan
Yazawa Nico


As soon as the group had passed Harwey’s wall of guards, the three accompanying Servants phased into existence at their sides. Rider looked way too excited about the prospect of a fight, and through their connection, Nico could feel Other Maki’s anger boiling at the thought of being in range of Matou.

Damn, that girl ran hot.

Was that a Berserker feature only, or did Maki-chan always have that kind of anger bubbling under the surface? Her random outbursts would make a lot more sense if…

“How involved do you think we should get?” Eli asked, interrupting Nico’s musings.

“In the fighting?” Tsubasa sought clarification, both speaking over Nico’s head in a way that made her own irritability spike.

“Nico only has a few tricks, but they’re messy. Nico wants to make smiles, not end lives,” Nico grimly added to the conversation.

“That’s why you kids should keep out of this,” Rider advised, his staff resting on his shoulders and arms draped over to keep it in place, “Didn’t you get enough from last time?”

“You did look pretty bad,” Tsubasa agreed, “I was honestly surprised to see you at the meetup. I was expecting you to send your Servant without you.” Then, without giving the others a chance to respond continued, “My family’s magic would be a distraction at best. If there’s a legitimate Servant battle ahead, I’d recommend we follow Rider’s advice.”

“... and keep out of it,” Rider insisted.

“I’m here mostly to serve as Caster’s eyes for the coming battle. I’ll need to be close, but I’m no more combat willing than either of you,” Eli admitted.

“I can help with that,” Nico assured, waggling her fingers Eli’s way and phasing her hand in and out of the visible spectrum, “Just not too close.”

“I know I don’t have much of a voice in this, but shouldn’t we be putting our cards on the table?” the heretofore silent Archer added, “You girls aren’t going to pull much weight in this fight… and I’ve seen what Matou’s capable of. If he really does have Harwey’s help, we’re going to need every bit of strength we can get.”

Since Eli was too busy trying not to glare, Nico pipped in, “What do you mean?”

“Noble Phantasms. Since Kaori-chan’s pretty dead set on allying with all of you, I’m suggesting we be open with our options.”

Rider yawned overdramatically before replying, “You shoot arrows. Some of ‘em blow up. Oh, and you’ve got two big dogs. The other little Red’s got some pretty good kung fu and, from the looks of it, now some weird cat disorder. If it’s the one I’m thinkin’ it comes with stupid laser claws in exchange for bein’ able to think straight which… ouch. I ride clouds, got my legendary  beat stick, and my Phantasm’s entirely defense-based. You don’t need to worry about me, but I can’t really use it t’help any of you out.”

“The peaches?” Nico ventured.

“Not just them. This boy’s immortal over six times over,” Rider boasted with a thump to his chest, “That’s why if we decide we wanna, my Master’s winning this thing.”

Tsubasa reached out to swat at his ear, “This isn’t a game that can be won. Have you not been listening?”

He ignored the smack and locked eyes with Eli, “How about your glitter girl? Caster got anything good?”

Archer interrupted with a simmering deadpan, “Wait, you seriously think all I’ve got are crossbows and the wolves?”

“Am I wrong, Little Red? What else you got? Three little pigs?”

Tsubasa smacked the Monkey King again as Archer glared all the harder, “No. You know what? Forget I said anything.”

“Are you sure your superpower isn’t getting on people’s nerves?” Nico interjected, literally stepping in between the two, “Ignore the fuzzball. What else have you got?”

Archer eyed the girl, the only member of the party close to her height. She sighed and was forced to stare at the ground, “... Okay, so it is technically another bow... but... I have to change to use it! … and Kaori isn’t really in good shape right now, so I’d be hesitant to use it.”

Unexpectedly, Eli came to Archer’s rescue by adding, “Caster’s Phantasm won’t be useful to us. Its effect on the local environment would be unacceptable and I’ve already forbidden its use.”

The girls’ shoulders slumped in unison. Nico pouted and griped, “So… with Maki-chan, that’d make three Servants without usable Phantasms and one that only protects himself. Anyone have any idea about the sword guy Matou’s got?”

“Sword guy?” Eli asked.

Tsubasa spoke up to explain, “Matou’s Assassin. Red-haired man with a scar on one cheek. Fights with a katana.”

“He’s a squirrely bugger, too. If Red’n’I weren’t double-teaming him yesterday, it would have been a fun fight,” Rider commented.

Archer’s offense flared up again, “Wait, you call the catgirl Red? I should be called Red!”

“Sorry kid, didn’t know you were going to be around. She got dibs,” Rider shrugged before laying a heavy hand on Nico’s shoulder, “Now what’s this about Red not havin’ a usable Phantasm?”

Other Maki, who had obviously remained quiet as she ambled along on all fours, somehow managing to make it look natural, looked incredibly embarrassed at the mention. Nico hoped her sympathy carried through the connection as she answered in-character, “That’s Nico’s fault. Nico’s just too cute and little to power something as awesome as Maki-chan’s phantasm~!”

Eli ruined it completely by relaying, “Caster is saying the... ring should have fixed that?” before doing a double-take and gasping, “ You gave Maki a ring!?

Tsubasa’s eyes went wide. Eli rushed to Nico, now frozen in place, and pulled up the shorter girl’s hand, “She gave you a ring. Why are you wearing it on that finger!? Nico, are you engaged to Maki now?”

“Mrrrr!” Other Maki finally spoke up, grumbling as she shoved her way in-between the two. Rider made no effort to hide his laughter as Tsubasa rushed to Eli’s side to marvel at the new addition to Nico’s hand.

“My confidence in this group is failing fast,” Archer groaned before turning to Rider, “Is this really going to be okay?”

Son WuKong shrugged, “Eh... Probably?”

“MRRROWR!!”

 

 


Matou Estate, Fuyuki, Tokyo, Japan

 

“Well… I’d say I’ve about had my fill of you, Mr. Matou,” Harway sighed, “You and your delusions. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you had one too many beetles in your brain.”

As if to punctuate the impending climax, Saber’s aura increased in intensity. Assassin nearly dropped his sword while gasping against the pressure. Matou, by contrast, rose from his weary posture, leveling grim amusement toward his guests.

Harwey continued, “It’s truly a shame to see yet another one of the older families die out. Especially for the boldness of trying something new. That kind of ingenuity is sorely lacking in our society.”

“I take it that this is the end then?” Matou presumed dryly.

“It is,” Harwey waved off, stifling a yawn, “Tsao Tsao? My friend?”

Intense and clearly eager to have this over with, the Servant answered, “Yes?”

Harwey stood and stared at the old man. The moment held. Silence strained the air as even the birds had taken their leave. The man shivered and took a long breath, turning to face the estate’s entrance.

“Kill them,” he answered, gesturing not toward Matou and Assassin, but to the explosion of activity that almost immediately after erupted from the crater’s edge.

The aura of domination faltered in Saber’s confusion, freeing Assassin to deflect a flurry of arrows that sought his Master before parrying an incredibly heavy thrust of a bo staff. The residual invisibility that hid no less than three Servants faded and the Chinese Emperor was forced into action as two bright red flashes of light erupted from Harwey’s now-spent command seals, “Kill them all.”

A titanic surge of magic surged around Saber, blowing the red-tressed Berserker back as Tsao Tsao’s choice was removed from the situation. With a colossal roar, he raised his blade and the walls of Matou residence tore away to reveal vast grasslands… and the remaining ceiling ripped away to reveal a sky darkened by a torrential downpour of arrows. Tsao Tsao’s roar was echoed by an army of thousands. Tens of thousands. Hundreds of thousands of marching steps paired with thousands of thundering hooves converged on the center of the shifted scene. The full forces of the armies of Wei, each regimen headed by a warrior of renown.

Not quite a full reality marble shift, Tsao Tsao’s Noble Phantasm left an entrance to the battlefield. The opening of the Matou estate’s crater remained, a portal hanging three stories in the air. Beneath it, the frantically weaving forms of Assassin and Rider cracked the stonework of the Pit’s floor which also persisted through the transition.

“Don’t move!” Archer cried out, lining up several explosive shots that cleared numerous safe spots in the approaching arrow storm, “Rider! You better live up to your hype!”

Assassin, clearly worn down from numerous difficult battles, was flung back by a wide counter swing of Rider’s staff. The Handsome Monkey King declined a direct reply, choosing instead to laugh and howl in excitement.

The ground trembled as the arrows slammed down. Archer’s aim proved true as not a single bolt came within three meters of any standing participant… which incidentally betrayed the three young Masters’ positions, still invisible thanks to the Yazawa family’s art. Rather… they were invisible, but the rumbling carried through the portal above just enough that more of the estate crumbled, crashing around them as the three dashed from the debris.

Both Saber and Assassin charged toward the now revealed girls, having started their approach immediately after the arrows betrayed them. Assassin was forced to a standstill deflecting a barrage from Archer, and Saber found his own blade occupied parrying a frenzied assault from a roaring Berserker, flanked by two immense wolves.

Rider left the protection of the girls to the other two. The army’s calvary vanguard approached, spears taking aim… and the Victorious Fighting Buddah raced forward to meet them. The Armies of Heaven had fallen before his peerless prowess… what was a gaggle of mortals supposed to do?

All this, as the upper floors of the Matou Estate crashed through the portal and through the floor into yet another sublevel below. Light flared as a voice only Matou, Assassin, and Berserker would have recognized shrieked in agony. The new crater erupted with a torrent of insectoid life for only a moment before filling, and overflowing, with miasma-spewing lava.

 


Matou Estate, Fuyuki, Tokyo, Japan
Nishikino Maki


Failing to properly turn in time, Maki slammed into yet another roadside wall. Every inch of her body felt either aflame or battered. Her hospital gown was torn in three places. One previous impact had stained its shoulder red before she reflexively wove skin and sinew back into place.

Through the pain, the blood in her ears trumpeted a triumph. A song of electricity and dominance. The flask that her older self had left in her care was empty now, it’s contents boiling just under her skin. Her bare feet were reflexively regenerating with each step as even the magical reinforcement wasn’t keeping up with her blistering pace.

She was so close now.

Her other self’s… scent? How do you define a sensation not perceived by the usual five? Her other self felt panicked. Frantic. Furious.

Time was running out.

She was in Fuyuki now. There was a familiar scent in the air… like, the nose kind this time. She couldn’t place it, but it was an invigorating mix of Spring and fire, tension and picnics.

None of it made any sense…

But she knew it meant Nico was close.

Finally, she approached the wall hiding her Nico. The bond she shared with her other self directed her to jump the barrier surrounding a small mansion. Much like most of her frantic scrambling, she did it without thinking… and as she passed the threshold the building shimmered out of existence.

In its place was a pit.

The pit.

Momentum carried her forward as panic and self-serving fear finally broke through the urgency of her mission. There were so many people. So much was going on. The ethereal lava from that fatal vision filled half of the space, framing a terrifying melee.

The man with the sword that was apparently supposed to shatter her sternum and leave her for dead was joined by another sword-wielding man… locked in terribly lethal combat with her other self. Nico was there, tumbling out of the way of a flurry of arrows as Eli pirouetted in to kick an approaching soldier straight out of a Romance of the Three Kingdoms cosplay event back into a crowd of dozens more like him.

Time was speeding up again. Even her dilated senses couldn’t keep up with all of this… but she did hone in on a crucial detail. The old man from yesterday’s attack was confidently striding toward Nico. Her girlfriend’s attention was spent thanking Eli for the assist… and he was only a few steps away.

With only this moment remaining, Maki mimicked her earlier hospital escape and cleared the air, forming a vacuum between herself and the wicked old man. Magical force propelled her forward, launching her straight into him…

...or…  it would have.

In less than the time it had taken Maki to blink, the red-haired swordsman had crossed the field and interposed himself as an inhuman shield. He barely budged as Maki crashed into and bounced off the man, tumbling backward and into a very surprised Nico.

Everything was happening too fast. Deja Vu gripped her senses as Nico’s eyes widened… but… this wasn’t right. As Maki turned, Nico was pulling her back. She… should have been still running toward her. Umi wasn’t anywhere in sight… though there was a girl in a red hood shooting an arrow this way.

Regardless of how many differences there were between this moment and the vision her kiss had stolen... the swordsman drove his blade forward all the same.



to be continued...



Author’s Comments:

Things look pretty bad right now… but hang in there.
There’s quite a bit left.

Also, ah… sorry about being away for so long. I assure you it wasn’t pleasant for me either.
Can’t thank Lonelypond enough for being so active and generous with their time. Their fics really helped with these awful couple of months. Also Myonmukyuu and Noelclover over on Tumblr. Their art gives me life.


Time to get back to Nishikino, but first, the Info Matrix… which… is starting to look a little bugged out. I’ll have to look into that.




Information Matrix (UPDAT-D)

Some statistical values currently unavail- due to lack of context.

All information only pertains to what has currently been revealed. Additional information will be added as it becomes available. Intel primarily relevant to the Fate application of the crossover,
most Love Live canon pre-Snow Hala-todokete setsunasa ni wa!-tion is applicable.


 

Master: Nico Nico Niiiiiiii!

Magic style: Stealth and Skullduggery. Phasing and disruption.

Magical Circuit Count: 12 Natural, +45 Umi-Contracted, +Unlimited Circuit Works Via Ring

Servant: Berserker 

True Name: Nishikino Maki

Pseudonym: “Other Maki” “Cutie Panther”

Noble Phantasm: Unide-tifi-d. 

Personal Skills: ( A ) Mad Enhancement, (A+) Mana Distilling, (C) Magical Construct Absorption, (A++) Supernal-Level Martial Arts, (A+) Cutie Panther Mode

Bio: 

She was a girl, then she was a girl, can I make it any more obvious? She was a punk, then she did ballet, like Eli Ayase. She wanted her, we all could tell, secretly she wanted her as well. All of her friends, her mind they did blow, so she decided that she’d never go.

Notes: 

-     Supplemented Nico’s diminutive magic circuits with distilled moonlight. Seven distilleries, crafted with glass and silver. Seven flasks, material unidentifiable. Also used to pre-emptively sear younger Maki’s magical circuits wider tha-#@

Flask quantity as of end of chapter: 4

-     Claims to be a “big deal” but as her accolades and accreditation into the Throne are from events that have not happened yet, there is no means of verifying. Given that her fame is in its infancy and unrelated to her heroic exploits, the related effect that acclaim has on a Servant’s power should be interesting to observe.

-     Claims to recall numerous reincarnation cycles, including several occurring after the existence that granted her a place in the Throne. This is at odds with known lore regarding the system and additional research is required to verify. Numerous examples have been observed via dream-link by her Master as well as bleed-over into her present-time self.

-     Claims that her Master’s mana to personal energy ratios are unbalanced due to Throne save state updates coming from incompatible saturation levels from post current universe existences. This claim is supported by the catalyst used to summon her, an unidentifiable orb of mass/energy that was previously under research at the Clock Tower referred to as the Silencia Rondure .

-     The traditional Berserker Mad Enhancement effect manifested in Maki as a psychological shift to that of a cat. Nico can detect large amounts of anxiety, frustration, and fear fueling this altered persona. This is paired with an uncharacteristic mastery of martial arts that extends beyond mortal means. 

-     Maki did a bad thing. It w-sn’t her fault. She was ju-t trying her best. She’s br--king the rul-s.

-     Caster provided a ring that was equal in power to what was offered in exchange. This ring not only negated the drain on Nico’s personal magical capacity, but overcharged both Servant and Master through a loophole in the Grail’s summoning system, effectively giving both near-limitless magical energy to work with, freeing Nico to use her family’s magical practices once more.

Unfortunately, this benefit is tempered by the full implementation of the Berserker Mad Enhancement, which seems to have locked the Servant into “Cat Mode,” or “Cutie Panther Mode” as it has been called. Effectively nullifying the Servant’s ability to communicate.

 


Master: Ayase Eli 

Magic style: Physical Augmentation and Endurance

Servant: Caster 

True Name: Baba Yaga 

Noble Phantasm: “Causes unacceptable levels of damage to the local environment”

Personal Skills: (B) Wide-Scale Charms and Illusion, (??) Nature Control, (A+++) Let’s Make a Deal

Notes: 

-     Her clothing is beyond humble, her demeanor and hair suggest a venerable age, and her face is somehow masked in a way that while expressions can be read, one can not truly recall any specific facial features.

-     Has made several food related references to the girls around her, including references to boiling people and that she was considered a monster.

-     Utilized glamours and charms to redirect attention from Nozomi’s ruined apartment, suggesting their magic focuses on the subtler arts.

-     Has displayed great domestic affection for her Master and for Nozomi, going so far as to claim Nozomi as a daughter she never had.

-     Has the ability to offer low-grade wish-fulfillment in exchange for something of equal value.

-     She knows. She knows. She knows. She knows. Sheknows-hekno-ssheknowssh-

 


Master: Tsubasa Kira 

Magic style: Illusion and Glamours

Servant: Rider 

True Name: Son WuKong (AKA: Son Goku) 

Noble Phantasm: Sixfold Immortality

Personal Skills: (A+) Ǒusībùyúnlǚ “Cloud-Stepping Shoes” (A++) Supernal-Level Martial Arts (A++) Rúyì Jīn Gū Bàng “Magic Golden-Clasped Rod” 

Notes:

Son WuKong, originally a stone statue of a monkey brought to life, has led an incredible and auspicious life. While famously known for his role in the classic tale of Journey to the West, Son’s list of deeds and accomplishments preceding have granted him notoriety in the Heavens as well as on Earth. His martial skill and numerous incredible tools and talents leave much in question for what has manifested as his Servant capabilities.

The level of power his fame would lend him in the Grail War system would be terrifying, particularly due to the war taking place mostly in Akihabara where his most recent popular media counterpart from the shonen manga/anime Dragon Ball holds significant sway. Son WuKong, a supernatural being by nature, would be a Servant of absurd capacity, potentially placing him among the most powerful Servants ever called through the Grail War system.

 


Master: Matou Zouken 

Magic style: Binding/Absorption, Insect Control, Immortality

Notes:

-     Patriarch of one of the three founding families that, with the cooperation of the Tohsaka and Einzbern, created the system that enables the Fuyuki Holy Grail War. It is assumed that he is the instigator of the current event.

-     Somehow obtained Maki’s catalyst, an impossible orb of indeterminate matter/energy called the Silencia Rondure that was last seen under heavy surveillance and scrutiny at the Clock Tower. How this orb came into being or it’s connection to Nishikino Maki remains to be seen. This item was not originally intended to be utilized as a summon catalyst. It should have brought freedom. It will bring the Silence.

-=Classified Information=- Zouken is an ancient magus that previously went under the family name of Makiri. As the family valued absorptive capacity more than legitimate magical circuits, the family’s magical capacity declined to the point where their latest heir, Matou Shinji, was born without magical circuits of his own, effectively terminating the line’s magic potential. This lack was compensated for by utilizing various methods, some resembling torture, that would carve that potential and capacity into the body.

The family traditionally utilizes a specific variety of worm to accomplish this though, after the failure of the Second Fuyuki Grail War, Zouken has taken matters into his own hands and has started employing techniques he had allowed the world to forget. He is extremely dangerous and one of the oldest living humans on the planet, assuming he can still be counted among their number.

Servant: Assassin 

True Name: ??

Noble Phantasm:??

Personal Skills: (A+) Superhuman Speed

Notes:

- Referred to as Hitokiri Battousai. The term Hitokiri, literally translating into manslayer, or man cutter, is a title that was originally given to four samurai in the Bakumatsu era of Japan’s history. The Four Hitokiri of the Bakumatsu, Kawakami Gensai, Kirino Toshiaki, Tanaka Shinbei, and Okata Izo were considered unconquerable forces of nature, incapable of being defeated by mortal men. They lent their incomparable skill to the cause of overthrowing the Tokugawa Shogunate.

- None of these four men were referred to specifically as ‘Hitokiri Battousai’, so it is unlikely that Assassin’s true identity lies among their number.

- Further evidence of the Fuyuki Greater Grail’s corruption, this Servant is not one of the nineteen Hassan-i-Sabbah, and would not traditionally be considered viable for the Assassin class. This could be due to this Servant’s traditional class, Saber, was already being assumed by a Servant that became active earlier.

- Managed to survive a direct assault from both Rider and Berserker

 


Master: Adrian Harwey 

Magic style: ????

Notes: 

-     The Harwey name belongs to an elite plutocratic family that has played both sides of the mortal/mage world, accumulating enormous wealth, power, and influence through both social spheres. This effort had been done in secret for generations, only recently becoming a more public takeover of business and humanitarian interests. Little is known of their reach, or their family’s magical capabilities and achievements, as most patents and movements are handled through shell corporations and proxies.

-     The name alone commands respect from all players that are aware of their significance. Zouken suggests that a Servant would be easier to deal with than the Harwey Conglomerate.

Servant: Saber 

True Name: Tsao Tsao (Cao Cao)

Noble Phantasm: The Sword of Heaven and the Armies of the Wei Dynasty

Personal Skills: (A+) Aura of Authority

Bio: 

The legendary Chinese warlord, the second to last Chancellor of the Eastern Han Dynasty, and one of the most important figures in the Three Kingdoms period, Tsao Tsao was a brilliant ruler and military genius who was posthumously honored as the Emperor Wu of Wei. His achievements are too numerous to note here, but include the defeat and execution of the legendary Lu Bu, the defeat of the Liu Bei in the Xu Province which included the capture of Guan Yu, the focus of agriculture and education in the regions that he conquered, and the unpretentious yet profound poetry that he penned.

In the time following his demise, he was frequently portrayed as a villain in operas which would go on to inspire his portrayal in the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. While there have been attempts to reverse this trend, he is so entrenched in popular culture as a villain, that the Chinese equivalent of the term, “Speak of the Devil,” is “Speak of Cao Cao and Cao Cao arrives.”

Notes: 

- He thought µ's performance of Snow Halation was pretty spiffy.

 


Master: Iida Kaori 

Magic style: Charms/Enhancement

Servant: Archer 

True Name: Blanchette 

Noble Phantasm: Magical Girl Bow(?)

Personal Skills: (B) Wolf familiars

Notes: 

-     Utilizes twin crossbows, explosives, and hunters traps.

-     Accompanied by two wolves, one a three-meter at the shoulder black wolf named Greggory , the other a five-meter silver named Claudia.

-     Wears a red cape and cowl. Appears to be a female white European roughly fourteen years of age. Exceptionally frail in appearance.

 


Master: Fujimoto Ryota (Retired) 

Magic style: Haiku-Based Blood Magic

Servant: Lancer 

True Name: Yukimura Sanada (Retired)

Noble Phantasm: ??

Personal Skills: ?

Notes: 

-     One of the greatest heroes of the Sengoku period, he didn’t get anywhere near the screen time he deserved, and as such, will be left mostly undefined.

 


Previous Grail War Participants


 

Tohsaka Rin

Magic Style: Jewel Magecraft / Physical Augmentation / Solid-State Arcane Projectile (Gandr)

Notes:

-     Technically the victor of the 5th Holy Grail War, Tohsaka Rin and her sister Sakura are the last remaining members of the Tohsaka line. The same Tohsaka which cooperated with the Einzbern and the Makiri to construct the Greater Grail on the Fuyuki ley line, thereby creating the engine which enables the Fuyuki Holy Grail Wars.

       - The 5th Holy Grail war was a notably intense affair which left the surrounding region, nearly the whole of Tokyo, abandoned by the major mage families. The official reason for this was the volatility of the Greater Grail requiring time to cool off, but given that the 4th Holy Grail War culminated in the destruction of a prefecture and nearly exposed the world to magic as a whole… this explanation has always been called into question. Whatever the real reason, it is certain that Rin and her actions lie at the center.

-     Was the Master of two Servants. Originally calling Archer to her side, this Servant fell during the course of the War. Afterwards, through her partnership with another Master, Emiya Shirou, she took on the responsibility of his Servant, Saber. This Master/Servant bond continues to this day, proving that the 5th Holy Grail War did not have its intended conclusion despite a victor being named.

-     Is in a healthy, supportive, and loving polyamorous relationship with her Servant and Emiya Shirou.

-     In the five years following the events of the 5th Holy Grail War, Rin has grown tremendously, both in capability and in emotional maturity. She has grown past the social crutches she relied on in her youth, thanks in part to the perspective gained by sharing memories with her Servant and having a reliable and affectionate support circle. She has become renowned throughout the higher mage community as a dili(all their fault all their fault all their fault alltheirfaultalltheirfault)gent worker, a brilliant mind, an incredible magic talent, and an advocate for magical policy reform. This puts her at odds with various stances that older and more influential families, like the Harwey, have championed.

Servant: Saber 

True Name: Artoria Pendragon, The Once and Future King, King Arthur

Noble Phantasm: Excalibur

Special Attributes: (B) Charisma, (A) Instinct, (A) Mana Burst

Bio:

There are many heroes and military leaders that Arthurian legend is based on, and through the combination of humanity’s grasp of the fiction and the fact are Artoria’s capabilities as a Servant born. There is more than can be easily said here about the life that warranted her name being scribed in The Throne, so this information will focus instead on her existence after being summoned into the Holy Grail War.

-     Artoria was originally summoned as a Saber during the 4th Holy Grail War by the man who would eventually adopt Shirou, Emiya Kiritsugu, by using Avalon, the sheath of Excalibur, as a summoning catalyst. After the 4th War, he went on to hide Avalon inside of Shirou, which gave him the ability to call on Artoria when the 5th War rolled around and granted him incredible regenerative capabilities. As the 5th War progressed, Rin took on the role of Master in part due to her superior ability to generate magical energy to fuel her.

-     Is in a healthy, supportive, and loving polyamorous relationship with Tohsaka Rin and Emiya Shirou.

 


Emiya Shirou 

Magic Style: Reinforcement / Projection (Physical Manifestation)

Notes: 

-     A first-generation mage, Shirou has no family history of magic usage, nor does he have a Family Crest to draw upon. He has sparse magical generation capabilities due to his irregular training by his adopted father and has only in the past five years following the Grail War received legitimate education on the subject.

-     Orphaned by the culmination of the 4th Holy Grail War that ravaged Fuyuki, he was adopted by Emiya Kiritsugu and pulled from the brink of death when the man placed Avalon within him.

-     Is in a healthy, supportive, and loving polyamorous relationship with Tohsaka Rin, Tohsaka Sakura, and Artoria Pendragon.

-     In the five years since his experiences in the 5th Grail War, his mindset and motivations have matured. Whereas his original stance was to try and save everyone through his own actions, he has come to recognize that the efforts of a single person are insufficient to change the world alone. Learning from the failures (No longer to be, the future is empty) glimpsed through the 5th Grail War’s Archer, Shirou has instead dedicated his life to reforming magical society, leading it from the selfish and self-destructive beast that it has grown into. This represents a shift from personal heroism to one of community.

-     Much of magic society gives him little credence. However, anyone who interacts with him long enough to hear his ideology is often inspired and finds themselves drawn in by his charisma. Rin likes to joke that this comes entirely from Artoria being an excellent influence, and he does not argue this point.

 


Illyasviel von Einzbern 

Magic Style: ????

Notes: 

-     Former Master of Berserker from the 5th Holy Grail War, Illya is a homunculus created by the Einzbern family, highly customized before and after birth (her parents being Irisviel and Shirou’s adoptive father Emiya Kiritsugu) to serve as both a high level master or as a host for the Holy Grail.

-     Hails from one of the three great mage families which crafted the Holy Grail War system, with the sole purpose of seeking access to the Third Magic, Heaven’s Feel.

-     Despite her previous inability to physically age past a certain point, she now appears to be in her late teenage years.

-     Following the events of the 5th Holy Grail War, Illya declined returning to her “family’s” estate in Germany. This is due to not technically being a member of their bloodline, the horrendous mindset surrounding their treatment of their creations, and having technically failed in their expectations of her victory. She has since lived with other survivors of Grail Wars and has pursued her new passions freely.

-    Has a sibling relationship with Emiya Shirou, Tohsaka Rin, and Tohsaka Sakura, as well as an amicable friendship with Lord El-Melloi II.

-    Has pursued a “normal high school experience” for some time, eager to try her hand at socializing. This has been hampered by her discovery of school idols, which became an immediate obsession. No longer seeking a ‘normal’ school experience, she is searching for a school whose school idol group she can fully support or potentially join. Totally living her best life.

-    Most records surrounding the 5th Holy Grail war detail her terrible fa(Avoided Fate. Avoided Blades. Failed to avoid Zero. Attained Her Victory)tal end. This is likely how she has managed to avoid notice by the Einzbern family and mage society as a whole, which would find great interest in a masterwork homunculus as herself.

 


Lord El-Melloi II 

Magic Style: Teaching and study!!

Notes: 

-     Originally Waver Velvet, Lord El-Melloi II earned his name by compiling the works of House Archibald after the passing of its last practicing member, saving the family’s name from vanishing completely from magical society and earning him, at last, a position of respect in the Clock Tower.

-     As a child, he participated in the 4th Holy Grail War, summoning Alexander the Great as a Rider. This experience tempered his ambition into a functional edge and granted him much needed perspective.

-     Technically a third-generation mage, he started entirely from scratch as the previous two practitioners of his family were barely hobbyists. As such, his magical generation capabilities are abysmally low. Lower than even Nico’s. He is barely capable of performing any magical acts at all, though his technical knowledge is superb.

-     He has become renowned throughout the Clock Tower’s educational programs as a top-tier educator, bringing new methodologies for practical application to antiquated curriculums. He’s the cool teacher that’s hot.

 


Periphery Participants


 

Toujou Nozomi 

Magic Style: Fortune Telling, Warding, Purification

Notes: 

-     Her father is an American who works in the military. Her mother tutored both her husband and daughter in magic, though mostly for self-protection. Her father’s frequent transfers are why Nozomi had such an unstable childhood. She’s technically an army brat.

-     Her father suggested that she volunteer at local shrines to familiarize herself with both the language and local customs.

-     The primary reason Nozomi was permitted to reside alone was because she chose to settle in what was considered a cease-fire zone as far as magical influence was concerned. Tokyo is very low-crime and with the volatile Greater Grail under Fuyuki, no sensible mage would stir up trouble.

 


Sonoda Umi 

Magic Style: Purification, Physical Augmentation, Elemental Enhancement

Magical Circuit Count: 45

Notes: 

-     The Sonoda are one of the largest remaining “public” magic families in Tokyo.

-     The family partners with many shrines to provide legitimately magical charms and to perform holy rites.

-     Has entered into a contract with Nico to provide additional energy to her Servant. This has had several negative consequences, including the bolstering of Berserker’s Mad Enhancement.

 


Nishikino Maki 

Magic Style: Regenerative, Optimizations, Enhancement, Reinforcement

Notes: 

-     Will apparently one day perform public acts of heroism significant enough to warrant her being called by The Throne.

-     Her family’s magical practice is based in medicine, and has become a worldwide name in providing safe, reliable magical procedures including magical circuit transfers, curse dissolving, primary and secondary sex characteristic correction, and limb restoration. They also place a focus on bridging the gap between magical medicine and traditional, seeking methods to replicate their magical offerings to the greater populace.

-       Totally has it bad for Nico. <3

-     Through contact with Berserker, she has experienced numerous alternate lifetimes she has and will eventually live through. She also has experienced moments of her current life’s future, including what she currently understands to be her own impending violent death.

-     Through these stolen memories, she has gained years of experience in her family’s craft, including advanced regenerative techniques from what would have been from the late stages of her training. So far she has used this to optimize her body’s personal capacity and even provide significant regenerative care to another.