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The Lair of Dragonwiles
fanfictions both comedic and serious
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This story is set after the Full Metal Alchemist movie, very early in Bleach, and something like a third of the way through Fate Stay Night.
Comic misunderstandings result in a battle between characters from three anime series: Bleach, Full Metal Alchemist, and Fate Stay Night.
Disclaimer: The author does not not own, and does not claim to own, anything copyrighted, trademarked, or otherwise owned by anyone else. The author does not claim to own Bleach, Fate Stay Night, or Full Metal Alchemist, their characters or events or jokes or concepts or dialogue, despite any usage of the above. All intellectual properties, copyrights, trademarks, and other items are the property of their respective owners.
Fate Bleach Alchemist
A young man, Edward Elric by name, strode on the grass on the side of the black asphalt highway, his long blonde braid resting against his back as his golden eyes took in the surroundings. Beside him walked his brother, Alphonse Elric, in the flesh, with green eyes and short, brownish blonde hair.
"Brother, how do you think we got here, anyway?" Alphonse reopened the question that had been nagging them for the past few weeks.
"I'm still going with it being a very convincing dream," Edward shook his head. "I mean, we did wake up here right after I crashed the car again."
"But it feels too real," disagreed Al. "Maybe we're on our side of the gate again, but in a country we don't recognize."
"We weren't even doing any alchemy!" protested Ed. "Besides, this world is very different from anything we know."
"That's my point!" said Al with patience and enthusiasm. "Maybe this is a country that we didn't know about before. Maybe even on the other side of the world from our home and the other places we went!"
"It'd have to be pretty far," Ed said, unconvinced but not sure how to disagree. Then he had a thought. "If this is our world, then we should be able to do alchemy again. We could test our hypothesis that way."
Al thought a moment and said, "But if I'm wrong and it's a completely new world, alchemy might work anyhow. And we don't know what we might have to give up, even for a small bit of alchemy."
Ed agreed, "You're completely right, except that we did decide to go to New Town precisely because there were so many reports of unusual happenings. We should know what our limits are before we go in."
Al thought hard but agreed, "All right, brother. But I should do something very basic, that won't require too much energy. And nothing further unless we have to."
"No, wait Al, I'll do it," Ed shook his head, making his braid snap back and forth.
"No, brother, I don't want you to be at risk too. We don't know what might happen," Al insisted.
Ed took a deep breath and said, "You go first, then I'll do the same thing you do."
Al clapped his hands, causing contact between the alchemical array on his glove and his body, then touched a nearby guardrail, between them and the highway, forcing extra oxygen to react with it and speed up natural processes. Sure enough, a faint tinge of red appeared on the metal.
With a gleam in his eye, Ed clapped and touched another section of the guardrail, and rust formed where he touched it as well.
"Let's try something harder now!" Ed said, excited. It had been so long since he'd been able to do this!
"Wait, brother!" Al said urgently. "The price for this could show up later on. Besides, no one here seems to know about alchemy. We don't want anyone to be alarmed by seeing us."
"You're right," acquiesced Ed. "At least we can if we have to, now." He reminded himself aloud with a large grin, "It's not our only tool anyway. Right, Al?"
"Certainly not, brother," Al agreed, giving a pleased smile of his own.
They noticed a car approaching, heading their way, and signaled it as they had seen others do. This one slowed down, and they got on.
Far away, an orangeheaded young man, standing up in his room, peered critically down at the cellphone being held in the hands of a black-haired young woman.
"And you're sure," asked Ichigo, "that you can trust the Soul Society warning?"
"The readings they picked up are unusual," agreed Rukia as she put it away, "which is precisely why they need to be investigated."
"If it's so faint that it can't be reliably detected-" Ichigo began.
Rukia corrected him, "Most of the day we can clearly see it, even if it is a faint reading."
Ichigo continued irritatedly, "Why should we care if it's faint?" If it was faint, wasn't it too weak to be a problem?
"This is one of the things that goes with being a substitute Soul Reaper," Rukia said firmly as she checked her wallet. Finding it a bit empty, she said, "We'll need more to get to New Town."
"Money and time," Ichigo said frustratedly. "They're two things that I don't really have a lot of. I don't like the thought of a Hollow attacking someone here while I'm spending all of my allowance money and most of the morning to check a blip in New Town."
"You won't have to spend all your allowance money," Rukia said reasonably, "because I'm the only one who has to go there in a physical body. You'll accompany me in soul form. It'll save train fare and time getting ready to fight once we arrive."
Ichigo glared at the ambulatory stuffed lion on his bed. She had him outfoxed on his own points, but there was another he hadn't brought up yet - he wasn't always comfortable letting Kon look after his body for long periods of time. The stuffed animal, perceiving this disregard, turned to Ichigo and said, "What is that face for? I always take care of your body! Why can't you trust me like Big Sister Rukia?"
"I suppose I can trust you," Ichigo stated, cracking his knuckles, "because you know what'll happen if I return to find you've been up to something."
"Yeah, yeah, I get it!" Kon said, waving his arms in a mixture of fear and anger.
Rukia put on her right hand a curious motorcycle glove, all black and bearing a white skull crested with blue flame. She stood behind Ichigo and reached up to his head with the gloved hand. Grabbing his head, she pulled sharply back, and from out of him pulled a young man who looked exactly like him, but clad in a severe dark kimono, and with a gigantic sword strapped to his back. Ichigo's body flopped forward onto the bed beside Kon. Rukia then pulled a small pill out of Kon's mouth, causing the stuffed animal to flop forward. She turned the head of Ichigo's body and stuffed the pill in, and the body got back up and turned to look at the black-clad Ichigo.
"I'll be sure to take good care of your body," Kon, now in Ichigo's body, told Ichigo a little too eagerly, "so take as long as you want and don't worry."
"I'll be back as soon as I can," Ichigo said distrustfully as he followed Rukia out the window.
As they walked towards the train station, Rukia looked around, and saw that the area was deserted. Ichigo was invisible and inaudible to most people now, but she wasn't, so they'd have to be careful when they talked to each other. She mentioned casually, "If it makes you feel any better, I didn't say the reading was faint. I said it was intermittent. Actually, the fact that the Soul Society is commanding this mission so far from ordinary patrols shows how powerful it is."
"So you're saying that if we don't perform the Konso now," Ichigo realized, "it'll become a really strong Hollow later on."
"Exactly," was all Rukia said. Inside, she wished for the millionth time that her own Soul Reaper powers would recover faster. She didn't like being out of the action.
Later that day, in New Town, another redhead, Shirou Emiya, considered the broken radio sitting on the desk in front of him. He'd agreed to come to the school, even though it wasn't a school day, in order to help out his friend Issei repair some of the electronics that had been giving out lately.
His friend was currently working with the computer Shirou had just restored, but hearing Shirou sigh, asked, "Are you sure I can't help?"
"No, it's just - how does all this stuff get broken like this? Did someone drop this out the window or something?" Shirou asked, gesturing to the fractured casing of the radio.
"I think it's because it was cheap to begin with," said his friend apologetically. "So it's no big loss if you can't fix it. We can get another cheap radio easily. The computer here was my biggest concern, and you got it going again, so don't put yourself out."
Shirou shook his head, "It's OK. I can fix the radio innards, but once I do that I'll need some glue or something to fix the outside. Would you mind getting me that?"
"No problem," said his friend, getting out of his seat and heading for the art classroom.
Shirou waited a moment until he heard his footsteps fade down the hall. The electronics weren't fixable by ordinary means, but he had extraordinary means at his disposal. The manipulation of materials and circuitry was the best he could do with the instruction in Magus circuitry his foster father had given him, but it was impressive for all that. It was impressive enough that he never practiced it openly.
"Trace on," Shirou said to himself in his mind. He could see the Magus circuits flaring in his mind, going into the radio's innards that he was touching now, and now he could see the circuits of the radio. "Structure, determined," he said to himself in his mind. Now he could see the problem, and apply his own Magus circuit's energy to reforge the physical bonds that the radio's electronics needed. He began forcing the energy out of himself.
Shirou's mouth opened in horror as he heard unfamiliar voices coming with frantic footsteps down the hall. "I think there's one in here!" one said urgently. "Check every room!" said the other.
It was too late to stop the magic. He'd heard them too late. They'd find him and see and he wouldn't be able to keep it a secret. Another horrifying thought struck him. What if these people were a Magus and their Servant? He'd be dead, there'd be no way he could call for Saber in time with his concentration stuck on the energy pouring into the radio.
A moment later, Ed and Al Elric stumbled into the room just as there was a small flash of light and the radio was healed.
For a moment, everyone stared at each other. Then Ed asked in a constricted voice, "Can you tell us where a bathroom is?"
"Please hurry," Al added, clasping his hands tightly in supplication.
Shirou heard himself tell them where it was, and watched them flee out the door. He sat there for the next few minutes wondering just what had happened. Surely it wasn't possible for them not to have seen what happened? Had they thought it was a normal spark from the radio's electronics?
Just as the shock began to wear off, Ed and Al returned. They thanked him profusely for the directions, explaining that they'd been hitchhiking most of the day and weren't familiar with the area.
"Oh, don't worry about it," Shirou said, though he stared suspiciously and hostilely at them. They'd come back - they'd surely seen something, then.
"That was alchemy, wasn't it?" Ed asked, coming straight to the point.
Shirou smiled grimly. Now things were out in the open, where he liked them. But what was this about alchemy? There was just magic, wasn't there? At least his dad had never told him anything about alchemy. "No, that wasn't alchemy, that was magic," Shirou explained. "So I'd appreciate it if you didn't spread it all over."
"We realized some time ago that it's not normal in this world, so we won't tell anyone," Al said, reassured yet perturbed, "but what do you mean by saying it's magic? Alchemy is a science, not magic."
Shirou stared blankly back at him. "I've never heard it described as a science myself," he told them.
"So you never learned about equivalent exchange? Transmutation?" Ed asked, amazed at the negatory answer on Shirou's face.
"No, I haven't," Shirou told him frankly. "Look, my friend's probably on his way back. Maybe we could continue this discussion at my house."
"That's OK, I get it," Ed said, holding up his white gloved hands with his palms out. "Sorry to barge in on you. It's just that we're interested in that sort of thing. It's what we came here for. So I think we will take you up on your offer, if it's not an inconvenience."
"No, it's fine. I'll write you some directions," Shirou told him, finding a scrap of paper and a pencil. He was intrigued himself to find other magic users, and their different views of magic were of interest to him as well. If these two turned out to be enemies, Rin and Saber would both be home. Between the three of them, they'd be as ready as they ever could be to face anyone.
"Before your friend comes back," Al prompted Shirou, "have you heard of other people doing alchemy or magic?"
Shirou paused in his writing. Maybe they were Magus after all. "Why do you want to know?" he asked brusquely.
Ed and Al looked at each other, nonplussed, before Al replied, "We'd like to meet them. We only want to talk. I understand if you don't feel comfortable discussing it with a stranger."
Issei walked in with the glue and did a double-take upon seeing the Elric brothers. Shirou covered smoothly, saying, "Oh, these are friends of mine. I told them to come over to my house today, but they came here to find me because I forgot to give them directions to my house." He finished writing the directions and pushed them towards Ed, who took them.
"Oh," the friend said, taken in by Shirou's ruse. "I'm Issei," he said by way of introduction.
"I'm Edward Elric," Ed introduced himself.
"My name is Alphonse Elric, his younger brother," Al introduced himself.
"Sorry to intrude and all," Ed said with a disarming grin. "We'll meet at your house. Goodbye for now!"
Ed and Al were very impressed by Shirou's huge samurai mansion. "You must have a big family," Ed commented.
"Not really," Shirou corrected him. "There's a foreign student, and a student in my class living here, but that's it. I get a lot of visits from a teacher and another friend from school, but they probably won't be here in time to see you two." In fact, Shirou was prepared to do whatever was necessary to make sure that the latter two didn't meet the Elrics, just in case they did turn out to be unfriendly.
Shirou called, "I'm home," as he entered and began to take off his shoes. He was heartened, as always, to hear Saber reply, "Welcome back," from the kitchen.
"I brought some visitors," Shirou called as he heard Saber's footsteps on the wooden floor. She walked into view and looked curiously at them. Shirou continued, "This is Edward and Alphonse Elric. Edward, Alphonse, this is Saber, the foreign student I told you about." The three bowed to each other.
Saber asked formally, almost old-fashionedly, "Shall I find Ms. Tohsaka so that you can introduce her as well?"
"No thanks," Shirou disagreed, "we'll probably meet her as I show them around the house. Who else is home?"
"No one else is home, Shirou," Saber replied neutrally.
"Then we can get down to it," Shirou said in relief. "Saber, these two are Magus. I invited them home to talk."
"I see," Saber said neutrally, though her look at the Elrics was now suspicious, and she shot an irritated glance at Shirou. He was always doing these sorts of things without any thought at all, nor the courtesy of consulting her. How was she supposed to defend him if he simply brought to his home potential enemies?!
"If we were to get technical about it," Ed demurred, "Al and I are both alchemists."
"Let me show you around the house," Shirou continued quickly, not wanting to get into all that again.
"It's a very nice house," Al noted. "Will your parents be home soon?"
"No, never," Shirou disagreed as he strode quickly through the house, and the Elrics hurried to keep up. Ed noted that Saber seemed to be trying to keep herself between Shirou and them. "My father took me in after my parents died many years ago. Then he died a few years ago and left this house to me."
The Elrics expressed their apologies.
"It's okay," Shirou told them.
A door ahead of them opened, and a young woman in a carmine sweater, with long, flowing dark hair, stepped out facing them, and bowed. The Elrics bowed back as Shirou introduced them to Rin Tohsaka.
"The Elrics are alchemists," Shirou concluded the introductions.
"Alchemists?" Rin asked, somewhere between skeptical and completely unfamiliar.
Shirou put a finger to his chin as he said disappointedly, "So you haven't heard of alchemists, either?" Tohsaka knew a lot more about magic than he did - what could it mean if she'd never heard of an alchemist?
"I see," Tohsaka went on, "so I suppose you asked them here to find out more about their magical abilities?" She shot Saber a sympathetic glance. Shirou certainly had guts, but whatever inspired him to take such rash risks as revealing himself so openly to potential opponents?
"We don't seem to be making ourselves clear," Ed tried to explain again, "maybe we can straighten this out once and for all. Alchemy may look like magic, but it's a very precise, near-instantaneous manipulation of matter and energy."
"And how is that different from magic?" Rin asked him half-seriously.
Ed responded, "Alchemy has rules."
"Tohsaka's got a point," Shirou weighed in, "magic has rules too. Her magic has a lot of rules and steps to take and stuff, right?"
Rin smiled tolerantly, though she had to rest her cheek on two fingers, and that hand's elbow on her other hand. She had really hoped he wouldn't manage to spill her abilities.
Ed stated vehemently, "Alchemy's real! It's precise and defined and orderly. It's not like magic, a fraud used to mislead people, feeding them with empty hopes and leading them astray!"
Al rested his hand on Ed's shoulder and deflated the tension by saying, "Present company excepted, I'm sure. In our country, we've seen a lot of people hurt by evil people who put on impressive shows but have dark intent."
"You've aroused my curiosity," Saber inquired, "what country are you from?" If they were a Magus and Servant, they probably would answer guardedly at best, but any clue as to their origin could be useful.
"We're citizens of Amestris," Al told them. "You've probably not heard of it, since it's so far away."
"That's not a country," objected Shirou. He stared suspiciously at the Elrics.
Ed grinned cheekily and said, "Like Al said, it's really, really far away." He added mentally, 'Like in another dimension!'
Rin appeared distracted. She announced suddenly, "Please excuse me, but I almost forgot, I'm having some visitors today. I'd better go meet them."
"You are?" Shirou said in surprise.
Saber commented, "It's not like you to forget such matters. Are you well?"
"Oh yes, I'm fine. They're just very unexpected guests," she shot Shirou and Saber significant glances, hoping they'd catch on. Then she was exiting the room, saying, "It was nice meeting you, Ed and Al."
The Elrics stared after her. Her manner seemed odd. Had she somehow become aware of people approaching them? How? And who was approaching? Had someone been following them? Who would, and why?
Similar questions consumed Shirou, but he brushed them aside. She clearly wasn't prepared to answer them, at least not in front of the Elrics, and since she hadn't found an excuse to get the Elrics out of the room, she probably didn't want to tell him. If he went after her now and pressed the issue, she'd probably just give one of her condescending lectures. So Shirou said to the Elrics, "Why don't I show you guys more of the house?"
They all followed him to a door which led to the outside, to a lawn bordered by the interior walls of the house, and the exterior walls that separated the house from the street.
"You take good care of this place," Ed commented.
"Thanks, it can be hard sometimes," Shirou said. "Saber and my other friends do a lot to keep the place maintained. Over there's the dojo, I'd like to show you that next."
As they walked along, Ed asked curiously, "That's a nice shed there. Is that a workshop?"
"Yes, I do a lot of work there," Shirou said, feeling uncomfortable. He moved on quickly towards the dojo. He liked to think of the workshop as his space, and preferred maintaining some privacy there. Shirou shot a glance towards the exterior wall, guessing that Tohsaka might be out there facing some sort of threat.
Saber offered, "Perhaps I could see what is keeping Miss Tohsaka." She was best suited to offer assistance if any was needed. It felt odd giving assistance to a rival Magus, but her Master had said they were allies, and so they were.
"No, I'm sure she's fine," Shirou declined. Still, as he showed his guests the dojo, his mind was still distracted. After a brief tour of that area of the house, he showed his guests to the tea room and suggested, "I should go meet Miss Tohsaka's guests. Saber, please keep the Elrics company for a short time." He knew that the house was so big that Rin probably hadn't even left it yet, but it still felt like too long without news. Shirou had to see what was happening. He knew Saber wanted to help, too, but he refused to put her in danger. Saber looked put out but nodded.
After Shirou left, Al and Ed stared at Saber, and Saber stared back at them. Al proffered a conversational gambit, "So, I suppose that things like magic and alchemy aren't ordinarily discussed openly in this society."
"No, indeed," Saber concurred. "Few are gifted with such, and those who are tend to keep their knowledge and pacts in the dark, as is appropriate." She then asked, "Would you care for some tea?"
They acquiesced, and Saber left to go make it.
Though invisible, Archer, the Servant of Rin, was always near her. Disembodied, he could be heard only in her mind. In there, he could use his special abilities of far sight and detection to show her what he could see. Rin saw a young woman with short, black hair in casual clothes, walking with an invisible, tall young man, with orange hair, and an enormous sword wrapped in white bandages, which was strapped to his back. He was clad in a black kimono, with an inner kimono of white.
Rin and Archer concluded automatically that the one in black, not visible in the normal world, was the Servant. Rin thought at Archer as she walked briskly to the front of the house, "I'll be depending on you to handle the Servant. Let's fall back if the Master is too much for me to handle, or the Servant has an ability that puts us at a disadvantage."
"Of course," Archer acknowledged. "They should be at the house in a few moments. They seem to be heading towards it directly. The young woman keeps looking at a handheld electronic device, and using it to direct that young man in black."
Rin could see Archer's vision of it, but it didn't make sense. She shook her head as she asked, "Archer, have you heard of any technology that can detect Mana from a Servant or Magus? It's the only thing I can think they're using, but it makes no sense on the face of it, using electronics to trace magical energy!"
"I don't pretend to know much about modern science," Archer told her without great concern. "It's come so far even since the last Grail War, I depend mostly on what you tell me."
"I suppose we'll just have to deal with it," Rin said, unsatisfied with not having the answer. "Be prepared for Shirou to involve himself in this fight."
"We're allies, so I'll do my best," Archer allowed. "But I can't guarantee anything. You're my Master, and my first duty is to you. Also, you have the sense to place yourself strategically in battle. I wish the kid had that."
Rin chuckled, though she felt slightly guilty mocking Shirou, and behind his back, too. She focused on what was ahead as she stepped out the door.
Ed and Al looked at each other.
"I thought we'd be the ones asking all the questions," Ed commented, stretching his hands behind his head, then leaning back, bracing his hands against the floor. "But they're practically interrogating us!"
"They believe us without question, some of the time," Al noted, "but they're intensely suspicious of us on other points. Saber and Tohsaka are practically in defensive stances when we're around them."
"It's almost like some sort of shadow war between magic users," Ed theorized with a frown.
Al sat quietly, thinking.
Ed stood up and gestured out the door. "I think we should look at that shed. We always did learn the most about people when we saw what they were working on."
Al nodded, and they both went outside. They moved slowly, looking around appreciatively, as though they were just stretching their legs, but they were also keeping a sharp eye out for anyone watching them. Seeing no one, they ambled up to the shed, then quickly opened the door, stepped inside, and pulled it shut.
It took a few moments for their eyes to adjust to the relative darkness, and they began to set about trying to find some source of light. When they finally had more light, they had a brief vision of rows of various objects, their basic materials changed slightly, and of electronics in various states of repair, and several toolboxes. In a corner was a sleeping bag, a testament to late-night work.
They saw these things only for a moment, as their attention was almost immediately drawn to a complex design in purple upon the ground, about a meter in diameter. The Elrics stared at this design, unfamiliar yet remarkably like patterns they had seen far too often in their past.
"It couldn't be," Al breathed.
Ed let out his breath. "You don't need an array this size or complexity to do ordinary alchemy. Or magic, I'll bet. I don't recognize it, but then, the Ishbalan arrays were different than ours, and they did just fine, didn't they?"
"Then, that one..." Al trailed off.
"You saw the way he looked at her," Ed agreed, sad and angry. "Like she wasn't a part of this world."
"And like he'd do anything to have her," Al said darkly.
Saber finished making the tea, finally. She'd been keeping an ear out, hoping to hear some sign of Shirou or Tohsaka, or Archer, but had not. So she continued following her orders dutifully, providing hospitality to the Elrics, in this case by making tea.
What sort of Magus and Servant could they be? They looked too much like brothers. Perhaps they were brothers, and simply were Magus by study, but had not actually summoned Servants and become participants in this Grail War.
Saber began to have second thoughts about this when she returned to the room where she had left the Elrics and found them absent. She set down the tea tray on the table and set out to find them.
As she left the room, her keen senses alerted her to some faint noises, and so she walked in the direction they were coming from. She came to the inner lawn and realized that it was the voices of the Elrics, inside the shed. She couldn't quite hear what they were saying.
What was there inside the shed, though, that would be so remarkable to fellow Magus? Shirou's repairs of electronics were unremarkable in this time. His abilities at altering materials might be unusual but not out of the realm of possibility, in the eyes of another Magus. The ground in there was still marked as the site of her Summoning, but surely they would've expected that. Yet the Elrics still appeared to be in there, not moving, but talking. She moved closer, the thought of eavesdropping not even occurring to her. Saber was going to confront them, and insist that they either respect her Master's wishes that they stay out of the shed, or abandon this charade and come back at nightfall for a true duel of the Grail Wars.
Rukia and Ichigo were much closer to the source of the mysterious readings than they had been. Rukia paused them as they were about to go around a corner, and so they waited there behind the cover of a wall. It was a nice, white wall, in fact the whole street was a picturesque upper-class neighborhood, with a tidy street and almost gleaming sidewalks running in front of pure white walls, over which friendly and strong trees stretched ancient and verdant branches. One such tree shaded Ichigo and Rukia from the morning sun.
"I looked at some of the details the Soul Society sent with the warning. Based on its pattern of movement," Rukia said in a low voice to Ichigo, "I think it's near a living human. Probably someone important to him or her in life."
Ichigo nodded, and Rukia went on to say, "I'll act casual in case anyone is watching - you go ahead and confront it."
"Fine by me," Ichigo agreed. "So you're sure it's not a Hollow?"
"It's not," she confirmed. "If all goes well, this should be pretty easy, but be careful. It has a lot of power, so even if it never becomes a Hollow, Hollows may try to assimilate it. Not a fate to be wished on anyone."
"Agreed. I'll do my best," Ichigo said with determination, and they rounded the corner.
Walking down the street towards them was a young woman in a carmine sweater, a black skirt, and long black socks. By her side, Ichigo and Rukia could see a blonde man in red armor, decorated with gold filigree. The woman was simply looking ahead or at Rukia, but the man hadn't taken his eyes off Ichigo or Rukia since they rounded the corner. Clearly this man was the unusual presence they had come to dispel. Ichigo hoped he could bring peace to the dead man's spirit, and thus also relieve the girl from this haunting.
While Ichigo approached them, Rukia leaned against a decorated streetlight and rifled through her purse. The young woman continued walking, and the man in red, remaining to her right, picked up his pace and came towards Ichigo, wary but not hostile.
Ichigo began to feel that something was wrong. He was looking for the severed Chain of Fate that should've been on the dead man's chest, but saw nothing. This was very odd, because it was usually extremely obvious. On every dead person he'd seen before, the chain simply protruded out of their chest and waved around, outside their clothes. And yet, Rukia's device, and Ichigo's own limited experience in seeing things not normally visible, clearly showed he wasn't quite of this world. Not to mention the fact that, cool though the blonde's armor was, it was not ordinarily the sort of thing a young man in this day and age would wear outside of a cosplay convention.
Ichigo stopped a few paces distant from the blonde and the young woman. The blonde stopped immediately, and the young woman just behind him stopped a moment later. Ichigo was surprised that the young woman had stopped as well, since she couldn't see him or the blonde, but went with his plan, saying to the blonde man, "Hey. Are you ready to go yet?"
Archer stared at the redhead in the black kimono. Go? Go where? Were all redheads on inscrutable, complicated missions of justice? He never felt like he was getting through to the stubborn redhead he already knew, Shirou Emiya. Archer figured that the young man before him was similarly stubborn, since he and the woman who was supposedly going through her purse had tracked them all the way here.
"No, I plan to stay right here," Archer said evenly. And why not? Rin had her eccentricities, but she was a talented Master, and he had as good a shot or better of winning the ultimate prize as ever. Shirou was difficult to get along with, but Archer still held a foolish hope that someday he'd listen to reason. Saber was a good fighter and ally, and the other people around him didn't rub him the wrong way. He was content, and usually even happy. Why would he ever even think of leaving?
The redhead, Archer could see, hadn't expected that answer, but he came back gamely with, "You know you can't stay here forever."
Of course he couldn't. What Servant ever could? In any given Grail War, a Servant would either be sent away, or would gain the Grail and their wish and then leave. But why exactly was this a reason for leaving now? Archer could almost understand if this conversation were some sort of ploy to weaken his resolve. But the redhead was talking more as though he were trying to persuade a friend to do something necessary but briefly uncomfortable.
Archer answered, "Perhaps not. But I shall stay here as long as I can. Don't misunderstand. I'm not so attached to this place that I cannot leave if it is necessary. I'm also not a man who loathes his place in life. So I shall remain or depart with no regrets."
The redhead's eyes flicked to glance at Rin, then returned to Archer's face, and then he said, "I understand what it means to want to protect someone. But you have to let her go. Believe me; I know from experience, with a good friend of mine. She wants you to be happy, not to be trapped here."
Archer was having an experience he hadn't often had before. It was as though during the course of the conversation, the meanings of words had changed, and he wasn't aware of it. Or it was as though this redhead had journeyed who knew how far to patiently explain that, overall, the best way to protect Rin were to take up deep sea diving. Archer wondered briefly if he were insane or if it were the tall young man before him who was insane.
Simply asking the question that way made Archer feel better. The young man was probably not insane - he was probably just being confusing to get him off his guard. Or else the Servant had been improperly Summoned, and had a seriously damaged understanding of their role in the Wars. Servants were to protect their Magus, and the Magus was to assist as best as possible. At the end of a Grail War, the last Servant and Master standing got the Grail. Archer wasn't trapped here - he had volunteered to protect whatever Master Summoned him. And Rin wanted a Servant to protect her - after all, she had Summoned one! The tall, confusing young man before him was either confusing or confused, and he suspected the former.
"We made a Pact," Archer said, filled with honest pride as he said the words, "and we'll abide by it. I will protect her."
An expression indicating confusion just as deep as Archer's began to spread across the tall man's face, and Archer smirked.
Ichigo puzzled over the words a moment or so. A pact? Could he be in some sort of communication with the young woman he hovered around?
Ichigo sighed. That'd make his job more uncomfortable, but his duty still had to be done. No matter what they were to each other, he knew from bitter experience that it would be better for the young woman to know this blonde man was going on to happiness, rather than see him warped into a Hollow.
"Look, just trust me," Ichigo reassured the blonde man as he started slowly reaching his hand up towards his zanpaku-to, strapped to his back. "I'm only trying to look out for you, and for your friend there. I won't hurt her, or you. I'm going to give you a short tap with the hilt of my sword - it's called a Konso. It'll send you on to the next world."
Ichigo saw the blonde man tense and smile expectantly as he said, "I'm sure that's what you're hoping. Rin, now!"
The young woman, evidently named Rin, immediately responded, "Right!"
Ichigo would've thought more about this proof that somehow this dead man and this live woman could talk to each other, except for two things. For one, he could tell somehow that Archer had suddenly become a solid, visible being. For another, Rin was now wearing a baleful expression and pointing her index finger at Rukia while chanting ominously in German.
Rukia had, of course, been alert to all these developments, and so swung her purse back onto her shoulder, and herself around to the opposite side of the streetlight. A ball of energy flew from Rin's fingertip through where Rukia's head had been.
Ichigo had pivoted in place to see this occur and also keep at least peripheral vision on the blonde and Rin. Now he refocused his attention on the latter two as he whipped his sword off his back and out of its bandages, pronouncing angrily, "I don't know what you two think you're doing, but I'm not going to let you put anyone at risk." The sun glinted off his blade.
As he had readied his sword, two blades had materialized in Archer's hands, both relatively short, one black, and one white. Archer commented with a smirk, "You and your Master are the ones putting people at risk. There are reasons battles are conducted after dark."
Then he and Ichigo ran at each other, and their blades met with a resounding clang.
Shirou was still making his way through the house when he heard Rin shouting. That sounded like one of her spells. Forget any lectures he got from her - he had to make sure that he protected everyone. He started running.
Saber heard Rin chanting one of her spells, just outside the walls of the mansion. Saber materialized her silver battle armor, running towards the wall, and as she leaped over it, saw Archer had materialized and was exchanging blows with a redhead in a black kimono - doubtless the enemy Servant.
Ed and Al had emerged from the sheds as they heard the noise, and were just in time to see Saber leap easily over the wall.
"Doesn't sound good," Ed commented, then they both hurried towards the wall.
Rin wondered which Class of Servant the man in the black kimono was. Such knowledge would be essential in predicting his powers and abilities, and she needed that information to make an informed strategy. All she knew was that he was still dematerialized and invisible, but able to fight. That shouldn't have been possible.
There was a thud behind her, and Rin turned her head to see Saber run up to her side. Saber stopped beside her and asked, "What do you need?"
Rin decided quickly, "I need you to flank the Magus while I pin her down."
Saber nodded and was off. As Rin began a chant, she noticed that the enemy Magus, the young woman with short black hair, was beginning some sort of chant of her own, though it seemed very unstructured, more like a free association than a formula or demand for power.
She braced herself to dodge as necessary, and indeed, in a few moments, they each let loose a burst of energy. Both dodged it, but Rin smiled triumphantly - the exchange had given Saber time to run in a wide arc, and now she was coming up fast on the enemy's right.
Rukia didn't let her shock or confusion at recent events unbalance her. There was no time for it - the new arrival, the blonde woman in silver battle armor - was almost on her.
Rukia took up a defensive stance from the Academy, but fell back several steps as she saw the woman swing her arms as though hefting a sword, though there was nothing in her grasp. Rukia was still glad she did step back, because the swoosh through the air was unmistakable.
Oh, how she longed to have her zanpaku-to back! To hear her blade sing as that one did!
That was impossible for the moment, though, and Rukia for now had only her Kido as weapons. The blonde was too close for Rukia to use the chants effectively, so she instead ran forward, then used her momentum and the blonde woman's arms, still stretched out as though grasping a sword, to flip over the blonde woman's back. Rukia kept running and leapt onto a nearby wall, then ran along it to gain further distance. Irritatingly, the blonde woman had recovered from her surprise, and was now running along the wall behind her.
Rin frowned - the enemy Magus was moving too fast along the wall. She wasn't sure she could hit her, and she didn't want to risk hitting Saber. Such friendly fire could turn the battle against them.
She heard a gate open, and turned slightly to see Shirou rush out of the house, brandishing a length of pipe that he'd modified for increased strength. Over the noise of the duel between Archer and the tall man, Shirou shouted, "Saber!" Then he ran towards the wall upon which Saber and the enemy Magus were running.
Ed and Al climbed to the top of the wall, and, with a clap of their hands, dispelled the footholds they had created in it, morphing it back to its original shape. Then they leapt down lightly.
They stared in surprise at the melee which they saw occurring, and as the others realized their presence, the battle came to a tense halt, each side pausing and wondering about the brothers' intent.
"Who's the guy in black, brother?" Al whispered to Ed. "I don't know," Ed replied.
Ichigo's eyes narrowed. Those two in red cloaks were definitely following him with their eyes. He verbalized his question, "Rukia, how can those guys see me in Soul Reaper form?"
"I need more specificity, Ichigo," Rukia replied, "there are four guys out here."
"The short guy in the red cloak, and the dude next to him in a red cloak!" Ichigo specified.
"Hey!" Ed shouted, "Who are you calling so short-"
Rukia spoke in astonishment, "They can hear you too?"
Shirou turned to face the Elrics, holding his pipe at the ready. "Aren't you going to make your move?" he inquired.
Ed announced in a carrying voice, "We don't want to interfere in your affairs. But, there is something we have to know from you, and we need the honest truth."
Al asked sternly, "Shirou Emiya, please tell us the truth. Is Saber a real human?"
Shirou answered hotly, "Saber may be a Servant, but she's as much a real person as any of us!"
Ed made a barking laugh, with sadness and anger mixed. "They always seem that way. But you have to face the facts. A homunculus is not a real person. They may have memories, but they are frauds! You can never get the real person back!"
Al cringed - he and Ed still disagreed on whether the homunculi had fake memories, or whether they had somehow been given the memories of the people they were based on. He totally agreed, however, that they were not the original people, and he tried to communicate this by saying, "You can never get the dead back. There are serious consequences to human transmutation, or whatever it's called in this world. However like the original Saber she may be, she is not. She is something different, and if you don't accept that, you will be hurt."
Shirou exploded in irritation and incomprehension, "What is a homunculus?"
Saber frowned at the Elrics. What they were talking about couldn't be true. She had died, yes, but she was a Servant, brought back by the Grail, not this bizarre nonsense they were talking about. She was real, and her memories were her own. Saber tightened her grip on her sword. She was Shirou's Servant, and she would protect him.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Shirou groaned. "I don't want anyone else involved in this Grail War thing. Just leave now, okay."
"Unfortunately, we cannot turn our backs on your reckless behavior," Al cautioned him. "You need to hear us out. It's important, for your sake."
"I haven't understood a word you've said," protested Shirou.
"First, agree to stop using your power so recklessly, trying to bring back the dead," Al demanded. "We can talk reasonably about things afterward."
"Put aside my power, huh?" Shirou snorted. "Sorry, but I swore that I wouldn't let anyone else get hurt in this war. If you two try to stop me, then I'll have to consider you as enemies."
"Don't be a fool!" Ed snapped, but Shirou was already running at them.
Saber shouted, "Shirou!" and ran after him. He was throwing himself into harm's way again, when she should be the one to go!
Al moved into his fighting stance, while Ed clapped his hands. Shirou noticed that both Ed and Al wore white gloves, and Al had a strange circular symbol inscribed on his. Ed reached down to the pavement and drew out from it a long spear, topped with a thick blade. Shirou stopped, both in astonishment and because he didn't want to get too close to that huge weapon. Perhaps it was more accurate, he thought, to say that Ed had somehow made the spear from the pavement, for a large area of it was now missing.
Saber stared in amazement, her blue eyes wide open. This wasn't possible, for she and Shirou had already met the Lancer Servant, on the night she'd been Summoned! There were never two Servants of the same Class! Was this, then, some other Class of Servant who happened to like using spears? But what sort of Servant could make weapons out of the material surrounding them?
Ed and Al glanced at each other, and then began to move, slowly, step by step, Ed towards Shirou, and Al edging slowly away.
Saber charged forward again, but Shirou was still closer. He feinted, and with the diversion, managed to sidestep Ed's spear and run towards him. However, at that moment, Al suddenly charged in on a diagonal. One of his gloved hands caught the end of Shirou's pole, rendering it suddenly useless, while the other palm shot into Shirou's gut. Shirou's breath whooshed out, but almost before it had, Al had savagely kicked at Shirou's instep. Shirou lurched, and Al used the momentum to shove him to the ground. After he hit, Al wrenched the pipe out of his hands.
Meanwhile, Ed had charged forward to meet Saber's charge. With his spear, he was able to circumscribe her and prevent her from running to Shirou, as she clearly wished to do. Seeing this, her visage grew livid, and she shifted to assaulting Ed with fierce, skilled blows.
Ed studied her closely. He hadn't yet seen a tattoo of the Ouroborous on her, but it was possible this homunculus was totally unrelated to those he had known in his world. As he parried her strikes, the reverberations hurt his hands and almost made him drop his spear several times. Her speed and strength were on par with the homunuli, and also she wielded an invisible blade. That was a particular problem - he was having trouble seeing where she was aiming, making it difficult to counter her thrusts.
Saber leveled one blow at him, then another, then, just as planned, launched a devastating downward strike at Ed's spear. He cursed as the pain and impetus forced him to drop his blade. In a moment she was charging in, imperceptible blade leveled at his throat. He leaned back severely, and the blade cleared his now near-vertical nose by centimeters. He leaned back up, stepped back, clapped as she quickly aimed another strike, and now parried her blade with one that emerged from his arm.
Al had tried to go help his brother, but Shirou had kept squirming, nearly making Al stumble as he tried to restrain him. Al had pummeled Shirou in several points, hoping to render him unconscious or at least stun him, but he stubbornly kept hold of his senses. Al frowned and prepared to hit him harder, when he saw Rin aiming her finger at him. He rolled to the side just as the burst left her fingers and quickly stood. No further action was needed, as he saw Rin and the woman with short, dark hair were now occupied in blasting each other. Al quickly scanned the battlefield- the redhead in the black kimono and the blonde man in red armor were still dueling, as were Ed and Saber, and Shirou was now stumbling to his feet with a groan.
Ed panted, "So, how many people were you planning to sacrifice to become human, Saber?"
Saber was incensed. She had never drained humans of life to gain Mana, how dare he accuse her of such a monstrous deed! "You slander me, Elric," she snarled.
Ed stared at her suspiciously. All the homunculi he'd ever met had been ready to kill entire civilizations to become human. Still, some of the humans he'd met had also massacred innocents to achieve their ends. And some of the homunculi did change, at least slightly, by the end. "Maybe," Ed said, unconvinced, "but meddling with what makes us human - it's still a serious sin. We're trying to get you two to realize that before it's too late for you!"
Saber said nothing, appearing puzzled and mistrustful. Ed couldn't blame her - he didn't trust her either. Her blade rang again and again against his, causing reverberations even more painful than before, as the anchors for his prosthetic arm shook in his body. His arm couldn't stand this level of punishment for long, and there was no guarantee he'd find anyone who could fix it in this world. Certainly no one as good as Winry.
Archer chuckled as he felt the blade of the redhead in the black kimono clang against his dual blades again. "You're only alive," he said with a wry smile as he disengaged his swords from the redhead and sought to stab him above and below the redhead's blade, "because of your reflexes." As if to demonstrate the point, Ichigo stepped back, then angled his blade to block both.
"It's too bad," Archer said regretfully, "because this would be much more interesting, if we could only meet after you've had training."
Ichigo looked quizzically at him, then rotated his body away from Archer to avoid a strike to his head, and shifted his blade down to block a swing at his gut. He managed to dodge the strike at his head and bat away the other sword at his midsection, but he still gained a nasty cut in his side that hurt every time he breathed.
Rukia panted, her left arm hanging numb after being grazed by Rin's spell. Once again Rukia mentally cursed the Research Squad. Her gigai only had the agility, speed, and stamina of a normal human, and she felt the limitations keenly.
Rin was breathing heavily. She always rued the loss of one of her powerful gems, but it looked like that sort of sacrifice would be necessary. That woman's last spell had managed to slow Rin down, making her more vulnerable.
Shirou and Al stared at each other, waiting. Shirou then made a rush for his pipe, laying on the ground where Al had shoved it out of his hands. Al ran to him and delivered a hard kick to the head. Shirou collapsed, pipe still out of reach.
Al saw that Saber's attacks on his brother had redoubled in fury. Thinking quickly, he clapped his hands and slapped them to the ground.
A giant hand suddenly formed out of the pavement under Saber's feet and reached up and up, several meters into the air. Saber skipped back just in time to avoid being caught by it, but the pavement morphing and rising into the air under her feet flung her away, and she landed on her back, nearly on top of Rin.
While Rin hurriedly sidestepped to avoid Saber, Rukia took advantage of the distraction to run away from Rin and towards Archer and Ichigo. She chanted a Kido and ran into close range. Archer became aware of her moving in, sidestepped one of Ichigo's blows, and swung one of his blades at her. She leapt over his arm, then turned and touched his back with the last words of the chant.
Ichigo grimaced. He recognized that chant. It was the one Rukia had used on him, the night they'd first met. This particular Kido caused paralysis of nearly all the body, although it allowed one to talk, oddly enough.
Rin saw this as she finished helping Saber up and shouted, "Archer!"
Meanwhile, Rukia looked at the Elrics and made a snap decision. She'd have to wipe their memories anyways, and it was best if there were no further violence. She didn't want to have to send any more souls to the Soul Society today. She'd have to take care of them immediately and nonlethally. Perhaps she could take all the other combatants out of the fight by temporarily displacing their souls with her glove. Then she and Ichigo could concentrate on dealing with Archer.
Ed Elric watched the new girl carefully as she said something to Ichigo, and he removed a glove from her pocket, then put it on her good hand. Why did he always get the glove users?
Saber ran to Shirou, who groaned and began to get up, picking up his pipe and levering himself to his feet before she quite reached him.
"Are you all right, Saber?" he asked, spitting blood out of his mouth.
"I am well, Master. And you?" she said, taking a solidly defensive position in front of him.
"I'm fine, thanks. Don't worry about me," he said, then grunted as he tried to take a step forward.
Ichigo lifted his zanpaku-to and turned instinctively on hearing a noise. Unfortunately, his dodge was in the wrong direction - he had remembered Rin being far off, to his left. She had gotten on top of the wall just behind him. He evaded most of the blast of her spell, but his left arm went numb. With a grunt he shifted his zanpaku-to onto his right shoulder, then moved forward and tapped Archer with its hilt, completing the Konso, even as he heard Rin leap down and run towards them.
Nothing happened, and he stared in amazement. Archer had not gone on to the next world, and he had nothing like a Hollow mask. Something was terribly wrong. "Rukia, he's not a soul!" Ichigo shouted.
"Sorry, Rin," Archer said with a bemused look at her.
"Don't worry about that now," Rin told him as she pressed a gem into his side. How could he think she blamed him for getting frozen?
Ichigo grimaced as he saw light suffuse through Archer and guessed what was coming. "Not again," Ichigo groaned as Archer unfroze.
Rukia ran at Ed Elric, and he ran towards her. Then, just before they made contact, he dodged to the side. As he expected, she was already in the act of jumping before she realized her target had moved. He slashed at her glove, but she pulled her arm back just enough, then shot it forward towards his head. Ed ducked and pointed the blade on his prosthetic arm upwards and slightly away from him. Rukia grabbed the top of his head and pulled back, and Ed was pulled out of his body, his Chain of Fate clattering as this link between his soul and body stretched between the two. Even as this was occurring, his arm was still shooting up, and so her glove was ripped by the upcoming blade. Rukia grunted in pain as the blade drew blood, Ed's body collapsed to the ground, and Ed's soul looked about him in consternation, saying, "What just happened?"
"What did you do to my brother?" Al asked, astonished and furious. Rukia noted, eyes narrowing, that Al was looking between Ed's body and his soul. He shouldn't have been able to see the soul.
Al clasped his hands in distress and ran forward, lifting his brother up slightly. "Brother!" he cried.
Rukia was already chanting a Kido and dragging Ed's stunned soul away by the arm. With the glove damaged, she'd just have to do the best she could with Kido.
Archer noted, not sure whether to be impressed by the talent, or disgusted by the waste, "You're swinging a two-handed sword with one hand?"
"I do what I have to," Ichigo grunted, smiling at the respect he could see in Archer's eyes.
Then Ichigo noted with irritation that Rin was circling him, and said frustratedly, "I don't want to hurt your friend."
Archer replied cynically, "Pardon me for not trusting a total stranger."
Ichigo barely leapt over Rin's spell aimed at his feet, and turned the jump into an attack on Archer's shoulder. Archer parried too late, and got a nick on his shoulder and a bad gash on his forearm.
"Now we're even," Ichigo said dryly, cocking his head towards his numb arm.
Al shouted at Rukia, "What did you do to my brother?"
She ignored him and completed the Kido, this one a long range attack, but he dodged its bolt and ran at her, spurred on by total rage. She dropped the arm of Ed's soul and used both of her own arms and legs in precise moves, but Al was moving faster than her, and his blows were hitting harder, whereas hers were not penetrating his defenses.
Saber marched cautiously towards Ed's prone body, not sure what to make of what had happened. She wasn't sure, but it had seemed to her that after Rukia's attack, Ed's chest hadn't been moving. Now, however, it was moving. Had that started after Al had touched him? She kept her sword at the ready and studied his otherwise still form.
Shirou hurried forward. "Wait, Saber. We'll just tie him up or something. I'll watch him - you grab his hands, take him into the house, and bind him."
Nodding, Saber reached down towards him. Ed's face suddenly flashed a grin, and he somersaulted out of her reach, then leapt to his feet. Saber swung her sword at him, but he skipped back, then began an attack of his own.
Rukia looked quickly from Ed's soul to his body, then blocked more furious assaults from Al. How was this possible? Al, she noted, didn't seem surprised at all. Neither did Ed's soul, who put his arms akimbo and commented cheekily, "Yeah, didn't expect that, did you?"
Saber's eyes narrowed. Edward's fighting style was different than it was before. It more closely resembled Al's.
Al swiveled smoothly, correctly anticipating the direction of Rukia's latest jump, and met her with a devastating strike to her midsection. She moved back to avoid the followup blow and tried to counter, but Al's arm shot up, knocking her arm aside, then his foot met her shin and his other arm socked her in the jaw. Al retracted his kicking foot slightly, then kicked again, placing his foot behind Rukia's, altered his foot's course and snagged Rukia's ankle, then pulled sharply back. She fell against the wall of one of the houses on the street, and Al clapped and touched the wall near him. A giant stone hand shot out of the wall and grabbed Rukia, gripping her like a vise and totally enveloping her hands before solidifying.
"Rukia!" Ichigo shouted, and tried to run towards her, but Archer lurched into his path, and he and Ichigo traded more blows.
Meanwhile Ed had run back to his body and merged back into it, and Saber noted that his fighting style had switched back to his own.
Ed grinned - it felt good to be back in his own body again. It was a good thing Al had thought fast enough to put some of his own soul into this body, or else it would've been entirely motionless. This soulsplitting talent of Al's, which Ed had first seen during the Shamballa incident, kept coming in handy.
Shirou and Saber both swung at Ed with their weapons, and he was returning the blows, and Al was running up to help. Ichigo and Archer pounded away at each other, while Rin watched the fight closely and fired her spells at Ichigo. Rukia lolled unconsciously in the wall's unnatural grasp.
It was at this unfortunate moment that Sakura, a classmate and longtime friend of both Shirou and Rin, came down the street, headed for Shirou's house. Her grocery bag fell to the pavement, and she screamed piercingly.
She saw Rin, a good friend who she'd known for a long time, saying something that sounded German and firing some sort of mystical energy out of her fingertips, but she wasn't aiming at any target she could see. Beside her was a tall, blonde man in red armor who was bleeding from one arm and swinging his sword at someone invisible. Meanwhile, her friends Shirou and Saber were wielding a giant pipe and an invisible sword respectively, and they were facing off against two young men, one of whom had a sword growing out of his arm, the other of whom was performing astonishing martial arts. On top of all that, there was a young woman in what looked like casual clothes, unconscious in the grip of a giant, motionless, stone hand that looked to have somehow sprouted from a wall.
Sakura screamed again, for good measure.
All the combatants stopped and slowly turned to look at her.
After a moment, Ichigo ran to Rukia and bashed at the giant stone hand grabbing her. This caused Sakura even more fear, as she saw an invisible jackhammer or sword demolishing the stone hand. Rukia began to come to, and was able to stand on her own once Ichigo had extricated her from the hand, though she stumbled after a step and clutched her side.
"Sakura, calm down, it's just us," Rin told her, as she approached with hands outstretched, palms up in reassurance.
Sakura asked weakly, "Rin, what's happening?"
Rukia tried to say something, but coughed instead. When her throat was clearer, she managed to say, "The authorities will be here soon. I'd better replace her memories." She drew a brightly-colored object from her pocket, vaguely resembling a cigratte lighter, but as Ichigo recalled, when used, it produced a wobbling bird head and a cloud of smoke.
Rin wheeled on her and said urgently, "No, no, please let me! I've been erasing her memory since we were children!"
"What?" Sakura exclaimed, taking a step back. Rin turned back to face her, clapping a hand over her own mouth and looking guilty.
"I'm sorry, Sakura," Rin said regretfully as she faced her and put one firm hand behind Sakura's shoulders and touched the other to her forehead, "it's for the best this way."
Sakura's eyes closed, her breathing slowed, and she fell asleep. Rin twisted with her, maintaining a careful hold, and gently lowered her to the ground.
Shirou boggled at the scene. He had had no idea that Rin had been erasing Sakura's memories.
"Hey," Ichigo said, drawing all eyes and ears (that could detect him). "Let's all start this over again. I think there's been a giant mistake. Why don't we all put away our weapons and go someplace else where we can talk?"
Rukia added, to be sure that everyone heard the message, "I suppose at least part of everything that happened was my fault, and I apologize. We should leave now, and settle our differences somewhere else. I don't think that we need to be fighting."
Shirou stared mistrustfully for a moment, then decided aloud, "We should all go back to my house, so everyone can treat their injuries."
Rin looked critically at the devastation of the street. "It'll be hard to explain all this to anyone who looks at it."
"Please, leave that to us," Al offered.
"We'll join you in a few minutes," Ed told them.
Rin and Archer carried Sakura indoors, and Ichigo helped Rukia inside. She was already beginning healing Kidos for herself and Ichigo. Shirou leaned on Saber with one arm, and with the other used his pipe as a staff, and they made it to his house.
Al used his alchemy skills to morph the remnants of the hand that had grabbed Rukia back into the wall from which it had been made, and Ed found his spear on the road, tossed it into the hole in the pavement, and dispersed the weapon back into its original materials, refilling the road. They used their eyes, honed from experience finding small bits of matter, to find any random bloodstains or torn bits of clothing, and transmuted the blood into piles of salt and water, and pocketed the bits of cloth for later disposal. When they were sure all was as it had been, they went calmly through the door of the house.
Rukia was sewing together the rip in her glove as Rin entered the dining room, having come from her bedroom.
Shirou set down his tea and asked, "How is she doing?"
"Sakura's sleeping now, as usual. She'll be awake in about an hour and won't remember any of this," Rin replied.
Rukia wondered, without showing it, why Rin chose to sit on her right. They were all sitting in a rough circle. Ichigo was to Rukia's left, and the man in red armor, Archer, as she had learned, was to Rin's right. The circle got rougher around the Elrics, Shirou, and Saber. It looked to Rukia like Saber had tried to interpose herself between the Elrics and Shirou. Rukia couldn't be sure, because she had left the room to erase the memory of the authorities when they arrived, then erased the memories of the few neighbors who were home for good measure.
Most of the people in the room were heavily bandaged, though Rukia noted with satisfaction that her skill at healing Kido meant she and Ichigo had the least bandages of anyone.
Since they had all come into the house about a half hour ago, there had been low conversations between people, and some awkward attempts at beginning a conversation between the adversaries. Ichigo now broke his own silence purposefully, and said clearly, "The first thing I'd like to say is that I was mistaken about you," he looked at Archer. "I was under the impression that you were dead."
"I have died," Archer noted wryly.
"But you're not dead now," Ichigo went on. "It's become our responsibility to deal with dead people. We didn't mean to cause you or," he paused, for he couldn't remember the guy in red's name or the name of the woman he protected, "your friend, any trouble, and we apologize for that."
Rukia bowed as she said formally, "Please excuse our behavior," and Ichigo followed suit. Archer and Rin watched them carefully.
"No lasting harm done," Archer told them, with only a faint smirk. Ichigo didn't get too irritated by this subtle slight, which earned him some respect in Archer's eyes.
"Are you really going to accept this?" Shirou asked, incredulously, of Rin. "They just came out of nowhere and attacked you."
Rin shook her head. "That's not how it was. In all fairness, we did strike the first blow. We mistook you for enemies before you had even done anything hostile, and so we apologize for that." She and Archer bowed. Ichigo and Rukia watched them carefully.
"We quite understand," Rukia said in acceptance.
"And there's something else that's been bothering me," Shirou went on, "why can't I see or hear one of you?"
"That's to be expected," Rukia said calmly. "What's really more surprising is that any of you can see or hear a Soul Reaper."
Ed Elric pondered. Was it possible that he and Al could see Ichigo because they'd both been through the gate?
Shirou sighed, but guessed that if he could accept that most of the time Archer hovered invisibly around Rin, he could accept someone invisible, though it had been really creepy seeing that Rukia person treat the wounds of an invisible man. Shirou turned his mind and face on the Elrics and asked, "So what's your excuse for attacking us?"
"You don't exactly sound ready to believe us anyways," Ed shot back.
Al pointed out reasonably, "You were the one who first attacked us."
"Because you tried to stop me from fighting in the Grail War!" Shirou said angrily.
Al corrected him, "We were trying to stop you from what we thought was a misuse of your power. But further events have convinced me that we were wrong in one instance. Saber is not a homunculus."
Ed turned and looked at Al inquisitively, and Al went on, "We thought we found the alchemical array you used to bring her back, and we thought those symbols on your hand were another array." Shirou drew his hand back from his knee sharply - he hadn't thought most people could see his Command Symbols. "But there was one important thing that is missing - the equivalent exchange. There was no evidence of any sacrifice."
Ed cocked his head, then admitted, "Good point, Al." He paused, then gave his brother an inquisitive look. Al nodded. Ed refocused on Shirou and Saber, and told them, "We're sorry about the things we said. We shouldn't have made those accusations."
"You don't have to apologize," Shirou shrugged. "I was wrong about you two as well - you really aren't a Magus and Servant."
"We do not hold it against you," Saber acknowledged with a nod, but relaxed only slightly.
"Why are you looking at me like that?" Shirou asked, wondering why Ed and Al were staring at him in that way.
Al inquired quietly, "Would it be possible for us to talk somewhere in private?"
"Sure," Shirou agreed, getting up, relieved that this would be out in the open soon. He hadn't known what to make of their expressions.
Saber rose quickly and said, "I shall accompany you."
Ed and Al exchanged an awkward glance. "You may not like what you hear," Ed warned.
"It is my duty to remain by Master Shirou's side," Saber told them levelly. This truce could be ended at any moment, and she did not intend to risk the Grail or Shirou.
Shirou said, "Saber, I think it's best if you wait outside of the door to my room, while we talk in my room."
"I would be remiss in my duty," Saber objected. "I could not reach you in time if anything happened."
Shirou insisted, "It's only a meter or two, and we've all seen how fast you move. It'll be fine." He left the room, Saber and the Elrics in tow.
After they left, Rukia finished sewing her glove together, and looked at it critically. It had been surprisingly easy, and there was no visible injury to the garment. Perhaps the Research Department had something to do with it. She put her needle and thread in her right pocket. Rin, sitting on her right, tensed suddenly, then relaxed as Rukia withdrew her hand from her pocket. Rukia suddenly realized that Rin was sitting on her right hand side because that was the pocket in which she kept her memory replacer.
Ed shifted uncomfortably, he and Al kneeling on the floor, backs to the door, facing Shirou inside his room. Ed was fairly sure Saber could hear them outside the door, but there was things that needed to be said.
"What sort of dreams do you have for the future?" Al asked Shirou.
Shirou clearly hadn't expected the question, and told them guardedly, "The same as everyone else, I guess. Get into a good school, get a good job, have a nice family. And I guess you know now, I want to keep everyone safe. I don't want anyone else to have to lose their home, their parents, the way I did in the last Grail War. Why do you ask?"
"Those dreams aren't unusual," Al agreed. "And they're good dreams to have. What would you do, to make those dreams real?"
"Anything," Shirou said quickly.
"Would you do something wrong to make them come true?" Al asked neutrally.
"Where is this going?" Shirou snorted.
"It's not that you'd intend to do something wrong to make your dreams come true," Al said placatingly. "No one ever sets out to do something wrong. We're just too easily blinded by what we want. It's too easy to convince ourselves that any sacrifice can be justified, that the exchange will be equivalent, because we want something so badly."
"You didn't answer the question. Why are you telling me this?" Shirou insisted.
"You don't realize you've done something wrong until it's too late," Al said, bowing his head a moment.
"We've both sacrificed things we shouldn't have," Ed said, his face determined. "So we wanted to give you warning not to follow our path."
"Let's try this one more time," Shirou told them, "what are we talking about?"
"Do you want Saber by your side forever?" Al asked quietly. Shirou was silent a moment, not expecting the question, and Al added, "As more than a guardian?"
"I certainly do," Shriou said firmly.
"That's certainly understandable," Al said honestly. "She's courageous, loyal, lovely. But she may not see you in the same way. It's troubling, isn't it?"
"It is, but I know I can win her love," Shirou said unswervingly. "It'll be difficult, but I've loved her from the first moment I saw her. It will work."
"But what if," Al said inexorably, "in the end, she does not choose you? Or does not choose you at a time that suits you?"
"Saber is the most important thing in my life!" Shirou exclaimed. "I'll make any sacrifice for her!"
"And what are you willing to sacrifice to have her?" Ed asked angrily. "Saber's freedom? Her ability to choose what she will do with her life?"
"Of course not!" Shirou vociferated. "I love her! I'll prove it to her! When she sees how much I care for her, I know she'll stay here with me."
A melancholy expression stole across Ed's face as he said, "When you love a person, you do what is best for them. Even if it doesn't fit in with your dreams."
"Our mother was the most important thing in our lives," Al said sadly. "We refused to accept it when she left this world. We thought we didn't have to accept it, that we'd make the sacrifices of our blood and our consciences, and that having our mother was more important than the rules made by others. We were wrong. We almost lost what little we had left, and our sins took on a life of their own, and almost killed us."
Comprehension broke across Shirou's face as he murmured, "So that's what you were saying about a homunculus. It was what you made."
"We wouldn't have told you this if we thought you wouldn't listen," Al told Shirou. "You still have a choice left to make. As people who made the wrong choice ourselves, we felt the need to warn you."
"So," Ed said cavalierly as he stood up, "we're going to go on with our lives, and let you and Saber go on with yours. The choice is up to you now."
Shirou got up as well, troubled. Could he trust them?
They met Saber outside the door, in the same position they had left her in, her face unreadable. Together, they all went back.
Rukia and Ichigo stood as Saber, Shirou, and the Elrics returned. Rin and Archer quickly stood also.
"We should take our leave now," Rukia said to everyone.
"I'll walk you all to the door," Shirou said. He wasn't sure himself whether his offer was to be polite, whether he wanted them gone, or whether he didn't quite trust them. Probably it was a mix of all three, although he was starting to regard them more highly, having seen them so composed and polite outside of a battle.
Rukia noticed that Shirou and Saber were already looking healthier. Perhaps they posessed recuperating powers of some sort, she speculated. Also, Rukia noticed that Rin was hovering close by her own self. It looked like her guess was right - Rin was going to interfere with any memory erasures. Maybe, Rukia thought, she ought to come back tonight when everyone was asleep?
Al said, "We'll be going also."
They all paused warily outside of the gate to Shirou's house. No one else was around, and the world was all as it should be.
Ed shrugged and said, "So long." He and Al turned to walk away.
Rukia realized the flaw in her plan. From what she'd gathered, they were wanderers, and who knew where they'd be tonight? She had to erase everyone's memories, now.
She stepped back slightly, just out of Rin's reach, then whipped her memory replacer out of her pocket. Rin swiveled and lunged, clutching at the memory replacer.
There was a whooshing sound, and a large pink cloud expanded from around the memory replacer.
Rukia and Ichigo were on their way back to the train station. Ichigo looked around, made sure no one was watching, so he wouldn't make Rukia look crazy for talking to an invisible man, then commented, "That was quite something."
"It certainly was," Rukia agreed.
"I've always wondered, you know," Ichigo went on. "How do street performers make enough money to live?"
"Street performers?" Rukia asked, not sure where this question came from.
"You remember, don't you?" Ichigo said uncertainly. "I don't quite recall it myself, but we were watching, well, I think there was a juggler, and an acrobat, and one of those guys who has the fire on a stick, and, yeah, a fire eater!"
"Ichigo, what are you talking about?" Rukia asked incredulously. "I don't remember anything like that." For some reason, she was having some trouble remembering exactly what they had been doing, but she was fairly sure street performers hadn't been involved.
"You don't remember?" Ichigo asked, bemused. He was starting to get slightly worried - he couldn't quite remember just why they had come all this way in the first place, and the memory of the street performers was a bit hazy.
"Don't worry about it," Rukia told him with more confidence than she felt. "I probably got distracted by the cats. I remember playing with them, so I probably didn't watch much of the performance."
"You'd rather watch cats than street performers?" Ichigo asked.
"There was about twenty of them, and they were all meowing like they were hungry," Rukia said defensively, "so I gave them some food, but they just kept wanting more."
Ichigo shook his head.
Rukia ignored him. She was fairly sure she remembered feeding twenty cats, anyway.
Archer tried to remember just why he had materialized. He wasn't quite sure, but possibly he was going to train in the dojo at Shirou's home. Archer wasn't quite sure that he'd ever done it before, or that he wanted to do it now, but he might as well take an opportunity to hone his skills.
"I'll be training in the dojo," he said to Rin, Shirou, and Saber.
"Right," Rin agreed. She couldn't remember him having ever wanted to do that before, but if he thought it was important, it was fine with her. She was more concerned about trying to remember what she had been doing. If she couldn't remember, it probably wasn't important. Though she did have a vague idea that she was just about to go into Shirou's house and study before Shirou met her at the gate, and he and Archer started having another one of their arguments. But what did she still have to study? Ah well, probably something needed to be reviewed, at least. Maybe she'd remember once she looked at the books again.
"I'll be studying in my room," she told Shirou and Saber.
Saber paused uncertainly. She tried to remember what had just been happening, and was puzzled that her memories were unclear. What Saber did recall, however foggily, was that she had been trying to find out just what Shirou and so many others saw in those anime television programs, so she had watched one for the past half hour or so. The entire concept of television appeared to be a silliness of the modern world, as it was an expensive and complicated way of seeing plays in one's home. This would've been more appealing to Saber if the actors and actresses were life-sized, but television could only display them on boxes of various sizes, so the appeal was considerably dulled for her. In any event, Saber reflected, she must not have seen anything in the anime she watched to change her mind, since she could remember nothing notable from it. It had been a relief to join Master Shirou at the gate and welcome Rin home.
Saber turned to return to the house, then noticed that Shirou hadn't. "Master, are you coming in?"
"Uh, OK," Shirou said uncertainly. Why was he leaning on this pipe, and why did his side hurt? Then he started to recall hazily - he'd been trying to integrate this pipe into some of the house's plumbing, but there had been a big accident, and he'd only just now finished putting everything back in order. But what had been broken? And what sort of plumbing accident could hurt him this badly? Shirou shrugged. At least everything was fixed and over now.
Al looked at Ed over their sandwiches and commented, "It was too bad we didn't find any other alchemists. Do you think we should stick around and try to search some more?"
"Nah, it's probably not worth it," Ed disagreed. "Let's follow up that lead the gypsy gave us on part-time jobs in the next town. We're running low on money."
Al blinked. Then he said doubtfully, "Gypsy? I don't remember any gypsies in this world. And why did she give you advice on where to find work?"
Ed waved his arms vaguely, "I don't remember, I must've asked her!"
Al shrugged. Perhaps his brother was simply upset about having nothing to show for their search. At least, Al couldn't remember having found anything.
Sakura sat up in the bed where she had been laid in Shirou's house. "What am I doing here?" she said sleepily. "I must've been napping." She looked at her watch and exclaimed, "Oh dear! I'd better start making dinner."
By this point you've probably noticed that I'm more critical of certain characters than I tend to be in some of my fanfictions. I hope I have not been unfair, although that is unlikely. Still, please understand that I have tried to criticize the faults of all the characters in this story. Also, I have had the unexpected privilege of seeing the faults of a character in this story in my own self. It is my hope that in this story - as it may well have been in the original stories - that the readers may see their own flaws in a new light, and then seek to amend them.
On another note, I've only seen anime, not the original manga, for all three of the series that I've used here: Fate Stay Night, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Bleach. I've seen a lot of Fate and I believe all the anime of Fullmetal, but not a lot of Bleach. So if there are any errors in my story, that probably explains them.
Some things that may've seemed odd to my readers who have more familiarity with the original series may actually have been things I made up as conveniences in this story. For example, having the ground where Saber was Summoned remained marked many days later was helpful in having me mislead the Elrics into thinking she was a homunculus. However, I have no idea whether, in the actual Fate Stay Night series, the ground was supposed to have been marked at all, or whether the design was just supposed to be a temporary effect resulting from her summoning. I also can't recall what's invisible and what's not, and who can see invisible things and who can't. Would Saber have been able to see Ichigo? Can anybody see Shirou's Command Seals? I just chose what was easiest.
Similarly, I don't know whether Full Metal Alchemist canon states that homunculi have fake memories or have the real memories of the people they were supposed to resemble. Therefore, I decided to fudge the difference, since I best recalled Ed believing, on what seemed to me very little evidence, the former possibility.
Finally, I did my best to work out what Archer might feel and think in his and Ichigo's mutually misunderstood dialogue, but I may have violated canon. Ah well, it was a lot of fun to write!
A young man, Edward Elric by name, strode on the grass on the side of the black asphalt highway, his long blonde braid resting against his back as his golden eyes took in the surroundings. Beside him walked his brother, Alphonse Elric, in the flesh, with green eyes and short, brownish blonde hair.
"Brother, how do you think we got here, anyway?" Alphonse reopened the question that had been nagging them for the past few weeks.
Edward shook his head. "I don't know, must've been a plot device."
Al uttered a confused, "What?"