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2 yrs ago
Current Talk to your players and be open to their ideas, at the end of the day we're all just here to shoot the shit.
2 yrs ago
Honestly, more structured/collaborative roleplays can be really fun and rewarding, but if you're going to open a project like that up you have to be flexible and open to compromise.
7 yrs ago
current shitpost level: writing about how your favourite taiwanese puppet shows experiment with narrative for graded academic work
7 yrs ago
But god knows how many hours I've sunk into my collection of main series Pokémon game, so it's like making me pick between my children. :'D
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7 yrs ago
I mean, I write MUCH more Digimon-related stuff than I write Pokémon-related stuff, so I guess it wins by default in this context.
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Sasha Koslova

Sasha let herself fade into the background of events a little as things transpired: another strange, saurian being came and began bickering with Yurie, while another, imp-like being caught Melody off-guard. Seemed like, for all the surreallity of the situation, they were friendly if offbeat, and she happily went along with them as they guided them out of the forest.

The village they arrived at was... homely? Not a lot of other words came to mind to describe it. The quaint thatched houses were nestled closely together, perhaps more accomodating of the small beings who lived there than the humans they'd received, but with spacious enough walkways that they didn't have to be too careful not to damage them. As soon as they were across the bridge to the settlement, they were greeted by a bevy of more 'Digimon'; going by the childlike voices coming from them, they were presumably younger than the ones who had initially greeted them, but even that assumption wasn't quite enough to soften the blow of being swarmed by an ocean of hopping heads.

From hopping heads to dinosaurs to angels? Either evolution had taken some very strange turns, or whatever God had designed this world had some very strange ideas.

Come to think of it, if there were Angels, didn't that make the existance of a God more likely? It had initially seemed a little bit of a long shot, but if the village had a church, perhaps someone here would be able to answer at least some of the questions that the two from before had blown off in favour of setting them to their thankless work. With the others descending back into a conversation that she could only assume made sense to them, she scanned around the village for any buildings larger than the houses; first falling upon what seemed to be a large hall, then to a building that resembled the makeshift tavern that had been set up at a Rennaissance festival that had taken place back home one year, and then to-

Sasha froze, her mind going momentarily blank.

Past the ocean of heads, in an otherwise open patch of the village, was an utterly monstrous figure, seemingly at rest but many times larger than any of the others that had greeted them so far. Blinking, she forced herself back to conscious thought, taking a better look at it as her fight or flight reaction died down; upon closer inspection, it seemed to be a statue, a dull bronze effigy of a beast of apparently unidentifiable taxonomy. A reptilian muzzle, an avian feathered crest, wings and viciously sharp front talons, and a body shape evocative of a wiry, wolflike mammal.

And although she could now see it was a statue, she found herself unable to take her eyes off it nonetheless. Though its resting pose was almost surely the design of whoever had sculpted it, something about it made it look like it could come to life at any moment. There was something about it that seemed beyond a mere inanimate object, and she felt something spike in the back of her head as-

"Call me T.A.!" Before she could fully lose herself in her thoughts, however, the voice of a new arrival pulled her back to reality. Shaking her head, she turned her attention back to the beings who had received them to see the newcomer: a rabbit-like Digimon in a labcoat. "I've been trying to research humans for years! But everyone always insisted they were myths!"

"Yeah, it's a strange situation for everyone, I guess." She wasn't quite sure what she'd missed while she was fixated elsewhere, but for some reason Isaac had pulled his collar down to show off his chest hair. She spared him an utterly perplexed look, before shaking her head. Bigger things to worry about than whatever bizarre coping mechanisms he had.

"Anyway." A few of the others mentioned exchanging information with him, and she nodded along. "Sounds like a fine arrangement. I was just wondering, do you have a church or place of worship here?" Come to think of it, would they even call it a church? Their surroundings seemed pretty European-adjacent, as did the extremely ambiguous hints to their denizens' theology thus far, but perhaps it was best not to assume. They were in enough trouble already without starting a punch-up over religious misunderstandings. "We got abducted by what looked like angels, so information on that would be helpful." And sparing another glance around just in case it was hiding just out of view; and as her vision passed the statue once more, she noticed a small steepled building a way's up from it that seemed to fit the bill.

"..." Hmm. She wasn't sure up until now if it was worth asking, but as her vision fell back on the statue, the odd feeling from before returned. Perhaps she should just bite the bullet; what was the worst that could happen. "Is that anything to do with them?"
Beatrice LaForet

“Is my dialect that amusing?” Beatrice queried, raising an eyebrow and tilting her head: a display more playful than biting. She’d been brought up to speak this way, but she’d never felt comfortable with it. While it was a mode she could slip in and out of as the situation demanded, her personal vernacular had always been a lot more blunt. Who was to say, perhaps she'd be giving the girl a lesson in her preferred diction before too long. For now, though, she put on the act of mock offense as she processed the rest of the girl's words. 

Colour Beatrice surprised: as soon as the conversation moved towards anything that could give the girl's own position away, she wasn’t so willing to play games! She stifled a haughty laugh, but at the same time, she supposed she couldn’t fault her for her caution. It wasn't as if Beatrice herself had risked much that wasn’t already blatantly obvious, and she'd already noted the girl's impressive poise; it would be rather a turn about-face, not to mention the mark of incompetence, if she were to tip her hand too soon. 

Regardless, the conversation so far had given up a decent amount of information for her and Lancer to mull over; the Church was host to more than just the Overseer, with two girls that seemed to have no public reason to be here other than to keep the fair Sister company, and at least one of them had the bearing of someone who could be troublesome down the line if she were so inclined. The other's credentials remained to be seen, but she'd have to be wary of a surprise appearance from a Servant, as well as this one herself, lest she be blindsided as her predecessors had.

“And come now, exactly what kind of a woman do you take me for?" But she laughed it off, letting it be water off a duck's back as the girl beckoned her towards the now-open doors of the church and 'suggested' she use the arrangement as an opportunity to scope out the competition. "I wouldn't be so crass as to expect the Church's Overseer to provide me with an unfair advantage. I'll leave tawdy arrangements like those to the Tohsakas." She allowed herself a smirk as the girl stuck her tongue out at her. Perhaps that whole affair had been lost to history, but she wouldn't let either party forget it in a hurry; and if the name-drop so happened to give the girl a bit of a start, all the better.

“No, no, I'm here in a strictly professional capacity. Perhaps she hasn’t mentioned, but I happen to be here on behalf of the Association." Anyway, this had all been a perfectly fun distraction, but she supposed it was time to get down to business. She followed the girl to the doors, stopping just inside of them and turning to address her a little more seriously than she had before. "I have some information that may be of interest to her, before proceedings begi-“

"... oh, and Leah says 'Why would I know what can go on focaccia? I don't know, cheese?'," And all pretense of seriousness was gone as the peace and quiet of the Church's evening was shattered by the loud and exuberant voice. Beatrice's head snapped around, and she was immediately greeted with the sight of the other girl she'd seen.

And what a sight she was. The two representatives of the Church she'd already met were modestly and conservatively dressed, as befitting women of the cloth, however alleged that status might be. 'Alleged' was perhaps too mild of a word for this one, however; if she were another Sister, her ideas of what constituted an appropriate style of dress for a holy woman were about as alternative as the Overseer's were about her manner. Her dress would have been revealing on her own, taller and slimmer figure; on the short, energetic and extremely bouncy young woman who approached them, it was practically a badge of pride, mesmerizing to behold.

Of course, chances were she wasn't exactly a regular member of the Church to begin with, Beatrice thought to herself, as her eyes scanned over the young woman. It wasn't fully certain, considering the eccentricities she'd already observed of the Church's residents, as well as the fact that she didn't seem to command the same presence that the grey, tall and decidedly terrible Lancer did: but considering what was already on her mind...

"I'm quite alright, thank you." Beatrice offered her a friendly smile as the girl offered her a drink, sidelining those thoughts for the moment. "I was just saying to your... friend? Colleague? Sister?" She looked to the other young woman,  the smile twisting up into something of a smirk, before it levelled back out as she turned her attention back to the newcomer.

"Well, whatever the case, I was just saying that I shan't be here long. I just have a quick update for the Overseer, and then I'll be on my way. Wouldn't want to interrupt your busy evening," she chuckled, raising a hand to bid the two farewell for now as she made her way down the main aisle of the church towards the woman waiting at the altar. 

<Be at the ready, Lancer.> She intoned to her Servant, directing his attention back to their link, sparing one last glance over her shoulder at the two young women behind her. He'd been quiet the past few minutes, and while she doubted he'd tuned her out just yet, it was best to have him be at the ready in case her suspicions were validated. <They may not be hostile for now, but we'll see how that goes.>

She could handle herself for at least a minute or so, if worst came to worst. More than enough time for them to christen everyone here with an understanding of just how poorly made any such decision was.

"Rather charming little welcome party you've put together here," she started to the woman at the altar, stopping at the set of pews closest to her and fixing her with a curious glance. The woman's behaviour would probably be galling to most of her peers, but there was more than a small part of her that found it amusing; and besides, Beatrice would be a damned hypocrite if she upbraided someone else for being unorthodox. She kept her guard up, electing to casually sit atop the arm of the pew rather than lower herself fully into it, but she nonetheless found herself speaking reasonably casually as she addressed the Overseer. "Had much to do, since we last met?"
Beatrice LaForet

Beatrice watched the other young woman present for a moment or so, attempting to make sense of her presence- she doubted a Servant would walk about so blatantly in the open, but the presence of a third dispatchee from the Church was certainly curious- but after a moment, she turned her attention back to the young woman in front of her as she spoke up again.

She kept up her polite smile as the girl spoke to her, her eyes appraising her all the while. If she was the Church's Master, it seemed as if they'd picked well. The Overseer had a way about them that was inflammatory even at a glance, as if she was daring you to suspect her. This young woman's stance, meanwhile, betrayed no uncertainty, let alone any traces of violence, and she spoke calmly and confidently despite her apparent youth. If she was assessing the situation correctly, the arrangement was more than a little clumsy, but the girl handled her part of it well; she'd have to be careful around this one, she thought to herself.

"Ah, that's very kind of you, but I shan't be here long," she replied to the girl's offer of foccacia. She was sure there were more than a fair share of fools who'd have been taken in right away by the girl's charming demeanour; as for her, however, she was all too aware that an inviting smile often hid a dagger, gentle words coaxing one to rest before it struck clean into relaxed flesh. "I'm just paying her a quick visit about some shared business, and then I'll be on my way."

The girl began to walk towards the church, and Beatrice afforded herself one last glance in the direction of the other individual she'd spied along the perimeter of the building's grounds. Nothing: seemed as if she'd slipped away while the other girl had her attention. How convenient.

Well, no matter, she supposed she should worry about one thing at a time. Lancer was at hand if anyone came from behind, and she herself could handily deal with anyone bold enough to come at her head-on. So she followed the girl to the doors, continuing to smile and play along as she threw out out a mixture of claims that felt purpose-built to bait her into tipping her hand. It seemed she was aware that she was one of the seven Masters; not a particularly difficult thing to guess, she had to admit. There was only so much that a tall, red-haired woman with a bandaged-up slab of metal stowed on her back could do to blend in, even to an untrained eye.

"Have many been by, recently?" She could use that much to her advantage, though. Play into the girl's hands a little, play lip service to the bait she was offering; who knew what kind of sounds she'd make if she bit down.

Possibly some very interesting sounds, if those piercings were any indication. Curious and curiouser, this one.

"I think it was just myself and the Overseer, last I dropped by. Glad to see she's got some company after all, but- hmm." She idly scratched the back of her head as she spoke, easing her body language off as she contemplated her next words: "Have you been here long, or did I just miss you last time?"

The next few minutes passed in unremarkable fashion for Archer, and so he continued to watch the comings and goings of the people below as he nursed his coffee. Eventually, however, he felt a buzz of static that drew him to attention, and he took his cigarette from his mouth once more as the sensation came into clear focus: and as a familiar voice reached out to him from a distant source.

<"Archer, I will be departing for the Church to speak with the Overseer, and get a measure of how the other Masters might play the game. Do let me know if anything interesting comes up before things begin proper.">

Seemed as if Kilian was done with his preparations, and ready to handle the remaining formalities that stood between them and getting to work. It also seemed as if he wasn't was concerned whether or not he accompanied him to the Church, and while that normally would have suited him, considering how disagreeable he found the place's atmosphere, he was aware that more than a few of the Masters were likely to be present in that area.

<Very well, I'll finish my business here and cover your path forward.> Best not to risk Kilian's safety at this critical juncture. The man seemed at least decently capable of taking care of himself, but if he'd been on the mark in reporting the likely parties involved, Archer had no doubt there was some human-approximating thing that would be on the prowl for an easy mark. He should have known the Einzberns would be involved in this mess; how quaint, that that particular dynasty would rear their heads in this day and age.

<"Very well, grown bored of the modern day already have we?"> More practically, a Servant letting a Master strut around completely unobserved while at a critical juncture such as at the Church to formally meet with the Overseer was unwise, but an offhand remark never hurt.

<Perish the thought!> Archer may have been less than impressed with Sako, but this was still an age of opportunities far beyond anything the rats back in the old country could have even hoped to dream of. <But I think it would be prudent to put business before pleasure, at least for now.> Archer returned his cigarette to his mouth as he lightly jabbed back at Kilian, returning his focus to the street as he continued. <It seems as if the others are doing likewise, seeing as none of them have made their presence kno->

Archer froze. A short distance away, perhaps two or three hundred meters from his current position, something- no, someone had arrived along the length of the main street to snatch his attention away from his Master. Among the locals and the tourists, there was a man dressed in a two-piece suit who set his mind racing as soon as he stepped into focus. To an amateur eye, he may have blended innocuously into the crowd around him, just another businessman on his way home from work or stumbling off to an izakaya to wash the day down with a tepid glass of beer. But Archer knew from the moment his golden eyes picked him out that he didn’t belong early as much as those lazy guesses would suggest. The man may not have seemed too out of place if not for the subtle details of his face and build, the Servant’s clairvoyance easily able to distinguish the tanned and rugged features from the more delicate ones belonging to the similarly-dressed men around him. Even more basic than that, however, was the presence that was subtly felt in the air around him, people on either side subconsciously moving out of his path even as he lazily stalked along.

There was no doubt that the man was, like him, one of the seven spirits who had been dragged from across space and time to serve in the Grail War. The only question was, which one?

<Kilian.> Archer intoned down the link between the two of them, taking his cigarette out of his mouth to better concentrate on the man’s approach. <I believe I’ve found another Servant.>

The sudden, abrupt cut off for the discussion at hand could have been a point of concern on Kilian's part, however it was barely a moment and informed him of something very interesting. Another Servant, already spotted? That could be either a very good, or very bad thing depending on which servant it was. The opportunity to learn about the opposition overrode any need for self defense or the like. Besides that, this early in the game it was unlikely either Master or Servant would be so quick to lash out before the War began properly. There were technically understandings and rules in place, though they would be broken, it mattered not as for now they stood.

<"Excellent. See what you can learn, act as you see fit. Ideally no violence but I will not restrict your means should the need arise. I won't distract you further, you know how to reach me when you are on your way.">

<Of course. I'll see what I can find before I move on.> It was a change in the flow of the evening, but not an entirely unwelcome one. Though he didn't yet know which of the remaining six classes this new arrival belonged to, the man didn't seem to demand the presence of a Saber or a Lancer; not that he was exactly planning to engage him in these confines, but it did make him confident in his chances of taking him on, should the need arise. Provided he kept a suitable distance, events were very much in his favour.

So as Kilian withdrew from the conversation to focus on his own affairs, he continued to watch the mystery Servant's advance along the crowded street. It seemed as if he had no clue he was being watched, or any particular destination in mind- Archer chuckled, wondering if the other five were as lackadaisical as this one was turning out to be- and he wandered all the way along to the part of the street below Archer before he came to a stop.

Archer quirked a brow, taking a drag on his cigarette as he pondered. He couldn't identify any shift in the man's posture that indicated he'd sensed a change in the air, and though his keener senses and likely resistance to magecraft stood to penetrate it, the black aura around him would serve to deflect his attention unless he did something to give his position away. Something else had likely caught his attention, and Archer let his vision creep past the man to ascertain whether or not anything else had emerged that he needed to be worried about.

Despite Archer's clairvoyance, it was possible for something to creep into his field of vision while he was focused on another variable. The boons his reincarnation had supplied him with only helped so much there; but as he scanned past the other Servant, he didn't see anything or anyone who seemed significant enough to draw his attention. Perhaps the man was simply lost in lackadaisical thought? He smirked, turning his attention back to him-

And he was gone. Almost on instinct, Archer sprung up from his chair, looking intently over the balcony. Nothing. His golden eyes glinted as he forced his eyes to a deeper, sharper level of focus, piercing the realm of the physical to peer into the current of spirits around them: but again, nothing. The man had left his field of vision entirely. Archer sat back down, taking a heavier drag to calm himself. Fine. It was fine. He was aware of the man, and as soon as he reappeared he could resume tracking him. He just had to stay alert-

"The house blend, if you don't mind." And not for the first time in the last few minutes, Archer froze as he was alerted to a change in the flow of the evening. Turning, he saw him standing inside the room just past the doors he was sitting outside of. He hadn't moved to an advantageous position or retreated, but had entered the café, seemingly entirely on some damned whim. And more damnable yet, it seemed he'd finally come close enough to perceive that he was being watched, as as he himself turned, Archer felt his gaze land upon him.

He watched as the man made his way over, his gaze clear and level but his mind racing. If he acted quickly, he still had an advantage; he could likely produce, prime and fire his Noble Phantasm before this dullard could blink. If that proved insufficient, he could clear the balcony and be away over the rooftops in a similar span of time, and he could brush the incident off as an unfortunate consequence of a Servant neglecting the importance of prudence.

"No, no, don't get up on my account. But as the man drew up to his table with a chair he'd grabbed and dragged over unceremoniously, bringing the waitress from before scrambling over towards them in a hurry, it seemed he had something else on his mind entirely. Archer watched as he sat himself down just across from him, flashing him a smile that practically dared his fellow Servant to punch him in his face.

"No need for hostilities just yet, is there? We're just having a drink, is all," he continued, the waitress setting his coffee down and looking back and forth between him and Archer with an increasingly worried look.

A heavy silence settled upon the café, a tension seeping out from the table that permeated Archer's ward and began to disturb those around them. For a long, dreadful moment, it seemed as if the first altercation of the Sako Grail War was about to take place, right there and then in the humble little café-

"No need to look so worried, dear." And then Archer spoke, the tension lifting and the onlookers returning to their business without a second thought as the ward held steady through the power he fed it anew. He picked up and handed his own cup out to the waitress, seemingly taking his attention away from the man across from him as he did. "I'll take one more of the same. And a refill for the gentleman, whenever he's ready."

The waitress took one last pale-faced look at Archer, and then to the man, and back again. Another long moment passed, and then she disappeared, seemingly anxious about what would happen if she left the two men alone, but perhaps even more concerned about what would happen if she stuck around.

"Certainly rather bold of you, approaching me like this." But Archer simply chuckled, reclining in his seat as he turned back around to fix his guest with a smirk of his own. Very well. Perhaps he wasn't quite the dullard he had him pegged for, or maybe he was simply a reckless fool. Either way, if this was the game the other Servant wanted to play, he stood more to gain by playing along than not. “But I don't see why not. The day is young, I can afford to tarry a little.”

War was not a clean matter that allowed itself to be limited itself to the battlefield, but a dirty, sprawling affair that permeated every facet of life, whether one wanted it to or not. Archer had never been the model of a soldier, but he was more than aware of that fact. And now it was time to dance with it, as he'd done so many times before.

"It feels foolish, asking you why you're here. I think we both know the answer to that." He began, taking his now-spent cigarette from his mouth and flicking it over the edge of the balcony, before pulling a fresh one out of the carton and lighting it with what seemed to be little more than a glare of focus on his part. With that done, he returned it to his mouth, before wordlessly offering one to his guest: "But all the same, I am curious. Has your Master given you leave to be here?"
Beatrice LaForet and Lancer

As Lancer fell back, opting to honour the plan and the agreement laid down by the Church despite his reservations, Beatrice kept moving, her eyes scanning about for any interlopers. Despite her rebuffing of her Servant, she wasn't unaware of the risks, merely confident that, between the two of them, they would easily be able to respond to anyone foolish enough to try their luck this close to the lair of their natural enemy.

It did come as some surprise, however, when someone opted to reveal themselves. At the sound of movement from round the side of the church, her head turned and her slow approach ground to a halt, her amber eyes locking themselves upon an unfamiliar individual coming forward to greet her. A young woman of average height- or perhaps a little above average for the locale- dressed in a nun's habit and with a graceful air about her that made itself apparent even at a glance. She was a rather fetching young lass, and Beatrice may have been taken in by her smile if not for a few details that suggested a more interesting situation. As enchanting as they were, her golden blonde hair and emerald green eyes were colours that skewed far from any she'd observed of the rest of Sako's population.

She'd already met the Overseer, and though the woman would have been out of place anywhere, that came with the territory. No doubt there were others who resided at the Church, but if she rightly recalled, they were locals, and had been relocated for their own safety besides. The obvious conclusion was that she'd come over with the fair Sister, but therein laid the question; who was this young woman that the Church deigned to have her be here at this fateful moment in history?

<Be alert, Lancer,> She intoned to her Servant across the psychic bond she had furnished them with, as the young woman approached them. She blinked, and the man would be able to see what she herself was seeing. <Seems like the fair Sister isn't the only one the Church sent.>

"I cannot say that I am surprised, after what you told me of the last wars. I doubt they intend to risk their own opportunity to claim this prize."

Indeed, even if they were charitable enough to take the Overseer at her words, it was no secret that the Church's interest in the Grail War extended beyond merely ensuring that the participants followed decorum. Though she'd sidelined the matter to investigate Sako for traces of the new Grail and those responsible for it, she'd suspected that the Overseer had summoned a Servant of her own to pursue those interests. This girl's appearance merely deepened those suspicions.

<Of course, though let's not act hastily.> Or perhaps more appropriately, broadened them. The young woman's stance didn't present any trace of hostility, or even reservations about approaching a potential enemy; and without the certainty of knowing who she was, that could be either mere placidity or the poise of a Master. Either way, however, this was a rhythm that Beatrice was used to negotiating. <Seems like we're not in any immediate danger, and we might be able to figure more out by playing along.>

"Funny. I was about to suggest the same thing to you."

"Good evening," she responded to the girl as she tuned Lancer back out, the whole span of their exchange only seeming like a moment's contemplation on her part. It was unlikely that she didn't have at least some idea who she was, but for now it made sense to return courtesy with courtesy; and so while Beatrice kept her body language reserved and limited to a polite nod, she likewise offered her a smile. "Hope I haven't interrupted anything, but I'm here to speak with the Overseer?"

As she spoke, her eyes moved past the girl, looking around for any telltale disturbances that would indicate a change in her understanding of the situation. Nothing as such, but... was that another girl a short distance away?

"What are the odds...both of them are blonde. Try to keep yourself out of trouble."
Prologue: Dead Eyes

When the silver-haired man had first been called to this era, his mind had been awash with all the possibilities of the modern age. Gaia one foot in the grave and the time of man ever closer at hand? What a joy to behold, and what a time for him to snatch hold of his fate once more!

The more he acclimated, however, the more that excitement turned to disappointment. The Grail War was a compromise he could about accept. Though it picked at his pride and patience to be reduced to little more than a glorified familiar for some braindead vulture, the concept and potential of the Grail itself was more than ample to soothe his displeasure there. The man whose call had sprung him him from the clutches of the infernal seemed like an interesting enough individual to play along with for the time being, and the arrangement that they had thus far operated on suited him; familiarize himself with the city while keeping an eye open for other Masters and Servants, refrain from engaging until they had a clear idea of the dynamics forming in the war. It wasn't wholly divorced from his own strategy; perhaps a bit too passive, but there was time yet to talk him into wholeheartedly pursuing the glory of victory.

If only the reality of the stage that had been set for this grand endeavour matched that concept. The word 'podunk' did Sako City little justice; the Grail had filled his head with images of humanity's progress, grand cities with towering buildings that stood as monument to their triumph over the slavering jaws of the planet, and here he was confined to some miserable, rainy little backwater hamlet on the far side of the world? Things really never changed; for all they spoke of elegance and lofty ideals, mages couldn't help but lower themselves to the level of rats squirming in the muck.

"Ah, sir, you can't smoke here!" But before he could spiral too much into that train of thought, a voice from off to the side pulled him back to reality. He blinked, turning his head to see a woman with a worried expression on her face and, more importantly, a tray in her handswith a fresh cup of coffee sitting atop it.

Ah, he'd gotten caught up in his thoughts again.

"Oh, this?" He flashed her his best smile, fixing his sharp golden eyes upon her with as he took his cigarette from his mouth and held it between the index and middle finger of his left hand. With sunset only an hour or so away, he'd decided to indulge himself and make a stop at a café in Sako's shopping district. Being that its position on the balcony of the third floor of the building it occupied afforded him an extensive view of the main street running through the center of the town, his keen vision allowing him to see a person over a mile away and pick out details from their hat down to their shoes, it hadn't been too hard to justify the diversion to Kilian. He hadn't mentioned the wallet and cigarettes he'd taken from one of the tourists he'd passed on his way to the café, but the man had acquiesced to providing him with a selection of modern clothes. As far as he was concerned, he might as well go all the way with blending in.

"My apologies, it's been a long day." And a long week, and a long... well, it didn't really bear thinking about. The more he thought about how vast a span of time he'd spent in the Black Ranger's clutches, the more vivid the experience became in his mind. As meager as it was, the cigarette helped with that, and so he'd rather not have to put it out.

"Here's a thought. Let me have this, and I'll let you have this," he continued, a crisp ¥10,000 note seemingly appearing out of nowhere in his right hand. He'd much rather have told the woman to mind her own business, but it wouldn't do to draw too much attention to himself. Nobody short of another Servant or someone who wasn't already looking for him would be able to perceive him as he sat there, faint black aura suppressing his presence, but that could soon change if she made a fuss. "What the manager doesn't know doesn't hurt him, right?"

"But-" She stammered out, her eyes widening at the sight of the note- but a moment later, and she seemed to bite her tongue as a second note appeared in his hand.

"Go on, you know it makes sense." It was probably entirely too much money to throw at a problem so easily solvable, but he really didn't care. By the time the fool he'd swiped the wallet from realized what had happened, he'd have moved out and on. If whatever he'd taken from him could buy him a few minutes of peace and quiet, it'd be worth it. "Coffee smells fantastic, might grab one to go once I'm done."

"..." Whether it was for the money or for the similar convenience of not having to argue, the woman gingerly took the notes and, putting the cup gently down on the table, quickly made herself scarce. Either way, he considered it a small victory against this miserable humdrum town.

'Could be worse,' he thought to himself, taking the cup and taking sip of the hot black liquid as he watched the woman disappear through the French doors back into the main café from the balcony seats. It was bitter and a little thin for his tastes, but for the time being it may as well have been manna from Heaven. So his sip became a deep swig before he sat it back down and, returning his cigarette to his mouth and taking a drag, turned his attention back to the streets below.

On this warm midsummer evening, the shopping district was as about as busy as it was ever going to get. People flooded in after work and school to meet up and talk meaninglessly about their banal lives over cheap food and vapid window-shopping, and the handful of tourists about the crowd made themselves easy marks, whether that was through being taken in by the lights and colours of the boulevard or offering him their cash to make the interminable game of waiting a little more bearable. There was still no-one among that crowd that sprung out to him as a target, but the day was yet young. He'd wait here for Kilian to contact him, or for one of the mages who had come to this city in pursuit of the Grail to tip their hand and wander out into the open.

Either way, once the sun finally vanished beneath the horizon, Archer could finally get to work. He may not have been dealt the finest hand in this second life, but by hook or by crook, he was going to make it work.

Prologue: Storm Warning

Though the Einzberns found themselves anxious to begin and the Overseer found herself simply cursing the slow pace of proceedings, there was little doubt that the arrival of the eve of the Sako Grail War was a formality at best. Though it seemed none had been bold or bloody-minded enough to initiate the ritual early, any magus worth their salt would have been on the move from the moment they arrived in the city, getting a feel for the lay of the land and identifying advantageous spots to lock down in their favour, while keeping an eye open for anyone foolish or brazen enough to court an early fight.

Perhaps if she'd happened across any of that last category in the week she'd been here, Beatrice would have felt more at ease. A premature brawl or two would have at least served to take the edge off of proceedings, but as things were, Sako was eerily devoid of any sign of the coming War other than her own presence and that of the woman waiting ahead.

"Nothing more on your end?" She asked, seemingly to no-one in particular, as she picked up her pace through the darkening street. With the sun still cresting the sky, and this close to the site, it was unlikely anyone would risk incurring the Church's wrath; but between what she knew and what she didn't, it was best not to tarry.

"Nothing yet. I would not doubt that another pair has been by this way, but not so recently or so near us now that I could sniff them out. The rest is your purview." As though stepping out of the shadows of the street itself, a tall man joined the woman as she hurried along. His long, relaxed strides had little difficulty keeping up with her, the man glancing around with a disinterested air. "It is merely ordinary here."

Not that he expected his saying so to do anything to ease Beatrice's mood, but for a moment he hoped it might anyways. Gradually growing far more important than their current search, however, was the approaching sunset. Sako, as he had fast discovered, was not a large city with a vibrant nightlife. It was small, peaceful, and grew even more still under starlight.

"We should not be wandering about like this. If the battle is to start as soon as you say, you would be wiser to secure a position than to continue ferreting out whatever scraps you can."

"I know, I know," the woman replied to the man, with the tone of someone whose intentions had been pre-empted a few steps ahead of schedule; not irritated as such, but coolly focused on seeing things through as planned.

"If we haven't found anything by now, we're only putting ourselves at a risk by dragging out the investigation into the start of festivities," she continued, opting to concede the point to her companion. At the same time, however, her voice lingered on that last word for long enough that it was unclear how much was sarcastic and how much was genuine, unfettered excitement. "But we have time yet, and we are here on business. One last rendezvous with the fair Sister, and then we bunker down and see who's feeling lucky tonight."

"Hmmph. I hope your misplaced priorities do not result in a sorry fate for the both of us."

As they spoke, they cleared the street, stepping out into one of the city's open spaces. Nestled within the small park was the city's church, a stalwart building harkening back to the Gothic Revival of the 19th century that would have stuck out like a sore thumb in Sako even if it hadn't been confined to a small island of green amidst an ocean of either modern or traditional Japanese architecture. Despite its apparent austerity, however, it carried an atmosphere about it that made one feel at ease, as if the church were a guardian against the world outside its walls.

Beatrice had no doubt that was by design, but whether those designs belonged to the missionaries who had constructed it centuries prior or the party that currently occupied it was more of an open question. As of yet, there was no ironclad reason to suspect a repeat of the unfortunate circumstances that had arisen out of the previous arrangement; but all the same she couldn't help but be reminded of a carnivorous plant, resting invitingly among the trees as it waited for some fool to wander unsuspecting into its jaws.

The tall man's stride slowed as they approached the spired building, gazing blankly up at the arched and windowed façade. His eyes narrowed slightly at the sight, before he turned away from the building. "Be fast about it. I would prefer to avoid getting caught out in the open like this." As soon as he spoke the words, he seemed to disappear again in only another couple of steps.

"Sentimental and skittish?" The woman jabbed at the disappearing man, though it was more a matter of pride than conviction, and they both knew it. The open space of the park suited the Church, affording them a broad field of awareness of anything that approached their base of operations, but it was better suited to discouraging a Saber or Berserker from getting any funny ideas than keeping interlopers sheltered from the attention of an Archer or Assassin. So long as Lancer was with her, however, she felt confident in her decision.

"Spare me the criticisms. There's a natural choke point in the trees at the north end of this park. Seems our architects were preparing for having to make a quick escape. If anything happens, run there and circle back around towards the town."

"Got it." Not that she'd give him the satisfaction of admitting it. But they knew where they stood at this point, and she didn't have any intention of dragging this out longer than necessary, either. One last visit to the Overseer, one representative to another, and then it was time to get to work.
Beatrice LaForet and Lancer

Sasha Koslova

"Uh." Sasha had, of course, been aware that any manner of creature could have emerged from the bushes once she and the others opted to greet it rather than run. She was the one who had been speaking about this world's potentially infinite possibility for variance from anything they knew or understood, after all.

But seeing an outright dinosaur walk out of the bushes and talk to them as if they were little more than a quaint curiosity was something she couldn't have prepared for. She scanned them over, tilting her head. Well, they were talking, and they didn't seem hostile; unlike with those so-called angels, she somehow doubted this one had the preparation time or capacity to find a way to deceive their senses. If anything, the way it- he? The way he wandered out of the thicket to greet them reminded her of an old, somewhat bashful dog.

"Guess we're not the only ones having our perception of reality turned upside-down today, huh?" She said to the creature- BlackAgumon-X?- for lack of anything better that came to her mind to say. At least that was common ground. "Like she said, we've been dropped here, and we're trying to find a way back home- or at least, to somewhere we can try and find a way home. Are you lost too? We could try and find a way back together."

It felt insane, talking to the tiny dinosaur so casually, but it didn't feel wrong. As ridiculous as it was, something told her the being was trustworthy, if perhaps only because he likely didn't have the capacity to be anything but.
Sasha Koslova

Her suggestion to search for a body of water and trace it seemed well-received, and as Isaac took the lead Sasha was happy to fall in with the group as they moved along. She opted to move to the front: she couldn't be sure of everyone else's credentials, but more than a handful of them looked like they rarely left the house, let alone explored the vast world nature afforded them. So while wouldn't exactly call herself a survivalist, she probably had the edge when it came to experience here, which would give her something to focus on and keep her mind busy for the time being.

"It's impressive, certainly," she said, as Melody began to wax lyrical about their surroundings. She didn't feel too much like talking, but Yurie started on to Isaac about something to do with computers; so while the circumstances were far from ideal, it was at least a lifeline she could throw to anyone else in the group who didn't know their RAM from their memory. "I'm from out in the country, and I've never seen anything like this." Despite the best efforts of the various outsiders who came and went, her little town back in Indiana was no slouch when it came to natural beauty; but even so this particular forest had a wild, untamed feel to it that blew anything she was familiar with out of the water.

Isaac said something about the possibility there was no overarching logic or reason to the state of things here, the likelihood of them just being the result of random chance or some kind of algorithm. She wasn't quite sure she knew enough to entirely rule it out, but something seemed a little off about that all the same.

"Who knows? If those two weren't talking complete nonsense, we're in a whole new world with a logic of its own." Though they'd called it a Digital World, the Angels had certainly seemed like more than computer programs; and again, she was reminded of her dad's old books. They were only able to comprehend things through a lens formed from their understanding of their own world; who knew what this place actually was, what vast history had formed it and led to their abduction here.

She wondered, faintly, if the form of the Angels had been anything more than a convenience. In the stories she'd read, alien beings often took forms suited to communicate with those they deigned to contact, and she couldn't help but recall how the voices of the beings had resonated into her head before they deployed the strange light. The world around them certainly felt real, with the rich scent of the air, the cool breeze moving between the swaying trees, the crunch of bark and vegetation underfoot and the sounds of birdsong in the distance; but could they really trust anything they saw here? They only had the word of beings who seemingly had nothing but contempt for their agency and autonomy to go by, and even if this wasn't a simulated universe of some kind, it seemed oddly convenient that it would be so much like their own.

Before she could dwell on those thoughts too much, however Melody queried the term 'Digital World': wow, had they told her even less than the rest of them? "Apparently so. But remember, that may only be our closest frame of reference for it. We're in an alien world, where life could have turned out entirely different from anything we know. Who knows how this world's history has shaped it, or what purpose anything here could se-"


She trailed off somewhat as Melody let out a sudden noise, looking back at her to,see Azuma- it was going to take a little bit of getting used to, but if she was more comfortable being referred to by her surname, she supposed it was only respectful to oblige her- holding on to her tightly. She stopped in place, squinting at the two of them. She hadn't heard her speak up, and while it was possible it was just shyness, a closer look at her face made out that she was fixated on something. She looked between the two of them, sparing a quick look in the direction that Azuma was staring off in, noting the two eyes staring out at her before she started to make her way back towards them-

She froze. Her head snapped back around in the direction the other girl had been looking in, and there was no mistaking it. Even from where she was standing, those vivid green eyes shone out brightly out of the darkness at Melody and Azuma. A number possibilities rushed through her head, some distinctly less pleasant than others; but as the others kept walking, a thought dawned on her. She didn't know how this world worked, but a wild animal would have bolted or charged by now if someone was staring directly at it. A voice in her head was telling her not to take the chance, but considering the apparent lack of options otherwise-

"Hello?" She asked, softly, as she looked towards the patch of vegetation the owner of the eyes was concealed in. As unwise as it potentially was, perhaps whatever was there was friendly; and if it was, perhaps it could tell them more than those two so-called Angels. "Are you lost too?"

Sasha Koslova

"Yeah, let's- let's not do that." Sasha said coolly as Cameron attempted to hug her as well. Again, Kat would try and strangle her if she ever found out about this, but she might well end up strangling him if this kept up. Although it seemed more likely the pink-haired girl- Yurie?- would beat her to it. Sasha couldn't judge her for being upset and angry at the situation or exasperated at Cameron but damn. Forget a hug, someone clearly needed a hot drink and a good night's sleep.

Well, she could worry about that later. For now, she had to stay on track.

"We don't know what they wanted our help for, or even if they were telling the truth about anything else." She said to Cameron, before looking around to the others who had weighed in. Admittedly, there was a nagging doubt at the back of her own mind- a part of her that didn't want to turn down anyone in need- but at the moment she found it easy to quell. It was one thing to offer help, and another to be forced. At any rate, It seemed like Yurie and the other Japanese girl present- Yui- were of much the same mind of her, as was the newcomer- Melody- despite her apparent fascination with the strange device that the Angels had furnished her with. Sasha checked her own- they really did look like dad's old welding goggles, but the female Angel had mentioned them having impressive abilities. At least marginally curious, she slipped them over her eyes-

"Oh, wow," She blinked as her vision was filled with a not-insignificant amount of data, almost exactly like a heads-up display from a science fiction movie. Names hovered over the heads of each of them assembled, as well as a symbol that looked like the call button of a phone; and at the top of her vision where her eyes met the bridge of her nose, there were several letters that remained fixed in place even as she looked around. A compass? Well, a map would have been handy, but that was better than nothing.

"Yeah, we can play around with these some more once we have a better idea of where we are," she said, as she pulled them back off. Perhaps it was the stress of the last few minutes catching up, but she was getting a headache herself, and finding their bearings would help with that. Yurie suggested picking a direction and walking, and though the idea of wandering off in some new, unknown world was a daunting one, it wasn't exactly like they had a glut of better options. "Whether we're going to help them or not, we're not going to get much done hanging around here. Let's see if we can find a river: if we head downstream from it we might be able to find a village or a camp, or at least somewhere to set up for the night."
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