Chapter 1043: Dusk

As was often the case, Vahn found himself preparing breakfast, this time including portions for Nobunaga and, though they likely didn’t need it, Ishtar and Ereshkigal. Vahn knew that, while they used Rin’s body, it wasn’t exactly accurate to say they were ‘mortal’ during the times she took a back seat. It was almost as if she ‘shifted’ between the three existences, using her main body simply as the framework that gave form to the two goddesses. What led Vahn to this determination was the fact that, depending on who was ‘active’, several of Rin’s internals would change completely, including the arrangement of her mana circuits. Since he could always put the extra dishes in his Inventory, Vahn felt the two Goddesses would, at the very least, appreciate the gesture…

By the time breakfast was ready, Fenrir, Rin, and Nobunaga were already seated around the dining room table, the latter sitting close to Rin as she proactively teased her. Vahn wasn’t entirely sure what had happened between them but, based on Rin’s beet-red face and apparent inability to tell Nobunaga to leave her alone, it seemed that he wasn’t the only one to break through the wall surrounding her heart. This left Fenrir sitting alone at the other end of the table but, after setting out the dishes, Vahn sat down next to her as if it were the most natural position he ought to hold. Fenrir’s face formed into a smile as a result, followed by her leaning against his side without seeming to care about the food set out before her.

From across the table, Nobunaga whistled with an amused expression on her face before stunning Rin when she placed her arm around the latter’s hip and said, “Look at how affectionate they are. I’m honestly a little jealous, ufufufu~.” Towards the end of her words, Nobunaga blew gently into Rin’s ear, causing her to finally ‘explode’ as she quickly hopped out of her seat and shouted, “D-D-Don’t act so familiarly with me…!”

Nobunaga held up both of her hands in a gesture of surrender before shaking her head without further comment. Then, without showing any signs of being affected by Rin’s outburst, Nobunaga placed one of her elbows on the table, supporting her head in a lackadaisical manner as she used a fork to sample Vahn’s cooking. Her brows shot up in mild surprise after the first taste, causing her to send a glance of her own towards Vahn before smiling when she saw he was staring back at her. As for Rin, she ‘retreated’ to Vahn’s side of the table before sitting down on his left side. Though she wasn’t sitting close enough that their chairs were practically touching, much like Vahn’s and Fenrir’s, it was still a ‘statement’ of sorts that left nothing up for debate.

Vahn gestured with his index finger to make Rin’s plates slide across the table, as she hadn’t moved them herself. This caused Rin to release a muted sigh of relief as her mood seemed to improve markedly after taking a single bite of Vahn’s increasingly delicious food. As a result, the atmosphere became somewhat ‘warm’, causing Vahn’s expression to turn gentle as he quietly at the food on his own plate. With even Nobunaga more focused on eating than running her mouth, it was a peaceful way to spend the morning, making the chaos and tensions of the previous night seem like nothing more than an illusion…

With breakfast coming to an end, marked by Rin’s transformation into both Ereshkidal and Ishtar as she finished all three portions of food, Vahn found himself seated next to Nobunaga as the latter showed an annoyed expression. When Fenrir and Rin had gone to wash dishes, the latter had told Nobunaga to come help but, with an incredulous look on her face, Nobunaga immediately refused. After that, she vanished into thin air before leaving the dining room in a rather unceremonious and rude display. The only reason she was seated next to him at the present moment was due to the fact that Vahn had accused her of ‘running away’ and ‘taking advantage of others due to her assumed status’. Since he had seen her memories the previous night, just as she had seen some of his, Nobunaga looked as if she had swallowed a bug as she sat with her arms crossed at his side…

Finding Nobunaga surprisingly easy to tease, Vahn filled a large red cup with sake before passing it in her direction as he teased, “Oh Great Demon King, please accept this little one’s offering…” This caused Nobunaga’s brow to twitch but, instead of refusing the drink, she accepted it with her gloved hand before downing its contents, nearly 200ml of high-quality sake. Since Vahn had made a point of using a red sakazuki cup, her refusal would have been the same as denying they were allies. Thus, after releasing a hot sigh, Nobunaga remarked, “That is quite the sake you have there. Did you use your ability to create that as well…?”

Though Nobunaga wasn’t aware of The Path itself, she had seen Vahn using his various abilities over the ‘years’ she had witnessed from his perspective. This not only included major revelations, such as the existence of his Inventory and ‘ability to convert energy into any object he could conceive’, but it also included his more ‘refined’ abilities, such as his forging skills and his development of the [Hands of Nirvana] skill. Unlike Nobunaga, who had relatively tame relationships due to her focus on her ambitions, Vahn’s memories had been ‘littered’ with his interactions with his various lovers. Even if Nobunaga wanted to try and tease him, she would have felt like a fool trying to convince the sky it was purple if she tried to call Vahn’s ‘capacity’ as a man into question again…

Without the need for Vahn to actually answer her question, Nobunaga grabbed the sake bottle with her own hands before filling a second cup. This wasn’t intended for herself, however, as she instead passed it toward Vahn while directing her piercing red eyes towards his face. Vahn gave a small nod before accepting the cup and, much like Nobunaga, downing its contents in a single consistent swig. With this exchange, it was effectively a means of saying, ‘from now on, we are equals’, effectively resetting their relationship out of recognition and mutual respect.

Nobunaga, seeing Vahn finish his cup in a single go, gave a small nod of approval before, rather spontaneously, asking, “Exactly how old are you?” In response to this, Vahn gave a light chuckle before answering, “I’ll be turning 156 years old next month. If you were to consider other factors, though, even I wouldn’t be able to accurately gauge how long I’ve lived…” This seemed to bother Nobunaga a bit as she released an exasperated sigh before saying, “You’ve lived that long and still act like a child that needs pampering? You should carry yourself with more dignity, Vahn, or you’ll only cause trouble for those that will inevitably follow you…”

Feeling that Nobunaga’s personality was overlapping with Loki’s once again, Vahn nodded in understanding, answering, “I was fortunate enough to have a lot of people who cared about me as I fought to influence the world around me. More than anyone else, I understand that I was spoiled by their care and concern…” Since their leniency towards him had actually become one of the primary sources of his guilt, Vahn had no means of denying the truth of the matter without deluding himself completely.

Seeing Vahn agree with her, Nobunaga shook her head lightly before filling up another cup of sake, this time for herself. She seemed to want to comment on what he had said but, knowing Vahn had seen her memories, Nobunaga didn’t really want to get too deeply into either of their lives. Though she genuinely had few regrets about her own end, the fact that she had fallen before her ambitions could be fulfilled was a ‘flaw’ that was easy to pick apart. If she were given the chance to change things, Nobunaga would outright refuse the offer, to the point of drawing her sword on whoever was foolish enough to even tempt her…but that didn’t mean she was incapable of humoring the thought. Even more than that, however, she was more interested in this current era, even though it seemed to have many of the same pitfalls she had endeavored to remove…

For the better part of twenty minutes, Vahn and Nobunaga were left to their own devices as they enjoyed the warming sensation of alcohol while the cool morning air washed over them. It wasn’t until Nobunaga, with a slightly red face, complained, “That tolerance of yours is b*******…” that the silence was finally broken. She had seen him practically drink even gods under the table in his memories but, experiencing it herself, Nobunaga felt a bit of resentment since there were few people with greater tolerance than her own. With Vahn sitting in silence, casually outdrinking her, she was quickly beginning to lose her temper because of how ‘unexciting’ the moment was.

As he had been intentionally matching Nobunaga drink for drink, Vahn’s eyes had an amused glimmer as he commented, “Feel free to throw in the towel whenever you’d like. It will be much easier for you when you realize that you can’t beat me. Be it age, marksmanship, drinking, or even the scope of our ambitions…you simply aren’t on my level…” With Nobunaga failing to even unite a small country like Japan, compared against his success in unifying a massive Continent, there really was no comparing their ambitions. Though this was primarily due to a simple difference in perspective, as Vahn had the guidance of literal gods at his back, that didn’t change the reality of the situation. While he and Nobunaga had several parallels, their similarity was the only common denominator as, if you looked at the ‘scale’ of what they had accomplished, Vahn won out in every category…

Throwing up both of her hands in frustration, Nobunaga then proceeded to cross her legs and arms, her expression turning into one of deep contemplation as she tried to consider what advantages she had against Vahn. Though she might have previously been tempted to use her ‘womanly wiles’ as a sort of trump card, what Nobunaga now knew of Vahn made her very aware that this would end in ‘absolute’ defeat on her part. She saw what those hands of his were truly capable of and, comparing it to her powerlessness when he gave her a simple foot massage, Nobunaga was secretly terrified of what would become of her if she foolishly chose to play with fire…

Before Nobunaga was able to come up with anything, Rin appeared in the garden, giving the two of them a strange look as she commented, “Drinking so early in the morning…” Then, shaking her head, Rin allowed her words to trail off before adding, “Lord El-Melloi II called. Though the Holy Grail War has yet to start, there have already been a few troubling incidents. An entire apartment complex worth of people was found dead by police investigators this morning. The news is claiming it to be some kind of freak gas leak but Gray was able to find the lingering influence of a magic circle that hda been activated in the area. It seems that one of our opponents intends to try and increase the power of their Servant by victimizing normal people…”

Hearing Rin’s words, Vahn’s eyes sharpened as he rose to his feet and asked, “Do we know anything about the culprit and their Servant?” If they had any leads, Vahn was confident he would be able to hunt down the enemy Master and make them pay for their vile deeds. Even if he couldn’t pick up the trail himself, Fenrir shouldn’t have any problems at all if they went to the apartment and followed the trail. This seemed to align with Rin’s intentions as, with a resolute look in her eyes, she said, “This evening, the two of us will go to the Fuyuki Church to certify our participation in the Holy Grail War. After that, we’ll investigate the crime scene and determine what kind of despicable Master we’re up against. Once midnight passes, the Holy Grail War will officially begin…after that, I would like to use Fenrir to hunt down the enemy Master while you and Nobunaga provide support. Until a real threat appears, it will give us an advantage if you hide your true capabilities.”

Though Vahn intended to move on his own in the future, he still nodded his head in agreement with Rin’s plan. Until she was forced to reveal her actual Servants, Fenrir would be playing the role of a Lancer-Class Servant to misdirect their enemies. Vahn had intended to follow them from the start so this coincided with his own intentions, at least for the time being. Once he knew the identities of each Master-Servant pairing, Vahn would be able to bring the Holy Grail War to a swift end. If he took ‘decisive’ action too early, it could cause the other Master’s to go into hiding, drawing things out far longer than they needed to be…

With that in mind, Vahn spent the rest of the day with Fenrir, Rin, and Nobunaga as they did their best to relax while casually discussing the upcoming war. Since the war was only ‘allowed’ to be fought between the hours of sunset and sunrise, they would need to adjust their sleep schedule a bit to avoid feeling exhausted in the middle of the night. Though this had no meaning to Vahn, Fenrir, and Nobunaga, as none of them required sleep, they decided to pass the afternoon quietly out of respect for Rin’s needs. This took on the form of a second drinking competition, this time between Fenrir and Nobunaga, causing the latter to quietly storm off after realizing that Fenrir was alost ‘immune’ to the effects of alcohol. After, that Vahn and Fenrir enjoyed some intimacy as she told him about the group of Magi she had killed the previous night…

Regardless of how much effort her ‘prey’ put into trying to conceal their presence, Fenrir’s senses couldn’t be deterred through most readily-available means. The moment she locked on to the scent of blood and foreign mana, it was only a matter of time until she tracked down whoever was unfortunate enough to become her target. During her previous night’s excursion, Fenrir had found a group of three Magi who, based on the description she provided, were likely from European descent. They had been in the process of trying to summon a Servant of their own, using corpses of seven human children as a catalyst. Fenrir wasted no time in butchering the entire group before having the wherewithal to set fire to the building to cover up her tracks…

Knowing that, while it was frowned upon, most Magi didn’t even care about the lengths other Magi went to for their Magecraft, Vahn was quickly growing tired of the current system. He had already decided to flip the balance of power upside down after the Holy Grail War was completed so Fenrir’s recounting of events served to fuel Vahn’s desires further. Since it was possible to keep Servants manifested after the War came to an end, Vahn was even considering the more useful Servants after he dealt with their Masters. Though many would oppose his decision to destroy the Greater Grail, the truly heroic amongst them could be convinced to help him topple the dark powers that ruled from the shadows…

After sleeping for a little over five hours, Rin exited her room around 6 PM. She was wearing a cashmere sweater with a red overcoat the extended to her knees. Curiously, even though it was cold outside and she knew there was a good chance they would be fighting, Rin still elected to wear a black skirt that barely extended halfway down her thighs. Though she was wearing two layers of undergarments, including the [Aegis Mk 5], Vahn found her choice of ‘battle’ garb a little strange. When he asked her about it, Rin looked at him like he was an idiot before explaining, “If I went outside in thick armor covered in talismans, people would look at me like I’m some kind of freak. Most Magi do their best to blend into society as being branded with the stigma of exposing the existence of Magecraft is the same as getting an express ticket to your own funeral…”

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Even with the City-wide formation that would activate at the start of the Holy Grail War, there were always a few people that weren’t completely affected. Streets that ‘should’ be clear would still have a few vehicles present, the vast majority being trucks and other large transports. The strict adherence to a set schedule, combined with various drugs and high amounts of caffeine, would give some truck drivers the ability to resist the effects of the formation. Though they would still be hypnotized into pretty much ignoring their surroundings, it was a persistent problem that had been present during the previous two Grail Wars as well…

Deciding to follow Rin’s example, Vahn wore casual clothes as well before they proceeded towards the Fuyuki City Church to ‘confirm’ their participation with the Holy Church’s representative. They were ‘supposed’ to act as neutral observers for the event but, after one of their had gone rogue, effectively throwing a wrench into the previous two Grail Wars, there were representatives from the Mage’s Association present as well. This was actually the role of Lord El-Melloi II, once again showing that humans were incapable of being truly impartial. Even though he was supposed to objectively watch over the Grail War’s proceedings, he was actively involved in a conspiracy to destroy the Greater Grail and bring an end to the event in its entirety.

With Fenrir walking between them, wearing a bright yellow raincoat, the three proceeded to the Church grounds, home to a large chapel that had had a towering steeple more than 30m tall. Though it was significantly less impressive than some of the Churches he had seen within the record of Danmachi, much like most of the buildings he had come across, it was still pretty impressive. It was a little annoying to feel his skin tingling after he stepped onto the Church grounds but Vahn quickly adapted to the uncomfortable sensation as they passed through the main archway before crossing the threshold of a thick wooden door. Vahn noticed there were intricately carved depictions of angels and crosses on almost every visible pillar, causing his skin to crawl as if he were being judged by whatever forces provided power to the Holy Church…

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Sensing Vahn’s discomfort, Rin showed a rather peculiar expression but ultimately decided not to pry into why he would react in such a way. With Ereshkigal in her body, even she felt a little uneasy as they walked passed each pue before coming to a stop beneath a large altar. For a brief moment, Rin humored the idea of walking down an aisle with Vahn for completely different reasons but, before she could even blush in embarrassment, a door at the side opened up before revealing someone she really didn’t want to see…

With uncommon light-gray hair forming gentle curls that cascaded down her back, a woman wearing traditional nun’s garb, minus a habit, stared back at Vahn, Rin, and Fenrir with peculiar golden eyes. Though she showed a gentle smile when looking towards Vahn, this immediately morphed into a distasteful frown as she glanced towards Rin and said, “So you have decided to participate in another bloodbath, Rin Tohsaka. I would have thought that, with your past trauma, you would have wisened up and adopted a non-secular lifestyle. Can you not see that your current path will only end in even greater tragedies…!?”

As if admonishing a child, the Nun appeared to adopt a ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude but, without affording her the opportunity to drone on, Rin practically spat, “Put a sock in it, Caren. We came here to announce our participation in the Holy Grail War, not listen to you drone about your cult of hypocrites.” This didn’t seem to be well-received by Caren as she lifted her hands, revealing they were both covered in bandages. Rin immediately pulled out a set of gemstones but, even without Vahn stepping in, neither moved to attack the other. Since Caren was in charge of moderating the Holy Grail War and providing shelter to participants, attacking Rin would be the same as going against the ‘sacred duty’ she had been assigned. As for Rin, she was essentially making a statement that Caren’s methods couldn’t intimidate her…

After the tense air persisted for a short while longer, it was Caren who dropped her hands before almost immediately adopting a ‘concerned’ expression as she turned to Vahn and asked, “Have you been led astray by this woman’s wickedness? Know that, as long as you ask for forgiveness, our Father will bestow his Grace upon even the most wayward of lost sheep. If you truly desire the truth, it is not found in the practice of profane black magic, but under the guidance of our Lord…”

Not expecting to suddenly receive an ‘invitation’ to join the Holy Church, Vahn’s felt a little taken aback as he lightly shook his head before answering, “The path I walk is one of my own choosing. I do not need guidance, but thank you for your offer…” In response to this, Caren seemed to express true regret as she mournfully stated, “Then you will continue to wander lost and blind for the rest of your days…I pray that you realize the error of your ways before the time of your judgment…” With these final words, Caren brought her hands together in a gesture of prayer that actually caused Vahn’s skin to tingle even more…

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Nobunaga trying to be smooth…’,’Get on my level, scrub…!’,’Fenrir, moonlight huntress…!’,’Vahn refuses to be a sheep (o 3 o)…’)

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