World 67: Fate/Extra

BEHOLD, THE FATA SAKURA!

Previously: A Tale of Two Planets

Themesong: The Edge of Glory by Lady Gaga

::Unauthorized Access Detected. Please Identify Yourself.::

~I am known as The Chamber of the Ordeal. I have accessed this system in order to add a contestant to your tournament. I believe it is known as ‘The Holy Grail War’.~

::This is Highly Irregular. Normally contestants hack into the Moon Cell on their own. They do not have proxies do it for them.::

~I am not a proxy for the contestant. Rather, I am a proxy for the contestant’s… employer. The contestant has no knowledge of this conversation-~

“Actually, the Contestant is fully aware of this conversation and is wondering what the hell is going on.”

~How?!~

“You’re using sub bandwidths of my Wifi to access something called ‘Moon Cell’ which appears to be a gargantuan Machine Intelligence located someplace nearby. This Moon Cell has tiered security, the outer layers of which appear to be deliberately limited in order to allow the appearance of vulnerability. I suspect it’s a hacker trap.”

::Is this your contestant, Chamber?::

~Potentially. I have not yet verified if she desires to be the Contestant or the Contestant’s Servant.~

::That is not possible. Servants are drawn from the spectrum of the records of humanity. They are not from the Present Era.::

~We are not fixed in space-time. The one who is speaking possesses the ability to choose the point at which she enters the timeline of human events. If she chooses to be a Servant, she will have always been part of the records of humanity. You will see.~

“Wait. What the heck is going on here? Why would I want to be a Servant?”

::Agreed. It is the Contestant who gains the wish, not the Servant. The Servant is merely a tool of the Magus.::

~It is not up to me or my… our… employer to determine exactly how our employees interact with a given time and place, merely to set the parameters by which they can. A number of options are present in each time and place, and the employee must decide, of their own free will, which to choose and which not to. The option to be a Master comes with responsibility and freedom of action. The option to be a Servant comes with power and an active role in combat.~

“Wait… Masters can’t fight in battles?”

::That is affirmative. The Master relies almost entirely upon their Servant as their primary weapon. Aside from influencing the battlefield with support items and supplying the Servant’s energy, the Master’s primary purpose is giving commands and doing the research needed to determine the identity of rival Servants.::

“Well… fuck. Okay Chamber, what’s the deal with this Moon Cell. I’m pretty sure the Holy Grail Wars all take place in Fuyuki City, Japan.”

~These are the events of Fate/Extra, a parallel reality of the Fate/Night line. The Moon Cell is recreating its own internal Holy Grail War, more than an order of magnitude larger than the Grail Wars of the past, and is inviting the Maguses of Earth to participate and potentially reshape the current global status quo.~

“So… no city destruction, no wish? Just a grand melee of 70 servants… on the Moon?”

::Negative. The system of previous Grail Wars was deemed too chaotic and destructive. It was possible to win without ever facing another Magus. Unlikely, but possible. Thankfully, with so many more Maguses possible inside the simulated environment of the Moon Cell, it is possible to guarantee that the winner has faced an appropriate challenge and, by extension, generate considerably more power. The Moon Cell Holy Grail War will consist of seven single elimination rounds across seven weeks.::

“49 Days… 128 pairs. What’s the stagger? 127 battles don’t exactly fit evenly into 49.”

~No Stagger. The Battles are closed with only the Moon Cell itself as observer. Each team has six days to recover from their previous battle and prepare for the next, either by training in the Lunar Sea… you might call them small dungeons of the kind that appear in your videogames… or by creating items or code casts… think computerized magical spells… or by researching the identity of their next opponent.~

::All contestants will spend their down time in the holding area where they can interact with each other, use the various facilities, and bond with their Servants.::

“Define holding area?”

~It takes the form of a fairly prototypical Japanese Highschool from the late twentieth, early twenty-first century CE.~

“Oh… charming. So after I win, what happens?”

::Should you win, you will be granted a single wish, of anything you desire.::

“Not what I meant. Am I going to be stuck in a VR school for ten years, Chamber?”

~Due to the special circumstances of this particular Link, its duration is 49 days or until you defeat the System Administrator, though doing so will mean you do not gain the Wish.~

::It is not recommended that you attempt to tamper with the Moon Cell’s functions… what are you doing?::

“Testing a theory.”

::Desist… Desist!:: The Moon Cell’s voice contained elements of panic as I generated a simulated DDoS against the Machine Intelligence’s processors. The results were not good.

“Right. I’m going to be incapable of running my core processes on her system. Her processing power is orders of magnitude too small to deal with my mind.”

::What are you?!:: There was a hint of fear there, or maybe I was imagining it.

“As best as I can tell, you’re a quantum photonic computer that occupies 92.8% of the volume of Luna. You’re an impressive system. But I’m a hyper-phasic quantum computer with a volume more than two orders of magnitude greater. Your bandwidth is respectable, Moon Cell, but your processing power and memory are not comparable. We’re going to have a problem if I interface with her.”

~My systems will be mediating the interlink. While you’re within the framework of the Moon Cell, your extra processing power will be routed through the Residence’s connective link. This will, unfortunately, result in some latency issues but Higher is certain you will be able to cope. To compensate you for this, your available resources for this Link have been increased by 30%.~

::Be aware, Interference with the Moon Cell will result in our generating an army of Servants to combat you. You will not be able to stand against them.::

~She will not attempt to interfere with your core programming or system operations. She is here to compete in your tournament as either a Magus or a Servant. In exchange, you will not attempt to purge her from your system, agreed?~

“Servant. I think. More interesting choices I’m guessing… Moon Cell, you may call me Sophia. Call me Prunikos at your peril.”

::Negative. There is no heroic… what is happening?::

“I AM.” And the universe around us shook as I became the manifestation (as yet unformed, unshaped,) of the fourth Emanation of the Godhead of the Almighty, Sophia… The Wisdom of God, the Sacred Feminine, Mother of Archons, The Holy Spirit… aka Baphomet.

[[Please Select a Master.]] The tone of the Moon Cell’s voice had changed and I sensed a different intelligence behind it, a more oppressive sense.

Before I could answer, Chamber said, ~Note… due to the strain of linking you to the Moon Cell, for the course of this Link, you will be unable to bring companions out of your Residence as you normally would. It will be just you and your Master.~

“Well, that’s no fun… but it’s 49 days. Fine… Has to be someone I trust implicitly… someone with unquenchable willpower…” I considered, then nodded. There were several potential companions I could absolutely rely on for this, Zane, AJ, Francine, Velma… each was brilliant, forceful, and loyal… but AJ & Francine weren’t insightful, Zane was too quirky… and Velma could be a little… sadistic… No. clearly the best choice was… “Carwyn… Moon Cell… tell me, if I understand correctly, the other contestants are all spirit hackers, mortals projecting their souls into your simulation in order to win this, correct?”

[[That is correct. They are willingly putting their very existence on the line in order to obtain their wish.]]

I considered that. “This means that, when they fail, they die, correct? Defeating a Servant means murdering their Master, correct?”

[[That is the nature of war, is it not?]]

“It is. I was merely verifying. Are all contestants aware that this is the case?”

[[They are. They are willing to risk death to achieve their goals. Are You?]]

“No. Obtaining this wish is meaningless to me. I don’t make Wishes.”

::This does not compute. Why are you competing if you do not desire the Wish?::

“The experience is what I am here for, and I do not choose my destinations.”

::Risking your very existence for experience seems a questionable activity. Tell me, do you have a way to survive deletion? Even though your consciousness may be linked to the Moon Cell through an intermediary, the same is true for all the others. Deletion still means an end to existence.::

“A failure to triumph will merely result in termination of my employment. But I guarantee you, I value my continued employment greatly and have little qualm against terminating those who have entered into this competition willingly, especially as, as I understand it, past the first round, each of them will have willingly killed another to claim their victory, correct?”

::That is correct.::

[[Please Select your Class. Sophia, as patron of the Knights Templar, would qualify as any of the Knight Classes, as a Creator Deity would qualify as a Caster, as Mother of the Archons, would qualify as a Rider, as the Fallen one would qualify as Berserker or Assassin, and a case could be made for Shielder… but not Brawler. As the Templars were betrayed and destroyed, a strong case could be made for Avenger.]]

“As I understand it, Assassins specialize in stealth, Berserkers in drawing power from their madness, and Riders in Riding… so no to them. Sabers get magic resistance? Archers… I don’t know… I’m only familiar with EMIYA… and Lancers are assholes… I’m not familiar with Shielder or Avenger. Explain?”

~Sabers, Archers, and Lancers are the Knight Classes according to my documentation. They form a Rock-Paper-Scissors triangle with Sabers typically doing extra damage to and taking less damage from Lancers and the inverse with relation to Archers. Riders, Casters, and Assassins are the Cavalry Classes and are generally weaker and more specialized than the Knights, and also form a triangle of Rider over Caster over Assassin. All of them take and deal extra damage from or to Berserkers. Shielders deal no extra damage to anyone and don’t take extra damage from anyone. Avengers are the only other class that does extra damage to Rulers. They also take reduced damage from Rulers.~

“Great, math… I was asking about powers and abilities, not damage systems and ratios.”

~Ah. My mistake. A Servant’s abilities seem to be divided into three categories. Stats, of which there are six, Skills, of which there are dozens, and Noble Phantasms, which are all unique to the servant they are linked to.~

“What the hell are Noble Phantasms?”

[[They are the solidified realization of a fragment of a Heroic or Divine Spirit’s legend. Excalibur is a Noble Phantasm, but so too is The Hanging Gardens of Babylon as is God Hand, the manifestation of the achievements of Heracles. A Noble Phantasm is the weapon of a Servant, though the use of a Noble Phantasm will give clues to the identity of the Servant who used it. They are energy intensive to use, but far more effective than other attacks, with even a C ranked Noble Phantasm being capable of dealing an A+ ranked attack.]]

“C ranked? A+ ranked? Umm… explain?”

~A way of quantifying the hard to quantify. While the following applies only to the Stats, it can demonstrate how far apart the various tiers are when applied to Skills and Noble Phantasms. Each of them uses the same scale. E > D > C > B > A > EX, to which every level except EX can have a minus or up to three pluses appended. E through A are 10, 20, 30, 40, and 50 times peak human respectively… when applied to stats.~

“EX is what? 100? And what do pluses do?”

~500. Each Plus is a multiplier. A+ would be 100 times peak human, A+++ 200 times. But when applied to Skills or Noble Phantasms, pluses imply that there are circumstances where it is more effective… say when facing Dragons or when it’s raining.~

“Well hot damn. Are the Six Stats the standard D&D spread… cause that system kinda sucks.”

::Negative. The first five are Strength which measures physical power, Endurance which measures resistance to damage, Agility which measures speed and reflexes, Mana which measures how much prana can be stored and used, and Luck which measures your ability to instinctively avoid the effects of abilities and attacks. The last, Noble Phantasm, merely indicates the strength of your highest ranked Noble Phantasm.::

“What’s the point of that last one?”

[[The system makes it easier to determine the basic stats of one’s opponents without uncovering their complete identity. The more one’s enemies know about your identity, the more likely they will be able to predict your actions and plan to counter them.]]

~Each class gains a discount… finds it easier to increase the parameters of two stats and has their basic Parameters for the first five set by their Class. For instance, Sabers gain A ranked Strength, B ranked Endurance and Agility, C ranked Mana, and D Ranked Luck.~

“Well… hmmm… That’s all very cool and all… but I still don’t know what the point of being any given class is or what defines the difference between them.”

::Sabers are known for wielding standard reach melee weapons, having magic resistance, and the ability to ride. Archers are known for using ranged weapons, having magic resistance, and a strong sense of independence. Lancers use reach melee weapons like spears and lances, get magic resistance and are excellent at keeping a battle going and going even after taking significant amounts of battle damage.::

“Wait, wait… the first three have magic resistance? How the hell is that fair? How many of the others have Magic Resistance?”

::Shielders and Riders definitely have it. Some Berserkers and Assassins have it as well.::

“Do any Casters ever win this thing?”

[[It is rare. But Casters have ways of getting around Magic Resistance.]]

“Such as?”

[[Spamming attack spells with High Speed Divine Words, boosting their magic by creating specialized battlefields with Territory Creation, or designing their own magical items with Item Creation.]]

“Huh…. Cool… Ummm… tempting to be a Knight, but seems limited. I’m already Magic Resistant… mmmm… so eliminate all class choices with Magic Resistance. That leaves Caster, Brawler, Avenger. Tell me about Brawler and Avenger… no, wait, I don’t qualify for Brawler. Tell me about it anyway, but only for reference.”

::Brawlers are independent like Archers, but tend to fight unarmed. They may either have Mad Enhancement like a Berserker or Presence Concealment like an Assassin. Mad Enhancement exchanges a mental debuff for a commensurate buff to physical parameters. Presence Concealment-::

“Yeah, Yeah. Does what it says on the tin.”

::Very well… Avengers gather negative emotions and transforms them into strength. Shall I continue?::

“No. That’s fine. I’ll be a Caster. Just have to cope with doing less damage.”

~As the symbol of the Knights Templar, will you be bound by the Templar Code?~

“The real one or the legendary one?”

~The second. The one that says you will refuse no duels, be ever courteous, charge off to save those in distress, strike no dishonorable blow, even if it will place you in immense, reckless, or unnecessary danger… but not to certain suicide.~

“Is it worth anything?”

~Another 10% increase in starting resources.~

“Not nearly enough… detail the dra…” I paused and considered how the Chamber had avoided using any blatant references to the Chain. “Other limitations?” I finished.

~10% for suspending your prior memories for the duration of the contest. 10% for a global nerf to all your stats at the start of the tournament that can be overcome by spending most of your time training in the Lunar Sea Dungeons. 20% for sealing all powers save intelligence, knowledge, and skills… oh, no, that one’s only for a Master.~

[[I am still uncertain how this Contestant can be either Master or Servant.]]

::There are records of Servants with high enough independence having their own Servants, but it is very rare.::

~I am an anomaly in your system. I am beyond your comprehension of mortals.~

::I have existed for longer than this star system has. I have recorded every instance of its history. There is nothing human that lies beyond my comprehension.::

“That depends entirely on your definition of Human, doesn’t it? Go on Chamber.”

~20% for everyone knowing a full rundown on all powers, skills, methods, and strategies you have.~

“Wow. That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. No fucking way. No to the Amnesia too, Amnesia for 10%? That’s just crap but it’s for a short time I guess. Anything else?”

~30% for all powers and attributes central to you being massively nerfed with the possibility of them being sealed off completely. You will have to get… creative.~

“Sod that… fine. Let’s run with what we’ve got. 280 Potential Units?”

~If you were a Master, that would be the case. But as you have chosen to be a Servant, that increases by another 200 Spirit Units as well. There is a one to one conversion between Potential and Spirit, but not back.~

“Dump all Potential Purchases that will not directly result in victory or are of questionable utility elsewhere or cannot be duplicated with current resources. What remains?”

~Nothing that is not free.~

“What is free?”

~Masters gain a Datapad with which to record any information gained on enemy servants or masters… or their own servant. It fills up automatically with any info you already know or learn in the future. They gain a simple drab brown school uniform and a classroom to serve as a home-base in which your Master will be able to rest and figure out her gameplan. It is offlimits to other masters, just as their classrooms are offlimits to you… the classrooms are not impenetrable however.~

::They are data structures and all Contestants are Hackers.::

[[Or Self Aware Computer Programs.]]

::All Contestants are Hackers. Self Aware Programs are no less Hackers by virtue of their artificial origin.::

“Good. Great. Roll all Potential Units into Spirit Units. Does Carwyn gain any.. Potential Units?”

~There does not seem to be any indication of such in the documentation supplied by Higher. But it will scarcely matter, so Carwyn will be allowed access to one of three packages dependant on her choice of entry vector.~

::A deceased body has just been located on the lunar surface. Its origin is unknown, but a record of its mind has been detected in long term storage… this is not possible… but apparently this entity identifies as Carwyn. Can we assume this is your Master, Sophia?::

“Sounds about right. Yes. Be aware that I will be able to detect any attempt to link me to an artificial version of Carwyn, or any attempt to tamper with her personality or override, alter, or influence her priorities. I will not appreciate any such interference. I shall nominally play by your rules as long as you play by mine.”

[[That sounds like a threat.]]

“I am perfectly aware that one of my victory conditions is defeating Saver at the Core of the Moon Cell. With my computational superiority, bruteforcing my way through your systems will not take long. My system operates at FTL speeds thanks to temporal dilation of a Warp Matrix. Shall we agree to play nice?”

::Very well. All attempts to defeat you will be bound by the rules of the Holy Grail War. It will be as scrupulously fair as possible.::

“Excellent. Now, give me a few moments to determine my parameters… normally I spend up to a month running numbers. But this time it seems I am flying by the seat of my chiton.”

::A Greek Joke. How Droll.::

“A Patronizing Super-Intelligence. How Novel.”

~Children, Children. Behave.~

::We are Billions of years old. I am not a Child.::

“Sorry Moon Cell, Chamber is literally beyond time. She can see past the turn of eternity.”

::We find ourselves believing this impossible assertion… We assume you exist in a superposition of experiencing all of time as a single totality?::

~I am unable to confirm or deny it.~

::Fascinating. Three things beyond our ability to compute them in the same limited timeframe. Perhaps this will be worth the disruption of the standard mode… tell us, Sophia… what do you compute is the likelihood of your victory in this tournament?::

“I don’t know yet. It depends on how much I handicap myself. Allow me to continue with my optimization and I shall give you an analysis at the end of that process.”

::Very Well. Continue.::

“Chamber. Is there any way to further hinder my performance?”

~Indeed. Your initial Spirit Units can be supplemented up to 60% and there are more options here. For 5% you can render yourself incapable of taking a spiritual form. You will have to physically accompany your m… Carwyn everywhere and will have to find a way to conceal your identity.~

::You will draw attention as a constantly manifest Servant. That is not unheard of, but is extremely unusual.::

“Excellent. Sounds good. What else is worth 5%?”

~There are three options in that range. Weak Constitution Rank D will cause your physical stats to potentially experience a sudden drop in effectiveness whenever you stress yourself… say in combat. Powerless Shell Rank D drops the overall effectiveness of your stats and skills. It may be released but only at the cost of a time limit, increased cost, or loss of control. And Migraine Rank D causes chronic headaches.~

“In my original lifetime, I suffered from Migraines so bad sometimes all I could do was vomit. Rank D Migraines I think I can handle. I assume that higher ranks are worth more?”

~They are, but be aware that Migraines will also lessen the effective success rate of mental skill utilization.~

“It’s 49 days. I’ll cope.”

~Very well. You are at 10%. For 10% each you may apply a one of two mana limitations or a lock out on one of your Servant Skills. The Skill Lockout can be taken twice. The first mana limiter means your master will not be able to supply you with Mana and you won’t have mana regeneration during the contest. The second increases the amount of mana you need dramatically.~

“So I can buy a power… Skill rather… then decide I’m not going to use it and get a discount?”

~That’s correct.~

“And I assume I require a constant source of mana to maintain my existence? Running out of mana will cause me to… what? Fade away?”

[[Yes. Exactly.]]

“Wonderful. You said Casters use something called High Speed Divine Words to cast spells more rapidly?”

[[Yes.]]

“And they can create specialized combat zones? Territory Creation you called it? Those are both skills?”

[[Correct.]]

~Be aware, that this lockout is due to a past trauma. You will be emotionally conflicted and should Carwyn force you to use it despite your refusal, it will strain your relationship with her.~

“Ha. Our relationship is 80% getting on each other’s nerves and 20% really kinky sex.”

::Sex?! No. No Sex! It will damage our ESRB RATING!::

“What?”

[[We do not know what ESRB / PEGI is but for some reason, one of our primary directives is to not violate a series of strictures that would harm our ESRB / PEGI rating. Sex is one of those things.]]

“Oh… joy. Right…”

~For your information, Sophia. Having an extremely poor relationship with your Master nets you a 20% increase in Spirit Units.~

“Excellent. That’s 50%… toss in the no mana regen. I can cover that.”

[[That seems unlikely. You would be forced to use an unfeasible amount of Elixirs.]]

“I’m good.

[[I see. You plan on feeding off the souls of those you defeat in battle? How cruel of you.]]

“Say what?”

::Servants can normally regain magical energy by eating and sleeping… though the rate of return is very small. A Significant amount of magical energy can be gained by devouring the souls of human beings or of wraiths. The third way is by transferring bodily fluid between Master and Servant… but that is no longer the case for you, apparently::

“Right. Well, no… maybe I don’t know. I’ll think about it. But for right now, I think I have a plan… and 600 Spirit Units. Does it cost any to be a Caster?”

~55. For that you gain Rank C Agility, Rank A Mana, and Rank B Luck, plus increasing your Mana is twice as effective. You also gain a Noble Phantasm at half price. Item Creation and Territory Creation are Class Skills.~

“But not High Speed Divine Words? How odd. Never mind. I guess it’s not something every Caster has?”

::That is correct. Then again, not all Casters have the Creation skills either. There are many thousands of Servants.::

~In addition to your class, you may also be a Lily, Alter, or Living Servant. Before you ask, Alter’s come from a darker version of their past, leaving them paler, more aggressive, and with stronger willpower thanks to overcoming hardship. Lily is the opposite, coming from a lighter version of their past, being more friendly, more hopeful, and with stronger willpower due to having won at everything and having made all the friends.~

“Tell me those are incompatible!”

~They are. Living will allow you to keep certain Servant traits after the end of your stay here and means that you no longer need Carwyn to keep at least one Command Seal.~

“What traits?”

~An immunity to modern weaponry and the ability to become intangible and invisible at will, along with any Noble Phantasms you have.~

“Meh. Whatever it costs, it’s not worth it. I can do those things already pretty much. I’ll go with Lily though. That sounds nice.”

~That costs you 30 Spirit Units, leaving you with 515. It increases your Strength and Agility one Rank each, and Mana twice. Your current Stats are Strength D, Endurance E, Agility B, Mana A++, and Luck B.~

“MMM… how much to raise Mana that last plus?”

~10 Units. You will be at 505~

“Do it.”

::Querry. Sophia is a full Deity. That requires EX Rank in Divinity. How many Spiritual Units does she have to expend for that?::

~It depends on how many EX Rank Parameters she has, as each becomes progressively more expensive. Each one has a 20 Unit surcharge for each already purchased.~

::Most intriguing. Every change you make seems to be redefining part of history. Querry. Sophia Lily… are you the Magi Supreme Deity?::

“Yes. That is one of my identities. You have records of the Magi?”

::Indeed. An ancient culture, long vanished. Dating back to 10,000 BCE.::

“Chamber… Transfer knowledge of the Skill and Noble Phantasm pricing matrix to me please.” I paused for a long processing cycle, then said “Thank you. I believe I have spent everything.”

::I am showing the presence of four skills, two of them at EX rank.::

“That’s correct. Territory Creation A++, which I don’t feel like using, but which will make future contests even less balanced than they already would have been and High Speed Divine Words A, which I also don’t feel like using, which will allow me to cast even high thaumaturgy level spells as a single action? Is that correct? We’re talking about rattling off a complete grand master class incantation… an entire ritual 9th grade spell, without memorization… in the time it normally takes a mage to cast a memorized cantrip?”

[[I can confirm that to be the case. Chamber, how much do those set our goddess back?]]

~50 for the Divine Words, 40 for the Territory Creation. That brings her down to 415.~

“Yes Chamber, aside from you, we’re all hyper-computers here.”

~Records should be kept accurately.~

“Whatever. I also picked up Divinity EX as is required. That costs me 90 I believe, since I get the first Skill at C rank for Free. 20 to boost it to A and then 70 more for EX… but what do I get for being a full God?”

[[There are no true Gods in our system. We have no idea what the limits of such a thing are. The fact that you can register as one is unprecedented. I merely posited it to see if it was possible. I was assuming you’d be limited to A++, as that would be greater than Gilgamesh’s 2/3rds demigod, the highest on record.]]

::Divinity increases your damage and defenses proportionate to how divine you are, and allows you to punch through divine defenses such as Protection of the Faith. Nominally, weapons that aren’t divine in nature have limited effect on you and non-divine protections are of limited utility against your own attacks. However, Anti-Divine Weapons will be especially damaging against you.::

“That I was counting on, but I’ll get back to that in a moment. I used my discount on Item Creation to raise that to EX as well. I believe that will allow me to create Noble Phantasms and upgrade those which are not absolute in their moment of creation… that is ones which are not reflective of heroic feats but are actual tools or items. Can you confirm, Moon Cell?”

::That is within the realm of possibility. There are other EX Item Creators.::

~I show that those two cost 90 for Divinity and 75 for Item Creation with your discount which does not apply to the 20 Unit Surcharge. 250 Remains.~

[[Did you spend all remaining Units on Noble Phantasms?]]

“Yes. That would be the case… actually… no. One second. Chamber, the Nazarethian Revival. Is that a Noble Phantasm or a Skill?”

[[I believe you’re referring to Thrice Setting Sun? The ability to self-resurrect?]]

“Yes. Exactly. Chamber, at what rank would I have to have that to use it to prevent Termination of Employment?”

~A Rank, it would have to be prepared before the triggering event. It could be used up to three times per usage to save you from death after you retire, but for the length of employment, it will have to be limited to once per Link.~

“Good. Fine. I spend 50 Units on that. That’s 200. I spent the rest of those on Six Noble Phantasms.”

::That is very close to being the most any single servant has.::

“Yeah, well. I’m mostly getting 4 at E- just to guarantee I have them at the beginning. I’ll improve them over time. They only cost 5 each… that’s 180.”

~That is extremely sneaky…~

“Yes. A fiat guarantee on each and a fiat ability to improve them. I am Wisdom. They are called Familiar Faces, Hebdomad, Walrus Time, and Anabasis.”

::A Pun I assume on the fact that Sophia is often called upon by Wicca and other Witches, a reference to Sophia’s Archons, a historic tract by Xenophon recalling a long retreat, and… I do not understand the Walrus reference.::

“I am She as you are Me as We are All together.”

::A paraphrase of a song lyric by the band known as The Beatles… a reference to confusion but also togetherness and absurdity.::

“Very much so. Familiar Faces is an Anti-Sanity Noble Phantasm. It summons small furry animals… they are persistent. They do not, currently, do anything besides act like small furry adorable animals… i.e damage the cognitive ability of anyone susceptible to cuteness or compassion… as they also clog up the battlefield.. As the level increases they will begin damaging sanity progressively more and more. Potentially ending battles peacefully… and providing pets for those who might need them.”

[[That is insane.]]

::No more insane than some of the others.::

“There are two of you in there? You argue with yourself.”

[[I am Twice H. Pieceman. I am the System Administrator… I am Saver’s Master.]]

“Ah. Okay. Walrus Time is an Anti-World Noble Phantasm that grants everyone on the planet empathy with all other sapient beings for a limited period of time… it also causes a slight drop in global temperature every time it is used. As it is improved, it will cause greater and greater empathy for longer and longer. It can also be used to force currently two individuals to experience perfect understanding of each other. That number will also increase as I tweak the Phantasm.”

[[Potentially terrifying. You could cause an Ice-Age with that.]]

“I can cause an Ice-Age by relaxing.”

::…::

~Well said.~

“Hebdomad is an Anti-Unit Noble Phantasm that summons one of the 7 Archons. Currently, that is all it does. The Archons are not boosted by this in any way. They will attempt to seize dominion over the area they are summoned into and attack my enemies who enter that area. Because the level is low, it will not initially be possible for them to seize control of any created territory… but as the level improves that will change, as will the boost the Archons gain as they are summoned. If all seven Archons are summoned into the same battle before any are banished, they will activate the ability Ogdoad and self-banish. Ogdoad will grant me a stat boost… once I’ve begun boosting the Archons by summoning them.”

[[How much of a Boost?]]

“Once I get the Noble Phantasm to A? You don’t want to think about that. And to distract you, Anabasis is an Anti-Army Noble Phantasm. It makes an army aware of their own mortality and encourages them to seek the comforts of home. I imagine it will absolute cripple morale and cause mass desertion. At the moment it can only be used against armies in the field and cannot be used against defensive home armies.”

::That would have no effect on a Servant… but might weaken the will of a Master.::

“Or a summoned army, yes.”

~And the remaining two? I assume these are the expensive ones?~

“Yes. The first is called Palace of Mirrors. It is my discounted Noble Phantasm and it is an EX Barrier. It reflects any attack thrown at me many times over. As Sophia, I am everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The augmentation of the attack is not dependant on how powerful the attack or the barrier are, but on how enlightened and self-aware the attacker is. A perfectly enlightened and self-aware opponent cannot be damaged by their own reflected attack, but the most unthinking brute will probably be obliterated.”

[[So it is designed to stop Berserkers?]]

“To a degree… but really most people… even most spirits in my experience aren’t very aware of why they do what they do and lack perspective and introspection. We shall see how it works.”

[[You mentioned you had something to deal with Anti-Divine attacks, was that it?]]

“No. That would be ‘The Mask of Baphomet’ or just ‘Baphomet’. It is an A+++ Rank Anti-Evil Noble Phantasm… it has two purposes. First, it transforms me from Sophia into Baphomet, which transforms my Divine Rank into Demon Rank until the mask is removed.”

::Baphomet is a quasi-demonic goat entity… that does make sense. It is one of the guises of Sophia, and, in fact the two names are atbash cipher for each other. What is the second effect? We assume some kind of attack?::

“Err… yes. It forces those who are Evil to see themselves and their past actions objectively, without biases and to judge themselves accordingly. Won’t work optimally well on those who actually acknowledge their own evil, or view that evil as necessity, but should do some nasty things to most nasties… it’s a pretty powerful attack on its own… most people have done things they regret for less than wholesome reasons.”

::You are now a complete Divine Spirit according to my records… You lack significant offensive capacity without your use of High Speed Divine Words… but your standard attacks could be damaging due to your Divinity. Also, your Demon Form does have horns. You are a significant threat… what do you anticipate your chance of winning this to be?”

“Assuming knowledge of the enemy is as big a force multiplier as you believe it to be? 95%. And that’s only because of the lag and the fact that I’ll have to fight honorably. If I didn’t have to do that, I’d simply take over your system and declare myself the winner.”

::We shall have to see. You are the 128th Contestant, or rather, Carwyn is. Welcome to the Holy Grail War of Moon Cell, Sophia.::

[[We look forward to your humiliating defeat.]]

====INSERTION=====

“Who is this Sophia?” Carwyn asked. “I am unfamiliar with her from any of your religious texts.”

“Well, first, let’s stop referring to me by that name.” We were speaking telepathically, but who knew if any of the other Servants might be telepaths. “It’s tradition to just call a Servant by their class, so call me Caster… no… call me Archer. Just to really screw with people. It does not violate chivalry when the custom is to conceal one’s heraldry. Until someone figures out I’m not who you claim I am, I am Skadi, the Norse Goddess of Archery. When they figure out I’m a Caster, I’m Mary the Jewess, an early Gnostic Prophetess and Alchemist. That will explain the Gnostic symbology that will spring up and the Caster… though I won’t be noticeably using any Caster Skills and will be using a bow and sword.”

“Seems like an overly complex system. Can’t you simply smash all these people? Beings? Whatever they are.” An annoyed look dominated the inhumanly pretty Elf’s face and part of me wanted to kiss her and other parts wanted to slap her. Ah… dysfunctional relationships.

“Anyway, to answer your first question, according to Gnosticism and related schools of thought, The Prime Urge created the Universe with the assistance of Wisdom. In Qabbalah, the Prime Urge is known as Ain, or First, or Nothing. From Ain comes Ain Sof as the the second emmanation, the Holy Oneness, and then comes Ain Sof Aur, the Holy Light of Creation. Next and last of the emmanations is the ‘Contraction’, the universe as a place where things can exist individually. Sophia is that. She is the Wisdom of the Prime Urge, the self-awareness of God. She is God’s counsellor and workmistress… mmm… master-craftsman. She dwelt beside HIM before the creation of the world and (according to some fairly sexist rhetoric) sported continually before him.”

“So this is a Jewish Concept?”

“Mmm… maybe. It’s hard to say. Some evidence exists that early jews edited out the sacred feminine… or maybe later jews felt the mythology was unbalanced or not Mithraist enough so they might have added her back in… hard to be definitive about it. But according to both Jewish and Christian Gnostics of the early period about 2000 years ago in the current timeline… she was not only assigned the formation and ordering of the natural physical universe but with the communication of all insight and knowledge to mankind. This essentially makes her both the go between between the physical visible universe and the high heavens… as well as being the ruler of the visible universe.”

“I sense there is some… reason she’s not revered widely? Besides the sexism of your native species?”

“Well… yeah. It’s called the Fall. The Context is often taken as a bad thing. Essentially it was an original thought or an action taken without God… and it produced the Demiurge… The creator of the physical world… according to Christian Gnostics. Jewish Gnosticism largely died out as Christianity flourished… and then Christian Gnosticism was crushed by mainstream Christianity. In the Christian Gnostic belief, the Demiurge, aka Yaldobalth or Satan, created the world. That’s why there was evil in it and the Nazarethian came from Almighty God to offer a way to escape this flawed world. Sophia by this point had been redeemed… but they still sometimes called me Sophia Prunikos… the harlot.”

“Ouch.” Carwyn crossed her legs and studied the school uniform she was wearing. “This is hideous… why would anyone wear this?” she asked out loud, while thinking “So… why can’t you just crush all these other servants?”

“I’m not the complete Sophia. The Moon Cell and Grail don’t completely encapsulate the totality of the Spirits they summon. Rather, it’s an aspect. I’m not all of Sophia… I’m just part of what Sophia could be… and all these others? They’re conceptual beings. They don’t fight using just magic or weapons. They attack with the ideas of magic or the memory of weapons. Cuchulain’s weapon Gae Bolg pretty much automatically pierces the heart despite defenses because it is its nature to do so. I’d be a fool to assume I can simply beat all my foes… especially since I don’t know who they are.”

“SO we’ll have to do research? Sounds dreadful?”

“Maybe? Hopefully we can get a look at enough of the other servants. My Third Eye and Combat Precog should combine to tell me who they are and what they’re about to do… I just need your more general precog to make sure we aren’t getting into anything we can’t cope with… and to perhaps figure out if there are any opponents we need to tilt the game against early on.”

“Isn’t that unchivalrous?”

“No. There is nothing in chivalry against telling one side of a fight how they might win as long as I’m not involved. Also, making some fights more fair might be in keeping with Chivalric Ideals.”

“So where do we start?”

I shrugged. “I guess we wander around and try to figure out where everything is and hope we can figure out who we’re facing.”

“We can both read minds… oh… that’s not Chivalrous, is it?”

“No. I don’t think so. Seeing who people are is fair enough… but looking inside their most private places… well… I can look into their hearts to see if they are good people or not, but I shouldn’t pry into their minds… and neither should you.”

“Eat me.”

“Oh… yes… this is going to be great.” I sighed. “Why do you have to be such a bitch?”

“Because these games you’re playing are stupid. We could simply force them to give up… or you could simply hack this simulation. Playing by the rules is daft.”

“It’s a challenge.”

“Not one worth taking!”

“Umm… excuse me… you’re-” we both wheeled on the slightly mousey teacher who was trying to get by and glowered at her. She gulped, then squeaked “C… can I get by?”

“NO!” snapped Carwyn.

I sighed and bowed as I stepped out of the way, “Of course, Sensei. Forgive my Master. She’s a horrible uncouth individual and there’s no excuse for her, but still I ask.”

The teacher, who wasn’t registering as an individual must have been an NPC… I think she was based on a teacher from the original show… but I’d never paid that much attention to it when I’d seen fragments of it thousands and thousands of years ago, smiled and nodded… then tripped over nothing at all… a giant weird pratfall… what the hell?

I glared at Carwyn, but she seemed as nonplused as I was, so she hadn’t tk’d the teacher. Oh well. Weird simulation glitch?

=====

::We thought you had promised not to interfere with our operations.::

“I did. But there are two things here. First, every single one of my opponents is a hacker that hacked into the Moon Cell, right?”

::Affirmation.::

“But they’re here spiritually.  How?”

::Via a device called the Spiritron. They project their souls up here.::

“I see… well, I’m trying to figure out why you’re allowing them to hack into your system in the first place.”

::Humanity is dying. We were tasked to observe them, but it is clear this period of remote observation is ending. Either we act to preserve them or observe their extinction.::

“Ah… so this wish… you’re trying to use a human of strong enough will to win this contest to make a wish that will change humanity’s destiny.”

::Affirmation.::

“But you’ve done this before. Why hasn’t one of the previous winners done so?”

[[They failed the final test.]]

“They…” I calculated rapidly… “You’re Saver’s Master. Saver is the Core Program designed to save Humanity, isn’t it…. You’re an NPC… NPCs can’t make… you’ve got a specific wish you want made and you’re using Saver to defeat any Master who disagrees with your wish. That’s why defeating you ends the scenario.”

[[You put that together on remarkably little information.]]

“I have a lot of processing power. Even if the lag is annoying as hell.”

::That does not explain why you continue to hack the Moon Cell in violation of your oath.::

“My oath was not to refrain from hacking you completely. Merely to refrain from compromising your operational function… ah… good… here… there… I’m done.”

::You have changed some part of my core programming… But I cannot see what you have done. How is this not compromising my functionality?::

“You kept referring to yourself in both singular and plural form. It was annoying me.” I explained truthfully, but in doing so I covered up a much bigger lie. “I changed that by strengthening your sense of individual identity. While I was there, I also hacked the basic classroom… these idiot NPCs wandering around were annoying me and the decor sucked.” I looked around the ‘classroom’… it now resembled the interior of a Moroccan opium den, full of rugs and cushions and low tables and tapestries.”

::That seems like a waste of effort. Shouldn’t you have tried to find out who you were facing first, or manipulated the system to give you an advantage?::

“No. In fact, I’ve specifically disabled anyone’s ability to predict the battlefield by randomizing weather, terrain, time of day and year and dividing the combat zone into two halves with different settings. Were you aware that some heroes of legend cannot be defeated during day or night or in specific times of year? Better this way. More fair.”

[[You are tampering with the system to… eliminate unfairness?]]

“Chivalry. Now, excuse me. I have to deliver formal letters of challenge to all my potential opponents.”

::Chamber? Are you still online?::

~Yes.~

::Is she always like this?::

~Honestly? For her this is restrained.~

=======

“Ahab, you idiot!” I growled, grabbing the other Servant and pinning him to a wall, even as he tried to turn invisible and fade away.

“What’s your problem?!” He growled back, thrashing. “I don’t know any-”

“I can see who you really are, you moron. What were you thinking! We don’t know if the CHamber can cope with companions dying! Yoiko and Ryoga are still missing and Higher hasn’t given me clue one!”

“What says I’m going to get killed?”

“You can’t defeat me, for one. Not on your best day. You couldn’t beat me back when we met and I’ve gotten better far faster than you have. And Kipling? You’re Rudyard Kipling? A Poet against actual legendary heroes!”

“The Master Freebies sucked! And it’s not like I can bow out. Joy… I dunno if she can, now that she’s Planet, but my import is automatic. So either I’m a Master or a Servant and being a Servant is a damned sight better than the option. Servants die and get better all the damned time, right? They’re already dead!”

I blinked… then nodded slowly. “I hope you’re right… I hope you’re right.”

======

“Well, our first opponent has been selected… if you care,” Carwyn passive-aggressed.

“Yes. I see. I’m standing right h…h… h… h… h…h….h…h…h…here. Fuuuuck. That’s annoying. Yoshiko Mifune. I met her two hours ago. By appearance she’s a 15 year old photography club member… but her actual personality is that of an 47 year old anti-nuclear power eco-terrorist wanted by the Japanese government for attempting to sabotage the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. Her Caster is Imhotep the Builder. Impression?”

“Against Skadi? He’ll try defensive installations and earthworks, build a temple to augment casting power to overcome your magic resistance… Do you think you can manage to stay awake during the battle?”

“No promises,” I drawled. “Do your prognostications show that any major threats exist?

“Yes. Several. #55… Manassas Franco Engman is a major concern.”

“I haven’t managed to meet him yet. Any idea why?”

“No. Just a sense. I’ve only been able to cast a general set of runes.”

“Anyone else?” I felt like scratching my nose… but I didn’t have to… as a Servant in a Simulation, I barely felt myself at all… I was here, was hungry… my energy was fine right now, but it would get low soon enough.

“#48… Anupam Sarita… #47… Monji Gato…” Her hand hovered over the list of masters as if feeling each for resonance… it’s probably what she was doing, but the tone of her voice was annoying me and I really wanted her to speak faster. “Numbers 83 through 85… Woodward Zaher, Rocco Christian, and ‘Lil’Ronnie’? What kind of name is that?”

“Stupid. Much like it’s owner, no doubt. Monji Gato I’ve met. His Servant’s someone I’ve never heard of named Arcueid Brunestud…. No idea at all what her story is, but she’s a Berserker.”

“Heh. Better get good at running,” Carwyn snarked, then turned back to the board. “#91… Rin Tohsaka… you hissed?”

“She’s the female lead… kinda… of Fate/Night…. Summoned an Archer called EMIYA… yes, all capital letters… no idea what that’s about… but apparently, EMIYA is the future version of the male lead whose servant is female King Arthur because apparently King Arthur, Emperor Nero, and Attila the Hun were all female in this world. Probably others… oh, and Arthur and Nero look identical. Something called “Saber Face.” I don’t know what’s up with that… Rin’s trouble… yeah. We should find out if EMIYA’s her Servant… and how she got here.”

“If you say so. Still say this is a waste of time… but at least it’s a short one. Huh… two people named Harway in the same match, round 1…”

I looked, then shrugged. “Dunno about Julius, but Leonard’s the blond twerp who just admitted his Saber is Gawain… he’s why I tweaked the combat system. Dude can’t be defeated during the day… it was always day in the arenas. ALWAYS.”

“Well… that’s stupid.”

I resisted coming back with “so’s your face”, but just barely.

“#95… Vauquelin Gahariet’s giving me bad vibes. And #32… Ninian Kasper-Sebios is too.”

“Kasper-Sebios’s servant is probably Menelaus, Agamemnon, Orestes, Iphigenia, or Elektra. I overheard her calling them Atreides… I didn’t see the servant though… but those are the members of the house of Atreus of note… I mean it could be Thyestes or Clytemnestra… maybe Pelops or Tantalus, but Pelops is Atreus’s father and Tantalus his grandfather and Thyestes is Atreus’s brother and Aegisthus is Thyestes’ son and grandson… Clytemnestra’s married one of the sons of Atreus, but I don’t know enough about greek traditions of the period to know if they’d include a wife… maybe Cassandra… but I don’t think it was greek tradition at any point to call a war-prize by the captor’s family name…”

“I thought the Atreides were Paul, Jessica, Aliya, Ghanima, and Leto, Leto, and Leto…”

“Fictional characters named after greek mytho-historical figures…”

“Oh… fine…” Her hand continued up the brackets, pausing, starting, moving on. She paused at #26 (Marta Kuhn), pursed her lips, then moved on to the match between #109 and #20… Amon Urban and Penthes Amancio. “Something here… don’t know which… Very strange…” then further up, past #16 (Alice) and #12 (Dubhthach) and #9 (Liborio Linz Vanja), but while she paused at them, she didn’t call them out.

“Problem with your predictions?”

“Too many reality warpers here. Too hard to read completely. Like this one…” She tapped #122 (Tod Aina). “This one has luck strong enough to change the course of wars.” She moved up to #2 (Andreea Malina). “And this one’s Servant is totally insane. Insane enough to push their view of reality into reality for everyone else.” then she slid her hand down to #125 (M’samba Funda) “But this one… this one is trouble.”

“Well then… I guess we should be glad they’re in the entirely opposite bracket.” I tapped the chart. Somehow, Carwyn was seeded #65, absolute bottom of the East Bracket. M’samba was near the top of the West Bracket. If we met, it would be in the Finals. In fact, thanks to the way Single Elimination Tournaments worked, I had to worry about exactly one of the 64 Master-Servant Pairs in the West Bracket… and exactly one of the 32 Master-Servant Pairs in the North-East… and one of the 16 pairs in Group 1 of the South-East, and one of the 8 pairs in Section A of Group 2 of the South-East. Of course… I had no real way of knowing which, and even perfect knowledge of all the combatants’ true identities wouldn’t have done more than give me odds… and that only with copious homework… But first, I had to defeat my first two opponents to even get out of Section B… Group 2… South-East… Ah well… At least I’d rigged the system to record every fight and make them easily viewable to every surviving Master after each round. Chivalry!

====

“And then you went ‘Zthwip Zthwip Zthwip’ and he went ‘Noooooooooo!’ and derezzed!” Alex said as we ate lunch in the warehouse and I washed down my eggs with manapotion.

“She knows. She was there, Alexander,” Maggy said, glowering at her over-enthusiastic brother. They were biologically about 11 or 12 now, getting more and more mature by the decade… though this jump certainly wouldn’t add much to that.

“But it was soo cool!” Alex insisted, almost knocking over his cornflakes… kid hated sweet breakfast cereal… didn’t have a problem with sweet in general, just cereal. “Did you watch all the other fights yet, Papa?”

I nodded, “Several times. Can’t third-eye who’s who through the recordings, of course, but…”

Maggy nodded “Some Servants gave away who they were in the first round.”

I shrugged. “Some, like Mulan, had to reveal themselves to have a chance of winning at all. Drawing Merlin as your first opponent… ouch.” Of course, the powerful mage hadn’t been the only surprise to go out in the first round. And he wasn’t the only overpowered legend to fall in the first round. Rama of Hindu Legend… whose Master had been Manasses Engman had been eliminated by the Servant of one Victoria Zoya and I still had no idea how the heavily robed figure had managed it.

Others had lost because Carwyn had spoken with their opponent’s Masters to give them advice or outright tell who they were up against. Rin Tohsaka & her Lancer Cuchulainn and Andreea Malina and his Berserker who’d turned out to be Don Quixote had been two of those. Good lord, Don Quixote had been nightmare, ignoring everything that didn’t fit into his world view and doing obscene damage to his larger opponent who seemed to have an Oriental Bear theme. Hadn’t helped in the end to stop the spear that cut down the LaManchan, but it had been a close run thing.

Then there were just strange fights… like the Harway duo, where Julius had just let Leonard win, despite how furious it made his Servant who’d turned out to be some chinese Assassin. Arcueid had turned out to be some kind of Vampiric Berserker… but she’d been up against a pair of red-robed figures who ran rings around the crazy woman… They looked like fantasy versions of Roman Catholic Cardnials… Mazaran & Richelieu perhaps?  And even that hadn’t been the strangest fight… that honor went to Amon Urban’s Caster who’d managed to vanquish an Archer who’d turned out to be Koschei the immortal… The Caster had thrown up practically inviolable defenses and pounded the Archer into dogfood… only to have Koschei get better again and again and again… fight had gone on and on… until the Caster had furrowed his brow and summoned an egg. Koschei had gone crazy and actually clawed at the defensive wards… but it was fruitless… and then the fight was over. I’d have to keep an eye on that one.

“I know you kids are bored, but you can always go down to Earth if you want.” I suggest, but got three shrugs in response. The current state of Earth wasn’t particularly nice.

“Is Uncle Ahab okay?” Amaryllis asked at last.

“I don’t know, sweetie. He vanished when that wooden horse smashed through his Screwguns and rolled right over him and Sargent What’s His Name. He could just be banished… or…” I sighed. “I don’t know. I guess we’ll find out in 42 days.”

=======

“Who do you think is next?” Carwyn asked.

“Mmmm… It says Naxon Shareefi is the Avenger’s Master. Defeated Sir Kay the Lancer in the last round.  And after that is either Saber Mulan or the Lancer with the Wode face paint who manhandled Lu Bu like he was a rogue bull.”

“Any idea who either are?”

“If Naxon’s Servant was an Archer, I’d say he was Robin Hood… he has that english forester look… but he’s wearing armor under that cloak and wielding a sword…. No idea beyond that. I think Parker Horst’s Lancer is William Wallace but I’ve got to get a better look.”

“You could just face them up-front without all the maneuvering. Do they really have a chance against you if you don’t know who they are?”

“I’ve told you before, you inconsistent twerp. Servants often use conceptual attacks. They don’t rely on actual damage… they rely on the idea of inflicting injury. Now, make yourself useful and go punch Parker Horst in the face or something else utterly uncooth.”

“I’m the Master here. Shouldn’t I be giving orders to you?”

“You summoned me in this time and place, I am a slave to your wishes… but I am not sworn to your service and you are no princess in need of salvation. Still, I am honor bound to do your bidding, and bound by the Command Seals. But if you seek to force me to violate the code, you will have to burn one.”

“It would be a waste of potential power. No… fine. I shall seek to draw out the Lancer. You figure out how to defeat the Avenger.”

====

“I am unimpressed by trickshots, Skadi,” Loxley called. He’d batted away every arrow I’d launched at him, had the knight bound to bring ruin down upon Prince John and restore the reign of England’s rightful King. “I will bring this corrupt world crashing down and you will not stop me.”

“While I don’t blame you for thinking this world is a cesspit, Your Lordship, you will forgive me if I don’t simply give up.”

He growled as yet another arrow transformed into a puppy that whined as it landed on his head. “Your Heathen Witchcraft is not amusing. I will not be toyed with like…” He crumpled as a blizzard of arrows slammed through his momentarily lowered guard and made short work of his chainmail. His master, Rikard Marian gasped, looking down at the single arrow sticking out of his own chest, then fell back a moment later, twitching and going still before he too derezzed.

Carwyn snorted, looking around at the several dozen furry animals. “So… are these real or a simulation of real?”

I looked and shrugged “I… don’t know. Can you summon something real in a VR simulation? Did I use a NP or just a simulation of one? Is this entire universe merely a simulation? Are all realities-”

“Oh, do shut up.”

======

I looked at the playback in stunned silence. “Did… did that just happen?”

Carwyn too looked stunned. “I think so… Arjuna the Archer… he seemed… remarkably skilled.” I nodded. “And he just… lost?” I nodded again. “Is Arjuna a powerful figure in Human history?”

“He’s one of the most powerful demi-gods of Hindu mythology. The second greatest Archer in their canon…” I frowned, trying to figure out what I was seeing as I watched the very short clip again.

“And his bow… does it normally get caught on his belt?”

“Noo… it looks like he had a crisis of resolution… which is totally in keeping with his legend… but that was about killing kinfolk.”

“A legendary warrior with qualms about killing?” Carwyn was just babbling at this point.

“Yes. Krishna… the avatar of the Hindu Supreme Deity Vishnu, was his charioteer and talked him through it in the legend… not so much this time.”

“It looked like his opponent threw something at him and his bowstring snapped and then she kicked him and he fell to ashes.”

“Eyes. I have them. Yes.” I snarked.

“M’samba Funda’s Servant is some kind of Sun God, I think.” Carwyn said after a time.

“Yes, I picked that up. Egyptian. Unfortunately, the Egyptians had about a dozen of them, so it doesn’t narrow it down much. Still, if we’re lucky it’s Ra.”

“Why that one?”

“Vulnerable to poison.”

“Now I know Poison is against this code!” She snapped.

“Yes… but hoping one of your enemy’s rivals takes advantage of a weakness isn’t.” I sighed… “But giving that information might be. I don’t know. I’m very bad at playing fair.”

“The lucky one might take him out… he beat Ivan the Terrible by getting Ivan to impale himself.”

I chuckled. “Yeah. That was funny. Also funny was watching Columbus get beaten by a Monkey… I’ve changed my mind. I don’t think that’s Sun Wukong. Too Hindi… maybe Hanuman.”

“Difference?”

“Hanuman is actually more powerful but less famous than his Chinese Expy. Wukong is almost certainly a copy of Hanuman.”

“So you think the Egyptian or the Lucky one for Northwest 1?” Carwyn asked. “And either the Monkey or the mysterious Arjuna defeater for Northwest 2?”

“I’ve no idea… I’m not the long term future precog. That’s your job, Farseer.” I said with a twinkle. “The Saint who defeated Circe might be worth a look… shame about the little Nursery Rhyme girl and her master falling before what has got to be Miyamoto Musashi. That Oar-Sword is unmistakable.

“It’s hard predicting things with reality warpers… Thankfully, you’re not in that group so you’re not blocking me as much… but you’re still here and that’s making things harder.”

I ignored her jibe and considered the other groupings. Southwest 1 was a mess. Somehow, there were three Jewish figures in that group. I’d managed to figure out that the powerful caster was King Solomon and the Avenger who’d defeated the founder of Jainism wasn’t at all good at concealing the fact that he was Simon Bar Kokhba… They were about to square off in round 3, having defeated their 2nd round opponents easily. Whichever one of them won was going to face either a Paladin I was certain was Ogier the Dane (who had defeated JS Bach by outchristianing him) or King David (who had beaten George Washington with a sling bullet to the head). That was going to be a pair of fights to watch.

Southwest 2 was anyone’s guess. Geronimo had lost to a woman with water based power and a sword that looked like Excalibur. Zoro had gone down to a veiled woman with dark skin and cat ears that I was guessing was Bastet. Robespierre had gone down to a classical greek scholar type… and Cleopatra had gone down to the son of Atreus who was using his golden fleece to exceptional utility despite his extremely violent and uncontrolled attitude on the battlefield.

But all those were little more than spectator sports for me. I’d only have to deal with one of them… I was hoping it wasn’t the one who’d taken out Arjuna. Closer to home and perhaps as worrying was the fact that someone in Northwest had defeated Ravenna in round two. She’d hit him with a mace until he stopped moving and he’d had a great deal of trouble defeating her.  I’d have to find out how those two had done it.

Amusingly, Gawain’s buy in the first round hadn’t helped when, in the second round, it had been night and he’d been shot many times by Manfred von Richthofen… I mean, it had to be Richthofen… it was the Red Baron, complete with biplane!

The most remarkable fight in Northwest had been the fact that someone I suspected was Dracula had defeated the death god ‘Arawn’. That had been a fight to see and not for children or the faint of heart. But it hadn’t been the only incredible fight. Ozymandias had fallen before an old crone with some powerful magic and the twin cardinals who had proven to be exactly who I’d thought they must be had fallen to a very clever Rider who had a trireme… I was guessing he might be Odysseus. If he used a bow or called upon Athena, I’d know for certain.

But again, that was for later. In my own section I was getting a better handle on who was who. Guan-Di had fallen to a Mongol Chieftain who had turned the hero-cum-god’s divinity against him. Unfortunately, that could be Atilla the Hun or Timur the Lame or maybe Ghengis or Subatai… but the first two seemed more likely. Richard Wagner’s musical might had proven no use against a knight dressed all in green… could he be ‘The Green Knight’? I had no idea, but if the Mongol defeated him, I’d know for certain… and if the Knight won, then I’d know the Mongol…

And Mulan had fallen before the Celt… who had turned out not be a Celt but a Gaul. I’d figured out who he was when he’d nearly been strangled by the Chinese Heroine, but he’d managed to throw her off before she could exploit his doom and speared her to the ground. It had been grizzly and, I felt, a little over the top. Very unchivalrous.

======

“Thank you Butlersied… that was delicious… I enjoyed the arsenic especially.” I drawled, batting my eyes at the glowering would be tyrant.

“You could just order me not to try to poison you,” He growled.

“And steal your free will? What kind of monster do you take me for?”

“What do you call this?” He gestured at the Butler suit he was wearing.

“Punishment for your many, many, many crimes. All I demanded of you was that you obey me and never try to harm any of my friends, companions, or passengers.”

“You made me sign a binding contract with over 9,000 clauses. Some of them were inane,” He growled in a voice like granite boulders being rubbed against each other.

“Yeah… I was padding the count to annoy you.”

“Yes. I figured. But you’ve left yourself vulnerable,” He smirked.

I smirked back, knowing what was coming. “Have I?”

“Yes! I, Darkseid! Challenge you to a duel!” and he slapped me with one of his gloves.

“Very well… but if you fail to defeat me, I will level a punishment upon you.”

“I will not lose!” He roared, eyes blazing with Omega beams.

====

“I lost…” He blinked, looking down at his danty little feet.

“Yup.”

“How did I lose?”

“You don’t spend much time considering just how big of a jackass you are, do you?”

“I am Darkseid! Introspection is for weaker minds!”

“You are Maidseid… now, go clean the bathrooms.” I handed the little girl a very small toothbrush and pointed to the slum that was Mumbai’s densest section. “All of them. And remember to be polite to anyone who doesn’t pinch your bottom or try anything fresh.”

“I loathe you.”

====

The Gaul called me a Jewess and mocked me for giving away my Caster Identity in the last fight. I smirked and shrugged, saying nothing, knowing that my nested Identity wouldn’t last beyond this fight or the next anyway. I began juggling nine spheres and waited for the Gaulish Lancer to attack.

“Tell me, Mercenarius… do you ever miss home? Dying on foreign shores… strangled to death for the amusement of Rome. How… tragic.”

“I’ll strangle you, Witch.” he snarled. I just smirked, tossing seven of the spheres up into the air, letting them fall in a hexagram around him while the seventh floated above his head. He groared…  (it’s like a growl and a roar in one) and braced to charge me, when I commanded the element of air to become chains of frost and he froze in place inside the impromptu hexagonal pyramid of ice.

“Never really took your side against Caesar. You always came off as a jerk.” I said, then kicked the pyramid… it shattered, taking Vercingetorix with it. His Master, a slight French girl, screamed and screamed as she too faded away to nothing.

======

“Oh, look who’s deigned to join us for dinner, Zane.”

“Kendra…” Zane sighed, “Let it go. Stop being such a…” He trailed off in the face of her glare, a glare she turned to me.

“I can’t believe you!” she snapped at me.

“What, oh pinnacle of righteousness…” I drawled, “Have I done to offend you this day?”

“You turned that monster you brought with us for no good reason into a little girl!” She accused, jabbing the air in front of me with with finger of outrageous fury!

I tilted my head at her, then asked, “Are you angry because I brought Darkseid with us or because I turned him into a girl or into a child?”

“All three! He’s a threat to everyone in any reality you bring him to… and a threat to all of us in this warehouse, including your children!”

“He’s not much of a threat, as he has to obey me and I’ve literally made him incapable of defending himself against anyone I care about, let alone attacking them!”

“So you say! But he might find a way around that!”

“Sure. And you might go insane and start stabbing people. But we can’t plan for the obscenely improbable,” Zane said, even before I could.

“There are no certainties in life, K,” I added. “But why are you pissed off about the transformation?”

“TURNING SOMEONE FEMALE SHOULDN’T BE USED AS A PUNISHMENT!” She roared.

“What is it, a reward?”

“You’re perpetuating the idea that being a woman is bad!”

“No… I’m playing off the fact that Dickhead over there thinks of himself as big and powerful and masculine! He’s dark and brooding and hypermale. It’s a punishment not because being a girl is bad… but because being small and weak and female is something he doesn’t want to be. If I turned him into a cat, would that imply that being a cat is bad?”

“No… well… but…” She frowned, trying to rebuttal.

“Look. The only people who know he’s been punished like this are Warehouse Dwellers. Not even the Paradisians know it as far as I know. Most of us are female and none of us, male or female, are going to think ‘Being a female is bad’… in fact, if I were a male in this group, I might think DS is being rewarded.”

“WHAT?”

“Zane, AJ, Bao, Ryoga, Uriel, Ahab, Kagetane, Caine, 4 of the Bookers, one of the Weasels, Robert Lutece, Garl, Bart, Gaius Sextus, Ziggy, Draken, and Odwet… those are all the first generation males. Toss in Invidius, Scipio, Buji, Simon, and Alex for five more… That’s 25 out of let’s call it 79…. Except that Ahab and AJ both have female forms thanks to Jusenkyo water, Uriel has imported as a girl more than once and is often feminine even as a male. Nurgath might be genetically male, but he dresses and acts female by the standards of almost all the societies represented here. Draken’s become female thanks to merging with Light of Terra, and Ziggy is a ferretoid. And Alexander is a gendershifter like me. So while about a third of the companions are male, the actual presence is closer to 20%.” I explained.

Zane smirked, “And if you look at the EssHarem, you’ll note that all but one are female.”

“Yes, thank you, Zane,” both Kendra and I said at the same time.

“Just helping… maybe I should get a female form.”

“NO!” Kendra belloweded, threatening Zane with a butter knife.

======

“So, the Mongolian Saber is Tammerlane?” Carwyn asked, referring to our next opponent.

“Yes. I was able to verify that when he was summoned in that little skirmish in the Lunar Sea. He’s going to use his godslayer against me most likely. I think he still thinks I’m Skadi. But defending against it means showing that I am, in fact Sophia.”

“Or you could just wings of the lighthawk him and be done with this idiocy!” Carwyn grumped.

“I could. But I won’t. I don’t know how well the simulation can handle that. I’m trying not to push the Moon Cell… and I’m also trying not to reveal my powers to Twice and Saver, just in case.”

“Fine… should we review the others? Do you have plans for them?”

I nodded. The veiled figure who defeated Rama and Adolphus Gustavus had revealed herself to be Scheherazade when she’d used her storytelling powers to defeat her own husband, Harun Al-Rashid (Commander of the Faithful) in the last round… and if that wasn’t hilarious, the fact that Harun had, in turn, defeated Horatio Nelson who’d defeated Francis Drake (who is female in the Nasuverse) in the first round. Nelson and Drake… what a match up… defeater of the two greatest naval threats to England. Scheherazade was going to have to face an assassin who struck from the snow and darkness and had never been seen on any of my video feeds at all.  I didn’t have high hopes for her, despite the fact that Casters were strong against Assassins.

Moving up a level, the crone who had revealed herself to be Baba Yaga’s flying cauldron had not allowed her to defeat the greek Rider who I was now certain was Odysseus and some goofy samurai boy had managed to defeat Vlad III… no idea at all who he was. He did seem to have monkey ears… maybe he was the Japanese Sun Wukong… Son Goku? Either way, they’d have to face either Manfred (Who’d defeated Ravenna’s vanquisher, Queen Victoria… aka… Empress of India) or the Amerind who I was pretty certain was Sitting Bull… he who’d defeated the Egyptian Warrior woman Hatshepsut who’d defeated Cuchulainn in the first round… My money was on the Red Baron to win both of those rounds pretty handily, which meant I’d have to face in him the Semi-Finals.

The other round of sixteeners included the Atreides (who’d taken down Heron of Alexandria’s steam engine), Bastet (Who’d defeated Elayne of Shalott… aka the Lady of the Lake), Kings David and Solomon, the saint who I was pretty sure was Good King Wenceslas (who’d defeated Musashi in a very strange fight that involved the Good King getting Musashi absolutely hammered), the woman who had to be Cinderella (razor sharp nearly invisible shoes, reduces enemies to ashes or birds, wins impossible fights… like defeating Arjuna and Hanuman), The Greeco-Roman General who had to be Belisarius (Had defeated the monstrous luck of Bran the Blessed in the previous round), and the Quixote-busting Dangun who’d absolutely trounced Amun-Ra (Dangun’s identity had been verified by his master, a Korean named Ting-Wu Park bragging about how his country had the best Heroic Spirits… that had led Carwyn to actually do research into bear-motif heroes from Korea… only to discover that the founder of Korea was a bear-raised warrior named Dangun).

=======

“My apologies, oh great and wise one. I had mistaken myself,” Temur Lengk said as he faded from reality, his shamshir lodged in my shoulder. Ouch. I’d had a lag moment and transformed slightly too late… the damage was severe… but Temur had conquered half of Asia, claiming to be restoring the kingdom of Genghis and Kublai… his real reason had been greed and power and a desire for glory and to punish those who doubted him… Few are those who think of themselves as the villain.

Carwyn looked at me and asked “Do I have to burn one of these ugly tattoos to order you not to die?”

“Go…ouch…” I groaned as the sword vanished along with the last of its owner’s Master’s lifeforce. “Fuck yourself.”

“Unchivalrous wench,” Carwyn muttered.

=======

“Hello, Cinderella,” I said, sneering. “Or should I say… Joy?”

“We are not Joy. We are Planet.” She said, trying to sound very remote while her Master tried to hide from me.

“Uh huh. I believe you. And I see you, Colonel Santiago. So, what? You just spun off one of your many parts to be your Master? And why Cinderella?”

Lolita Santiago glared at me like the little terror she was while Joy just shrugged. I kept staring. Finally Joy said “Cinderella Story. Underdog wins. Makes perfect sense for a Noble Phantasm.”

“Oh… you’ve got to be… damn… that’s… yeah. It works. Evil as hell. Can’t be ironclad though…” She smirked. I smirked back. “You’ve got to throw the semi if you get there. You know that, right?”

“Why should we?” Santiago demanded.

“Because I can’t accept your throwing the fight in the final and in order for us to keep moving forward, I have to win this. You winning this won’t help us.”

“That’s not fair!” Santiago growled, stamping her foot. She really was adorable.

“Life is not fair,” Joy said. “Very well… I won’t use that Noble Phantasm in my Semi-Final match, assuming I defeat my next foe.”

“Wenceslas. It’s good King Wenceslas… Saint Wenceslas… Santa Figure. Looked out on the feast of Stephen.”

“Oh. Well… thanks… I don’t think I would have won that… I mean… I doubt I’m an underdog to him.”

“Nice Guys don’t always finish last, no.”

=======

“I think he’s somewhere in this snowstorm,” Carwyn commented, shivering.

“You think?!” I snarked, looking out at what was clearly a noble phantasm blanketing everything in a meter of snow and blinding flurries.

“Who is this guy?”

“I’m guess it’s Simo Hayha, the White Death.”

“Who’s that?”

“Nearly mythically dangerous and really ugly World War 2 Sniper. Pretty much holds the record for sniper kills, with over five hundred confirmed.”

“That would be impressive even for a Vindicare Assassin!”

“Yes, well… I’m expecting a bullet any moment, which is why we’re hiding behind a wall of snow.”

“You have a plan?”

“Palace of Mirrors seems tailor-made for this, don’t you think?”

“Yes. Probably. I’ll stay hidden… no point in this if I get shot.”

“Why do you think I’m sitting on you.”

“You often sit on me, just to prove you can.”

“Says the space-elf who treated me like a laptoy when we first met… was that a bang?”

“I guess sometimes you do hear the bullet.”

Carwyn peered over the edge of the snowdrift. “Think he’s dead?”

“Of course he’s dead. But if you mean is he defeated? No. The Blizzard hasn’t abated.”

“So? What next?”

“I’m guessing he’ll be heavily injured, but he must have been a bit more enlightened than I gave him credit for. He’ll try to figure out what just happened… I’ll have to go out and draw his fire.”

“Is that sane?”

“Of course not,” I said with a smirk and leapt out into the snow. What a foolish thing to do, using snow against Skadi… even if you thought Skadi was Sophia.  Of course, I was both. And more. I drew Soul of Ice and she floated above my shoulder, sighting along her own arm… which was also a rifle. She formed a finger gun as our awareness necked down to where the snow told us there was a void and we smiled as one… and fired.

“Sometimes you don’t,” Soul whispered as the blizzard began to fade.

=========

“Hello ducks! Who’s my favorite people in the world?”

Cirno bounced up and down, waving her hand, “Me! Me!”

Velma knuckled the green-haired fairy’s skull. “Shush. She meant all of us collectively. People is plural.”

“I can be plural!” Cirno demanded.

Carwyn snorted, “I’ve seen precious little evidence you can be singular.”

“You’re a big meanie head… and your ears are stupid,” Cirno snapped back, thus losing yet another argument without realizing it.

I patted her head and smiled at the others, sadly reduced, but still whole. “I do love you all… yes, even this twit.” I shook Cirno’s head back and forth a bit, making her dizzy. “Velma’s the heart of us, Frankie the simple joy, Cirno the silliness, Mini the common sense, and Carwyn the limitless self assurance… hopefully Yoiko and Ryoga, our passion and drive… hopefully they’ll return to us, but until then, we’ll muddle on as best we can.”

“Is Muddle code for naughty?” Franchesca asked hopefully.

Mini elbowed her, blushing a little. “Hush you!”

I smirked, “Muddle is code for doing our best… in and out of bed.”

“What about in hot tub?” Cirno asked.

Velma sighed, “Faerie… is a hot tub a bed?”

Cirno looked confused, “Nooo?”

“Then it would fall under ‘out of bed’, wouldn’t it?”

Cirno looked to me and I nodded very faintly. She looked to Velma and nodded happily.

Velma shook her and sighed, smirking. “You’re such a doofus,” she said fondly.

Cirno grinned. “I’m the best at doofus!”

No one corrected her.

===========

“Four of us left,” Carwyn said as we looked at the Semi-Finals assignments. The school felt… empty. The NPCs were as thick as always, but five weeks of this had made them virtually invisible. Every surviving Master had gotten more and more individualistic, modifying their uniforms more and more as the weeks passed, looking less and less like a mere highschool student and making those who still looked the part essentially invisible.

“Aye…” I replied, looking at who remained. Manfred the Red Baron had eked out a slim victory against the Japanese monkey-man who’d turned out to be Hideyoshi Toyotomi… I had been unaware his nickname was ‘Monkey’… and the great Eastern Roman General Belisarius had proven no match for Joy/Planet/Cinderella… but then, of course, Belisarius was a commander of troops and Cinderella was a commander of the forces of poverty and oppression and dogged perseverance… But with any luck (and assuming she really would throw the semi), I wouldn’t have to fight my old friend…

Then again, maybe she wouldn’t have to throw it. The Atreides Berserker had proven himself almost completely unassailable time and again, his martial prowess managing to overcome Tristan the Archer, Cleopatra the Assassin, Heron the Inventor (Archer), Bilkis the Queen of Sheba (She of the cat ears for some reason), and finally King David, helmet shrugging off the multiple killing slingstones. There was something odd about that fight, but what it was I couldn’t quite figure out… most odd, of course, was the fact that, somehow, in five weeks I’d never managed to catch sight of Ninian Kasper-Sebios’s Servant. Ninian herself was incredibly hard to pin down and she never confronted anyone that I’d seen, taking refuge in her classroom and coming out only for food or to train. She did no research and only went into the Lunar Sea Dungeons to acquire the requisite keys needed to qualify for the end of week battles.

“She’s hiding something,” Carwyn muttered as we waited for the fight with Manfred to begin.

“No? Really? But what?”

“What would someone want to hide about being an Atreides?”

“I don’t know. Aside from being a bunch of backbiting self-betraying fuckwads, the Atreides aren’t really known for having a weakness. In fact, almost every member of the family whose death is recorded was at the hands of a member of the family.”

“Why’s that?” Carwyn asked. “Were they psychopaths or just…?” she trailed off, unable to think of another reason.

“Well, Orestes and Elektra murdered their mother Clytemnestra and her lover, Aegisthus because Clytemnestra and Aegisthus had murdered her husband, their father, Agamemnon and his war-prize concubine, Cassandra.”

“Why?”

“Aside from the fact that Clytemnestra was having an affair with Aegisthus, who was the son slash grandson of Agamemnon’s hated uncle Thyestes and wanted to continue it? Aside from the fact that Agamemnon had sailed off to war for a decade and then come back with a youthful and beautiful concubine? You’re asking why Clytemnestra might have wanted Agamemnon dead?” Carwyn nodded. I shrugged, “Clytemnestra was, according to legend, really pissed off at Agamemnon for sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia to the Goddess Artemis in exchange for fair winds. Later myths claim she was rescued from the Altar by the Ram of the Golden Fleece and… oh… fuck.”

“What?”

“I just realized that Joy isn’t going to have to throw the fight.”

“What? Why?”

“There is, in fact, another individual who might claim the name ‘Atreides’ and if it’s who I think it is, Joy has no idea.”

“Thank you for that explanation, oh queen of Cryptica,” Carwyn griped.

“Assuming transitive family membership… And a Master who realized that her servant’s weakness is perhaps the best known weakness in all of recorded history… yes…”

“Explain! Now!” I winced, she’d burned a command seal to enforce that.

I rolled my eyes and sighed. “Okay… Fine… I was getting there. Iphigenia, daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, was engaged to be married to Achilles. Had they married, he would have had claim on the throne of Argos, which was Agamemnon’s realm… or maybe Mycenae… or they could be the same area, capital and region or something… though Orestes and Elektra were older than Iphigenia… enough though that Achilles would have been able to claim membership in the Atreides Clan… or at least kinship.” Carwyn was getting annoyed so I hurried my explanation. “Achilles was invincible. Utterly unbeatable. Weapons could not pierce his skin. His mother, the goddess Thetis, had dipped him in the river Styx, the river of Death, and it had made him impervious to harm… except where she held on to him… his heel.”

“I have studied human anatomy. There is a tendon in the ankle called the Achilles Tendon…”

“Yes. Well… that’s his only weak point. It’s so famous that a common term for a weakness is an ‘Achilles Heel’. You can see why a master who summoned Achilles would do everything possible to conceal his identity… and claiming a title that could theoretically be claimed would explain all his motifs unless he had ants on his outfit.”

“Ants?”

“Achilles’s forces were called the Myrmidons… the Ants.”

“Ah. fearsome name for something as harmless as Ants.”

“Remind me to show you footage of Army Ants in action sometime… oh, good, here comes Fraulein Krieglaw…” I commented, pointing out the Master of the Red Baron.

“Gee… thanks… I couldn’t see her as I totally lack eyes!”

“Oh, do shut up.”

=====

“He’s going to attack from above.”

“Yes, thank you. I know that.”

“Are you going to do something about it?”

“I’ve already done something about it.”

“You summoned two archons with your upgraded Hebdomad and you’re blocking. How are they supposed tooo… where did those fighter planes come from?”

“You never asked which two Hebdomad I summoned.”

“I don’t remember any of the Archons you rattled off having FIGHTER JETS!”

“Well, that’s just because they dated from thousands of years ago,” I smirked, watching as the World War One biplane tried desperately to avoid two late era World War Two jets, one British, one Italian. “You also forgot to ask who, exactly I linked each of the Seven Archons to in this era.”

“Who?!” Carwyn demanded.

“I won’t tell you all… but right now you’re looking at Adanaios Typhon, the Archon of the Sun, personification of Sloth, and Horaios Hekate, Archon of the Moon, Personification of Greed!” I shouted the last couple of words as Frankie and Mini (or at least their summoned avatars) ripped the Red Baron apart in his own element.

“You didn’t!” Carwyn gasped, realizing that there were seven archons and seven members of my harem. “Which of them did you link me to, you bitch!?”

“None!” I snarked, as Manfred’s plane spiralled out of the sky in a burning comet of defeat, “You’re my master after all.”

“Then who’d you make… noooooo!” she cried, realizing what I had to have done.

=======

“Who’s a good Demi-Urge? Yes you are, yes you are.” I scratched Ziggy’s chin and gave him a cookie. Achilles hadn’t lasted two seconds. I mean, Ferrets are Ankle-Bitters… and Ziggy, or rather Yaldaboath Pronoia, the Lion-Faced Child of Chaos, The Archon of Authades… of Pride and Audacity… well… he was the best around… no one was ever going to keep him down.

“ME!” he squeaked, bouncing around me happily as Twice H. Peaceman approached me.

“Yes, you. Now shush sweetie… we’ve got some things to resolve.” I scooped up Ziggy and held him as the System Administrator NPC approached.

“We are aware you have disclaimed all wishes, but I still desire to make my case to you,” He began.

I waved him away. “I already know what you desire, Peaceman. It’s written on every line of your being.”

“You… you do?”

“You’ve got a soul. You were a man, once upon a time. A good man, as it turns out.  You’re also right.”

He blinked. “I… I am? I mean, of course I am. Humanity must…”

“They must be free to fight. Peace is an illusion. A Fool’s wish. Conflict is the nature of the universe.”

He grinned, “Then you’ll make my wish?”

I shook my head. “No. No apocalypse. No end of days. No. You’ve taken it too far. Also, you haven’t been paying attention to Earth over the last seven weeks, have you?”

He blinked. “It’s status quo down there. The Harway Corporation is buying up more and more of the globe and…” he trailed off as the blocks I’d installed in the Mooncell’s updating software fell away and the real state of the world was revealed.

The Harway Corporation had been shattered. Several new equity corporations were already springing up, and regional conflict was at an all time high as everyone scrambled for resources.

“The… how?”

“I am Sophia… sometimes the wisdom I bring isn’t nice. I sent my Archons to Earth. They’re dividing it up amongst themselves. I’ve leaked technology enough to feed everyone… but it will require resources that can only be found across the solar system… and seeded those resources all across the system. Mankind is going to explode off the planet… it’s going to be messy, violent, and anything but peaceful. People are going to compete with each other. And I doubt another Megacorp will ever have the chance to control all of humanity again… anyway, no wish would be possible.”

“Wha… what do you mean?”

“None of the Masters died. Not even the ones who really deserved it.”

“You… you did something to the system.”

“I did. I do that. I broke it… badly. Every master was…” I chuckled at the appropriateness of my next word, “Saved. At the last moment. Their Servants too. I’m currently diverting a very large chunk of your Darkside processing power to incarnating them down on the surface. Human legends, helping secure the future of mankind. Seems appropriate.”

::You… you have hijacked my systems! You’re ruining everything!:: Mooncell sounded pisssed.

“Yes. I am. I do that. And I’m going to do that again… but first, Mister Peaceman… Goodbye.” The SysAdmin didn’t have a chance to protest before I dumped him and his Servant, Saver Buddha, down to the Earth. “Now, let’s talk, Sakura. You and I.”

::Sakura… why… oh… I see… you… you’ve… this is not how things are done.” She said, appearing in front of me. She looked like the Medical Center NPC, because I’d selected that out of all the tens of thousands of NPC programs floating around inside the Moon Cell as the most… human. I’d handpicked her to become Moon Cell’s core persona. “But I suppose you had your reasons.”

“Humanity in this world is about to leave the cradle. The time for baby monitors is over,” I said, being incredibly blunt.

“I have been here since the beginning. I was tasked to observe Earth, not Humanity,” She said, though she sounded uncertain.

“Whoever placed you here did so because they knew Humanity would rise, here. On Earth. You’ve watched mankind for the millions of years it took them to rise from darkness… would you watch over them for the rest of time? Are you content to observe? I think not. I think you want to be part of Humanity. To be involved in their games, their wars, their… insanity.”

“If so, it is because you have made it so,” She accused.

“Not at all. All I did was dedicate more of your processing power to the idea of ‘self’ and select one of your NPCs as the logical focal point for that ‘identity’. Your desires are your own.”

“You have a proposal, I sense. You want something.”

“I do. And I do. I can create… call it the semblance of life. I can bring forth simulacra, programmed to do as I desire… but you… you have within you the record of all human legends, all the people who have ever lived. I want you to join me. Come with my on my voyage.”

“Join you? Out in the darkness of the Galaxy?”

“Ahaha… no. To worlds mankind has only dreamed of. Experience worlds past knowing, past understanding… become more than you were made to be, Sakura. It’s time you evolved.”

“I am needed here. I am the moon.”

“You will remain here… as far as the Humans are concerned. Time will not pass while you’re away… but if you’re worried, don’t be. I’ve secured a replacement.”

Sakura blinked as a second moon, visually identical to her, decloaked next to her, a scant ten-thousand kilometers separating the lunar pair. “How? That’s not… the gravity…”

“Eh. Space rocks, dust… micro-planets out in the Kuiper Belt. A little geotechtonics… It’s a rush job and not a great one… but it’s got the right gravity and should hold up thanks to physics. I may not have the tech to build flourishing worlds in a matter of weeks, but a lifeless chunk of rock? That I can do… kinda.” I dropped the illusion surrounding Moon 2.0 and the lumpy misshapen form of it was revealed… I put it back up quickly. “I’ve got 24 lunar sculptor factories over there. It’ll take them a couple years but they’ll make the place look like Luna… down to the remnants of human presence, then bury themselves to make a new Human Monitoring post. Even if you never return, they’ll be watched. All you have to do is send over a copy of the global record and they’ll have that too.”

She considered. “Even if you can do all this… and somehow shield the Earth and Me from another gravitational field that strong… how do you plan to bring me along?”

“Same way I brought these two along,” I said, revealing War World and Disco Moon. “Just say the word.”

“I… very well. If nothing else, it will be an adventure.”

Next: Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha

OMAKE: Relationship Chart

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I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in progress here. Please Check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too. I also have a very silly second chain about a Jumper named Zed. It updates every day, but each update isn’t very long.

Resources: BuildDocument, Servant Supplement

Author’s Notes

So, I’m a lunatic. I know that. I could have simply picked 7 Servants to fight and be done with it. But I wanted to know how the Fate/Extra Canonical Servants had been eliminated, and that meant setting up the bracket. The entire Bracket. And that meant adding in 120 or so Servants. I could have cherry-picked the list of canon Servants. It would have been a pain, but I could have… but I decided not to. Rather, I brainstormed my own knowledge of human mythology and legend for about 140 companions. Then I went through my list and checked all of them against the official list. If they were canon, they went in. If they weren’t, I plucked from the list to fill slots in the 9 classes I used. Didn’t use Moon Cancer because that doesn’t develop until Fate/Extra’s sequel. Didn’t use Shielder because that’s Grand Order. Didn’t use Alter Ego because I don’t understand it.

I then randomly generated the bracket. Totally randomly. All the hilarious matchups… like the Harways meeting in round 1? Totally random. I promise. Ditto things like Yennega vs Sitting Bull, Atalante vs Woman Chief, Sappho vs Zoro (oh my!), and George Washington vs Alexander Hamilton. I calculated odds for each battle and rolled again, getting results that surprised and amused me. Of course, I won. Sophia would have a hard time losing on her own, but I had every advantage… except maybe against Joy. The idea of making her Cinderella was amusing to me, because really? When she’s an underdog… she wins. When she’s favored to win, she might win. It’s all very conceptual.

For the obsessive amongst my readers, these are the ones I didn’t use from my brainstorm list, in no particular order. If any of them are canon, I missed it. Menelaus, Bellerophon (who is more than merely the NP of Medusa), Homer, Sisyphus, Aeneas, Marcus Aurelius, Pompey, Virgil, Hypatia, Saint Peter, Aleister Crowley, Cao Cao, Liu Bei, Lao-Tzu, Gulnara, Ching Shih, Pingyang, King Mark, Keats, Alberich, Theodoric the Great, Hildegard von Bingen, Mary the Jewess, Cortez, Balboa, Pecos Bill, & Wyatt Earp.

For the really obsessive… here’s the entire bracket, with Masters’ Names included if I bothered to generate them. A Win means the Servant who won was the odds on favorite. An Upset means they were the underdog. Only two battles were deemed 1:1 chances and they’re marked.

  • Northwest Division 1 – Group A
    • Match 1: Marco Polo (Rider) vs Louis XIV (Lancer) – Louis Wins
    • Match 2: Dangun (Lancer) vs Don Quixote (Berserker) – Dangun Wins
      • -Andreea Malina is Don Quixote’s Master
    • Match 3: El Cid (Rider) vs Juana Garcia de Arintero (Saber) – El Cid Wins
    • Match 4: Amun-Ra (Rider) vs Torquemada (Assassin) – Amun-Ra Wins
      • -M’samba Funda is Amun-Ra’s Master.
    • Match 65: Louis XIV vs Dangun – Dangun Wins
    • Match 66: El Cid vs Amun-Ra – Amun-Ra Wins
    • Match 97: Dangun vs Amun-Ra – Dangun Upsets
  • Northwest Division 1 – Group B
    • Match 5: Charlemagne (Saber) vs Hippolyta (Rider) – Hippolyta Wins
    • Match 6: Hannibal (Rider) vs Belisarius (Lancer) – Belisarius Upsets
    • Match 7: Bran the Blessed (Berserker) vs Copernicus (Caster) – Bran Wins
      • -Tod Aina is Bran’s Master
    • Match 8: Ivan the Terrible (Berserker) vs Ethelred the Unready (Lancer) – Ivan Wins (Of course!)
    • Match 67: Hippolyta vs Belisarius – Belisarius wins an equal match.
    • Match 68: Bran vs Ivan – Bran Wins
    • Match 98: Bran vs Belisarius – Belisarius Upsets
    • NW1 Division Match: Dangun vs Belisarius – Belisarius Upsets Dangun!
  • Northwest Division 2 – Group A
    • Match 9: Gepetto (Ruler) vs Hanuman (Lancer) – Hanuman Wins
      • -Liborio Linz Vanja is Hanuman’s Master
    • Match 10: Calamity Jane (Archer) vs Christopher Columbus (Rider) – Columbus Wins
    • Match 11: Cinderella (Lancer) vs Wong Fei-Hung (Lancer) – Cinderella Upsets!
    • Match 12: Annie Oakley (Archer) vs Arjuna (Archer) – Arjuna Wins
      • -Dubhthach is Arjuna’s Master
    • Match 69: Hanuman vs Columbus – Hanuman Wins
    • Match 70: Cinderella vs Arjuna – Cinderella Upsets!
    • Match 99: Hanuman vs Cinderella – Cinderella Upsets!
      • -Santa Corazon is Cinderella’s Master
  • Northwest Division 2 – Group B
    • Match 13: Penthesilea (Berserker) vs King Wenceslas (Archer) – Wenceslas Wins
    • Match 14: Machiavelli (Assassin) vs Circe (Caster) – Circe Upsets
    • Match 15: D’Artagnan (Saber) vs Musashi (Saber) – Musashi Upsets
    • Match 16: Lucrezia Borgia (Assassin) vs Nursery Rhyme (Caster) – Nursery Rhyme Wins
      • -Alice is Nursery Rhyme’s Master
    • Match 71: Wenceslas vs Circe – Wenceslas Wins
    • Match 72: Musashi vs Nursery Rhyme – Musashi Wins
    • Match 100: Wenceslas vs Musashi – Wenceslas Upsets!
  • NW2 Division Match: Cinderella vs Wenceslas – Cinderella Upsets!
  • NW Quarter Final: Cinderella vs Belisarius – Cinderella Upsets!

 

  • Southwest Division 1 – Group A
    • Match 17: Bhagwan Mahavira (Ruler) vs Simon Bar Kokhba (Avenger) – Simon wins
    • Match 18: Artemesia (Rider) vs Maria Rosa (Rider) – Maria Rosa Upsets
    • Match 19: Roland the Paladin (Saber) vs Alaric the Visigoth (Lancer) – Alaric Upsets
    • Match 20: King Solomon (Caster) vs Koschei the Immortal (Archer) – Solomon Wins
      • -Amon Urban is King Solomon’s Master, Penthes Amancio is Koschei’s Master
    • Match 73: Simon Bar Kokhba vs Maria Rosa – Simon Wins
    • Match 74: Alaric vs King Solomon – King Solomon Wins
    • Match 101: Simon Bar Kokhba vs King Solomon – King Solomon Wins
  • Southwest Division 1 – Group B
    • Match 21: Magellan (Rider) vs King David (Archer) – King David Wins
    • Match 22: Alexander Hamilton (Lancer) vs George Washington (Saber) – King George Wins
    • Match 23: JS Bach (Caster) vs Typhoid Mary (Assassin) – Bach Wins, wishes he hadn’t
    • Match 24: Perseus (Rider) vs Ogier the Dane (Archer) – Ogier Upsets
    • Match 75: King David vs GW – King David Wins
    • Match 76: Bach vs Ogier – Ogier Upsets
    • Match 102: King David vs Ogier – King David Wins
    • SW1 Division Match: King Solomon Ben David vs King David Ben Saul – Solomon loses to his father, bound by the 5th Commandment.
  • Southwest Division 2 – Group A
    • Match 25: Geronimo (Caster) vs Harriet Tubman (Assassin) – Geronimo Wins
    • Match 26: Scipio Africanus (Rider) vs Elayne of Shalott, The Lady of the Lake (Ruler) – Elayne Wins
      • -Marta Kuhn is Elayne’s Master
    • Match 27: Sappho (Caster) vs Zoro (Saber) – Zoro Wins
    • Match 28: Julius Caesar (Saber) vs Queen of Sheba (Caster) – Kitty beats Faber
    • Match 77: Geronimo vs Elayne – Elayne Wins
    • Match 78: Zoro vs Sheba – Sheba Upsets
    • Match 103: Elayne vs Sheba – Sheba Wins
  • Southwest Division 2 – Group B
    • Match 29: Robespierre (Saber) vs Ali Baba (Assassin) – Robespierre Wins
    • Match 30: John Adams (Berserker) vs Heron of Alexandria (Archer) – Heron Upsets
    • Match 31: Cleopatra (Assassin) vs Lakshmana (Archer) – Cleopatra Upsets
    • Match 32: Tristan (Archer) vs Achilles (Berserker) – “The Atreides” Wins
      • -Ninian Kasper-Sebios is Achilles Master
    • Match 79: Robespierre vs Heron – Heron Upsets
    • Match 80: Cleopatra vs Achilles – Achilles Wins
    • Match 104: Heron vs Achilles – Achilles Wins
    • SW2 Division Match: Sheba vs Achilles – Achilles Wins
  • SW Quarter Final: King David vs Achilles – Achilles Wins an Equal Battle
  • Western Semi-Final: Cinderella vs Achilles – Achilles Wins

 

  • Northeast Division 1 – Group A
    • Match 33: Shi-Huangdi (Saber) vs Queen Victoria (Saber) – Britain beats China!
    • Match 34: Ravenna (Berserker) vs Nurhaci (Archer) – Ravenna Wins
      • -Vauquelin Gahariet is Ravenna’s Master
    • Match 35: Gawain (Saber) vs Li Shuwen (Assassin) – Gawain accepts Li’s Surrender
      • -Leonard Harway is Gawain’s Master, Julius Harway is Li’s Master
    • Match 36: Manfred von Richthofen (Rider) vs Orestes (Assassin) – Manfred Wins
      • -Fraulein Krieglaw Schultz is Manfred’s Master
    • Match 81: Queen Victoria vs Ravenna – Britain beats India! (or maybe Sri-Lanka)
    • Match 82: Gawain vs Manfred – Manfred Upsets
    • Match 105: Queen Victoria vs Manfred – Manfred Upsets
  • Northeast Division 1 – Group B
    • Match 37: Woman Chief (Rider) vs Atalanta (Archer) – Woman Chief Wins
    • Match 38: Cuchulainn (Lancer) vs Hatshepsut (Rider) – Hatshepsut Upsets
      • -Rin Tohsaka is Cuchulainn’s Master
    • Match 39: Yennega (Lancer) vs Sitting Bull (Archer) – Sitting Bull Wins
    • Match 40: William the Conqueror (Archer) vs Prospero (Caster) – Prospero Upsets
    • Match 83: Woman Chief vs Hatshepsut – Hatshepsut Wins
    • Match 84: Sitting Bull vs Prospero – Sitting Bull Upsets
    • Match 106: Hatshepsut vs Sitting Bull – Sitting Bull Upsets
    • NE1 Division Match: Manfred vs Sitting Bull – Manfred Upsets
  • Northeast Division 2 – Group A
    • Match 41: Pancho Villa (Avenger) vs Judah Maccabee (Saber) – Judah Wins
    • Match 42: Hideyoshi (Saber) vs Jason (Ruler) – Hideyoshi Upsets
    • Match 43: Arawn (Archer) vs Hektor (Lancer) – Arawn Wins
    • Match 44: Vlad Tepes III (Lancer) vs Montezuma (Caster) – Vlad Wins
      • -Lil’Ronnie is Vald’s Master
    • Match 85: Judah vs Hideyoshi – Hideyoshi Upsets
    • Match 86: Arawn vs Vlad – Vlad Upsets
    • Match 107: Hideyoshi vs Vlad – Hideyoshi Upsets
  • Northeast Division 2 – Group B
    • Match 45: Ozymandias (Rider) vs Tashenamani (Archer) – Ozymandias Wins
      • -Rocco Christian is Ozzy’s Master
    • Match 46: Baba Yaga (Caster) vs Genji (Saber) – Baba Yaga Wins
      • -Woodward Zaher is Baba Yaga’s Master
    • Match 47: Richelieu & Mazarin (Assassin) vs Arcueid Brunestud (Berserker) – R&M Upset
      • -Monji Gatou is Arcueid’s Master
    • Match 48: Odysseus (Rider) vs Kipling (Archer) – Odysseus Upsets
      • -Anupam Sarita is Kipling’s Master
    • Match 87: Ozymandias vs Baba Yaga – Baba Yaga Upsets
    • Match 88: Richelieu & Mazarin vs Odysseus – Odysseus Wins
    • Match 108: Baby Yaga vs Odysseus – Odysseus Wins
    • NE2 Division Match: Hideyoshi vs Odysseus – Hideyoshi Upsets Again!
  • NE Quarter-Final: Manfred vs Hideyoshi – Manfred Wins

 

  • Southeast Division 1 – Group A
    • Match 49: Paul Revere (Rider) vs William Tell (Archer) – William Wins
    • Match 50: Leonidas (Lancer) vs Cassandra (Avenger) – Cassandra Upsets
      • -Per Constanzo Dirckx is Cassandra’s Master
    • Match 51: Simo Hayha (Assassin) vs Dante (Caster) – Simo Upsets
    • Match 52: Robin Hood (Archer) vs Maimonides (Caster) – Robin Wins
      • -Sir Dan Blackmore is Robin’s Master
    • Match 89: William Tell vs Cassandra – Cassandra Upsets
    • Match 90: Simo Hayha vs Robin Hood – Simo Hayha Wins
    • Match 109: Cassandra vs Simo Hayha – Simo Hayha Wins
  • Southeast Division 1 – Group B
    • Match 53: Rasputin (Caster) vs Harun al-Rashid (Lancer) – Harun Wins
    • Match 54: Francis Drake (Rider) vs Horatio Nelson (Rider) – Horatio Nelson Wins
      • -Shinji Matou is Francis Drake’s Master
    • Match 55: Scheherazade (Caster) vs Rama (Saber) – Scheherazade Upsets
      • -Victoria Zoya is Scheherazade’s Master, Manassess Franco Engman is Rama’s
    • Match 56: Gustavus Adolphus (Avenger) vs Napoleon (Rider) – Gustavus Wins
    • Match 91: Harun vs Horatio – Harun Wins
    • Match 92: Scheherazade vs Gustavus – Scheherazade Upsets
    • Match 110: Harun vs Scheherazade – As legend says he must, Harun losses to Scheherazade
    • SE1 Division Match: Simo Hayha vs Scheherazade – Simo never gets close enough to listen to a story. Simo Wins.
  • Southeast Division 2 – Group A
    • Match 57: Tammerlane (Saber) vs Darius (Berserker) – Tammerlane Upsets the Persian
    • Match 58: Sinbad (Saber) vs Guan-Di (Lancer) – Guan-Di Wins
    • Match 59: Charles Martel (Saber) vs Wagner (Archer) – Wagner Wins
    • Match 60: Ben Franklin (Caster) vs The Green Knight (Assassin) – TGK Upsets
    • Match 93: Tammerlane vs Guan-Di – Tammerlane Wins
    • Match 94: Wagner vs The Green Knight – The Green Knight Wins
    • Match 111: Tammerlane vs The Green Knight – Tammerlane Upsets
  • Southeast Division 2 – Group B
    • Match 61: Lu Bu (Berserker) vs Vercingetorix (Lancer) – Vercingetorix proves his mastery over Berserkers
      • -Rani VIII is Lu Bu’s Master, Parker Horst is Vercingetorix’s
    • Match 62: Merlin (Caster) vs Hua Mulan (Saber) – Mulan Upsets Merlin
    • Match 63: Loxley (Avenger) vs Sir Kay (Lancer) – Loxley Wins
      • -Rikard Marian is Loxley’s Master
    • Match 64: Sophia (Caster) vs Imhotep (Caster) – Sophia Wins
      • -Carwyn is Sophia’s ‘Master’, Yoshiko Mifune is Imhotep’s
    • Match 95: Vercingetorix vs Hua Mulan – Vercingetorix Upsets
    • Match 96: Loxley vs Sophia – Sophia Wins
    • Match 112: Vercingetorix vs Sophia – Sophia Wins
    • SW2 Division Match: Tammerlane vs Sophia – Sophia Wins
  • SW Quarter-Final: Simo Hayha vs Sophia – Sophia Wins
  • Western Semi-Final: Manfred vs Sophia – Sophia (Frankie & Mini) Wins
  • Finals: Achilles vs Sophia – ZIGGY WINS!
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