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A Fake Familiar Reborn

In the middle of a possible Stray hunt, Rias Gremory accidentally ended up with three marks on her hand due to activating an unknown spell. After researching them, she discovered their use of calling forth a possible familiar. But what came from the summoning was a familiar that not even a Devil could have ever imagined.

NimtheWriter · Anime & Comics
Not enough ratings
24 Chs

Chapter 14: Training Part 1

Beta read by Shigiya and Paragon of Awesomeness

Longest chapter by far, 14k words. So, it should have been a doubt update with To Love a Sword but that chapter ain't quite done yet. So by tomorrow it should be good to go.

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He'd been striving toward that hill his whole life. It was from atop that hill he'd be able to gaze out and see all that he'd ever accomplished along with how this all came to be. With an indifferent face he recalled the ever-expanding hellish field of fire and death, a cataclysmic genesis. 

Whether it had been the deepest layer of the Underworld or the pits of Tartarus, she couldn't tell. All she knew was that it fit the truest definition of Hell itself. Yet amidst this infernal chaos, he held out against the agony surrounding him, propelled by sheer perseverance and an unwavering determination to avoid sharing the same fate as the tormented souls whose burnt out husks continued to writhe in the fiery abyss.

All of this he lived through, again and again like a broken record. A nightmare that he did not crawl out from, but was instead rescued when found by the one who gave him a purpose where there had existed none — a dream that haunted him to the very end of his journey.

There, on top of the hill, he gazed outward and remembered all those he had helped. As someone who always lived for the sake of helping others, could he ask for anything more? Certain of his path, he'd never looked back. Certain that so long as he could make it to the peak of that hill, he'd die with a smile on his face. She wondered what it represented being there, the achievement of his goals obviously, though a part of her knew that wasn't the case. 

Born with little talent or power, just a tireless focus on his goals. The miracles he achieved were formed not because they had been ordained by some higher entity, but from his own sweat and blood, nothing else.

But to achieve his miracle, he did. Just like the miracle that had been that smile that saved him from the fire all those years ago. Some memories just wouldn't fade away, serving as the foundation for the entity known as E***a **i**u. A goal stemming from a simple promise made under the twinkling moonlight between a broken man and a child who idolized his father. 

'That was the moment he strived to become a hero, the promise he made to become the one who saves others.' Quite innocent, right? She wanted to believe so, at least, hoping so was the best that could be done. Regardless, in the end, that goal was clearly reached at one point or another — creating the steel eyed silver tongued smartass who she grew to love without even realizing until she was far past that point. 

'Because I wanted to forge a world in which no one had cause to cry, I spent my life doing everything in my power to save everyone — that's what he said that time.'

He achieved that dream by never giving up, right? It suited him, despite only knowing him for a short while, she knew how stubborn he could be at all times. Regardless of his flaws and weaknesses, he endlessly strived to work harder and harder. Breaking his body if necessary and endlessly pushing to his limits just to one day save someone. Unafraid of death… no, rather… he had no care for his own wellbeing in the first place. 

But since he'd accomplished his goal, he had to be happy, right? Otherwise, what was the point? As someone who'd lived for saving others, he should be at least as happy as those he'd saved. 

Then again, the person she spoke about the dream of becoming a hero was far too different from the optimistic boy before her. It was odd, that much she noticed, the changes were too drastic, maybe she missed something. He never liked to talk about his past in much detail, always giving her a rudimentary resume in most cases. Even now, she felt he still hid the full ability of his magecraft. 

And yet... she saw a glimpse of the truth, where for all his effort — that was not his reward.

Both in life and even after his death, his selflessness would be exploited endlessly.

He would find no rest even in death. Yet... he was fine with this.

As far as he was concerned, this was a second chance, to make up for always being powerless to have helped people the way he'd wanted to in life.

As a Servant, a Heroic Spirit, he'd have endless opportunities to avert all manner of tragedies. To save at least one person.

It was on this premise that he sacrificed his very afterlife.

But as had always been the case before... that too was exploited.

Betrayed.

He'd just wanted to selflessly help others, yet had been betrayed by everyone he ever sought to help.

And only after damning himself to this hell for all of eternity, did he realize that he had even been betrayed by his own ideals.

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"...Hah," Unlike with the last dream, Rias was not jolted awake covered in sweat and panting. But the same sense of confusion and worry remained just as strong inside her heart, making it beat loudly as if to burst outside at any moment.

"What… what was that?" She asked herself, feeling a splitting headache form as she tried to recall the details of that particular dream. It felt different from the first one, heavier and more somber. Such that she still felt chills spreading across her body even as she no longer recalled what caused them. "..." 

Bits and pieces of blurred images came back as she forced herself to remember. The hazy recollection of a young boy trudging through a world of flames and ashes, with no true hope of survival. Then the sight of a middle-aged man sitting beneath a full moon. Finally, there was the singular image that stood apart from the rest. The one detail she could recall with perfect clarity. 

Archer sitting all by himself on top of a hill surrounded by dense smog, a dead landscape that paralleled the expression on his face. So drastically different from the Archer she had come to know. Her Archer was one whose behavior consisted of an aloof maturity with only the occasional bit of jaded dourness leaking out every now and then. He entertained himself by trading sarcastic jabs with Akeno and others when they did something to deserve it, being stern but effective with Issei and his students… He took care of Koneko in a way that it was no wonder her darling little Rook had become so attached to him. And then there was the part she cherished above all else: the comfort he offered her during moments of tenderness and vulnerability when it was just the two of them.

"What changed?" Rias wondered out loud. He did previously mention his view on heroes and what it really meant to save someone, let alone himself being a hero. But she hadn't put very much thought into his words until this moment. 

With a reluctant sigh, she forced herself to sit upright in bed, rubbing her temples. Her crimson hair tumbled around her shoulders, framing her sleepy face. "Why does morning have to come so early?" she muttered to herself, her voice laden with fatigue. She didn't have the mental energy required for this right after waking up.

And that was unlikely to change as the hours went by, as Rias knew she had a busy day ahead. Between the training they'd scheduled and dealing with Sona's group, this meant she couldn't afford to linger in bed any longer — much to her dismay. She reluctantly swung her legs over the side of the bed, forcing herself to stand, even as her legs felt like lead.

"The others should be up by now," they hadn't started training all that intensely yesterday, surprisingly, nor had there been any combat exercises. They'd limited themselves to merely doing warm ups and stamina exercises the entire day, which consisted of her and Sona's groups both running around the forest for a couple of laps, maximum amount of push-ups and other miscellaneous stuff that everyone for the most part managed to accomplish without much of a struggle. 

Issei had struggled at times, as had a male Pawn in service to Sona by the name Saji Genshirou. The most notable standout in this though, had been Asia, though this came as no surprise as the former nun's physical aptitude wasn't exactly the best. So for the most part, she spent more than half of the day resting rather than running. Rias doubted this was the training Archer had warned her about, as it was nowhere close to being cruel or even difficult like she thought it'd be initially. 

As she tried to shake off the sleepiness, Rias couldn't help but feel a nagging sense of déjà vu. She knew she had been dreaming, but the memories of it were elusive, slipping through her fingers like water. Fragments of the dream danced at the edge of her consciousness — vivid images, snippets of conversation, a sense of urgency — but they refused to coalesce into a coherent whole.

Rias massaged her temples once more, willing herself to remember. "What was that dream about?" she mumbled, frustration growing as the details slipped further away. She had a sinking feeling that whatever she dreamt might have been important, but it remained just out of reach. A tantalizing enigma in the early morning haze.

Had the fire been the turning point which marked Archer's desire to become a hero, or did it have something to do with the man who'd saved him? Though the memories were blurry and barely there, she could tell how different both individuals felt, the Archer she summoned and the boy she'd seen in the dream. It made her want to know his past, the details and moments that defined his life and his legend as a Heroic Spirit. 

"Maybe I can ask him directly." That was her first thought at least, but she held back on acting on those impulses. 

"No, I need to focus on the Rating Game first, and take this opportunity to have the others improve under Archer's guidance." Truthfully, having Sona along for this boot camp was something she hadn't been expecting. If anything, it brought out her worries that the bespectacled girl was going to try and take her Servant away or coerce him into joining her side somehow. "…No. I'm being too paranoid here. Sona is not that kind of person, and neither is Archer." 

Getting up from her bed, the heiress was disappointed to see the empty space next to her. She started feeling that her time with Archer was becoming less and less frequent compared to the early days after she summoned him. Granted, on one end it was her fault for making him a teacher and saddling him with the responsibilities that came with the position, and would often result in her Servant being present at school before any students had arrived to prepare his class rather than waiting for her to wake up and eat an amazing breakfast together. 

Her mood soured further at the realization that recently, Yuuto and Akeno had started spending more time with him than ever before — even Issei! "He's supposed to be mine…" 

Humph, acting all uncaring and rude, but then actively helping the others with the smallest issue without even checking if it would eat into their together-time. He truly was a tsundere, that man.

"I wonder what we'll be having for breakfast?" A moment she always looked forward to every morning, especially when it came to her Servant's skill in the kitchen. Even so, this one would be special, being a perfect opportunity to show off Archer's capabilities in front of Sona and everyone else who had yet to witness his talents. 

Opening the door, Rias walked outside her room and into the living room where the others were already gathered and waiting patiently. Akeno surprisingly was hanging out with Asia, seemingly teaching the young girl lessons on reading and writing Japanese. Becoming a Devil had enabled the girl to speak the local language fluently, but she would still need to study tremendously in order to learn the written portion. Yuuto on his end sat quietly on one of the available with his arms crossed, appearing almost as if he was trying to conserve his energy for the day ahead while still being ready at a moment's notice, with Koneko by his side reading a magazine. As for Issei, the boy was tapping away at his phone with a frustrated expression. 

"Damn it, I've been trying for the last hour but I can't get any kind of signal here." He muttered, sighing audibly before giving up and looking at her. "Ah, Buchou, good morning!" 

"Good morning to you too, Issei," she replied with a smile. "Are you perhaps trying to get service here?" 

"Yes, I told my mom that I would call her from time to time during the trip, but I haven't been able to send so much as a text." 

"This mansion is in a very remote part of Japan's countryside. The closest sign of civilization is a three-hour drive away, and it's at least two hours before you get any cell service. I'm afraid searching for a signal will be impossible for the next nine days." 

"Ah man… this sucks." 

Everyone chuckled at his reaction, "Ah, by the way, where is Archer, Sona, and the rest?" The redhead asked, not seeing her rival or her Servant. 

"Here," before anyone could answer, the Sitri heiress' voice came from behind as she was accompanied with her peerage, all already clothed for the upcoming days. "I see you just woke up, Rias." 

The way she said it — though it sounded almost the same as her usual self — held a tinge of mockery. If the others weren't present, then the chances of Sona also showing a smirk would have been high. Regardless, showing any dissatisfaction would only give Sona the result she wanted. "So I have, though we were waiting for you. I take it Archer is not with you either?" 

"No, I haven't seen him since yesterday." Sona glanced at her Queen, given the latter had been frequently conversing with that man these last few days. Tsubaki shook her head as well, having not spoken to him since their last conversation in Kuoh. Her eyes kept stealing glances at the Gremory Knight from time to time. "Maybe we ought to begin without him. I already prepared a set of exercises and magic practice for my peerage members, and you'd be welcome to join us." 

"Yeah, that's a great idea! What would some ghost dude who doesn't understand most of our powers and magic even know about training us in the first place?" Saji Genshirou said in boisterous support of his King's idea. He'd been unhappy for the last few days over how adamant his President had been about them all tagging along with Rias Gremory's group just because of that bastard who'd been giving him a hard time in his English lessons. He knew why she was so obsessed going after him since he first heard about what happened from Momo, and then she even brought the same chess set from the Student Council office here with her. Still… he didn't like it. 

"Neh, don't be so rude to Toujou-sensei, Gen-kun." Momo patted his back with amusement evident in her eyes. "Your jealousy is showing, be careful or else Kaichou might notice." 

"Then why are you saying it outloud like that for everyone to listen…" 

"Who knows, I haven't had my daily cup of coffee yet." Momo replied as she stretched her back.

Realizing that Sona's group hadn't had breakfast yet either, Rias was about to have the group head to the kitchen and prepare something simple. As it happened, that was the moment when the air next to Issei stirred in concurrence with Archer appearing, frightening the poor boy. 

"Wah! Why'd you do that!?"

"I see everyone is gathered here at last. We'll get started and not waste any more time than necessary." Archer appeared, this time only wearing his black armor without the holy shroud around anymore. Rias' eyes widened, her body freezing as his figure, for a split second, was replaced with that of a young redheaded boy. The phantom sound of fire crackling tingled in her ears, the air felt suffocatingly heavy with the taste of smoke and ash, and it felt as if the pristine walls of this building were about to collapse and reveal a scorched wasteland.

"Are you okay, Rias?" Her knees nearly gave out as a concerned Akeno laid a hand on her shoulder, the raven haired priestess and everyone else in the room noticing her weird reaction. "You got very pale and began sweating all of a sudden…"

"... I-I-It's nothing, just the heat getting to me." Her excuse couldn't have been worse, as clearly no one bought it. But in the end, they all assumed that it was probably caused by the upcoming Rating Game with Riser stressing her out. They didn't say anything, but she could guess as much. And it made sense, as no one aside from herself and Akeno knew about the Dream Cycle. 

"What did you have planned for us today, Archer?" 

Wanting to move past this, she got a hold of herself and asked her Servant about today's schedule. While she smiled enthusiastically, her eyes lingered on his face, focusing on each aspect as the memories from the dream continued to return bit by bit. She did her best to recall the details like the surrounding architecture or even any clues such as clothing to help determine the region or time period proved to be harder than she imagined, as almost everything was little more than a blur. But the fragment with the man and the both staring at the moon together on what she easily recognized as a Japanese styled porch was at least proof that Archer was from Japan. 

'But still, who is he?' In all of the country's history, there were hundreds if not thousands of known figures who used a bow. So, the only clue she had left right now was the shroud. It did help to narrow the list down quite a bit, since it couldn't have possibly reached this country's shores before the sixteenth century at the earliest. But that still left her with far more questions than she would have liked. 'Just who are you? And what kind of life did you lead to go from a boy who dreamed of being a hero who saved others to the person you are today, Archer…'

While these thoughts occupied her mind, the others had continued speaking after she asked her question. Especially Sona who did not miss any chance to speak to him. 

"Yes, as Rias mentioned, I am quite curious about your plans to train all of us. And if possible, I would like to—"

"I am not going to play any game of chess with you, Sona." Archer cut her off, fully knowing of her intentions from the beginning. "I'm afraid our last game just showcased how big the gap between our abilities in tactical thinking is, and I can never hope to close that distance anytime soon with my meager talent at the game." Whilst his words sounded polite and sincere, they were no different to invisible arrows and jabs hitting Sona's pride one after another. 

"Meager?" Her strained smile nearly turned into a furious glare as she saw how dismissive of her he was being. Taking a deep breath, she continued to speak. "You misunderstand me, I'm not here just to play a game of chess — or else I wouldn't have brought my entire peerage with me. Do not worry, we will not hinder your time with your Master, and are here to extend our expertise in the training exercises." 

Smiling on the outside while cursing him internally, Sona knew she had to be patient in order to get what she wanted. And not to mention this was the perfect opportunity to have a front row seat of Archer's abilities which meant it would be easier to gather more information about him and possibly make out his real identity. 

"Glad we're all agreed. Let's head out." Gesturing for everyone to follow him, Archer made his way outside with the others close behind, and soon only Rias and Akeno remained. The redhead had by now regained her composure and recovered for the most part, while her Queen looked at her in askance. 

"I had another dream." Rias admitted to the only other person who knew about her first experience with the Dream Cycle. 

Akeno's expression instantly shifted to one of immense curiosity, as this meant that her King had possibly gathered more information about the enigmatic Heroic Spirit's identity and past. "How much did you find out about him? Were you able to learn a name?" 

"His name…" once again the migrain returned as she tried to recall anything related to the question, and to her frustration she came up with nothing. "I don't remember. Honestly, I barely remember any of it. It's just so… foggy and jumbled up that I am having trouble making sense of what little I can recall. It's very different from the first time. I feel like I saw everything yet nothing all at the same time. It's hard to explain." 

"Then what do you remember?" 

"I think… I saw Archer when he was a young kid?" At first, when sorting out her memories she nearly believed that boy to be someone else. But seeing his face appear on Archer's when she looked at him a minute ago just made her realize how wrong she was. 

"Oh, a child Archer? Tell me more!" Akeno exclaimed, thinking her King had just stumbled on a treasure trove, but grew saddened when realizing that she didn't have any magic which could project an image of what people were thinking to see what Rias saw. "I bet he was a snarky smartass when he was a kid too. Perhaps more innocent though? Or was he actually a true loudmouth white-haired brat?" 

For a brief moment, a smile formed on Rias' face as her hands played with a small lock of her hair. "Actually, he was a redhead like me." Her grin couldn't have been bigger with the reaction of her Queen. 

"A redhead? Him!?" Akeno's befuddled expression couldn't be anymore pronounced. "That's… that's hard to believe." Though maybe she could use this little bit of information to her advantage the next time she teased him. "Would be funny if he turned out to have been a charming, polite young boy like Millicas."

Rias' smile died down, "I wish I had more to say about his childhood, but the only moment I remember with any clarity was… horrifying." Slowly, she described the image of a badly burned and bruised boy walking through Hell, surrounded by the wails of the damned. With no one by his side, all alone and powerless. 

"..." Akeno's face turned weird the more she listened to her words, reliving through the conversation she had with the Servant in secret where she had spoken about her past — especially the part where she accused him of not understanding anything. 'He's the same as…' 

"He got saved in the end. I… I think that the person who saved him must have had a major impact on him. Possibly what inspired Archer to become a Hero? I'm not sure, I just don't understand what could have happened to him to change him to this extent." Rias continued her explanation, feeling the headache alleviate each passing second until it was completely gone. "I don't know if I should ask him for more details." 

"It wouldn't hurt to ask. He knows about the Dream Cycle and was the one who informed us about it, so it's obvious to assume he'd be expecting you to see some aspect of his past which will make you curious."

Perhaps she was right, Archer never denied her an answer when she asked questions about his past. Sure he was vague at times but at least he provided her with something. Rias was worried about him, his past was already tragic, and she knew there was more to his story other than the 'shallow idealism' of being unable to save everyone he described last time. "Yeah, you're right. I'll ask him later, for now, we need to focus on the Rating Game." 

Her Queen agreed, while a part of her wanted to argue that they could just go to Archer and ask him for more details right this moment. She realized that they didn't have any time to waste as the future of their peerage depended on the outcome of the upcoming game. 

{Break}

Outside, Archer and the others had gathered in the middle of the field as Akeno and Rias rejoined them. The Servant had already recognized something was wrong with his Master; her face said it all the moment she laid eyes on him. It didn't take a genius to figure out that she had very likely gone through another Dream Cycle. The question this brought up was which part of his life had she witnessed this time? When witnessing a Heroic Spirit's past, things weren't always viewed in chronological order. Still, she had clearly seen something bad to elicit such a reaction, and since his life wasn't exactly the best… it was nearly impossible to narrow it down. 

"I will keep it simple. Being a teacher is not a noted part of my skill set, and I don't have the experience to provide each and every one of you with a specialized program. We are running against the clock as it is, and this will be a team effort first and foremost." It wasn't like these Devils could accumulate years worth of experience by just fighting him. "So it's necessary to take a more direct route." 

"And that route would be?" Yuuto asked. 

"You already know it, given what we do for practice." 

Rias realized what Archer was going to do and grew confused. "So simple? Shouldn't we at least train our magic first and analyze Riser's previous matches to come up with a viable strategy? Issei still needs to discover the abilities of his Sacred Gear and Asia needs to get used to doing so in a combat scenario." 

"Then this will be an excellent opportunity for them to get started on that." Kanshou and Bakuya appeared in his hands, making everyone tense up. With a steadfast tone he continued. "At the end of the day, I am a Servant summoned forth for battle before anything else, and am far less suited to being a teacher. My specialty lies in combat rather than passing on knowledge that may not even suit you. Yuuto is familiar with my methods by now, and can testify that I am not all that good with words and prefer to take action instead." 

Devil magic as a whole was a polar opposite to Magecraft in some ways, thriving with abundance and lack of restraints and rules on an absurd level. Sacred Gears were almost as unknown, being relics with inner workings he knew next to nothing about aside from the basic history. Then there were specialties of certain Pillar Houses, such as his Master's Power of Destruction. Just trying to tackle one of these aspects would take too much time, nevermind all of them at once in less than a mere two weeks. The best option was to take a more direct approach. Besides, if Devil magic was really shaped by their desires, then their own intuition and wanting to grow stronger might honestly do far more for them than his instruction alone ever could. 

"You want our whole  group to team up against you?" Yuuto said more than asked, already holding a sword and getting into a ready stance, having put his trust in his instructor from the beginning. "How should we proceed, Buchou?" 

"Ara ara, Yuuto-kun sure is looking forward to facing Archer. Then again…" lightning crackled around her finger tips as a cruel light flashed within her eyes. "I find the idea of having mister Archer here kneel before me very attractive, does anyone else think so?" 

Koneko on the other hand hesitated, turning her head to Rias and waiting for her King's opinion first. The redhead in question did not know what to say; never had she imagined battling against Archer in any way, shape, or form. "A-Are you sure this is safe? You will be alone against us after all…" 

"You worry too much, Master." He answered, finding it funny how she was worried about him instead, and decided to further entertain himself. "I'm capable of pulling my punches to ensure that none of you get hurt. And for the sake of giving you all at least a chance and making this a bit more balanced, I'll concede defeat if any of you are able to land a hit, and will use only half of my strength and speed." 

At that comment, Rias frowned. "Excuse me? I know you are powerful, Archer. But that doesn't mean you should be arrogant enough to believe we are that lacking, I know you went against… powerful individuals in the past, but we aren't slouches either. This doesn't feel fair." She nearly blurted how he had arguably beaten Grayfia to a standstill in front of Sona. Other than that, sure, Rias knew he was able to keep up with and even defeat Grayfia, but she still believed in her peerage's power and teamwork as being a force to be reckoned with.

Archer pondered, rubbing his chin for a second before nodding. "I see, you are indeed correct, Master. This isn't fair at all." She puffed her chest, glad to see he could see reas— "From now on, I won't even be using any blades or swords. Instead, even when in close proximity I'll only allow myself to use my bow with a limited number of regular arrows of let's say… ten? Or maybe six? One for each one of you. Hmm, even that seems to be a lot." He said while dismissing Kanshou and Bakuya, now holding that intimidating giant black bow that blended perfectly with the color of his armor. "Don't worry, I won't bring out the shroud, as that would certainly make this unfair, right?" 

"..." 

A vein throbbed in the heiress' forehead at the blatant provocation and taunt. Even Yuuto had stopped smiling, as in all their spars, as much as Archer constantly smacked him around he at least had to courtesy of doing so while wielding a blade of his own. Dropping the steel sword he'd been carrying, light shined from his hand, which upon fading revealed a crimson sword surrounded by flames. More lightning sparked around Akeno's body as her smile turned darker. 

"Archer needs a tap to the head." Koneko mentioned getting into position next to Kiba while tightening the gloves on her hand. 

"A-A-Ano… w-what should I do?" Asia innocently asked, the only one in the group who did not get affected by his words but instead got more confused than anything. 

"You can remain behind me, Asia-chan. Just focus on healing and we'll protect you. We have to teach Saint-sama a small lesson for looking down on us after all, fufufufu~!" 

"You want to get your teeths smashed, you pretty bastard!?" Issei shouted, just as offended as the rest. "Buchou gave you a chance for a fairer fight and you do this? I won't go back into the manor until I've used your smug face as a punching bag!" 

"HELL YEAH!" Saji cheered at that idea from the other side. "Kick him in the balls for me, Hyoudou! If you do, I promise to buy you the limited edition Eroge: Shiroinu with any figurine of your choic—kah!" That earned him a quick punch to the guts by the Rook, Yura Tsubasa, as instructed by an annoyed Sona who gave him a warning glare. 

"Stay out of their business, Saji. This is my first and last warning before you earn yourself a hundred spankings." Her tone was cold enough to make the boy shiver in fear and repeatedly nod his head. 

"Sorry about that, Kaichou." He soon retreated over to Kusaka Reya and hid behind her back, though he still gave Issei a thumbs up to confirm his previous offer. 

"For real!?" Unfortunately for her, Issei had no intentions to let that go and had his eyes burn with determination and desire. "YOOOSH!!! I WILL DEFINITELY KICK YOUR ASS, ARCHER!!!" He clenched his fist, his eyes narrowing as he focuses his energy. His heart pounds in his chest, the anticipation building to a crescendo. Suddenly, a brilliant emerald light erupted from his left hand, engulfing his arm in a searing blaze.

A low, dragon's growl reverberated through the air, and then it happened – the Boosted Gear manifested. The eye-catching red gauntlet with intricate golden patterns and a large green gem had materialized on Issei's hand, encasing it in a formidable armor.

[Boost!]

Archer smirked at the display before him, wondering if he could have gotten a bigger reaction by promising to not even use his bow. "Hoh, that's a scary face you have there, Master. I fail to see what wrong I have done, as my words are not false. But if you don't agree with my assessment, then all of you are more than welcome to prove me wrong." 

The tension in the training grounds grew palpable as Archer, now armed with his imposing bow, Issei, with the Boosted Gear adorning his hand and forearm, and every single one of the peerage members — aside from the still confused Asia — faced off. Rias, caught between irritation and determination, stepped forward.

Rias spike with fiery resolve, "Archer, you may be underestimating us, but we'll use this opportunity to prove you wrong. Peerage, remember our teamwork and strategies. We've faced powerful foes before, and we'll face this challenge head on! Let's show him, everyone!

Akeno, Koneko, and the others took their positions, ready to confront the man before them. The field crackled with energy as the tension mounted, with Issei's Boosted Gear announcing a second [Boost!].

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Archer's smirk did not diminish in the least. He even went so far as to open his arms and leave his front completely unprotected. "I'm waiting, it's not like we have all day. But before that, aren't you missing someone on your team, Master?" He asked, hinting at Rias about the missing Bishop. 

She laughed awkwardly, not meeting his gaze. "Well, it's a bit complicated. Akeno tried to talk to him but… yeah. You'll know what I mean by that when you see him yourself. Until then, best not to force the issue." 

Archer raised an eyebrow, questioning just what was wrong with this enigmatic Bishop. Was this person so powerful that Rias had trouble controlling him? She did hint at that being an issue in the past. Perhaps the issue was the nature of the Bishop's power instead of him being a bloodthirsty individual or the like — there was no way his Master would involve herself in a danger like that. 

He nodded his head in acceptance for the time being, though was still planning to find out what was going on with this person as soon as possible and have him integrate into the group in time for the Rating Game if possible. But for now, he had a spar to focus on. 

"Sona." He called toward the Sitri heiress. "If you would, please."

"Of course," the bespectacled Devil stepped forward, all the way to the middle and raised her hand up. "Both sides get ready. On the count of three, the battle will commence. One!" 

The count started, and Rias and her group got ready while Archer remained in the same position as before. 

'I didn't get many opportunities to evaluate their teamwork or powers aside from during the attack on the Church. Rias and Akeno are long ranged spell users, so they'll most likely stay in the backline, guarding Asia. Unless they can launch spells at me right from the beginning, the first one to attack will be Yuuto.' Hanging around her nearly every day and seeing the way she played chess against both Akeno and Sona had given him some insight into her character in general, and certainly her approach to warfare. 'She likes to take control of the center as soon as possible by moving her knight. Devils in this world, and these two girls in particular, are of the belief that chess strategies can be perfectly translated into actual combat. The whole Rating Game is just this idea taken to the extreme.'

In his eyes, it was a major flaw and very exploitable weakness. No different to a Master believing that their Servant was guaranteed victory just because of certain skills that came with their class which supposedly gave them an advantage over some of the other classes, such as the idea of a Saber always being able to defeat a Caster just because they had higher Magic Resistance. 

That couldn't be farther from the truth and failed to take into account hundreds of different factors. Rin had known about the advantages and disadvantages, but never based her decisions solely on them.

"Two!" 

'There is a chance for Koneko to come forth first… But no, it's too unlikely given how badly Yuuto outclasses her in speed. Akeno's lightning spell takes approximately five seconds to cast, less if it's something weaker. Rias has shown the ability to instantly use her Power of Destruction, but they are slow to reach their target.' 

He glanced at Sona and her peerage, each of their eyes were focused on him. Ready to take notes and being prepared to analyze each of his moves, Tsubaki looked between Yuuto and him. Yes, this was their goal from the beginning, gathering intel for possible future conflicts. Though in fairness he had been planning to do the same thing and would be giving similar advice to Rias. 

"Three!" 

As soon as her hand dropped, as expected, Yuuto was the first one to move. With his fiery sword in hand, he darted forward with blinding speed, closing the gap between him and Archer in the blink of an eye. His blade swung in a graceful arc aimed at Archer's midsection.

"Hm," Fast, but too focused on himself.

Clang! 

"What?" The Knight reacted with shock as his blade was blocked by the black bow with such ease. His swing, which he'd put a substantial amount of his strength into, didn't even force Archer to use both of his hands. The black bow sparked as Yuuto struggled to press his blade further, but the sword wasn't able to cut through the material. "Gah!"

Taking advantage of his distracted state, Archer pushed away the blade, leaving Yuuto momentarily open before kicking the boy right in the sternum. Spit flew out of the Knight's mouth as he sailed back, and got caught midair by Koneko. 

[Boost!]

That was the third boost, and another would follow every ten seconds. Archer did not know if the power doubled Issei's original base strength before adding it to the pile, or if the effect compounded, with each boost giving him substantially more power than the last. If he went with the second and more dangerous option, then the force multiplayer would be sitting at the eightfold mark right now, and would change to sixteen times with the next boost, then thirty-two times after another ten seconds if he didn't do anything. A powerful weapon indeed. 

'Then again, even if you double it a thousand times over, a zero will still remain a zero.' 

And while that statement may not entirely apply to Hyoudou, even if the boy was allowed to boost himself ten times, it still wouldn't put him on the level of even a weak Servant. 

Bang!

Moving his body just in time, Archer dodged a punch from Koneko. Her tiny arms had caused a small crater to form where he'd stood. 'With that kind of force, she can easily turn a grown adult into a bloody pancake with a single punch. But she is also slow enough that even a regular human has the capabilities to dodge her.' 

"I'm not done yet." She said before getting back up and continuing her assault. The little Rook threw a couple of jabs and grapple attempts that aimed for his stomach again. Some of them he blocked with his bow, which he Reinforced, while most were deflected by him intercepting her wrists or simply dodged. "Stand. Still."

"I could, but you'd still be too slow," he answered her, as she struggled to even land a single hit on him. "You are a Rook, strength and durability are your domain, yet you're trying to take on an opponent who can match your strength and has superior speed using only martial arts — leaving yourself completely open to a counterattack." 

A swift low kick to her leg tripped the girl as she found her face meeting the ground soon after. Though not even being given a second to rest, she felt Archer pick her up by the back of her shirt before she was tossed right over Yuuto's head. As for the Knight in question, he had already recovered and rushed Archer once again with various slashes and thrusts. 

"You've gotten better since the day you first came and asked me for training, that much I can admit." Which was true. While the progress was minor, it was still there. Occasionally using his bow to deflect the attacks, Archer instantly added more force behind one of his counters to push Kiba back and jumped away in time to dodge a lightning strike. "But you are still relying too much on your speed and forgetting that you're supposed to be fighting as part of a team."

Mid-air, he notched an arrow onto his bowstring, drawing it back with practiced precision before letting it loose. This happened within a fraction of a second as Akeno was still in the middle of realizing that her attack hadn't landed. Not even having the time to react, the projectile hit her in the shoulder hard enough to create a very audible impact. He'd made sure to Trace rubber arrows with very rounded tips, so it'd be more or less impossible for them to pierce skin. But getting hit by them would still hurt, and even break bones if he added enough power behind them. 

The priestess lost her balance, clutching her shoulder as she dropped to her knees before another arrow hit her head, knocking her out.

"Akeno!" Yuuto shouted, taking his attention away from his target for a split second, which doomed him.

"Never get distracted," descending back to the ground, the bowman pushed the heel of his boots on Kiba's sword, planting it in the ground before pulling his bow with the arrow that flew right next to the Knight's face and struck Koneko right in the stomach — pushing her right off the nearby cliff and down into the forest below. 

"Hah!" Creating another sword to slash at Archer with, Kiba's face turned ugly as the bones in his wrists nearly snapped as the man grabbed it firmly. The pain was intense enough to force him to drop the blade. 

Bang! 

The next thing the Knight  knew, a knee nearly ruptured his sternum with a strike strong enough to force all the air out of his lung. With nothing but the sound of a gasping whimper, he fell to the ground wheezing. 

"This can't be…" Seeing her team fall so easily within seconds and coupled with her physically strongest member getting taken out with a single arrow, Rias didn't know what to do. Red energy hastily covered her hand as she desperately tried to come up with a plan. "A-Asia, heal Aken—" But before she could do anything else, a shadow loomed over her as she froze and looked up to find her Servant gazing down with sharp eyes. "You…"

He was at the other side of the field not even a second ago, yet now he stood before her with an imposing presence bearing down on her shoulders. 

Almost as if reading her mind, Archer spoke up. "An average Servant can move much faster than the human eye can hope to track. Even while limiting ourselves, the gap is still there, so don't be so surprised that my speed far outshines that of your Knight."

Her eyes trailed to his bow, wondering how he was going to subdue her. The better alternative would be her admitting defeat before he could—

[Boost!]

[Explosion!]

Archer immediately turned his attention to the presence over to the side, whose power had once again doubled. 'His fourth boost. That should put his ability at sixteen times that of his base self. No matter how weak he was before, if he keeps going with another half-dozen boosts then he'll shorten the gap between him and myself far more than anyone else on the field currently can. Whether the Boosted Gear is merely doubling his magical reserves or his other attributes — including defense and reflexes and so on — remains to be seen. But I'll assume it's amplifying everything… What a dangerous ability if used by the wrong person. There should be a limit, perhaps it depends on how much his body can handle? Though having the body of a Devil might give him the ability to push himself even further.'

A bright green light emerged from Issei's Boosted Gear as he activated his power once more. Energy surged through him, and he charged forward with renewed vigor, his fists clenched as he aimed for Archer. "Alright, I'm going to get that Eroge and you won't stop me! Just like Kiba said, imagine something powerful and strong. Yeah… Ka! Me! Ha! Me! H—GAH!" 

However, the black-clad Archer was far faster than Issei could have anticipated. With a mere flick of his wrist, he summoned a rubber arrow and tossed it, the projectile flying straight toward Issei's head.

Issei, now brimming with power and confidence, was so focused on his charge that he failed to notice the incoming arrow until it was too late. The projectile struck him square in the forehead, sending him reeling backward with a cry of pain.

The impact left a sizable bruise on Issei's forehead, and he crumpled to the ground, clutching his head in agony. "Ahh! That hurt, dammit!" he shouted, tears welling up in his eyes.

Archer, standing calmly amidst the chaos, watched Issei's struggles with a raised eyebrow. He didn't allow the young devil a moment to recover, though. With another swift motion, he readied another rubber arrow, still prepared to fend off any further attacks.

Issei attempted to push himself up, fueled by the residual power of his Boosted Gear. But before he could regain his footing, another arrow thrown by Archer struck him in the head, this time on the other side — smacking his face straight to the ground with a loud thud. "Hmmmmmmm!!!!!!"  Issei's pained cries echoed through the training ground as he rolled on the ground, nursing his nose and the back of his head.

His attempts to approach Archer were thwarted both times, the black-clad Servant's precise aim and quick reflexes ensuring that Issei remained at bay with more pain being his only reward. It was a frustrating and humiliating experience for the young Devil.

Finally, Archer spoke, his voice dripping with disappointment, "You talk too much, kid. Don't think the enemy is going to wait for you to finish preparing an attack unless they are complete fools. And shouting like that completely gives away your location and intentions."

Issei, battered and bruised, could only whimper in response. His attempts at bravado had been thoroughly crushed by Archer's skill and precision.

"We give up!" Rias announced as soon as his attention turned towards her. "We… we lost." 

It was disheartening how quickly they suffered defeat by someone who didn't even bother using his swords in close combat. That Archer had placed even more restrictions on himself just made the loss feel that much more bitter. 

"Why didn't you attack me, Master?" Archer asked, putting away his bow and telling Asia to go around and heal the others. "I turned my back to you when taking down Issei. You had all the opportunity to strike me with an attack and if it landed, it would have been your victory." 

"Ah," Rias' mouth hung open as she stood there flabbergasted. "I-I-I… I didn't think about it…" she was too focused on Issei's ability. The Boosted Gear was a legendary Longinus Class Sacred Gear known to grant its wielders the ability to kill gods. On top of that, her curiosity got the better of her when she heard him nearly use an attack straight from one of the anime she watched. 

"That's another problem you need to address, you're not active enough, Master. You need to take control of the field by issuing commands to your peerage members rather than letting them all do their own thing. Letting them all fight individually rather than as a genuine team leaves them viable to get in each other's way rather than cooperate, and before you know it you're left on your own. This applies to Akeno as well, who despite being a Queen with the attributes of all the other major pieces, merely stood in place and fired a single spell at me. If you were a Bishop then I might be more understanding, but you're a Queen." 

Then he turned his attention to Asia, the girl yelping at the intense stare and shook nervously as she did her best to prepare for the coming criticism. But instead, she was taken aback by his Archer resting a hand on her shoulder and giving her a nod. "You actually performed well for the most part, Asia. You kept to your role as a healer, and made sure to not get involved in combat unnecessarily, instead focusing on giving support to your downed allies and responding to your King's orders even when exposed to danger. What you need to improve is your arsenal of spells — even if they're only defensive ones — and possibly any additional abilities of your Sacred Gear." 

"I… did well?" The blonde answered, not recalling having done much. She just hid behind Akeno and followed Rias' orders. 

"Sometimes doing too little is better than doing too much. Of course, by no means were you perfect, but out of everyone present you demonstrated the least need for improvement." 

Her face brightened as she gave an energetic nod and a big smile. "I-I promise to do better, Saint-sama!" 

Archer covered his face with a hand, "I told you to stop calling me that." 

"Ah, s-sorry, force of habit." With that, Asia quickly went over and started to heal everyone, and  in a matter of minutes they were all starting to get back on their feet. There wasn't much to heal in the first place; he made sure not to go too far specifically so he could get a basic idea of how effective Twilight Healing was going to be. 

A few minutes later, Asia was done with her healing and Koneko had returned from her fall covered in dirt, twigs, and leaves. Her glare was laser-focused on Archer, and the Servant couldn't help but chuckle at her furious expression, though he was polite enough to make a peace offering. "I'll make you some daifuku mochi at the end of the day." 

"..." At least her glare had softened up a bit. 

"That was harsh," Yuuto said, rubbing his stomach as the phantom pain still persisted. "I'm pretty sure you cracked my sternum with that last hit. I couldn't even breathe for a full minute there. Nearly thought I was going to pass away." 

"You'll have to get used to it, as we still have a full day to go through. Then eight more days after that." Archer said, earning worried stares from the whole group as they stared at him with creeping horror. 

"W-What do you mean by that?" Rias, after gathering enough of her courage, asked him. "Shouldn't we go back inside to recuperate? W-We didn't even have breakfast yet." 

Archer tilted his head, looking like she'd just asked the most benign question ever. "Well of course we can't do that, as we aren't close to being done yet. Eating breakfast is useless if you'll end up throwing it all up in a matter of minutes. You'll have earned yourselves a break — and a meal — once I'm satisfied with your progress or if you end up managing to graze me." 

This time, his smile was one truly worthy of a Devil.

No… actually, it was that of a Satan.

"Now get ready, because between each spar I'll only be giving you all two minutes to heal and come up with a plan, and the clock's already been ticking for twenty seconds." 

They all went pale, looking at him with horror at the realization of what was about to happen. 

He smirked at their reactions, "What? I told you before we began that you'd end up hating me by the end of this." 

For the first time in her life, using the Command Seal no longer sounded like a bad idea to the Gremory heiress… Her Servant had clearly turned insane! 

***

"I'm feeling sorry for the Gremory Group. Isn't this their fifth time being forced to eat dirt? It hasn't even been twenty minutes!" Tsubasa exclaimed, showing more interest in the Servant's training methods than anything else. "We should try it out as well." 

""""Absolutely not!"""" 

As Sona Sitri and her peerage continued to watch the brutal series of beatdowns, the shock and disbelief on their faces became even more pronounced with each session. Their expressions ranged from wide-eyed amazement to incredulous disbelief, and whispers of horrified astonishment passed among them like wildfire.

Saji Genshirou in particular, couldn't contain his incredulity. His jaw practically hung open as he witnessed the swift conclusion of one spar after another. "I can't believe this," he muttered, disbelief evident in his voice. "He's making such quick work of them over and over, even with Issei boosting so much. This dude is crazy!"

Hanakai Momo, Sona's diligent Bishop, was equally taken aback. Her usually composed demeanor faltered as she watched Archer's effortless displays of skill and power. "I thought we'd at least see a more extended skirmish," she whispered to herself, unable to hide her surprise.

Tsubaki exchanged a glance with Sona, both of them sharing a moment of shared disbelief. "This… wasn't what we expected," Tsubaki admitted, her voice tinged with a hint of frustration as she was starting to gain a better understanding of how much Archer had been holding back when she or Yuuto sparred with him.

Sona clicked her tongue once more, a rare display of irritation from the usually composed Sitri heiress. "Indeed, this isn't going as planned," she replied, her analytical mind racing to adapt to the unexpected turn of events. "But we can't afford to be complacent. We need to engage him as a group, Rias barely forced him to show anything." 

While some were rather reluctant at the idea, her peerage members all nodded in agreement, their initial shock gradually giving way to determination. They understood the gravity of the situation and the need to gather vital information about Archer's abilities, even if it meant confronting this formidable adversary head-on.

"Let's go back, we also need to focus on our training. I already have a plan, even if we hadn't gotten much from this… I think I have an idea for a possible counter against him. Even if all we manage to do is graze him, it'll still count as our win." 

On Archer's side — as he shot down Koneko similarly to how he did with Issei during the first spar — he watched the Sitri group walk away, and he simply shrugged his shoulders at their departure. He intentionally showed next to nothing of his abilities aside from a bit of his archery skills. With how versatile in combat he really was, it would be all but pointless to come up with a strategy for anything. "She is too stubborn for her own good." 

Speaking of stubborn…

"OOOOORIIIA— GUGH!" Issei, who had attempted to sneak attack him from behind, got swiftly kicked in the face with enough force to leave boot marks on his skin. 

"I told you several times already, keep your mouth shut during a battle unless you have to!" Archer snapped. This kid just wouldn't learn.

{Break}

(Nighttime)

"Well that was fun," walking through the hallways, Archer commented with amusement about today's practice. "Each of them possess great potential, powerful Sacred Gears or unique abilities — but they are all severely lacking in experience and practice." 

His understanding of Rias had increased considerably, having gained a deeper knowledge of her abilities and limits with today's event. Today's training had shown how ridiculously vast her demonic energy reserves were, bigger than even Rin's by magnitudes. Though it made sense as she wasn't a human to begin with and a high ranked Devil from one of the 72 Pillars. 

The Power of Destruction, whilst simple with its ability, held a great deal of power. A single blast from it could erase a whole human's body without resistance. Unlike fire or thunder, it didn't burn through anything, rather it instantly erased everything it touched until even the base atoms were gone, violating one of the major laws of physics.

Then came Kiba Yuuto's Sword Birth. A Sacred Gear with more than a few similarities to his Unlimited Blade Works. But the major difference was that the Sacred Gear wasn't copying weapons but rather they were all created from scratch depending on what Kiba wanted, with the restriction that all his blades had to have a demonic element. During their fight, he used dozens of different swords, all of which had been replicated and were now waiting in his Reality Marble. 

Koneko on the other hand focused too much on pure offense rather than taking advantage of her more defensive attributes as a Rook. The heightened durability coupled with enhanced strength weren't being properly used to their fullest extent. But it wasn't something that could be fixed in a single session. She needed to accumulate more experience and learn different fighting styles that better suited her small frame. 

Issei, surprisingly, showed the most promise out of all of them. Despite just having discovered his Sacred Gear and being too stubborn for his own good, he constantly tried to use it in creative ways and, there had been one time where he nearly hit him with a powerful beam attack towards the end, using the last dregs of his powers before falling unconscious. Seeing it take a chunk out of a rockface forced him to reevaluate the boy's powers. 

"Unfortunately, he's still a loudmouthed dumbass." 

Asia also did quite well, she just lacked stamina and was too hesitant at times. 

As for Akeno… "She and Rias are the ones with the most issues in terms of how they use their powers. One can barely use it properly aside from throwing small blasts here and there, while the other just flat out refuses to utilize her true potential." 

Idiotic, that was how he described it. All indicators suggested that Sona's group would put on a much better show as a team, and that the Sitri heiress had created a more balanced group than Rias'. "She'll probably ask me to do the same thing with her group tomorrow."

Putting these thoughts to the side for now, Archer opened the sliding wooden doors which led to the men's hot spring. "Hmm, he's not here yet." Yuuto had said he wanted to discuss aspects of his Sacred Gear in further detail with him, and asked the Servant if they could have their conversation in the hot spring so he could recover during their talk. 

Of course, Archer found the request a bit strange at first, but the Knight argued that his body ached too much and he was afraid of accidentally drowning in the bath by himself. Issei was already deep asleep before the request was made, having suffered the most physical abuse out of the peerage with how stubborn the boy was, and boosting himself so many times had exhausted whatever energy he had left. 

In the end he agreed, partially because a part of him was curious to experience a hot spring after who knew how many years, and he couldn't deny that relaxing in a hot spring together was practically a staple of Japanese culture, so he really shouldn't be that surprised. Plus the atmosphere here was the quietest in all of the manor, so just for a bit, he wanted to enjoy it. 

"Hah," releasing a sigh of contentment, Archer let his body sink into the warm water. Despite not experiencing any pain or sore muscles due to his constitution as a Servant, he still found it quite enjoyable. It was at moments like these that he could momentarily forget about everything, Alaya, his role as a Counter Guardian, his prison, his regrets, being summoned as a Servant in another world where the supernatural still reigned, and much more. There were no thoughts in his mind, just a blank void which felt content to do nothing but sit here for however long it took until Kiba Yuuto arrived. "I have to give him credit, this was a good idea."

He wouldn't have come here if the Knight hadn't insisted. Having been forced to think purely pragmatically for so long, he'd failed to see the value in such things. How wrong he was. 

The hot spring in itself was outdoors, with no roof. He had a perfect view of the moon above, more than three-quarters full. The placement of rocks and vegetation around and the handful of chirping cicadas created a beautiful scenery.

Click!

"Hm?" Unfortunately for him, the peace did not last long as he heard the door open behind him. Well, not like having Yuuto join him was going to ruin anything. The boy was the reason he was here in the first place, and since he just wanted to converse about a relevant topic, he could continue to enjoy this small moment of tranquility and express his gratitude. 

"What is it about your Sacred Gear that you wanted to talk to me about specifically? We should make this short, you need to rest in bed." 

"Ara ara~ you ravaged my body like a beast and now refuse to take responsibility?" 

Archer's serene moment was suddenly shattered by a voice he didn't expect. He turned around, his gray eyes widening as he saw not Kiba Yuuto, but a figure that he hadn't anticipated at all. It was Himejima Akeno, standing there in a seductive pose with nothing but a small towel held up to hide her privates, a playful glint in her eyes.

The hot spring's steam failed to obscure her voluptuous form in the slightest, leaving her entire figure visible to the naked eye. Archer couldn't help but raise an eyebrow at her unexpected presence. He quickly looked Akeno over, taking in her seductive posture and teasing words. It was clear that she had a mischievous agenda in mind. Calmly, he responded, his voice tinged with a touch of dry humor. "Well, this certainly wasn't what I had in mind when I settled in for a peaceful soak in the hot spring."

"Would you call this a dream come true?" 

"More like a nightmare waiting to happen." He turned his gaze to the side as the girl, without a hint of shame or hesitation, dropped the towel and let every part of her body be visible. "I don't recall this being the women's section of the hot spring." 

"Fufufu, it's a coed one. Anyone is free to join if they want to have some fun." 

"That's a lie and you know it," there was no way he mistakenly entered the mixed bathing spring without checking the label. Judging from her reaction, she was not surprised to see him here… Dammit, he'd been tricked. "You put Yuuto up to this. He never intended to have a conversation with me, nor was he planning on relaxing in the hot spring this evening. Or if he did, he's currently in the actual men's spring after you switched the signs back." He stated, hearing the girl climb down to the water next to him, releasing a slight moan of pleasure as she was submerged up to her neck. 

"This is heaven…" Just for this, Archer swore to add more… intensity to Yuuto's training once he was done with the Sitri group tomorrow. "And to answer your question, I had to do it. Would you have agreed to join me if I'd been upfront and asked?" 

"No." He answered bluntly. 

"Then there you go. You can look at me, Archer. I don't mind it when people stare — quite the opposite, I assure you." Archer released a sigh when he felt her bare shoulder brush against his, the raven haired Fallen/Devil hybrid intentionally teasing him. 

He got up, grabbed a towel from nearby and was about to leave when Akeno grabbed onto his wrist. "Where do you think you're going?" 

"Anywhere but here. I fear you might start getting too handsy if I'm not careful." 

Her grasp tightened further as she pouted, "What is this? Does having me join you for a bath bother you that much? I am naked, that is true, but there's no reason why that alone should make you nervous, Archer. After all, it's not as if you're a deviant who'd willingly be naked around a child. We are both adults, and it is perfectly normal for us to enjoy one another's company in a hot spring." She emphasized the statement of her being an adult by squishing her enormous breasts together between her arms. 

"Even if I concede that you are an adult, a man bathing alone with a much younger lady like yourself is not exactly admirable behavior for either person in question." 

"I assure you, Archer, I am an adult. And I'll decide for myself who's fit to bathe with me." Her voice had more of an edge as she got up from the water and stood right in front of him with a hard look on her face as she met his gaze. "It seems you weren't kidding about your memories being messed up, as certain things I tell you just refuse to stay in that brain of yours. Perhaps, you prefer to act like I'm a child because you have a twisted fetish? Or do you feel you wouldn't be able to hold yourself back from ravishing me if you allowed yourself to see me as a woman?" 

"Neither," he said while returning the stare, refusing to look anywhere but her eyes, his tone drier than ever. "I am just stating facts. And there is far more to being an adult than just having the body of one or living a certain number of years."

"Humph, now I'll be the one asking you to stop it with your petty excuses. I am fully capable of behaving appropriately, thank you very much. Or would you prefer a more physical demonstration of my self control, and see how you fare in comparison?" She fearlessly got closer and he stepped backwards. 

"That won't be necessary. Regardless, I'd prefer if you let me go, I have already spent enough time here as it is." He could just turn into his Spirit Form and disappear, but that felt like he'd be running away, and would be used against him as further teasing material. 

"It's true that I asked Yuuto-kun to help me trick you into coming over here so I could have some time alone with you. But I do have my reasons for doing so."

"And what reason would that be?" 

"I just want to talk to you, Archer." Akeno said with a smile, releasing his wrist before turning around and taking a seat at the opposite edge of the spring, giving him a generous view of her shapely backside before patting the space next to her. "Come on now, I won't bite." 

Rolling his eyes, Archer refused to fall for whatever she had planned and was about to turn around and leave. But as if anticipating his response, Akeno proceeded to speak a few words that halted him in his step. 

"You never did tell us you used to be a redhead like our dear Buchou. She would've liked it if your hair colors matched, I imagine." 

"..." 

A few seconds passed. Then, shaking his head, Archer turned back toward Akeno and sat down a short but respectful distance from her. 

"What did Rias see in her dream?" He asked immediately, not expecting his Master to have shared such information with Akeno. Not that she was in the wrong to do so. He didn't really care about enough to ask her to keep the subject confidential, and it was natural that she'd turn to her Queen to discuss such things.

More than their roles as King and Queen, the duo had been best friends for several years and trusted one another deeply. 

"She herself doesn't remember much aside from a few images and blurry voices. But one scene in particular she was able to describe in considerable detail was that of an injured young boy, not even ten years old, surrounded by flames and carnage... then she spoke about some sort of mud which I didn't much understand that part. She was very descriptive, and was clearly horrified by that memory in particular. I think just seeing it left quite the impact on her, let alone the boy who lived through it. Does any of that ring a bell to you?" She asked, suspecting that he had already regained his memories by now. 

That far back huh… She probably saw more than that, but failed to remember the details.

"There is nothing much to say about it. Many Heroic Spirits suffer all manner of tragedy, but even then the story of my life isn't exactly for the faint of heart. But honestly, from beginning till the end it's more pathetic than anything else." If she saw that, then there was a big possibility she saw the Magus Killer. Just imagining his face made the bowman frown and clench his fists tightly. No, he did not hate Kiritsugu, for that man was just as broken as Emiya Shirou was. He was pitiful more than anything else. 

"Did you… lose your family in that fire?" She whispered, leaning her head downwards and looking at her water. 

"Most likely. I lost many things to that fire." Basically everything of his previous life, from his original name, friends or family and life. The young boy continued to have nightmares even after he was saved, memories that haunted him of a life he could no longer returned to. His younger self did have some recollection of a time before the fire, but Emiya himself slowly forgot about those along the course of his time as a Counter Guardian. Many part of his teenage and adult life were already foggy as it was, so anything before that was much more harder to recall that he just didn't bother anymore. "Nothing to be sad about, it happened a long time ago and I barely recall the details myself."

"But, don't you miss them?" Akeno asked, staring down at the water

"I can't miss people from a past I've moved on from and can't even recall their faces anymore." Her head whipped around and looked at him with shock. "The fire took far more from me than just my home and family, that is true. You must understand, I was very young back then, many years has past from that point that I currently scarcely recall anything. You can consider it as a a form of memory loss if that makes it easier to understand, or just chalk it up to the passage of time." 

"I… I'm so sorry. It must have been… I can scarcely imagine how hard it was." Having herself lost her mother to a fire started by the Himejima clan as they hunted their family down, Akeno could identify with a lot of the pain his younger self must have gone through. 

"I honestly don't know how to respond to that. I got lucky in the end and got… saved by someone. I wouldn't have lived to see the next morning had that not been the case. So don't put too much thought into it, and the same goes for Rias. It's better if she forgets about something as useless as this. It'll only unnecessarily occupy her thoughts." While he appreciated the surprising sentiment on her end, it was ultimately a waste of effort and time. 

"Why are you talking as if you don't care about your loss? Didn't it affect you, knowing you wouldn't be able to see your mother again? How wouldn't you be able to feel their love?" She asked, her voice shaking at the end. He raised an eyebrow as she only mentioned the mother with no mention of the father. 

But honestly, Emiya Shirou had grieved enough the death of his original family, just like any child would. Even though Kiritsugu was a flawed man, he and others tried to help the younger boy, and slowly, that man became his focal center from that point on, his only family with a select few others making their way into his heart, like that daughter of the local Yakuza. Archer knew just how broken the boy was, basically being a blank state that gained purpose only by emulating the dreams of another. Such an entity couldn't be understood by the logic of a normal person. 

"Why care about my answer, let alone my past? Not like it'll change anything for you. That boy moved on from their deaths the very next day, so why should I have such thoughts all these years later when I myself am already long dead?" 

The water splashed as Akeno angrily grabbed onto his shoulders with her long wet hair pooling around him. "Because it is not normal for someone to move on this easily!" She shouted. "How could you have not felt anything after losing them? Even if you lost your memories, they were still your family, and losing them at such an early age would have scarred anyone! But you are treating it like a minor issue, it's just so wrong!" 

"But it is the truth," he replied bluntly. "Would you feel better if I changed my answer to something you wanted to hear? Made something up about how the boy cried for days until he ran out of tears, and still inwardly grieved for years afterward at the unfair deaths of so many people close to him? Repressing those emotions for years, thinking that he got over them but in actuality they still haunt him to this day and even resulted in him causing harm to others? Was that what you were hoping to hear? And while we're talking about you, does any of that sound familiar? Because at that point, we are no longer talking about my past traumas." 

Akeno froze as he said that, her arms shaking as memories of her mother came back to her. 

"T-This isn't about me." She tried to push the matter away from her. "And what did you mean about causing harm to others?" 

Archer scoffed, "Don't even think of trying to deny it. The entire day, not even once did using your Fallen Angel powers so much as cross your mind. Always using the same spell over and over again from a stationary position, no matter how many times it failed. You may be the Queen of Rias Gremory's peerage, but your contribution is next to nothing compared to the role you've been entrusted with." 

"Again with that!" Sparks flashed around her hands as she gritted her teeth. Not that it affected Archer in the least as he calmly continued to sit. "I already told you why I can't—" 

"Oh please, your nature as a Fallen and Devil hybrid has as much relevance as what you had for dinner a few days ago: none beyond how it can be used for your benefit. If you believe that just having a pair of mismatched wings makes you some kind of disgusting freak somehow, then you truly have a problem. Fallen and Devils, who cares what you are? It's who you are that truly determines the arc of your life. Is your false perception of your identity so important to you that you're willing to endanger your King and everyone in the peerage because of it? That's just pure selfishness." 

"You're… You're already here to help us." She tried to counter weakly, but she was already faltering, and Archer wasn't done. 

"And what if I wasn't?" He asked, to which she had no answer. "What if Rias never found the summoning ritual, and I never came to this world? Even then, what will happen in the future when I will eventually be gone?" 

"Gone?" Akeno repeated that word, more shaken by that single word than anything else. Weirdly enough, despite him being around for barely a couple weeks Archer had become such an integral and constant part of their group that the mere idea of him being gone never crossed her mind. She practically saw him as another peerage member who would always be there, like Yuuto or Koneko. 

"Of course I'll be gone, what did you expect? I'm a mere copy of a man from a different world who died many years ago. Servants are brought forth with a contract during a war with other Servants. We were designed as a transient existence with a single purpose. We were never meant to be bound in perpetuity to our Masters. Sooner or later, a Servant will disappear. Even if this world doesn't have a Holy Grail War as far as I can tell, I doubt I'll stay here for very long. And when I'm gone, will you then turn to someone else to protect your King?"

Akeno looked down, almost losing as if she'd lost what little energy she had left as her head rested on his chest. "I don't know…" she whispered. 

"Tell me honestly, what's really stopping you from using your Fallen powers?" 

Her lips trembling, Akeno forced the answer out. "Disgust. I just find that side of me… disgusting… He failed to save her. He left us to die when we needed him most." 

"Then don't you think it's better to not let history repeat itself?" That comment made her flinch. "I'm not asking you to embrace your Fallen side the next day and pretend as if everything is alright. All I'm asking you is to put aside your feelings for the fight ahead, and do your best for your friends." 

"..." 

Hah, it was getting late, and it would be best if he left soon. But seeing the girl feeling so down after their conversation, leaving now could potentially negatively affect her in the days to come. 

"If it helps, I don't find your hybrid nature disgusting in the least. To be completely honest, I find it fascinating even." 

"…You do?" A trace of surprise and hope sounded from her voice. 

"Of course. We are talking about a Devil with the power to wield the very element that's universally known for being the very antithesis to all of their kind. You are the perfect counter to just about any opponent in the upcoming Rating Game, and Rias has every reason to be proud to have someone like you at her side. On top of that, while I don't know if it's really my place to say this, you shouldn't have to change or hide yourself to please someone else. If any of the people around you can't appreciate you for who you are despite your best and most honest efforts, then they don't deserve you. Simple as that." 

The longer she listened, the more relaxed her heart became. The girl couldn't help herself but to smile at the end, letting her wings expand behind her back with both her Devil and Fallen side on full display. "Then by your own words, you find my wings pretty, right?" 

They landed on the water, soaking themselves wet and sticking to her skin. 

Archer, who was beneath her, found them to be surprisingly warm. Though that was likely due to the hot spring more than anything else. "I guess so. Nothing wrong with them if that's what you're wondering. Just focus on your team and nothing else."

"I… I'll try my best," Akeno said, making a small smile form on his face as she stared at him for a few seconds. "But you have to do something for me." 

"I don't remember being in a position where I owe you anything."

"Please… just a simple request…" her voice kept getting weaker, making it obvious that drowsiness had started to creep in. Relenting, Archer agreed, if only for the sake of being done with this as soon as possible. "I want you to smile more often. You look better like that… and with your hair… down."

His eyes widened, glancing at his reflection on the water for a bit, and he saw that the water had forced his hair down, before sighing once again. "That's a tall order, Akeno." 

She didn't reply to him, her body relaxed as she was now completely on top of him and he was all too aware of the feeling of her breasts pressing against his chest. "Oi, get off me." 

"..."

No answer came other than the gentle sound of her breaths. Looking downwards, he realized that she had already fallen asleep with a tranquil face.

"I shouldn't be surprised. Some of the others lost consciousness the moment they walked inside the manor, and some even fell asleep in the middle of eating their food. It's practically a miracle she lasted so long whilst hiding her exhaustion." Maybe he went a bit hard on her in the beginning, but she needed to hear the truth. Archer did not want to deal with an unmotivated, defeated and depressed Akeno tomorrow since despite everything he said, she played a major role in Rias' team. 

Picking her up gently, after ensuring he was fully clothed, Archer brought the girl into her room, making sure not to pass by anyone from Sona's group, or it would be difficult to explain why he was carrying a naked Akeno wrapped only in a towel.

Setting her down on her bed and covering her with a blanket, Archer looked around before vanishing in his spirit form, deciding to keep all of what happened between them. Their conversation would be a secret even from his Master. Something told him that nothing good would come from the girl finding out her Servant had shared a soak in the hot spring with her Queen. 

"Hopefully you'll do better tomorrow."

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The next 5 chapters of Snafu, and my other Fate fics (Fate Coiling Sword with 3 chapters, A Fake Familiar Reborn with 3 chapters, Steel Eyed Faker soon to be 3 chapters, Hound having 1 and To love a sword having 4 chapters) are already available on my P@treon. With 4 more Broly chapters at /NimtheWriter. Also, I post commissioned arts on each story, already posted a few on an Archer's Promise, Broly and Snafu.