"… Hey, Ruby? W-what on earth is happening?"
"I'm afraid I have no idea either," Ruby replied. "But at the very least, it would seem like someone else is engaging the black shadow."
Illya wondered if 'engage' was really the right word. Sure, whoever was shooting an uncountable number of beams at the black thing was technically fighting it, but to use 'engage' was an understatement.
In all honesty, the two sides were waging an all-out war.
"I-isn't this kind of bad?" Illya asked. She was not entirely thrilled at the aspect of fighting that black shadow, especially not after it had knocked her out of the sky so easily, but there was no telling just how catastrophic this battle could turn out to be. "Shouldn't we do something?"
"It'd be wiser to stay out of it," Sapphire replied. "This isn't at the level where we can just jump in thoughtlessly."
On a personal level, Illya agreed. Even if it were Miyu, she would likely say the same thing. She understood that this was a battle beyond their abilities, but at the same time she could not help but feel like she should step in.
And when the skies started screeching, she knew she had to act.
She did not know much about magecraft, Servants and Masters or any of those things. She knew next to nothing about Noble Phantasms, so it was difficult for her to appreciate the quality of the 'arrows' being fired across the skies. But no matter how ignorant she was, even she could tell that something was definitely wrong when space itself started to bend.
"There's… no way…"
However, Illya's excitement was not shared by the rest of her companions. One by one, the stronger fighters on her team were brought down to their knees just by being in the general vicinity of that overwhelming pressure and magical energy.
"That's impossible," Bazett, otherwise known as the 'Berserker woman', gasped as her fists shook. Her face was pale as sheet – a color Illya had never seen on her face before. "That amount of magical energy is too ridiculous…"
The air was torn asunder by a ghastly screech, as though even the earth itself was screaming in pain. Two bright spiraling vortexes were ripping everything apart, and their fury would be unleashed at any moment. And yet, even while she understood that, Illya could not move her shaky limbs.
"Ruby-" she began, but her own legs gave in, as a thin line of blood trickled down her forehead. "Ugh…!"
The pain was more than she could bear. She knew that much. And yet, at the same time, the pain had cleared her head. Sometimes, in the middle of a crisis, a single moment was enough to change the course of destiny.
"You can't keep this up, Illya-san!" Ruby insisted. "Your body is already at its limit! The energy output of Zwei Forme is-"
Amidst the screeching maelstrom of unstoppable mana, was a single girl's soft, low voice.
"You once said that… you and Sapphire could supply a virtually limitless amount of mana to your wielder, right?"
"… Yes, that's true," Ruby replied reluctantly. "But there's a limit to how much magical energy a person's body can handle at any point in time, which limits our actual output."
"But, I've been managing much more power than usual in this form, right?"
"Illya-san," Sapphire interjected. "What you're thinking of is too risky. Your body is already in terrible shape; it won't be able to handle any more."
"… Why is that?" Illya asked, her knees almost buckling under her weight as she attempted to stand. "The battle with Caster… this form… Why am I able to handle so much mana this time?"
"… That's because," Ruby answered slowly. "In addition the normal magic circuits, every part of Illya-san's body is made to act as pseudo-magic circuits. Muscles, blood vessels, nerves… Everything. That's why you're able to handle so much mana at once. However, it's also why you're in so much pain right now, and why your body is at its limit despite taking no damage in that form."
"… I see. Then, that means we can produce an attack that has nearly an infinite amount of mana, right?"
"That's impossible," Sapphire replied. "Even if your capacity is above that of an average magus, Illya-sama, your body can't handle it. You will…"
"It's okay, Sapphire," Illya said. Her voice was gentle, her tone confident, but it was able to drown out, ever so briefly, the chaos of the war raging above them. In that moment, her voice was all that existed. "It's okay, Ruby. We don't have a choice. You know that."
Clutching a particularly bad wound on his stomach, Shirou hobbled over, regarding his supposed sister from another dimension with a strange look in his eyes. Had she ever seen her real brother make that face before?
"What're you trying to do, Illya?" he asked, but he knew he could not stop her. He, too, was wounded and above all else, his body was responding to the catastrophe unfolding before their eyes. Every cell in his body was quaking with fear. Even the lady who had jumped in and caught Kuro's arrow with one hand was afraid.
But on Illya's face – on the face of a mere child who had cried in his arms – there was a brave, albeit shaky smile.
Maybe it was her naïveté. Maybe it was her ignorance. But in that moment, it was that lack of understanding of the magnitude of the situation that gave Illya the strength to stand. Maybe it was because she did not understand the difference in their powers, that she was able to challenge it.
"Don't worry, onii-chan," she said, her lips quivering from the effort to form that rigid smile. "I-I mean, Shirou-san. "But I'll be right back, so could you take care of Miyu and Kuro for me?"
And with that, the Magical Girl flew.
She soared through the air, gliding on her wings of light. A million needles forced their way into every pore of her body, digging their way past her flesh and into her bones.
It hurts so much I want to cry.
"Ruby, Sapphire, continue charging," she said, tasting something coppery on her tongue as the two sources of unfathomable magical power unleashed their attack. "We have to protect everyone from whatever shockwaves that creates."
I don't want to do this. I don't want to fight.
The world lit up as the two roaring bursts of energy collided, shaking all of creation and rupturing the fabric of space. It was a sight too majestic for words, too terrible for one to even feel fear.
But I have to protect them. I have to protect them.
The giant burst of energy fired from the earth and towards the sky began pushing back the one fired from the sky, forcing back the mass of black shadow. Even amongst everything that was going on, she could hear the shadow screaming against the force it could never hope to defeat.
I have to protect everyone.
The blast incinerated the shadow, and the resulting explosion sent huge shockwaves across the sky. They flew overhead, they disappeared into the distance, they cleaved apart the clouds across the horizon. Then one came right at her.
"It's coming, Illya-san!"
So if it means I can protect them…
"Charge at full power, Illya-sama!"
Then I don't care. Muscle, blood, lymph, nerves… Use all of me.
"We're pushing it back, Ruby! Sapphire!"
Warm liquid coursed down her cheeks. It was thick, and it hurt her eyes, but she had no time to dwell on that. A giant sphere of pure light gathered at the tip of her wand, and with each passing second she could feel her body going numb.
I can't lose… I won't lose!
The light left the tip of her wand, soaring towards the incoming shockwave. Her eyelids began to force themselves shut, even before her attack connected, and all of a sudden she just felt so sleepy.
She felt like she was drifting somewhere. Somehow, her mind was blank and nothing seemed to matter anymore.
Aren't you scared? For us, we are spirits, so we can't 'die' in the same way humans can. But why is it that in such a situation, you aren't scared at all?
She smiled. She did not know why, and she did not know how she knew, but she knew that she was smiling just then.
Of course I am, Ruby. I've been scared to death since the start of this whole thing and I'm still terrified now. But I know that if I don't do something, everybody will die. So it doesn't matter even if I can't understand just how powerful the enemy is or something like that. I can only push forward… so I can protect everyone. Because…
An image fluttered into view. In her mind's eye, she could see a beautiful white forest, and a single child with crimson stains across her pristine dress.
And at the tip of that child's white fingers, was her fortress. Her defender. Her friend.
Because I know now… just how painful it is to be alone.
The last thing she saw was her beam of light, crashing violently against the shockwave and scattering it into the wind. But that was all she saw, for in the next instant, all sound vanished.
For a moment, there was a bright light, but even that too was eventually swallowed up by pitch-black darkness.
The girl in question was falling from the sky, and from the way her body was still, Bazett knew she was not going to break her fall by herself.
Despite her injuries, the Enforcer broke into a sprint, attempting to somehow cover the distance in time to catch the falling girl. However, just as she took her first steps, a scarlet shadow leapt into view and caught Illya safely in its arms.
Landing gently in front of Bazett, Archer laid a badly wounded Illya on the ground. His own clothes were badly tattered and he was only using one hand, but if he was feeling any pain his face did not betray it.
"Who are you?" Bazett asked. "Are you an ally?"
"Definitely not," Archer replied crisply. "Whoever you are, you can rest assured I'm not an ally of-"
"Wait a minute," Bazett said, cutting across him. "You're… the Archer Class Card!"
Before Archer could even get his question out of his mouth, Bazett leapt at him, her fist aimed straight at his heart. It was an impressive speed, not only for an injured person but also for a human being in general.
Archer, however, caught the fist with one hand.
"Wait," he said, sounding rather annoyed. "I have no idea what kind of misunderstanding you're having right now, but don't you have other things to do? She's hurt pretty badly, you know?"
Without warning, the crimson comet that was Kaleidostick Ruby rammed at the back of Archer's head- or where Archer's head would have been, had he not dodged out of the way. Instead, the Magical Wand of Love and Justice buried itself in Bazett's face instead.
As if things couldn't get more complicated, Archer resisted the urge to roll his eyes.
"Illya-san!" Ruby yelled, dislodging herself from the crater she made in Bazett's face and flying straight to Illya, who was unconscious but still breathing. "Illya-san, please say something!"
"She's alive, nee-san," Sapphire said, having taken the more orderly approach and floated gently to Illya without any antics. "But this doesn't look very good."
"Agreed," Archer butt in. "If you want to save her, I'd suggest getting her some help immediately. Unless you intend to waste more time and effort getting beat up by me?"
"… Understood," Bazett muttered. "I will let this slide for now. However, if you try anything-"
"I won't," Archer said, sounding extremely annoyed. "Even like this, I'm still a Heroic Spirit, you know. I have my standards-"
Can someone ever finish a sentence here? Archer wondered, leaping away a good distance from the new intruder. And distance was important, considering said intruder was a foe he had fought once before.
"Oi, Archer!" Lancer barked, his crimson lance at the ready. Unlike Archer, however, he was nearly unscathed. "What the heck's going on here? Explain yourself!"
"There's not much to explain, Lancer," Archer replied. This night was already terrible enough without having to deal with all this, and now it was getting worse. "She fell from the sky and I caught her, that's all. Your friend over there tried to kill me for some reason and that's when you showed up."
"My friend-" Lancer turned to the direction Archer indicated, and froze. "… Bazett?"
"Class Card… Lancer?" Bazett hissed, backing away from the blue Servant and clutching her fists. "So there's more than one here…?"
"Is that really you, Bazett?" Lancer asked, unable to believe what he was seeing. "But I thought you… back then…"
"What's the meaning of this?" Bazett asked, looking from Lancer to Archer. "How did you manage to manifest yourselves-"
No, she told herself. That's not important right now. What's important is defeating them, then getting Illyasviel to safety.
"Wait wait wait! Time out! Time out!" Ruby yelled, using her wings to grab Bazett's cheeks to force the Enforcer to look at her. "There's a misunderstanding here, but he's not who you think he is! That's not the Class Card, Bazett-san!"
"Lancer-sama," Sapphire said calmly, floating over to the spearman. "While I do not understand the situation that well, it would appear that you have mistaken this person for someone else. She is Bazett Fraga McRemitz, and she is a resident of our world. That is to say, she's from the same parallel world that Illya-sama, Miyu-sama and Kuro-sama come from."
"… So then…" Lancer said, looking more crestfallen as he processed that information. He was not beyond accepting facts like that anymore, particularly not after hearing about his current Master's background. "She's not… the Bazett of this world?"
Deep down, he understood that. He knew that there was no way Bazett could still be alive, for he had seen her die. His original and only Master, the Bazett Fraga McRemitz of this world, was no longer a part of it anymore. And no matter how much he prayed, that result was not going to change.
"Oh?" Ruby said, looking up with interest at Archer, who had been standing there throughout the entire exchange. "You're still here? You're all done here, so you can go now~"
… I kind of understand why Rin wants that thing destroyed so much now, Archer thought, feeling his eyelids twitch. In truth, he had stayed because he was worried about Illya, but it looked like it was no longer his concern; if the two sticks recognized that Bazett woman to be an ally, then Illya was in good hands.
"Of course, I have every intention of leaving," he said. "However, I'm not sure if that spearman over there would just let me leave quietly."
"Don't spout nonsense, Archer," Lancer snapped, his voice regaining some of his usual vigor. "Like I'd battle you when you're in a condition like that."
"Such generosity," Archer smirked, turning to leave. "Then allow me to take my leave."
Distant footsteps reached his ears. Someone was approaching, and at the pace they were moving, it was a single human. Definitely not a Servant, and unlikely to be a Master. It was no threat, especially not with Lancer and the brawler lady over there, but Archer, inexplicably, let his curiosity get the better of him and looked in the direction of the approaching steps.
And when he did, he froze dead in his tracks.
Bright silver hair that shined in the moonlight. Beautiful porcelain skin and glistening ruby eyes. She was an Einzbern homunculus, and at first glance Archer had thought it was another Illya, just more grown up somehow. In that fraction of a second when he processed that image, his frantic mind produced a sliver of hope, that maybe this was an Illya from a parallel world where she was able to grow into an adult. But the next moment, he knew that they were different people.
As the image of the approaching homunculus sank in, he realized that she was someone else entirely. But throughout his own life, he had never once heard Illya mention someone from the Einzberns other than Leysritt and Sella, and he had never seen a homunculus besides the three of them. So if this one knew Illya, then could she possibly be…
As he struggled to come to terms with the reality before him, the homunculus known as Irisviel von Einzbern ran right past him.
Her legs were heavy, and her body sluggish. Her mind was blank, and her thoughts a hazy cluster of noise and static. Something else was in control, moving her limbs and pushing her ahead.
The shadows of the trees by her side shook as she passed, backing away from whatever she was just then. Light abhorred her presence, shirking away from her as she walked ahead without vision.
She knew where to go, but it was not her decision. She knew where she had to be, even if she did not know why. But it knew, and that was enough.
It did not take long for her to find it. She knew where it was, after all. It had called out to it, and the object in turn had called out to her. To it.
A slender hand stretched out into the darkness, reaching for the tiny object resting innocently atop the grass. It was still, harmless, and yet it had called her here.
Matou Sakura looked at the object resting in her fingers. It did not look like it was anything special, but that somehow did not bother her. Just then, her thoughts were not her own, and her actions were not her own. Nothing was hers – not even the vessel that was her body.
She looked again at the thin, light card held in her fingers. It had fallen from the sky – from way up there after it had been defeated. This was all that remained of that formidable force, and whatever was left of it was now calling out to the thing insider her.
She could feel something stirring inside her body. Something was resonating with the card she held in her hand, and her human mind wished to throw it away, to destroy it somehow. She knew it was dangerous, and that she had to stay as far away from it as possible.
But she could not, for the person here right now was not 'Matou Sakura'. Right now, there was nothing about her that could be considered hers.
Not even her soul itself.
Obeying the will of the thing inside her, the vessel whose name was Matou Sakura spoke a simple word, the meaning of which even she could not understand:
This was supposed to be the New Year update, but psh. It's still before Chinese New Year so I'll count that as a win.
If you're wondering why certain things are happening the way they do, I'll get to them in the later chapters. I've a lot of things to explain, so it'll take some time. Yup…
Also, as for why Enuma Elish vs. Enuma Elish didn't blow up the planet, for one it's coz Goldy's upwards attack pushed back most of the Eighth's attack, and it's not like there were no side effects. One of them was Iri. I'll let that sink in for a bit.