9: The Heroic Spirit of Assassinations
I guess I've exhausted the limits of my bad luck for the rest of the century.
"What do you plan to do, idiot?! Knock at their door and wait for an invitation? And maybe a tea party later?"
"Well, you're the one who told me to not destroy the buildings every time I want to enter them…"
"No! I mean: yes!" Waver was truly distraught, almost to the point of tearing his hair out. "Listen, we are in the enemy's territory, they should attack us right now! So, please, don't do anything… more stupid than usual."
"Boy, don't tell me that you want me to leave this guy at the door, like a sack of potatoes?" Iskandar raised an eyebrow, not convinced. "I'm trying to be polite, there's nothing stupid about it."
"I know, but this situation is just weird." Waver looked at the Matou residence and shivered. Except a typical magical barrier, there was a strange, cold aura around the house. The young magus could swear that he had just heard a sound of countless chitin legs, scratching the stones inside the building. "I have a feeling that something really scary lives here."
"I see." Rider gently put unconscious Kariya on the sidewalk near the door. "So invading this house is the only logical thing to do."
Waver blinked, not able to say a single word for a surprisingly long while.
"Wait! What kind of logic is that?!"
"Listen, boy, I've learnt logic from Aristotle himself!" Rider poked his Master in the chest, almost knocking him over. "Do you have a problem with that?"
Suddenly, another voice joined their conversation.
"Actually, I would listen to your young Master this time and leave the man here. It's not wise to go to the mansion without a wooden stake or a holy sword. It smells like a vampire inside."
Waver looked up and instinctively hid behind Rider's back. His Servant did not look distracted, sensing no danger from the sniper on the roof.
"Why do you think so, Archer?"
The green bowman abandoned his favorite vantage point and joined Rider on the ground.
"I've heard rumors. Birds, trees and wild beast know much more than you can imagine, King of Conquerors."
"Oh?" Rider seemed to be truly impressed and interested. "What else do they know?"
"That something sleeps deep beneath the mountain. Something dangerous." He sighed and look around, like if he's waiting for someone. "Anyway, something is wrong with this Holy Grail War."
"And that's why you sitting here, wasting time, like a stalker?" Waver crossed his arms, not convinced. He clearly did not intend to trust this strange Servant. "Maybe you're trying to scare us, so we'll abandon the war, huh?"
"Well, actually… I didn't expect to meet you here. I was waiting for Saber." Robin scratched his head, embarrassed. "Maybe you've seen him? I couldn't find the big guy in any of his usual spots."
Rider and Waver exchanged worried looks, then both shrugged.
"Too bad… I hope nothing unexpected happened."
"Huh? Don't tell me that he's been defeated!" Iskandar nervously stroke his beard. "He promised me a fair duel, it would be unfortunate."
"Very. We had some plans, too." Archer looked at the Matou residence with a strange, sad expression. "Sakura, right? Please wait a little longer."
Iskandar was thinking for a long while. The sole fact, that additional Servant has been summoned, classless and ridiculously powerful, was a proof, that this Holy Grail War is somehow special. Caster, a crazy, cruel degenerate, was another abomination – only shining and good-aligned heroic souls should be able to participate in this tournament, right?
Moreover, it seems that there has been already an unofficial alliance formed between the true heroes. Fighting is honorable, if the reason is morally right. Even death can't stop them from doing what they always do. It would be a shame to not join such Servants for a good cause. Selfish wishes can wait.
"Hmmm… If what you said is true, and something is really wrong… I think that we should discuss this matter first. Fighting can wait."
Robin stared at Iskandar with a strange expression.
"I'm not sure that the other Masters will be happy about it," he said hesitantly.
"That's why we should settle this matter between Servants." Rider completely ignored a silent protest of Waver and pacified the boy with his giant hand. "You need to tell us everything you know, Archer."
"It would be better to explain it to everyone at once. We should call a meeting or something."
"Great idea!" The King of Conquerors gave Robin a wide, honest smile. "We will organize a banquet of Heroes! Or rather a banquet of Kings! Judging from manners only, we are all kings in this war, right?"
Archer laughed at loud, not able to resist anymore.
"If the title of May King counts…"
"Agreed then!" Rider clapped his hands, utterly pleased. "Watch carefully, boy, because a very important event will take place tomorrow night! This is how history is made, ha, ha, ha!"
Waver only helplessly shook his head, sure that he will be ignored, whatever he tries to say or do.
It's been about four hours or more, even walking with half of her usual speed, Illya should at least reach the forest.
Gilgamesh was standing on a fence, with his hands in his pockets and with a wide smile on his face. He kept firing various missiles at Saber, observing his every movement, visibly amused.
"You have some talent, although you weren't born with an instinct of a warrior. You've got those abilities through training, so it makes you simply a butcher." The golden-haired Servant laughed. "But it's still impressive, Dragon Slayer. You're good at defensive fighting."
Saber had no time or way to answer, totally focused on blocking the weapons. Maneuvering with his giant sword was not easy, but only a few red scratches were visible on his skin so far. He knew he can't fight like this forever, having no skills like Protection from Arrows he will exhaust himself and make a fatal mistake, sooner or later. He has already seen countless possibilities to withdraw and was experienced enough to do so... No, it was something more: he was sure, that he must abandon this unfavorable battle. The most frustrating was the fact, that Siegfried got stuck in a defensive position, not able to reduce the distance and engage his opponent in melee combat. Or maybe…
It's like he's able to predict my next moves. He's always a step ahead, I can't outmaneuver him like this. However, he's not wearing an armor, so there's still a chance if I…
Saber focused. All-or-nothing attacks were not his specialty, so he had to convince himself first, that this is really a good idea. Then he needed to wait for a perfect moment to set things into motion.
Here it comes! Another portion of deadly blades was near, but this time Siegfried did not randomly block the weapons - he deflected them and sent them back to Gilgamesh. Then he followed the missiles, as fast as he could, to attack his enemy head on. Even knowing, what's coming at him, the King of Heroes could do nothing but physically avoid it. If it's fast enough, it may work.
Leysritt had no idea, what's going on.
Assassins were toying with her, their battle was more like a dance than a real fight. To kidnap Illyasviel, the enemy should rather split up and try to deal with the resistance as soon as possible, not waste time for such meaningless exchange of blows. The warrior-maid was strong, but the fact, that literally not even one serious counterattack came after her strikes, was still strange.
It's just for show? Who else is watching this fight? The Master of Assassin? Probably. Then why his own Servant tries to deceive him? Or maybe Leysritt is the one to be deceived in some twisted way?
The battle, or whatever it truly was, has ended sooner than expected. This part of the house was completely destroyed, but looked like after an earthquake, with no blood or weapons around. Assassin came and gone like a ghost, less than a shadow of Heroic Spirit, leaving no traces of his existence behind.
Leysritt turned around, tightly grasping her halberd, not yet sure, what to do. She could hear a terrible noise outside, like if Saber is facing an entire army, not a single Servant. The feeling of danger, crawling beneath her skin, was… disturbing.
No, she shouldn't interfere, during a battle between Servants she would be totally useless. Illya said, that Saber is strong, and her bodyguard-maid believed it. Such famous hero summoned in the most powerful class is nearly invincible, right?
So why Leysritt was so worried about him?
Sighing heavily, she followed Illya to the Einzbern castle.
Siegfried was sure, that he at least scratched his opponent. But he was too slow.
A few millimeters too slow.
With a single, blinding blast of mana the golden armor appeared instead of Gilgamesh's modern clothes. He blocked next Balmung's strikes with a simple longsword, while stepping back, but it was a short exchange of blows. King of Heroes was strong and skilled, but not insane; he was a king and a hero, not a trained swordsman, to stand against a Saber class Servant in a long melee combat.
"I supposed that you would rather use your Noble Phantasm, but you chose to depend only on your skills." Siegfried found the wide smile of his adversary extremely frustrating. "Why is that? You're just playing with me, aren't you?"
Saber used this moment of rest to check the surroundings. It was disturbingly silent within the house, so the fight must have reached a conclusion already. Leystritt probably has won and joined Illya. There's nothing to worry about with such a good warrior escorting his little Master, now he should retreat. Siegfried seemed a little more relaxed after this discovery.
It was his biggest mistake.
"What an annoying skills you posses." Gilgamesh frowned. "I see, your Master is already safe and you're just buying time?" His eyes narrowed dangerously. "You must be punished for wasting my time."
The entire area started to glow with a golden light from the open portals. It was impossible to avoid all the weapons, so Saber considered a possibility to just depend on his dragon skin...
Not that he really had a choice. Or time to react, to be honest.
"Why are you smiling, fool?"
"Ha, ha, it's been a long time since something pierced through!" Saber coughed up blood, but did not stop smiling. "It's a nice feeling, to be alive and mortal again."
"I see. You're more interesting than I suspected." Gilgamesh's expression changed from anger, through amusement, to an understanding. "Another broken hero, huh? How could I take something away from a mongrel, who has nothing?" Surprisingly, he laughed. "Remember this feeling, enjoy it while you can. Let it become precious, so I will have real fun taking it from you later."
"I doubt t…"
"I don't remember giving you permission to speak."
His next attack was more serious. Gilgamesh had no intention to kill his opponent, though – none of the blades hit Saber's core or weak point. But being pierced in random places, like a pincushion, and nailed to the ground, is still not funny. It was hard to withstand. Siegfried winced, forced to fall to his knees.
"The Middle Ages were sad and dark mostly because of the fact, that people had lost their imagination. As Sigurd you would probably free yourself with runic magic now." Gilgamesh walked up to Saber and touched his cheek with a tip of a fine, golden sword, teasing him. A single drop of blood ran down Siegfried's face. "I bet you recognize this blade."
"Of course." It was Gram, the prototype of his favorite Balmung, and probably one of the weapons able to kill Siegfried with just one strike.
Saber did not intent to wait and let the King of Heroes check this theory. Embracing the horrible pain, he tried to stand up again. He may be defeated, or rather overpowered, but he won't stay on his knees before this abnormal Servant.
"Oh? You still have strength to oppose me? You seemed to be an obedient one, easy to handle even for an immature meat doll as a Master, so what's with this rebellious attitude?" Just one glance at Gilgamesh was enough to tell, that he actually admires Siegfried's stubbornness. To hide it, the golden Servant focused mostly on the sword in his hand. "It's fascinating, how wielder affects a weapon. This sword can be a holy one, like Excalibur, but with different user it can become a demonic sword, a deadly, cursed blade. So, when will you show me your Noble Phantasm, and the true color of your soul?"
"Why should I do that? Granting wishes of an opponent sounds like a bad idea for me."
"Aren't you a hero?" Gilgamesh's smile was really annoying. "And I'm the King of Heroes, your king, so you should just shut up and obey."
"You're rather a killer of heroes."
"If you put it this way… so be it. Besides, I really don't like the way you look at me."
Siegfried was aware of the upcoming strike and even raised Balmung to block it, but a spear from one of the portals nailed his arm to the ground. He had no way to defend himself against a quick, horizontal slash, that damaged both his eyes at once.
Shit, that hurt! I still can fight, but…
"You've been punished." Gilgamesh's voice was coming from the distance now. "Next time I want to see you shining on the battlefield. I won't show mercy on you or your Master anymore."
As a parting gift, Gilgamesh dispelled all his weapons at the same moment, making Siegfried's wounds literally burst out with blood. Leaning on his sword and bleeding like a grotesque fountain, Saber inhaled slowly. He should change into spirit form immediately, but it seemed to be an extremely exhausting task right now. Just one more breath, one more second of rest…
He regretted his decision immediately, hearing a light footsteps on the gravel. He sighed heavily, recognizing the aura of the one particular Servant he would rather not fight in his current condition.
Kiritsugu watched the turmoil in Illya's hideout through the cameras and decided to change his plans. He sent Maiya to assist Sella, just in case, and bring his daughter safely to the castle. Everything was under control, but caution is still indicated.
He did not care for Saber, although his clash with Gilgamesh seemed to be helpful for the Einzbern team. If Illya's Servant dies in this duel, the girl will be free from her duty as a Master. If he somehow manages to survive, he will give Lancer priceless details about the enemy. If he wins – they will get rid of a serious problem.
Now Kiritsugu had much more important task – to prepare the ground for the meeting with Tokiomi Tohsaka. Irisviel and Lancer were already on their way to the chosen place and Emiya waited nearby, lying on the nearest roof, ready to take the red magus down if negotiations would fail.
The location was perfect and soon Kiritsugu noticed Tokiomi Tohsaka in the centre of the abandoned building. He contacted Irisviel through the communicator hidden in her watch, just to check if everything works correctly. He still preferred to avoid speaking right through Arturia's mind, at least until Kayneth is defeated.
"Iri, can you hear me?"
"Yes, loud and clear."
"Yes, as he promised."
Both women entered the building and Tohsaka bowed slightly to welcome them.
"First, allow me to thank you for coming at my behest. This is how the Holy Grail War should look like, at least between the greatest and most respectable families of magi. If there is any…"
Irisviel, worried about Illya, was not in the mood for long conversations.
"Forgive me my rudeness, but there's one thing you need to explain to us first." There was a barely noticeable anger in her voice. "You came here to speak such nonsense about honor and duty, but your Servant has just joined forces with Assassin to invade our territory. They're in the middle of the fight right now. Tell me then, how could we trust you?"
Although Tokiomi was trying hard to hide his confusion, he failed completely and showed his true emotions. It was obvious, that he didn't know about the alliance of Gilgamesh and Kirei. How could it be possible? Maybe Risei betrayed him as well? It was truly the last possible moment for Tohsaka to wake up and realize his mistakes.
"I see, you didn't know." Irisviel stared at the red magus accusingly, without a single blink. "So you actually have nothing to offer and you came here to seek shelter? This is not how cooperation should look like."
Tokiomi grasped the jewel attached to his staff, rather angry than frustrated. He found himself in a very unfavorable situation, but he should keep cool, for the sake of his family honor.
"You have a grudge against Lord El-Melloi Archibald, the Master of Archer, am I correct?" He glanced at Irisviel and she nodded hesitantly, not knowing what he's up to. "I will challenge him to a duel. Even without a Servant, no Tohsaka magus will abandon the fight. I will defeat him to prove my good will."
"Oh?" From his position on one of the roofs, Kiritsugu whistled with admiration. It's not that he trusts Tokiomi, but this proposition opened up new possibilities. Kayneth will most likely answer the challenge and leave his hideout. What will happen to the red magus after the fight can be decided later. It's always better to have a protector of the local ley lines on their side, not to mention that Tohsaka possesses the Command Seals to kill Gilgamesh.
Whatever happens, the Einzbern team won't lose anything.
"We can accept it," Iri said after receiving a confirmation from Kiritsugu. "Just one more question, if you don't mind… Why you decided to join us?"
Tokiomi sighed, but he answered simply and honestly.
"My duty is to make sure that the Grail will not fall into the wrong hands. The Einzberns once shared the same dream - to reach the Root - with Makiris and Tohsakas. Your victory is still better than giving the Grail to a complete stranger. May I ask, just to be sure, what the Einzberns want from the Grail?"
"To complete the third true magic, Heaven's Feel." It was truth, Jubastacheit did not know what Kiritsugu plans to do after his possible victory.
This answer visibly pleased Tokiomi.
"So the most important wish of a true family of magi has not been abandoned. I'm fine with that. You have my help."
He bowed slightly and Irisviel responded with a curtsy, confirming their alliance.
So, I'm blinded, surrounded and can't even move… Great, just great.
Siegfried could feel the presence of at least three Assassins nearby. Surprisingly, they did not attack and even made some noise while approaching Saber, probably to gain his trust. Some of them decided to show themselves, but who knows how many were observing the scene from the shadows?
"We didn't come to fight you, Dragon Slayer." A woman said it? She was standing no further than two steps from Siegfried. He tried to point Balmung at her, but failed eventually. For the first time his hand was shaking under the weight of the sword. "Your Master and her maids are safe in the forest near the castle. One of us keeps guarding them, don't worry."
"How nice of you… What do you want from me?" He chuckled, realizing something. "It seems that my identity is not a secret to you... Would you mind introducing yourself?"
"You can call me Asako," the woman said.
"I'm Makuru the Quick" – came from the man on the right.
"We want to survive," the child behind him explained.
"To reach the end of this war."
"To fight for our wish, not be just a disposable tool."
"Please, help us."
Siegfried could only helplessly shake his head, feeling the power of the curse flowing through his body. He shivered, trying to fight it. It was pointless.
I guess I've exhausted the limits of my bad luck for the rest of the century.
"Fine. As long as it won't collide with the plans of my Master, I can be your ally. But I won't support any evil deeds or dishonorable acts."
He sounded categorically enough to make Assassins fall silent for a while. The gravel creaked under somebody's feet, when they gathered to exchange opinions.
"We can accept that," Asako said and Saber could feel three pairs of hands, helping him to stand up. "You should go back to the castle now. We will watch your back."
Siegfried smiled and nodded. He would never expect to have an Assassin class Servant on his side, saying something so unbelievable. It was really strange, but complaining was not in his nature.
After all, he survived the night. What does not kill you, makes you stronger, right?
He really wanted to believe it, but tonight it was harder than ever.
Thank You for reading! I'm so happy that so many people read this story, but also a little confused to have so few reviews… Well, just like Saber, I won't complain. ;)
A little foreshadowing happened in this chapter (thank you, Gilgamesh!). I can say that a completely new character will join one of the teams soon. Arturia will get a chance to shine, too, so please be patient.
INFO: The story will continue to the next Holy Grail War. There's a poll on my profile – You can vote for new Servants to appear in sequel. I'm still open to suggestions.
Thank You again and see You next time, I hope!