A/N: Miss me?
EDIT: Made some tweaks and added a bit of content. Hope ya enjoy~!
WARNING! This chapter doesn't pull any punches. Sorry for the delay, back pain really messed up my writing schedule. Surgery for my back/leg is looking imminent at this point. Nerves are driving me mad. But still, I wanted to get something out there, just in case said surgery goes poorly for me. Better safe than sorry.
Hope you're ready, because this story pays tribute to the "A Most Unlikely" series as a whole...and all those who have fallen.
As ever, we're following the Ember's Rule here. That's no joke. Really, it isn't. If folks don't like this, it won't be continued. Poof! Gone! Every bit of feedback helps. Reviews are the fuel which keeps me writing in these crazy times. With my tight schedule, I simply don't have time to write a story folks don't like. Without them, my inspiration cannot take wing and I can't write a word. So by all means, speak up!
Not many questions this time. We'll keep this brief:
Q: Is Naruto still stuck in the Void/Root dealing with the Holy Grail
A: Our boy's still fighting the good fight while the Servants wage war on one another outside. Its defeat doesn't mean total victory. Not yet.
We've still got what remains of Black Faction, which we KNOW the Greater Grail has interfered with. Not to mention, the rest of the Blue Faction, and Amakusa to deal with. Still, this story is quite close to the end.
Q: ...I sense a disturbance.
A: You'd be right. This chapter goes crazy.
Q: Who's gonna win this thing?!
A: Read and see.
Alright then, I think I've kept you waiting long enough! As ever, I own no references. Nope! not a wit or a one!
Minor multiverse shenanigans going on here if you squint, but that's a project I'll write later...
Now then...let's rumble. Do pay attention; because this chapter's brutal.
"This is it. The last breath. The end of our battle, and the start of a new one.
But who's is it? Mine? Yours?
Lets find out."
"Class change accepted! Sun!"
The Great Grail could not understand.
It wasn't that it didn't want to; really, it -she!- did, but she found herself simply unable to comprehend what the hell was happening anymore. Why did the Servant continue to resist? How long had they fought in the void? How many times had she slain him, and he, her? All questions she no longer had the answers. She'd lost count ages ago. Time moved quickly here. Too quickly, some might say. What felt like days in this void, were mere minutes for the outside world.
She'd killed him more times than he could count. It should have stuck by now...
...and yet it hadn't.
She'd burned through so much of her mana, but his was running low, too. It had to be. He hadn't taken that much from her surely-
The Grail's head snapped back as a giant golden ax drilled her right between the eyes, slamming through her skull, blood spraying through the air, staining her pristine white robe and the flowers at her feet. She tottered back. Caught herself on one foot. Another life spent. More mana wasted. Her good eye rolled down to glare at him. He grinned back, the grin of madman.
"I'm sorry," he cooed at her. "Does it hurt? Looks like it does."
Her temper slipped its leash in a shower of sparks.
"Don't get cocky...you inferior creature...!"
With but a thought, a javelin of holy light ignited in her hand; she pivoted and slammed it into his chest in recompense for his temerity. It was a killing blow, sure as the sun; her holy spear pierced his heart and slew him in an instant. His grin didn't falter. Even as he bled out all over her, a hand reached up to grasp her shoulders and reel her in. Idly, she wondered if this would be the one. Was he done? Was he finally spent?
His lips brushed her ear in a whisper, delivering his last words, his final shuddering breath.
Triumph bloomed in her heart. Yes. Yes, at last, he'd finally perished...!
She felt him smile against her. "Class change accepted. Assassin."
His body BURST in her arms, showering her with white-hot mana hotter than the sun itself. There was no time to dodge, much less defend herself. The sheer heat from the explosion ripped the Grail clean off her feet and flung her back into the field of flowers -souls!- crushing countless lives in her wake. She couldn't even lay there and allow her wounds to finish healing; she'd already learned that lesson the hard way. She righted herself quickly, knowing that to linger meant death, but where was-
Motion danced in her peripherals and the Grail gurgled, clutching the black dagger now-wedged in her throat. "You...!"
"Its a shame, you know." Assassin sauntered her way wearing a death's head smile. "You're trying so hard, but you still haven't figured it out. Should I give you a hint?"
There it was again! Every time he died! Each time she killed him! He changed classes and gained a new form! She hadn't even heard of some of these classes!
"What's wrong?" the killer hummed, already twirling a new knife over his knuckles. "Cat got your tongue? I mean, I know there's a knife in your neck an' all, but c'mon. At least try. Honestly, you're worse than Gilgamesh. Least I was able to get along with her in my world, but you...?
He turned a thumb down and slashed it across his throat.
...you're just a pitiful bitch. I almost feel sorry, bullying you. Almost."
Damn him. Anger sparked in the Grail's heart. She used it to tear the knife free and fling a fireball at him. He swayed aside with preternatural grace, flickered, and suddenly found a second knife in her chest. Just like that, another life slipped through her fingers, taking more mana with it. Her body healed at once, but the wound to her pride -one of many- continued to fester deep in her soul. Two more lives lost. She was getting weaker and he knew it, the utter bastard, but so was he! Sooner or later, the stalemate would break.
Her fist stabbed upward, seeking his face with all the speed of a falling star.
"Ooops!" Assassin grinned before it could hit. "Time to tag!"
Her fist struck an unyielding wall of steel.
"Class Change accepted. Shielder."
That was all she heard before a towering mass of metal -a bloody shield of all things!- bashed her in the face and rang her skull like a gong. Once. Twice. Thrice! On the fourth she managed to hook an arm around the cold steel and wrench it aside, fling an open-light-filled-palm in the new Servants face and-
"Naruto" toppled backward, a smoking ruin where his head used to be. She didn't stop there; couldn't; for to stop would give him yet more time to grind her down and escape from this place. A sweep of his legs sent his corpse crashing down to the field. She rained napalm down upon him, annihilating it to the last atom. He couldn't keep burning lives like this. Each death snuffed out an incarnation of himself. Eradicated it, kept him from using it again. She had seen to that.
"I will burn your very bones to ashes!" She shrieked at the crater she'd left him in, her voice a shrill caterwaul. "There will be no memory of you left in the Throne!"
A faint chime in the back of her head was her only warning.
"Class change accepted. Avenger."
Her eyes bulged and her body bucked as a thousand cursed spikes burst from the field to skewer her stomach. Her body was hauled into the air, each slaying her time and time again. Twelve lives annihilated in an instant. She swept her right arm back and caught at his blackened cloak, but the blasted boy was already gone, vanishing into...wait. Where had all this mist come from? Why couldn't she see...?!"
"Class change accepted!" the words confirmed her worst fears. "Watcher."
An ominous red glow burned through the mist. She saw a crimson spear held aloft, burning with baleful light.
"Our turn, is it? Alright." an older voice hummed in the smoke. "We've gotta get back to our war...so here. You can have this!"
The Grail couldn't move. Those horrid stakes still bound her in place. She was healing, but far too slowly. She tried to raise a hand, already knowing it would be in vain. A furious scream tore past her lips, only to be bitten of by a deeper, more feral snarl. Another voice echoed it, a woman's voice that filled her with fear.
"Gáe Bolg Alternative!"
Twin spirals of red death ripped the Greater Grail free from the stakes to pierce her heart. They slew her one hundred times over. She felt each demise tear at her reserves before she finally got her hand on the spears and crushed them in her grasp. The cursed weapon crumbled away and the mist faded, exposing the grinning incarnation who'd hidden within it. There was a woman standing there beside him, one hand on his shoulder. Blank red eyes gazed upon her.
"I believe that's enough, my student." Scathach turned and clapped hands with companion. "Tag."
Together, they vanished into motes of golden light.
The Greater Grail clawed herself upright, ready to ward off another attack. For once, it didn't come. It took her a moment to realize why, to take stock of what was happening. Her legs were trembling. She could feel cold sweat upon this body's brow, hear the tortured beating of her still-wounded heart. She paused to take a mental tally of her reserves.
She had only nine lives left.
Nine, of what had once been millions.
She cupped her face in trembling hands and took a deep, shuddering breath to center herself. What would happen once she lost them all? Would her consciousness cease to be...? No! Mustn't think that. Thoughts had power here, wishes, even more so. She must remain strong. To falter for even an instant would surely spell her doom.
Another chime filled the gloom. It sounded like the rasp of a scythe to her throat, heralding her doom.
"Class Change accepted. Caster."
She pivoted with a snarl.
Berserker had swapped yet again; she found herself facing a man in flowing robes of white and red. In his right hand he cradled a black, ringed staff. A mighty golden fox emerged from his back and clung to him, hunched over his shoulders like some protective guardian from the age of mystery itself. Neither made any move to attack her. She hissed at them.
"What have you done?!" she flung out an arm, hurtling a torrent of ice his way, only for him to sway out of its pathh. "How are you doing this?!"
"Simple." Caster wagged a finger at her, as a dissapointed parent might their child. "You cheated with this Blue Faction of yours. So I, that is to say we, cheated right back." His free hand rose, tapping a finger to the side of his skull. "Berserker had to be choosy, ya know? Pulling our other selves across time and space was no easy thing, even with your power. Some of us were Masters. Some were Servants. Others were neither. If any of us die in here, that's it." he snapped his fingers. "They're dead, once and for all. Can't be re-summoned. They understood that risk, but still they answered the call."
His staff tapped down.
"But I'm not a battle-happy lout like the rest of them. I believe in mercy, in second chances, ya know? This is your last chance to surrender, Grail." those warm-yet-cold eyes pierced her very core. "You let Berserker go, we back off, let bygones be bygones, and you get to live. But if you don't..." he blew out an angry breath, almost irritated to even say it. "...then you will die."
"You'll kill me?" The Greater Grail drew herself up, hate in her heart. How dare he. The nerve, the gall, to condescend to her like this...! "What could you possibly do to me?"
"Quite a few things. None of them pleasant.
She struck him with a bolt of lightning. Caster grunted, but stood his ground. The next bolt that came found itself parried her way; she slapped it aside in turn, hissing in pain as her palm smoked.
"This is my world! I am the master of it! Not you! Never you!"
...alright." he sighed. "I warned you. Kurama?"
The great fox on his back swelled into something monstrous; looming large over them both. Black light burst from its jaws. Consumed by fury, the Greater Grail tried to deflect it...and failed. Her barrier shattered. Flesh burned as she crumpled to her knees. She felt another one of her lives crumble, her might taking a dive. It took more time than she would've liked to restore herself. Her skin burned black, her body quivering on the ground as she struggled to muster her mana.
Eight lives now.
Her form shrank a little and her power plummeted with it.
"No!" She hissed and clutched at her thinning shoulders. "Not like this!"
"Oho~?" Caster's smile appeared through the smoke, then the rest of him as he leaned forward to regard her dwindling. "That's interesting. Now you're losing power as you lose your lives. Sadly, it seems my time is up. I've got my own war to finish, and Rin to rescue. Tag!"
He unsummoned himself before her very eyes. In the same moment, the voice chimed again.
"Class change accepted. Foreigner."
Someone finger tapped the Grail's shoulder. "Hey."
Another class?! And who was that little girl sitting on his shoulder...?! Why was she so pale? Why did she have horns? Why was she smiling...
...why did her chest hurt? Ohhh. The broken Grail looked up and understood. Blinked. Blinked hard, now. That was her heart she was staring at. Here core. Why was it in the girl's hand? No. Surely she wouldn't. She tried to speak, tried to plead with her, beg her to put it back, but no words would emerge from her mouth. She reached for it in vain, lips parting.
The girl crushed it in her fist. Her body spasmed, toppled to the floor, and shriveled a little more.
Seven lives left.
"Now, now, Kaguya." Foreigner chided his companion, "That's very rude."
"Don't care. She's mean." The girl giggled and clapped his open hand. Together, they returned to their world with one final world. "Tag!"
"Class Change Accepted. Gunner."
With that ominous chime, a pair of boots entered the Grail's vision. A foot nudged her, rolling her over onto her back. She glimpsed flinty blue eyes in the waning light of the moon, two hands weaving intricate seals. How was this class a Gunner? It had no weapons...unless. Oh. Ohh. Ohhh this was going to hurt, wasn't it?
The incarnation didn't even deign to speak. He just unloaded on her, perforating her body with countless jutsu. dozen bloody wounds.
Six lives. A third of what she had before. Her form shrank that much more, falling back through time.
"Pitiful." she heard him grunt as he walked away. "You're not even worth my time...
"Class Change Accepted." Came the chime, heralding a new torment. "Rider."
"Ahoy! What do we have here?"
With a groan, the Greater Grail looked up and saw the same blasted blond from before, minute changes in his clothing and appearance, things she scarcely noticed. A crimson fox sat on his shoulder. It looked down at her as one might a juicy stake. Licked its lips. She screamed and kicked out with her legs, clamoring backward like a drunken crab. She had to stand. Fight back. This...this was death! She was going to die! For all her frantic speed the fox was faster. It hopped off Rider's shoulder and lopped toward her, growing larger with each passing moment.
"Back! Stay back you foul beaaaargh?!"
Giant jaws clamped down on her body and tore it in half.
Five lives, no, four now. It had stomped down on her while she was recovering, taking another.
She felt so small now. Tiny. Wretched. Little more than a girl. But she would not beg. She refused to beg. She would not...meep.
Her heart quailed as she stared up at an absolute giant, rippling with muscle and long, tawny blond hair. His eyes were the purest of red. Another Berserker? No, that couldn't be right. She knew every class, and this, her archives told her, did not exist within them. He didn't say a word. He just looked upon her, and something in her quivered. The chime came on again, damning her.
"Class change accepted-ERROR. ERROR. BEAST."
Lightning sparked in her fist. She flung it at this creature, this abomination that shouldn't be here. He exhaled -breathed!- and the magic bounced back, striking her dead where she lay. Struck by her own spell. How humiliating...! Mercifully, she didn't see his followup kick; she only felt it snap her neck to the side, and all the pain that came with it. He stomped down again and again, not once speaking a word. Another life trickled down the drain.
Three lives left! It was getting hard to think. She felt so fragile. So frail...
A giant hand closed around her robes and hauled her upright.
...weak." he all but spat the word like a curse. "I was promised a challenge. There is no worth in killing a child."
"You are not of humanity, therefore, I do not love you. Wallow in your despair."
He flung her down and left her there, unsummoning himself like the rest in a shimmer of golden light.
The Greater Grail looked down, unable to speak, and saw the source of her scorn . Gone was her splendid body. In its place lay that a child, cowering in tented robes that had once been her own. Had she truly lost so much strength that she'd regressed to such a pitiful state? No! No! It wasn't fair! Unfair! Unfair! Unfair!
Thin limbs kicked against the ground as she threw a tantrum. "What have you done to me?!"
Much to her chagrin, the universe answered.
"Class Change Accepted! Faker!"
"I struck a bargain." the newcomer's eyes burned a soulful blue; this one looked harmless compared to the other incarnations, but his words were a blade all their own. "My life for theirs. Their lives for mine. You've killed me so many times, and I've been killing you for awhile now. But each time one of us dies...this world becomes unstable. Just for an instant." his fingers made a pinching motion. "A second. A single sliver of eternity." he tilted his head to one side, producing an ominous crack as he contorted in a way that shouldn't have been possible. "What do you think I've been doing with all those seconds...?"
Realization broke like the dawn. "No."
"I have more lives than you can possibly imagine. So do you. But unlike you!" he threw his head back and spread his arms wide, the air behind him shimmering like some grand curtain in the breeze. "I have friends on the other side! And what do you have? Nothing. Its almost laughable, really! You think you're such a clever one." he pivoted and planted both hands in his pockets, grinning fit to burst. "And maybe you are. Yet you made one fatal mistake."
"No, no!" She slammed forward, launched herself up at him, and tore his head from his shoulders.
His severed skull still grinned at her anew. "You believe your way is the only way, and to hell with the rest. Which is why you'll die alone."
She slammed it down at her feet, but instead of blood, it shattered like brittle glass. So did her voice. "No, no, no!"
"Yup. And we'll end this war...without you."
A knife slammed between her shoulders, and he vanished like the rest, reaping another life from her in passing.
Two lives! So cold now...so afraid...
"Class Change Accepted." it was almost a whisper in her mind, a sign of how fall she'd fallen. "Archer."
"Sorry about this, 'lil miss." a low voice drawled somewhere to her right, almost out of sight. "But I've got a get back to the missus, so don't have time to play with you. Eat this. Caladbolg."
She didn't even see the arrow that killer her. One moment she was turning, glimpsing a man clad in merry blue-on-black. He had a wicked-looking-bow, one he was even now drawing back...back...further back still...and what was that he'd knocked to it? An arrow..?
A faint whistling sound reached her ears. And then...
...there was pain.
"Alrighty, that's my part done! Tag!"
One life. The Grail crawled out of the burning crater he'd left her in, wasted and gasping for air. She couldn't muster so much as a spark to stop him. The next blow would surely slay her.
"Class Change Accepted!" Ask not for whom the bell tolls; for it tolls for thee. Those three words were a death knell in her mind, and this time, they came from behind her. "RULER."
And then she heard it.
The Greater Grail heard the chime come again, and with it came the mournful how of a dreadful weapon cataloged in the deepest archives of her memories. She managed to force herself, made it to her hands and knees now, before her body finally failed her. Scarlet light swirled overhead, somehow deeper and darker than anything those cruel spear could ever conjure. A tremor of fear shot down what passed for her spine. She couldn't bring herself to move any further.
The words that followed damned her as much as the cackle that echoed it. A whimper escaped the little girl's lips.
No. Not him. Anyone but him. In what reality had Berserker encountered that king? How had he consumed Gilgamesh of all people?!
Raucous laughter tore through her ears, drowning her in terror.
"Rejoice, mongrel! I bring you a gift!" The light swelled anew, casting her in countless shadows. "The eternal freedom of oblivion!"
Here at last, the now-Lesser Grail looked up. She immediately wished she hadn't. The light descended.
A wail tore out of her in the face of it. "Please...no...I give up! Stop! I don't want to die!"
The Grail's scream was swallowed by two words.
A/N: To clarify! Berserker is still around. This was basically him using the Grail's own power against it fro the inside, while his allies fight the good fight outside
Grail got smacked, reduced to a child, and obliterated. Time will tell if she lives. Might even get recruited, depending your feedback.
So here we are. Some may live. Some may die. Won't say who, save that we're on the path to the to the true ending foiks...and its gonna be one helluva race to the finish.
Thanks for joining me on this wild ride, and I hope to entertain you all for many more yet to come.
As ever, reviews keep me alive. I literally. Cannot. Write. Without them.
So in the Immortal Words of Atlas...
...Review...Would You Kindly?
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