Dragons. Symbols of power since ancient times, the legends associated with them varied from one part of the world to another. While in the East they were often portrayed as wise creatures that helped those humans that found their favour, the general image in the West was that of a greedy beast that lived only to satisfy its base instincts. The dragon summoned by Caster and Rider was an entity somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. An ancient spirit that was bound to the Colchis royal family, the great serpent had both the intelligence and the power to justify its position as a king among phantasmal beasts.
The ear-splitting roar the beast let out as it touched ground with its clawed feet shook the air, but Caster seemed indifferent to the theatrics and merely smiled as she walked closer to it.
"Greetings, child of Typhon," Caster said as she drew close enough to almost touch the dragon. "It has been a long time."
The dragon turned its head to see who spoke, and appeared to tilt its head in surprise when it saw Caster. Then, with no warning at all, the dragon was consumed in a golden light. When the dazzling prominence disappeared, a lilac haired youth stood where the dragon had been, and he quickly walked over to stare at Caster as if she was an animal in a zoo.
"Hmmm... She looks real," the young man muttered as he looked Caster up and down. "Same suspicious air about her as well."
Caster allowed the examination to go on for a while, but eventually lost her patience. "What are you doing, Arco?"
"Eh? You know my nickname too?" the young man's eyes widened. "Is that really you, Medea?"
Medea, princess of Colchis and holder of the position of Caster in this Grail War, closed her eyes and sighed in exasperation.
"Who did you think it was, Arco?" she asked. "Do you know anyone else that looks like me?"
Arco shook his head. "No, but you have to understand that it has been a long time. I didn't think you humans lived that long." Arco then stopped and frowned. "Wait, you are a ghost?"
"Something of the sort," Caster conceded as she tried to cut the questioning session short. "Right now however I would like to request your help."
"... Eh..." Arco looked at Caster doubtfully. "Wait a second, if you are dead, why should I listen to you?"
"Caster, watch out!" Rider suddenly shouted.
Caster was about to answer Arco's question when the dragon's head was rocked by a heavy impact, and an explosion covered the area in smoke and flame.
The perpetrator behind this attack, Archer nocked an arrow as he wondered how much damage he had just done with that shot from Caladbolg II. It had been a direct impact to the side of the head with a released broken phantasm that he had poured most of his spare prana into, and since he was in a human form it had to have done some damage. Right? Even if the thing was a phantasmal beast that was said to have defences that could shrug off almost anything short of A rank noble phantasms...
... Now that he thought about it, he should have gone for Caster.
When the smoke began to clear however, it was soon apparent that Archer's sneak attack had only served to enrage the beast.
"Are those the pests you wanted help with, Medea?" Arco asked of Caster in a voice that dripped malice as he covered the left side of his face with his hand. The skin on the left side of his face was scorched and raw, and his hair had been burned off. In terms of real damage however, there was little to show from an attack that could have punched a hole through a castle. Caster too was relatively unhurt but for a few scorch marks here and there. She had not been the target of the attack, and Rider's warning had allowed her to put up a barrier in time to catch most of the explosion's force.
"Yes, Arco," Caster coughed as she inhaled some smoke. "Though I also have another favour to ask as the princess of Colchis."
"What is it?" Arco asked without turning to look at her.
"If you would be so kind, please allow Rider here to use you as a mount," Caster said as politely as possible.
"What?" Arco's face twisted as he looked at her.
"I ask this as one of the blood of Helios," Caster replied forcefully without any sign of wilting in front of the dragon's obvious displeasure. "Allow Rider to use you as a mount."
Even in his human form, the dragon's growl would have cowered most beings, but Caster was confident in the oath sworn by him upon the waters of the Styx. Had this been Ryudouji temple she might not have been so overbearing, but in this land where the name of the old gods had renewed force, such a promise could override any resistance.
Feeling the bonds upon him, Arco gave one last growl of displeasure before he returned to this draconic form. Caster then nodded to Rider, who gingerly stepped up to the great serpent. Arco fixed her with one of his slitted yellow eyes as she drew near, but reluctantly bent down so that she could come atop him.
On the other side of the field, Rin's team was having an urgent discussion as the prospect of having to battle a dragon drew ever closer.
"Ilya, can't you use a command spell to get Berserker back here?" Rin asked first of all.
Ilya looked like she was about to cry as she shook her head. "I tried, but it's as if the command spell can't get through to Berserker. He's not dead, but I can't get to him."
Rin palmed her face. It was just so typical. The one time where she would have welcomed Berserker's presence, he gets shunted off to somewhere not even the Grail could reach.
"Just keep trying then," Rin told Ilya as she gave up on that idea. "Saber, Lily, are you still good to go?"
"We are fine, but..." Saber looked at Rin uneasily. "Is it safe for you and Ilyasviel to stay here? I am not sure that we can both protect you and fight with the dragon. Especially when you are so tired, Rin."
Lily nodded in agreement with Saber. Rin looked like she had gone two nights without sleep, and with three servants connected to her, she was not about to get better any time soon.
"Whatever you decide to do girls, do it quick," warned Lancer. "Looks like they are ready to come at us."
Lancer's tense but excited voice only told them what the servants had already sensed for themselves. Having lived on the battlefield for much of their lives, they could feel the change in the air as their opponents decided to restart the fight.
"Well, at least the dragon seems to wounded," Archer commented as he looked at the serpent's face. One eye was covered over with burn marks, and the scales were missing from that side of the beast's head.
"It does make things slightly easier," Lily agreed. "Let us hope that it's enough."
"I don't know about you, but I've never really cared about the odds," said Lancer. "Now, I would call for rights to the dragon, but it looks like the lady over there wants a word with me."
Lancer pointed towards Assassin, who returned the gesture with a smile.
"If you manage to defeat her, you are welcome to the beast," Archer grumbled.
"I'll take that offer," Lancer grinned. "Happy hunting all."
Gaze sharpening, Lancer dashed forwards towards Assassin to resume their duel. At the same moment, the dragon let out a loud roar as Rider urged its huge bulk forward. With that the others began to move as well, Saber and Lily going forward to meet the great beast, as Archer prepared to harass Caster again even as he kept an eye on the various masters on the field. The second round had begun in earnest, and it now only remained for the victors to be decided.
It was odd being the only person inside her head, Kirika mused as she woke up again.
... Wait, that didn't sound right. She was lonely, not nuts. Or was she? It wasn't normal for someone to separate their awareness from their mental landscape, and it couldn't be said that your average human being would have cause to be alone in their own minds like this. On the other hand, if she wasn't alone in her own mind, who else would be here? It wasn't as if this was a public park for anyone to intrude upon as they pleased. If she did allow someone else in here though, would that -.
... And there she was about to drift off again. It was hard to maintain an ordered stream of thought for some reason. It may have had something to do with the fact that she seemed to be trapped in her own mind, but she couldn't be sure. Just as she couldn't be sure which of the myriad range of memories that she had access to was 'hers'.
Things were a bit more organised now, and the various images no longer appeared as a chaotic jumble, but as globes of light that she could call upon to view. The only problem was, there were so many of them that her mind looked like somebody had taken the stars from the heavens and brought them down to earth. It was impossible for Kirika to tell which of these belonged to herself, for she was certain that most did not. Her certainty was based on the fact that the few that she had looked over were too different in the way that events played out. In one she had seen herself die at Lancer's hands, and in another she had caught sight of herself in the mirror only to see a strangely familiar young man. What made things even more frustrating was that every time she looked at one of these things, some of the memories from them were absorbed into her, making it even harder to identify the true past that she sought.
To sit here helplessly, or lose herself in an endless sea of possibilities. Unable to make a choice, Kirika could only sigh, and pray for something to change.
Until today Sakura had not quite understood what it meant for figures out of legend of clash. As a somewhat capable mage in her own right, she had held a vague idea of the kind of powers that the Grail War involved, but had wondered how effective swords and spells could be compared to the fruits of science. Such doubts had begun to flicker when she saw Berserker's unbelievable display of brutal power during his earlier visit, and were now completely dispelled by the awesome sight of seven superhuman heroes and one mythical creature going at each other with all the powers they could muster.
Spell barrages that put artillery battalions to shame swept the battlefield as Caster unleashed a small part of the magics that had allowed her to claim her position as the most famous witch in Greek legend. A rain of silver bolts split the air in return as the unidentifiable Archer that her sister had summoned disrupted Caster's casting in order to prevent any spells from reaching the two masters that stood a ways behind him. In the midst of this chaos the two Sabers danced a precarious waltz with a monstrous partner as they attempted to deal with the dragon that Rider now rode. Sakura's own servant was not doing much to control her steed, and instead was allowing him to run wild as she focused on restricting the movements of the two enemy swordswomen. This was more than enough though, as the dragon showed why his species was regarded as the most powerful of the phantasmal beasts that had once walked the earth with powerful blows of his tail and claws that shook the earth and rent deep gashes in the soil.
Closer to Sakura, a less eye-catching but just as intense struggle was going on as Lancer and Assassin tried to settle the duel that they had begun earlier. The two servants had come to the side of the battlefield for this to avoid the spells that were being tossed around as they didn't enjoy the high magic resistance of some of their fellows. It would have been a shame for their fight to be interrupted by a stray blast, and now that they didn't have to worry about it too much they were going at each other in full force.
With her inexperienced eye, it was impossible for Sakura to tell who had the advantage as Assassin and Lancer filled the space between them with a flurry of sparks. In a typical duel it was unthinkable for so many exchanges to occur in such a short space of time, but this was no longer a simple fight. Having clashed once, there was an unspoken question between Assassin and Lancer that needed to be settled. The first to give an inch of ground would be the loser, and neither of the two was known for their willingness to accept a loss. With their pride on the line the two servants now battled to prove that they were faster, more skilled, and simply a better fighter than their opponent.
The chiming of metal upon metal seemed like it might go on forever, but the end came quite abruptly.
A slight tremble in Lancer's form, mayhap caused by the noise of one of Caster's spells savaging the earth nearby. The delay it created between one of her movements and the next was almost non-existent, but Assassin found the gap it created with ease. Flickering inside Lancer's defence, Assassin's blade bit into her opponent's left shoulder and forced Lancer to retreat or be overwhelmed by Assassin's follow up. Jumping far back, Lancer got far away enough that Assassin decided not to immediately give chase. Taking the opportunity to examine his wound, Lancer's face scrunched up into a frown as he felt the cut hinder the movements of his left arm.
"Damn it," Lancer cursed as he realised his loss.
"I guess the first round goes to me, Lancer," Assassin said with a faint smile. "What say you that we stop playing now?"
"As you wish," Lancer said in a somber tone.
At first Sakura couldn't understand what they meant when they said they would get serious, as it had been clear to anyone with eyes that the two servants had been going at each other with all the strength they could muster. She soon understood what they meant though when Assassin began to flicker from sight as she used Tsukikage to eat up the distance between her and Lancer.
The short range teleportation that Tsukikage granted Assassin meant that she could attack Lancer from one side, and then immediately attack him from the opposite side. It was a simple rule of physics that a person who had just blocked an attack from one side could not effectively then block one from the opposite side an instant later, and most warriors would have fallen in a few seconds of Assassin using Tsukikage. Lancer however was not one of the most famous heroes of Ireland for nothing, and though he continued to allow Assassin to strike him, he reacted quickly enough that the damage was minimal at best. This did not mean that he could ignore her strikes, but he could continue to fight, and wait for a chance to strike back.
Which came quickly enough.
As Assassin attacked, Lancer had been charging his spear with prana. This process took far longer than usual as he was fighting at the same time, but that was unavoidable if the only other option was to leave himself defenceless against one of the greatest masters of the sword in history. His patience eventually paid off, and now that the point of his spear glowed red with a full seventh of his prana, Lancer got ready to unleash upon Assassin the cursed attack that had killed his son.
Sensing danger, Assassin stopped as she flash into attack range and quickly flashed back out to Lancer's opposite side. It had been obvious to her that Lancer was getting ready to use his noble phantasm, and her action was logically the best she could have taken. Any large attack left a gap in the attacker's defence, and Assassin took take advantage of this to set up a critical blow. The noble phantasm was a slight worry, but she had decided it was worth the risk. Lancer's noble phantasm was a spear after all, and no matter how fast an attack from a mundane weapon was there was only one direction it could go in. If she kept flash stepping around him there was no way that the attack could hit her.
Assassin's confidence came from her experience, for it was far from the first time that she faced someone who wielded a spear. In this case however her experience betrayed her. No matter how legendary a swordswomen she was, Assassin was used to facing more mundane opponents than the other servants. Magic and magecraft, though not completely unfamiliar, were things that were used by mages, not other warriors. Her abilities were on a comparable level to the True Magics, yes, but since they were a result of her own pure efforts she did not associate that with what she might find on the battlefield.
Needless to say, Lancer was not your average human, and his spear was not your mundane hunk of metal on a stick.
To Assassin, it was a lightning bolt out of a blue sky. Only Sakura who was watching from the sideline fully saw what happened, and even she had trouble believing what she saw. Assassin had clearly disappeared the moment Lancer shouted his attack, and had reappeared in the opposite direction from the one that he thrust his spear out at. Why was it then, that Sakura could remember seeing a bolt of jagged red lightning snake back around Lancer and hit Assassin who was behind him?
"Ah..." Assassin gasped as the point of the spear tore into her abdomen, and then flashed out of sight again to reappear at a point far away from Lancer. There, she fell to one knee due to the wound, but kept firm hold of her sword as she kept her eyes on Lancer.
Despite the fact that he had heavily wounded Assassin, Lancer's frown refused to disappear as he stared between his spear and his opponent.
"Lucky, aren't you?" he snarled, angry that his sure-kill attack had failed to live up to standards.
"Disgustingly so," Assassin replied cheekily, grinning past the pain that clutched her belly worse than even any period cramps she could remember. An odd thing to think in the middle of a battle, but that was the closest experience she had with a pain like this and her periods were truly painful when they were bad. The fact that she had died in her last duel had more to do with the fact that her feminine nature had betrayed her that day than any lack of skill on her part.
"Tch," Lancer clicked his tongue as the duel drew into a stand-off again.
For himself, Lancer was torn up all over from the numerous cuts Assassin had inflicted on him, and his form-hugging armor was more red than its original blue. Assassin was in a superficially much better condition, but the deep hole in her belly had quickly stained her kimono red and made it difficult for her to move.
While Assassin and Lancer eyed each other in preparation for what would be the final round between them, the battle had taken on an interesting turn on the other side of the field. Rider had taken to the air upon the dragon, and despite Archer's best efforts to keep her at bay she now released the full power within Bellerephon to turn her serpentine steed into a deadly projectile.
"Saber, Lily! Scatter!" Archer shouted as he quickly shot off two arrows at Caster. He then made a huge jump to the side, and just in time. 9 tonnes of dragon went through the spot he had been standing at over 350 kilometres per hour, and the wind from the passage alone threw Archer far from his original spot. Had he been hit by the attack he would have instantly been killed as all the bones and organs in his body were pulverised by the energy transferred from impact.
"Archer! Look out!" Archer heard as he got back up to his feet.
Archer barely had time to mumble a confused exclamation before he was flying through the air again. This time launched by the force of the explosion from one of Caster's spells landing nearly on top of him.
"Why is it only me?" Archer screamed as he escaped death at the cost of his coat being turned into a rag.
Lily and Saber thought about telling him that he was the only one among them who could effectively attack Caster and Rider now that they were both in the air, but decided it was unnecessary as they turned their thoughts to how they could improve their situation.
"If only we had managed to cut off the wing," Lily lamented as she followed the golden arc in the sky that signaled that Rider was about to come sweeping down on them again.
"If only we had enough prana," Saber added as she looked wistfully at the sword in her hands that she dared not reveal the full power of.
A few moments previous, Saber and Lily had managed to take advantage of the dragon's blindness on one side to nearly deal a crippling blow to the beast. Lily had distracted the dragon from the front, and then Saber had jumped in to try and cut off the wing on its blind side. It had nearly worked, but Rider had realised what they were trying to do and had stopped them just in time. Realising the danger it had been in, the dragon finally settled down and had followed Rider's command to fly up into the air. Bound to the earth and running low on fuel, Saber and Lily had looked on helplessly as the dragon escaped and gained the freedom to strike them without retaliation.
To be truthful however, the only reason they had held out this long was that Rider was not attempting to attack Rin or Ilya. An agreement of so seemed to exist between her and Caster as well, for the one time that Caster had sent a spell in Rin's direction Rider had immediately stopped to fix the other servant with a glare. From that point Caster had focused solely on protecting herself from Archer's attacks and trying to erase her harasser from this world. Their experience of fighting Berserker had helped somewhat as well. Dodging the dragon's claws and tail had been like dodging Berserker's ridiculously overpowered strikes, and they had used the lessons learned from the earlier fight to stay relatively free from harm.
The problem now however was that there was little they could do against Caster and Rider. Lily had considered using Clarent again, but in its reduced state there was no chance that it would be able to penetrate the dragon's formidable defence to harm the beast or its rider. More so if Rider continued to spur the dragon along at the speeds it was going now. Not even her third noble phantasm would be much use in this case, even if she could spare the prana to use it. Saber too was no different, in that the only option available to her was to use Excalibur, but she couldn't afford the prana to do so.
What was ironic was that both Lily and Saber still had enough prana to use their noble phantasms. The magical cores that they possessed due to their draconic heritage meant that if they squeezed out all the prana they had, they could easily use their abilities to the full. In reality however, they could not use this prana without a bit of their master's prana to catalyse the release. To give an example, Saber possessed 1000 units of prana, of which 1000 would be required to use Excalibur. In order to stay in fighting condition however she would need to save some of her own prana, and draw on her master for that same amount, say 900/100. In their current situation Saber could choose instead to use up most of her own prana to charge Excablibur with 950 prana, but even then a minimum of 50 was required from Rin to keep Saber standing afterwards. Doing so with Rin nearby and supporting three servants would mean that the nearly exhausted mage would surpass her limits, and Saber would be left high and dry.
Even so, if Saber could be sure that she could take out the dragon, she might have given it a go. For once the dragon and Rider were taken care of, there would be little stopping Lily from going and taking out Caster's master. The speed it was moving at however, together with the ridiculous resistance to damage it had shown against Archer's earlier attack, made her doubt that it was worth the risk.
"Incoming!" Archer shouted, warning the two Sabers of Rider's return.
"Lily! Get close to me!" Saber also warned as she spotted another danger overhead.
With Rider fast approaching, Saber's order was a puzzling one at first glance as it risked them both being swept aside by the dragon's charge. Lily however trusted in both her instincts and Saber's judgement, and waited until the last minute to dart to her 'sister's' side. At the same time as the golden comet that was Rider blazed through the air just to their left, a flurry of fireballs landed on top of them. Two of the balls of flame hit the dragon as well, but the speed it was travelling at, the prana it was letting out, and its inherent magic defence meant that it took no damage at all. Saber and Lily too were unhurt as Saber had shielded her fellow servant with her own body which enjoyed nearly perfect protection from magecraft.
"How many *cough* people has that witch sucked dry? *cough*" Lily inhaled some smoke as she stood back up, and coughed to clear her lungs. "Or is it that this place is giving *cough* her power? She's already cast enough spells to turn this field into a wasteland, and she doesn't show any signs of tiring."
Saber did not reply to Lily's observations, for she had felt much the same thing. It was clear that this strange land gave Caster at least some advantages, from the much stronger dragontooth warriors, to the endless prana that she exhibited now. The question right now however was not how Caster was doing this, but what they could do about it.
"Lily, I need your help," Saber said after a moment of contemplation.
"You have a plan?" Lily asked as she brushed off some dirt from her white and silver dress armor.
"Not much of one," Saber admitted. "I'm going to use Excalibur."
"What?" Lily flashed her a look, but quickly turned her gaze to the heavens. Something had pinged her head and when she looked up she saw what.
"A... Magic circle?" Lily whispered.
"Caster?" Saber said out loud before she realised that Caster was busy shielding herself from Archer's arrows. "No, but it's not the circle that Rider used before to summon the pegasus or to drain the students at the school."
Saber and Lily had a nasty suspicion about who was casting this spell, and these suspicions were confirmed as the dragon flew up and stopped in the middle of the huge circle.
" !" the dragon roared in an undecipherable tongue.
The circle lit up with a sickly green glow, and Saber and Lily tensed up as their inborn instincts warned them of what was about to happen.
"Archer! Get Rin and get out of the area!" Lily shouted in alarm.
"What is it?" Archer asked as he let off another volley of arrows at Caster to buy some time.
"Dragon Breath!" Lily shouted back as she ran to get Ilya. Archer was closer to the two masters who were watching from a distance, so she had entrusted him with the task of getting Rin to safety, but she would have to carry Ilya if they were to get far enough to be safe.
While Lily and Archer hurried to get the masters to safety, Saber remained on the battlefield right below the dragon. She had already decided to use Excalibur to try and turn the tide, and the dragon's use of Dragon Breath was a perfect opportunity at the same time as it was a threat.
Contrary to what most people believed, a dragon's breath was not that powerful a weapon in itself. Whether it be flame or poison, the lung capacity of a living creature and the amount of reactant that could be stored in the body limited the power and effect of such a capability to one of a nuisance that could be dealt with if one prepared correctly. Much more deadly were the tail and claws of the beasts, which could knock down stone walls and rend the best steel like paper. So what then had started the legend of dragons burning down towns and castles with their breath? The answer lay in an ability that only the more powerful of the species exhibited.
Sharing its name with the biological capability that most dragons possessed, Dragon Breath was more of a spell than an ability. A dragon that possessed both the wit and the power to use it took the massive amount of prana that its core generated and began to gather a huge amount of the sixth imaginary element from the world around it. Fixating this mass in a tight globe in front of itself, the dragon would then release its breath. When the flame or poison that came out of the dragon's mouth hit the mass of the sixth imaginary element, the ether was instantly transmuted into a mass of whatever the breath had been, and the resultant release of the pressurised mass would sweep the land below clean of life.
While Saber had never witness this herself, the wise old pervert who had been her teacher had mentioned it during a lesson about her draconic nature. He had also told her that if it ever came to be that she faced such an attack, she needed to either use Avalon or get out of the area as quickly as Lily was doing now. Considering that she had never suffered from listening to the sadistic old man, it was probably not a smart idea to stand here like this, but with the dragon hanging in one place like this, Saber considered this to be the only chance she would get to finish the beast.
The late evening sky that defied the local geography had begun to blur around the dragon as it gathered the mass of sixth imaginary element required to power its attack. Normally invisible to the naked eye, it was a clear sign of just how much power was being poured into this that such an effect could be seen as the sixth element flooded the air. As if in response to this, Saber raised her sword. Held tight with both hands, the sword which had been forged from dreams began to glow with a golden light that reflected the glory all warriors wished for. The light brilliant was enchanting enough that even Lancer and Assassin lowered their weapons for a moment to stare at it in wonder, just as any who stood and would stand on the field of battle would.
Filling the sword with prana, Saber looked up at the beast she sought to slay. The light of the magic circle had intensified as the dragon recognised the weapon in her hands and sought to attack her before she could use it, but it was already too late for the beast. Slowly raising the blade up and behind her back, Saber fixed her eyes upon the dragon as Excalibur began to shine like a star that had fallen to the earth. All was ready, and all that remained now was to prove once again why Excalibur was known as the sword of promised victory.
The dragon's attack fired off first, an exhalation of poisonous acid that sprayed forth from its mouth. As according to lore, the spray saturated the compressed mass of sixth element in front of it and began an instantaneous reaction as green and black liquid began to form and strain at its bounds. When the globe finally burst, the released wave of poison moved at supersonic velocities as it fell to earth, and it seemed as if Saber would be swept aside like a stick in a flood.
At least until Saber's attack was released.
When Saber swung the sword forward, the blade of light that leapt off its end flared for an instant against the Dragon Breath, but quickly tore through the resistance. The heat and light generated by the passage of the cutting edge burnt away the poison in its path, and left Saber untouched as the remainders of the poison passed far to either side of her. This however was not what the attack had been released to do, and Saber only had eyes for the dragon as it was caught in the light of Excalibur's attack.
The dragon roared in pain as Excalibur's light swept across its body. It possessed one of the strongest bodies in the world, but against the light of victory even a dragon's scales and aura melted away like ice caught in the sun's light. When the light faded, one side of the dragon's body had been completely ravaged, and without the support of its wings the beast fell to the ground. This was despite the fact that the attack had been much weakened by its clash with Dragon Breath, and that the dragon's defences had cut out at least half the remaining power of the attack. The only reason the beast was still alive was that Rider had quickly ordered it to move to the side. Excalibur's attack however was one of the fastest in the world, and the dragon had finally suffered a potentially critical wound as it failed to dodge the attack.
The dragon's fall was a cause for celebration, but Saber was a bit too tired for that. Her eyes were fighting not to close, and her body felt empty and lifeless as the remaining prana she had quickly drained out. She needed to be recharged, but with Rin in a near comatose state it was impossible to do so without using Kirika's gemstones. This too needed to be considered carefully, for out of the fifty three they had begun with only four stones still remained charged, and the fight was still a ways from being over.
A roar of pain and rage, Saber lifted her tired head and saw that the dragon had managed to struggle upright. Regretful, for it meant that Excalibur had failed to take it out of action, but it was also obvious that the damage had taken a heavy toll upon the beast. Half its body was a mass of burns and shattered scales, and it limped as it bellowed its anger to the world. If not for the sheer power and bulk that dragons possessed, it would have been a negligible threat to most servants in its current state.
Now, if only Lily or Archer got here before it crushed her in revenge, Saber thought before she fell unconscious, exhausted from using Excalibur.
"Arco!" Caster shouted as a wave of light appeared to consume the dragon.
The blinding glare made Sakura blink, and when she opened her eyes again the light had begun to fade. Motes of golden light still filled the air where the beam had torn apart the winds themselves, and the dragon too was in a poor condition as it fell, unable to keep itself in the air.
"Rider?" Sakura quickly called out, anxious for her servant who had been atop the fallen great servant.
When she saw Rider emerge unscathed from the smoke that wreathed the dragon, Sakura breathed a sigh of relief. It appeared as if the dragon's bulk had shielded Rider, and though she looked a little worse for the wear it didn't appear as if she had any noticeable wounds.
It had to be pointed out here that Sakura too was floating in the air next to Caster. When the dragon had prepared to use its Dragon Breath, Caster had quickly removed her and Kuzuki from the ground where there was the danger they may be caught up in the attack. Assassin had not been so fortunate, and the normally cool and elegant servant was obviously moody at having had to run for her life from an ally's attack.
"Ridiculous," Caster hissed as she looked over the damage that Arco had sustained. "Is this the power of a last phantasm?"
A mage among mages, Caster knew full well how tough a dragon's defences were, and could not believe that anyone could do such damage to one with a single strike. This was especially true of a long range attack that wasn't even aimed at a particular part of the body.
With Arco down, the battle was suddenly much more fair again. True, Saber looked like she could no longer move, but the white Saber and Archer were already hurrying back. With Archer firing arrows at them, it was unlikely that Rider would be able to kill Saber before she was rescued, and Caster herself had no way to kill Saber without getting close enough to be put in danger.
To be honest though, Caster didn't know why she was so flustered. Thinking about it calmly, there was no reason that they could not win this as they were now. Saber was down, and if they wanted to save her the white Saber would be tied up. Rider was still up and about, and though Arco was heavily wounded the dragon was still fully capable of getting involved in the fight. Their opponents were also running out of prana and time, and if she just kept her distance and continued to rain down spells Caster should have been confident of victory.
The jokers that were called noble phantasms however had introduced a nervous apprehension in Caster. Though Saber had exhausted herself after she revealed her hand, the damage she had done was immense. Her twin also was still lively, and if anything similar came out of her Caster was not sure that she could survive. Archer too had surprised her with the power that he could impart to his attacks, and she didn't want to know what he was capable of given more time than she had allowed him until now. Taking all this information into account, all her instincts told her that in order to grab victory, she would need to do something quickly.
A sinister gleam entered Caster's eyes as she blocked an attack Archer sent her way. The answer was quite simple really. If she could not remove the enemy servants, then she would just have to go for the master. There was a small reason to hesitate here, as Sakura had reacted badly to any such suggestions before, but since the girl child was not completely necessary, Caster was willing to take the risk. Once the enemy masters were taken care of, all the servants in the war apart from Lancer would have been taken care of anyway. Arco could also hold up Rider if she turned against them, and Caster was sure that she could take care of Lancer if Assassin helped her.
Casually arraying a series of shields before her to protect against Archer's harassing attacks, she began to charge one of her larger spells as the shields began to shatter one by one as a stream of arrows broke against them. Caster had gotten half way into the casting when Sakura noticed what she was doing, and where the spell seemed to be aimed.
"Caster-san?" Sakura inquired, but Caster did not answer and continued her spell.
Surprised by Caster's sudden decision to betray the unspoken promise between them to leave Rin out of the battle, Sakura didn't know what she had to do. It was clear that with the dragon still able to struggle against Lily and Archer that there was no one able to stop Caster's spellcasting except herself, but there were no spells in her arsenal that could do more than splatter harmlessly against Caster's shields.
The seconds seemed to crawl past like hours for Sakura as the situation developed. Did she have any options? Did she even have to do anything? A confusing swarm of conflicting emotions and thoughts filled Sakura's mind as she tried to figure out what the best course of action she could take was. If she did nothing, it was almost certain that Rin would die. Archer had noticed what Caster was doing and had begun to do something with his bow, but Sakura could tell he wouldn't make it in time. What then could she do to save Rin? Did she even want to save her?
Long held jealousy reared its head inside Sakura's mind to argue against any action, but soon faded away amidst the clamor that filled her heart. The emotions that she had in relation to her sister were no simple things, and Sakura was unable to make any concrete identification of her overall feelings. All that she knew at this moment was that she could not allow Caster to kill Rin, not when she had not even had a chance to confront her once more.
Heartfelt desires often drove humans to do things, and Sakura found inspiration that struck her like a lightning bolt as she looked around herself. Thus it was that in the few seconds between Sakura noticing Caster's intent and Caster nearing the end of her spell, Sakura was able to find a way to stop her more certainly than any spell she knew.
"Caster! Stop it or I'll kill Kuzuki sensei!" Sakura shouted just as Caster prepared to lower her staff and direct the fury of the heavens against Rin and Ilya.
Caster froze in mid-motion, her eyes opening wide as she saw that Sakura had a mass of dark shadows ready to fire at Kuzuki who was unable to move as he floated in the air not too far away from her. The shock at realising that she had left her master defenceless made her falter, and the ball of energy she had gathered began to dissipate. Seeing that Caster had been stopped, at least for now, Sakura sighed and relaxed a little. Caster's attention was focused on Sakura, and Sakura only had eyes for Caster and Rin. Which was why both of them were unable to even react -
- as a glowing white beam punched through Kuzuki's body.
Kuzuki was not instantly killed, but it was clear that he was not far from it as his body fell towards the ground. Caster instantly cast another spell to softly lower it to the ground and dived down to her master's side, but it was far too late. Archer's arrow had twisted the space around itself as it pierced the air, and though Kuzuki had managed to move himself somewhat to try and protect himself with the gloves Caster had given him, they together with an amulet of protection had only managed to keep his body in one mangled piece from which life was quickly fading.
"Caster..." Kuzuki whispered as he struggled for breath.
"Don't say anything Souichirou-sama," Caster said frantically as she tried to heal him. "You will be alright, you have to be. Ah!"
Caster's last shriek came as another of Archer's arrows slammed into the shields that had stayed around her. The distraction reminded her that they were still in danger, but with Kuzuki's wounds taking up all her thoughts, all it managed to do was infuriate her that she needed to waste valuable moments raising up more shields.
"Archer..." Caster growled in a voice colder than the frozen hells. Even as she did however, she kept her focus on Kuzuki and the prana that she was pouring into him.
Kuzuki was having trouble keeping his eyes open as the circulation of his blood began to fail, and his voice was barely audible as he opened his mouth.
"Caster..." he said again.
"Save your strength, Souichiro-sama," Caster said in a voice that was full of panic. Though one of her specialties was the creation of potions, Caster's skill in healing was actually quite low. Though she would never admit it, it was a miracle that she had kept Kuzuki alive for as long as she had.
"... I don't regret... -ving... you..." Kuzuki mumbled a few words as his chest fell, and never rose again.
"Master? Souichiro-sama? Master?" Tears fell from Caster's eyes as she refused to acknowledge what she saw and continued to call for her master. "Souichiro-sama!"
Caster continued to kneel beside Kuzuki's unmoving body, careless of the fact that all of her shields had been broken. Archer would have been able to kill her had Assassin not abandoned her duel with Lancer to come and stand before her. Moving with an alacrity that was unbelievable for one with her wounds, Assassin stoically guarded Caster from the rain of arrows Archer fired at her in an effort to finish the witch once and for all. Lancer did not interfere, as his mood had been ruined by Archer's unsportsmanlike attack. Granted, it had been about the only thing he could do in their current situation to overcome their difficulties, but seeing a woman cry had always killed his mood and today was no different.
"Caster," Assassin called out in a flagging voice once a certain length of time had passed. "Caster! Enough already! Are you just going to sit there and die? If you are, at least tell me so that I can greet death with a smile!"
Assassin's voice failed to move Caster to action, and the distraught servant continued to stare at Kuzuki's corpse with empty eyes as she knelt there motionless. Groaning with frustration, Assassin continued to stand her ground, but Caster's loss of her master had begun to eat away at Caster's ability to stay in this world, and among the first things to degrade had been Assassin's connection to her master. Already short on prana from resisting the curse of Gae Bolg to the extent where she could move, the loss of her master's support meant that Assassin was weakening rapidly.
Now that Lancer was free, he had gone to help Lily to take care of the dragon, which meant Archer was completely at his liberty to decide his method of attack. Knowing how dangerous Assassin was, Archer was making sure that she could not move by engaging her at range with his bow. There was nothing that Assassin could do under the circumstances, and that meant that she had lost.
"Looks like this is it," Assassin sighed. She couldn't abandon Caster, both out of duty and because of the simple fact that Caster's death would lead to hers. Pity for the witch also stayed her feet, for she knew how much Kuzuki had meant to her. It was a shame that she could not fight any more, but she supposed that there were worse ways to go out from a grand conflict like this than protecting a beautiful woman.
As Assassin's movements slowed, gaps began to appear in her defence. Finally, an arrow slipped past her guard and slammed into her shoulder, making her nearly drop her sword. She kept her grip upon her much loved blade, but the opening allowed two more arrows to slam into her, and Assassin finally fell. It was only as Assassin collapsed with three arrows sticking out of her that light returned to Caster's eyes, and she raised her head just as another volley of arrows came in to finish her and her servant off.
"Αιγίς" Caster said softly, her voice completely empty of emotion.
An instant before they would have taken her life, the arrows stopped short. Powerful enough to take out an armoured vehicle, they were nevertheless much too frail to penetrate a defensive spell that had its origins in a divine artefact.
"Finally up?" Assassin gasped as she realised Caster had saved her.
Caster nodded silently, and then turned her gaze towards Archer, and then Sakura. Separated by the light of aegis and the distance of eighty metres, it was still very much clear to those who she looked at that Caster was enraged. It was the cold fury of a woman who had lost everything, the same depth of despair and anger that had led her to commit the acts that had made her name a synonym with betrayal and death. So obvious was her intent that everyone realised that in the time Caster had left, all her efforts would go towards the elimination of those she blamed for her loss.
"Ὑπερίων" Caster mumbled, and a window began to open in the sky.
In answer, Archer put away his bow and started to charge towards Caster with his two usual black and white swords in hand.
Before they could begin to settle their differences however, a part of the world itself cracked, and a wave of red light swept through the middle of the battlefield.
With the sound of glass breaking, the wound that had been inflicted upon the world by the mysterious red light began to spread across the air. Before it got too far however, a veil of prismatic light descended upon the area, and the jagged cracks slowly started to close over.
The focus of all the servants however was not on this strange phenomenon, but instead was fixed upon the person who had marched out of the unworldly opening. A servant obviously, clad in golden armor and carrying a strange weapon of some sort in his hand that was formed of three cylindrical shapes that rotated against each other. Perfect in form, he carried himself in a manner that could not be called arrogant. For it was not arrogance if you were truly as powerful as you claimed. This air of confidence and power subdued the spirits of those who looked upon him, to the extent that even the dragon felt something amiss and backed off. The only flaw in this servant's majestic demeanor was the angry frown that marred his face, a frown that deepened as he caught sight of Caster.
"There you are, witch," said the golden servant as he strode out of the strange space he had emerged from towards his target. "Did you really think that your pitiful trap would be enough to take care of me?"
Caster said nothing, her focus being Archer and Sakura, but the annoyed glare she directed at the returned nuisance only seemed to fuel his wrath.
"Who do you think you are looking at with eyes like that?" Gilgamesh asked rhetorically.
Angered, Gilgamesh raised his arm, not deigning to use his prized weapon upon one such as Caster. At his beckoning, the air behind him rippled as a host of precious weapons emerged from his store room. As the weapons appeared, Caster realised that she could not defend herself against such an attack in her current state. If she could have at all. Gritting her teeth, she cast one last dark look at her now sworn enemies and wrapped space around herself. Gilgamesh reacted quickly and fired a volley of weapons at her, but Caster managed to teleport away, and took with her the wounded Assassin and the body of her beloved master.
"Damned witch," Gilgamesh swore as he lost his prey. It didn't help his already violent mood to be shamed like this, especially when there were others present as he now realised.
Of the four other servants that still stood, Archer, Rider and Lily were on guard against this new threat while Lancer had a pained looked upon his face. Archer and Lily were the most tense as they had not seen Gilgamesh before, and had thought that they had seen all the servants in the war. Caring not for their thoughts, Gilgamesh looked over them one by one. He dismissed Lancer with a sneer, and ignored Archer altogether before his eyes settled on Lily. Here he raised an eyebrow, and appeared to think of something before he smirked.
"So, you are the one," he addressed Lily. "The twin to my sleeping bride over there."
"Hah?" Archer stared at Gilgamesh as if he was a lunatic.
"... Excuse me?" Lily simply blinked, and tried to confirm what she had just heard.
"..." Lancer didn't have the words to express how he felt.
Archer's reaction to his statement displeased Gilgamesh, but since Lily had addressed him he felt obliged to answer her before he taught the mongrel a lesson in manners.
"Must I repeat myself?" Gilgamesh said in a bored tone. "I referred to Saber, who currently rests over there. I had heard that you were the same person as her, but it appears that this was not so."
"In what way?" Lily asked, for she and Saber were the same person in most regards.
Gilgamesh's eyes gleamed with mirth as he directed a sadistic smile at Lily. "You lack that which I find so beautiful in her. That naive idealism of hers that betrays her maidenly heart. That innocent virtue that screams to be broken and extinguished for my pleasure."
"... You don't have many friends, do you," Archer replied in a dead tone to this somewhat strange appraisal of Saber.
"Be silent, mongrel," Gilgamesh warned Archer as he fixed him with his inhuman red eyes. "Your betters are talking."
"You should learn to respect others, whoever you are," Lily berated him softly as she made up her mind about this mysterious new servant. "It does you no honour to treat others like that, even if they are your enemies."
Gilgamesh snorted and shook his head. "No one but I has the right to judge me, and if another says otherwise, then they overstep themselves."
"Your overblown pride astounds me," Lily replied as she let out a sigh of disbelief. "More importantly though, what is it that you intend to do now? We came here with an objective to achieve, and if you do not intend to fight, I must ask you to step aside."
Not really having any reason to stop them, Gilgamesh nevertheless thought about playing with this fascimile of Saber for a while to relieve his boredom. He could not take Saber right now, for it would be no fun to capture her when she was completely helpless like this. This Lily on the other hand looked like she too would be beautiful when she lay broken beneath him. Gilgamesh was about to declare his intentions when he caught sight of Rider, and he remembered that one of the parties to his short humiliation still remained nearby.
"Move forward, fair one," Gilgamesh told Lily as he turned towards Rider. "Any business between us can wait until you have achieved your goals and I have punished those insolent fools who sought to harm me."
Having said this, Gilgamesh's blood red eyes focused on Sakura, who shivered at the feeling of being pierced by his glare. Rider saw the direction of his gaze, and quickly stepped in between Gilgamesh and her master, but Gilgamesh looked at her and simply let out a short laugh of contempt.
"I'm surprised you found the courage to stand before me again, Rider," he told her tired servant of Sakura. "Or have you forgotten your miserable performance the last time you tried this?"
What Rider might have said then would remain unknown, as a loud inhuman roar split the air. Its source was the dragon, which seemed to have recovered somewhat during the time that everyone had forgotten about it due to Gilgamesh's entrance. The renewed vigor of the beast made all those here tense up slightly, including Rider who could now be said to be its enemy. Gilgamesh however only frowned at being interrupted in the midst of taunting Rider.
"Another Snake?" he said contemptuously of the great serpent. "How droll. I thought this was a war for so-called heroes, not overgrown worms that belong in the ground."
"Krrrrrrrrr!" the dragon roared with angry pride at having been oppressed by Gilgamesh's presence, as well as the insulting comparison to a snake.
"Silence," Gilgamesh ordered with a displeased frown. "You have no place here."
Gilgamesh casually waved his hand at the dragon, and a multitude of weapons appeared around him to leap out at the wounded creature. It was hard to imagine that such a careless attack would have much effect on a beast that had withstood a direct hit from Excalibur, but to everyone's surprise the dragon roared with pain as the projectiles easily pierced its diamond hard scales. That was not the end of it, and the dragon was wracked with contortions as the various anti-dragon phantasms that were embedded in its body did their work. At this point the dragon was still alive, but unfortunately for the creature, its bellows had further annoyed Gilgamesh. Summoning up more weapons, he threw them all at the mortally wounded dragon, until the beast finally ceased to move under the weight of its wounds.
The rapid dispatching of the dragon that had so troubled Rin's servants shocked those who had watched the entire process unfold. This included Ilya, who had approached them once Caster had disappeared. The shock and confusion on her face however could not be entirely explained by the sight, and the reason was made clear as she pointed at Gilgamesh with a trembling finger.
"Who-who are you?" Ilya shouted. "I don't know anyone like you! How did you get here?"
Distracted just as he had been about to turn towards Sakura again, Gilgamesh gave Ilya a dismissive look as he answered her. "Pitiful. If you are the vessel, shouldn't you know instantly who I am as soon as you lay eyes on my august presence?"
"I said, I don't know you!" Ilya shrieked. "You don't belong here! Go away! Go away, go away, go away!"
"So noisy," Gilgamesh muttered as Ilya threw a tantrum. "If I'm going to retrieve you, I suppose I may as well shut you up now."
Gilgamesh flicked a finger, and a sword shot out from behind him towards Ilya. The missile never reached its target however, as Archer stepped in to deflect the shot before it hit Ilya.
"Picking on children now, King of Heroes?" Archer jeered as he took up a stance in front of the small waif of a girl who was the Einzbern master for the war.
"Hoh, so someone finally recognises me," Gilgamesh said as a smile that didn't reach his eyes curled his lips. "Be aware that your perceptiveness just saved your life, mongrel. Also know however, that I will not be so gracious again." Gilgamesh then turned a sadistic gaze towards Ilya and told her, "Spare me the trouble of going after you, and kill yourself now, vessel. It will be easier for you that way."
Bereft of Berserker's protection, Ilya reacted as any young girl would when faced with a deadly threat. Trembling, she was fighting back tears as she slowly backed away from this servant who could not possibly exist. His very presence terrified her, and his words and attitude even more so. She wanted to run, but the blood red eyes that told her to die made her knees weak, and it was all she could manage to take a few awkward steps back.
Her backwards retreat was stopped when a warm hand was laid upon her head. The strangely comforting gesture made Ilya stop, and stop trembling as Archer came to stand in front of her to block out Gilgamesh from her line of sight. Archer gave Ilya a warm smile to reassure her, and then gave the golden bastard who had terrified Ilya a cold glare. Fortunately, Gilgamesh wasn't looking at Archer then, already having lost interest in Ilya for now. The golden servant was instead focused on Sakura again, this time intending to go through with her punishment no matter what happened.
"How touching," Gilgamesh said condescendingly as Rider stoutened her guard in front of Sakura. "Does it please you to protect your master like that? Or is it some kind of affinity you have for a fellow monster? Either way, I suppose it doesn't matter. Just die, snake."
Rider tensed up as Gilgamesh flicked his finger. Had she still been able to summon her steed, she would long since have taken Sakura and run away from here. In her current state however the best she could hope for was to protect Sakura with her body for as long as that might last, and hope that the other servants would come to her rescue against this golden tyrant.
She had just prepared to hit out at the three phantasms Gilgamesh had shot at her, knowing full well that she could not run from her position without Sakura dying, when a white shape cut in front of her to intercept the weapons. Striking with lightning speed, Lily cut down the first spear that Gilgamesh had shot, and then used the momentum from the attack to sweep aside the axe that had followed, before finally stabbing out at the sword that had been the last projectile in this volley. It was a feat that could only be accomplished by someone with both the skill and the speed to cut a speeding bullet, and when Lily came to a stop, she and all those behind her remained unhurt.
"What are you doing, Saber?" Gilgamesh asked of her as he narrowed his eyes.
"I should ask the same of you, Gilgamesh," Lily replied as she appraised him. "Was your business not with Caster?"
"Hah," Gilgamesh huffed and put his hands on his waist. "One does not allow one bug to live while another dies. If you are going to kill pests, you kill them all."
"... I'm afraid I can't allow that," Lily said quietly as she made up her mind.
Lily's protection of Sakura and Rider may have seemed odd considering that they had been enemies until just a minute ago, but there was a reason for her decision. Half of it was the fact that Sakura had turned against Caster in order to save Rin. This had reminded her of the plea that Rin had made to them before they came up the mountain. In a voice that was full of uncertainty and remorse, the normally unshakeable girl had begged them to capture Sakura alive if at all possible. Lily herself had been reluctant until it had been explained to them that Sakura was Rin's sister, and that together with Lily's own sense of guilt in regards to close family members had led her to make this decision now.
"Thank you, Saber," Rider told Lily as she came up to stand beside her.
Lily quickly glanced up at the taller servant's face then shrugged. "Thank Rin, not me. If you want to show your appreciation, you can arrange a talk between your master and Rin after we survive this."
Lily's answer made Rider look to her master, whose face made it clear that she too had heard the request. Nervous fear about the prospect of being killed by Gilgamesh had been overlaid with mixed uncertainty and renewed hope in Sakura's eyes.
Gilgamesh watched the exchange occur with disinterested eyes, and when it became clear that Lily was not about to back down he opened his mouth to speak.
"It is sad," said the man who had once ruled the entire world. "I thought you the same as Saber, but it is obvious that you are not. Did you not have an objective for coming here? If so, why are you standing before me in order to die?"
Gilgamesh's reminder about Kirika gave Lily pause, but she soon threw off her hesitation and stared him firmly in the eye.
"Because it was requested of me, and my heart tells me that it's the right thing to do," Lily replied proudly. "Besides, there are enough of us here to retrieve my master and to stop you at the same time."
Lily shrugged as she confidently stated her intentions, and Gilgamesh raised an eyebrow at what he perceived as arrogance.
"If you believe that, than you are more foolish than I imagined," he told her. Gilgamesh then looked around himself, taking stock of the number of servants that were gathered in one place, and came to a decision.
"Very well then," Gilgamesh's eyes shed their bored complacency and became sharp and alert. "I was going to take my time and teach each of you mongrels individually how pathetic you all are, but I suppose that I may as well deal with all of you now."
Ripples in the air, like waves spreading across a still pond after a bunch of stones were thrown in. Countless invaluable artifacts and weapons from legend arrayed themselves behind their owner as Gilgamesh prepared to go to war.
As one of the targets of his wrath, Lily was actually a lot more nervous than she seemed. She and Archer had no support from their master, and Saber was unable altogether. Rider and Lancer's presence was a great help, but Rider no longer had a mount, and Lancer seemed hesitant for some reason. There was also Kirika to consider, and the presence of their masters so close by was a problem if the fight was going to get as hectic as she predicted it would.
"Rider," Lily called out as she came to a decision. "Could you do something for me?"
Her question made Rider stop to look at her, Rider's once again covered eyes giving away no emotion as she waited for Lily to continue.
"Take Sakura and Ilya away from here," Lily said in no uncertain terms. "Also, I would appreciate it if you retrieve my master for us once Sakura and Ilya are safe. You do know where she is do you not?"
Rider frowned a bit at the implied suggestion that she was a hindrance, but relaxed her face as she admitted to herself that there was an element of truth to the idea. She had no mounts, and she was not in too great a condition after the continuous battles and a close exposure to a blast from Excalibur. There was also Sakura to think about, and Rider decided to go along with Lily's suggestion.
"Good luck then," Rider told Lily as she quickly ran to grab Sakura, and then Ilya.
"Make sure she's safe, or I will hunt you down myself," Archer hissed as he handed over a nervous Ilya to Rider. "Lancer! You joining us?"
Called by Archer, Lancer threw back his head and looked up at the sky. It was actually quite a nice evening here in wherever land Caster had conjured up. It reminded him a little of his homeland, especially with how the green hills seemed to stretch on and on but for the mountains in the distance.
"Eh... I suppose I won't get any better chances to deal with that shiny little bastard," Lancer muttered as he made up his mind. "Let's work together one last time, Archer. First one to stick a pointy object in that snob wins."
Lancer came up to stand beside Archer, making it three servants who stood against Gilgamesh with their weapons out and ready. Even outnumbered like this however, Gilgamesh's expression didn't change, and he smirked as he raised his hand.
"A dog, a peon, and a woman to be broken," Gilgamesh said in regards to them in a carefree voice. "The snake can come later. Right now, you mongrels can enjoy the privilege of being killed by me."
Gilgamesh dropped his hand, and a storm of weapons shot out to execute those who had dared to challenge him.
"Ha... Ha... Ha..."
Caster's breath was heavy and ragged as she retrieved the last of the items she needed from her temple. The loss of her master had begun to take its toll upon her, and with the prana in her body going out faster than it could be replenished by the various methods she was using to sustain her presence in the world it was getting difficult for her to even move around. To put Caster's current condition into perspective, it was akin to that of a human who had just suffered extreme blood loss walking around their home with the wound open while burdened with lead weights. This might not have been the case had she possessed the independent action skill, but Caster did not enjoy any such blessings. Only the massive amount of prana she had managed to stock up before today, and the burning determination in her heart to conduct revenge against those who had killed Souichiro allowed her to keep mobile and upright.
"Take it easy, Caster," Assassin said as she appeared at Caster's side to support her. She was in no great shape herself, but Caster's emergency treatment had restored her to the point where she could at least move around. The lack of prana did not bother her too much either as Assassin's master was Caster, and she was not burning through the power required to establish her presence in the world as Caster was.
"No time," Caster said briefly. "Have to get everything."
There was a reason that Caster was in such a hurry. At the rate that her prana was disappearing she only had enough to teleport them once, and that would barely leave her enough to function for a few hours. Time enough she hoped to find or create a temporary anchor with which to hold herself in this world. In order to do that however, they could not afford to get into a fight, as Caster could not spare enough prana to support even Assassin's small expenditure in battle.
Seeing that Caster was not going to relent, Assassin managed to persuade Caster to sit down and rest while she gathered the items that Caster told her to get. They all went into Caster's bag of holding, which had been one of the first things she had created when summoned. Able to store the equivalent volume of a store room in a small pouch, this it was an artifact that was impossible for mages in this day and age to create without devoting the resources of an entire department of the Clock Tower. Caster had created three in the space of two days with just her own prana and a few common ingredients that her first summoner had possessed.
"Is that everything?" Assassin asked as she closed the bag.
Caster nodded, and stood up. They had to get moving. Enough time had passed that one or more of the servants might have found and arrived at the temple. Hopefully the arrogant churl who had declared himself to be Gilgamesh would have presented them with another foe, but if Sakura and Rider decided that they needed to finish her off and snuck out, than this would be the first place they would look.
Thinking about Sakura made Caster clench her teeth hard enough that Assassin could hear them grind against each other. Sakura, that cursed girl. How could that ungrateful whore betray her like that after all she had done for her? If only she hadn't distracted her at that moment, if only she hadn't relaxed her guard about that worm-begotten girl, if only...
"Caster, we need to go," Assassin gently reminded her when Caster stopped and began to shiver with rage.
Reminded of their current predicament, Caster slowly calmed herself to the point where she could think again. Taking a deep breath, she was about to cast the spell that would take her, Assassin and Souichiro's body away from this place when something caught her eye.
Wreathed in poly-chromatic light, Kirika still lay asleep upon the altar where Caster had placed her. As the centre-piece of the grand working that Caster had spread over this area, it was unlikely that she would wake unless the various mechanisms that Caster had set in place to maintain this state of affairs were destroyed. So, she slept on, blissfully oblivious to all the goings-on around her.
When she saw Kirika's serene sleeping face, Caster felt something break within her. The injustice of it all ate away at her heart and twisted her thoughts, just as the curse of a goddess had done so many years ago.
Not quite knowing why, Caster made her way to Kirika's side. Only when she got there did she realise what she needed to do in order to get a small measure of satisfaction out of this disaster. A way to ensure both the removal of a few troublesome opponents at the same time as she caused her enemies grief.
Archer had come for the girl, that much was obvious from the actions of him and his master. In that case, all she needed to do to spite them was to kill the girl.
With the girl dead, Archer's master would be left to support three servants. Of course, this was impossible for the pitiful mages of this day and age, and Archer's master would have to give up on at least two of the servants if she wanted to stay in this war. In that case, it was most likely she would choose to keep her own servant, and that meant that Archer would be left by himself. A much easier target than when he had two Sabers to support him. There was also the sheer joy she would get from watching their faces contort with anger when they found the one they had come to rescue dead. She wasn't exactly sure of the relationship between this girl and Archer's master, but for them to work so closely together the bond had to be a strong one. The stronger the better in this case, for every tear that Archer's master shed would be one small drop to quench the burning rage in her heart.
"Caster, someone's coming!" Assassin warned as she felt a servant approach.
Assassin's call broke Caster from her hysteric fervor and brought her back to reality. She had no more time to waste. No problem though, for this would be quick.
Grabbing the jagged dagger that had once shredded her brother's corpse, Caster plunged it into Kirika's heart. When Rider charged into the temple, it was to see Caster and Assassin fade away from sight, the witch laughing hysterically as she disappeared. All that was left behind was the echoing sound of Caster's mad laugh, and Kirika's body, under which a pool of blood was rapidly forming.
When the jagged pain ripped through her body and soul, Kirika realised that she was out of time.
Lost amidst the stars of her memories, Kirika had made no progress in her quest to find herself amidst the chaos of her mind. Too many options, and not enough clues. She had waited for something to change, anything, but when the change did come it was not the one she had waited for.
As she watched, the sky above her mental landscape began to grow dark. Beginning from the horizon, the countless stars that filled her world began to grow dark. One by one, the multi-coloured lights dimmed, and were swallowed by the shadow. It was a disturbing sight for anyone who had studied the soul, and Kirika somehow knew that when the darkness arrived at her location, she would cease to exist.
As the shadows grew, Kirika began to wonder if she should just give up. There was no chance that she would be able to find what she was looking for, and even if she did... So what? There was a sense of finality in the darkness that told her that this was the end. Her life, which she could not even remember, was at an end. There were no second chances available, nor was this was game where one could go back to a save point. Death only came once for a human being, and this was her ticket. There was no reason to continue.
Was there? Without her memories, she had no way to know.
Kirika closed her eyes, and waited for the darkness to cover her. She had already begun to lose herself in the chaos beforehand, and now that she had given up completely the diffusion of her soul progressed even faster. Thought faded, memories already scattered grew dark. All that had made up the entity that knew itself to be Emiya Kirika had begun to disappear.
Had this continued, death would have claimed Kirika in the most final way possible. Not only would her physical body have ceased to function, but her very soul would have broken up like so many grains of sand on a beach. A complete and final return to nothingness, the origin from which everything came.
ERROR: Core possibility paradigm damaged. ERROR: Ego, Id, not functional. ERROR: Persona not found. ERROR: Destabilisation of physical parameters. ERROR: destabilisation of spiritual parameters. ERROR: No data. ERROR. ERROR. ERROR. ERROR. ERROR. ERROR. ERROR. ERROR.
Fate however seemed to have different plans for Kirika though, as a spike of prismatic lightning tore across Kirika's inner world. The light and the sense of rightness it brought with it woke Kirika just before she entered into eternal slumber, and the queasy feeling of her entire self being enveloped in a countless series of changes jolted her awake and kept her there.
The source of the stimulus lay with Caster. In seeking to kill Kirika quickly and dramatically, she had turned to the weapon most fitting for the purpose, the dagger which she always carried. Caster did not realise however what effect the power of Rule Breaker might have upon Kirika, whose existence itself was one miracle of Magic.
Created to destroy all that was born of thaumaturgy, Rule Breaker made no exception for the miracle that had brought Emiya Kirika into this world. Even Rule Breaker however would normally have been insufficient to break down the strange balance of possibilities that the Kaleidostick had enforced around Kirika. True Magic lay beyond the bounds that had been understood by mages of ages past, and not even the power of the ages could allow Rule Breaker to destroy that which it had never been meant to deal with. Normally, this would have been the case.
The Grail War had done strange things to Kirika's mind as she came into contact with people and things that logically she should never have been able to meet. Assassin's skills, Archer's tracing, the sheer mental stress that came of being involved in a war to the death. Each new experience had been akin to a hammer blow to Kirika's mind, and one of the heaviest blows had been Issei's confession. This surprise event had reilluminated the issue of her true identity, something which she had long unconsciously ignored. It was as her mind struggled to close the gap between what her memories told her to be true and what her body and soul knew to be reality that Kirika had been kidnapped.
Kirika's troubles did not end there. Unable to understand the difference between thaumaturgy and modern True Magic, Caster had not really recognised Kirika for what she represented, but had understood enough that she was able to use Kirika's nature to make possible her grand ritual. The basic principle behind the working was simple. An amplification of the twisted reality that Caster perceived around Kirika, and the manipulation of this power to make natural what was not. Caster interpreted what she saw from her perspective as a witch who dealt in lies. What she failed to understand was that Kirika's existence was not a lie, but the forceful imposition of an unique possibility upon the world.
The ritual worked, for it did not seek to work with the foundations of the phenomenon around Kirika and only sought to expand the range it affected. For Kirika, this had the unfortunate effect that the boundaries recognised by both her spiritual self and the trace of the Second that anchored her being were expanded to cover an area more than thirty nine miles in diameter. Everything that occurred in this area was perceived by Kirika, and through her connection to the Second, so was everything that could have occurred within those bounds.
Overloaded with information beyond that which the human mind could perceive, the forces which had kept her alive until now were forced to open the connection between Kirika's mind and her soul in order to divert the flood into the unlimited pool that was the spirit. This was the final straw. Though inseperable, the mind and the soul were never meant to be connected without limits like this. The third part of the triumvirate that made up a human, that which existed across and through time. The connection was opened by instinct, but once open could not be closed. Growing stronger with every second that passed, the flow of information became a two way event, until Kirika's memories of past and future had been completely contaminated by things she had never done and experiences never had.
The fact that Kirika managed to retain a sense of self at all was amazing, and a credit to the strength of her mental landscape and the strange processes that had been built over it into the years through her constant contact with the Second. Kirika however was still human, and in the face of forces beyond human understanding could not hope to keep herself whole. Left for just one hour more, and Kirika's mind would have been completely lost, like a drop of ink dropped into an ocean.
It was at this point in time that Rule Breaker sought to do its work, and the blade's power shattered the balance of forces inside Kirika's body and mind as the trace of the Second that maintained her rushed to repair the damage that had been done to itself.
A chaos of colours descended upon the world around Kirika's body as it underwent a dizzying series of changes. At one moment she had long hair and was dressed in a formal dress, the next her hair had been cut to her ears and she wore an army uniform of some sort. Scars appeared and went, the colour of her hair shifted about too. What was truly strange however was the constant flipping between being male and female, with appropriate outfits there for.
Her mind was in a no better state. The darkness was lit up in a whirl of colours as memories were scattered and forcefully made whole like a madman's jigsaw puzzle solutions. Incomprehensible jibberish took the place of thought as tongues and sounds were mixed and turned. Pandemonium, but bereft of the foundation blocks of order, it was impossible for any semblance of sanity to exist here.
Or at least, that should have the case.
At the core of Kirika's being, a strange light surrounded the crouched girl that represented the core of Kirika's sense of self. Though Kirika could not have realised it the light had always been with her, and was one of the things that had protected her through the years from threats both internal and external, particularly during these past few days. With the Second running rampant across Kirika's mind and soul however it appeared that this light would soon fade as prismatic lightning ate away at what remained.
When Kirika's outfit changed into that of an armored knight however, the light suddenly flared and began to grow. At first it struggled against the chaotic lightning of the Second, but after a sudden point the resistance suddenly stopped, and the soft and warm light exploded across the infinite space inside Kirika's soul. When the blinding light faded, the chaos had settled, and Kirika's mental landscape was quiet once more. The quiet was not the spine-chilling silence of the grave, or the empty desolation of the void, but instead it was a tranquil air that promised peace and comfort.
With order restored, Kirika's mind began to try and restore itself, but failed. Some crucial part was missing, destroyed in the chaos. Regardless, it began to do what it could, and one by one the frozen shards of multi-coloured lightning that laced the air began to break up. The motes of light that were released grew as they separated from each other, and soon the stars began to populate the darkness of Kirika's mind once more.
While the forces inside Kirika fought to define who she was, and Rider wondered what to make of the body that had died and then started to breathe again, Archer and the others had been driven into a corner in their fight against Gilgamesh.
Shouting his defiance, Lancer fought to make headway against the rain of missiles that came towards him. It was obvious to anyone though that the progress he was making was in the opposite direction from that which he wanted to go. As Lancer was forced back step by step the strain on his face grew until finally a halberd cut his leg.
A kukri that would have pierced Lancer's neck was smashed aside by the side of Lily's sword as she rushed up from where she had been taking a short break. Lancer took the opportunity to duck back behind her in order to rest himself while Lily took the brunt of Gilgamesh's attack.
A little ways apart from them, Archer fired off another series of arrows to intercept some of Gilgamesh's shots in mid-air. The momentary gap allowed the two forward attackers to dash in towards Gilgamesh, but they were unable to do any damage as Gilgamesh took the hits with his incredibly tough armor. Lily and Lancer were soon forced to retreat as Gilgamesh pulled out another huge bunch of weapons, and only got off without any wounds because Archer drew Gilgamesh's attention to him with a well timed shot.
"This is getting us nowhere," Archer muttered as he threw Kanshou and Bakuya forward to block a speeding battleaxe while he dodged the rest of the volley.
"Well do you have any better ideas?" Lancer asked as he too dodged a rain of metal.
"Maybe," said Archer, but he didn't look too hopeful. "You two will have to buy me time though. A lot of it."
"That... May... Be a bit hard, Archer," Lily told him as she parried a sword and ducked under another which exploded as it touched ground. Her white and silver armor was already blackened in many places, and cracks showed in many places as Lily was unable to find the time and prana to repair it.
"Are you even sure it will work?" Lancer asked. "I mean, my noble phantasm couldn't even scratch him!"
Lancer looked very cross about this, as well as he should. He had released his noble phantasm in the form which had made him a hero. The Spear of Striking Death Flight had been just as powerful as legends told as Lancer threw everything he had at Gilgamesh, but the impossible servant had simply grinned and blocked it with shield after shield. Each one a noble phantasm in its own right, it showed how powerful Gae Bolg was in its thrown form that it had gone through five of them, but that was no consolation to Lancer who had just seen his greatest feat overcome so easily.
Having used up so much of his prana and without spear in hand, Lancer had nearly been killed as Gilgamesh expressed his displeasure at so many of his treasures being ruined beyond repair. It had taken a minute of desperate defending from Lily and Archer for Lancer to replenish himself to a point where he could be of help again, but he still wasn't as sharp as he had been.
"What choice do we have?" Archer replied. "It's either me or Lily, and I would rather leave her until last."
Archer's preferred order was due to the fact that Gilgamesh seemed to be playing with them for now, increasing the number of phantasms as time went by. He was sure that in such a mood Gilgamesh would respond to the challenge presented by his reality marble with disdainful amusement, but was not sure how Gilgamesh would react to Lily using Caliburn. In the worst case scenario, Gilgamesh would pull out that strange weapon that he had emerged with. The one that even Archer had not been able to identify, though he had recognised the power it contained.
"Anything's better than nothing," Lily called out to them. "Do your work Archer, we will protect you."
Archer nodded back at Lily as she prepared to spend the rest of her strength if required to defend him. Lancer too moved to cover Archer, though he sighed with annoyance at having to do so for the annoying servant. With these two in front of him, Archer confirmed that he was in a position to try his gambit, and relaxed himself so that he could prepare to use the card that he had saved even as he was being pressed by the dragon earlier. Had he traced some anti-dragon phantasms then he could have done some serious damage, but in doing so he would have had to release them, using up a lot of his prana in the process. A strange sense of danger had warned him against this, and he was glad that he had listened to his instincts now.
"- Trace on."
A trigger was pulled inside Archer's mind as he imagined his circuits coming to life. This was the beginning point of all his magecraft, the spark that would light the fire in the forge.
"I am the bone of my sword."
As Archer began his chant, Gilgamesh noticed that something had changed and narrowed his eyes as he saw that Lily and Lancer had positioned themselves so as to protect Archer. He had recognised the faker for what he was as the fight progressed, and was not too happy that such a banal existence could be regarded as a hero like himself. The fact that the faker was about to do something therefore made him wonder if there was any worth to letting it complete. With Saber's twin and Lancer working together to defend against his most often used attacks however, there was little he could do except to use Ea, which was much to great an honor for a base character that dared to copy his treasures.
"Steel is my body and fire is my blood."
Clueless as to what Gilgamesh was thinking, Archer continued his chant, focusing upon the core of his being so as to make real what only existed inside his mind.
"I have created over a thousand blades."
"Ah..." Lily stifled a groan as a dense volley of weapons exploded as she parried them. The force of the explosions pummeling her like the fists of a giant.
"Unknown to Death,
Nor known to life."
"How long does it take him to use that thing," Lancer muttered as he withstood another explosion as he whipped away a sword with his spear. This was more just an expression of his frustration than an actual question though, as Lancer was familiar enough with magecraft to recognise a reality marble being formed.
Gilgamesh frowned as he saw the weapons he had fired all be blocked. He had just used forty of his prized treasures in that last attack and though Lily and Lancer had come out of it the worse for the wear, the fact that he hadn't been able to catch Archer with the attack hurt his pride. He was about to consider deploying some of the more powerful weapons in his arsenal despite the fact that it would cut short his amusement when he caught sight of something, and he smiled as she realised that he had found the perfect target.
When Gilgamesh raised his hand again, Lily and Lancer naturally thought that it would be to fire another barrage at them. The direction that Gilgamesh pointed at however was totally distant from their location, and it was not until they turned to see what lay there that Lily's eyes widened with horror.
About two hundred metres away, Ilya could be seen just at the edge of the deciduous forest which had been ravaged during the earlier battle with the dragon. The Einzbern child had crept back towards the battlefield for some reason after Rider had taken her away, and with Rider's weapon speeding towards her it seemed as if she would be killed. Ilya must have felt the same, for she realised her predicament and shouted Berserker's name.
To which he responded, to everyone's surprise.
Roaring his anger at finding his master threatened, the grey giant charged out of the gap in the air that Gilgamesh had created earlier. Fortunately, this place lay between Ilya and Gilgamesh, and Berserker was able to swing his sword-axe at the lone lance Gilgamesh had fired off to cut it in twain before it reached Ilya.
"Berserker!" Ilya cried out happily, to which her servant replied with a loud roar.
"Nice timing!" Lancer exclaimed as he saw the grey giant join the battle.
Gilgamesh's face was twisted with anger now at one of his decisions being thwarted yet again. He was the King of Heroes, and his will was to be done. Today however one rat after another continued to pop out in order to disrupt his decisions, and it was really getting very tiring.
"One after another, this is why I hate vermin," Gilgamesh growled as he fired off a spread out volley of projectiles to engage all the servants. "Especially overly large vermin that stink of the gods!"
Shouting out his hatred of the divine, Gilgamesh whipped his hand towards Berserker who had ignored much of the earlier volley to charge straight at him. This time, a mass of metal that even Berserker could not ignore was fired off. With angry roars the huge servant managed to smash back the first wave with his incredible strength, but failed to do so for the second as a few of the weapons managed to penetrate his skin. Before the final wave could shred him however, a curtain of fire rose up around them all, distracting even Gilgamesh as he looked to its source.
"So as I pray, Unlimited Blade Works."
With that final iron willed call, the flames swept across the land to reveal a vast wasteland upon which stood an incredible number of swords. Each one clearly the work of a master, the blades that slept here on this endless plain all seemed to be waiting for someone, and that who was made clear as Archer strode forward. The red coated servant was calm and confident now as he walked towards Gilgamesh under the sky which was dominated by a series of huge gears that ground on and on in an eternal cycle. His attitude and the welcoming song of this world's steel denizens made it clear that this was Archer's world, a land of iron and flame within which he was king.
"This... Is Archer's world?" Lily mumbled in manner which suggested she did not find it to her liking.
"Heh, bit boring isn't it?" Lancer commented as he looked around. "Nice place for a fight though."
Their commentary aside, the most important guest to this realm did not seem to find the place very pleasant.
"Is this what you were doing, faker?" Gilgamesh addressed him, contempt clear in his voice. "A land full of degraded copies of my treasures? If so, you wasted your time."
As he spoke, Gilgamesh expanded the Gate of Babylon as wide as he could in order to show off the numbers of weapons he could call upon at once. A figure that lay close to the hundred mark.
"We will see about that," Archer replied coolly as he ignored Gilgamesh's display to summon his own army of steel. Swords and othe weapons rose up from the fire-baked earth at his command and soon two armies born of the flame gleamed at each other across the field.
Berserker's heedless roar as he ignored Archer and Gilgamesh's standoff to charge at the King of Heroes was the signal to start hostilities, and both Archer and Gilgamesh lowered their hands as they directed their attacks at each other. A cacophony of explosions followed as legendary weapon clashed with mythical treasure, and it was through this hell that Berserker charged toward as he ignored the damage from the noble phantasms that hit him to head straight for Gilgamesh.
"Stupid brute!" Gilgamesh swore loudly as Berserker managed to get close enough to attack him. The fact that he was forced to defend against Archer's attack had meant he hadn't been able to direct enough of the shots against the mad servant to stop him. This failure nearly cost Gilgamesh his life, as the armour that had withstood blows from Caliburn with little strain crumpled under a hit from Berserker before he managed to get away.
It was not time for Gilgamesh to relax though, as a sword flew at him out of nowhere and exploded against his armor. Berserker's presence had distracted him from Archer, and the servant had used that lapse to push an attack through Gilgamesh's wall of steel.
"Plenty more where that came from," Archer jibed with a confidence he did not feel as Gilgamesh glared at him. Unlimited Blade Works took a lot of prana to maintain, and even though tracing was a lot easier inside its bounds, the fact remained that in order to counter Gilgamesh's indiscriminate barrages he had to trace a lot of weapons. He had little support from Rin, who was probably still unconscious, and didn't have too much prana left after a hard day of fighting. As Lily and Lancer charged into the fight, he could only hope that the addition of Berserker meant that they could finish Gilgamesh off before time ran out.
- UBW recognised. Isolating possibility paradigm line.
Aware of all that happened inside the bounds of the domain that Caster had created, 'Emiya' was fully aware of Archer's reality marble as he deployed it in battle. Seeing this realisation of a hero's mental landscape, 'Emiya's' mind was somehow able to comprehend that it was somehow related to herself. At the same time however, her spirit rejected that assessment, and it took a while before 'Emiya' was able to realise that this was because she was not the one who recognised it.
It was the first thought that 'Emiya' had been able to form in an age that distinguished between her numerous possible selves. Like a mote of dust among cosmic gas, this was enough to allow 'Emiya' to begin to collect her thoughts around this idea, in an effort to reform an identity that was recognisably human.
Progress was slow, and hampered by the sheer amount of information that needed to be sorted through. The fact that any progress was made at all was only possible due to the fact that it was 'Emiya's' soul that was doing the work. As the only thing that was completely free of the physical limits of time and space, the soul could sort through even the infinite sea of possibilities in order to sift out those pieces that belonged to it.
First shard - located. Prime spiritual trait - sword.
The first component of 'Emiya's' soul. The sword that the blank slate found by Kiritsugu had been forged into by years of single-minded training. An essential part of all 'Emiyas' that existed across the multiverse.
Twelve thousandth and nine...
Second shard - located. Secondary spiritual trait - infinity..
Elventh shard - lcoated. Personality matrix - anger.
Fourth shard - located. Personality matrix - joy.
The second component of 'Emiya's' soul. The infinite capacity that had even been able to accept the burden of the Second. Shared by all, but in different manners. The beginning point of the divergence that had led to a rejection of Unlimited Blade Works in this timeline.
Five thousandth and twenty first shard - located. Taste - lemons.
Third shard - located. Tertiary spiritual trait - possibility.
The third piece of the soul. One unique to a single possibility line due to its nature. An end, and a new beginning. This was the seed that had led to who she was today.
This was what made it possible for 'her' to exist.
Prime shards located. Beginning integration of core natures.
She was... Emiya Kirika. Friend and apprentive to Rin, spiritual daughter to Emiya Kiritsugu, and... A person in her own right. For her life was her own, and even if their pasts were the same, she was not Emiya Shirou.
Core identity established. Rebuilding possibility paradigm.
Having re-established the foundations of her identity, the speed at which her soul rebuilt itself accelerated greatly. Memories returned of days spent with Rin, lessons with Kirei, and nights spent brooding about the question which she had only just laid to rest.
Core possibility paradigm restored. UBW - recreation impossible. Replacing with new environmental data.
Accompanying this restoration was the regeneration of her mental landscape. No longer was it a cluttered yet barren wasteland full of junk, but instead the new vista was one where an endless sea of green grass stretched out towards the horizon. The sky remained that of a starry nightscape as of old, but the cracks were more evident than ever as a bright gold light shone through them. Kirika no longer paid them any mind either, for destruction was sometimes required before rebirth could occur, and the cracks were but a sign that she was ready to grow as a person and a mage, to break the self-imposed limits that she had unconsciously placed upon herself.
Possibility lines fully distinguished. Access and utilisation, active.
Fully restored, and better than she had ever been, Kirika opened her eyes as she finally woke from her long sleep. After lying in one place for so long, it would not have been strange for her body to be stiff and sore, but it appeared that in the process of restoring her body to the state it should have been in, the powers at work had also cured any little aches and pains she might have had.
Kirika's sudden revival startled Rider who had been watching over her from nearby, unable to go back and face Lily with Kirika in an unknown condition. When she had first come into the temple after agreeing to retrieve Lily's master, she had been horrified to see Caster stabbing the girl in the chest with her dagger. Horror had turned to confusion when it became clear the girl was still alive, but constantly changing from one form to another. The closest comparison she had been able to make was to the shape-shifter Proteus, but Kirika had only shifted between forms that were recognisably hers, and those of a strangely familiar young man. Eventually, this had narrowed down to those to Kirika only, but this had not warned Rider that Kirika would suddenly sit up.
It was not only Kirika's sudden movement that had surprised her either. Having met the girl a few times before, Rider was familiar with how the girl looked, which was nothing like she did now. Whereas before Kirika's eyes had been a warm amber and her eyes a coppery brown, her eyes now shone iridescent in the dim light of the temple and her hair a pearly white that was tinged with shifting hues of opalline color.
"Oh, hello Rider," Kirika greeted Rider as she noticed her. "You came to get me didn't you?"
Rider was so confused by the current situation that she didn't even think to enquire as to how Kirika could know this as she nodded in reply.
"Thank you for that," Kirika told her as she smiled. She then closed her eyes and appeared to look for something, and when she found it she frowned slightly and reopened her eyes.
"Looks like we need to go," said Kirika as she looked Rider in the eye. "Gilgamesh is fighting well, and everyone is in trouble."
That reminded Rider of the situation she had left Lily in, and she was about to grab Kirika so as to carry her when the young mage stopped her with an outstretched hand.
"No need for that, at least not for now," said Kirika. "While I still have a connection open, it will be faster for me to take us there."
"?" Rider was even more confused now. What did she mean she could take them there?
She got her answer as Kirika clicked her fingers, and dumped them onto the middle of the battlefield where Gilgamesh and all the other servants were fighting.
Kirika and Rider's sudden appearance brought a temporary halt to the battle which had been going badly for those on Archer's side. The most obvious example of this was the fact that Berserker was fading away after he had been skewered by Gilgamesh's noble phantasms so many times that he looked like a giant pin-cushion. With her connection to the soul still open, Kirika reflected that this was similar to a scene from another world, where Berserker had put up bit more of a fight against Gilgamesh. She supposed the comparison was a little unfair though, as in that world Berserker had begun the battle against an overly arrogant Gilgamesh with a full stock of lives. In this world he had only five lives left after various confrontations with servants, and this had made a large difference in his performance against Gilgamesh.
"I get rid of one, and two more appear?" Gilgamesh said rhetorically as he saw them. "This really is much like eliminating pests."
"So you may think," Kirika replied. "Too bad for you though that these pests have a trick or two up their sleeve."
"Tricks you may have, but what good is that?" Gilgamesh asked, not really interested. "Trickery is for the weak, and I would hardly deserve my titles and position if I were to fall to mere tricks."
"So you may think, as I said before," Kirika said enigmatically as she walked over to stand beside Lily.
"Kirika, are you alright?" Lily asked worriedly despite the fact that they were in the middle of a battle.
"Yes I am, thank you," Kirika replied, just as naturally. "What about you?"
"I have been in better shape," Lily admitted as she looked herself over. "Before that though, you should take Saber and run, Kirika. Rin and Sakura are somewhere back there as well, and Archer can escort you back.
"Run? That's not necessary thank you," Kirika told Lily.
"What are you talking about Kirika?" said Archer who had come up to them. "Get going while you still have the chance. I'm not sure that we can win this, but we can save you and Saber at least."
Archer spoke the truth as he knew it, as he was so low on prana that he was barely managing to hold his reality marble together. As Lily and Lancer were no better off than him, it was natural for him to try and at least save the person they had come to save.
"I said, Archer, that will not be necessary," Kirika replied as she pushed Lily to the side and drew on her fast fading connection to the soul.
"I am the mirror of my dream," she suddenly said, in a resonating tone that spoke of a magic chant.
"This again?" Gilgamesh said with a frown as felt again the feeling of a world being shaken. He wasn't quite sure what the girl meant to achieve with Archer's reality marble still up, but he guessed it was better to just avoid the possibility altogether.
"Kirika, watch out and get behind me!" Lily shouted as she came up to intercept Gilgamesh's attacks.
Whether or not Lily called to her, Kiria continued the chant, using it to synchronise herself with a part of her that was not quite hers.
"One upon infinity, unique possibility."
Gilgamesh tossed another attack in her direction, and this time it was Archer and Lancer's turn to swear as they moved forward to block. By this time though, Kirika had closed her eyes and was thinking about the reason she had chosen this out of the many options currently available to her in order to challenge Gilgamesh.
"Broken into pieces was my soul,
Blade Works denied.
Within shattered mind,
No resolve exists."
This was a tribute, to an Emiya Shirou she had never been, but had learned much from. It was also a farewell, a last gesture towards her past as Shirou that signified a full acceptance of her current self as a human being unique in her own right. She was not Emiya Shirou, and she could not do what Emiya Shirou could do. Using the connection that was currently open between her mind and soul however, and the reality marble that Archer had so kindly provided, she could at least make a decent go at a reality marble that would touch upon what she could have been, yet also show what she had now become.
"The grave of swords stands quiet,
Yet still unlimited is my world."
As the chant reached its final lines, a storm of poly-chromatic lightning reached out from Kirika to cover the world. Where each electrifying tongue of prana passed, they left behind cracks in the air that soon made the sky overhead resemble the one found in Kirika's mental landscape.
During this whole process, it amused Kirika to see that Archer appeared to have blown a fuse or two inside his head. Seeing as it was Archer, that was understandable, but that didn't prevent her from enjoying the sheer shock and disbelief evident on his face. In fact, the mixed expression so amused her that she carefully made sure that he could hear every word as she broke the final ties between Emiya Kirika and Emiya Shirou.
"Reflect unto infinity, 'Shatterglass Kaleidoscope'..."
With those last few words, Kirika clicked her fingers, and the cracked sky shattered into a million pieces. In a contradiction of the laws of gravity however, these shards did not immediately fall down, but instead the majority hung in the air, reflecting the light of the dawn sky that had been revealed as the starlit nightscape that had existed before was broken into bits. A minority of the pieces however did fall, and so great was the total number that even this small portion made it seem as if it had begun to rain. Those underneath, even Gilgamesh, instinctively tried to dodge the falling pieces of glass-like sky. The sole exception being Kirika who had reached out a hand to grab a shard as it fell. The servants soon found however that just as with rain, it was impossible to avoid the countless small pieces that rained down upon the earth, and that these pieces were completely harmless as they evaporated upon contact like water sprayed onto a hot pan.
The piece that Kirika had caught however behaved differently, glowing with a bright green light as Kirika closed her hand around it. When she opened her hand again, Kirika's outfit had changed to one that resembled Archer's in a way, if Archer's jacket was modified for a feminine frame.
Catching another falling shard, Kirika flourished it like a card magician at a Las Vegas casino, and just as with a magic trick the shard disappeared to be replaced by a beautifully crafted sword. With another flick of her hand Kirika hung this in the air, and then grinned at Gilgamesh. The King of Heroes was strangely unsettled by that grin, and summoned his own weapons to have them at the ready. No amount of preparation however could have readied him for what came next.
Two short orders, but once given, they turned this world into a hell of steel and fire. As soon as Kirika said the words 'reflect image' a light had spread from the sword that she had hung in the air to all the shards that were falling nearby. This light spread from shard to shard, and each one it touched became a mirror reflection of the 'original' sword that Kirika had created. This all happened in an instant, and when Kirika gave the order to fire, a thousand upon a thousand swords all darted forward at once towards Gilgamesh. The huge clash of steel and the explosion that followed threw up dust for what seemed like miles, and all the servants covered their eyes to protect them from the scouring wind.
When the wind and dust settled down somewhat, the servants saw that Kirika had changed appearances again. This time she wore an elegant black dress, and held a ball of black flames in her hand.
Without even waiting to see if Gilgamesh was still alive, Kirika launched a second merciless attack. This time the cloned weapon was the black fireball, and when they all converged upon Gilgamesh's last known location, they created a pillar of flame that sucked away the air nearby to create a pillar of flame that reached up to the heavens.
A devastating attack, and one that the servants felt could have done away with Gilgamesh. Kirika must have thought that too because she dispelled the dress to return to her original casual outfit as she waited for the dust and smoke to clear.
To everyone's surprise, Gilgamesh had survived, and announced his survival by means of a rain of weapons at the rough location where Kirika stood. Despite the fact that a similar attack had done away with Berserker, Kirika stood her ground and used another shard to summon a shield of light. As the shields spread outwards, they came into contact with Gilgamesh's attack and the first few ranks were easily shattered. The massive number of shields that had been created however meant that when Gilgamesh's attack fizzled out, there were many more that hadn't even been touched.
With her connection to her soul fast fading, and the seemingly limitless prana she had beginning to be strained by the efforts of maintaining a reality marble she didn't even possess, Kirika felt that the time had come to end this. Acting upon instinct she called for the final reflection that this pseudo reality marble could create, and summoned into being a mass of prismatic light that hung about her hand. For something with such a grand name the lights seemed quite insignificant, but none of the servants were fooled by the size or the pretty colours. They could all feel the power that was contained in that small mass, and wondered how the hell Kirika could use something like this. If Kirika had the attention to spare she would have told them that she couldn't, and that the buff from her spirit link was what had allowed her to try in the first place. There was no way that she would be able to recreate what she had done today, not unless Kirika surpassed the limits of magecraft.
Across the blasted plain, Gilgamesh prepared to use his greatest weapon against Kirika. He had felt a threat to his life in her attacks and now sought to destroy her as surely as possible.
Kirika noted the power gathering in Gilgamesh's noble phantasm, and the effect that it would have upon being released. She was strangely calm however as she continued to stand in the same place, waiting until the light around her hand had grown as bright as it would ever get.
Gilgamesh got his attack off first, Ea releasing a wave of crimson red light that tore apart the world around it as it approached. From the damage she observed, Kirika understood that this false world would break apart as soon as this attack resolved, but that mattered little to her. Instead of panicking Kirika merely smiled, and raised her hand as she gave the final order to this world that she had created.
"All points, set.
The shards of glass that filled the sky all let off a rainbow light, and the world turned white as heaven fell upon the earth.
On the other side of Fuyuki from the mountain, Caster felt the destruction of the domain she had created and the surge of prana that accompanied the collapse. She was puzzled however by the sheer amount of prana she felt, for it seemed to be much more than could have been possible if she calculated the energies that had gone into its construction.
"Caster, he's here," Assassin's voice intruded upon her thoughts, again breaking her from her contemplations.
Caster turned to face the person who walked into the room where she had waited for him seated on an ornate Victorian sofa. The newly arrived personage was the owner of this room in the church, and was dressed in a plain black clergyman's robe that fit him well as he sat down across from her.
"Thank you for coming, Caster," the priest said to the servant. "May I ask what it is that you need today?"
Caster smiled at him as she leaned forward.
"Nothing much Father Kotomine," she told him pleasantly. "Nothing but your worthless life that is."
Kirei tried to stand up, but was cut down before he had even completed that motion by Assassin, who had lived up to her class name for once with that silent strike.
"Is he dead?" Caster asked dispassionately.
Assassin tried poking Kirei with her sword. "Looks like it. I think I severed a major artery or two."
"Good," Caster replied. "In that case, come along Assassin. We have a lot of work to do if I am to get my revenge."
Caster then departed the room with Assassin in tow. They left behind nothing they owned, and nothing else but for Kirei's dead body. When the door closed and darkness filled the room however, something inside twitched and began to move.
Sorry it's been so long since the last chapter was posted (Yes, this is not a dead fic). My life has been pretty hectic for a while, and the last month or so has been the first real break I've had. I have another few heavy weeks coming along though so don't expect anything up on anytime soon. Only completed chapters get posted here (though I still need to go back and do the spell-checking and revisions on the earlier chapters which I forgot to do). It's much more likely that I will post parts on Beast Lair for a next few weeks/months.
As for the story itself, sorry if people don't like the way that it has gone. A number of people have commented on the fact that Kirika accepts the change to a girl too easily, but I considered this a somewhat natural result of having spent the last 6 years as a girl, including most of her teenage years where an individual's identity gets firmly established as one goes through puberty. If you don't like this, or have different opinions on how it should have gone, feel free to comment or write your own story, just don't send me any hate mail please.
Finally, I will be taking questions for the next two weeks for a Q&A interlude to be posted at that time. If you have questions, ask, and I will attempt to answer anything that doesn't give away too much of the story as planned.