A/N: Alright, here we go. This is just a little oneshot to distract myself from PS and get rid of plot bunnies. I'm not too impressed with it, but it's decent enough. Still, I think it's at least readable, despite something weird going on with Rider's characterization.
"There you go. That's the last one."
"I don't want to seem ungrateful, but perhaps asking me to open the kitchen door was a little too...trite, for such a significant moment?"
"Haha...you might be right, but there's no other way to remove them, right? This was the first thing I could think of."
"I...see. Then, Master-"
"No, Rider. I'm not your Master anymore. That was the whole point of this, remember?"
"Of course...Sakura. Our contract is over, but... Is there still something you want me to do, before I run out of mana?"
"Oh no, I couldn't ask you to do anything, Rider. I'm not your Master anymore-"
"You were never a bad Master, Sakura. From where I come from, it's considered perfectly acceptable to do favors for other people."
"...You'd do something for me?"
"I have about a day left here. I'd like to accomplish something before I go."
"...Please look after senpai."
"Yes...I don't want him to get hurt."
"...Of course, Sakura."
"Thank you, Rider...and thank you for saving me from Berserker."
"Think nothing of it, my lady. It was my pleasure."
"You said you didn't like fighting, Rider."
"...No, I don't. But it had to be done. If my sword stands between an innocent and an undeserved death, then what right do I have to shirk?"
"...That's like something senpai would say."
"Haha, perhaps. He seems to care deeply for you, though not, apparently, enough to ask about your...well-being."
"Don't blame him for that, Rider. I made sure he wouldn't ask."
"...If that is what my lady wishes... I should go now."
The first thing I see when I arrive at the gate is the man Sakura warned me about, a man whose pale skin perfectly complements the golden sheen of his armor. His hair is also gold, as are the heavy ornaments that hang from his ears. Eyes the color of freshly-spilled blood flicker and lock on to me, narrowing with disdain.
"So there's one more mongrel who decided to crawl out of the woodwork. You've interrupted me. Kill yourself for your insolence."
He reminds me of Erik, even more so than Shinji did. He has the same posture and arrogance, though Erik was never quite so bold.
Saber stands before him, the massive two-handed sword clutched in her hands. She's not breathing heavily or showing any signs of exertion; they must not have started yet.
"Rider!" She gasps, turning around, and the greatsword twitches in my direction. "How did you-"
"I was called back into spirit form just before your Noble Phantasm killed me." I cut her off, wincing at how rude I sound. "I apologize, but could we talk later?"
Saber shifts her stance, glancing back and forth between the golden Servant and myself. Her eyes tell me she's calculating the odds of fighting us both. I should reassure her.
"I'm not here to fight you, Saber. My Master asked me to look after yours."
The golden Servant sniffs. "The brat is off near the lake. Leave us."
"No." Saber contradicts him, looking at me with eyes of emerald. "Shirou can fight his own battles."
The golden Servant narrows his eyes as well, fixing Saber with a glare of displeasure. "Did you just disagree with me, woman? Let the mongrel go off to the brat; he does not belong here among kings."
A glow appears around his right hand, and a massive sword appears in his gauntlet. He glares at me. He really does look like Erik now.
What should I do? Saber obviously doesn't want me to help her Master, but from what I've seen of him he wasn't exactly capable. It's doubtful he can win against whoever he's fighting, especially since it's highly likely his opponent is an experienced Master.
And it was Sakura's request.
"Rider." Saber's voice is soft. "Please, if you are truly not my opponent, do not interrupt my Master's fight." She sounds almost like she's pleading, and I'm surprised. Throughout the war she's been nothing but calm, cold, and imperturbable. What's changed?
"Otherwise I will fight you myself."
The man of gold smirks. "Spoken like a true king, but you forget, Saber. You face a much greater man than that poor excuse for a Servant." He lifts the blade. "Prepare yourself, oh King of Knights."
Saber tenses and readies her own weapon, shifting ever so slightly. There's a certain fatalism in her motions, a resigned quality to her eyes despite the defiantly-golden glow of her sword.
She doesn't believe she can win.
It's been clear from the start that Saber isn't at full strength. Someone like her, famous in every corner of the world and equipped with a Noble Phantasm that could level a building, should have had no trouble with even Berserker. Instead, she struggled against Assassin, a fictional being from the weakest class. Against this Servant, she has no chance.
This isn't my fight. By all rights I should leave Saber to her fight and go bail her Master out of the pickle he's gotten into. Sakura didn't say anything about his Servant.
"You truly are Lord Elbert's son, my lord. No one ever had to tell either of you to do the right thing."
That's true, Marcus, but what's the right thing to do now? Do I keep my promise or break it? Do I help someone who nearly killed me two days ago just to play the hero? You warned me about that too, old friend. Heroes don't live very long. By all rights, the dragon should have eaten me and spat out my powdered, burned-to-ash bones.
And yet...if I were to leave her, it's possible I wouldn't be able to live with myself afterwards. Hector used to tell me I could never leave a damsel in distress. I guess that's true, but I like to think I wouldn't leave anyone in this kind of situation.
Saber looks at me, green eyes locking with mine. They're filled with emotion, a silent plea to leave her Master to fight. I've seen that before, in my mother's eyes when she looked at my father, and in Sir Kent's when he looked at Lyndis.
She loves him. And that makes my decision.
Love is a beautiful thing, and often far shorter than we would like. Between a Servant and a human...it won't work out. It can't. She knows it. She knows she will disappear once this war is over...and yet she will fight tooth and nail to give him the thing he so dearly wishes for.
Just as Ninian once did for me.
Forgive me, Sakura. I guess I'm not as good a Servant as you thought.
The golden Servant leaps forward, screaming a war cry. Saber shifts her footing, swinging her own blade up to meet his -
My rapier interposes itself, sliding along the length of his greatsword to shed it with a clang. I wouldn't have tried this when I was alive, but my weapons are far stronger than they were before. Otherwise, he would have broken my sword like a twig.
Red eyes tighten and he snarls in fury.
"You dare oppose me? You, a worthless mongrel?" He charges again, and this time I fall back smoothly, blocking an overhand cut and flicking the tip of the rapier over his chestplate. "You would dare stand between me and my prize? Then die!"
The greatsword disappears and a massive scythe replaces it in his hand. It slashes down at my face, and I can barely redirect the blow before it shears open my head.
My riposte is parried by a sweep of the scythe's haft, but instead of taking advantage of an opening he leaps back, smirking. He swings the weapon, but it's at least three meters away; there's no way it'll hit me-
Something cold gashes open my cheek, and I turn my head and roll desperately to avoid the rest of the strike. I can feel whatever it is brush over my scalp, but I've avoided being shortened by a head, at least for now.
"Rider!" Saber shouts from behind me, leaping forward so that the next slash from the scythe clashes against her sword. The red-eyed man snarls, but has no time to recover before she closes, Excalibur ringing off his weapon and armor in such succession it sounds like a chorus of church bells. "He is Gilgamesh, the King of Heroes! He has every Noble Phantasm ever created!"
Gilgamesh... The knowledge the Holy Grail imparted to me tells me the rest. A demigod who sought immortality and lost it due to a moment of carelessness. A bitter, arrogant, prideful man who only ever had one real friend in the world before losing him. The first king of this world and possessor of all its treasures.
He reminds me of Nergal.
Saber charges forward, slashing Excalibur through the air in an intricate pattern of cuts that are almost too fast to follow. Gilgamesh backpedals frantically, exchanging the cumbersome scythe for another sword that shatters after a few blows. Another replaces it, and follows its predecessor shortly.
"Enough!" The golden man shouts, face tight with irritation. Excalibur swings at his face, but instead of summoning a sword he raises a forearm and shields himself with the golden plate. The legendary sword clangs against it, but does not penetrate. Saber's eyes widen, and Gilgamesh laughs.
Grabbing the sword with his left hand, he jerks her closer to him and slams his other fist into her stomach. She exhales in shock and he grabs her by the leg, flipping her over and dangling her in the air before him.
"Know your place, woman!" He hisses in satisfaction. With his free hand he produces a dagger and jams it into her stomach, laughing at her scream of pain.
It's time to intervene. I can already hear Mark laughing about my supposed 'chronic hero syndrome', whatever that is. Hector would grin and ask me what I'd be willing to do for a pretty face, and Lyndis would sigh and shake her head, but then they'd follow me into it, no questions asked.
My tactical options are somewhat limited. I've no long-range attacks like Caster's magic, so I'll have to shoulder Saber out of the way and take on her fight myself. My rapier is a Noble Phantasm, but not a powerful one, and I don't know if its effectiveness against knights will carry over to Gilgamesh's armor. The knights of my time had joints and gaps in their armor that were easy prey for the rapier, but Gilgamesh's plate looks very solid, even the junctions for his elbows and knees.
Still, my most powerful Noble Phantasm isn't an option. Gilgamesh has the weapons of a thousand legends, and can use them wantonly. I have to conserve my own for the best moment. That will leave me at a disadvantage. Fortunately, I do have another.
The great white horse appears beside me, snorting and pawing the ground belligerently. I swing up onto his back smoothly and nudge his sides with my heels. He breaks into a gallop, charging towards Gilgamesh, who's still holding Saber in the air.
The golden king's eyes widen, but before he can react, Charlemagne pivots, and I slash down at his neck. He leaps back, dropping Saber, but I feel contact, and my rapier comes away dripping blood.
Gilgamesh stares at me in honest surprise, then touches his neck with one gauntleted hand. There's red on it when he takes it away, and he lets out a snarl of anger, narrowing his gaze at me.
I resist the urge to roll my eyes. Spare me the drama, I knew a cleric who could pull it off far better than you.
Surprisingly, he doesn't make any death threats against me in the vein of his previous speeches. Instead, he lifts a hand, and the air behind him distorts, glowing red as the tips of swords, spears, and axes poke their way out of the shimmering veil.
"Gate of Babylon."
Charlemagne screams shrilly as a veritable rain of steel rushes down towards us. I kick him into a gallop, pressing his sides to make him circle around Gilgamesh. I lean back and use my rapier to its best effect, flicking aside spear hafts and sword blades as they come in.
It's not enough. A wickedly-curved sword thuds into the thin plates of my armor, knocking out my wind. Charlemagne bugles in pain as a spear tip slashes the side of his leg. Blood spurts momentarily and my steed stumbles, nearly throwing me off. The steel hail isn't even half-spent, either. Some kind of throwing axe almost rips through my neck, and only a desperate twist of my wrist sends it flying away.
Time to use my third Noble Phantasm. The ring on my left hand glows a soft blue, and I feel the drain of prana as power is released.
"Nini's Grace." I whisper, and for a moment I imagine her standing over me, that soft smile on her lips.
The rain of steel continues to fall, but each projectile that strikes my armor hurts less and less. Charlemagne's flanks are scarred from the blades that find their mark, but the blood flows in trickles, or not at all.
Wil once told me having the protection of Nini's Grace was like wearing a suit of very thick armor. It doesn't feel like that to me, not at all. It's more of...a warm blanket, the kind that used to reassure you there were no monsters underneath your bed at night.
I miss her. I've never stopped.
Gilgamesh narrows his eyes once again.
"That trick will avail you nothing, mongrel." he sneers. He spares a glance at Saber, who's still on the ground, then returns to stare at me.
In response, I kick Charlemagne into a gallop and ride him down.
He throws himself to the side, a sword appearing in his right hand. It flicks out, and Charlemagne screams in pain as the blade nearly goes through his leg. The golden king smiles cruelly and leaps towards me, sword reaching for my throat. I knock it aside, but Charlemagne staggers, and Gilgamesh exchanges his sword for a spear, thrusting the weapon through my loyal horse's side.
I don't wait to hear his scream of pain. I dismiss him and jump clear, blocking a spear jab with my rapier. It was a mistake to try to ride down someone with so many weapons at his disposal, and now I'm at a disadvantage again.
The first king attacks once more. This time he's more inventive. His spear jabs and haft sweeps are followed by short bursts of weapons from his gate. It's almost impossible to counter-attack with the pressure he's putting on me, and the long reach of his polearms means that he's got plenty of time and space to aim his attacks.
I parry the strike of a thin spear adorned with horsehair and try for a stab at his shoulder, only to reverse my blow mid-flight and deflect a sword in his other hand that seeks my groin, and then jump away from a flurry of blades launched at nearly point-blank range with no room to dodge. I avoid those, but Gilgamesh takes advantage of the new space to shoot another steel flurry, longer and more sustained.
The blue glow flares again, and I feel her presence once more, but this time it's not enough. Swords thud into my armor, cracking and breaking the thin plates. I feel the cold touch of steel enter my chest, and some kind of chained twin-blade hooks through my left arm. At the same time another chain, this time unattached to any blade, sweeps my legs out from underneath me, and I fall heavily into the paving stones.
I think I've cracked a knee.
"Rider!" Saber shouts from the side, and I manage to catch a glimpse of her. She's still on the ground, unable to get up. What did he do to her?
"Do you see your mistake now, Saber?" Gilgamesh smirks, walking over to me. His armor is as untouched now as it was in the beginning of the fight. He's as proud and arrogant as ever, while I'm bleeding and bowed on the ground.
"See how foolish it is to defy my wishes."
Maybe I should have went straight to Saber's Master, and ignored her.
"You should have done as your Master wished, mongrel. You could not hope to defeat one as perfect as I."
I've never been one to exchange threats and snide insults with my opponents; that was always Hector's style. Right now, though, I wish I could come up with one good line that will shut him up and distract him for a second or two. I don't have anything, though.
It wasn't necessary anyway.
I bring up my right hand, rapier still gripped tight. Gilgamesh just keeps on smirking.
"What are you going to do with that, fool?"
"Not with that." I manage. I think he must have hit punctured my lung, some kind of fluid is making it hard for me to talk. "This."
The rapier disappears, and a frown mars his patrician face.
My final Noble Phantasm, the weapon of my ancestor Roland and the sword I used to kill both my greatest enemy and my closest friend, materializes in my hand. It's longer than I am tall, but thin enough so I can wield it easily enough. The blue jewel set into its guard winks as I bring it up.
The first king actually takes a step back, eyes widening. I manage to stand up, though my chest screams in agony and my left arm is dead at my side. It'll make it harder to wield Durandal in any case, but fortunately I don't need to do much.
On my command, the sword bursts into flames, and I slam it down as hard as I can against Gilgamesh's armor, employing as I do so the only real personal skill I possess.
During the fight against Nergal, Mark taught me how to focus my will into my weapon, until at a certain point and under the right conditions the blow would do far more damage than it would have otherwise. He explained that the type of weapon increased or decreased the possibility of such a strong attack, and that the chance of it occurring was dependent on the user's own skill level. My rapier, for example, is conducive to such a blow due to its special properties.
However, the additional damage is directly dependent on the original attack. An attack that would leave a scratch would yield a slightly longer and deeper scratch, while a blow that would shatter armor becomes able to break stone.
Durandal has never had a high chance of this 'critical hit', as Mark was fond of calling it, but the chance has always been present. I've managed to accomplish it once before, when I killed Nergal.
Now I do it again.
The flames burning off the long blade intensify, and I press it down against Gilgamesh's shining breastplate. There's resistance, as if I'm cutting through an additional layer of protection, but it yields quickly, and the armor begins to liquefy, turning into hot molten gold.
He emits a startled yell, another weapon appearing in his hand, but I strike it from his grasp with my dead arm and push him over, landing on top of him and straddling his legs, all the while grinding Durandal deeper into his armor.
"Get off me, mongrel!" he screams in anger. Fists hammer my face and chest, but I ignore the pain and slap him with my left arm again, stunning him. Some of the molten metal seeps onto my thighs and burns me even through the remnants of my armor and clothes. I ignore the pain.
Not long now.
His entire breastplate has now disintegrated, and judging by the change in his shouts, it's hurting him. Good. With his body now a mass of oozing gold fire, I stand up, shaking off the gold that's made it onto my person. He looks up at me, red eyes blazing with pain and indignation, and opens his mouth to say something. Durandal sweeps his head off his shoulders.
He'll never make another speech again.
Feeling too tired to stand, I jam Durandal into the stone beneath me and use it to hold myself up. I look up at the sky, seeing the blood-red taint of the corrupted Grail encompassing the world.
Saber's finally managed to get up. She limps over to me, using Excalibur as a crutch in the same way I'm using Durandal. Green eyes stare up at me.
"Saber." I heave a sigh. "It's good you're still alive, sir knight. Your Master needs you."
"His fight is his own. I will not interfere." She won't stop staring at me. I'm too tired to keep talking.
"Why did you help me, Rider?"
"Let's say I've been in this situation before." I sigh again. My body is disappearing. I've used too much prana and I can't replace it. I'm not long for this world. "Gilgamesh reminded me of an old acquaintance who I didn't much like."
My left arm suddenly vanishes, and Saber gasps. "Rider, your body- You are disappearing!"
I bite back an urge to say, "I hadn't noticed," and instead look her in the eye.
"I didn't have a Master when I fought Gilgamesh. I can't replace my prana, so I'm gone."
She blinks. "W-why? Did you not fight for the Grail, for the wish it grants?"
"I did," I acknowledge, "but I changed my mind...and even so, some things need to be done. It was her wish, and as a Servant would do I granted it."
My body fades away, but before I can fully go Saber asks me one last question.
"What was your name, Rider?"
I tell her.
Saber stands for a long moment as the flame-haired Servant disappears. She watches the space where he once stood, eyes unblinking.
After some time, a boy with the same hair emerges from behind the temple, body scarred and bleeding. He walks up to Saber, placing a hand on her shoulder.
"What happened?" he asks quietly. "Did you beat him?"
"No," Saber replies softly. "Rider did." The boy's eyes widen.
"But you killed Rider on the rooftop!" he gasps. Saber shakes her head.
"No, I did not. It was a good thing that I did not." The knight king's eyes are sad. "He was a noble man."
"Did you figure out who he was?" Shirou asks.
"He told me his name." Saber replied. "I had never heard of it."
A mile away, down in the city of Fuyuki, a lavender-haired girl stares at a simple stone carving. On it is written the name of the man who had saved her: from her brother, her grandfather...and herself.
"Goodbye," she whispers. "...Eliwood."