Chapter 28: Misdirection
I do not own Fate/Stay Night and stuffs:
o. o. o.
"You want me to what?" Saber blinked in surprise at the living room table as she and the rest of the occupants ate breakfast the next morning.
"If it wasn't too much trouble, I'd appreciate it if you would spar with me for a bit later today Saber." Shirou smiled apologetically as he served himself some simple omelets. Due to the previous night's excursions, he had woken up late that morning, letting Sakura get first dibs on cooking that morning's meal.
"Shirou." Said chef of the morning frowned. "You shouldn't push yourself so much. You're still healing."
Rider remained as stoic as she could while filling her bowl with more rice. She had not missed the fact that her stand in master and Saber had left the house in the dead of night after Sakura had slept, only to return about half an hour later. It had appeared that they had not fought anyone, however the boy's rather exhausted disposition had been hard to miss.
"Since I have to conserve my prana now, I have to rely more on my swordsmanship than I normally would. I'm not bad per say, but I never had an experienced sword master teach me before. The best I had was Fuji-nee, and while she's good, I wouldn't exactly consider her a master. Plus it would help give me a good idea of what to expect from other servants if I'm cornered." The redhead shrugged casually. "I'm not saying we'd be using our main weapons. Just some kendo sticks would work just as easily."
Saber inspected Shirou skeptically with her sharp green eyes for a few seconds before smiling confidently. "I don't see why not. It would be good change of pace to teach the way of the sword again, and I myself am curious as to how my Master fights."
Rider was the only one who caught the hesitant smile on Sakura's face at the mention of Shirou's fighting style. It was fairly obvious from the girl's reaction that there was some sort of unsavory aspect to the boy's method of combat that the Servants were not aware of, but she did not see the point in asking the girl what she knew. She would find out regardless in the next hour or so.
A short time later…
"Ah. So that's how." Rider mused as she saw Shirou fly onto his back in the dojo with a wooden sword in each hand courtesy of Saber. The fellow servant's expression was unreadable as she looked down at the boy as she took what she had seen in their spar.
All two seconds of it.
"Glaring openings aside, your reaction time was passable. However you need much work. You were fighting as if you were fighting someone with a shorter weapon." The blonde woman stated calmly as the teen grimaced and got back up, wincing as the beginning of a bruise made itself known on his left shoulder. "No. It was more like I didn't have a weapon in the first place. You greatly underestimated my reach."
"I figured that might be the case." The Master winced painfully, but with an apologetic smile on his face. "My only teachers in advanced melee combat were pugilists and most fights I get into use ranged thaumaturgy or claws as their main weapons."
"You are not used to combating against high speed opponents with longer ranges." Saber nodded understandingly before readying her sword again. "Let us correct that."
"Yeah." Shirou nodded with a grin, obviously not unfamiliar to the pain and stresses of intense sparring.
Moments later the two had clashed once more with Shirou being the one going on the attack, starting with an overhead slash with his right handed weapon, which was easily parried by Saber and normally would have been instantly followed through with a counter.
However she had to take a momentary step back in order to get out of range of the horizontal swipe performed by his left arm underneath where the other two weapons had momentarily clashed.
His follow up maneuver was going to be a thrust with his right hand blade again to keep Saber on the retreat and off her guard…
But the stars that clouded his vision got in the way of that.
"You underestimated me and overestimated yourself." Saber's voice seemed to penetrate the haze in his head before the ache in his skull finally registered. Thankfully he managed to stay on his feet this time. There was no mercy in it, but no cruelty either. "My sword is longer than yours and while I wasn't in your strike range, you were in mine. Be wary of your opponent's range in mind when you fight. I am also faster and more skilled than you are. A simple chain of attacks like that would not be enough to keep me, let alone any other heroic spirit busy for long."
Rubbing his aching skull with the back of his right hand and regaining his sight once again, Shirou stood back up. Despite the fact that his servant would probably turn him black and blue by the end of the day, he couldn't help but like this. True he hadn't been talked down in such a manner when learning since his first few months training with Bazett, but he didn't care much about that.
"Too fast." Rider spoke up for the first time since they got into the Dojo, grabbing both of their attention.
"Care to elaborate?" Saber raised an eyebrow, ignoring Shirou's momentary stumble to the side. "I believe I am giving him adequate training."
She also wanted to see just how good the son of Kiritsugu truly was. Her old master used despicable means, but if there was one thing that he was good at, it was planning and preparing. She wanted to see what the fruits of that man's efforts were in this boy.
Rider shook her head. "He's human… for the most part. None of us will take him seriously and use our full strength on him save for Berserker. Initially at least. He can barely react to your movements as he is. At your current speed he would need to use his spells to stay conscious, let alone learn anything." A faint twitch of her lips almost escaped the notice of Saber. "Of course if you keep on hitting him that hard, I would be interested to see what he would remember period."
The King of Knights had the decency to look a little guilty at the accusation as she couldn't deny moving a bit faster than she normally would have when engaging a human. As much as she berated Shirou for underestimating her, she was just as guilty for overestimating him. Her goal was to ensure that he could defend himself to buy time for help, not fight back.
"You have a point." Saber looked back to Shirou, who had managed to remember how to stand correctly without swaying by this point. "I may have been overdoing it."
"It's okay." The master laughed weakly as he got back into his stance and blinked out the last of the spots in his vision. "It was a simple mistake. The only thing we can do is keep going."
The blonde looked at him warily before putting on a small grin. "At the very least, you are a student that does not shy away from the pain. You would have made a fine squire."
The comment actually managed to get a small rise out of Shirou unlike the savage blows she had dealt to him earlier. "Oi. I might not be that good, but I'd like to think I rank higher than that."
Five seconds later he was once again on the ground with Saber pointing her wooden sword at his chest. "You may be my Summoner, but please do keep in mind that I am the Master in this room." She prodded him once more to point out who had been famous for swordsmanship in life.
"Ow." Shirou relented as he tried in futility to determine exactly what part of his body his servant had hit this time in order to lay him out. What mental processes he had left that weren't aching in pain made a note to never question the blonde's standards again.
Rider didn't say anything as she continued to watch Saber "teach" Shirou how to fight with swords. It was too amusing to interrupt anyways.
She would simply inquire about their brief leave last night later.
Swish! Crack! "Ow!"
No need to hurry.
Smack! Crash! BAM!
Now if only she had some sort of snack to eat while enjoying the show...
o. o. o.
"… have yet to discover what was the cause of the large fire that started last night at the base of the Ryudou Temple, however they are still looking into the incident as well as the bizarre chain of other events that have occurred in recent weeks. Thankfully no one was injured in the blaze that took the several fire fighter departments over five hours to control due to the location of the blaze."
"Looks like someone was busy last night." Archer mused as his eyes left the inactive television and turned to his master holding the remote with a frown.
"It can't simply be just a coincidence." Rin glanced at the Servant with a skeptical gaze. "You know as well as I do how well of a base that temple can become during this war… and since we know that there's a servant out there that uses fire…"
"Hmm. You have a point." The white haired man crossed his arms and closed his eyes in thought. He knew that Rin was testing him to see if his memory would finally come up with something useful for once.
Truth be told he did recall quite clearly that the Caster from his timeline had taken up base there and used Assassin as the guard to the only entrance a Servant could access, quite clearly in fact, but that was the reason why he didn't want to risk going there without backup in the first place. Diving head first into the base of two Servants by himself and causing enough of an uproar to attract the attention of the other teams in the war, who were no doubt also watching the place by now, was not something he found advisable at the moment. And that was IF his memories were applicable to this world.
Even so, he knew for a fact that if he didn't do something now, Rin would probably get frustrated and cause them to go for the temple that very night seeing as it was their only lead in the war that potentially involved one of the unknown participants.
"Well?" The Tohsaka raised an eyebrow, indicating that she was getting slightly impatient. Even after her coffee, she was not a morning person.
"The temple does ring a bell." The Servant from the future admitted. "However from the little I do remember, it would be best to not charge in without more information or backup. There was more than one significant event that took place there. That much I can say for certain."
"Oh?" Rin mused. "I thought that I had summoned the best servant in this war. Don't tell me you're suddenly no longer confident in your abilities."
"Confidence has nothing to do with it Rin." Archer admonished. "The servant that's based up there has most likely made preparations after last night. There's only one way for me to get in there, and with virtually everyone knowing that there's a Servant, the odds are likely that the moment someone starts a fight, another team will appear to finish off the winner. I don't know remember who they were exactly, but there are some servants that I would prefer to only encounter one on one while I'm at my best."
There. That should do it. The temple is dangerous and there are a couple of servants that would cause the guy that can copy and spam Noble Phantasms pause. That should be enough to give the girl reason to slow down…
"Fine. Then don't fight them then." Rin stated simply as if what she suggested was obvious.
"… You mean recon?" Archer asked warily.
The girl nodded. "Of course. I'll stay here safe with my house's defenses set up, and in the mean time you scout out the temple from a distance. You are Archer after all. Your eyes are the best out of all the servants'." She stood up to stretch before moving to the kitchen. "Worst comes to worst, I'll be watching through you the entire time and if I'm attacked I'll use a command seal to warp you back here."
The servant frowned as he casually followed his Master. What she said made sense. If both Assassin and Caster were stuck at the temple like in his past, then Rin would have plenty of time to summon him back. Once again though, that was a best case scenario.
If this world's Illya was as bad as his when they first met, and had still summoned Berserker… well… Rin might want to look into staying at an alternative residence in the near future.
… Preferably not at his old residence this time. Though, it would put him in close proximity to the boy... no, odds are he'd lose his temper at some point and she'd slap some sort of Command on him. Patience, not just yet... there's still no indication that he's truly gone down the wrong path just yet.
"Fine then, but if I get into a fight I'm returning immediately afterwards." The retreat was not out of cowardice, but out of precaution. The farther a Servant is from their Master, the less prana they get from said Master. Granted as an Archer with Independent Action, this detriment was decreased by quite a bit, but it was still inadvisable to get into more than one major death match without recharging at least a bit unless you had Saber's or Caster's reserves.
"Sounds reasonable." Rin shrugged as she got herself a small snack from the cupboards. She normally didn't eat breakfast if Shirou wasn't around, but she did at least get something to curb her appetite with till lunch came. "Just remember to take any good shots you see, or use Lancer's Noble Phantasm at least once if you get in close."
"And what about Lancer's warning?" The red Servant asked skeptically. His lack of commenting on her instructions all but confirmed that he would do what she said.
If he was honest, he was more concerned about the issue than most would believe. It took him the better part of the war as Shirou Emiya to discover that the grail was corrupted, but in this timeline, there were already parties that were suspicious of its nature… but why? If the war had started again without any raised alarms and Rin was still adamant on winning the thing, why would outsiders have suspicions about the very nature of the grail itself? Only Kiritsugu, Zouken, Kirei, and Gilgamesh should have been aware of it, and one of them was dead, another didn't care one bit about the taint, and the last two were more interested on how much chaos the corruption would create.
… Wait. Perhaps having no one know was part of the plan. The Counter Guardian admittedly did not know as much of his father's past as many would have assumed, but he did know that Kiritsugu was a professional assassin. A brutal, cold, cruel, relentless, efficient, and even famous one at that.
Granted he was a shitty teacher when it came to thaumaturgy, but that was irrelevant at the moment.
If Kiritsugu had done something different before he died in this world… then the changes he saw… and the factors that remained the same…
"Ignore it for now." Rin spoke up before his mind could continue down that train of thought. "It could have some merit, it could be simple psychological warfare, but in either case we don't have enough info to make such warnings worthwhile. Even if it is true, I refuse to be left in the dark about something so significant on my territory."
Archer couldn't help but chuckle briefly at the girl. Despite the minor changes, Rin was still an open book to those that truly knew her. She wasn't ignoring the warning in the slightest.
She was being proactive on the subject while hiding her intentions. Staying inside her well defended home while using her servant primarily for recon. She was buying time to gather her thoughts and do her own research on the subject. When the time came to actually act, she would not hesitate to be on the front lines in an instant.
In reality, he doubted that she would be angry if he didn't kill any servants he encountered so long as he came back in one piece… well, not THAT angry at least.
o. o. o.
Caster remained seemingly neutral as she continued her work on inspecting the leylines beneath her and how it seemed to interact with the greater grail underneath the temple. It had been only by pure luck that she had managed to notice the magnificent piece of thaumaturgy during her previous inspections of the area with Marjatta and it was one of the many main reasons why she had chosen this location as her base of operations.
On a side note, Marjatta had so far been doing a marvelous job as a catalyst for channeling and funneling prana from the local leyline.
Silently Caster had to admit that the system was rather impressive, even for one that came from the Age of the Gods like herself. Despite being made from an era where humanity's capabilities of thaumaturgy were vastly weakened compared to that of her times', the grail's system was impressively complex and intricate. The mere part of the system that not only managed to call out heroic spirits from the Throne, but enabled the user to pick which one with a medium relating to a or several spirits and then naturally takes in the user's nature into account was a work of sheer genius.
To be able to design a ritual that made efficient use of such diversified and unpredictable variables at any time during an elaborate and complicated ritual was worth quite a bit of praise, even back in her time. No one would have thought of doing such a thing in her time, but that was simply because no one needed to.
The work on the leylines was all she could do in order to distract herself from her spiteful thoughts… or rather thoughts about Assassin. Her Servant did not like her. That much was obvious. Given the chance he was very likely to try and kill her with her back turned. Had she been in any other situation, she would have killed him on the spot…
But he was good… no, too good at what he did to get rid of just yet. She had desired a Servant good enough to protect her until her plans were created and despite being just an Assassin class, she had gotten that and more.
To be perfectly honest, if it wasn't for Berserker being Heracles, Caster would have said for certain that the greatest threat to her plans was her own Servant.
The still unidentified man never appeared, much less spoke to her unless she forced him to, and even then he frequently did the minimal amount of work possible not out of boredom, but out of sheer spite. Throughout their few interactions he remained impassive, rude, and emotionless. It was like she was working with a defective specialized golem more than a human spirit at times. The amount of trouble she had trying to get information out of him regarding the previous night's events had more than proved how poorly they interacted.
When she finally realized that the fire in front of the temple had been started by a third party and Assassin didn't do a damn thing about it… well, she had more than reasserted her wrathful authority over the man that night in a vain attempt to curb her frustration. Thanks to the fool, now everyone knew that she had taken residence up here not even a full day after she had moved in.
But regardless of his shortcomings, Assassin was still exceptional at what he did. Lancer was the perfect example of this. Lancer, who had by himself managed to put up a good fight against both versions of Medea of Colchis at the same time and had only retreated due to being overwhelmed by her counterpart's Bulls of Aeaea, had been defeated in five seconds.
Before she had even realized what was going on, having been preoccupied with her research inside the mountain, her Servant had dealt exceptional damage to both Master and Servant without even revealing himself, forcing them to retreat.
Granted, it was more than likely that Lancer had retreated due to his Master's wounds than his own, his Battle Continuation ability ensured that he could still fight for a good while even after half his stomach was impaled with shrapnel.
The woman though… well she was alive when Lancer retreated, but she would not be a threat anymore even if she did survive. And if she did…
Caster briefly glanced at the trinket she had acquired last night that was kept in suspended animation in the corner of the room.
Well, there were plenty of things a witch could do with just a drop of someone's blood or a lock of hair…
o. o. o.
The sound of metal grinding and scraping upon more metal was therapeutic to Shirou. It was bizarre, but the sound just felt right to him. Whether it was from the sound of blades on blades, weapons on armor, or the mechanical parts of a bike being set into place, the auditory sensation was soothing to him.
It had been several hours since his "sparring" with Saber had taken place, and even though Avalon was still in him and working better than ever, he still oddly enough sported a good number of bruises on his person.
Apparently the sheath's ability to heal wounds quickly did not apply so much to bruises, something Saber took great joy in exploiting earlier that day, even if it barely showed on her face. Rider didn't seem to mind much either.
On the bright side, he had gotten comfortable enough against Saber's style to last longer than six solid seconds by the end of the day.
He was up to seven
Not the longest time for a battle, but enough time to pray for a small miracle, pass as a minute distraction, or manage to use a command seal at least.
Ignoring his aching body, Shirou put the finishing touches on the repairs to his Hayabusa, which were for the most part, thankfully cosmetic. With minimal effort, he screwed in the last bolts and locked in the last of the silver plastic frame that made up its shape and held a good number of the runes that provided its air resistance and hypnotic effects on pedestrians.
Breathing out slowly and standing up again, he stepped back to get a good look at his bike. A brief structural grasping told him that everything was in order, and save for a few small negligible scratches on the inside, his ride was as good as new. In reality, most of the repairs were thaumaturgical in nature as a couple of rune sequences had been slightly disturbed in the previous fight. Nothing major, but they would have to be addressed sooner or later regardless.
Hopefully when Saber learns of this she'd be a bit happier with him. He didn't know why, but even though his Servant was cooperating, she seemed a bit frustrated for some reason. The best he could guess was that she was still coming to terms with the grail being corrupted.
Looking around his workshop again, the teen vaguely inspected the various piles of paper on his desks, all in some way used at one point or another to further his chances of succeeding in his goals. All in all his research had been split into four main sections. Runecraft. Material Transmutation. Summoning Rituals. Bounded fields.
All in all it was at first glance a rather weak range of skills when compared to what most other Magi specialized in. Rin's list was nearly four times that length and she was further down the line with those fields of study than most of his save for his specialties.
His Material Transmutation abilities (which also included his crest spells due to how he worked with them) were probably only second to Sirius', and that was not counting Tracing. His Runecraft and Summoning abilities were rather average, even if he spent a good amount of time reading up on them. Sirius and Waver were good teachers in the subjects, it just that runes and summoning weren't Shirou's forte.
As for his bounded fields… well he wasn't certain where he really was with that. He wasn't bad by any definition, it was just he had more to focus on recently. Shirou hadn't touched them for a while, aside for when he experimented with his Reality Marble; not since that fiasco where he tried to use his elemental swords as focus points to try and give his fields new effects.
He learned very valuable lessons that day. Swords were not gems. They did not convert prana into stable wide area effects for extended periods of time well if left alone. Rather, they tended to disperse their stored prana in massive bursts at unexpected times. Above all else, don't experiment with fire element swords when trying something new unless you want to risk burning your home down again.
Especially when you know that the Tiger of Fuyuki is coming over in an hour to have dinner and looking forward to her favorite meal.
Shaking his head he moved to the ladder that took him to the loft of his workshop. Other than having a small bed for when he worked himself too long, this area contained all his and his father's notes and plans for the Grail War.
Some of Kiritsugu's plans he had used or he could potentially use while others he had needed to wait before consideration for various reasons. For example, Kiritsugu had advised planting remote bombs into the arc of the local temple in case Sasaki Kojirou was summoned like in his visions. Destroying the arc would remove the servant's anchor to the world, turning him into a bloodless kill and leaving Caster wide open for assault. Quick. Clean. Simple. And virtually impossible for anyone to predict.
As much as Shriou detested playing dirty in general, especially in this case since one of his friends actually lived at the location of said potential bombing, he had indeed set up several non magical explosives inside the structure of the town monument. However since the situation at the Temple was still uncertain, he did not see the need to follow through with the plan just yet.
Setting up explosives in the Church, on the other hand, Shirou would have had no problems doing if he had any chance of pulling it off unnoticed. Sadly, this was not the case as by the time he had gained his father's notes Kirei had made the church his permanent residence and stopped going out on missions. Provoking the ire of the fallen priest and the Original King was not an option before the war had actually started.
Other plots he had downright ignored though. The top of that list were Kiritsugu's backup schemes to wipe out the entire Matou family to prevent Zouken from living and Sakura from going berserk, and Shinji from just being a flat out liability. Save for the fact that Shinji was dead, Shirou was not going to sacrifice Sakura to kill Zouken or anyone else for that matter. End of story.
Another plan involved using Rin's and Sakura's relationship as siblings against them to orchestrate events to force their servants to either kill one another, or trick them to meeting at one select location or another. He would then proceed to blow up said locations to take out said threats from a safe distance.
The only reason why he didn't burn such ideas by now was because they were different than what he could come up with. They were things no one would be able to predict, and regardless of their despicable nature, good reference material for when he might be stuck in situations where he was less averse to killing…
Shirou's stomach momentarily went up his throat. He hated it when his mind went down that path. It was bad enough that he was neck deep in the world of thaumaturgy, hunting down dead apostles and occasionally having to kill entire village's worth of undead at a time while secretly harboring some of the vampiric blood himself, but the fact that he was getting used to the sensation of taking the lives of others was something else entirely. More so when he recalled that he no longer hesitated to kill undead children.
Regardless, deep down the Emiya knew that if he was stuck between choosing Sakura's, Rin's, or Illya's lives against someone he didn't know, he would save the girls in a heartbeat, consequences be damned. He still didn't know if he liked that or not. A part of him wanted to reject that thought, while another was actually comforted with it.
In a perfect world he would have preferred if no one got involved with his machinations, but in a perfect world the Grail War wouldn't be taking place either so the argument was moot point.
Turning to the screens and a keyboard on one of the desks there, Shirou checked to see if anything had appeared in the past twelve hours. The cameras were rigged to record if any large source of prana passed by their sensors, and when placed in specific locations such as the Fuyuki Bridge, the High School, the Church, the Temple, and select major roads, he could at least get a good idea of what part of the city certain Servants or Masters were at.
Unfortunately the road to the Einzbern's castle was too far away and too secured magically for him to monitor via this method, otherwise he would have known his sister had arrived long before she tried to kill him half a week ago.
Likewise, by the time he HAD managed to get to the recordings for the Temple, he had already received word from his contact that a Caster was there seeing as he was unconscious till then. This turned out to be useful as during some point during that night, all his cameras covering the area had been destroyed, giving him nothing but static.
The problem was that the one good shot of the perpetrator he managed to get did not look like a swordsman in the slightest. Instead all he saw was what appeared to be a man of average height covered in a large rag that covered his entire head and body, leaving only his nose and mouth visible.
No. Assassin did not look like a swordsman at all. But the lack of a skull mask indicated that he did not seem to be Hassan-I-Sabbah either, meaning that he was not a conventional Assassin. This once more indicated that Caster was indeed the Master.
Given what he knew from his father's notes, the mystery Servant probably had a physical anchor to the world that was outside of Caster's normal control. The "easy" way to kill them would be to destroy the anchor. However if his luck was as bad as he thought it was, it would most likely be inside the temple compound which meant he'd have to beat the servant in the first place to destroy it.
Then there was Illya and Berserker, Kirei, Gilgamesh, Zouken, Sakura, and the corrupted grail he'd have to manage all at once. But he couldn't do that now. He was barely running on half as it was, not to mention his lack of desire to cause his Apostle blood to go out of control again. Setting off those fires last night didn't help his condition much either. It really was a big risk for him taking on Rider, but since it prevented Sakura from getting out of control and going on a killing rampage, he didn't complain.
Back to the temple though, Shirou was concerned as to what the situation could mean. Despite the clear evidence that said that Caster had summoned Assassin, the issue was that there were two Casters that were supposed to already team up. Did this mean that there had been a betrayal, or could this mean that there was now a team of three servants in the war? The latter didn't seem likely as Luvia had come alone with her Caster the previous day and the pair did not seem to be up to anything… but that easily could have been a ruse to gather more information from him and Sakura.
… No. If both Casters were in on it, then Luvia wasn't. She was far too much like the standard Clocktower noble for his tastes most of the time, but he knew her well enough to know that she wouldn't go as far as to threaten the general populace to further power up her Servant. She would want to do things under her own power for as long as possible before relying on dirty tricks.
True her knowing that he had summoned Saber and was teamed up with Sakura and Rider would certainly put her on edge, especially since she had a weakened Caster, but she wouldn't lose her cool that quickly. She knew he wasn't one to go overboard and kill everyone, even if it would be the most practical thing to do. She knew that he would lay off her and would only kill the Servants if possible.
Marjatta on the other hand…
Regardless if one or both of the Casters and their Masters were stationed there though, the fact of the matter remained that they were getting desperate and were taking out prana from the local leylines fast enough to cause some noticeable damage to the populace. As such they needed to be dealt with and soon.
He was not in a good position though. After the past few nights, it would be best to not take a hands-on approach. Instead he would be more subtle…
It was only an hour later that he remembered that he still had to do the homework that Luvia had given him the previous day.
o. o. o.
In the main building:
It was a rare when Sakura was responsible for cooking both breakfast and dinner, but that was what was happening that night as Saber and Rider waited patiently in the living room and watched the news for any other potential new information to appear.
Neither one of them had commented on Saber's rather brutal training session that day, as there was nothing to say about it. Only the small occasional smirks on their faces were enough.
"It's getting dark soon." The servant of the sword commented as she looked outside at the setting sun. From the look of things, there was probably only about an hour or so worth of daylight left. It was a bizarre routine that she had adapted to. During the day the household was so peaceful it was bizarre at times. During the night however someone, most likely Shirou, got into some sort of life or death situation involving the arcane and or legendary spirits.
The sharp contrast between the two states was both akin and different than the wars that Saber was accustomed to, including the one with Kiritsugu. During normal wars, everyone was tense for a good amount of time before, during and after battle. Everyone was plotting, scheming, praying, or doing something with regards to the task at hand. Even during cease fires there was a heavy air among her army's ranks, leaving her soldiers and herself on edge for anything.
Kiritsugu was much the same way… no, he was worse. Perhaps it was due to the fact that the war had been ever present, or maybe her very existence put the man in "battle mode" as some soldiers called it, however whatever kindness and humanity Shirou saw in him was nonexistent with Saber. The man had been prepared and preparing for battle 24/7 during the war. Even during slow days he did not stop, and if what she recalled was correct from talking to Irisviel and Maya, he had been RUSTY during the entire thing.
Sobering thoughts aside, what she had been experiencing here was… pleasant. The good food, the relaxed conversations, the understanding comrades, the welcoming atmosphere... It was almost as if the war didn't exist at times.
Rider turned to her temporary partner and tilted her head to the side very slightly, her way of silently asking what she had in mind. Even if she was slightly more talkative than before, the blindfolded woman was still more likely to remain silent than not.
"I don't know what Shirou has planned, but we have to be prepared for whatever he comes up with tonight." Saber elaborated. "I happen to know that our Master is not the most self conscious of individuals at times. If he comes up with something that would risk his wellbeing too much, I am counting on you to help in stopping him."
The black and purple clad Servant nodded silently. She had already developed that assumption about the Emiya after he became her stand in Master. Her true loyalties were to Sakura of course, however the boy had warranted some attention. After all, he too seemed to know of the potential monster that the girl could become and was trying his hardest to prevent that from coming to pass. Yet the boy seemed to have other much grander plans in his mind that he was trying to accomplish at the same time while maintaining an equal amount of effort on Sakura.
The boy was a mystery to her. Granted, he seemed to genuinely care for Sakura and be on top of things when chaos wasn't all around them, but there was much to him that Rider didn't get. He seemed to be interested in everything BUT the grail from what she could tell. She wasn't interested in the grail too, but neither was she that involved or knowledgeable about virtually all of the other contenders.
What made things even more concerning was that Saber seemed to have joined him for the ride. She seemed to be more concerned about what events could mean in general more than what they could mean for the war itself and other factors that she seemed to be unaware of.
"I will act in my Master's best interests." She said neutrally. She was of course talking about Sakura, but the statement could include Shirou's well being as well so long as the interests of the two didn't conflict.
Saber didn't say anything as she grabbed another cracker from the table in front of her and ate it quickly. She was somewhat disappointed that she did not get along better with Rider than Caster did. True, the two came from the same era and chain of mythology and neither Rider nor she was rather conversational, but still there needed to be at least something they could do in order to increase their efficiency and companionship. Even if there were major communication issues during her time in Camelot, Saber had at least made some effort to talk to and know her most loyal knights occasionally to improve moral. So far, all of their conversations had been short and to the point and unless something was done it would stay that way.
She would be damned before she allowed herself to be in another relationship like the one she had with Kiritsugu… Ah. Of course.
"Rider, should nothing occur to hamper our status by tomorrow, I was contemplating if you would mind exploring the city with me during the day." The King of Knights started off casually.
Rider paused as she processed the absurd change of subject, as well as how out of place it was considering they were in a war. "I hardly see why we should do that. In their current states our Masters would be left defenseless to an assault, and advertising them together would all but tell the enemy that we are teamed up."
Saber shook her head. "We would be taking them with us. You also forget that many of the other Masters abide by the no fighting by day rule. At least two of the other masters are also aware that Shirou is friends with Sakura, and hence would not attack her unless prompted to even if they were enemies for the war." She closed her eyes and grabbed another cracker. "I was also somewhat interested in many of the vehicles of this era and was planning on visiting the specialized merchants for them if we had time. I was quite impressed with the Motorcycle… the Hayabusa I believe is the name, that Shirou supplied me with and was curious as to what other variants were made."
Even without looking Saber could tell she had managed to hook in Rider. The unnaturally quiet Servant had grown even more statue like as the King's words echoed in her ears. It had already been silently established that Rider was not to touch Saber's bike unless needed under penalty of death, however the Servant of the sword had no qualms with looking at more mounts with others.
"… I would need modern attire." The beauty finally relented after losing her self control to her personal desires. All in all it wouldn't be that much of a risk. They were just being a bit more creative while getting a better feel for the battleground. There was nothing suspicious at all about that all.
It wasn't like she had mount envy or anything. That would be ridiculous, a Rider envying a Saber's mount... Even if it was an interesting mount. One that... she could ride anytime she wanted without drawing unwanted attention… and cost little to no prana to use…
Saber suppressed a victory smirk, a skill she had mastered through years of politicking in Britain. "Shirou will think of something. He is quite handy in tasks like this."
"So I've heard." Rider admitted. "Sakura is quite fond of him."
"I've gathered as much. Few would willingly put their lives in the hands of someone they don't trust." The blonde nodded downplaying the fact that the other Master was rather smitten with her own.
The more mature looking of the two quietly agreed before grabbing a cracker herself. She wasn't hungry with the prana that Shirou was giving her, but she did enjoy the taste. To be honest, she had trouble telling if he was reciprocating those notions Sakura had. Shirou was fond and protective of Sakura, and there did seem to be a deep bond between them, however what he had for her did not seem to match what she had for him. Not completely at least.
"I am somewhat jealous. The populace in this era is weaker individually, but they have fewer major obstacles as well." Rider admitted truthfully. While she could relate to Sakura on an intimate level, there were still key differences. The girl's tormentor was not the gods themselves, but merely twisted and sadistic humans, and there were people fighting for her. In short, unlike Rider, Sakura actually had a chance of getting out of her situation without turning into a monster or dying.
"Who saves the hero, let alone in an era like this?" Saber nodded in understanding before wincing as she remembered that Rider was Medusa, one of the most legendary monsters in human history.
"Who saves the monster?" Rider replied with a hint of dry humor.
Saber paused for a moment before donning a weak smirk of her own. "Who saves the lone King that no one understands?"
The black and purple clad servant remained quiet before grabbing another cracker and eating it. "Only a fool would."
The blue and white clad Servant nodded as she finished the box. "A mighty fool he must be then…"
o. o. o.
Later that night:
"Seems like we were right." Archer said out loud as he stood on top of one of the taller buildings in the residential district, one that happened to be close to the Ryudou Temple. "There's definitely a Servant set up in there."
"Well that's one question answered." Rin somehow managed to sigh through her telepathic link to her Servant. "Any chance you see anything out of the ordinary?"
"You mean any chance they slipped up and are revealing something that could give us an advantage?" EMIYA translated as he focused prana to his eyes and briefly scanned the area. "No. There was plenty of fire damage to the woods, but none of the flames reached the trees near the stairs. I can't see anything out of the ordinary there. As for the temple itself, I sense a large amount of prana fluctuating, but that could easily be attributed to the leyline located there. My guess is that whoever's using the place as a base is taking advantage of it."
"It would explain all the people falling unconscious lately." The Tohsaka noted in a dark tone. In the past twenty four hours, the number of people that mysteriously fell unconscious nearly quadrupled, and some of those cases had resulted in fatalities. If the culprit was prompted to act irrationally due to the previous night's events, everything would match up. "Still just walking up to the front would be stupid. There's only one entrance and it would no doubt be heavily guarded by either the servant or by some kind of magic if it's Caster."
"In short the main entrance is one big trap in one way or another." Archer snorted. "Why am I not surprised?"
"Because you should have gone through this already Mr. Amnesia." The teen sarcastically replied.
"So that's where this feeling of déjà vu is coming from." The Servant chuckled, enjoying the wave of frustration that his master was unintentionally sending his way.
Despite the fact that he still did not have much to go by for this world, he was enjoying it more than he should have. Messing with Rin like this was almost worth the payback for every time she tricked him into doing "favors" for her back when he was alive. Now if only he had the fortune to be summoned with his full memories more often…
"Annoying comments aside, you're too relaxed." Rin managed to grind out after regaining control over her temper. "Shouldn't you be concerned that another Servant might appear and attack you?"
"No." The Servant of the bow shook his helmeted head and turned his attention to the new Servant he had detected approaching him a minute ago. "Under most circumstances that would be the case, however I have a feeling that this one is a bit different."
Moving faster than a blur and as quiet as a shadow, a black and purple clad Servant shot up from the edge of the building and landed a good distance away from Archer. It took the man from the future a moment to recognize Rider as she stood up straight and stiff from her animal like landing, however even with that knowledge he did not truly let down his guard. The fact that she didn't attack him upon sight was already a sign that she was there for alternative reasons.
From the few times he did look ahead in his alternate summoned self's experiences, he knew that the woman in front of him was none other than Medusa, certainly a dangerous opponent… however she was rarely one for teaming up or elaborate plans. Shinji, the deluded fool unfortunately ensured that more often than not.
As for Sakura... bad things tended to happen when Rider began moving enigmatically.
"Remember what I told you." Rin ordered out warily, trying to gain as much about the enemy as possible through her Servant's eyes. "She's pretty strong physically. She has no mask or conventional weapon, so Saber, Assassin, and Caster are out."
"I take it you are curious about the temple as well." Archer casually greeted the newcomer without truly relaxing. Given the nature of the war, it wouldn't be surprising if a fight broke out then and there. Accessing his reality Marble, he materialized a copy of Gae Bolg and spun it around deftly in his hands. Spears weren't his forte, but he could access the memories stored inside of most of them just as well as he could with swords. "Of course if you want to go a few rounds…"
Given that it was still at the beginning of the war, it could be assumed that many of the masters and servants didn't know of all the others. That being the case, Rin decided that it would be best for Archer to masquerade as Lancer for the time being, if nothing else than to inform others about Irishman's Noble Phantasm and hide his own.
Rider's body and muscles coiled like a dog's, ready to meet Archer's challenge in an instant, however she stiffened at the last moment before backing out of her earlier decision. Most likely her Master had managed to stop her at the last moment and was berating her.
Archer frowned. Come to think of it, there was no sight of her Master nearby meaning that he or she knew thaumaturgy. Did this mean that Sakura was in charge? Hopefully not. The worlds that he was summoned into where that happened normally did not turn out that well, and that was putting it lightly. He'd have to look more into this later.
"So what do you say?" Archer spoke up again. "You can talk, can't you?"
Rider remained quiet for a few more moments before slightly relaxing her stance. "That depends, do you think you are capable of taking on the Servants at the Temple Lancer?"
"Servants?" Rin and Archer echoed noting the woman's indication that there was more than one enemy nearby, one in disbelief and the other in skepticism.
In the back of her mind, Rin noted that the Servant in front of them couldn't be Berserker due to her ability to talk as well. Due to process of elimination and the fact that she obviously wasn't Lancer or Archer, it meant that the sultry woman there was Rider.
"Assassin." Rider spoke as if that would answer all their questions, albeit this time she too was somewhat surprised by it. Apparently her Master had been holding information from her.
"Son of a… of course." Rin clicked her teeth in irritation. "You wouldn't be able to detect that Servant from this distance. Not with Presence Concealment."
"Your Master seems to keep much to his chest if he didn't trust you with this information beforehand." Archer chuckled. "Although I am grateful that he saw it fit to share it with us as well."
He did note that she was surprised that one of the Servants at the temple was Assassin. It was almost as if she had been expecting a different class to be there instead… meaning she's likely encountered Caster and some other Servant before at the same time. More concerning information.
"Rider's Master wants to pair up with us and storm the place." Rin concluded factually to EMIYA. "That is, if they aren't the ones living there in the first place and trying to lead us into a trap."
"Only if Rider was already partnered with the Servant that's already in there." Archer pointed out. "And didn't you say that Rider most likely fought Caster in the battle that took down Sakura's home?"
"Most likely means it's still just a guess." Rin pointed out. "She could easily have been responsible for that giant patch of destroyed forest near home. It takes a Servant with a lot of firepower to mow down that much land in so little time, and Riders are known to having the strongest Noble Phantasms."
"Generally yes, but there are always exceptions." The Knight pointed out almost tiredly. "And if he is telling the truth, it might set us up to take Rider out after killing another two Servants. Three kills in a night wouldn't be that bad…"
"If they don't cross us first Archer." The Master interrupted. "Follow my instructions…"
"If you're so concerned about the two Servants and Masters in the temple, why isn't your Master here as well?" Archer asked out loud. "Surely he'd want his Servant to be as powerful as possible when against such odds, that is if he isn't craven or inept of course."
Rider's demeanor darkened slightly. For a time she was silent, obvious weighing whether or not she would say anything before admitting, "My Master is unfit to fight for the moment. Since the war began, he has already participated in several battles. He needs time to recover." Such an admission came out both grudgingly, yet with a hint of pride at the same time. It was difficult to tell with the way she spoke.
Since when the hell did Shinji grow a spine? This was a rare world indeed if that arrogant brat actually took it upon himself to actually do something useful enough that would earn even the mildest praise from a Servant. "Is that so? From what I can tell, none of the Servants have been defeated yet. I guess that means that your Master isn't that capable. Then again perhaps the Servant is at fault."
"And what excuse does your Master have?" Rider countered. She was used to getting insults, but she would not tolerate ones thrown at her Master, replacement or not. He deserved at much at the minimum for what he was doing.
Archer shrugged, ignoring Rin's answer. "Who knows? My Master's a flighty one. Certainly capable, but hard to read sometimes as are her mistakes. Always planning and plotting that one is."
"You keep talking like that and I'll show you how good I am at plotting you ungrateful spray tanned…!" Rin growled dangerously in his mind as the conversation continued on the outside.
"Just to make sure though, I noticed that your Master never specified the number of Servants at the temple." Archer continued, ignoring the teen's ranting. "We are talking about just two of them correct?"
Rider's head bowed down slightly as she no doubt was being told before raising it once again. "My master is unsure, however he said that there should be no more than three Servants there, and no less than two."
Archer's eyes narrowed. Three Servants? Did this mean that Saber or another Servant had been taken over by Rule Breaker already, or was there another Master and Servant pair that teamed up with Caster? And what was with the uncertainty? "I don't know about you, something isn't adding up here."
"My thoughts exactly." Rin agreed. "If Rider's Master already knew that Assassin, the hardest Servant of all to track, was there, how could he not be sure about the other one or two in the temple, let alone know that they were there? It wouldn't be that hard for most to wrongly guess that the Servant you're sensing is Assassin…"
"And yet… unless Rider's Master is a fool he would know that telling us this would be suspicious in the first place." Archer noted. "Even if it was true, telling us this would do him no favors in the end. It would have been better to just say there were two Servants there and use the potential third to kill us when our guard was down…"
"Then again, Rider herself could be the third Servant and is simply using us." Rin suggested in frustration. "But if she's telling the truth we're at a huge disadvantage by ourselves. We need to know more…"
"That sounds terribly suspicious if you ask me." Archer mused out loud. "If he wouldn't mind, would your Master be kind enough to tell us who he thinks the other Servants there are?"
This time they had to wait far shorter than before for Rider to speak. "He suspects that there is at least one Caster hiding in the temple."
Both Archer and Rin blinked at that. "At least one Caster? Can you make a little more sense? How can there be more than one Caster?"
"The Masters of both Casters somehow altered the ritual so they could summon separate variants of the same Servant." Rider explained. "We have battled before. While they are weaker somewhat than what is expected, together they are a significant force. However my Master is unsure of what to make of the current situation and the fact that we can only sense one Servant in the temple."
Well wasn't this peachy? Two Witches of Betrayal. As if one didn't give him enough headaches.
"I don't suppose you could give us their identity could you?" The Servant of the Bow asked casually, hoping to worm more information out of Rider's Master. At this point there was no doubt that they were telling the truth. Out of all the things that could have been made up, this one had been too outlandish and bizarre to simply have been made up on the spot.
"Only if you agree to join forces for the night and we encounter Caster." Rider countered without hesitating this time.
"So you do know who Caster is." Archer noted.
"They have different Noble Phantasms and abilities. With that many clues it was not difficult to determine her identity." Rider tilted her head to the side slightly, as if stating the obvious.
"Fair enough." EMIYA admitted. "Well Rin? Do we bite?"
"Just a few more questions." The Master replied.
"Just to be sure, you want us, both Servants with Masters away from here, to engage potentially three Masters and Servants on their territory that have access to one of the largest leylines in the area." Archer voiced his Master's skepticism. "Even if they are Casters and Assassin, I am not that content with those odds."
"Right now, Master only plans on skirmishing with the enemy to see what they have set up." Rider corrected. "It is likely they cannot move from the area, so we can retreat and return whenever we wish."
"So you basically want to take them out one by one over time." Archer concluded with a nod of understanding. "There is no need to take them out at once…"
"If you plan to sacrifice the well being of the people being drained by Caster after she begins to panic as her position crumbles around her, sure." Rin commented sarcastically. "I thought you were more cautious than this Shirou."
"… Then again if we do see an opportunity to finish it all at once, I don't see the reason why we can't take it." He continued without a moment's hesitation. Silently he made a note to be slightly more sympathetic to the mass' well being in the future, if only to play the part for as long as needed. "Even if they do have better mana supplies, we are far stronger than they are in single combat."
"We shall see what happens." Rider nodded as she turned to the temple. "As you are Lancer and stronger in direct combat, you will take point."
Archer silently swore as he realized that his bluff was unknowingly being called. "Rin…"
"Just go with it. The worst that can happen is you get called out for not being Lancer, and even then they'd probably assume that your copy won't work due to it being a fake." The girl answered with a hint of amusement. "Even then you'd get a pretty big audience when you do use that spear so in the end nothing's changed…"
"I'd still prefer it if people didn't know I could copy weapons." Archer countered somewhat irritably as he began to walk to the edge of the roof.
"They don't know the full scope of your abilities and they don't know how many weapons you have so it doesn't hurt you that much in the end." Rin argued. "For all they know you can only copy your swords and whatever weapon you saw recently as a one time trick. It would explain why you didn't copy Gae Bolg during your fight with Lancer…"
"I didn't copy it during the fight because Lancer would have killed me if I did. You know that." EMIYA frowned as he jumped off the building without a second thought.
"But they don't."
"While I am used to betting my life quite frequently, me being dead non-pending, there are far safer and reliable risks available Rin. If you don't mind, I think I'll be in charge of the overly suicidal decisions after tonight." The Servant sighed as he landed silently on the ground without any issue at all before leaping forward easily. He didn't need to look to know that Rider was close behind him, quiet as when she first arrived.
"Fine. You win. Far be it for me to argue with an expert of nearly getting killed all the time." The teen sarcastically replied.
"What a trusting Master I have." Archer chuckled as he disappeared into the darkness. "Now about Caster's identity..."
o. o. o.
"Shirou, is this wise?" Saber asked cautiously as she and Sakura stood in the back yard of the Emiya residence, looking at the redhead sitting lotus style in a large formalcraft circle. "You are still exhausted from your endeavors."
"Saber-san is right Shirou." Sakura worriedly went around the glowing circle for what seemed like the dozenth time to ensure that it was flawless. It was designed to aid Shirou's circuits in transferring prana to his body as smoothly and quickly as possible in addition to sending prana to Rider easier. All in all it was a fairly basic piece of work as far as Thaumaturgy went, but still a single mistake could easily have dire consequences for the user. "Even if you are restricting the amount of prana you are giving to Saber-san to the bare minimum, having Rider fight will put a heavy strain on you. If you push too much…"
"My Apostle blood will react." Shirou concluded with an understanding smile before taking out a small medicine pouch filled with red fluid. "I am fully aware of that. Believe me, I know the risks but I can't sit by and let Caster's position get stronger. We need to keep up the pressure and with another Servant helping the odds of drastically crippling her efforts are too good to pass up tonight."
"But the odds of you losing control are just as high." Saber frowned. "Even if you do have some blood, the lack of concentration and focus will put a great risk on Rider should it happen in a fight."
"Which is why I have this circle set up." The Emiya nodded as conjured his shroud into his left hand and placed it to his side much to the girls' surprise. Wordlessly the teen breathed deeply and began to meditate while basking in the moonlight. The Full Moon had yet to arrive, but without the Shroud of Martin blocking its effects, Shirou could feel his body reacting positively to it for the first time in months.
Sakura gasped as she realized what her savior was doing and turned to look at the moon shining around the edge of one of the few clouds that night. "Shirou! Don't tell me you're…"
"It's ok Sakura. This isn't the first time I've done something like this." Shirou interrupted as he continued his breathing exercises. "My contact has made me do this several times in order for me to get a better grasp on my… urges. What happened last time was simply an extreme case that occurred under extreme conditions. Unless we are attacked here while Rider is in the middle of a battle, the odds of it happening tonight are slim, and even then Saber at the moment can fight all out without an additional supply for a good while."
Saber's eyes narrowed as she looked at the blood pouch in the teen's possession. "And I assume that pouch contains no ordinary blood?"
This time the Master did have the nerve to look sheepish as he shifted slightly at the accusation. "Given what the night entailed, I thought it would only be efficient if I drank Rider's blood to maximize our connection from this distance. I asked her to donate this right before dinner."
Sakura eyed the blood with hints of jealousy, concern, and fear. "And you are sure nothing bad will happen if you drink it? How often have you done… this?"
"I don't do this much and to be honest this is the first time without 'proper supervision'." Shirou admitted as he ripped a small hole from the top of the pouch. "Normally I just get a bit more prana and am a bit more energetic, but I've never drank blood of this quality and potency before."
There was a brief pause.
"And before you ask, no I do not like drinking blood in the slightest. The taste, feeling, and mere action of doing this are simply wrong and I wouldn't do it in the first place if it wasn't for my condition. Even then I've only done it to get used to the sensation so I don't lose control over myself by accident." He added somewhat stubbornly before glaring at the pouch in his hands. "I can barely get half a mouthful down without throwing it back up."
"And the blood you have drunk before?" Saber hesitantly inquired, not sure if it was a question she should be asking.
"Donated blood stolen from a local hospital. I personally made sure of that." Shirou grimaced as he leered at the pouch, clearly indicating that he disliked what he was about to do. "How normal magi manage to stomach drinking this to power their spells, I will never know." A few more seconds of preparation later the teen got over his hesitation and began to drank from the small plastic container with a displeased grunt.
Both Saber and Sakura winced slightly as they saw the teen downing a fraction of the container with effort, the look of displeasure clearly visible on his face as he swallowed the coppery crimson fluid. Despite this, not a single drop had gone anyplace other than his mouth.
He stopped after about a quarter of the way through the medicine pouch and made no effort to hide his distaste for what he had done by resealing the pouch with his magic and putting it to the side. Not even a moment later he had taken out a bottle of water and took slow but moderate sips from it, no doubt to get rid of the taste. Give from how controlled his drinking was, this was far from the first time he had done something like this.
He made no comment that though he loathed the action and scent, the actual taste of Rider's blood was deceptively appealing to his treacherous senses. That was worrying. Before, the taste of blood was disgusting, but now... it was best if he didn't make this a habit. He drank the water to eradicate the taste off his tongue and hope that this was only a result of yesterday's incident that would wear away with enough time.
It was only when he had put the bottle down that Sakura spoke up. "Well? Did it work?"
"I'm never going to get used to this. Thankfully." Shirou spat out the last mouthful of water before he breathed in deeply and resumed his meditation. Though he didn't show it, his body was already flourishing from the deceptively large boost in prana it had just received, causing all his nerves to tingle pleasantly right down to his fingertips. Merem's comments on Divine blood during his lessons apparently held some merit after all. "Mmm. Yeah. I can definitely feel a stronger connection to Rider now, and her blood is full of prana. I'm going to have a much easier time than I thought like this if everything works out."
"And how are things working out for Rider?" Saber questioned, glad to have a change of topic.
"She's just reached the temple stairs with Lancer… or Archer. He uses a spear but he doesn't match the description of what Lancer is supposed to look or act like from my sources." Shirou replied before closing his eyes and further controlling his breathing. "It would be easier to tell if I could actually see him, but Rider's blindfold makes that hard to do."
Saber didn't say anything, but she suspected that if Archer was the Counter Guardian he was simply using a traced copy of Lancer's weapon to fool the other teams. It was a weak disguise that would not last long in the war, but still a potentially useful one for the time being.
It brought a bitter memory to mind, however, as she recalled the actions of Lancelot in the previous Grail War. How her fallen knight had tricked her by taking the guise of Rider, killing Maiya, and kidnapping Irisviel.
Back then, she had figured that Kiritsugu was too cold to give much care for the loss, but now...
"I hope this works Shirou." Sakura worriedly said out loud as she began to watch for any signs of the opposite. Should something indeed go wrong, it would be her job to ensure that Shirou's condition didn't get out of hand and stabilize him while Saber remains on guard duty against any possible external threats. Unlike Rider, Saber could fight for a good long time against even stronger opponents with minimal support from her master.
"Don't worry about me Sakura." The Emiya sighed without breaking the rhythm of his breathing. "Save it for Rider. She has the hardest part."
o. o. o.
Nothing was hidden from them. Their eyes and ears were everywhere. From the darkest shadows, to the tiniest crevices they were there. They beheld everything there was to see, naught could be kept from them. From the sewers to the rooftops they watched and listened.
So small they were, so unimportant they were in the scheme of things that they went unnoticed. The witches felt no magic from them and ignored them. The bleeding unconscious woman and her wounded follower waited with the master of their King, never noticing they were underfoot. The girl who was no child and the black death did not see them, though the two false ones waged war ever upon them for other reasons in the castle. The prideful one and the guardian gazed elsewhere, never focusing on them. The dragon and the shadow knew of their lords, but did not seek them out. The stone worker and rusted sword were holed up in their dwelling with rules that permitted no entrance, however they too were constantly observed once they left their home.
The young king no doubt knew of their existence. He always did even if he pretended not to, but even he was not aware of them all the time and made no comment of them to his fellows.
Only the snake saw them, only the snake kept an eye on them, but she did nothing. Nor would they attempt to draw her ire. She, above all, terrified them... save perhaps the black death.
So small were their bodies, so inconspicuous their existence that none of them were caught in their work. For the King, for the King they go. Nothing would stop them in their task as they watched and reported, whilst war waged between the kingdom of tight crevices and shadows against the rotting worms.
o. o. o.
Both Rider and Archer knew something was wrong before even going up the first step of the temple.
First of all was the classic lack of local wildlife in the area, indicating that something had scared them all off. Any experienced hunter or traveler of the world could recognize this sign in a heartbeat, even in this day and age where humanity's sensitivity to nature was weakened to the point of being crippled.
The saturated air was another clue. Even though they were on virtually the largest leyline in Fuyuki, there was a limit to how much would leak out into the environment. Had this been the norm for the area, the entire city would have probably been taken over by the Church or the Association by now to prevent the local populace from discovering the source. As oblivious as humans were at times, even the normal one would be able to tell that this location was off in some way.
The third was…
"Blood." Rider stated calmly as she looked up the stairs. They had decided to go up together to ensure that they would not get picked off one by one in case of an ambush.
"Mmm." Archer nodded as he recognized the very faint scent through the lingering smoke that hovered in the air. During his years traveling the world while alive checking the area for spilled blood became one of the first things he did in order to determine the safety of an unknown location. "We aren't the first ones to try and get through it seems. Given how faint the trail is I'm guessing that the previous visitors came a while ago. Maybe even yesterday."
Rider didn't bother to say anything as she began to climb up the steps.
The Servant next to her made her uncomfortable. Due to the fact that her Breaker Gorgon sealed off her sight, it was no surprise that her other senses including her prana detection abilities were amplified to the point of keeping up with other servants in direct combat. While this prevented her from performing simple tasks such as reading and describing other Servants adequately, it did enable her to properly gauge other people, discern their secrets, and tell when they were hiding something…
So when she came across this Servant who somehow shared more than a few similarities with her temporary Master in prana, scent, voice tone, and body structure, it was more than enough to put her on guard. Not enough that Shirou or this Servant could tell, but it would take much for this newcomer to catch her by surprise now.
His declaration to be Lancer for example was one thing that she highly doubted. She was very well aware of Shirou's ability to recreate Noble Phantasms, having heard (much to her secret pleasure) of his skewering of Caster with a copy of the spear of the previous war's Lancer. Considering what she knew of the boy from her conversations with Sakura and what other classes were taken, she was willing to bet that the Servant with her was Archer, not Lancer.
Still, summoning a Servant whose legend took place in the future was unexpected. Summoning a Servant who happened to be a Master in the same war in life even more so.
No. Rider was not fooled. In fact this had not been the first world that she in one way or another had come to this conclusion.
In one of the realities that Kiritsugu had viewed where Shirou had focused his attention on Sakura, Rider had indeed come to this conclusion far before the unfortunate Servant had met his end and donated his arm to his counterpart. The semi-frequent interactions between both Master and Servant counterparts had allowed her to learn enough about them to come to the correct conclusion.
The only reason why she said nothing then was because there was no purpose in doing so. Her main objective was to protect Sakura, and Shirou's predicament, while admittedly bizarre, had no relevance to the issue at hand. Later when the boy proved himself to be of use in protecting Sakura, she once more withheld the information simply due to the fact that it would do more harm than good, further destabilizing the young man's deteriorating mind and reducing his value to her plans…
But that was another time in another reality. Unaware of how her alternate selves would have reacted, Rider decided to simply observe and stay on guard near the Servant. Bringing up her observations at this time would hinder the mission. Besides, something about this 'Lancer' was off, and that was not including the fact that he did not seem to have any Apostle blood in the slightest.
His prana was peculiar. It was not tainted but more… altered or twisted for some reason.
At the very least, she would consult this discovery with Saber when she returned. The petite blonde was if nothing else a reliable confident for this sort of information.
A slight disturbance in the woods nearby, impossible to detect by mere human perceptions snapped her out of her thoughts.
They were halfway up the third flight of stairs when a, somewhat, small Servant appeared on top of the fifth without warning. Wrapped in a giant dirty brown cloak that covered his body and facial features save his nose and mouth, the previously undetected Servant looked down at them with unnatural stoicism. There was no killing intent or emotion that could be felt from him, a sign of his unnerving ability to control himself. While Rider was noted to be unnaturally quiet most of the time, even she could not control herself to this degree.
The Servant in front of them was without a doubt Assassin. Anyone in the know would have easily determined that this was certainly NOT Sasaki Kojirou.
"If you try to continue, I will stop you." The man said in little more than a whisper so that it reached the other Servants' ears. Straight, yet not arrogant. On guard, but his possible future movements still hidden. Nothing about him displayed what he was thinking or what he could do. Much like his posture, his voice betrayed no emotion, speaking the words as if reading them disinterestedly from a script.
"That is to say that if we don't you'll leave us be?" Archer raised an eyebrow skeptically, and getting a shallow nod in response. Different Servant, same relationship with Caster it seemed. He looked at Rider briefly. "Quite the talker isn't he?"
The woman turned slightly to Archer to give him a dry look even with her blindfold on before once more focusing on Assassin.
"You're a regular riot Archer." Rin sarcastically drawled in his mind. "Just kill him already before one of the Caster's come. Whatever his abilities and Noble Phantasm are, I doubt they'll make up for his stats. You could probably take him out by yourself and still be in good shape for the next fight."
The albino sighed as he readied the spear in his hands. Without looking he could tell that Rider was also preparing as the soft clinking of her dagger and chains met his ears. "Sorry, but my Master's pretty intent on making a clean sweep of this place. No hard feelings."
Assassin merely lowered his head and whispered under his breath. It was only due to Rider's enhanced hearing and Archer's sharp eyes that they were able to tell what he had said.
"… Tools of the Trade."
Just as Archer and Rider launched themselves forward to attack Assassin, the latter party's cloak moved for the first time to reveal a one handed machine gun in response which subsequently fired relentlessly in a wide spray a fraction of second later.
As fast as Archer and Rider were, even they would not be able to reach Assassin fast enough from their positions to stop the counterassault.
"A gun?!" Archer, Shirou, and Rin mentally shouted in surprise and confusion as both Servants moved their weapons quickly to deflect the blows, slowing their advance drastically in the process. The bullets were not strong, being D rank at best and easily deflectable by both attackers. Even Rider's nameless dagger and chain was enough to suitably handle them in her deadly fast hands.
However, though weak in power, the attacks made up in quantity as dozens if not hundreds of metal slugs rained down on the two in seconds, forcing them to stop early and land on the space between the third and fourth flight of stairs…
The landing erupted in fire as the explosives hidden under the stone walkway went off without discrimination at the prompting of Assassin's other hand setting off the trigger mechanism. Said device was subsequently thrown away without regard an instant later and replaced with a canister with the ring on its top already ripped off and tossed lazily down where the debris was. All the while the machine gun Noble Phantasm in his other hand had continued to fire relentlessly.
Despite the metal rain that hailed down on the area that had just self destructed, Archer had still managed to erupt from the debris ready for battle. He was not unharmed however as the scratches and cuts that littered his body and armor were clearly visible for all to see. The biggest change had been that he had abandoned the crimson spear he had been wielding earlier for his favored black and white falchions. Each Chinese weapon blurred or melted in the night as they deflected and blocked any and all bullets that came near him, cracking the darkness with sparks every time another slug collided with the blades…
Due to the continued onslaught of bullets, he was helpless to do anything as the flash bang grenade erupted with ferocity right above his head, instantly crippling his sight and hearing for the time being and allowing a good dozen bullets to graze or tear into non lethal parts of his body.
It was only a good dozen bullets however because instead of pressing the assault, Assassin had moved quickly from his position to the woods to his left just as Rider had attempted to sneak an attack on him from his right. Like Archer, Rider had not suffered the bombing unscathed. In fact her wounds were noticeably deeper than her temporary partner's due to the lack of armor. Despite this fact though, she seemed to be uninhibited by her wounds as she moved through the trees with frightening speed and agility, able to strike at any given moment.
However two things had prevented her from pursuing her target as he disappeared into the woods in front of her.
The first was the remaining salvo of bullets that had been turned onto her from the exposed fake Lancer. Its wide spray was not designed for combating opponents, but for suppressive fire to ensure that the target would be forced to defend and not dodge. Unless the target had an unnaturally strong defense or was skilled enough to avoid the random sporadic wide ranged attack, he or she would be forced to focus on blocking in order to avoid taking excessive minor damage.
… But his targets were not normal. They were Heroic spirits, people and creatures of legend that humanity revered in awe and respect. Such a simple common tool would not be enough to kill any of them. Not by itself and not like this. As such its purpose was clear as day. Assassin had never intended to kill either Servant with this weapon, only to slow them down or keep them in place. To control their movements and the flow of battle to what he deemed was suitable.
If that was all he had been relying on to keep Rider away, it would not have sufficed as the moment he reached the woods the weapon had ceased unleashing its load and simply dry fired. Only one single click was made before Assassin simply tossed away the tool that supposedly made up his legend and disappeared into the darkness…
The second thing that prevented her from pressing her advance and made her lose sight of her target were the clattering round objects that smelled of chemicals that the Servant had dropped before retreating…
A second explosion echoed through the area as the fragment grenades erupted with vigor, sending shrapnel indiscriminately in every direction and tearing up the landscape in the process. Rider, having already experienced Assassin's explosives one time too many already, wisely retreated into the woods just in time for the trees to absorb a great deal of the metal shards.
Fragmentation grenades were primarily used against infantry and worked best in enclosed areas like bunkers or bedrooms. As their main method of doing damage was to send out high velocity metal pellets that were the fraction the size of a normal bullet, their ability to do damage to hard objects such as metal and wood was for the most part superficial so long as they weren't set off in a tiny enclosed space such as say a washing machine or a microwave.
Such results were clearly absent in this case.
The closest unblocked trees to the grenade on either side of the stairs were all torn to shreds by the enhanced explosive before they were halted by the plants behind them. The flat stone landing the explosive discharged on had a sizeable metal ridden crater in it, and many of the stairs leading up to the temple had been gouged and chipped.
Archer had been fortunate as he was still on the lower flight of stairs when the bomb went off and used the blind spot made by his position to escape unharmed.
"Tch. What an annoying opponent." EMIYA muttered as his eyes and ears readjusted themselves enough to see Rider virtually fly over the stairway to where Assassin had apparently disappeared. Moments later his ringing ears could just barely make out the sound of single shots being fired in the woods, meaning that either Assassin had switched weapons or he was conserving ammo. "Rin. Care to explain why on earth I felt that flashbang grenade was a Noble Phantasm?"
"Tools of the Trade. A multipurpose, multifunctional, supplementary Noble Phantasm that ranges from E to C rank." Rin supplied as she dissected the information she had gained from watching the fight through Archer's eyes. Thankfully since she was speaking into his mind, he didn't have trouble hearing her over his recovering ears. "It pretty much gives the user a finite amount of disposable modern weapons and tools that include guns and explosives. Versatile and useful, but if he runs out in the middle of a fight he's screwed. The stock and contents reloads at midnight every night, but it can change then depending on what he feels he needs at the time… who the hell has this kind of Noble Phantasm!? Don't tell me that this is that Simo Hayha guy you talked about earlier!"
"No. The White Death did use a machine gun on occasion for close range combat, but he never used explosives in the stories." Archer frowned. "He has Eye of the Mind doesn't he? His movements are too well coordinated to be simple skill."
"Eye of the Mind True A, but downgraded to B+ due to his E ranked Mental Pollution. Subversive Activities A. Thaumaturgy C. Presence concealment B+. Independent Action C? Even if we kill his Master, it sounds like this guy would still manage to kill off a third of the participants in this war if he was left to do his own thing!"
"No kidding. At the very least we can determine that he is a professional trap maker and strategist. If he wanted to he could break all of his weapons and use them without worry since they'll just come back again at midnight." The albino frowned as his vision and hearing began to clear up. A few more seconds and he'd be able to fight suitably again.
Even so this new opponent was not someone he was getting good feelings about. His abilities meshed far too well together to simply write off as just another target. "Something doesn't add up though. When he set off that first bomb it felt more like something of a B rank, and I don't think he broke the thing or upgraded it with some sort of spell. I would have detected it if it were the case."
It was a close call, but the reason why he managed to come out with so little damage was due to his quick prior tracing of Kanchou and Bakuya for the extra enchanted defense to better handle the bullets and his armor handling a good portion of the damage. It was only convenient luck that he brought them out before the bomb exploded.
"B rank? How can that… hold on there's one more skill he has that might explain it. Opportunist. A+. Never heard of this ability before. Hold on… a…" There was a brief pause. "Archer! Go help out Rider NOW!"
The red and black night didn't bother questioning his Master's orders as he took off into the woods. "I take it this skill is something to worry about." He stated dryly. His eyes had yet to fully recover, but it would suffice for the time being.
"Listen to me and listen well. If Rider dies by the time you arrive, get out of there by any means necessary. If she is still alive, back her up as best as you can until the target is killed. Assassin is not a servant you can defeat here by yourself. Structurally grasp everything and I do mean EVERYTHING around you if you can and never for a second let your defenses down. If Rider is alive, have her cover your blind spots. Being caught off guard by this Servant in particular is more dangerous than you think." The Tohsaka warned seriously.
Archer couldn't help but blink in surprise. "I appreciate the concern, but aren't you underestimating me a bit?"
There was a moment's hesitation. "I seriously hope so Archer. Because if I'm not then there's a good chance that there will be two Servants killed tonight, and Assassin won't be one of them."
Whatever Archer was going to say was cut off as a large series of explosions shook the landscape nearby. Wasting no time, the Servant of the Bow rushed through the forest at fast as he could while scanning his surroundings. There were indeed a few random traps and explosives hidden nearby, both in the earth below and in the foliage above, but none in his way and far less in number than he expected, so he ignored them. Apparently the saboteur's stockpile of tricks was more limited than he had originally thought. He sensed that both Rider and Assassin were nearby so obviously the bombs had not killed anyone…
However that did not mean that no one had emerged unscathed as he appeared in one of the parts of the forest that had burned down the previous night. Whatever the fire had left standing had clearly not survived the wrath of the explosives that just went off as Archer could see nothing but burnt tinder and the rare limbless black trunk sticking out of the ground… well the parts of the ground that weren't occupied by craters at least. The smell of smoke in the air was more than distinct enough to tell that the fire was still fresh.
For the briefest of moments, the image of another fire, another hell, another war, flashed before Archer's eyes before they were occupied with the image of his partner who had clearly seen better days.
Accompanying the cuts and burns from her previous explosives encounter were new ones that riddled her body and tore open her clothes. While her appearance was not akin to some of the more adult manga that was out in Japan that revealed virtually every part of the female's body, she was still clearly more exposed than she was before.
Her distinct physical injuries however removed any chance of the sight being appealing to Archer. In fact he was somewhat curious as to whether or not she could even use her left arm...
"You're still alive." EMIYA stated calmly as he landed behind her and scanned the area. Already he could see a good deal of traps in the living forestry surrounding the charred land. Clearly Assassin had not retreated here by choice. "Is he that fast?"
"Faster than he looks." The woman grunted as she held her side. As a Servant she did recover faster than a normal human, and it did take more to kill her than most, but it was still not a wound she wanted to have in the middle of a battle. "Tricky more than anything. He probably has little direct combat ability."
"So my Master's gathered." Archer snorted. "I take it yours' less than helpful since he can't use your eyes." He took her silence as a yes. "Let me just say that having Assassin surprise you gives him more benefits than expected."
"I see…" Rider nodded, already understanding why Archer was at her back while keeping an eye out for Assassin. "Plan?"
Before Archer could reply, another voice was heard. "She will realize we are fighting soon. You should run."
"Well aren't we the pacifist?" Rin growled. "Try to keep him talking."
"She?" The albino mused loudly. "Don't you mean "they"? There are two Casters in this war you know, and we are quite aware that at least one of them is hiding out in the temple."
There was the briefest of disturbances in the woods to Rider's left. It was impossible for a normal human to detect, but not so for the woman who instantly managed to pinpoint his location. She did nothing however as she was not in a condition to exploit it yet. Either they would have to wait for her to heal more, or Assassin would have to come closer in some way.
"So you didn't know… isn't that interesting." Archer continued after several moments of silence, memorizing where every trap in his range of shooting was. "Considering what I've been told, it's the Witch that's probably staying here, not the Princess."
Rider could tell that Assassin's breathing was slightly deeper now. This information unsettled him for some reason, but he hid it well. Other than that though the Servant was well hidden and too far away to attack herself… but if her partner was indeed a future version of her Master…
With a slight urge on Rider's part, the pair began to rotate slowly and irregularly as if they were attempting to complicate things for the hunter. Knowing the woman had something in mind, Archer went along with it while still keeping his senses up and memorizing all the trap locations.
"I take it you aren't after the Grail then." Archer continued almost mockingly while continuing to rotate. He had not turned much, but it was enough to give him a good idea of where most of the traps in the area were. Also through process of elimination he could most likely figure out the general location of Assassin was. His stealth abilities were good, but not perfect. "To be so considerate of two of your targets in this war is quite abnormal… either that or you must really hate your Master."
Unlike before, Assassin did respond to this accusation. "… My interest in the Grail is the same as yours Archer."
The man in red and black froze momentarily. For some reason Assassin had been talking about him in particular, that there was some underlying meaning to what he had just said. The way such an emotionless individual could so calmly speak as if knowing something about him unsettled the Counter Guardian more than he would like to admit. "What do you mean by…"
"Above!" Rider shouted in alarm as she noticed the three grenades falling towards the before her accomplice did.
Swearing for letting his guard down, Archer reacted as fast as any Servant could and materialized his bow in the time it took for him to look up. The next instant was then occupied with a flurry of metal arrows that hammered and deflected the explosives away into the sky. Moments later the overcharged fragment grenades unleashed their fury in the sky violently, unleashing their payload that leveled a nearby section of the forest with terrifying ease…
However Archer and Rider were not aware of this.
The instant before the pair had turned their focus onto the grenades, Assassin had separated himself from the shadows of the forest from another side of the clearing to once more go on the attack. While Archer deflected the grenades, Rider had attempted to intercept the dangerous individual who had taken out another small single handed machine gun identical to the previous one earlier. Rider had expected that once Archer could turn to Assassin the fight would be made. There was more power behind arrows than bullets. Archer could-
The woman's thoughts were interrupted as the bullets that came from Assassin's new gun flew towards her with sickeningly higher speed and power compared to the previous iteration. Despite logic that stated that this tool was no different than the last, the results proved the complete opposite. If the last weapon was considered roughly D rank, each bullet from this new one was B… no A rank.
How this was possible was beyond Rider's ability to determine as each slug that managed to come in contact with her person tore and exploded through her flesh with ease. Every link of her chain that encountered a bullet was either knocked aside or shattered under the force they were hammered with. It was all she could do to defend her vitals from the onslaught, using her progressively damaged limbs to deflect the small attacks so that she could survive another moment…
What seemed like an eternity to her however merely lasted at most a couple of seconds as Archer turned his attention to the real threat and fired off as many arrows as he could to match Assassin's attack.
What once was the sound of flesh being torn off piece by piece was replaced by the hammering noise of countless pieces of metal surfaces impacting one another so ruthlessly that to most ears it would sound like more bombs going off in rapid succession.
Whether it was the sound of metal striking metal or the sudden vacancy of bullets striking Rider that gave her the notion to move, Archer wasn't sure, but none the less as soon as the opening was made the blindfolded woman made a hasty retreat faster than anyone assumed she could into the forest behind Archer like a wounded animal would and disappeared into the darkness. How she managed to do so without encountering any more traps was anyone's guess.
"Guess I'm doing this one solo." EMIYA grunted to himself as he continued to focus on trying to deflect the hailstorm of bullets flying in his direction.
Having regained most of his eyesight, the Servant could clearly see why Rider had been so caught off guard. While the gun firing the bullets was identical to the previous one used, the bullets themselves had been modified to hell. Not only did each one have a spell on them to increase their speed so much that they actually gained a rank in firepower, but every damn bullet was BROKEN as well, saturated with so much prana that they were virtually unstable mini-bombs in bullet form.
… Combined with Opportunist, a skill that when high enough not only prevents surprise attacks from being detected and defended from the target's skills, but actually enhances their power by yet another damn rank…
Assassin did not have high physical stats… because Assassin had no need for them.
So long as he played his cards right, all his Noble Phantasms and killing blows would be THREE RANKS higher than what they originally were. His D ranked attacks would have enough power to kill Berserker, BERSERKER of all Servants if used right.
A disposable Noble Phantasm that could reset itself allowed him to break his weapons as much as he pleased...
Presence Concealment to ensure that he could get himself into a suitable ambushing position whenever he wished…
Subversive Activities to manage and maneuver large numbers of targets at once without issue...
Thaumaturgy to weave around any of the other Master's defenses and enhance his own core abilities…
Eye of the Mind True to control and maneuver the other parties as he saw fit…
Rin was right to be afraid. The Servant in front of him right now was without a doubt a monster unlike anything the Grail War has seen before. This Assassin's specialty did not focus in combat, stealth, or cunning. He utilized them yes, masterfully so, but they were not his focus.
This Assassin was simply a practitioner of murder in the most efficient way possible. It was as simple as that.
Unlike other legends who achieved great deeds of climbing buildings, saving princesses, killing monsters, escaping traps, deciphering the secrets of the world, mastering fighting styles, wielding mystical weapons, leading cults, fighting wars, defending the poor, leading armies, befriending mystical races, using magic, brewing potions, being royalty, speaking to god, or some other foolish reason… this man achieved significance simply by killing humans with his own two hands. No more. No less.
He knew how people thought. What they expected and when. How to exploit such expectations and the best tools to use given the situation… and he did so with such absurd efficiency that the nameless common tools he used, ones that should never have been even considered mystical weapons by any person on the planet, became such in his hands. Assassin had no need for something like a legendary blade to aide him, his skills alone were more than enough.
This spirit without a doubt excelled in killing humans of all types when he was alive. This war consisted of nothing but human legends and Magi. Most of which probably followed some code of conduct that could and would be exploited in one way or another.
Right now he was alone right in the middle of an area his opponent had spent a good deal of time setting up. And if that wasn't bad enough, Assassin still had a free hand to pull whatever else he had under his cloak...
EMIYA was in trouble and he damn well knew it.
"Shirou! Get the hell out of there! Caster's probably coming by now! You can't handle both at once like this!" Rin shouted worriedly in his head, actually using his name instead of his rank to get the point across.
"I'm working on it. This is harder than it looks." The Servant grunted as he attempted to back away while countering the salvo that attempted to tear him apart. Despite his inhuman archery and aiming skills, he was unable to intercept all the bullets that came at him, which resulted in multiple grazing shots getting through. Thankfully since he was on guard and aware of the situation, the power for each bullet aiming at him was merely bumped to roughly B rank in power, which was why he could deflect them at all. His constant retreating and the wide spray of the bullets also ensured that there were progressively less slugs for him to intercept as time went on.
"If you're having so much trouble use Rho Aias or spam your swords damn it! Now isn't the time to hold back!" The girl shouted in frustration.
What the hell was this version of me doing before the war? The Servant mentally yelled as he backed up some more. "That takes more focus than I can spare right now." Just a bit more and he'd be close enough to escape into the forest…
Or he would have had Assassin not bolted straight towards him while firing in order to avoid a nail and chain strike down at him from the forest above like a serpent. Apparently Rider had not abandoned the fight like he had initially thought.
Archer clicked his teeth in frustration as he decided to get risky and quickly jumped back more than he would have dared before. To the normal human he was already nothing more than a red blur in the night, but to the slightly faster Assassin he was simply a target that was just slightly out of reach…
That was until the pursuing Servant suddenly and inexplicably doubled in speed in an instant.
Even to a Servant whose eyes were as sharp as Archer's Assassin had almost vanished from view being rendered a blur whose details were all but indistinguishable. The barest glint of silver was all the knight could use as a hint before the mysterious Servant had attempted to stab his neck with a large hunting knife.
Not broken or enhanced with thaumaturgy, but still upgraded to D rank due to his surprise tactics… Archer observed as he had managed to deflect the attack at the last moment with a hastily traced Kanshou in his left hand, Bakuya already in his right in an attempt to kill the target while his guard was down only for the man to jump back and block the tip of the white blade at the last instant to get out of striking range.
"When you hear it, jump."
"What are…" Archer attempted to question his assaulter on this random bit of advice, however he was interrupted the nail and chain struck down from the forest again from above and forced the target to retreat… but not before dropping two more grenades from his cloak to either side of the Knight, preventing him from knocking away both of them in time to escape. "You have got to be-!"
Having jumped back at the last moment and used the flats of his blades to protect his vitals, Archer managed to sustain the brunt of the explosives without taking too much damage, and moving in the same direction of the simultaneous blasts helped somewhat. Despite this however his limbs still sustained a good deal of shredding from the flying pieces of metal that flew at him from either side. By the time he had managed to regain his footing and inspected the clearing however, Assassin had once again disappeared into the darkness that even his hawk like eyes could not pierce. "Damn it!"
"Caster is coming." Rider stated as she appeared behind the Knight, though clearly not in any shape to fight. Her body and limbs was littered with blood, cuts, and chunks of skin torn off her body. Had she been human she would have most likely died of blood loss or shock by this point. In fact Archer was surprised that her Master had not called her back by now… then again if it was Shinji…
"We're having enough trouble with just Assassin." The Faker grunted as he felt Caster's presence approach rapidly from the temple. "I don't suppose you think we can handle them both at once do you?"
Much to his surprise, Rider chuckled bitterly. "You should consider it a miracle I stayed behind for you in my condition in the first place." She silently cursed the fact that she was so badly injured not just for her own sake, but for what this would do to her Master. Even now she could feel him push as much prana into her wounded body as possible from his distant home. It was fortunate that he had somehow managed to strengthen their connection and she had provided plenty of blood beforehand. Both of them would need as much help as possible to recover from this snafu adequately.
Archer snorted as he began to back up towards the city. "If that's the case, I believe we are in consensus then…" A single shot from the darkness interrupted their conversation and forced him to deflect the bullet with Kanchou. "Follow me. I'll take out the traps on the way while you cover my back."
Without waiting or a response, the Knight turned and ran into the forest while simultaneously tracing his bow and shooting at the traps he had memorized the locations of earlier. Not bothering to watch his targets self destruct, the two black Servants bolted through the forest as if they weren't injured and their limbs weren't torn to shreds.
For every trap Archer triggered ahead of them, Rider managed to deflect two shots coming from the hidden Assassin behind, resulting in the black woods echoing a symphony of explosions, gunshots, and metal hitting metal that would put any clearly exaggerated Hollywood action film to shame.
Faster and faster the participants weaved, clashed, and fought through the trees, not even bothering to touch the ground at this point as their speed more than enabled them to travel from trunk to trunk without issue, kicking off each one with enough force that to a normal human's eyes the limbs above appeared to be spontaneously combusting…
And then the forest opened up suddenly to reveal the town of Fuyuki, complete with a completely unaware populace that the participants of the war for the most part had deemed should stay unaware. The instant the two retreating Servants had crossed the first street into the residential area, and had confirmed that Assassin had stopped shooting at them, they had instantly taken cover and gone into spiritual form to ensure their escape.
Standing on the edge of the forest and just out of sight, Assassin quietly watched as the two spirits gained further distance.
"You let them escape." Caster stated in a clearly displeased tone from right behind him. "Had you not revealed yourself in the first place, you could have easily taken care of both of them like you did with Lancer."
The Servant of Murder said nothing as his left hand under his cloak reached for a new tool…
o. o. o.
"Well that certainly could have gone better." Archer snorted bitterly as he and Rider rematerialized on top of the building they had originally met on. Both Servants had clearly seen better days as they bled a great deal from various parts of their bodies with Rider clearly being in worse shape of the two.
"What do you intend to do now?" Medusa questioned softly, her body showing small animalistic signs of preparing to flee at a moment's notice.
EMIYA chuckled. "Well we could fight to the death right now, but I personally find that a poor choice and I suspect my Master does too. Not with those two still holed up."
Rider nodded slowly. "We shall deal with Assassin and Caster first then. A temporary truce… Archer." She no longer had any patience to play ignorant about his class any longer. His identity however...
"Guilty as charged." The identified Servant admitted without hesitation. "Perhaps next time we'll even bother to use our Noble Phantasms. If push comes to shove, I'll just waste the area from up here."
The woman frowned behind her blindfold. "We shall see Ar-"
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
o. o. o.
In the near distance the roof of the tallest building in the area erupted in fire and debris that lit up a good portion of the district in a ominous orange glow, giving Caster a spectacular image to behold from the Ryudou Temple entrance.
Assassin on the other hand was already walking away uninterested in the chaos he had sewn, having tossed aside the trigger for the explosives and disappeared into the night. The fact that he had just attacked a residential building with people living on all floors, including the top one seemed to not matter at all to him.
The Witch of Betrayal looked at where her unwilling Servant had vanished and suppressed a shudder running down her spine.
There was no mistake about it. Berserker may be the strongest participant in the war, however Assassin was by far the greatest threat to everyone.
o. o. o.
Servant Stats as seen by Shirou Emiya:
Master: Caster (Witch of Betrayal)
Alignment: Chaotic Good
Noble Phantasm: B
Presence Concealment: B+
Independent Action: C
A skill possessed only by those that truly excel in finding and exploiting weaknesses and openings. At higher ranks this ability can not only prevent the target's abilities from interfering with the Servant's actions, but enhance the power of said actions as well.
The higher the ranking of this skill, the more one's spiritual status as a hero declines.
At this level, all attacks and activities performed by the Servant that are either initially undetected by the target or possess significant effects that said target are unaware of are no longer mere actions, but considered phenomena accepted and enforced by Fate and Gaia. All attacks performed that catch the target unawares in some way are raised by one rank, and all skills that could interfere with it require a luck check in order to function, however the rank adjustment will still remain.
The only surefire way to defend against such attacks would be to have a constant defense up at the time of said event, however due to the nature of the ability and the Servant possessing it, the likelihood of such a brute force method occurring is small.
Subversive Activities: A
The talent to reduce the enemy forces in the preliminary stages before going into battle. An expert of traps.
The higher the ranking of this skill, the more one's spiritual status as a hero declines.
At this rank it is possible to disable nearly 60% of the total military force before the enemy advances.
Mental Pollution: E
Makes it highly possible to shut out any mental interference thaumaturgy due to possessing a distorted mentality. However at the same time it becomes impossible to come to an understanding with individuals that do not possess an equivalent rank of mental pollution.
At this rank, the Servant is provided with a resistance to mental interference thaumaturgy, though the odds of said attacks be rendered completely ineffective is unlikely. Psyche wise, the Servant is mostly functional in human society save for when certain subjects are brought up or when the Servant makes certain decisions. In such events it is difficult if not impossible to change the Servant's mind and actions through normal or peaceful means.
Eye of the Mind (True): B+ (Reduced from A due to Mental Pollution)
Heightened insight that was refined through experience.
At this rank the servant is rarely caught off guard and capable of conjuring an appropriate course of action given his situation for attacking and retreating. So long as there is a .5% chance of victory, this ability improves the chances of winning.
If unimpaired, this skill would have enabled the Servant to efficiently utilize virtually every factor he wished to use to great and long term efficiency that extends past battles. So long as there would be a .01% chance of victory or success, the odds would improve dramatically.
Knowledge of modern Thaumaturgy
At this rank, the Servant is capable of using slightly advanced Thaumaturgy.
Tools of the Trade: E-C Supplementary
Evidence of the Servant's trait of utilizing non remarkable equipment to surmount remarkable situations and targets, this Noble Phantasm represents his ability to achieve miracles with common weapons to the point that the use of these tools has in itself become his Noble Phantasm.
It is a finite cache of modern weaponry that resets its contents, both weapons and ammunition, every midnight. While significantly weaker than most Noble Phantasms, its strength lies not in its power, but in its versatility as the contents of said stock varies depending on the user's needs and desires for the day. As such this Noble Phantasm can satisfy the classification of Anti-Unit and Anti-Army depending on its use. However once the contents are reset, the Servant is stuck with said contents for the rest of the day.
Any and all untriggered traps set up are still considered part of the Servant's stock. While they may still remain during a reset, the total amount of tools in existence will not change. As such the Servant must be careful not to focus too much on traps lest he leave himself without weapons to defend himself with until the following midnight.
This Noble Phantasm is not restricted to weaponry however, and can also be used to produce other tools of disposable nature such as but not restricted to wire, cameras, binoculars, communication devices, and inflatable rafts. These too however, will take up space in the limited cache should they be materialized.
Unless designed for other purposes, the general strength of the weapons can be estimated as such: Explosives, shotguns, and long ranged rifles are C rank. Automatic weapons and other light weight guns are D rank. Knives and miscellaneous tools are E rank.
o. o. o.
(A/N: Due to the Shirou Emiya of this world possessing the beginnings of a possible legend in this world and Rin Tohsaka's proper summoning, some of EMIYA's stats are slightly greater than in cannon.)
Alignment: True Neutral
Noble Phantasm: ?
Independent Action: B
Magic Resistance: D
Eye of the Mind (True): B
o. o. o.
(Cough) Ok. Got that out of my system.
So I hope this satisfied everyone! Lo and behold! Assassin! The Servant that fucks everyone's plan's up!
I've had this guy's outline done for nearly half of the story and it bugged me that it took this long to get it out there. Damn you plot! Anyways, yeah, Assassin. A servant with little direct combat ability, but able to bump his attacks higher than Berserker on Steroids and make anyone walk right into said attacks without them knowing it.
Ok. One more time. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA HA!
So onto other news:
I am officially a home owner now, or as my dad likes to put things: "son, you're now a HOMO, just like your pappy, and grandpappy, and every other responsible member of your family other than that guy your mother's sister married, and I couldn't be more proud of you. Gimme a hug."
And people wonder why my sense of humor is so messed up.
But yeah. I closed the deal on my condo in about a month, which for those who don't know, is fsking fast as hell. Even the brokers were surprised that we managed to get it done so quickly. And I literally just helped moved in my first tenant this morning, who is leasing the condo for a year. The rent will help cover the mortgage and give me a pretty little profit in the mean time.
Oh, and I lost my job, am collecting unemployment, looking for more work, still studying for grad school, and am just doing odd jobs around town.
C'est la vie.
At least I still have a good amount of savings left over to rely on. Meh.
To be honest though, with so much going on lately, it kinda temporarily killed my desire to write while I managed all of this was going down. The amount of paperwork needed to get a mortgage for a condo was fucking insane, and I'm talking bad insane, not my normal, funny, haha, wtf are you doing with that carpet Crypt insane. It took me TWO HOURS to go through the final stack of paperwork with the Lawyer rushing me through the entire thing. And apparently it would have been worse if the place was in New York instead of Connecticut.
But I'm over that hill and am looking for more jobs now. With my 2 years experience in R&D I have a slightly better chance of getting one now than I did before… slightly.
Happy April Fools! Beware the fools, for their minds are the most twisted of all!
Oh yeah. SEASON 3 OF GAME OF THRONES IS OUT OMG WTF YAAAAAAAAAAAA! (And then my head exploded).
So that's it for now folks!
REVIEW! WORSHIP THE LOG! BEWARE THE RED WEDDING! AND REVIEW AGAIN!